The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid

2nd June 2020.   4 stars.

One of the joys of crime fiction is the number of series available, whether by established or new authors. While many police procedurals are similar or different versions of the same formula, some are more distinctive.

The Mermaids Singing, written in the 1990s, introduces psychological profiler Tony Hill. He’s a damaged character with a lot to prove, especially to police forces used to solving crimes by the book. After three murders the police refuse to connect, he’s brought in secretly to help identify and capture a serial killer. He’s teamed with Carol Jordan, an ambitious fast-track detective inspector, who’s also got a lot to prove to her male colleagues.

The killer, who’s obsessed with torture, is a meticulous planner, well ahead of the police. The trouble is, they won’t acknowledge him and give him the credit and publicity he feels he deserves. When Tony Hill enters the arena, you know there’s going to be a battle of intellects and wills. After all, this is a thriller at heart.

While the chapters relating to the killer were disturbing, they were restrained and essential to the thriller element of the story, increasing the tension as the story headed for an inevitable confrontation.

The characters of Jordan and Hill were well drawn and realistic. The pace was steady, building to an exciting climax with a neat, if predictable twist. It posed a few unanswered questions, but didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment.

I would certainly recommend the book as the writing is first rate, the story well told, and the atmosphere deadly but electric.

Description

You always remember the first time. Isn’t that what they say about sex? How much more true it is of murder…

Up till now, the only serial killers Tony Hill had encountered were safely behind bars. This one’s different – this one’s on the loose.

Four men have been found mutilated and tortured. As fear grips the city, the police turn to clinical psychologist Tony Hill for a profile of the killer. But soon Tony becomes the unsuspecting target in a battle of wits and wills where he has to use every ounce of his professional nerve to survive.

A tense, beautifully written psychological thriller, The Mermaids Singing explores the tormented mind of a serial killer unlike any the world of fiction has ever seen.

The Mermaids Singing

 

No Simple Death by Valerie Keogh

21st May 2020.   4 Stars

I was drawn to this police procedural, set mainly in Dublin, by the quality of the writing when I read a sample. It wasn’t long before the plight of Edel Johnson, whose husband had mysteriously disappeared, pulled me into an intricate and intriguing plot that had me as baffled and confused as the two main detectives, West and Andrews.

They’re a capable and likeable duo, who made small, painstaking discoveries in their efforts to solve the original murder, which then led to a second killing. Both put Edel at the heart of the enquiry, but was she really responsible? Detective West, who’d taken a shine to the abandoned wife, struggled to keep his emotions at bay as he tried to unravel the mystery.

The characters and the plot carried the story at a steady, somewhat meticulous pace. It was like peeling back the layers of an onion until suddenly it all started to make sense. Then the hunt for the killer gathered momentum.

But I was hooked long before that by the cocktail of suspense, mystery and the possibility of one man’s emotions destroying a careful, painstaking investigation.

This was a police procedural with a fresh voice and a satisfying plot. There was no effort to impress, use traumatised detectives or make the story stark and gritty. It was good honest storytelling that left me feeling satisfied, entertained and happy to read more books by this author.

For once, the publisher’s blurb was accurate – it was a gripping crime mystery.

Description

When Detective Garda Sergeant Mike West is called to investigate a murder in a Dublin graveyard, suspicion immediately falls on a local woman, Edel Johnson, whose husband disappeared some months before. But then she disappears.

Evidence leads West to a small village in Cornwall, but when he checks in to an Inn, he finds Edel has arrived before him. Her explanation seems to make sense but as West begins to think his suspicions of her are unfounded, she disappears again.

Is she guilty? West, fighting an unsuitable attraction, doesn’t want to believe it. But the case against her is growing. Back in Dublin, his team uncover evidence of blackmail and illegal drugs involving Edel’s missing husband. When another man is murdered, she, once again, comes under suspicion.

Finally, the case is untangled, but is it the outcome West really wants?

No Simple Death

Future Riches by BL Faulkner

15th May 2020.   5 stars.

If you haven’t discovered the Serial Murder Squad series you’re in for a treat. I discovered the series last year and immediately took to DCS Palmer and his team. As I was reading the later books in the series, it felt only right and natural to go back to the beginning.

Future Riches begins with a couple of murders in the world of TV production. As soon as the Serial Murder Squad takes charge, Justin Palmer and his colleague, Gheeta Singh, immerse themselves in the theatrical world of TV drama, actors and their agents. With Palmer’s nose for anything off key and Gheeta’s formidable IT skills, they’re soon on the trail of the killer.

The story may be short, but it’s crammed with action, a generous measure of humour and witty one-liners, internal work conflicts, and a pace that leads you breathless through a few twists and turns to the exciting climax. At the story’s core is the relationship between Palmer and Singh. Their differences complement each other and they have an understanding and respect that needs no explanation, thanks to the skill of the author. (Looking at his bio, I suspect he’s drawn heavily on his time in TV for this adventure.)

If you like honest, exciting crime fiction, delivered without frills or distractions, this is the perfect introduction to an addictive series.

You can read my interview with BL Faulkner here.

Description

Justin Palmer started off on the beat as a London policeman in the 1964 and is now Detective Chief Superintendent Palmer running his own serial murder squad from New Scotland Yard.

Not one to pull punches, or give a hoot for political correctness if it hinders his inquiries, Palmer has gone as far as he will go in the Met. And he knows it. Master of the one line put down and slave to his sciatica he can be as nasty or as nice as he likes.

The mid 1990’s was a time of re-awakening for Palmer as the Information technology revolution turned forensic science, communication and information gathering skills upside down. Realising the value of this revolution to crime solving, Palmer co-opted Detective Sergeant Gheeta Singh, a British Asian onto his team. DS Singh has a degree in IT and was given the go ahead to update Palmer’s department with all the computer hard and software she wanted. Most of which she wrote herself, and some of which is, shall we say, of a grey area when it comes to privacy laws and accessing certain databases!

Together with their small team of officers and one civilian computer clerk they take on the serial killers of the UK.

On the personal front Palmer has been married to his ‘princess’ , or Mrs P. as she is known to everybody, for nearly thirty years . The romance blossomed after the young DC Palmer arrested most of her family who were a bunch of South London petty villains in the 60’s. They have three children and eight grandchildren, a nice house in Dulwich and a faithful dog called Daisy.

Gheeta Singh lives alone in a fourth floor Barbican apartment having arrived on these shores as part of a refugee family fleeing from Idi Amin’s Uganda . Her father and brothers have built up a good computer parts supply company in which it was assumed Gheeta would take an active role on graduating from University. She had other ideas on this, and also on the arranged marriage her mother and aunts still try to coerce her into. Gheeta has two loves, police work and technology, and thanks to Palmer she has her dream job.

Combining the old ‘coppers nose’ and ‘gut feelings’ of Palmer with the modern IT skills of DS Singh the two make an unlikely, but successful team. All their cases involve multiple killings and twist and turn through red herrings and hidden clues alike keeping the reader in suspense until the very end.

As the Crow Flies by Damien Boyd

14th May 2020.  4 stars.

It’s always interesting to try a new series and meet new characters and settings. I was drawn to this story by the volume of positive reviews and the opening with a mountaineering accident, which was something different and fresh.

I hadn’t read anything by Damien Boyd before, but his easy going, direct style moved the story along at a brisk pace. The central character, DI Nick Dixon, hit the ground running as he returned to his old stomping ground to discover his friend and former mountaineering partner, Jake, had fallen to his death on a climb.

It’s fairly obvious that Dixon won’t accept the fall was an accident and the story follows a fairly predictable route as he discovers his old friend had a few dark secrets and enemies who might want to harm him. But it’s well written, the characters are believable and engaging, and there’s neat twist at the end.

As the Crow Flies is a solid and exciting introduction to DI Nick Dixon and offers plenty of potential for future books. As a regular visitor to Somerset and Cheddar Gorge, I particularly enjoyed the settings, and viewing them through the author’s eyes.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book and look forward to reading more of the series.

Description

Rock climbers can’t afford to make careless mistakes. But Detective Inspector Nick Dixon’s former climbing partner, Jake Fayter, died doing just that. Or so it seems. Dixon suspects foul play, but his only leads are unreliable accounts of something odd happening in Cheddar Gorge seconds before Jake fell.

The more Dixon learns about Jake’s life, the more he realises that Jake hadn’t been quite the man he remembered…and a lot of people could have wanted him dead. Once Dixon gets too close to the truth, those people will emerge from the shadows and kill to protect their secrets.

As the body count rises, Dixon bends the rules to breaking point to lure out a killer and unravel a conspiracy of silence that will rock the sleepy town of Burnham-on-Sea to its core.

As the Crow Flies

Deadly Lies by Chris Collett

6th May 2020.  5 stars.

Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint why a story captures your imagination.

At first glance, Deadly Lies is a gentle, unpretentious police procedural. DI Mariner is a fairly typical detective, who works more hours than he should and goes home to an empty house. The story starts in a bar with Mariner on a blind date he wishes he’d never agreed to. There he spots a journalist he knows, leaving with an attractive woman.

When the journalist is found dead in his home several hours later, like Mariner, you know it’s not suicide. When a younger, autistic brother turns out to be the only witness, you know you’re reading something a little different. When Mariner meets the brothers’ attractive sister, Anna, you know there’s going to be sexual tension and conflict.

From this simple beginning, Deadly Lies drew me in with a cast of rich, believable characters I cared about. I felt their pain, struggled with them as they overcame personal troubles and the challenges of a murder that lacked hard evidence.

I was hooked by the engaging story that led me to an exciting and satisfying climax that didn’t need gimmicks. I enjoyed the tentative relationship between Anna and Mariner, a cop without the usual personal traumas that seem so common in crime fiction today.

When I started reading this novel, I had no idea how much I would enjoy it.

If you prefer gentle, but absorbing crime fiction, led by strong characters and an intriguing plot, you should try this story. It’s the first in the series and I’m looking forward to finding out more about Mariner in his next investigation.

Description

Journalist Eddie Barham is found dead in his home. A syringe is in his arm and a note by his side reads, ‘No More.’

Open and shut case of suicide? Not for DI Mariner. Hours before, he saw Barham picking up a woman in a bar. And then Mariner discovers Barham’s younger brother, Jamie, hiding in a cupboard under the stairs.

Jamie is the only witness to his brother’s death, but his severe autism makes communication almost impossible. Mariner is determined to connect with Jamie and get to the truth. Is the journalist’s death related to his investigation of a local crime kingpin?

What other dark secrets does Jamie hold the key to and can Mariner keep his relationship professional with Barham’s attractive sister, Anna?

In a nail-biting conclusion, Mariner races against time to prevent more lives being lost.

Deadly Lies by Chris Collett

Penshaw by L J Ross

10th April 2020.   5 stars.

I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed every one of the DCI Ryan series from Holy Island through to Penshaw, which is one of the best. It’s rooted in the miners’ strike of 1985, which cast a shadow over many communities. Move forward to the present and the death of a former union activist in a fire. Was it an accident or murder? When the activist’s son also dies, DCI Ryan’s suspicions are confirmed.

But these deaths are almost a distraction for Ryan, who’s leading a task force to combat organised crime in the north east. His main target is Bobby Singh, who seems to have enlisted a few police officers to help him stay one step ahead of the law. Ryan’s also tasked with rooting them out, but soon discovers the problem is closer to home than he would like.

These strands are woven together in a fast-paced and intriguing story that gripped me from the first page to the last. There are touching moments, heroic moments and everything in between. You can’t help but care for the characters and the challenges they face.

Everything that is good about the series is here – the characters, their relationships and camaraderie, the humour and an occasional touch of romance. The stories are easy to read, entertaining and filled with intrigue and great settings.

If you haven’t started from the beginning, you’re missing out on so many character developments and the intimate knowledge that only comes from following a series. While this is the thirteenth book in the series, the writing is still fresh, exciting and entertaining.

LJ Ross is an author at the top of her game and I can’t recommend her novels enough.

Description

When you sell your soul, the devil gives no refunds…

When an old man is burned alive in a sleepy ex-mining village, Detective Chief Inspector Ryan is called in to investigate. He soon discovers that, beneath the facade of a close-knit community, the burn from decades-old betrayal still smoulders. When everyone had a motive, can he unravel the secrets of the past before the killer strikes again?

Meanwhile, back at Northumbria CID, trouble is brewing with rumours of a mole in Ryan’s department. With everyone under suspicion, can he count on anybody but himself?

Penshaw by LJ Ross

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

19th March 2020.    4 stars.

This is not your usual crime fiction. That’s why it appealed to me and why I enjoyed the story. I would also add that I’ve never watched the TV series.

The story starts with three women, brought together by an environmental impact assessment, prompted by an application to build a quarry. Naturally, feelings run high on both sides of the fence. Rachel, Anne and Grace are tasked with carrying out the assessment and each tells their own story about the events leading up to the apparent suicide of Bella, who owned the cottage where the women are staying.

At first, it reads like a psychological suspense novel with secrets and misdemeanours being revealed by each of the women. Then there’s a murder and DI Vera Stanhope enters the story like a tsunami. Unconventional, eccentric, with a dry sense of humour, but always mesmerising, she’s a tour de force, taking over the story with her no nonsense approach to detection. From this point on, the story is largely hers as she sifts through the evidence to identify the killer.

The novel’s well-written, the Northumberland setting atmospheric, and the characters given a chance to breathe and develop through the course of the story, leading to a sizeable list of suspects, all with motives to kill. The environmental issues give the story a contemporary feel, even though the story isn’t your usual police procedural.

However, allowing the characters so much space and time meant Vera Stanhope’s entry into the story was delayed until almost halfway through. While the characters were interesting and well-written, my interest began to waver several times up to this point.

The solution and arrest of the killer was also over in the blink of an eye after the usual meandering and struggles to sift the clues from the red herrings.

But these are niggles in what was an enjoyable and entertaining read with a detective who will remain long in my memory in these days of traumatised cops, constantly battling their past and spending cuts.

If you like atmospheric writing and don’t mind a story that takes it time to develop, which makes it a long read, I would recommend this book.

Description

Three very different women come together at isolated Baikie’s Cottage on the North Pennines, to complete an environmental survey. Three women who each know the meaning of betrayal . . .

Rachael, the team leader, is still reeling after a double betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Anne, a botanist, sees the survey as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace, a strange, uncommunicative young woman, hiding plenty of her own secrets.

Rachael is the first to arrive at the cottage, where she discovers the body of her friend, Bella Furness. Bella, it appears, has committed suicide – a verdict Rachael refuses to accept.

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

The Murder House by Michael Wood

1st March 2020.  4 stars.

I’ve read and reviewed the previous four books in the Matilda Darke series and was looking forward to renewing her acquaintance in this latest episode. Well, the story certainly starts with a bang when three members of a family are brutally and savagely killed after a wedding reception.

But why were a young girl and her dog spared?

This and the sheer horror of the scene tested Matilda and her team as they began a difficult and challenging investigation. The issues affecting key team players like Sian, Scott and Rory ran parallel with the criminal investigation, adding to the pressure on Matilda. At one point, she claimed to know who the killer was, but this was never followed up in the ensuing chapters. It seemed to be forgotten, which puzzled me.

With the investigation progressing slowly, the personal issues sometimes seemed to take precedence until the team made a breakthrough. The investigation gathered pace. Matilda went out on a somewhat improbable limb, I thought, to solve the murders, but it led to a pulsating and satisfying climax that ticked all the right boxes.

As with all the previous novels in the series, The Murder House was well written and entertaining. The many threads of the backstory put almost too many plates in the air, which influenced the overall balance of the story. I’m not really sure about the epilogue either, but as it concerned one of the running threads in the series, it didn’t impact on the main plot or my enjoyment.

If you haven’t read any of the books in the series, I would urge you to start with the first, For Reasons Unknown, (Read my review here) to get the most out of the characters and the stories. While you do that, I’m off to pre-order the sixth book in the series.

Description

They were the perfect family. It was the perfect crime.

It’s the most disturbing crime scene DCI Matilda Darke has ever seen…

The morning after a wedding reception at a beautiful suburban home in Sheffield, the bride’s entire family are stabbed to death – in a frenzied attack more violent than anything DCI Matilda Darke could have imagined.

Forensics point to a burglar on the run across the country. But cracks are starting to appear in Matilda’s team, someone is playing games with the evidence – and the killer might be closer to home than they thought

The Murder House by Michael Wood

Interview on Fictionophile

My thanks to Lynne LeGrow for some interesting and entertaining questions.

‘There’s nothing better than knowing others enjoy the story you wrote. That’s why I write.’

Read the full interview here.

 

Bury Them Deep by James Oswald

20th February 2020. 5 stars.

This has to be one of the best and most enjoyable police procedurals I’ve read for some time.

I’ve never read one of the author’s books before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was offered an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. It’s the tenth book in the Tony McLean series and reads fine as a standalone, though I imagine you get a little more out of the characters if you’ve read the whole series from the start.

I enjoyed the story from the opening pages, where a member of the team goes missing at the start of a major operation, involving various agencies and countries. The author’s easy to read style moved the story along at a measured pace, allowing the characters, subplots and story to breathe and develop. I got to know the characters inside and outside the police, including the usual conflict between frontline officers and senior officers, more concerned with budgets and public relations than a missing member of staff.

The suspense built slowly, creating an overwhelming sense that something rather unpleasant was waiting for me at the climax. I was not disappointed as little by little, the story became more complex and intriguing. The mystery deepened with each step forward in the investigation until the gruesome and truth began to emerge from the Scottish mist. From here it was full steam ahead to an exciting and shocking climax that provided a satisfactory conclusion to the story with no loose ends.

This is a measured, thoughtful and intriguing story, related with great skill and confidence to ensure the perfect balance between character and plot. I have no hesitation in recommending this novel to anyone who likes realistic and elegant police procedurals that offer something a little bit different.

I’m going back to the beginning now to see how the series started.

Description

When a member of the Police Scotland team fails to clock-in for work, concern for her whereabouts is immediate… and the discovery of her burnt-out car in remote woodland to the south of Edinburgh sets off a desperate search for the missing woman.

Meanwhile, DCI Tony McLean and the team are preparing for a major anti-corruption operation – one which may raise the ire of more than a few powerful people in the city. Is Anya Renfrew’s disappearance a co-incidence or related to the case?

McLean’s investigations suggest that perhaps that Anya isn’t the first woman to have mysteriously vanished in these ancient hills. Once again, McLean can’t shake the feeling that there is a far greater evil at work here…

Bury Them Deep