The House in the Woods by Matt Dawson

7th June 2022.

This is a well-written and cleverly plotted crime thriller. It’s part courtroom drama, part police procedural, and features a private investigator, Atticus Priest, who the defence employ to find the real killer.

But if the accused didn’t do it, who did?

Priest is a former detective inspector, who once worked with DCI McKenzie, and unsurprisingly in modern crime stories had a relationship with her before she chose to remain with her husband and children. However, this past relationship is never allowed to side track the reader from the main investigation.

While the main characters never really gripped me, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment as the complex plot snaked towards an exciting climax, with a couple of twists to wrong foot readers.

Overall, an accomplished crime thriller with a twisting plot that kept me guessing.

Description

Four murders. Two detectives. One mystifying crime.

It’s Christmas Eve and DCI Mackenzie Jones is called to a murder at a remote farmhouse. Ralph Mallender believes his father lies dead inside. When three more bodies are discovered, it’s clear a festive family gathering has turned into a gruesome crime.

At first it seems like an open and shut case: a murder suicide committed by Ralph’s volatile brother Cameron. Then new evidence makes Mack suspect the man who reported the crime is in fact the perpetrator.

But Mack isn’t the only one with a stake in the case. Private investigator Atticus Priest has been hired to get Ralph acquitted. That means unearthing any weaknesses in Mack’s evidence.

Irascible, impatient, and unpredictable, Atticus has weaknesses of his own. Mack knows all about them because they share a past – both professionally and personally. This time round, however, they aren’t on the same side. And as Atticus picks at the loose ends of the case, everything starts to unravel in a way neither of them could ever have predicted…

The House in the Woods by Matt Dawson

Bit Player by Janet Dawson

25th May 2022.

The Jeri Howard series keeps getting better as the private investigator delves into an investigation that’s both close to home and further back in time than she’s gone before. The murder of actor, Ralph Tarrant, in Hollywood in 1942 takes centre stage when Jeri’s grandmother is implicated by an elderly film buff in a memorabilia store. While Jeri doesn’t believe her grandmother even knew the actor concerned, she has to investigate.

It’s a difficult investigation as many of the players and witnesses have died. But a few remain, along with letters that begin to paint an intriguing picture of a house occupied by four bit players, all determined to become actresses in the movie industry.

As piece by piece, Jeri’s persistence begins to uncover what really happened in 1942, more murders occur in the present as memorabilia collectors start dying. Is there a connection with the murder in the past? Is Jeri in danger as she closes in on the truth?

It’s a vivid and fascinating investigation that kept me turning the pages from start to finish in one of my favourite novels in the series.

If you haven’t tried this series, you should go back to the first book and enjoy the absorbing and often unique investigations that make Jeri Howard such a compelling read.

Description

MURDER MAKES A COMEBACK – READY FOR ITS CLOSEUP!

Was Jeri Howard’s grandmother a murder suspect?

That’s a mind-boggling prospect.

The Oakland private investigator has a chance encounter in a movie memorabilia shop, where the odd little man behind the counter drops that bombshell. Now Jeri is on a quest to find out the truth.

Back in 1941, Jerusha Layne was an actress in Hollywood. Her dreams of movie stardom never came true. Instead, she works as a bit player, an actress who speaks a few lines in the background while the big stars emote in front of the cameras. She ekes out a living and shares a tiny cottage with three other aspiring stars, talking about parts as they eat meals in the MGM commissary. The changing cast of roommates is not always a good fit, though, and this leads to friction – and grudges.

British expatriate actor Ralph Tarrant has the reputation of a ladies’ man. He puts the moves on Jerusha, but she rebuffs his unwanted advances. Then the actor is found dead, shot in his Hollywood bungalow. The cops have few suspects. But rumor and innuendo lead the police to question Jerusha and her housemates.

Jeri’s determination leads her to Los Angeles, where she reads the file on the cold case. Tarrant’s murder was never solved, she discovers when she delves into the seamy side of Golden Age Hollywood. Is the killer still out there? What really happened?

This case is personal. Oakland’s most persistent private eye is determined to learn the truth, even if it means tracking down her grandmother’s long-ago housemates and reading all those letters Jerusha wrote to her younger sister, Aunt Dulcie, who is still alive.

Murder never goes out of style. A man who collects Hitchcock movie memorabilia dies at his home. Are old movie posters so valuable that someone would kill for them?

Does this present-day crime have links to the past?

Bit Player by Janet Dawson

The Haunting of Roderick Usher by Colin Garrow

20th April 2022.

Like all good spoofs, this sixth outing for Watson and Holmes is witty, irreverent and hugely entertaining. From the saucy Mrs Watson, who’s more than a match for Sherlock Holmes, to her husband’s often resentful account of the detective’s brilliance, this collection is constantly inventive as the trio go from one series of mishaps to the next, always managing to pull something out of the bag at the last moment.

While poking fun at literature’s most enduring detectives, it’s done with a fondness and lightness of touch that never reduces them to caricature. As Dr Watson writes, it may be their last adventure, which would be a pity. But I can also see how it would be a challenge to maintain the high standard of invention and satire set by this and previous adventures.

Whatever happens next, this is another witty and entertaining journey that somehow manages to combine the essence of the original stories, while blending them with more modern events and characters, such as Scooby Doo and the gang. Priceless.

Description

An invitation. A ghostly spectre. A criminal mastermind.

When Sherlock Holmes is invited to visit an old school friend, he and Doctor Watson are plunged into the first of three adventures involving the Dark Arts and the supernatural. From the ghostly spectre of a dead sister to the search for an ancient book of spells, the detecting duo learn that each case is connected, leading them into a final showdown with their deadliest adversary yet.

The Haunting of Roderick Usher by Colin Garrow

What She Left by H.K. Christie

5th April 2020.

When I started this first novel in the PI Martina Monroe series, the main character seemed a little far-fetched with her childhood links to the grieving daughter, who lived next door to the private investigator’s long lost best friend. Then to top it all, the detective assigned to the murder case had crossed swords with Monroe on a previous investigation. And did I mention she’s a recovering alcoholic?

But to be fair, the author soon fleshed out Monroe and pulled me swiftly into an intriguing investigation about secrets that her friend’s family wanted to protect at any cost. The investigation took her from California to Pennsylvania on the east coast as she uncovered the small details that brought her closer to the truth, making her a target. By now, she’d realised Detective Hirsch was not to blame for past failures and the two of them join forces to solve the murder.

As the stakes and tension increased, I had to keep turning the pages, now thoroughly engrossed in the original and well written plot as it hurtled towards an exciting climax.

I’m glad I stuck with the story and I’m looking forward to reading the next novel in the series.

Description

She’s on her last chance. When the bodies start piling up, she’ll need to save more than her job.

Martina Monroe is a single bad day away from losing it all. Stuck catching insurance fraudsters and cheating spouses due to a DUI, the despondent PI yearns to return to more fulfilling gigs. So when a prospective client asks for her by name to identify an unknown infant in a family photo, she leaps at the opportunity and travels to the one place she swore never to go: back home.

As the pressure mounts and the temptation of booze calls like a siren, Martina digs into the mystery and discovers many of the threads have razor-sharp ends. And forced to partner with a resentful detective investigating a linked suspicious death, the haunted private eye unravels clues that delve deep into her past… and put her in a dark and dangerous corner.

Can Martina and Detective Hirsch unlock the truth before they’re drowned in a sea of secrets?

What She Left is the first book in the nail-biting thriller series starring Private Investigator Martina Monroe and Detective August Hirsch of the Cold Case Squad. If you love stories with high-stakes games, jaw-dropping twists, embattled seekers struggling to do right, and suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat, you’ll love the Martina Monroe series.

What She Left by HK Christie

Alternative Outcome by Peter Rowlands

23rd March 2022.

Mike Stanhope is a frustrated trade journalist, who’s written and published a mystery novel that’s based on a true robbery. Little does Mike realise how this novel will come to haunt him when people in the criminal fraternity thinks it’s a true story and want some answers.

This is one of several strands that run through this thoughtful and well written novel. Another concerns Mike’s desire to find a girl he took a shine to on a Cornwall holiday he took with his parents. Then there’s Ashley, who’s romantically interested in Mike. Finally, there’s Rick Ashton, who runs a logistics company that’s overstretched itself.

As the story progresses, Mike finds himself involved in all kinds of adventures and mishaps as the author weaves the various threads into a lively, cohesive story that keeps you turning the pages to find out how it will end.

At its heart, Mike is an unassuming, ordinary guy, who gets caught up in a number of problems that drag him up and down the country in search of answers. It’s exciting, it’s fun and entertaining from start to finish as the story builds to a satisfying climax on several fronts.

If you enjoy character driven mysteries that are a little different from the norm, this is well worth a read.

Description

Alternative Outcome is an intricate mystery drama with a romantic thread, and its starting point is self-publishing. What if you published a book on the web, and it had unintended consequences? What if people who read it jumped to conclusions about your knowledge of real events?

The leading character, Mike, has written a mystery novel as a diversion from the rat race of his day job, basing it very loosely on a true story. He opts for self-publishing as a way to get the book out there, and a sequence of unsettling events follows.

One of the key characters in Mike’s book is loosely based on a girl he remembers from childhood. He never kept in touch with her, but now he is persuaded by well-meaning friends to try and track her down. Yet the harder he looks, the more intrigue he finds himself unravelling.

As he starts piecing together the real mystery surrounding the missing girl, he finds himself pitched against increasingly persistent adversaries. Mistaken assumptions lead him down various false trails, but he gradually starts to unearth some surprises he wasn’t expecting.

Alternative Outcome by Peter Rowlands

The Concrete Ceiling by Peter Rowlands

21st February 2022.

This is the fourth Mike Stanhope mystery, but the first I’ve read. It works fine as a standalone, but I enjoyed it so much, I’m going to read the first in the series next to see where it all began.

Mike’s a journalist, specialising in logistics. It hardly sounds like the most exciting life for an amateur sleuth, but trouble seems to find him. His private life may have something to do with this as there’s the woman who got away. And he’s invited to her engagement party.

This is where he meets her fiancé, Nick Hathaway, an estate agent with influence, charm and a secret agenda perhaps? Mike’s not sure if he’s regretting missed opportunities, envious or correct in his impressions. It’s only a fleeting concern as he has a bigger problem to resolve.

His efforts to promote his self-published novel after poor sales lead him to spend a large sum with a company that promises to get him plenty of readers. When the owner of the company is murdered, Mike finds himself the prime suspect.

This is only the start of his troubles as his investigations lead to Los Angeles and back to London in an effort to learn more about the victim. Mix in his work as a journalist, which leads him into the murky world of property speculation, and things become complicated as his private and professional lives intertwine, leading him into ever greater danger.

It’s a slow burn that builds into a twisting and intriguing tale with an exciting climax. There are still some twists left as Mike ties up the remaining loose ends. The story captured my interest from the start, mainly due to the upbeat narrative, punctuated with sharp, often self-deprecating humour, which made him an imminently likeable, but credible hero. He’s an ordinary bloke, trying to do his best while landing himself in all kinds of hot water.

If you enjoy ordinary people solving complex murders, give this a try.

Description

Mike’s hand hovers over the mouse. He clicks Submit. Done! He knows he’s paid massively over the odds, but at least his bid to revive flagging sales of his self-published novel is under way. All he’s looking for is some way to break through the recognition barrier. He has no idea of the havoc he’s just unleashed.

The tangled course of Mike’s quest for explanations leads him in directions he never anticipated, and his efforts rebound on him in increasingly alarming ways. Soon his life is in turmoil, and his troubles are also affecting those around him. One thing quickly becomes clear: the lack of book sales is the very least of his problems.

Looming in the midst of Mike’s woes is the enigmatic Nick Hathaway. He oozes good will… but does he have a hidden agenda? Mike’s instinct is to interfere, but he’s unsure whether this will bring him closer to Samantha, the woman he’s fallen for in spite of himself, or merely alienate her. Meanwhile, what of his faltering relationship with his girlfriend Ashley?

This taut, fast-paced mystery thriller is the most compelling so far from author Peter Rowlands. Whether you read it as a stand-alone drama or as a new stage in the unfolding story of disaffected journalist Mike Stanhope, you’ll quickly become engrossed.

From a measured start, the intricately interwoven plot lines steadily gather urgency as the action ranges between London and Los Angeles. The succession of upsets and surprises will leave you breathless. Meanwhile, along the way the author weaves in some revealing and occasionally ironic insights into the struggles of the self-published writer.

The Concrete Ceiling by Peter Rowlands

A Killing at the Track by Janet Dawson

21st December 2021.

This is another superlative entry into the Jeri Howard series, which I love. It’s time to saddle up for a look into the world of horse racing, which the author brings to life in vivid detail as she takes us behind the scenes. From the first few pages, you know someone’s going to be killed.

It’s not long before a jockey’s body is found and Jeri is on the case. Already investigating a series of threatening phone calls to one of the trainers, she now has a murder to investigate. The police are there, but she’s got a head start in a couple of areas and uses the knowledge and contacts she’s making at the track to ferret out the truth. A second death raises the stakes.

Like all of the books in the series, Jeri works hard to piece together the clues to uncover the secrets that provide the motives for the deaths. While there are no surprises, it’s all deftly handled as she puts together the pieces and builds the tension to an exciting climax.

If you’ve never tried this series, you’re missing out on a great private investigator and some fascinating backgrounds that make the stories that little bit different and more interesting as a result.

Description

Intrepid Jeri Howard, Janet Dawson’s savvy female private eye, steps into the Winner’s Circle in Dawson’s NINTH action-packed mystery, set almost entirely at a track seething with intrigue. Author Dawson takes us to the fascinating and forbidden backside, where you practically need a hotwalker for the humans, as owners fret, jockeys throw fits, and vets sweat to hold overworked horses together with duct tape.

Overworked is a hazard of the job, but “injured” can result in lost fortunes or death—and not just death for horses, as Jeri soon finds out. You don’t have to be a detective to know that if it’s a track, there’s always a bad actor out there, looking to make a killing the easy way. And if they have to kill to do it, our intrepid PI’s not going to rest until the desperation stakes.

So here’s how it goes—one dead jockey, then two dead jockeys, three exotic poisons, and several possible payoffs—Jeri’s positively in a lather! But you can wager she’s going to show her stuff in the stretch and take home the purse. (She’s reliable that way.)

Dawson’s complex plot is a pleasure, but the rich backside lore makes this one a sure thing. When you can practically feel the breeze as the horses sweep by, you know you can’t lose!

A Killing at the Track by Janet Dawsonao

Where the Bodies are Buried by Janet Dawson

17th November 2021.

This is the eighth book in the excellent Jeri Howard series and one of the best as the private investigator turns her attention to the world of corporate takeovers and asset stripping. Her latest client, Rob, pays her a retainer and promises to return with further information as he prepares to blow the whistle on Bates Foods, the company he works for.

Unfortunately, two days later, he falls from the fifth floor balcony of his apartment block and dies.  Did he jump or was he pushed? In order to investigate, Jeri wangles a temp job as a secretary to the legal team at the company and starts to dip into the shady world of corporate management.

It’s a skilfully told story that contains the usual level of detail I’ve come to expect from this author. When Jeri uncovers issues with salmonella, listeria and food poisoning in dairy products, she has a lead she can get her teeth into. From here, it’s a case of pulling together all the facts she’s uncovered and working out the killer.

She’s never sure who she can trust as all the key players have something to hide, while each day she risks having her cover blown.

I found the ending particularly moving as the company who made the hostile takeover starts to unravel. Add this to Jeri moving into a new house and finding an army of friends turning up to help her, it bodes well for the next book in the series.

If you haven’t tried this murder mystery series before, go read the first in a series that tackles all manner of topical and testing issues from the 1980s.

Description

HOW HOSTILE CAN A TAKEOVER GET? MURDER MOST CORPORATE!

Oakland sleuth Jeri Howard is the whole package: a traditional gumshoe who’s no stranger to the all-night stakeout, the deft, disarming blow to the hand holding the gun, or the methodical examination of documents and official records – and secret hiding places – that leads to where all the bodies are buried in a supremely hostile takeover.

Jeri’s newest client was poised to blow the whistle on a large food manufacturer just before he took a header out his fifth-floor apartment window. One catch – he hadn’t yet told her what it was about. Jeri’s already cashed his retainer check, and her heart goes out to the teenagers to whom he was The World’s Best Uncle – plus she’s pretty sure he had some assistance out the window, and the police agree. So she suits up, dusts off her formidable legal secretary skills, and goes undercover in the gray cubicles of his former office.

The locally-owned business, built with painstaking care over decades and managed with integrity by the founder and then by his children, has become unstable and corrupt. Morale is through the floor, and the place is so squirmy with viperous corporate raiders it’s tough to know what rock to look under.

Jeri just needs to get them all in one room and let all the secrets slither out in the kind of immensely satisfying corporate implosion that every cube farm resident fantasizes about—and every mystery reader loves.

Where the Bodies are Buried by Janet Dawson

Witness to Evil by Janet Dawson

27th September 2021.

Jeri Howard series always offers something different, usually a social problem that encapsulates a crime or two. In this outing, Jeri has to track down runaway teenager, Darcy, who’s gone to Paris. It soon becomes clear that she’s tracking back through her grandmother’s time in Paris as a refugee from the Nazi occupation during World War II.

This history offers a hint at what’s to follow once Darcy’s returned to California. Sent off to a school for troubled teenagers, it isn’t long before she runs away and asks for Jeri’s help once more. It looks like Darcy may have murdered someone at the school.

But the truth is more sinister, as Jeri soon discovers.

Once again, Jeri is on the trail. The hunt through Paris is beautifully described. Darcy and her grandmother are terrific characters, both feisty and passionate about the truth. Back in California, Jeri’s journey is met with resistance from almost all sides as the school closes ranks, making for an intriguing and tense investigation.

It all leads to a dramatic climax that’s as exciting as it is tense, providing the perfect finish to a riveting story.

While you can read this book as a standalone, the Jeri Howard series is well worth a try as subject matter is always as intriguing as the investigations she undertakes.

Description

Oakland private eye Jeri Howard has landed a sweet gig: five days of Paris cafes and museums on somebody else’s franc. The assignment? Track down and retrieve a precocious seventeen-year-old who swiped her mother’s credit card and took off for Paris. Finding the girl (who’s not exactly hiding anyway – after all, she’s using her mother’s credit card) is no mystery for a P.I. with Jeri’s investigative skills. But the girl, Darcy, is on a mission to uncover family secrets. Her grandmother, it seems, has a past life and identity she’s shared only recently. As it turns out, Darcy didn’t need to travel to Paris to confront the evil that retains its vicious hold on the world in a modern-day counterpart. It’ll be waiting for her at home.

Jeri’s mission accomplished, they part, with Jeri’s invitation to call if ever Darcy needs help. Distress code: “We’ll always have Paris.” The call’s not long in coming. Darcy is now a “person of interest” in a murder case and, once again, in the wind. People at her new school seem to believe the worst of her, the police are inclined to agree, and she’s been sighted driving the dead man’s car with a couple of skinheads on her tail. This is not what Jeri was picturing when she cautioned, “Stay out of trouble, okay?”

The murder victim was the school handyman, an average-looking joe who kept some pretty rough company – skinheads with steel-toed boots and swastika tattoos. School officials have issued a gag order, but Jeri manages to glean one clue from Darcy’s roommate – the murder victim is not who he seems. Jeri relentlessly chases down the victim’s identity and teases out the connections that weave a web of hate from World War II to Darcy’s campus. As always, Jeri gets the last word – and the satisfaction of getting in a few good licks.

Witness to Evil by Janet Dawson

A Credible Threat by Janet Dawson

26th August 2021.

In the sixth novel in the series, Oakland PI, Jeri Howard, investigates a dangerous stalker. It starts with hostile phone calls, moves on to damaging plants and in particular decapitating lemon trees, and escalates to a pipe bomb.

The targets are a mixed group sharing a house. Each one has something that makes them a target, which makes Jeri’s job difficult, to say the least. Vicki, the daughter of her ex-husband, called her in to help, but not everyone in the house is happy about it.

With tensions high and suspicions rife, Jeri finally gets on the right track when her mentor and former employer is mugged in Carmel. Suddenly, the case takes a sinister turn as Jeri has a race against time to prevent a murder.

The Jeri Howard novels are always interesting as they tackle different issues from the usual missing persons and murder. Many of these are social issues, and this story is no different. While it starts as a classic stalking, it turns into something much more dangerous. There’s also a personal element to the story, which increases the stakes and tension, leading to a highly enjoyable and satisfying read that kept me turning the pages.

I would also say that the story is easier to follow than some of the previous books, which may be why I read it fairly quickly. Or it could be that it’s an excellent story that gripped me from intriguing start to exciting climax.

Looking forward to the next in the series.

Description

Oakland PI Jeri Howard is now taking house calls. At least when her ex-husband’s daughter, Vicki Vernon, is on the other end of the line. Vicki, who is an undergrad at prestigious UC Berkeley, fears the worst when her shared house receives multiple threats from an unknown antagonizer.

First, it’s hostile phone calls. Then vandalism and stalking. And everything becomes real when Jeri picks up the house phone and hears the stalker’s chilling voice herself.

As if that weren’t enough, a nasty flyer circulates around the law school filled with bigoted epithets against students of color and women — and it’s uncannily similar to the anonymous caller’s hateful words. But with so many possible targets in one household, Jeri’s just not sure which of the housemates is the target.

After all, Rachel volunteers at an abortion clinic. Ben is an African-American student on scholarship. Marisol spends her time helping victims of domestic abuse. And Vicki and Emily have been harassed on campus by a sexist chemistry student.
But when someone throws a pipe bomb through the students’ window, the case all but explodes.

A Credible Threat by Janet Dawson