My favourite crime novels of 2018

21st December 2018

It may be the shortest day of the year, but here at Crouch Corner, there’s a long list of crime novels to wade through if I’m to select my favourites of the year.

Without doubt, crime’s the most diverse genre and possibly the best-selling. You can read everything from little old ladies solving murders between cream teas to full blown serial killer thrillers that leave little to the imagination. We’re all interested and intrigued by murder, and many readers like to solve the mystery before they reach the solution.

I started over 50 crime novels this year, though some of them fell by the wayside and didn’t capture my interest. I finished reading 42 and enjoyed most of them. This included a number of existing favourites and many new authors, who I read for the first time.

I’ve reviewed all of the novels mentioned here, along with many more that didn’t make this post. I think of it as a way of saying thank you to the authors for entertaining me, and I hope it helps others to discover some of the great novels out there.

All my review are posted on my website and can be viewed by clicking here.

If you’ve any favourite crimes novels for 2018, please comment below and tell me about them.

Series characters

Like many readers, I love a good series, and they don’t come much better than Peter James and his hero, Roy Grace, who fights crime in Brighton and Hove, just along the East Sussex coast from me. As well as beautifully crafted plots, the author provides a detailed insight into the way the police work and operate, including the issues they face with public spending cuts, the media, and senior management. This gives the stories a credible and authentic feel that makes them come alive.

Not Dead Enough

I’ve only read the first eight novels in the series, but the one that gave me the most pleasure, was the third, Not Dead Enough, which finished with a series of exquisite twists.

The DCI Ryan series by LJ Ross, set in Northumberland, has become a firm favourite since the first in the series, Holy Island, based in Lindisfarne. The author’s easy style and cast of likable characters, facing internal and external threats, some of them personal, make for entertaining reading.

While every novel is terrific, my favourite is High Force, which deals with a personal vendetta that cranks up the tension to an almost unbearable level before the finale, which gives more than a passing nod to Sherlock Holmes.

High Force

Finally, my other favourite series this year involves DS Kay Hunter, created by Rachel Amphlett. Set in and around Maidstone in Kent, these novels have a straightforward, no-nonsense style and another team of likable detectives, who fight for each other as much as they fight criminals. There is also a personal element to many of the stories to add to the tension.

Hell to Pay was my favourite as Kay Hunter finally discovers who’s trying to destroy her career and why.

Hell to Pay

New authors

One of the joys of reading is discovering new authors and books that hit all the right spots. Sometimes, they come by recommendation from other readers. Sometimes a publisher offers a book for a reduced price or for free to tempt new readers. Whatever the reason, I’ve broadened my choices in 2018 and these are my favourites.

Michael Wood

His books feature DCI Matilda Darke, a detective returning to work after sickness caused by stress. In For Reasons Unknown, as well as proving she’s physically and emotionally fit to return to work, she has competition, no guarantee of getting her old job back, and a cold case that bites back. Her personal battles add that extra layer of tension and engagement to lift the story.

For Reasons Unknown

Outside Looking In continues Darke’s return to her old job. But with a vendetta threatening to derail her recovery, the tension builds to a superb climax that kept me reading well into the afternoon to reach the climax.

Harlan Coben

A friend of mine commented on Facebook about Caught, describing Coben as a favourite author. I took a quick look on Amazon and loved his distinctive voice and style of writing. The story drew me in effortlessly with a TV sting snaring a child abuser. Only it was never going to be that simple. And the complications and twists kept coming, leaving me quite drained by the end.

I’ll definitely be reading more Harlan Coben in 2019.

Harlan Coben Caught

Cheryl Bradshaw

Another American author with a voice and style I immediately connected with. While it’s always best to start a series with the first book, I began with Hush Now Baby, the sixth in the Sloane Monroe private detective series. I loved the characters, plot and tone of the book, which was reminiscent of a grittier Kinsey Millhone.

Hush Now Baby

A special thank you to Sue Grafton

My reading year was tinged with sadness when Sue Grafton died. The creator of Kinsey Millhone had completed 25 novels featuring her wonderful private eye. While Y is for Yesterday wasn’t the best of the novels, in my opinion, it was a fitting end and tribute to a wonderful author, who inspired me to create Kent Fisher and write my own crime novels.

Y is for Yesterday

I also revisited A is for Alibi, this year and loved it as much as the first time I read it back in the late 1980s.

That only leaves me to tell you my favourite crime novel of 2108.

It wasn’t an easy choice by any means, and there were quite a few contenders, but the decision was based on my emotional reaction when I finished the book.

You should always feel sadness when you reach the end. For hours, days, maybe weeks, you’ve lived with the characters, following them through the twists and turns as they battle to overcome the challenges that face them. Now it’s over, but the book lives on in your memory. You think about it, relive some of the moments and reflect on a story that moved you, maybe even changed the way you look at life.

That’s the mark of a great book and the crime novel that moved me more than any other this year was Outside Looking In, by Michael Wood. I think it was Matilda Darke’s determination to face her demons and battle through that left the biggest impression.

If you haven’t read this series, give it a go.

And my overall favourite book for 2018

Outside Looking In

Well, that’s almost it for 2018, a year that gave me lots of reading pleasure. I hope to read more crime novels from my favourite authors and discover a few more new to me. I already have quite a few loaded onto my Kindle.

Next week, I may well reflect on 2018, when I published my third and favourite Kent Fisher mystery, No Remorse. It could also be a good time to share my hopes for 2019.


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Gone to Ground by Rachel Amphlett

21st September 2018 – 5/5 stars.

You’re always guaranteed something intriguing, original and a little bit different when Kay Hunter investigates a murder.

Gone to Ground begins with the gruesome discovery of an amputated foot in a layby. It’s quickly followed by more body parts at the local tip, posing all manner of questions to Kay and her team. Do the parts belong to one victim or more? Who are they? Is a serial killer at work?

With a lack of evidence, it’s a difficult and slow investigation for newly promoted Kay and her close-knit team, which is on fine form in this outing. But once some progress is made, the pace picks up to deliver a satisfying climax that ties up all the loose ends.

Like any series, it’s best to start at the beginning and watch the characters develop with each story, but this works fine as a standalone, offering insights into the challenges and adventures faced during previous investigations.

Rachel Amphlett never fails to offer entertaining crime fiction with intriguing plots, a welcome sprinkling of humour and down to earth characters you believe in and root for. I have thoroughly enjoyed every Kay Hunter novel and can’t wait for her next outing.

5/5 stars.

Description

While attending a crime scene on the outskirts of Maidstone, DI Kay Hunter makes a shocking discovery.

The victim has been brutally cut to pieces, his identity unknown.

When more body parts start turning up in the Kentish countryside, Kay realises the disturbing truth – a serial killer is at large and must be stopped at all costs.

With no motive for the murders and a killer who has gone undetected until now, Kay and her team of detectives must work fast to calm a terrified local population and a scornful media.

When a third victim is found, her investigation grows even more complicated.

As she begins to expose a dark underbelly to the county town, Kay and her team are pulled into a web of jealousy and intrigue that, if left unchecked, will soon claim another life.

Gone to Ground

Call to Arms by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. This is top drawer crime writing, based on strong, likeable characters you will root for.

My thoughts

After the heart-stopping finale to the previous novel, it was always going to be a difficult story to follow. But Kay Hunter’s back at work, despite a few problems, dealing with the fallout that’s left her boss, Devon Sharp suspended and under investigation.

Acting up in his absence, she’s bored with shuffling paper and organising the team. Then she takes an interest in a cold case that may hold the key to her boss’s future. It may also be her undoing due to the personal involvement Sharp has with the case.

With memories vague and progress slow, the investigation is a credit to Kay’s determination as she chips away at the witnesses, uncovering little fragments of information that begin to cast doubt on the original verdict.

As the details fall into place, the pace picks up to a satisfying climax that offers surprise rather than the nail biting tension and action of the previous novel.

I love Kay’s determination and the way she’s grounded by her marriage to vet, Adam, who provides solid support and various animals that he looks after at home. In this case, it’s Rufus, the German Shepherd, who prompts one of the most moving scenes in the book.

If you haven’t read any of the Kay Hunter novels, please start with the first to get maximum enjoyment from the way the characters develop over the series as this is top drawer crime writing, based on strong, likeable characters you will root for.

5/5 stars

Call to Arms

Description

Loyalty has a price.

Kay Hunter has survived a vicious attack at the hands of one of the country’s most evil serial killers.

Returning to work after an enforced absence to recover, she discovers she wasn’t the only victim of that investigation. DI Devon Sharp remains suspended from duties, and the team is in turmoil.

Determined to prove herself once more and clear his name, Kay undertakes to solve a cold case that links Sharp to his accuser.

But as she gets closer to the truth, she realises her enquiries could do more harm than good.

Torn between protecting her mentor and finding out the truth, the consequences of Kay’s enquiries will reach far beyond her new role…

Call to Arms is a gripping police procedural, and the fifth in the Detective Kay Hunter series.

You never know

Two years ago, on 20th June 2016, my first novel, No Accident, was published.

Was it a dream come true?

Graham NortonOf course it was, but I have to admit to some disappointment when Graham Norton didn’t ring and invite me onto his show. I had all the funny stories lined up from my days as an environmental health officer (or EHO if you prefer TLAs – three letter acronyms).

“You drove around the South Downs, thinking of ways to murder people while you checked their kitchens for hygiene?” he would ask incredulously. “Didn’t it put you off your food?”

“No Graham, I never eat at any place I inspect.”

Pauses for comic laughter and blushes as JK Rowling complements me on my wit.

But the phone call never came. Hordes of fans didn’t beat down my door. The postman gave it a good rattle when he delivered my five complimentary paperbacks, courtesy of my publisher. No one recognised me in the street because none of the bookshops even knew my book existed.

Most of the population fell into the same category. The people who knew – friends, family and colleagues were probably bored of me mentioning the book or they were reading it.

Slowly, as the months passed, I realised the blue plaque on the wall of my house would have to wait a few more years. If I was going to get my book on Richard and Judy and become a household name, I had to get noticed. I had to market myself and my book to the masses.

Miss Marple photoFirst mistake! I needed to find people who liked reading about an environmental health officer who solved complex murders that paid homage to the traditional murder mysteries of authors like Agatha Christie.

Yes, I could see it was going to be a difficult sell. Most crime stories involved police officers or private detectives. Who’d ever heard of an EHO solving a murder?

But why not? If an elderly lady from St Mary Mead could do it …

So I send EHO, Kent Fisher, to investigate a fatal work accident and he uncovers a murder. Simple enough. But he also uncovers a shedload of family secrets and troubles along the way. That’s what happens in books, isn’t it?

Only Kent rolls with the punches, relying on his finely tuned sense of humour to see him through.

He becomes a local hero and gains his first commission to find a missing wife in the second novel, No Bodies, published in 2017. Once again, environmental health plays a key part as said missing wife ran off with a dodgy caterer.

Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it?

In No Remorse, published in May 2018, Kent takes his West Highland white terrier, Columbo, (no points for guessing my favourite TV detective), to entertain the residents of a well-to-do care home. One of the residents, who has dementia, is convinced they’re trying to kill him.

When he dies a few weeks later, does Kent think it’s murder? Of course not – until he’s handed a cryptic code that the old man left for him. And Kent’s on the trail again.

You might wonder how an EHO can solve murders. You might not think that running an animal sanctuary and trying to protect the environment are that heroic or worthy. And with all the personal baggage he carries, you might wonder why he doesn’t collapse under the weight of it.

That’s fine. If you prefer your heroes to be cynical coppers who drink and smoke too much, have broken marriages, and spend lots of time in their cars eating junk food between apprehending villains, there are some brilliant stories out there.

KindleI know, I’m an avid reader as well as a writer. Dip into my Kindle and you’ll find Peter James, LJ Ross, Rachel Amphlett, Robin Roughley, Elly Griffiths, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle and many more crime writers.

They’ve all inspired me in some small way to write the kind of book I like to read, filled with twisting plots, irreverent humour and engaging characters who have real lives and issues to deal with.

I’m lucky to have a small, but growing number of readers who like the stories. Some of them write reviews that lift my day and keep me writing. Others send me messages by email or social media to say how much they enjoyed the novels. Some discuss the books with me, which is always an honour.

I love it when bloggers and reviewers hate a character – or love them. Some think Kent Fisher would make a great TV drama. Others think he should pack in environmental health and become a private detective.

Okay, Graham Norton’s not one of them, and he hasn’t signed up for my monthly newsletter either, despite the offer of a free book as a thank you.

I feel honoured and humbled that people have bought my books and enjoyed them. That’s all I ever wanted really – to entertain people with complex murder mysteries that would hopefully baffle them until the final reveal when they would sigh and say, ‘Of course.’

It would be great to shift millions of books like Peter James so I could make a living from writing. Maybe one day I will. Maybe I’ll emerge from Crouch Corner for lunch, take a peek at my phone and discover I’m an overnight sensation after all these years.

Or I’ll return to my desk and continue with the first draft of No Stone, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery. After all, there’s a small, but growing group of people who are waiting for the next book in the series. And I care about those people, who invest their money and time in me.

More than I care about sharing a sofa with JK Rowling, Elton John, Victoria Coren-Mitchell and Bob Mortimer, soaking up the laughter and applause as another funny story about noisy neighbours in bikinis rolls off the tongue.

But if I work hard and keep trying … you never know.

Robert Crouch

Hell to Pay by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. The story will live long in my mind as a brilliant example of crime writing at its best.

Description

When a road traffic accident on a dark autumn night uncovers a disturbing conspiracy, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter’s investigation exposes a ruthless serial killer exploiting vulnerable young women.

With her enemies unmasked and her career spiralling out of control, Kay’s determination to seek vengeance for the victims brings her dangerously close to those who want to silence her.

Undeterred, she uncovers the real reason behind a plot to destroy her career and sets in motion a terrifying chain of events.

Could Kay’s need for revenge be her undoing, or will she survive to see justice served?

My thoughts

This series just gets better as the personal stakes continue to increase for Kay Hunter.

With yet another original story, filled with pace, suspense, tension and drama, the scale of the challenge facing Kay and her team is overwhelming. Factor in the lack of support from above, another branch of the police stepping in to take over the investigation, and a ruthless killer who’s orchestrates from a safe distance, and you have one hell of a story.

Kay’s determination to bring the killer who has caused her, and others, so much pain and grief made me fearful, hoping she wouldn’t let her anger blind her to danger. But of course, this is fiction, no matter how real it feels, and I simply couldn’t put the book down as the tension and threat built.

In the end, I was left breathless. The story will live long in my mind as a brilliant example of crime writing at its best. Bring on the next book.

Hell to Pay

 

Authors who inspire me to write better

Last weekend, I wrote about the authors who inspired me to move from the ideas buzzing around my head to putting fingers on the keys of a typewriter or word processor. (You can read the post here.)

Sue Grafton’s alphabet murder series, featuring Kinsey Millhone, helped me believe I could create my own detective and write crime fiction. Now, with two books published and the third scheduled for May this year, my inspiration comes from other crime writers who bring their own style and ideas to the party.

Plenty of choice

Let’s face it, there are millions of books out there, each vying for your attention as you scan the results on Amazon, Kobo or your local library bookshelves. But out of those millions, how many will appeal to you? How many would you class as ‘essential reads’? How many books would you buy on the strength of the author’s name?

There are so many good writers out there, offering different spins on the same themes and subjects. Why do some capture your imagination more than others? Why do they talk to you in a way that others don’t? What is it that draws you to a particular writer?

I’ve no idea, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the author’s voice and style. The author talks to you in a way you like and understand. The story and characters still have to be good, and familiar settings can help, but there’s something about particular authors that strike a chord or two.

I could list well over twenty authors, whose police procedurals, psychological thrillers or private detective novels have entertained me over the past few years. (There’s a similar list of authors whose books were dumped after a few chapters or pages.)

But at the moment, there are only four authors who inspire me, who make me want to write stronger and better to reach the benchmarks they set. They all write police procedural series with strong central characters, imaginative plots, and dramatic storylines. Yet each author is distinct, bringing something different to the table. I’ve listed them in the order I discovered them.

Robin Roughley – DS Lasser series

Tethered to the DeadRobin has written fifteen of sixteen books so far, set in and around Wigan, but I’ve only just finished reading Tethered to the Dead, which is No 3, but I love the character and his fearless pursuit of criminals. The plots are complex and explode in all directions from a simple crime. There’s social comment, an unflattering view of the seedier side of life, and a wonderful optimism and wit that reassures you that the world will be all right once DS Lasser gets the killer.

But best of all, I like the way the author takes you into the heads of his characters, good and bad, revealing there essence in a few paragraphs.

Peter James – Detective Superintendent Roy Grace

Not Dead EnoughAgain, I’m only on book three, Not Dead Enough, but I can see why Peter James is one the top crime writers in the country. Not only is he an excellent writer who can create memorable characters and brings them to life in a few paragraphs, his plots are wickedly clever. He portrays all shades of Brighton and offers plenty of social and political comment in his investigations, but it’s his attention to detail and police procedure that lift his stories above most of the others. That detail about how the police operate, the systems they use, the buildings they occupy and the rules and regulations that govern their work add great credibility and authenticity to the novels.

LJ Ross – DCI Ryan

I’m a newcomer to this series, set in Northumberland, but again, it’s the story and characters that matter, including a touch of romance, which we all enjoy, don’t we? Holy Island, had a distinctive plot, laced with an undercurrent of ritual and mysticism, to tax the charismatic lead characters in a tale filled with suspense and drama. The style leans more towards the cosy end of the crime market, but remains modern and relevant, which appeals to me.

Book two, Sycamore Gap, is my next read.

Rachel Amphlett – DS Kay Hunter

Will to Live coverI’ve only recently discovered this series and enjoyed the first two books, Scared to Death and Will to Live. Rachel has a no-nonsense, economic style of writing that engages you from the first paragraph. Like Peter James, her plots are different and deftly delivered with a touch of wit and humour to lighten the tone.

While she tackles gritty subjects and hard hitting crimes, she manages without littering her stories with profanities and gratuitous descriptions or violence, which proves it’s the story that counts. I also like to write this way.

These authors all have distinctive styles, but share a number of characteristics that heighten their appeal and inspire me, namely

  • strong central characters who will do whatever it takes to bring the villains to justice
  • complex, twisting plots that baffle, intrigue, entertain and fulfil
  • realism and credibility
  • humour and wit, often dark, that’s often lacking in many novels.

 

Though a newcomer to crime fiction with much to learn, these are the characteristics I strive to bring to my novels, and I’m delighted I’ve found such fantastic examples to show me the way.

I’m sure there will be many more authors in my ‘To Be Read’ pile that will entertain and hopefully inspire me.

That’s the joy of reading.


Click here for reviews of the novels mentioned in this post.

If you’d like to find out more about my novels and lead character, Kent Fisher, please check out my website at http://robertcrouch.co.uk or my Amazon page.

If you’d like exclusive previews and insights, sign up to my Reader Group by entering you details in the form at the top right of the page.

Will to Live by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. The story flies along like an express train, packed with suspense, excitement and twists as it races towards the exciting and satisfying climax.

Description

When a packed commuter train runs over a body on a stretch of track known to locals as ‘Suicide Mile’, it soon transpires that the man was a victim of a calculated murder.

As the investigation evolves and a pattern of murders is uncovered, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter realises the railway’s recent reputation may be the work of a brutal serial killer.

With a backlog of cold cases to investigate and attempting to uncover who is behind a professional vendetta against her, Kay must keep one step ahead of both the killer and her own adversaries.

When a second murder takes place within a week of the first, she realises the killer’s timetable has changed, and she’s running out of time to stop him…

My thoughts

I couldn’t wait to read the second novel in the Kay Hunter series, having enjoyed the first book, Scared to Death. Having read Will to Live, I can say that Rachel Amplett is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Will to Live begins with a suspicious death on a railway line renowned for suicides. But of course it’s a murder and the story flies along like an express train, packed with suspense, excitement and twists as it races towards the exciting and satisfying climax. The characters, including the villains, are well rounded and realistic, allowing readers to get into their heads and understand their motivations as the story rattles along, showing both sides of the murders.

Only one issue remains unresolved – who’s trying to undermine and destroy Kay’s career and possibly her life? Previous attempts to discredit Kay have failed, and with the support of Detective Inspector Sharp, she battles to restore her credibility, despite being constantly undermined by her Detective Chief Inspector Larch. With her husband’s support, she starts to probe, determined to discover who wants to destroy her, unaware of what she’s about to unleash. Then a colleague is badly beaten up after she uses his computer to do her digging.

The author’s direct style and the unusual but intriguing murders, distinguish this author’s work from the myriad of crime stories on the market. It’s easy to read and follow and you can’t help being drawn in by Kay’s resolve and determination to solve the crimes, despite the sinister threat to her future.

While you don’t need to read Scared to Death to enjoy this second in the series, why deny yourself the pleasures of a great book by an accomplished writer and storyteller?

Click here if you’d like to read my review of Scared to Death.

A well-deserved 5/5 stars.

Will to Live cover

Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett

5/5 stars. The story not only kept me interested from start to finish, but I enjoyed the dashes of humour.

Description

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong. But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.

With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun…

Scared to Death is the first book in a crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter – a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future…

If you like the Kim Stone series by Angela Marsons, Peter James’ Roy Grace series and the Erika Foster series by Robert Bryndza, discover Rachel Amphlett’s new detective novels today.

My thoughts

I’ve been aware of Rachel Amphlett and the Kay Hunter series for some time, but it’s taken a while to get around to Scared to Death. It’s always good to start with the first in a series so you can watch the characters and stories develop over time. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book.

While I have no problem with profanities and violence in stories, I often find them unnecessary and overdone in a lot of stories. Rachel Amphlett’s skill as a storyteller meant she didn’t need gratuitous violence, description or profanities to tell a riveting and realistic story, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.

Her straightforward, no nonsense style is refreshing, allowing readers to imagine the characters, if they want to. There was a strong sense of place and time, especially in the rundown industrial estates of Maidstone, and the scenes in the police station seemed highly realistic and credible to me.

The story not only kept me interested from start to finish, but I enjoyed the dashes of humour, particularly the snake her veterinary husband brought home to look after. The humour, and Kay Hunter’s compassion, proved the perfect counterpoint to the chills and terror experienced by the victims.

Both Kay and the killer were vividly brought to life, adding to the drama and suspense of the intriguing and original plot.

And behind it all, there’s this uneasy menace, lurking in the dark. I suspect this will continue into the next story.

5/5 stars. Highly recommended.

Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett

November 2017

Description

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong. But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.

With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun…

Scared to Death is the first book in a crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter – a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future…

If you like the Kim Stone series by Angela Marsons, Peter James’ Roy Grace series and the Erika Foster series by Robert Bryndza, discover Rachel Amphlett’s new detective novels today.

My thoughts

I’ve been aware of Rachel Amphlett and the Kay Hunter series for some time, but it’s taken a while to get around to Scared to Death. It’s always good to start with the first in a series so you can watch the characters and stories develop over time. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book.

While I have no problem with profanities and violence in stories, I often find them unnecessary and overdone in a lot of stories. Rachel Amphlett’s skill as a storyteller meant she didn’t need gratuitous violence, description or profanities to tell a riveting and realistic story, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.

Her straightforward, no nonsense style is refreshing, allowing readers to imagine the characters, if they want to. There was a strong sense of place and time, especially in the rundown industrial estates of Maidstone, and the scenes in the police station seemed highly realistic and credible to me.

The story not only kept me interested from start to finish, but I enjoyed the dashes of humour, particularly the snake her veterinary husband brought home to look after. The humour, and Kay Hunter’s compassion, proved the perfect counterpoint to the chills and terror experienced by the victims.

Both Kay and the killer were vividly brought to life, adding to the drama and suspense of the intriguing and original plot.

And behind it all, there’s this uneasy menace, lurking in the dark. I suspect this will continue into the next story.

5/5 stars. Highly recommended.

I’ve already purchased Will to Live, the second Kay Hunter story and look forward to following her fortunes and misfortunes.

Will to Live cover

Series Killers

Sometimes, I wish there were fewer books out there.

It’s not because I’m a slow reader. Far from it. I can zip through the pages like Mo Farah on his final lap of a race. It’s more a question of the amount of time available for reading. I read while I eat – breakfast and lunch each day.

If a book’s good, I can be tempted to extend lunch, but even then I only manage to read a couple of books a month, sometimes three.

Even if I extended lunch to five or seven courses, the temptation posed by the bewildering choice of authors and books would defeat me. Like many readers, I love discovering new authors, and often a series that gives me that extra magic in a story.

That extra magic

It’s usually a subject close to my heart, a plot that resonates at a deeper level, or a character that embodies similar values and beliefs to me. There’s usually a good sprinkling of humour and a distinct voice that makes the author stand out from the rest.

Must reads

I can only think of two authors whose books I have bought and read without hesitation.

Wilt Tom SharpeThe peerless Tom Sharpe had me laughing well into the night, forcing me to retreat under the covers so I didn’t wake everyone in the house. His ability to take a simple problem and escalate it to the scale of a nuclear war was unsurpassed. I wanted to write like him and make people cry with laughter.

Kinsey Millhone and I have an enduring relationship of over 30 years. It started the moment I opened A is for Alibi, the first of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Apart from Kinsey’s feisty attitude, her sense of humour shines through as she passes judgement on all kinds of human foibles and idiosyncrasies. There’s an intriguing backstory too.

New must reads

In recent years, I’ve discovered a few more crime authors who tick the boxes.

While I enjoyed Dead Simple by Peter James, the second in the Roy Grace series, Looking Good Dead, has captured my imagination and shown the great writing that led to him being voted top crime writer recently.

Robin Roughley, who writes the DS Lasser series, grabbed my attention in The Needle House, because of the great characterisation and realism that ran through the story. The second in the series, The Way that it Falls, confirmed what a terrific storyteller Robin is.

LJ Ross wowed me with the charismatic DCI Ryan in Holy Island, set on beautiful Lindisfarne, which still tingles in my memory from a visit there nearly ten years ago. The second story, Sycamore Gap, sits on my Kindle, waiting to be read.

And most recent of all, Rachel Amphlett grabbed me with Scared to Death and DS Kay Hunter, another strong, determined believable character with a no nonsense style. I’m looking forward to reading the second book, Will to Live.

Eat more

platterBut with all those books out there, intriguing reviews from the many bloggers I follow, and authors I’ve met through social media, I‘m constantly tempted away from the series I’d like to follow.

Maybe I’ll have to read while I’m eating my tea, or take a few more snacks during the day, maybe indulge in the occasional midnight feast …

It will mean more running to burn off the calories, but that’s a story for next time.

You can read my thoughts on most of the books mentioned in this blog on my Reviews page