The Dying Game. Ruhi Choudhary

Do you want to play a game..a simple question with chilling consequences.

A beautiful woman murdered, a local man committed suicide leaving a note saying he had to killed her.

A open and closed case until another person is murdered.

Then the first clue, a letter. somebody is showing people how vulnerable a member of their family is. The question. Do you want to play a game. Kill the person I deliver to you or a member of your family dies. Your choice.

Detective Mackenzie Price is assigned the case, and immediately starts to send ripples through the small community she works in.

One of the families involved is old money rich, and they have influence.

But with more people going missing, and now knowing they only have a limited time to find them, she doesn’t care who she upsets, or what the consequences might be.

The way Ruhi Choudhary writes always grips me. She has a way of guiding the story down avenues that always make me think, I’ve got this, only to find it’s another clever plot twist.

But that’s what makes it so good. Real police investigation is all about building hypotheses, the investigators investing their theory, until it’s proven wrong and they have to back track and build another

It’s always about the clues you don’t see, often right in front of your eyes, the clue that only takes relevance when that one piece of the jigsaw falls into place, and you finally see the relevance of the picture.

This is where Choudhary is the master. She lets little things slip into the story that help build the final hypothesis. There’s no sudden revelation of a clue, or suspect who hasn’t been in the story until almost the end.

Everything is there in the build up, but can you spot it. I’m usually quite good at spotting it, but not till really late in these stories.

A great book in a brilliant series. Yes it can be read as a standalone. No it won’t ruin the earlier books if you choose to go back and read them.

Loved it.

Print length: 382 pages. Audio book running time: 10 hours 45 Publisher: Bookouture

Lin Su Yoshimura The Days of Darkness. J.C Walker

Before I write anything else I have to say I really enjoyed this book

My dilemma is I really don’t know why.

If I was to list all the things I don’t like this book would be it.

I don’t like something that stretches the believable, this book has quite a bit of that in a James Bond opening sequence type of way.

I don’t like Ninja avenging angels. Lin Su is the epitome of one of these.

I don’t like villains being portrayed as the hero’s, yes you guessed it that’s exactly what happens in this book.

But it’s thoroughly compelling .

The characters are really engaging. The pace of the story is frenzied in places yet, in line with the training of Lin Su, slow and peaceful in others.

The disgraced military hero Major Jason Stone turns out to be a clever man with the weirdest moral compass.

Drug and Club Boss Matthew King is a rouge with a heart.

Together they make a great story.

What the Gumph on the back says

Lin Su Yoshimura, trained in martial arts at a young age by her parents, is kidnapped as a teen in China and sold into the sex trafficking trade which lands her in the United States of America. She is rescued from an abusive pimp by Matthew King, a New York drug dealer. Lin Su becomes a part of his organization as she wrestles with the horrors of her past.

They are approached by Jason Stone, a disgraced ex-Special Forces officer, who convinces them to raid Juan Ramirez, leader of a notorious Mexican cartel. Stone assembles a team of well-trained mercenaries accompanied by Lin Su and King to carry out the operation deep in the Mexican jungle which yields a huge quantity of cocaine and savage outcomes that neither expected.

I was offered this book to review and I’m glad I read it. Would I have picked it up in a shop. No. But that would have been a big mistake.

It looks like I’m going to have to start expanding my reading and check out new genres

Print length: 482 pages. Publisher: Groove Productions.

The Body Beneath The Willows. Nick Louth

The fourth book in the DCI Craig Gillard series, but just in case you’re put off by that, this book can easily be read as a standalone without losing any of its impact.

For crime fiction fans I’d describe Gillard as a character similar to Lewis from the Morse spin-off series. Nothing is unusual about him. He’s an honest cop, a family man who is happily married, even if he has a mad aunty who occasionally gives him hassle on the domestic front. He just gets on with the job, and that make really comfortable read.

The Publishers Gumph

On the tree-lined banks of Surrey’s River Wey, a decaying corpse is dug up by workmen in the middle of an Anglo-Saxon burial site. His modern dental fillings show that this is no Dark Age corpse…

DCI Craig Gillard is called in, but the body’s condition makes identification difficult. One man, however, seems to fit the bill: Ozzy Blanchard, a contractor employed by the same water firm doing the digging who disappeared six months ago, his crashed company car found nearby.

But then an X-ray of the corpse throws the investigation into turmoil. A shard of metal lodged in his neck turns out to be part of an Anglo-Saxon dagger unknown to archaeologists. Who wielded this mystery weapon and why? Does the answer lie in a murderous feud between two local families?

The deeper Gillard digs, the more shocking truths he will uncover.

A totally original crime mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Body Amongst the Willows is an absolute thrill-ride, perfect for fans of Michael Connelly, Ann Cleeves and Mark Billingham

What I thought

Nick Louth has created a great character in Gillard. The story clatters along at a great pace, and takes enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, without stepping into the realm of the improbable, or impossible. It’s very realistic.

There’s a clever thread running through the book that had me convinced I’d spotted who the murderer was, but no, I was wrong.

Gillard is written in such a way that you can feel his frustrations as the investigation seems to hit brick walls.

This is made even more realistic by the fact that Louth has fully embraced the way of the world today. He is the first author, that I’ve read, who has taken on the way the pandemic is affecting the country, the reduced number of Police Officers available, working from home, the mental effect of lockdown.

Nick Louth books are very much of the now, and I suspect in years to come people will read them and remember the period we’re going through. Hopefully as a distant memory.

Print Length 306 pages. Publisher Canelo Crime. Published 27th January 2022

The House Fire Rosie Walker

As a retired Fire Officer I didn’t know quite what to expect of this book.

What I got was a great read.

Don’t be fooled by the title. Yes fire, and arson, are a running theme but it’s the story of why the fires are being set that makes this book stand out.

It’s the story of one woman, Jamie, and her partner, Spider, trying to make a TV documentary about a series of fire that hit a town in the 1980’s. It’s about the fire setter starting over again and threatening Jamie and her family.

Jamie’s family also play a central role. Her mothers new husband, a minor TV News reporter, and her young sister just don’t get on. The new husband, is he just too good to be true. The little sister is she just being a teenage brat.

The family dynamics examined in this book are a big part of what makes the story so compelling, and at times chilling.

At times this book seems a bit Nancy Drew, at others it’s very much straight off the pages of Val McDermid, and that blends it into a great psychological thriller .

Print length: 343. Publisher: One More Chapter. Published on 6th January 2022

Her Dying Wish. Carla Covach

I have to admit to a vested interest in this book. I have an acknowledgment in the back for some advice I gave to the author.

Carla is one of my favourite authors, and her DI Gina Harte is one of the best characters in modern crime fiction. So it was a privilege to be asked, but this is an honest review

What the gumph says:

Kerstin is wide awake. While her family sleeps around her, the devastating secret her husband just told her is spinning through her mind. Does she really know the man she married? And are her children still safe in this small town?

She jumps as she hears a sound from outside. Peering into the inky darkness, her eyes focus on movement at the bottom of the garden. Someone is out there.

She watches as the figure strikes a single match. Kerstin gasps at the sight of the face staring back at her, smiling, as if enjoying her fear.

A car door slams and the figure makes a dash for the trees, leaving something behind – a small memorial candle. As it flickers in the darkness, Kerstin knows exactly what it means. Someone is coming for her, and her family is in terrible danger…

As I was reading it I was making notes for my review, but unusually for me they were one word bullet points.

Manipulation, Murder, Deceit, Blackmail, Victims or Murderers.

The very last thing I wrote in my note was.

Certainly no Occam’s Razor in solving this one.

How Covach even conceived this story makes me wonder about the way an authors mind works. It’s brilliant.

Children are kidnapped, family homes are set on fire, people are murdered. And all this is connected to a small group of seemingly innocent people.

As a reader I am always trying to work out where a story is going to go, who is the next victim, who is the perpetrator, usually with great success.

Not with this book. I loved the crimes, the settings and the story. Did I work out who was responsible and why? Not a chance.

Even though I made a note half way through reading it, 50/50, because I thought the mystery had been solved. I was wrong. It was just another well designed, well written, turn in the plot.

This is a book that just keeps twisting and turning from the first house fire, to the final arrest this book had me hooked.

Print length: 367. Publisher: Bookouture. Available now.

The Monument Murders. Rachel McLean

Straight off I’m going to say this is one of my favourite series. I enjoyed the original books set in Birmingham, and these Dorset based books.

The Dorset books are neither a continuation of the Birmingham books, or a separate series, they are very much a spin-off with overlapping characters.

Rachel McLean has a way of making realistic, normal paced, modern policing exciting.

She has a great skill for a flamboyant murder scene which always puts a different spin on the scene examination.

But what I think she has mastered is the ability to take a very thin twine of a thread of a story, and weave it through all of her books.

As with the Birmingham series there is the hint of Police misdoings. A problem that is niggling away at DCI Lesley Clarke, a problem that her boss seems to want her to look into, but at the same time won’t acknowledge the exists.

In each of the Dorset series this thread is intertwined with the main crime to be investigated.

I mentioned flamboyant scenes. The first murder victim in this book is found spread eagled over the local landmark, the Swanage Globe.

An architect has had his throat cut and a note has been left with the body, Go Home, is written in his own blood.

The fact that the victim is black, and the words on the note, instantly raise the possibility of a race crime. But he’s an out-of-towner working on a controversial project, so the reference to going home may not be race based.

With the investigation team split between the two hypotheses cracks start to appear.

Can Clarke keep everything together, the team, the main investigation, the side investigation into a crime that may not even have happened, and her relationship with a criminal defence barrister who just happens to be representing one of her main suspects.

What a book, and what a clever ending………..

I can’t wait for the next one.

Pages: 352. Publisher: Ackroyd Publishing. Available now.

My Favourite series’s (Which have finished)

Last week I blogged about falling out with a series before it finished, and why I still engage with the ones I’m still reading.

I had some great responses and it was surprising how many people mentioned the same two or three authors they stopped reading, and considering at least one of the is still an international best seller it did make me wonder if there’s a bit of “ the Emperor’s new clothing” going on with some publishers.

But onto a more positive thing. That blog, and it’s responses got me thinking which are my favourite series, which have concluded, and therefore I know I didn’t, and couldn’t give up on.

The first one that really hooked me was Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Trilogy. In this I only include the three originals written by Ludlum and not the follow on books by, and in collaboration with Eric Van Lustbader.

Those books were huge at well over 500 pages each. The story was continued through each, and never once did I feel that they were being stretched out.

The next series is Stig Larsons Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander

I came late to Larrson’s Millennium trilogy, all three had been published, and unfortunately the author himself had died, in what some people considered suspicious circumstances.

Each book could be read as a standalone, but the running theme throughout the three made the series greater than the sum of the individual books.

The books got a bit near the knuckle at times but never stepped over the line into “bad-taste”. I would love to have known if the series might have expanded had Larrson not died.

My final series was the first series that had me queuing up on publication day. Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October hooked me straight away and not one of the Jack Ryan books, which were written solely by Clancy disappointed.

Even when Ryans political career took off the books were addictive and believable.

Some of Clancy’s work was frighteningly realistic. Years before the terror attacks of 9/11 he had a rogue terrorist fly an airliner into the Capital Building in Washington DC.

These three series are all brilliant, but they bring another thing to mind.

All of these series were carried on by other people either in collaboration, at first, or after the original authors death.

Not one of those extensions to the series matched up to the original writing. So why sully the memory and reputation of the original series by allowing others to pen lesser work.

The Drowning Girls. Lisa Regan

The latest in a cracking series and it had me reading well into the early hours.

The publishers material for this book gives a brief insight into the story

A knock on the door late in the evening can only mean trouble for Detective Josie Quinn, but fear chokes her at the news that one of her own team is missing. No one has seen Denton PD’s Press Liaison Amber for days and, as she follows the message scrawled on the frosted windscreen of Amber’s car to a nearby dam, Josie hears a piercing scream that tells her she’s too late. But the body they pull from the freezing water is not Amber…

Josie won’t sleep until she finds a name for the beautiful girl left to drown, and the meaning of the numbers scribbled in a tattered pink diary found on Amber’s desk. She must stay strong and focused for her close-knit team. But as rumors of an argument the night Amber disappeared surface, can she even trust her own colleagues?

But what it doesn’t give you is the glimpse into the emotions involved in the investigation. The who-can-you-trust paranoia that settles over Quinn, and starts to tear her team apart.

Race against the clock stories are common in fiction these days, but I haven’t read one so well written as this for a long time.

I read this book in a day. But that day actually spread well past my usual lights-out, book-down, time, and into the small hours of the following morning. It had me hooked, and I think if it had been another hundred pages long I’d have still carried on reading until I’d finished.

Pages: 391 (Print length). Publisher: Bookouture. Available now

Letting go of a series before it finishes. When should an author say it’s time to end the ongoing story.

I read and review a lot of books on this blog. I never publish negative reviews as I believe personal taste should not negatively impact on somebody else’s writing.

If I don’t like a book supplied to me by a publisher I will contact them direct, with my reason for not liking the story.

This can be difficult when the books I am finding disappointing, are the latest in a series I’ve really liked.

The first time I gave up on a series I had previously enjoyed was Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books.

Back in 1991 Post Mortem was like a breath of fresh air to me. A cracking story, in my favourite genre, with a likeable and realistic main character.

But, by the time we got to Black Notice, in 1999, the stories were getting more fanciful, and although Cornwell ensured her main character’s procedures and techniques were current and realistic, the crimes were getting too fanciful.

The developing of Scarpetta’s niece, into a James Bond like character, spiralled the stories too far from credible for me to carry on reading the rest of the series.

Recently I have started to disengage with a series I’ve been reading for year’s. The first books in the series were great reads, then the author seemed to run out of ideas.

They recycle the same plot with different methods of murder but essentially keep retelling the same two or thee stories.

That got me thinking about other authors who write long series and why I don’t fall out with them.

My favourite series is now into the high teens in books. I’m finding it really hard not to name names as it would be unfair on the author who’s series I’ve fallen out with.

So why are those books still gripping me.

The main characters have remained largely the same since the series started.

There are recurring characters that have great background stories of their own, without being fanciful or undergoing unrealistic, or drastic changes in their persona.

There are some less often recurring characters that always add to the storyline. In fact I look forward to their appearances.

The crimes are always different in the way they are committed, but more importantly the circumstances around the crimes are always different.

I think one of the cleverest things this author did was unexpectedly kill a loved character in one of the books, which makes sure the reader is never going to take it for granted that there will be a happy ending to the stories.

So how long is too long.

I have no idea.

I always think of my first crime fixation, Sherlock Holmes. 4 novels and 56 short stories, and I never get fed up of reading them.

Originally many of the short stories were written as weekly series in a newspaper so Conan Doyle was probably working to a deadline.

That dispells one of my thoughts that maybe the modern author is publishing books too quickly, often two books a year.

Cornwell was publishing books every twelve to thirteen months and I fell out with her, so the time frame between books probably isn’t the issue.

At the end of the day it must just be down to personal preference.

The Memory Bones. B.R Spangler

I have a confession to make. The killings in this book got into my dreams. I won’t say nightmares, because that’s a bit dramatic, but they certainly got into my head.

A choice, a quick death with a bullet in the head.

Or, play the game, take the challenge, escape the knots and run away.

3 years ago a woman is given the choice, she doesn’t know why she’s been taken into a clearing in a wooded area, or who the two men who took her are, all she knows is the bullet will kill her, and escaping being tied up and left alone at least gives her a chance.

Today a man’s body is found hog-tied in a clearing. Two discoveries get Detective Casey White’s attention.

One, the discovery nearby of skeletal remains intertwined with rope and a similar set of knots.

The other, the latest victim is her ex-husband Ronald Haskin, the father of their missing daughter. A man she still has emotional attachment to, but has not been in contact with for a while.

All that in the first thirty pages.

I don’t think I’ve ever done a review where I stopped talking about the plot after just thirty pages, but I don’t want to spoil, what is a stunning story, by discussing the plot line any further.

As with all of the series the characters and settings are great.

The continuing story of Casey White’s daughter runs through the story like a fine grain through an oak table top.

White trying to balance her work life, her ongoing hunt for the truth about her daughter, and her blooming relationship always add to the books, but take on a greater poignancy through this one.

As always the story is full of suspense, Cliff hanger chapter endings, and twist that kept me reading late into the night.

Maybe that’s why I had the bad dreams.

I loved it.

Pages: 337 Publisher: Bookouture. Available now