Deadly Christmas. Rachel McClean

Rachel McClean came to my attention last year with the Deadly…. Series of books set in Birmingham.

Since then she has been writing the Dorset Crime series, which is a spin-off from the Deadly Series with one of the bit-part characters from the original series taking a the lead role, with another book set in Scotland also heavily featuring one of the characters from Birmingham

This book is a return to the Deadly series with DI Zoe Finch and her team from Force CID investigating the suspicious death of a man found in Birmingham’s German Christmas Market.

The investigation leads them into the different worlds, Birmingham’s Homeless and the war crimes of the Yugoslavian Conflicts.

The team are soon battling over ownership of the investigation with the Home Office taking over.

But that’s the least of Zoe’s problems. She needs a new DS and she doesn’t like, or trust, the one she’s given.

They have history and Zoe is not convinced it’s resolved.

DS Kaur had been part of the Professional Standards Team that had included Zoe in the investigation into corruption in the Force. She was completely innocent, and had even been helping to gather evidence against the corrupt officers but Kaur really pushed her buttons.

Now Zoe is suspicious of why she’s been placed in the team.

The Deadly……. Series has always had a “Line of Duty” vibe running through, it continues to run in this book. It’s an excellent undercurrent to an already brilliant story.

I would never have thought that such a prolific writer, over a relatively short time, could produce such good books, but these are some of the best books I’m reading at the moment.

Pages: 292. Publisher: Ackroyd Publishing. Available now

The Body In The Shadows. Nick Louth

The latest in the DCI Craig Gillard series and another great read.

A series of events, including an attack on Gillard’s wife when she tries to intervene in a pick-pocket incident, starts to uncover rumours of a crime about to take place.

The consistencies in the rumours are only the date and the value of the gains £1.5 billion.

With not much else to go on several police forces become involved in the investigation into a crime that has not yet happened.

To say what that crime is would be a bit of a spoiler, as much of the first 3/4 of the book is taken up with the team identifying the players and what crime is about to be committed.

This is not a unique way of telling a story but it is less common these days and I found that I really enjoyed that aspect of the book.

Gillard and his colleagues build various hypotheses of what is about to happen, and each one of them is a possibility.

So if they know a crime is about to take place, and they have an idea of some of the people involved, what could go wrong.

Actually quite a bit. The problem is a minor crime, in comparison, is leading the team a bit of a dance.

This is a great story that I find it hard review without letting spoilers slip.

The basis of the story is great, the characters are brilliantly written, and the pace of it is perfect.

All in all, a really good read.

Publisher: Canelo Crime. Pages: 287. Publishing date: 19th January 2023

Their Burning Graves. Helen Phifer

Detective Morgan Brookes is back in the 8th instalment of this series.

One of the things I like about this series is the fact that the lead character is a DC and as such is unburdened by the management of an investigation. She is a cog in a machine that relies on all of the cogs working together towards the same cause, but only managing one line of the investigation.

The isolation of working that single thread, and taking her thoughts and findings back to the regular team meetings is what sets her apart.

Morgan is a huge crime fan, loving true crime documentaries and books, as well as some fictional crime.

She has a way of seeing the hidden meaning, the motivation for a crime, before most of her colleagues. It doesn’t mean she’s always right, but her hypothesis are fascinating, and if they are dispelled still aid the investigation by narrowing down the lines of inquiry.

In this book she’s the first investigator on the scene of a serious house fire. A family of three is dead inside, but not in one of the burned out rooms, in fact there isn’t even any smoke damage in the room in which they are found.

The fact that they are all sitting at the dining table, with plastic bags over their heads, and each with a hand missing, only adds to the intrigue.

Morgan and the rest of the team are soon embroiled in an investigation in a tight knit community within a small town.

Nobody can be ruled out, but he closer the investigation gets to identifying the killer the harder it’s seems to be.

I loved this book. The prologue chapter telegraphs the motive for the killing, but the link, and the identity, of the killer is cleverly hidden right up till the last couple of chapters

Morgan is a great character, as are the main recurring characters. It’s her addiction to crime documentaries and books that originally got me hooked, after all it could have been me that was being written about, but the books and the stories now demand my attention.

This is one of those series I now look out for. As soon as one’s available they go straight to the top of my to-be-read list and become my next read.

They never disappoint.

Pages: 265. Publisher: Bookouture. Publishing Date: 19th December 2022

In the interest of being transparent I must admit to having a vested interest in this book. I gave advice to Helen Phifer on the Fire Scene and the involvement of the Fire Service during the investigation.

I’d like to thank Helen for the generous mention in the acknowledgements section and the choice of name for the Brigade Fire Investigator in the book.

The Scarlet Papers. Matthew Richardson

A proper espionage book in the style of writers such as DeMille and Ludlum.

Like all of the best books that have a historical element Richardson has used factual events, and some strong rumours to weave a brilliant fictional tale.

The Cold War is over but the British Secret Services still feel the humiliation of the Cambridge Five. There have been rumours for decades that there was at least one other double agent working for the Russians.

So when the legendary Spy Master Scarlet Queen contacts Max Archer with information on the “6th Man” he is more than intrigued.

Max is a 42 year old, History Lecturer at the London School of Economics. He’s had books published on the history of espionage and specialises in the Cold War era.

The problem is his life is in crisis. His wife just left him and got pregnant, his Professorship isn’t materialising, his publisher is chasing him for his latest book.

When Scarlett contacts him he sees it first as the way to improve his life. Then he realises that to write and publish the book would be breaking the National Secrets Act and has a wobble about writing it.

At first Scarlett drips him information.

He demands more.

The Secret Services are aware of what’s happening and are in turmoils about if to stop the book being written, and if so how they are going to stop it.

A great read based in the modern day but with throwbacks to Scarlett’s career.

Twists and turns are scattered chapter by chapter. Spies, double and triple agents, duplicity, moralistic quandaries all add to the fascination of this story.

Publisher: Penguin. Publishing Date: 25th May 2023

Hidden Scars. Angela Marsons

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Without exaggeration the best book I’ve read

It may be because it’s written by my favourite author.

It may be because it’s the latest in a cracking series.

But I think it’s probably because the author put a lot of emotion into what was written.

Kim Stone nearly died in the last book, Six Graves, this one starts several months later and finds her struggling psychologically and physically.

Her team has been in the hands of another DI whilst she recovered and she can see it being slowly destroyed by his incompetence as a Detective and as a boss, and his failings as a human being.

Will she recover to take the team back from him whilst it’s still intact.

It takes a nasty murder, which he is happy to pass off as a suicide, to tip her over the edge and try and bring the “old Kim” back.

Will she manage it.

This book looks at the roller coaster of recovery from serious injury. How Kim has to struggle internally to get herself in the right place to be effective. Her team is more than her team, it’s her family and they need her.

The crimes in this book are psychologically horrific.

Based on a centre that offers “Correction Therapy” to young gay people.

I’ve not lead a sheltered life but I had no idea this happened. I’m not kidding when I say I disappeared into a Google worm hole for hour’s researching it.

Angela Marsons has dealt with the subject brilliantly.

Every page in this book is gripping as Kim struggles to find her old self.

Her team are there for her every step of the way but it’s a struggle at times.

The dual stories of the investigation into these horrific crimes, and Kims struggles to find, and deal with, her new normality are breathtaking.

And the very last sentence. Wow

Pages: 356. Publisher: Bookouture.

Audio book length: 8 hours 39. Narrator: Jan Cramer

The Soho Killer. Biba Pearce

The latest in the DCI Rob Miller series and it’s another cracker.

For some reason this series flew under my radar until earlier this year, but when I found it i binge read the series and have been waiting for this one ever since.

It didn’t disappoint.

Miller is called to an incident in Soho. It’s to a body which has been dumped in full public view. The victim is dressed in bondage gear, complete with a mask and ball gag. The terror frozen in the victims expression sears into Miller mind and he’s convinced from the start that this death is not the result of a sex game gone wrong.

Millers Superintendent wants the case closing quickly.

When another man is found in similar circumstances Miller is called to the scene by the SIO who is initially assigned the case.

It becomes apparent that the man is a high ranking official in the Secret Services and before the Police can even start the investigation it is taken off them by MI5.

For once Millers Superintendent shows a bit of fortitude and sides with her officers in her disgust at the way they are isolated and gives Miller the green light to carry on investigating this death in relation to the first murder.

I love books that teach me things I didn’t know I didn’t know. In this case it was a bit strange finding out that there are different codes of dress for different preferences in the gay bondage scene.

The story takes the investigation into the bay bars and clubs of Soho.

It looks at one person, within the Police teams, repressed sexuality and the internal struggle they have with themselves.

The main story is great, but it’s the stories within the story that makes this series as good as it is.

I really enjoyed this book, my only regret is I can’t binge read straight into the next one.

Pages: 314. Publisher Joffe Books. Publishing Date: 17th November 2022

The Prisoners Wife. Ali Blood

I don’t usually read the Gangland type of crime book, but the spiel for this one got me intrigued.

Am I glad I read it? Yes.

Emma is married to a man she thought was the best thing that had ever happened to her, until he put that ring on her finger. Then the true Tommy Driscoll appeared, bullying, coercive, and frightening.

Who she thought was an honest business man, is in fact a Gangland boss. His businesses just a front for all of his illegal activities.

The book starts with Tommy being found guilty of carrying a firearm and being sentenced to five years. Emma’s joy at the thought of freedom from him is short lived.

His brother Liam, and his right hand man Fraser work at Tommy’s behest to ensure she is living a life of incarceration on the outside, just as much as she is on the inside. His threats to her are chilling. Do nothing, live like a nun, wait for him to get out.

But she’s already made a mistake, a one night stand whilst Tommy was on remand.

Now the one night stand is trying to blackmail her, and if her husband finds out……..

But where is the real threat.

Who can she trust.

She can’t turn to her family because Tommy is using threats against them to control her.

The Police? Why should she trust them.

This is a great story with some vicious twists.

The surprises keep coming all the way to the last chapter.

A cracking book. At times this is a tough read but it’s always compelling and I found it hard to put down.

Ali Blood is a new author to me but I’ll be keeping my eyes open for her books in the future

Pages: 400. Publisher: Avon. Publishing Date: 2nd February 2023

Mystic Wind. James Barretto

This book reminds me of the early John Grisham books. A defence attorney battling the odds to save a man from a guilty verdict which will lead to the death penalty.

Jack Marino was a star prosecution attorney, but following an attack on him in his own home he is forced to stand down. He is going through the motions as a corporate lawyer for his father-in-laws huge firm when a request comes out of the blue.

He is asked to defend a man who is charged with murder. What he doesn’t know is that he has been hand picked by his former boss, set up to fail.

Why, because the District Attorney is running in the local election and wants a landmark case under his departments belt to help him get the votes he needs.

What they didn’t take into consideration was that Jack was back on his game. There is no way he is going to let the prosecution railroad his client into the death penalty.

The case agains the man Jack is defending is flimsy. It relies on the testimony of a man who has been granted immunity in the case, a man that Jack thinks is the actual killer.

Blocked at every turn Jack fights the prosecution team, and a Judge who likes to railroad his court along his own lines.

This is a brilliant book. John Grisham was one of my favourite authors for years but I’ve found his recent books have been a bit of a disappointment. James Barretto has filled the hole that Grisham left.

The book holds no punches and grips from the start. Jack Marino is a great character that is easy to engage with. His frustrations in the court, and with the investigation translate to a great story.

Just like Grisham you are not guaranteed a happy ending. That is what makes this book so good. The reader has no idea how it’s going to end. Who is going to come out on top. Right up to the last page there are surprises.

The book is advertised as Book 1 in the Jack Marino series, which gives me a great anticipation of what is to come. Bring on book 2

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing. Pages: 401.

Audio Book running time: 9 hours 10 minutes. Narrator: Dylan Walker

Behind Closed Doors. Carol Wyer

30 years ago Stacey was kidnapped.

Now she’s an investigative journalist missing a little finger and part of her ear. Reminders of a kidnapping she has forced deep into the “forgotten box” in her memories.

The one thing she does remember is the fact that her father refused to pay the ransom, even when bits of her were sent to him, and for that she’ll never forgive him.

When her ex-husband turns up on her doorstep to tell her that his daughter, her step-daughter, had been kidnapped; and that the kidnapper was demanding £500,000, whilst saying they would kill the girl if the Police were informed, Stacey’s memories start to bubble back to the surface.

But why has her ex husband chosen her to be his confidente, is it just her journalistic skills or does he have a more sinister motive.

This is more than just the story of a kidnap. It’s a story of emotions and betrayal, whether that betrayal is actual or just perceived, trust and the psychology of the memory.

It’s a cracking story full of twists and turns, more than once I was convinced my hypothesis were right, only to have them shattered in the next chapter.

Carol Wyer is good at this, it’s a trait of many of hers stories.

Her other traits are realism, believable stories, great characters that I can engage with, or take an instant dislike to.

All of these are right here in this book.

I enjoyed every page.

Pages: 335. Release Date: 6th December 2022

The Silent Dead. Marnie Riches

Detective Sergeant Jackie Cooke is not your average fictional Police Officer, but I think she’s probably one of the most realistic.

A newly separated single mother with twins boys, one of who is the “child from hell” and a few months old little girl.

She is battling her ex partner, who wants to take her for a much as he can, having contributed very little, and relies on her mother, who lives in a granny-flat in the basement, for child care.

When she’s at work she’s worried about her kids and the over reliance she places on her mom. When she’s at home she can’t stop thinking about her cases.

Her work is suffering because of her home life, and her home life is suffering because of her work.

The icing on the cake for Cooke is that she was a DI, but stood down when she became pregnant with her daughter, and the new DI is, in her opinion, inept.

So that’s the backdrop to the story and it really adds a touch of reality that helped me engage with Cooke.

When she attends a murder scene to find out that it’s an old school friend of hers who has been killed, she is caught slightly off guard.

When the investigation starts to take her into the world of, online dating, and seedy hook ups she wonders what her old friend had got herself into in the years they had been out of contact.

The fact that more murders show a similar MO, leads Cooke and her Sergeant into the murky world of on line hook ups.

I have come across the phrase Incel in a few books recently, but Marnie Riches seems to have hit the right balance of menace and desperation that people that fall into that category exude and suffer.

I love the main characters in this book.

The crimes are really well considered and fit the story perfectly.

A great read.

Pages: 325. Publisher: Bookouture. Publishing Date 1st November 2022