She Said. Three Said. David B. Lyons

There have been a few authors try to take us into the jury room to look at how a jury have come to a verdict. In this book Lyons explores the dynamics of the jury and the influence stronger characters can have.

At the same he gives the reader a unique look at the crime by narrating it in the first person from 4 peoples points of view

The Victim Sabrina, a young, attractive, well dressed woman who was out working when she bumped into the three defendants

The 3 defendants: Jason a soon to be retired international footballer, and his two life long best friends. Li, a nice young man of Korean decent who seems to be the voice of reason. Zachary, the mouthy arrogant one of the three.

Sabrina has accused the three of rape, a charge they all deny.

The jury have heard the evidence and discuss their thoughts on who is telling the truth about the night of the crime, and the validity of the evidence given by the 4

The reader gets to see the night unfiltered from all four of the main characters. What they said, what they did, and how the interpreted what was happening.

And that’s where the unique part comes. By letting each of the characters tell their own story, letting the night of the crime unfold, the reader is left to make their own decision about what happened.

The jury reaches their verdict, and in the very last few lines the reader finds out and and if they, along with the jury, got it right.

A clever book which deals with the jury room as well as any book I’ve ever read.

Pages: 314.

The Grenfell Tower Fire: Benign Neglect and the Road to Avoidable Tragedy

Tony Prosser and Mark Taylor

Everybody is aware of the tragic events of the early hours of July 14th, 2017, and many words have been written, but none as insightful as this book.

The authors, Tony Prosser and Mark Taylor are both retired Senior Officers form the West Midlands Fire Service, England’s second biggest Metropolitan brigade, and have a wealth of experience in fighting fires of all types and sizes. They now run a successful business, Artemis Training and Development, training Fire Officers across England and Wales in all levels of Command and Control before assessing and awarding National Skills for Justice qualifications to successful candidates.

Given their experience it is not surprising that this Forensic examination of the incident is so well evidenced.

The book doesn’t just take a look at the fire. As the title suggests it looks at the timeline of events that should have predicted such a fire would take place. It looks at previous incidents which highlighted the factors which led to the fires in high rise blocks spreading beyond the compartments which were designed to confine them.

By looking at the history of Social Housing, Fire Safety in Domestic Dwellings, Building Regulations and the introduction of the Regulatory Reform Act, the book plots the timeline of the domino effect, which ultimately led to the final domino tumbling on that July night in 2017.

Before looking at the incident the authors look at the training of those who had to fight it. Not the individual personnel on the fireground that night, but the national collective. This incident could have happened in any City in the UK, and so the national requirements of Firefighter recruitment, progression training, professional qualifications, and the roles carried out in the rank structure of the modern Fire Service, are all looked at in a factual and unbiased way.

The book looks at the effect the Baine Report of 2002 had on the structure of the Fire Service in England and Wales and how that has influenced the weight and speed of response to incidents attended by the Fire Service.

To help to understand the way the fire spread, and why so many failings in the structure contributed to the speed and development of it, there is a section devoted to the Construction of high-rise Buildings, and the fire safety measures employed in them. 

Another chapter is devoted to high-rise firefighting, the problems encountered by fire crews and the procedures they should carry out.

This allows the reader to have some insight into what the fire crews expected at a fire in a domestic property within a high-rise building, and how they would approach the incident under what, up till that night, had been usual circumstances.

At the beginning of the chapter that looks at the incident, the authors describe how they have attempted to portray the events by saying,

“We have therefore attempted to consider the fire service’s operations of that night in the context of what was happening in the UK FRS as a whole, and from the perspective of a competent, reasonably well- informed UK Firefighter”

Something they have achieved in a way that all readers will find explains the actions of the Fire Crews in a matter of fact manner, using data and evidence which was supplied to Phase One of the Public Enquiry.

The Public Inquiry did not take into consideration what any reasonably, and well-informed firefighter would have done on that night. Prosser and Taylor have, they have interviewed Fire Officers and discussed the incident, unsurprisingly the majority of experienced Officer spoken to state that they would have made many of the same decisions, especially surrounding the evacuation policies.

The book is a time line. The first chapters of the book look at significant events before the fire in Grenfell Tower, including Fire Service training and procedures. It then looks at the incident. But perhaps the most significant chapters are the final ones entitled Aftermath, Inquires and the Blame Game and finally A Brave New World. 

These chapters look at what happened in the immediate aftermath of the fire. How different agencies and companies reacted to the incident.

They look at Phase One of the Inquiry and the outcome of the recommendations on the Fire Service.

Anybody who understands Fire Safety Legislation, will be aware of the phrase “after the horse has bolted” and its used in the book to show how things changed after some landmark incidents. Will there be a Brave New World? Or will industry and legislation just wait for the next Grenfell.

The final chapter considers the landscape in which public services operate, and what impact any changes could have on the way they prevent and respond to large scale emergencies.

It is not many, if any, “industry” books that I have read from cover-to-cover, but this one I did.

In my opinion this book should be on every fire station in the country. Prosser and Taylor have put together a well-reasoned, unbiased book, which sets out the path to Grenfell.

This is not a book which looks to apportion blame, or dissolve blame by looking for mitigating circumstances. It lays out what happened, why it happened, and why those firefighters that fought the fire acted in the way they did.

For none Fire Service readers it will explain the expectations a firefighter had of how the fire should have developed, and explains the tactics used by the crews on the scene.

There is nobody that cannot learn something from reading this book.

Pages: 390

Publisher: Pavilion Publishing and Media.

Ask No Questions. Claire Allan

One of the best books I’ve read this year.

25 years ago an eight year old girl goes missing during a Halloween night out.

3 days later 10 year old twin brothers Niall and Declan Heaney find her face down in a lake.

The families of the small Northern Irish town of Creggan are devastated and scared.

Ingrid Devlin was two years older than the missing girl and lived in the same town, now she’s a journalist who has written a couple of true crime books, so it’s natural that she is asked to do an anniversary piece on the murder, for the local paper.

What starts out as just a look at the victim, her family and the community, and how they have been affected takes a swing when James Harte, the man convicted of the murder, who was released 7 years ago, contacts Ingrid proclaiming his innocence.

The paper publishes the anniversary article, but Ingrid’s Editor refuses to run anything inflammatory from Harte. In fact the editor orders Ingrid to stop looking at the case. She decides that there is good material for a book and continues her investigation.

It’s not long before intimidating tactics start to persuade her to stop. That just makes her dig her heels in and carry on, but she’s scared, very scared, by what’s happening around her.

This book has a fantastic storyline. The tenacity of Ingrid’s investigation is underpinned by the effect it starts to have on her. How, as evidence starts to sway her thoughts away from what she has accepted as the truth since she was 10, she becomes scared.

The dynamics of the families involved in the incident, the girl’s mom and dad, the twins who found her and their parents is brilliantly written.

The tension in the book ramps up all the way until the last few pages, and in all honesty, I didn’t predict the end. Which is just how I like my crime fiction.

It wasn’t a surprise when I researched Claire Allan and found out she graduated with a Masters in Newspaper Journalism before becoming a renowned reporter in Derry. This book couldn’t have been written this well if the person writing it, hadn’t lived the life of a reporter in that area.

Did I save the best till last. This is certainly in the top 3 books I’ve read this year. So yes I think I did.

Publisher: Avon Pages: 336 Publishing date: January 2021

The Fine Art of Invisible Detection Robert Goddard

Where do I start with this one. The first half of the book is like two helix twisted together with the two main characters of the story spiralling around Japan, England and Iceland, chasing the same goal for different reasons until they come together to form an amateur partnership looking to bring down a shady global conglomerate.

Wada is an assistant to a Private Detective in Tokyo. When a woman comes to the office and says she needs somebody to go to London and pretend to be her Wada is an easy choice, as she is fluent in English.

The reason for the trip is to identify a mystery man ho might throw light on her husbands alleged suicide.

At the same time Nick, a teacher in London is about to find out the man he thought was his father, and who had died before Nick knew him, was not his father. A man who hung around with his mom, and her lesbian partner, in a group house for peace activists, appears to be his real father and he wants answers.

A man has told Nick he’ll meet him to give him information about his father, but he doesn’t turn up

Meanwhile Wada is also in London, to meet a man who says he has information on a man in a photo from the 70’s who will help in her quest. He doesn’t turn up either.

The same man, in both cases, has let two amateur sleuths down and set a chain of events in place that will uncover a plot that stretches across decades and continents.

This is a fantastic read. The main characters of Wada and Nick are perfect for this story.

Both are unassuming but tenacious. The two characters have their own story, and a long proportion of the book sees their paths crossing, and whilst both are aware of each other, and that they are looking for the same person, they don’t meet for a frustratingly long period. However when they do there is fireworks

A lot of stories come along with good plots which rely on improbable situations, that need the reader to suspend reality. In this case everything is not only probable, but also very, very believable

A great read. I just hope it’s not a standalone, I’d love to read more of Wada and Nick, and there’s an opening right in the last few lines that hints they’ll be back.

Pages: 384. Publisher: Bentham Press. Release date: March 2021

Salt Water Graves. B.R Spangler

I can’t believe so much happens in this book, and all in 276 pages.

Detective Casey White’s life is finally back on track, until the second page. She’s late, as she says not late as in for a meeting, late as in pregnant. She’s in love, with the father and they are about to move in together. He has a great job and is up for election to his old post.

Then the first body is found, and there’s a link to her boyfriend, Jericho Quinn. Coincidence?

Not when a second body is found which is also linked to him

Could it really be Jericho, the one person she has let into her life, the one person she really trusts, or is somebody trying to frame him, or undermine his run for Sheriff

So who can Casey trust.

Then things really start to unravel. If you haven’t read the first two books in the series the impact of the rest of the story might be a bit diluted, but without giving too much away to readers who have…..there is one hell of a twist in this story.

A twist that will have Casey reeling. The physical and mental trauma she goes through in this book are nothing compared to the emotional trauma she suffers.

Each of the books in this series end on a cliffhanger, but nothing before will compare to this one.

Spangler has a way of writing that combines the cosy, small town mystery, with the darkest of psychological thrillers.

The books are written in the first person with Casey White being the main narrator so the reader is aware of every thought, every doubt, and every emotion. It’s impossible to read these books and not feel empathy for her.

So when Spangler puts her through the mill, and he does, you go with her.

An excellent read in a wonderful series

Pages: 276. Publisher: Bookouture Publishing date: 14th December 2020

The Darkness Within. Graeme Hampton

Although this is the 3rd book in a series, and the first I’ve read, it didn’t seem like it. In fact I only realised it was when I came to the end and the authors previous books are listed

Is this a good thing, yes, because it means the book can obviously read as a stand- alone, but as much as I enjoyed it, I didn’t want to go and find the previous books to catch up with the back story.

And that’s where this is a conundrum of a book to review because I really enjoyed the story without engaging with the main characters, DI Matt Denning and DS Molly Fisher.

The story starts with somebody being recognised after 30 years, by somebody else who was a victim. The red mist comes down and……that’s where the prologue ends and sets up the mystery for the rest of the book.

Retired DCI Frank Buckfield is found murdered having lived the last few years of his life in squalor. Some officers remember him fondly but others remember him as a bully who got results any way he could.

This is followed by a serious assault on an academic. The man had been reported missing by his sister over 20 years ago and had apparently never been found, so how could he have been working in a University so recently. One look at him shows he’s much younger than the man who was reported missing and must be somebody who’s assumed his identity. But why.

The connections between the two victims seems to point back to a major robbery, one that Buckfield had made his name by arresting the major players in.

Meanwhile a historic child abuse ring starts to appear on the periphery of the investigation. High profile men, including a Judge, and MP and a Senior Police Officer had been abusing young homeless or vulnerable boys.

As the investigation gathers pace some current Senior Police Officers seem to be against some of the lines of inquiry.

Denning and Fisher continue with the investigation against the advice of these officers, and sometimes in isolation from each other.

But are the modern day crimes connected with the historic ones. Is their a serial killer stalking the streets, or is this an act of revenge.

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the story and the way the author led me down the occasional cul-de-sac where I was convinced I knew who was responsible, only to have my hypothesis wiped out several times.

I will read the future books when they come out, but not because I’ve engaged with the characters, which is usually what hooks me into a series, but because the story was so good.

Pages: 288. Publisher: Hera. Publishing date: 13th January 2021

Force of Evil. Simon Michael

Every now and again a book comes along that could have been written just for you. For me that book was the first one in this series. Now, all of a sudden we have book six, Force of Evil, and like all of its predecessors it’s raised the bar again. It is stunning.

Charles Holborn is a London Barrister. A man from a strongly Jewish family who has mixed with the wrong people, not always his fault, since he was a child.

Born between the wars he worked as a Lighterman on the Thames at the start of the war, before joining The RAF when he was old enough to fight. He spent a lot of his youth and early manhood in the boxing gyms of 1940s London. Where he started to mix with some of London’s most notorious thugs.

Against the odds of his religion, his upbringing, and the people he has mixed with he gains his law degree, then faces the anti-Semitism which was rank amongst the Law Firms of the 50s and 60s. All of this is laid out in the first five books of the series which have been written around actual occurrences without rewriting history. In fact a lot of the characters in these books will be familiar to most readers, including the Kray’s

So all of that and I haven’t even mentioned this books plot.

Force of Evil see’s Holborne take on one of his most formidable foes yet. When he and a friend, Sloane, stumble across an innocuous incident on a rail siding it quickly escalates and leaves his friend in hospital with a fractured jaw. Sloane is a DS in the Met who has recently been transferred out of Vice, for being one of the only honest cops working in the squad, and is now working under a cloud of suspicion from his fellow officers.

The problem is, the more Charles try’s to find out how the man who hit Sloane got off Scotch free, the more interference Police Officers put in his way.

When another man is killed, and RAF Sergeant, who was looking into crime at a Ministry of Defence stores it starts to become apparent the two cases are intertwined.

There is a lot more to this story than just the investigation into theft form an RAF base. The story looks at the corruption that was rife in some parts of the Police in the 60’s. It looks at the dubious methods employed by some officers in gaining an arrest, and ensuring anybody they wanted out of the way could be sorted out by foul play.

It looks at the influence gangs had on the community, and the effect their “interference” could have even in places that should be sacrosanct.

And as usual there is the story of Charles’s private life. In a twist a lot of people will be familiar with Charles and his brother start to become increasingly worried about the behaviour of their parents.

Balancing his legal work, trying to do the right thing for his client, and trying to appease the gangland, whilst trying to stay in one piece, and on the right side of the law, is challenging for Charles. But it makes an absolutely brilliant story for us to read.

Pages: 404. Publisher: Sapere Available now.

The Thursday Murder Club. Richard Osman

I am so glad I downloaded this as an audio book because Lesley Manville brings a great atmosphere as the narrator of this brilliant story by Richard Osman, yes the big fella off the TV.

Tongue in cheek, or deliberately written as a comedy, I have no idea but I got a lot of strange looks walking down the road, with my earbuds in, laughing out loud.

Cosy Crime is not my usual genre, and by the nature of the characters and the setting, this can’t be classed as anything else, but it is a tremendous listen.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim, all in or close to their 80’s, live in a care community in the leafy south east of England. Every Thursday they meet up and try to solve cold case murders, in a very Miss Marples type of way, but always around the table.

A visit by a local Police Officer, Donna DeFraites, I think that’s how it’s spelt ( the problem with audio books ) is boring to the residents, they’ve had enough advice about window locks, so they ask for juicy stories.

A few days later there is a real murder, right on their doorstep, and the four pensioners swing into action. Which is more than Donna can do because as a junior uniform, and dare I say it female officer, she’s just tasked with making the tea.

Until the murder club hatch a plot to get her bosses to let her take part in the investigation. Their only real motivation being they need an inside source because they are going to investigate a real murder.

What follows is a cross between an Agatha Christie story and something from the pen of the writers of the Vicar of Dibley, and it’s is hilarious.

Osman writes the way a lot of people think. There are times when he makes little connections and send the characters mind or mouth rambling around a subject.

He gets away with some borderline political incorrectness because, actually it’s not incorrect, it’s what most of us think.

I hope this is the start of a new series. The characters are great, and the setting will allow peripheral characters to drift in,a new out, or inevitably fill the void left by those that “ move on “