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.

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

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

Fallen Angel. D.K Hood

A group of crime authors. A snowed in mountain resort. What could possibly go wrong.

The book starts with a woman running through the snow, she knows she’s being pursued, but she doesn’t get away.

The staff of the resort notice she’s missing and reports it to the Police.

Sheriff Jenna Alton and her trusty second in command Detective Dave Alton head to the resort.

What follows is a cross between a cosy, locked room crime mystery set in, and around, the snowed in resort, and a chilling thriller.

Alton and Kane are stuck in the resort as the blizzard rages, another woman is murdered.

In true locked room mystery style they know they are trapped with the killer hiding in plain sight amongst the staff and guests.

I like this book, in fact I like this series. The back story of both Alton and Kane, both in hiding with pasts that have seen them work in law-enforcement, is addictive reading.

Both moved to hide in plain sight in the sleepy mountain town of Black Rock Falls, a small team around them that help them solve the ever increasing number of murders that have hit the town.

The town is growing as is its notoriety, that’s what attracted the crime authors, it’s also what’s attracting the psychopaths.

This, off all the books so far, has the feel of an Agatha Christie story, with the inclusion of the modern day chiller.

The story that the book carries is good, but for me it’s the characters and the setting that sets this series apart from others.

For that reason, I wouldn’t read this as a standalone book. It’s an essential cog in a very strong engine, and in the right place in that engine it works perfectly. On its own, I don’t think it would have as big an affect.

Pages: 346. Publisher: Bookouture. Available now.

Project Icarus. R.D. Shah

In the week the bond franchise announced they were appointing an author to develop stories involving new Double 0 agents, I can’t help thinking they should have looked no further than R.D Shah.

I never read any Fleming books but I used to love books by Robert Ludlum, and sadly haven’t really found an author who matched up, but I think that may have changed.

Project Icarus is one of those action books that sees the main character moving from one explosive situation to another, but unlike many it’s not over the top. It’s credible and makes the plot tick along nicely.

Icarus is a serial killer, but two of his kills have the security agencies seriously worried, they were agents of an agency that sees the Americans, British, and French security forces joined in hunt a specific world threat. The team is called DS5

British Police get lucky Icarus is cornered, but surprisingly he will only talk with Police Negotiator Ethan Munroe.

When Icarus escapes custody during a gun battle on a London Bridge it triggers a man hunt that starts in Europe, and in true Bond style, turns international.

Throughout the book, as Munro hunts down Icarus, there is a slow drip of information which opens up a clever, and believable plot.

Why is Icarus so determined to string Munroe along in his wake.

What is he trying to reveal to him, because it soon becomes apparent that Icarus’s agenda is not much different to Munroe’s but for very different reasons.

What links these two people that are so similar yet so different.

This is a cracker of a book. Which has opened up endless posters for future stories.

Pages: 323. Publisher: Canelo. Published Date: 18 November 2021