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 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

The Guilty Girl. Patricia Gibney

If you are a parent that has had children who have already passed through teenage years, this book will bring back memories of all the fears and trepidations you felt.

Patricia Gibney is particularly good at tapping into raw emotions. Her books always seem to come from the heart, and be laid on foundations of experience that brings a reality which is unrivalled when it comes to the angst and emotions of the characters.

This book is no exception. In fact it stands out as a brilliant book, in what is already a brilliant series.

The angst of youth. Wanting to be a part of everything, whilst being torn between what is right and what is wrong.

The dangers some youths are exposed to in their hunt for acceptance, or their version of “the dream”

The vulnerability of youth, hidden by the false shield of the hard exterior.

Lottie Parker is called to a murder. A young girl held a house party at her parents house, the next day she is found dead amongst the detritus of the party.

Why was Lucy killed.

Another girl Hannah is hiding something, and Lucy seems to have found out about it.

Parker starts to uncover disturbing evidence that indicates that somebody is taking advantage of young girls.

Evidence starts to stack up, and then one boy, who should know better admits he was at the party, Parker is infuriated.

The story in this book is so current it’s frightening. It’s frightening to realise that things like this are going on. We all read about these crimes in the newspaper, online, or hear about them in the news, but Patricia Gibney makes them so much more relevant to us by adding the emotions of the victims, witnesses, and investigators.

I look forward to every book in this series and have never been disappointed. This one lifts the bar again, I can’t wait to see where she takes us in the next one.

Print Length: 507 pages (according to Amazon). Audio book 14 hours 38 minutes Narrator Michele Morgan. Published 15th June 2022

The Lost Ones. Marnie Riches

Well if you are looking for a detective with a difference this is the book to find it in.

Detective Sergeant Jackie Cook. A hormonal woman in the third trimester of an unexpected pregnancy who has: A waster of a husband who contributes nothing but dreams of being a rock star. Nine year old twin sons doing their best Fred and George Weasley impressions. A mother who lives in the basement with her David Niven like boyfriend. The occasional visiting bohemian artist father.

On top of all of that her colleagues blame her for letting the glory seeking, queen detective, DI Venables get the rank of Detective Inspector because she’d stood down from it.

Oh and there’s a series of gruesome murders to solve.

Cook and her partner David Tang are assigned to a murder where the limbless torso of a young girl has been posed in a beer garden.

It’s not the usual gang related murder the team are used to dealing with in Manchester, and it’s not the last body with bits missing that is coming their way.

The story develops as more bodies are found. Each either missing pieces, or being discovered as just one piece.

Cooke and Tang are under pressure, Venables is preening her feathers and wants a quick arrest of who she thinks is an obvious suspect. Cooke and Tang know she’s wrong.

This story is stunning, and has introduced one of the quirkiest characters I’ve read for years.

Cook is a force to be reckoned with, but she’s also a vulnerable woman.

She’s blunt, likes to give the occasional kick in the shin, loves her job, but has real problems balancing her work and home life.

As the story gallops on she finds herself having to merge both worlds, but the result is not what she expects, or is it.

A stunning start to what I hope will be a great series.

If you are a fan of Marnie Riches you are not going to be disappointed. If you are only just discovering her you are in for a real treat.

Publisher: Bookouture. Pages: 324. Audio Book 11 hours 6 minutes. Narrator Helen Duff. Available now.

A Life For A Life. Carol Wyer

Carol Wyer is one of those authors who I look for. When her books are out up for review I grab them as soon as possible.

There’s a reason for this. She ticks all of my boxes when it comes to crime fiction.

Great characters, great settings, realistic stories, gritty, and no guarantee of a happy ending.

The Kate Young series has been her best so far, and A Life For A Life just takes it to another level.

Kate is made SIO when a seemingly innocent, if somewhat irritating, young man is found dead on a train station platform. He’s been shot in the head with a stun bolt, like those used to kill animals in abattoirs.

But he’s only the first victim, there will be others.

Meanwhile Kate is still trying to expose the bent Senior Police Officer she believes is responsible for the murder of her husband.

Her husband was a journalist who had been investigating a story involving high profile men abusing underage youths, of both sexes, in a sex club.

One of the underage youths had been killed by an over zealous customer whilst The Senior Police Officer was abusing a young girl in the neighbouring room. Now that girl is on the run and Kate knows she’s the only person who will have information to help her nail the dirty cop.

How far will Kate go in her attempts to avenge her husband, and how much will it affect her ability to perform as a normal day-to-day SIO.

The continuing story of Kates attempt to get justice for her husband runs nicely in parallel to the core story of this book, the investigation into the murders.

There’s another parallel that binds Kate and the Killer, but I really can’t mention it without giving a big spoiler. However when you read the book you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, and just how clever Carol Wyer has been to use it.

This is crime fiction at its very best. It also shows why U.K. Crime Fiction is so popular and successful right now.

Fast paced, realistic crime, that just grips the reader and takes them on one hell of a ride.

A brilliant read.

Print length: 363 pages. Audio Book: 10 hours 5 minutes. Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

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

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 Stolen Ones. Angela Marsons

When a man, Steven Harte, walks into a Police Station and asks to speak to Detective Inspector Kim Stone, with information about the disappearance of a young girl 25 years ago she initially gives him short shrift.

But when he says she will want to talk to him again soon, just as another little girl goes missing under very similar circumstances , he gets her attention.

Is he building an alibi, does he know something relevant, or is he just playing with Kim’s head.

And, as if one person playing with her head isn’t enough, the Queen of Psychopaths, Kim’s nemesis, Dr Alex Throne is sitting in prison trying to plot her way to freedom.

She knows Kim won’t be able to resist visiting her if she can get a message to her, all she needs is a phone with a number Kim doesn’t recognise. Easy for a functioning, psychotic, sociopath. But somebody will have to suffer.

Meanwhile. Kim’s team are investigating the latest disappearance and Stacy starts to notice a pattern.

The little girl that went missing 25 years ago was never found, but was she the first.

To find the clues that will help the team find the latest girl the team start to dig into historical cases, none of which had been solved.

How can respected business man Steven Harte possibly be linked to all of these cases?

Why is he leading Kim on a merry dance across the Black Country. He seems to anticipate their every move, and ingratiates himself with her team.

Can he possibly be a cold blooded kidnapper, and killer?

All the time the investigation is going on Dr Alex is plotting, should Kim be spending more time making sure she stays locked away, or is she being blindsided.

This is a belter of a story.

I recently watched a live Stream with Angela Marsons talking about how she comes up with stories for this amazing series. The way a little thing will catch her attention, then develops into a plot.

The way she is intrigued by finding out about specialist fields within Criminology and Forensics. The fact that she has bookshelves full of research text books.

It’s not a coincidence that this is the favourite series of so many people, selling millions around the world. Was it Tiger Woods who said “the harder I practice, the luckier I get”

Angela puts the hard miles into her research, often digging deep just to give a short chapter authenticity and realism.

The people, the settings, the stories, are all very realistic.

But there was something she said in the live stream that really resonated with me. Readers don’t need to know the little things, “like how many forms a cop needs to fill out” What they want to read is what they actually expect of a crime book, based on their knowledge from TV series and documentaries.

Nobody does this better than Angela. I work in the forensic field and have been involved in major investigations. I’ve never once thought anything she wrote was unrealistic.

Yet I have an acquaintance who could not be further removed from that life. Who has no experience of the police, or a police investigation, who is absolutely hooked on these books.

If Angela can keep both of us enthralled, and eagerly waiting for each instalment, she is definitely doing something right, very very right.

This year has been a stellar year for Crime Fiction books, but Angela Marsons still sits reading get at the top of my charts and looking at Amazon Chart today, the day after publication for this book, right at the top of most other readers must read list as well.

Pages: 426. Publisher: Bookouture. Available now