The Silent Suspect. Nell Pattison

The opening chapters in this book contained the best narrative of a house fire, from a civilian witness point of view, I have ever read.

Paige Northwood is a hearing British Sign Language interpreter. When she gets a video call from a client, who is frantically signing at her to phone the Fire Service, because his house is on fire and his wife is missing, she calls the brigade and runs around the corner to where the fire is taking place.

Paige works a Deaf Social worker Sasha, and helps her with clients. It’s one of these clients who’s house is on fire

Lucas is nowhere to be seen when Paige arrives, but is soon pulled out of the building by fire crews, he’s alive but as he sits on the back of an ambulance his wife is pulled out dead.

Hours later Lucas is charged with her murder. Sasha and Paige can’t believe he did it and start to carry out their own investigations.

What follows is amateur sleuthing at its best. Showing a real confirmation bias towards proving Lucas innocent they blunder their way along, and in Paige’s case, from one disaster to another, in a desperate attempt to find out who really killed Lucas wife.

As they start to uncover the truth about what Lucas is really like Paige starts to have doubts.

Running alongside the main story are short flashback chapters that cover the last few hours before the fire

The two main threads intertwine, just as the reader is led down one thread by Paige’s investigation, they are diverted by something that happened just hours before the fire.

This is a great story with great characters.

Pattison uses italics when one of the characters is signing, and somehow manages to get real emotion into the conversations.

Unlike many modern fiction books where murder follows murder she has kept it real with the one main crime, but of course there are a lot of less serious crimes orbiting it. People just don’t get murdered for no reason, most of the time.

I’ve said before how I love a book that gets me researching, and this one did just that. How many of us have given any thought to how deaf people use mobile phones, apart from texting and using the internet.

I got the sneaky feeling that this wasn’t the first book in the series when I was reading it, but I waited till the end to check. It’s book 3 in the Paige Northwood series.

I have to say it reads great as a standalone, but I’m definitely going back to read the first two.

I loved this book for the stubborn, yet naive, way Paige got involved. It was almost like going back to my childhood reading when The Hardy Brothers stumbled across some injustice they wanted to right.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very grown up book that deals with real emotions in a modern world, there’s even a touch of romance, and do you know what, I enjoyed it.

Pages: 400. Publisher: Avon. Publishing date: April 29th 2021

Their Frozen Graves. Ruhi Choudhary

The second book in the Detective Mackenzie Price series.

The first book in this series, Our Daughters Bones was one of my favourite reads last year, and it ended on one hell of a cliff hanger.

This book starts where that one left off, with Price opening the door to the surprise of her life.

A thread that starts there runs through the book as a sub plot that was worthy of a book of its own.

At the same time as she’s dealing with that Price has to deal with one of the most original murder investigations I’ve come across for years.

Two bodies are found in melting ice, where a river meets a lake at a local beauty spot. Both women have died from stab wounds, and look so alike that the team speculates whether they are twins.

When one of women is recognised by a police officer, Mack (Mackenzie) and her partner go to talk to the husband, only to have a shock. The woman they thought was dead is at home ill, and yes, she does look a lot like the dead woman.

The post-mortem reveals further shocks as one of the women is found to have undergone cosmetic surgery to make her look like the other dead woman, and they both look like the woman that was ill at home.

The investigation leads the team to the dark web where somebody is putting adverts out for women who look similar to specific other women, and the people who answer adverts are going missing.

The story of the investigation is brilliant, and the backdrop of the book only enhances the story, and adds to the tension.

Lakemore, a town in Washington State was already run down, but it thrives on its college football team and the money brought in by the big games. But that team was wrecked during a previous investigation. Now there is unrest on the streets, and people blame the police for their latest downturn in fortunes, and the loss of their team

Outside of the town the huge wild woodlands, lakes, rivers, mountains, and strange communities, contrast the town and hold many secrets. A stunning and perfect setting for a crime series.

Just as the last book ended with a cliffhanger that had me waiting for this ones publication, Ruhi Choudhary has done it again. Now I’m desperately waiting for book 3

Pages: 381. Publisher: Bookouture. Available now

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

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 Art Of Death. David Fennell

This is so frustrating. The first part of the book had me instantly hooked.

The premise of the story is brilliant. A mystery artist going by a thoroughly modern name “@ nonymous” sets up an exhibition that will stun London. 3 homeless men killed, posed and sunk into clear cabinets full of formaldehyde. Videos put on line to show further victims before they are also found displayed in cabinets

A killer using social media to stalk his prey before catfishing them on dating apps.

A new, DI Grace Archer, who is taking over from a DI she arrested during a previous investigation, and suffering the wrath of his friends, whilst finding support in the few people that could see him for what he was.

So where does it become frustrating. The killer becomes obvious as soon as they come into the plot as a person, not as the first person narrator that is carrying out the killings.

But most frustrating is the inaccuracies that could have been sorted out by some easy research.

One of my pet gripes, and I know I am far from on my own, is authors who insist on calling forensics teams SOCO’s, there has been no such thing for over 15 years. All police forces have Crime Scene Investigation Teams, or Forensic Scene Investigation Teams or Forensic Support teams, the acronym SOCO has disappeared from modern policing

A section of the book involving an arson attack, where 2 men die, contains massive inaccuracies, the rank of the Fire Officer, the Fire Service Involvement, the interaction between the Police Officers and the Fire Crews are all completely wrong

The problem that leaves me with is a feeling that this book could have been so much better, all it needed was a bit of research

Pages: 432. Publisher: Zaffre. Publishing date: 4th February 2021

The Drowned Woman. C.J Lyons

This book is what I would call a slow burner, but even slow burners can lead to infernos, and this one is definitely worth sticking with.

17 years ago a car drives off the road into a river, the driver a woman is killed. Before she dies she takes hold of her fiancée’s hand for comfort. But he’s not there.

Today that fiancee is now Detective Sergeant Luca Jericho, and he’s still grieving, and wondering why his wife to be drove of the road leaving him a on his own, when everything seemed to be going so well

Jericho is called away from the site of the crash, on the seventeenth anniversary, to a sudden death. An old lady is dead at the bottom of the stairs and her confused husband is in a panicked state.

Jericho calls in Dr Leah Wright, who’s husband was killed only a month before, to talk to the elderly husband.

But as part of her investigation she talks to an old lady in the same building. She has the unusual job of proof reading obituaries and she is convinced there’s a serial killer sending her false ones. Ones which report the accidental death of people before they die.

As soon as Jericho finds out about the false obituaries he makes the connection to his wife death. Is he clinging to a false hope, or will he have answers after nearly two decades.

As I said at the start this is a slow burner of a book. There’s not the usual hook at the beginning to get you into it. But as I also said even slow burners can lead to infernos, and this is one hell of a story.

What this story has got is suspense, and it’s got it in bucket fulls. I can’t quite remember gripping a book so tightly whilst I read it for a very long time.

Pages: 342, Publisher: Bookouture, Available now.

Wild Flower Graves. Rita Herron

Still struggling with her family secrets which devastated her in “The Silent Dolls” Detective Ellie Reeves is about to be pitched into another nightmare investigation

Just as Crooked County is getting over the fact that a serial killer had been stalking the Appalachian Trail, and that the much loved ex Sheriff, might have known about the killer for years, and done nothing about it, more bodies start to be discovered.

Ellie is pitched straight back into the deep end when the first body is discovered. A young woman has had her throat cut, been dressed, had makeup applied, and posed in a remote beauty spot on the Trail. Monday’s Child

With a section of the famous poem sewn into her mouth the victim is the first of potentially 7. When the next body is found the following day it becomes obvious that Ellie is in a race against time

Then the killer contacts her and she realises things are personal, and that the killer is taunting her, but it’s much more personal than that, he has already taken a good friend of hers, a fellow Police Officer.

Racing to find the killer Ellie finds two allies, one thrust upon her by her boss, the other a man she approaches herself. Both men are not her biggest fans

Ranger Cord McClain knows the Trail like nobody else but Ellie as good as accused him of being the serial killer in the previous case, she knows she needs his help but will he help her

Her boss calls in FBI Agent Derrick Fox, a man who helped with the previous investigation but who blew her family apart in his dogged pursuit of the killer who started by killing his little sister.

Not only does Ellie need to build bridges and restore relationships with the two men but she needs to act as a piece keeper, the men do not like or trust each other.

This story is outstanding. Earlier this year I reviewed Our Daughters Bones, the first in the series, and I raved about it. If anything this book is even better.

The setting of the Appalachian Trail is perfect for crime fiction. 2000 plus miles of wilderness walks stretching up the east of the United States, off grid communities, unique characters doted around a fantastic landscape, it’s perfect for intense storylines

Ellie Reeves is a character that it’s very easy to like, and emphasise with, but she can be frustratingly stubborn. Her professional relationships with Fox and Cord, the problems she has with the weird jurisdictional system of American Law Enforcement, and the hostile gossiping of much of the local community, following her family’s involvement with the previous killer, all add to the story.

The two books in the series so far, are amongst my favourite books this year. Can this one be read as a standalone? Yes it can, Rita Herron back refers enough to give the reader a full understanding of what happened in the first book.

But why miss out. Read The Silent Dolls first, then read this one. If you don’t you’ll kick yourself because you’ll definitely go back to it.

Pages 409, Publisher Bookouture, Publishing Date, 3rd December 2020

In The House Of The Night. Donald Levin

I’ve made a rookie error. I read this book, and loved it, and then found out it’s the latest in a series. Now I have to go back and read the others

It’s a testimony to Donald Levin that the book read so well, as a stand-alone, that I didn’t realise until I got to the section at the end where his other books are promoted.

So what made it so good a read. The characters, the settings, the story of the crime, everything

The story starts like an old joke, A Rabbi and a Priest walk into a detective agency……..

In this case it is the agency that ex Police Detective Martin Preuss works. A friend of theirs, a University Professor, has been murdered and the two don’t like the direction the Police Investigation is taking.

The murdered Professor, Charles Bright, was a peace loving man, and as much as Preuss digs he can’t find anybody with a bad word to say about him, which really does not fit with the way he died.

Then he finds a spurious link to a white supremacist group, but why would a mild mannered, piece loving old man, get caught up with this group.

I was into this story from the first page. The crime is a bit symbolic of some of the stories coming out of America at the moment, so it felt really current.

Even though Preuss is an established character his back story is explained throughout the book and he is a man that is easy to like and have empathy for.

The realism, which is one of my main hooks, is there throughout.

It was a pleasant surprise to find this is the latest in a series. I often say in reviews that I wish I’d only just discovered an author, whose books I enjoy, so I had the whole back catalogue to read. Well this time I am that reader and I can’t wait to get stuck into these books.

Pages: 336. . Available now