Deadly Wishes & Deadly Choices. Rachel McLean

The first two books in the DI Zoe Finch Series. So, why review two books in one blog?

Because as soon as I finished Deadly Wishes I picked up Deadly Choices and just carried on reading. They are that good.

Set in Birmingham Zoe Finch is a DI in Force CID working out of Harborne Police station, and that is the first tick, because that is where all serious crimes in Birmingham are Investigated from.

In Deadly Wishes Zoe is Acting DI and is the first Senior Detective at the scene of a murder. The murder of the Assistant Chief Constable, whose retirement function she had attended earlier in the evening.

The investigation is quickly taken out of her hands, as SIO, because of internal politics, but Zoe and her team are kept as part of the investigative team.

Her team start to uncover some uncomfortable truths about the dead ACC, he’s manipulated his wife, in an overbearingly controllable way, for years. There are home improvements that have taken place, on their already expensive house which cannot be accounted for by the families finance’s. There are expensive art works that there is no indication of legitimate purchase. Worse of all there appears to be a connection between the ACC and a child abuse ring that has recently been broken.

The problem is who to trust. Zoe has at least one other Senior Officer she suspects is corrupt and has connections to a local thug who was connected to the child abuse gang.

The story is brilliant in it’s realistic simplicity. The small cast of characters which are all interconnected either by being on the right side of the law, Zoe and her team, or the wrong side of the law. Villains and maybe the odd corrupt cop.

The first book in the series had me hitting Amazon to down load book 2 the second I finished it.

In Deadly Choices Zoe, who is now a substantive DI leads the investigation into the kidnap of two children who were on a day out at Cadbury World with their mom.

Although the murder of the ACC was solved in book one, there are still some underlying issues hanging over into this story. Zoe still suspects a senior officer is corrupt and in the employ of Underworld hard man Trevor Hamm, but now she also knows that Professional Standards are onto a Senior Officer in the West Midlands Police, and in this book the investigations are going to overlap.

The missing children are the step-children of a DS working for Local CID out of Kings Norton Police Station. Step dad Ian Osman acts suspiciously from the start. But he’s a cop whose kids have gone missing, he wouldn’t be expected to sit on his hands, he would be bound to think he can do a better job of investigating wouldn’t he? Or is there another reason he’s acting like he is.

Then Zoe notices the same home improvement company that carried out the work at the ACC’s house is working on the roof at the Osman home.

Another coincidence?

These books had me reading cover to cover over a weekend, and I will admit I’m now reading book 3, and it’s just as good.

Zoe is a great character. A single mom whose 18 year old son is the result of an affair with a fellow officer she didn’t know was married. She lives in a two-up-two-down terrace house in the middle of Selly Oak, bedsit country for Birmingham University.

She’s highly strung, which is not surprising as she’s a coffee addict. Her only real vice as she’s teatotal. She plays well with people she likes, her team, but is sharp and blunt with others.

Her forte is digging deep into documents, reading correspondence, looking at bank statements and receipts, spotting inconsistencies in peoples lives.

Her team have other talents and between them they are really good at carrying out investigations into the most serious of crimes that happen across Birmingham

And the city is the other star of these stories. I’m a Brummy and I’m always surprised just how few books are set in the City. We have Angela Marsons writing the brilliant DI Kim Stone series set in the Black Country, but never make the mistake of thinking Birmingham and the Black Country are the same place.

Just like Angela Marsons, Rachel McLean uses her knowledge of the local area to bring the books to life. Setting the stories in real locations, which are just right for each story.

Not just using places that are recognisable, but places where realistically that part of the story fits.

She catches the nuances of the characters perfectly. More ticks in the boxes for great reading.

As far as I can see there are 6 books in this series. I honestly can’t see me reading anything else until I’ve read them all.

Publisher: Ackroyd Publishing. Pages: Both Books just over 400 each. Available now

A Serial Killers Wife. Alice Hunter

Beth has it all, a lovely daughter, Poppy; a loving husband, Tom; and the perfect village life where she runs her own coffee shop.

Then one day Tom’s late from work and by the time he gets home two police officers are waiting to talk to him. Taking him to the station he doesn’t return till late and he tells his wife he’ll explain everything the next day after work. But he doesn’t get the chance because he’s arrested, for the suspected murder of his ex girlfriend 8 years ago.

Life begins to unravel. She knows Tom likes to be a bit dominant in the bedroom but he’s no killer………is he

Dealing with the aftermath of Toms arrest in the village, the gossipy wives, the other kids at Poppy’s school, and the influx of journalists is making her life unbearable.

But not as unbearable as the elements of doubt that start to creep into her thoughts.

Written in the first person, from both Beth and Toms point of view, and occasionally a mystery 3rd person, this book is addictive.

The story isn’t as simple as it sounds, but to go any deeper would mean too many spoilers.

Beth is the kind of character that you can’t help but have empathy and sympathy for. Tom is a character you won’t trust from the start.

And who is the third person

Alice Hunter is great at building tension in the way she writes, even when the story is apparently taking a bit of a breather there is an underlying fizz of electricity.

Don’t get me wrong, this book never really takes its foot of the accelerator, and it goes no where near the brake, it just cruises along at just the right speed all the way through.

I really enjoyed this one.

Pages: 400. Publisher: Avon. Publishing Date: 27th May 2021

The Good Neighbour. R.J Parker

This is a great example of one of those stories that starts with a complete fluke incident, which leads to a breathtaking series of events.

A quick kiss between strangers, a hope for more, but one of the strangers is a psychopathic killer, and the next 24 hours is going to be pure hell for the other. A series of decisions, all of them small, start to snowball, and that snowball gathers pace quickly as it rolls down the hill towards a brick wall that will violently smash it to pieces.

Stranger 1, Leah, is returning home late on Valetines day, to the house she shares with her estranged husband Elliot

As she rounds a bend she hits a deer and goes off the road. Heading to the nearest house for help the door is opened by a very pleasant man who helps her call for assistance and waves her goodbye, just after they share a fleeting kiss

Stranger 2 Martin, is the man who open ended the door and helped Leah, he felt a spark when they kissed. Unfortunately the owner of the house lies dead upstairs having being brutally murdered by Martin. Unfortunately for Leah, that is, because now he’s fixated on her

When Leah returns to the house the next day, with a bottle of wine, to say thank you, she finds the police swarming the house. She tells them that Martin had helped her and they are eventually convinced she was a damsel in distress, and not an accomplice to murder.

So why doesn’t she tell them about the texts that follow. Those texts lead to more, and Leah moves, one small step at a time, away from the safety of informing the police, and towards the danger of the stranger she met, by chance, on a dark cold night

Richard Parker has that gift for writing passages in his books that span a short time, but pack in loads of tension, all of which just keeps building and building.

There were times in this book where I was screaming, inside my head, for Leah to come clean with the police; but at the same time completely understanding why she doesn’t, after all once the snowball has started rolling down the hill it is hard to stop.

And, that brick wall it smashes violently against at the end of the story is drawn out, and breathtaking with tension

A great one off psychological crime thriller.

Pages: 299. Publisher: One More Chapter. Published on 18/3/2021

An Eye For An Eye. Carol Wyer

Everybody say hello to my new favourite Detective.

DI Kate Young works for Staffordshire Police, and at the start of the book she’s on enforced leave due to mental stresses brought on by recent investigations, and the death of her husband.

So why would the force bring her back to take on a really nasty, high pressure case.

Is it because they want her to fail, and do they want her to fail because they want to discredit her and get rid of her for once and for all; or is there something more sinister going on.

The case she’s brought back for ticks all the boxes that play with even the hardest of cops heads. Murder, sex, drugs, all involving vulnerable young people.

The investigation would be hard enough for a fit Kate, but one who is suffering with PTSD, one who is still grieving, one who really shouldn’t be back at work, what chance has she got of solving it.

Some people, mainly her closest team, are on her side, some of the senior officers are keeping her at arms length, not wanting to be tainted by what must be her ultimate failure.

Carol is on familiar ground basing her crimes in the Staffordshire area, but where she found the storyline for this book I’ll never know. You can only guess at what runs through an authors mind when they are plotting things like this. Her skill is taking it right to the edge but still keeping it firmly in realms of the realistic.

The other thing you can guarantee with Carol Wyer is good characters, and Kate Young is her best yet. Flawed and vulnerable, whilst still being strong and intuitive. She is as close, in character, as I’ve come across in fiction, to some of the real SIOs I’ve met.

Then there are the recurring characters she has running through a series, there’s always one that brings that bit of quirkiness, and in this series she’s found a beaut, the flamboyant Ervin Saunders, Head of Forensics, who brings that little bit of lightness that every serious book needs.

It’s a brave author that brings to an end, or puts on hold a hugely successful series, to start another.

But, as they say, fortune favours the brave, and this book has me hooked into the series from the start, I can only hope Kate, and Ervin, and the team that come with them, are here for a long run

This book is up there with the best I’ve read, and left me desperate for the next instalment of the series.

An absolute cracking story that announces the start of a series that is destined for the best seller lists.

Pages: 426. Publisher: Thomas and Mercer. Available now

The Bodies at Westgate Hall. Nick Louth

A love triangle.

Three people shot dead

A locked room mystrey

A suspect locked within a room within the locked room

Russian Oligarchs, and conspiracy theories

If that list is not enough to get you hooked maybe this book is not for you. It was definitely for me, what a stunning read.

DCI Craig Gillard is just getting ready for what he hopes to be a quite Christmas on call.

In the Surrey Millionaire belt, the richest of the rich, Alexander Volkov, is having a very noise, very bright, party which is annoying everybody in the neighbouring village.

When a patrol car is sent to see if they can bring an end to the noise they arrive just in time to witness the murder of three people locked in a huge library.

Two of the dead are Oligarchs and it doesn’t take long for the security forces to butt into Gillard’s investigation.

The investigation is run from Surrey Police’s putrid mobile incident room, which has been placed in the grounds of Volkov’s mansion, Westgate Hall

The locals hate the Russian, and his two children, the way they blatantly disregard the law, throwing money at any problem that arises and tearing around the countryside in their sports cars and utility vehicles.

The list of suspects range from the village council members to a Russian Government assassin. Gillard really has his work cut out.

As usual with Nick Louth’s books there are some brilliant characters. Alongside the recurring ones there are some truly brilliant ones. In particular there is Wolf, the marvellous comic Russian bodyguard learning English by watching Only Fools and Horses.

This book, just like the rest of the series, had me from the beginning. I started it on a Snowy Saturday morning and sat and read it all day. It really was a read from start to finish in one go.

I loved it, for the story, the characters, and the setting. Brilliant

Pages: 288. Publisher: Canelo Crime. Publishing date: 25th February 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

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

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.

American Sherlock. Kate Winkler Dawson

I had heard of Edward Oscar Heinrich, but in somewhat of an urban myth type of way.

I knew he was a real person, and his name seemed to crop up on the edges of research I had done whilst gaining Forensic Qualifications.

So when I saw this book was available to review I knew I was going to read it. Originally I was going to use it as a literacy pallet cleanser, reading a chapter between books. That went out of the window after the first chapter

If you don’t know who Edward Oscar Heinrich is imagine a mad Professor who approached the Police and said science can solve crimes. Now think this happened in the early 1930’s

A lot of his work has gone unrecorded for years, after some of his methods were called into doubt.

But after his death in 1953, at the age of 72, all of his files and equipment went into storage. In the late 1960s the collection was bequeathed to the University of California where it lay untouched for nearly 50 years until the author requested permission to look inside the boxes, and what a treasure chest she opened

Heinrich was integral in some of the most high profile cases of the 20’s, 30s and 40’s

The first case that brought him to attention was when he assisted police in Portland with a crime that had gone wrong. 3 men had tried to stop a train and rob it, a bit like the UK’s Great Train Robbery, only this one went very wrong

The men only succeeded in blowing the train up and killing 4 people.

Heinrich used science to establish what had happened and helped catch the perpetrators.

And so was born Forensic Scene Examination, and Forensic Science in American Law enforcement.

This book looks at some of his more notable, and in some cases infamous, cases.

This is more than a book, it’s a gateway, via Google, into some brilliant reading.

Whether you are a True Crime fan, a Crime Fiction fan, or just somebody who enjoys a good book, you will live this.

But be prepared, it’s going to lead to a lot of reading outside of the covers of this book.

Pages: 359. Publisher U.K: Icon Books. Available now