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

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 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

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

Dark Water Girls. Maegan Beaumont

Georgia Falls has been off the Island for years, running away after she found out the man she thought loved her had got another girl pregnant.

Now she’s back, having served for years in Military Police, and she’s confused by what she’s found.

She’s inherited a mansion and lots of money, confusing because she was a baby abandoned into care.

She’s found that the man she thought she loved has recently come out of prison having served time for attempting to kill his father.

But the most confusing thing is that when she is sent a text asking for help, and she finds a dead woman who has been sexually assaulted.

What follows is a great story.

George is a great character who is left frustrated by the lies people on the island are telling her.

The island suffers from the American caste system. There are those who have, and they really do have, money, mansions, boats, connections.

And there are those that don’t, and they really don’t.

The strangely large amount of adopted girls, especially by one rich family should have rung bells years ago, but who in the family, if anybody, is the problem.

A vicious biker gang run Island Pub where the black and white, of the haves and have nots, blurs into the grey of drugs abuse and prostitution.

George is convinced that one of her fellow adopted girls has been killed at the bikers pub whilst another sits alongside the Gang leader snaring insults at her.

The Sherif, Alex, the man she wakes up with most mornings, is telling her the death was the result of a drug overdose, and warning her off her own investigation.

When she realises she’s under surveillance, by other police officers she becomes really concerned.

Who is to be trusted on the island.

Those she always thought she could trust seem to be misleading her at best, trying to kill her at worst.

The one person she doesn’t want to trust seems to be the only person looking out for her.

This is a fast paced story that had me building hypotheses after hypotheses in my own mind.

It’s written in the first person from two peoples view point.

Georgia. The main character, the island returnee, the confused person trying to piece together what is actually happening on the island.

Lincoln, the rich kid who George ran away from all those years ago, the man who had been in prison, the man she really shouldn’t trust, the only one who seems to be looking out for her.

A great read and hopefully the start of a new series.

Publisher: Bookouture. Pages: 402 (Guide only) Available now.

Frozen Souls. Rita Herron

When a serial killer has to start leaving bodies out in the open to make room for their latest victim things are seriously wrong.

The snow storm should have hidden the body, possibly for months but every crime books favourite unnamed character, the dog walker stumbles not only across the body, but also has a close encounter with the killer.

Detective Ellie Reeves is the first to the scene and is about to start a game of cat and mouse with the killer that will revoke memories of her own childhood.

The star of this book for me is the setting. Rita Herron uses the remote township of Crooked Creek for the small town scenario really well. Everybody knows everybody, except who is the killer.

They also know where to find Ellie, and how to show their frustrations when the case isn’t going well.

So when another girl goes missing the pressure starts to mount. Will that cause her to make a mistake, or let a slip of concentration leave her exposed.

One things for sure when everybody knows the towns detective, her history, and where to find her, that means so does the killer.

And, if you are a killer who thinks a Detective might be on to you, what would you do.

Is the killer in their own community, or is it one of the strangers who have set up remote communities around the mountains at the start of the Appalachian Trail

The characters Herron uses in all of her books are believable and engaging, when they are on the right side of the law, and utterly chilling when they are not.

But, as I’ve already said, it’s the setting that brings chills, and not just because of the snow storms. This book has that psychological thriller slant that had me on the edge of my seat.

A stunning read.

Pages: 449. Publisher: Bookouture Available now

Drawn to Murder. J.J Sullivan

Welcome to the start of a new series. Drawn To Murder is billed as book one in the Batterton Police series, and what a great way to start.

When the victim of a Gang Rape teams up with a woman convicted of Manslaughter it’s not surprising that vengeance is on the cards.

But this is years later, and will anybody be able to piece together the the evidence, and see that the murders that are taking place are connected.

DI Susanna David is the de facto Senior Investigating Officer until DCI Blazeley is finished with a court case he is attending.

She is a competent Officer and Blazeley is happy to let her carry on in the role whilst he takes a bit of a back seat.

With her team she soon has a lead, but whether it will be in time to stop the pair getting more revenge is largely down to luck.

When a local reporter gets wind of the implications of the first murder, and links it to a second, it looks like the Police are losing the race to identify the killer

What they don’t realise is that in there own ranks there is one person that could blow the case wide open, but he’s battling his own demons and is loath to come forward.

This is one of those books that had me hooked from the very start. J.J Sullivan has a great way of writing that makes the story flow. I’d usually put a book down at a convenient point to take a break, the problem with this book is every time it came to one I was desperate to find out what happened next, so I didn’t really put it down.

He makes the characters very believable, there is nobody with the usual “Cop-Problems” found in most Police thrillers. There are budding relationships, there are frustrations between colleagues, there is frustrations of balancing private lives with their Police work. That all makes this very realistic.

The crimes that are committed, and investigated, are compelling reading. Sullivan takes the reader right to the heart of everything, just stopping shy of making the crime scenes tasteless or tacky reading.

I can’t wait to see where this dries goes. Which of the Officers in Batterton appear in future books, and what roles they’ll play.

Yes. This is going to be a great series that I shall keep my eye on, and wait eagerly for every publication.

Publisher: Mandrill Press. Publication Date: 1st September 2021

The Last Time She Died. Zoe Sharp

If the two lead characters in this book don’t end up in a TV series somebody is missing a trick

John Byron is a Senior Detective who is on long term sick leave. But that doesn’t stop his boss being in almost constant contact about an unofficial inquiry he’s carrying out.

He is attending the funeral of a Politician who was about to become a whistle blower. A man who was about to blow the lid on an elusive child abuse ring.

Blake was 15 when she disappeared, 10 years ago, just after her mother’s death. Since then her father has remarried and has step children, and has recently died in a car crash.

Nobody had seen or heard from Blake until the day of the funeral, when she accesses his house and personal files.

In fact nobody knows who she is, even when she just sits in the house and waits for the Police to find her.

The funeral is the same one Byron is attending. He is one of the first to attend the house and talk to Blake.

What follows is almost a dual inquiry. First the Police really need to establish if Blake is who she says she is, then he has she turned up now after so long.

Now Blake is doing her own investigation. She wants to know why she was given up for dead 10 years ago, and why nobody looked for a 15 year lad who just disappeared.

There are people in the town who need to worry.

What is Blake after, deadly revenge or justice.

This book has a fantastic story, and more than a bit of “will-they won’t-they” between Byron and Blake. In more than one way.

I loved the concept, I loved the characters, and thankfully there are those six words on the cover that have got me really excited.

“Blake and Byron Thrillers: Book One”

Publisher: Bookouture. Pages: 384. Available now

The Lost Boys. Rachel Amphlett

The murder of a youth, at a fair leads, to a disturbing investigation

Why is a young teenager miles from where he should be?

Why has he been stabbed and left dead in an alley?

What are the pills found close to his body?

This story covers some of the more scary issues in today’s society. Homeless or desperate young men running County Boundary drugs, Gangs Cuckooing vulnerable people, scared young people making bad decisions.

Detective Sergeant Mark Turpin is part of the investigation team. Both himself and Detective Constable Jan were close-by at the time of the killing, and arrived on the scene quickly. Both are affected in different ways. Jan struggles with the psychological issues raised by the death of a youngster, but for Mark things get a lot more personal.

The story of the crimes, and the investigation, are brilliant, but for me, the thing that elevates this book is the look at how vulnerable Police Officers are. Not every cop becomes hardened by experience. Jan in particular is affected psychologically by the first murder in this book.

The other thing that made me smile was the research that went into the book. Yes I have a personal interest in that, but when I know an author has asked for advice, on what is a relatively small part of the story, and has used that advice so well to make just a few paragraphs realistic, I know that all of the rest of the book is also researched and realistic.

This is a great book in a great series, but it can be read as a standalone story.

Available now