Deadly Christmas. Rachel McClean

Rachel McClean came to my attention last year with the Deadly…. Series of books set in Birmingham.

Since then she has been writing the Dorset Crime series, which is a spin-off from the Deadly Series with one of the bit-part characters from the original series taking a the lead role, with another book set in Scotland also heavily featuring one of the characters from Birmingham

This book is a return to the Deadly series with DI Zoe Finch and her team from Force CID investigating the suspicious death of a man found in Birmingham’s German Christmas Market.

The investigation leads them into the different worlds, Birmingham’s Homeless and the war crimes of the Yugoslavian Conflicts.

The team are soon battling over ownership of the investigation with the Home Office taking over.

But that’s the least of Zoe’s problems. She needs a new DS and she doesn’t like, or trust, the one she’s given.

They have history and Zoe is not convinced it’s resolved.

DS Kaur had been part of the Professional Standards Team that had included Zoe in the investigation into corruption in the Force. She was completely innocent, and had even been helping to gather evidence against the corrupt officers but Kaur really pushed her buttons.

Now Zoe is suspicious of why she’s been placed in the team.

The Deadly……. Series has always had a “Line of Duty” vibe running through, it continues to run in this book. It’s an excellent undercurrent to an already brilliant story.

I would never have thought that such a prolific writer, over a relatively short time, could produce such good books, but these are some of the best books I’m reading at the moment.

Pages: 292. Publisher: Ackroyd Publishing. Available now

Hidden Scars. Angela Marsons

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Without exaggeration the best book I’ve read

It may be because it’s written by my favourite author.

It may be because it’s the latest in a cracking series.

But I think it’s probably because the author put a lot of emotion into what was written.

Kim Stone nearly died in the last book, Six Graves, this one starts several months later and finds her struggling psychologically and physically.

Her team has been in the hands of another DI whilst she recovered and she can see it being slowly destroyed by his incompetence as a Detective and as a boss, and his failings as a human being.

Will she recover to take the team back from him whilst it’s still intact.

It takes a nasty murder, which he is happy to pass off as a suicide, to tip her over the edge and try and bring the “old Kim” back.

Will she manage it.

This book looks at the roller coaster of recovery from serious injury. How Kim has to struggle internally to get herself in the right place to be effective. Her team is more than her team, it’s her family and they need her.

The crimes in this book are psychologically horrific.

Based on a centre that offers “Correction Therapy” to young gay people.

I’ve not lead a sheltered life but I had no idea this happened. I’m not kidding when I say I disappeared into a Google worm hole for hour’s researching it.

Angela Marsons has dealt with the subject brilliantly.

Every page in this book is gripping as Kim struggles to find her old self.

Her team are there for her every step of the way but it’s a struggle at times.

The dual stories of the investigation into these horrific crimes, and Kims struggles to find, and deal with, her new normality are breathtaking.

And the very last sentence. Wow

Pages: 356. Publisher: Bookouture.

Audio book length: 8 hours 39. Narrator: Jan Cramer

Mystic Wind. James Barretto

This book reminds me of the early John Grisham books. A defence attorney battling the odds to save a man from a guilty verdict which will lead to the death penalty.

Jack Marino was a star prosecution attorney, but following an attack on him in his own home he is forced to stand down. He is going through the motions as a corporate lawyer for his father-in-laws huge firm when a request comes out of the blue.

He is asked to defend a man who is charged with murder. What he doesn’t know is that he has been hand picked by his former boss, set up to fail.

Why, because the District Attorney is running in the local election and wants a landmark case under his departments belt to help him get the votes he needs.

What they didn’t take into consideration was that Jack was back on his game. There is no way he is going to let the prosecution railroad his client into the death penalty.

The case agains the man Jack is defending is flimsy. It relies on the testimony of a man who has been granted immunity in the case, a man that Jack thinks is the actual killer.

Blocked at every turn Jack fights the prosecution team, and a Judge who likes to railroad his court along his own lines.

This is a brilliant book. John Grisham was one of my favourite authors for years but I’ve found his recent books have been a bit of a disappointment. James Barretto has filled the hole that Grisham left.

The book holds no punches and grips from the start. Jack Marino is a great character that is easy to engage with. His frustrations in the court, and with the investigation translate to a great story.

Just like Grisham you are not guaranteed a happy ending. That is what makes this book so good. The reader has no idea how it’s going to end. Who is going to come out on top. Right up to the last page there are surprises.

The book is advertised as Book 1 in the Jack Marino series, which gives me a great anticipation of what is to come. Bring on book 2

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing. Pages: 401.

Audio Book running time: 9 hours 10 minutes. Narrator: Dylan Walker

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

Inside Job. Dr Rebecca Myers

One of the things that fascinates me is the way the mid works.

This book gives a great insight into the criminal mind, but also the mind of the person that has to deal with those people.

Dr Rebecca Myers is a Forensic Psychologist who has worked with some of the highest profile offenders in the country. This is her memoir of the first few years of her career.

From day one, when she walked into Graymoor Prison as a young, new graduate, to be told she was going to be the Psychologist leading group therapy for some serious sex offenders; to the end of this part of her life where she took part in a disturbing hostage crisis.

She takes us into the sessions and we hear about some disturbing crimes, but it also shows us the thought process of the criminals, and their lack of empathy to the victims.

The sessions are designed to introduce empathy, and start the prisoner on the road to rehabilitation. Frustrating in most cases, and depending on your point of view, either a waste of time, or a valid attempt to put right a deviant mind.

The offenders are only given first names in the book, but I have a feeling I identified at least one by the description of his crimes, and I suspect a bit of research would also identify some of the others.

The book lays out the hierarchy of offenders in the institutions they are locked up in. The contempt shown to offenders by people who have carried out similar crimes, which in their opinion is worse than the crime they carried out.

Most telling is the effect it has on the prison staff. When Myers first went into Graymoor it wasn’t just the inmates who looked at her as a “piece of meat” Even in the early 2000’s she fought sexism and crudity’s from the overwhelmingly male staff.

As she starts to deal with the inmates in the group sessions it has an effect on the way she thinks and acts.

She is honest in the fact that she entered into an adulterous relationship with a colleague, before recognising his controlling behaviour as being similar to that of the inmates they are trying to counsel.

But what I find most telling, is that from the start of the book, all the way up to the last event she covers, she doubts her own ability to be doing the job. Imposter Syndrome.

She is good at her job, but like a lot of people, she considers herself to have almost stumbled from one thing to another, university, to a job in a prison, to leading group sessions, and ultimately being recalled to duty to deal with a hostage situation.

You don’t end up doing the things she’s done by not being good, it’s no coincidence that she’s called in, yet even after a “successful” outcome she still doubts herself.

I really hope there’s a part two to these memoirs. I’ve looked her up and I think she has a lot more to tell.

Trigger warning. This book is a blunt look at sex offenders and their behaviour through group sessions. There are elements of every chapter that could act as a trigger to anybody who has been subject to any form of sexual abuse.

Pages: 313. Audio Book Length: 7.58. Narrator Emma Wilkes. Publisher: Harper Collins. Available now

6 Ripley Avenue. Noelle Holten

A great standalone crime thriller, and I find that I’m saying that with less frequency than I’d like.

Why? Because most writers these days seem to stick with tried and trusted characters within a series.

The good thing about standalone books is you are never sure how they are going to end, which character will survive to the end, who will be left in a position that they can continue life in the way they were when the book started. It doesn’t have to have a happy ending for everybody.

The story in this book is like a locked room mystery with teeth.

The “locked room” is a hostel, rehabilitation centre, for serious offenders who have been released from prison. 6 Ripley Avenue.

When one of the inmate-guests is murdered in the middle of the night there are only so many suspects that can possibly have carried out the crime. Either other “guests” or staff

As the Police start their investigation a local, freelance crime journalist, Sloane starts her own.

Sloane has an advantage over the Police, she can listen to hearsay and gossip, the Police have to establish truth and relevance.

Sloane has a person on the inside, a volunteer cook who fancies herself as a bit of a Miss Marples, but she does tend to jump to the wrong conclusions at times. Does she help or hinder Sloane.

The Hostel is run by Jeanette. She is shocked by the murder but as the blame game starts, she begins to look at her staff differently. As Sloane’s investigation relies on gossip, Jeanette starts to realise some of it might have foundation.

This is a brilliant story. As with all of Noelle Holten’s books there is a depth of realism in her writing that can only be born of experience.

I’ve read mixed reviews of this book, and honestly, I don’t understand some of the criticisms. This is a fast paced thriller. A book that had me hooked from page one until the last full stop.

The characters are brilliantly written and I found myself having empathy with some, frustration with others, and engaging with all of them. Just as it should be.

The story is realistic, set in a tight community, limited suspects, Police frustrated by sticking to the rules, whilst the main characters carry on unrestricted by procedures and red tape.

That is another reason I loved this book. It’s not led by a Police Investigation, with a cop as the main character.

Sloane is a great lead, with a fresh way of looking into things.

Overall, in my opinion, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Pages: 378. Publisher: One More Chapter Audio Book 10 hours 40 minutes, narrator TBC. Publication date: 27th September 2022

Hidden Bones. Rita Herron

There is something about this series that has me really hooked.

It could be the main character, Detective Ellie Reeves, or the other recurring characters, all of who add massively to the stories.

It could be the setting, a small town at the start of the Appalachian Trail, with its unique inhabitants and visitors.

Or it could be the well thought out, well written crimes.

It’s probably a combination of all of those things.

This book starts like a Stephen King story. A flash back to 30 years ago, a little girl hiding whilst she witnesses her mother being murdered. The killer finding her and taking her away.

Back to today and it’s Spring Break and all the madness it brings. A group of teenagers carrying out a TikTok challenge to film themselves in an abandoned “haunted” house.

The house is an old Orphanage with a bad reputation. When something spooks them they make a run for it but one girl falls into a pit. The pit is full of human bones, but how long have they been there.

Unsure weather this is a historic case, or even if it’s a crime scene Ellie is moved off the case when a very recent murder victim is found.

A woman has been the victim of a horrific murder, and she has had rough sex recently. In another twist the team dig into her past and can’t be sure the rough sex and the murder are part of the same crime.

The story follows the investigations into both crimes, and more as they happen. Inevitably the investigators start to wonder if there’s a link.

If there is, how long has this killer been active, and how many victims are there.

Rita Herron is one of those authors I wait for. I’m lucky enough to be able to read the books before they are published. When the notification pops up to say one of her books is available it goes straight to the top of my TBR list and is always the next book to be read.

I think that speaks volumes.

Print length 460 pages. Audio book 8 hours 58 minutes Narrator Tanya Eby. Publisher Bookouture. Available now.

The DI Declan Walsh Series Books 1&2 . Jack Gatland

I was browsing book sites looking for a new author when I found the first book in the series, Letter from the Dead being offered as a free book on Amazon.

Not one to turn down a cheaply I loaded it onto my Kindle, and I’m glad I did.

Letter from the Dead introduces DI Delan Walsh, an Officer who is on the brink of leaving the Police following two recent events, one disciplinary, the other the resolution of a case that saw him braking a corruption ring in his force.

The hatred from many other officers he can deal with, the fact that he punched a Priest has resulted in his suspension and possible dismissal.

But he’s approached by DCI Munroe. His team of City of London Officers are made up by people with similar issues to Walsh. His ethos is some problem cops are just to good at their job to be allowed to slip away. They specialise in old or cold cases.

So when new information is received about the apparent accidental death of a Politician’s nearly 20 years earlier the team investigate exactly what happened

What follows is a multilayered plot that takes in the possible murder and introduces recurring characters that will turn up in the series.

Politicians, Police Officers, Gangland criminals, all take major roles as do their friends and families.

The investigation of a historic crime, involving politicians has huge impact. 20 years on some have moved on from politics, and not all in a positive way. Ones homeless, by choice, one’s an internet preacher, and one has changed his political allegiances. But what are they running away from.

This is a story about manipulation and consequences, and it’s a great vehicle to start the series.

The second book, Murder of Angels, is one of the most complex stories I’ve read for a long time, but it’s a cracker of a read.

Parts of two Cities, London and Birmingham, are run by traditional, old school villains, but they are being slowly threatened by the younger gangs, youths that have less respect for people in general. In this case the problem is exacerbated by the fact that it’s the sons of the old gangsters that are trying to take over.

Declan and the team of misfits are spread thin covering crimes in both cities as part of a joint investigation.

The concept of this conflict is again historical. Things that happened 18 years ago having a huge impact on today, and it’s the mysteries of the past that the team need to get to the bottom of, to get to solve todays crimes.

As complex as the book is there is never any doubt of its credibility. The story is brilliant.

The characters in this series are really good. Walsh is totally engaging. His history, and his father’s history are going to have a huge impact on the series.

If you like multi-layered books with a compelling ongoing thread, this is definitely a series not to miss

I really can’t wait to read the next book, but I have commitments to other books, and I’ve got work to do so it will have to wait for a week or so.

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.