You Can Run. Karen Cleveland

The one genre of book that I keep coming back to is the spy espionage stories.

Over the last few years good ones have become fewer are further between, in fact with the exception of people like Nelson Demille, and David Baldacci, since the demise of Tom Clancy’s original self written books, I have really struggled to find a good author in the genre.

Well that’s changed. Karen Cleveland has written a cracking thriller, which hopefully is the start of a great new series.

You can run is written in the first person from two peoples points of view.

Jill is a CIA analyst who helps to verify foreign agents credibility. The safety of her family is threatened unless she verifies a new Syrian assets, code name Falcon.

She does, but then she runs. Resigning from the Agency and creating a new identity she lives a peaceful life for 4 years.

Alex is a journalist and she receives an anonymous tip telling her that the CIA are receiving a lot of information from a Syrian asset that doesn’t exist.

Determined to publish the story she doesn’t realise she’s about to open a can of worms that will plunge Jill back into danger.

Jill responds the only way she can. She has to get to the bottom of the very issue she ran away from 4 years earlier.

From page one this story is sprinting at a great pace. That pace doesn’t let up till the penultimate chapter, then just when you think you can get your breath back, there is that final chapter.

What a hook.

Loved it

Pages: 336. Publisher: Canelo Crime. Published on: 31st August 2021

When The Guilty Cry. M.J Lee

Right up to date. Set against the political fallout of Greater Manchester Police being placed into Special Measures, a lack of Officers as we come out of the latest lock-down, and pressure on Officers, from those above, to perform beyond their time stretched capabilities, this is a cracking portrayal of today’s policing.

Ridpath is back, and he’s still working for the Coroner, but with MIT pushed to breaking point, and most of the team crunching numbers, it’s inevitable that he’s going to get drawn back to work for the Police.

When 3 severed hands are found in a backpack, in an abandoned Children’s Home Ridpath originally attends as the Coroners Officer. GMP see this as a no win situation, a cold case which appears to be unsolvable. Passing it off to Ridpath seems the ideal opportunity to get the investigation off their books.

At the same time a mother and father have applied for a Declaration of Death certificate for their daughter who has has been missing since 2009.

Last seen heading off to a Music Festival, the then 16 year old girl hasn’t been seen since. Her mother is close to death and wants closure before she dies.

The Coroner is sympathetic and decides to hold the inquest in an impossibly short time frame and tells Ridpath to investigate the circumstances of the disappearance within a week.

That is the starting point for a fast paced story that had me captivated from page one. And if you’ve ever read any of MJ Lee’s books you’ll know that you have to read to the very last sentence, this one is no exception.

The home where the back-pack was found is associated with child abuse, and the name Jimmy Saville just adds to the spin chilling presumptions of what happened their.

The hands provide a series of complex forensic issues, how old are they, can any fingerprints or DNA be recovered, whose are they? And where are the rest of the bodies they belong to.

MIT’s Senior Officer wants this case off her books, and she gives Ridpath the same time frame constraints as the Coroner, She wants it wrapped up or moved on in a week. Impossible!

I love this series. I recently read a post, on one of the book readers forums, that they were fed up with Detectives private lives intruding into Crime Novels.

I couldn’t disagree more, and Lee’s Ridpath is a prefect example of why.

Struggling to balance his work and being a single Dad, taking life advice from his young daughter, when he should be guiding her through life, and still grieving his wife’s death, he just carries on. Because that’s what people do. But the pages devoted to the relationship between him and his daughter are brilliant, and just add so much to an already great story.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. A great addition to one of the best Police Crime Series on the shelves today

Publisher: Canelo Crime Pages: 368. Publishing date 21st September 2021

The Cliff Top Murders. Rachel McLean

The speed that Rachel McLean turns books out would usually be a red flag to me, but in this case I would be very wrong. Her books are not only good, they’re addictive, and as far as I’m concerned, the quicker she publishes them the better.

Her first series, set in Birmingham was brilliant. This, her second series is a spin off from that, and is just as good, if not better.

DCI Lesley Clarke is on a sabbatical from the West Midlands Police after sustaining an injury during a bomb attack in Birmingham. She has been seconded to a Dorset Police for a quite rehabilitation. The problem is there are murders that need solving even on the idyllic prehistoric coastline.

When the body of a young Lawyer is found at the foot of a cliff it’s not immediate clear if it’s the result of an accident, suicide, or murder. It soon becomes apparent it’s murder.

Still struggling to form relationships with all of her team Clarke is frustrated by their insular approach and the snails pace the local pathologist works at. But one relationship she has formed outside of work is going to become a problem on this case.

When a second body is found at the base of another cliff it throws up more questions. One of which is posed by one of her new colleagues, and it relates to the death of her predecessor.

In the Birmingham series one of Clarke’s DI’s uncovered police corruption on an epic scale, is it about to happen all over again in sleepy, but affluent Dorset.

Midsomer Murders meets Line of Duty but one hell of a lot better.

Please don’t read this as a standalone. Look through Amazon and pick up the first book in the series. The Corfe Castle Murders you will love it and get so much more from this one if you do.

If you want to spend a bit more money, and invest a bit more time, look for McLeans Birmingham Series starting with Deadly Wishes, it’s a cracking set of 6 books set in Birmingham and will give you a gateway into these Dorset books.

Pages: 342. Publisher: Ackroyd Publishing. Available now

The Body On The Moor. Nick Louth

Usual lead character DCI Craig Gillard takes a bit of a back seat in this book.

That’s because the story revolves more around the people that are involved in a crime from the civilian side.

A local head master is found beheaded in his car.

Who would target a man that is held in fairly high regard by most, but then we find out about the real man, and it seems there could be a few people who would be happy to see him dead.

Then there’s a Barrister who is really down on her luck, financially she is skint, her personal and professional life is stuck in a rut.

When she finds a young runaway living in her garden she finds that strangely the girl knows way too much about her life.

Dizzy, the runaway, has a terrible history, running away from home at 13, abused, by her “boyfriend” who got her addicted to drugs and then forced her into prostitution, working for one of the worst gang bosses in the country, she has escaped and is on the run in fear of her life.

So why chose Barrister Julia McGann’s garden to sleep in, and how does she know so much about her.

Gillard’s team are investigating the death of the headless headmaster, now that would have been a great title for a book. The more they dig into his life the more sleazy it looks.

The various affairs, the reluctant cuckold wife, the aggrieved students, the list of potential suspects seems endless, but the one woman they think most likely is proving impossible to identify.

This is one of those stories that had to be written from outside of the police prospective. It had to be written with Julia McGann as the main character. It is better for showing issues the police could not know about.

It’s a book about choices and the way one choice becomes the first strand of a spiders web, which when complete is a really complex structure.

That’s what this story is, a complex spiders web, and it’s brilliant.

Pages: 352 Publisher: Canelo. Available now

The Crying House B.R Spangler

The book starts 30 years ago with a young boy being abused by his mother, but is this the making of a monster?

The abuse is carried out in a specific way, a way I haven’t heard of before, and that’s not the only first in this book.

The setting for the place the first bodies are found when the story moves to the current day, is the second. Some houses which have been abandoned are being used by local youths to party. The houses are suffering from rising sea levels and costal erosion and could collapse at any time.

The first body appears to be a consequence of careless partying, or is it?

The second body, found in the upper floors has had its blood drained and is mummified in salt, and that is the link back to the abused boy thirty years previously.

Casey White is still convalescing but is keen to lead the investigation into both deaths.

As she looks at old crimes she realises that a similar murder had happened years ago, but that the man who committed it is still in prison. He’s old, he’s frail, he’s incarcerated, he can’t be responsible can he?

Another body, a note held in its hand.

Casey’s daughter s still missing, she still sees her, she still worries about her, the note sends her into paranoia, will her daughter be next.

Spangler writes as if he’s writing for me. He ticks all my boxes, original crimes, a great setting, a main character I can engage with, peripheral characters that hold my interest, and ongoing stories that run through the series, each book its own cracking story.

This is Book 4 in the Detective Casey White series, yes it can be read as a standalone, but it’s much better read in order.

Pages: 281. Publisher: Bookouture. Available now

The Family Tree. Steph Mullin & Nicole Mabry

A clever concept for a storyline in more than one way.

A woman, Liz, receives an Ancestral DNA testing kit from her cousin, as a present. The results are not what is expected. Not only has she no similarities in DNA markers to who she thought was her family, she finds out her mother was a drug addict who spent time in prison

But that’s not the end of the surprises. When she uploads her data to another site she ticks the box that allows law enforcement agencies access to her test results. What she didn’t expect was to be contacted by two agents from the FBI

Meanwhile the story of a serial killer unravels over alternating chapters, but in a way I’ve never read before.

The killer started their spree 40 years ago with a single victim, and has gone on to kidnap and kill at least 22 other people, in pairs. The story of the killer is told in instalments, with each one progressing their methods. How they are taken, then in the next chapter how they are transported, in following chapters how they are treated in captivity. Each chapter using the next pair of victims.

And yes, there are two being held captive as the story is told.

I’m not giving anything away by saying that the DNA data uploaded by Liz, has similarities to some found at a scene connected to the serial killer, hence the visit by the FBI.

What follows is a story that I rattled through in two sittings. I was enthralled.

Both of the strands would have made a good story on their own, but they have been wonderfully woven together by two authors, and it has produced a great story.

I do wonder about author collaborations, and usually avoid them, but this one tweaked my curiosity.

I wonder if the authors wrote a strand each, and then used the alternative chapter system to weave them together

However they did it, they have combined to write one of the most original crime books I’ve read for a long time.

Pages: 412. Publishers: Avon. Publishing Date 10th June 2021

Twisted Lies. Angela Marsons

It must be hard coming up with inspirations for new stories in a long running series but Angela Marsons just keeps raising the bar and in Twisted Lies she’s done it again.

I don’t know where she gets the ideas, or what her Google history looks like, but the methods of death in the murders in this book are brilliantly original and gruesome.

At the start Kim Stone has to deal with her worst nightmare. Her not-so-favourite journalist, Tracy Frost, has been granted an all access day with Kim, a day that is going to have quite an impact on Frost in more ways than one

That day is cut short by the discovery of a body, but not before Frost has accompanied Kim on a visit to the family of a domestic murder victim.

And so opens up two strands of what is an absolute cracker of a story that had me hook-line-and-sinker from the first page right up till the last full stop

Frost is off trying to dig up the dirt on the abusive husband of the domestic murder victim. He’s media savvy and he’s trying to paint himself as the innocent man.

Kim and her team have the first of a series of gruesome murders to solve. But nothing in this case is as it seems and the team hit dead end after dead end.

As frustrating as the case is Kim’s team carry on relentlessly as the body count mounts.

The chapters in this book flew by a a breathless pace, and when the end arrived I though I could take a breath, until, the last few lines started with “you have a call” and the rest of the sentence had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

Now I have to wait till November to find out where that phone call will lead.

Angela Marsons fans will already know the characters in this book. Kim and her team have a great relationship with themselves and the readers.

I was trying to work out why this series sticks out, why it has remained my favourite series when there are so many good one out there.

The crimes, and the crime stories, are always stunningly well written, well described, well placed, and realistic.

The recurring characters of Kim and her team, as well as the recurring occasional characters, such as Tracy Frost are so well written I’m half expecting to bump into them on the streets of the Black Country, where I live.

But the fact that the characters that only appear for a couple of pages are just as well written, and described, as all of the main characters really lifts these books

This is not just a Police Procedural series, or a series of Psychological Thrillers, although it is both. This is destined to be one of the Classical Crime Series, the Classical Crime Series of our generation.

Angela Marsons and Kim Stone are what Colin Dexter and Morse were to the 1980’s and 90’s and Sue Grafton was to the 2000’s with her Alphabet books

Keep them coming Angela.

Pages: 414. Publisher: Bookouture. Available now

Last Place You Look. Louisa Scarr

Wow. Well this one had me hooked from start to finish.

A young single woman having an affair with a married man. A boringly normal man, but a lovely man, who is about to leave his with.

The young woman is Detective Constable Freya West. She has just been attached to work with Grumpy Sergeant, Robin Butler

Her first job is to meet Butler at an address where they have to tell a wife that her husband has died in a hotel room, the victim of an erotic auto-asphyxiation that went wrong.

But during the visit Freya realises that the dead man is the man she was having an affair with, Jonathan, and she’s convinced that there is no way he would have died like that.

Her first mistake is she doesn’t tell Butler, even when it becomes evident that he was having an affair and the Sergeant is actively looking for his mistress.

Her second mistake is stealing a vital bit of evidence before it’s found by her colleagues.

But she’s not the only one with problems. Butlers sister and twin sons were killed in a car crash years ago, and soon after his release, so was the driver of the car which killed them, in another crash. Now the second “accident” is being looked at again, and Freya has been asked to go behind Butlers back to re-examine the case.

Butler is already coming apart at the seams as he struggles with memories of his sister and the twins. He is perpetually grumpy, perpetually single, with the occasional one night stand or friend with benefits relationships. He’s scruffy and just the wrong side of unhygienic, and although it’s not affecting his work, it’s affecting the people he works with.

Meanwhile Jonathan’s death is highlighted as suspicious after all. People involved as witnesses are finding their story unravel. Freya’s tenacity means Butler becomes increasingly more concerned that he was murdered, but his main suspect is the missing girlfriend.

This is a cracking story. If we were allowed to fly long haul this year, this would be the book I’d recommend for a long flight, the time would pass in the blink of an eye.

The story has everything, great characters, a marvellous plot, and an intrigue that kept me second guessing all the way to the reveal.

That one innocent lie, Freya telling Butler she knows the victim, but only as a distant acquaintance, is the first roll of a small snowball in the snow. But as the story continues the snowball keeps getting rolled and it’s getting big. Meanwhile Butler has his own snowball rolling and the two are about to come together.

I loved this book and would recommend it to any crime fiction fan

Pages: 306. Publisher: Canelo Crime. Release date: 8th April 2021

E

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

When The Evil Waits. M.J Lee

Ridpath is back six months after the chilling end of the last book, yes this is the latest in a series, but it can be read on its own.

Suffering PTSD, and living on his own in a Police Service flat he is looking forward to getting back to work as the Police liaison officer for Greater Manchester’s Coroner

But, his Superintendent in the MIT has a job she wants him to do, and it’s going to rub his immediate boss up the wrong way

A young boy has been found naked and murdered in the woods. DCI Turnbull is an old school, by the book, black and white kind of detective, who at first is making no leeway into the case.

Detective Superintendent Trent doesn’t like the way the investigation is going so asks Ridpath, and a small team, to look over the investigation again, and in parallel with Turnbull and the rest of the team.

Did the DI miss anything, and when he does find out about Ridpath’s secondary investigation how will he react

Meanwhile a local hack is trying to make her name and is happy to write articles for the broadsheets and the gutter press, and the police are giving her plenty of opportunity to do both, and she is becoming a thorn in everybody’s sides

The investigation into the crime in this story is really good, a young boy killed. His brother and father estranged from his mother. Witnesses doing what witnesses do, and only giving half the story. “Lucky breaks” in the investigation being prompted by hard work, and the willingness to do more than just the basics. The story flies by in a heartbeat

But what really got my heart beating was Ridpath. His thoughts, and not just in relation to the job. His suffering and the way he is dealing with loss. The adjustments he has had to make in his life, and the relationship with his daughter.

I really like this series, and I really hope I’m wrong, because the last chapter really did feel like a last chapter. Is this the end of the series. I hope not. But if it is. It’s one hell of a way to finish

Publisher: Canelo Crime. Pages: 312. Published 25th March 2021