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 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

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

Little Bones. Patricia Gibney

For anybody that hasn’t found series of books, by Patricia Gibney, featuring DI Lottie Parker, you are missing out on one of the best Police Thriller series on the shelves.

For those of you that have, you are in for a treat with this one, I think it’s the best so far.

Lottie is called to a gruesome murder the victim has an old fashioned razor blade in her hand.

A woman receives a hand written note with three Rusty Razor Blades inside, she knows she’ll be dead within days, if not before the end of the day. Especially when she sees news of a murder on the news.

Somebody is coming for her. She knows why. She’s scared and so she should be.

Somebody is watching the Police. He wants to help, he has information, but he also suffers blackouts and doesn’t know if he’s the killer.

And all of that in the first few chapters.

Lottie and her team have their work cut out with this investigation.

You can rely on Patricia Gibney to keep it real, and this is no exception. Her books are like the written version of the real life, fly-on-the-wall, crime documentaries that follow live investigations. But her books are access all areas.

She takes you inside the head of the detectives, the criminals, the witnesses and the victims. She shows you the affect of a crime on everybody it touches, and throughout the series she has shown us the affect the work has on DI Lottie Parker and her family.

This book arrived in my inbox on a Friday morning, it went straight to the top of my to-be-read list, and was finished by Sunday, it gripped me from the first chapter. Brilliant.

Pages: 407. Publisher: Bookouture. Available now.

Dead Mercy. Noelle Holten

Right at the back of this book is an insight into why this story, and the series, is so good.

A modest Eleven lines under the title About the Author.

In those lines it relates Noelle Holten’s qualifications and experience.

A Senior Probation Officer for 18 years covering Domestic Violence and Abuse cases.

3 BA (Hons) degrees, Philosophy, Sociology (Crime and Deviance) and Community Justice, and to top it of a Masters in Criminology.

So Noelle is one of those rare breeds, a person that has experience to back her qualifications, and that really stands out and puts her way ahead of many authors.

The story sees DC Maggie Jamieson and the Staffordshire Police Major Organised Crime welcoming back Dr Kate Maloney to the team, and her Psychologist insights are going to be priceless.

When Maggie is called to the first murder scene she finds the victim has been bound, assaulted, and set alight.

Why would anybody do that to a person, is the fire part of the killers method of killing or is it an attempt to destroy evidence.

When a second body turns up under similar circumstances the phrase serial killer gets banded about but Maggie is quick to point out that you need three deaths before you can use that category. She spoke too soon.

As the body count mounts the team work their way through the investigation, building working hypothesis as they go. As in a real investigation suspects come to the fore, and hypothesis are built around the reasons for the killing; and as in a real investigation it takes time to get it right.

Although the reader gains an insight into the killers motives, through the occasional chapter written from their point of view, the Police are frustratingly chipping away at the edges without quite nailing it, until they inevitably put the pieces together, but how many people are going to die first.

They say never judge a book by its cover, and I would usually agree, but this book has a stunning cover and the story is every bit as good.

I mentioned Noelle’s qualifications and experience. She’s walked the walk, she has all of the t-shirts, and now she’s writing books about the things she knows.

If you want your crime fiction realistic, if you want the crimes, criminals, victims, and Police Officers to be truly reflective of the real thing, this book, and this series are what you are looking for.

Pages: 400. Publisher: One More Chapter, Harper Collins

Angel Maker. Morgan Greene

So. Is this the start of a new series or not.

Who cares it’s absolutely brilliant, and is one of my must reads of 2021.

I read this book in 2 days, and would have read it in one sitting if I had the time.

Why do I ask if it’s the start of a new series, because there are several places where it fleetingly mentions big cases the main character, DI Jamie Johansson, has worked on in the Met.

The question is answered by the author at the end of the book. He thanks the reader for reading the book and explains that there have been previous books about Jamie’s cases in London, but that he has always wanted to write Scandium Noir, and that this is the real start of The Jamie Johansson series

It works, it really works, and for me, yes it is the start of a new series and I’ve just downloaded the next, Rising Tide, on to my Kindle. Will I read the previous books? Yes but I’m in no rush. I’ll read them as a prequel at some time.

The story

Jamie Johansson is a British Police Officer who moved to the U.K. with her mother following a messy Divorce from her Swedish Detective father.

Her father committed suicide not long after capturing and incarcerating the Angel Maker, a man who had raped and killed teenage girls before posing them as a praying Angel with tree boughs carved and pushed through the bodies.

The Angel Maker has just died in prison and now a new body has been found, a fresh kill, carried out and posed in exactly the same way as the other seven.

Swedish Police Detective Andres Wiik has requested Jamie’s attendance as he believes that she may know something about the original cases that was lost when her father died. She had been the little girl often seen around the police station with her dad. The apple of his eye he took on hunting and fishing trips. She may have been told something about those original investigations, and she is a cop with a huge reputation for solving cases.

When she arrives she’s taken to the scene, surprisingly still well preserved because of the cold weather.

From there she’s taken to a house, and this might be why she’s really there. It’s her fathers old house, the one she thought her mother had sold, but it’s actually hers and hasn’t been touched since her fathers death. It’s a time capsule that takes her back to the good, and not so good, days with her father.

His old note books hold a wealth of information but not much about the Angel Maker case.

The story of the investigation into the current crime obviously throws doubt on the original conviction based on her dads investigations, but that is the least of her worries.

This is a cracker of a story, one of, if not the best, I’ve read this year

There are twist and turns in the plot which had me thinking I had the crime solved, then I hadn’t. I knew who the murderer was, I didn’t. How the book was going to end, I really didn’t.

The end of this book is a real hook, and I swallowed it.

I didn’t see the last chapter coming, and it made what was already a great read, into the opening of what I think is going to be a great series.

I don’t do star markings, but if I did, this would be one more than the top mark six out of five. No hesitation.

Pages: 444. Publisher: Mercury Books. Available now

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