Passenger 23. Sebastian Fitzek

A quote from the book “An ocean going funfair of tourism and Murder. A floating city where you can get anything, except law enforcement”

Who has jurisdiction over crimes that happen on international cruise liners in international waters. I researched this question and I’m really surprised more books aren’t based on these ships. Basically it’s up to on board security to deal with any crime until the ship reaches port, or waters controlled by a nation, often only the 12 miles around the coast.

No forensics, no cops, people can get away with murder, and that is what this story uses as its foundation.

This is a really good story. Undercover Police Detective Martin Schwartz’s wife was on a transatlantic cruise with their son when they both went missing. The official inquest called it a murder suicide with the mother killing the son. Schwartz was never convinced and always held the ships captain responsible.

So when he gets a call to get onboard the same ship, and that somebody has information on a similar crime that may be related to the death of his family, he drops everything and joins the ship in Southampton just before it sails to America.

Two things surprise him. The person who made contact with him is an old, potty-mouthed, politically incorrect, lady, and that the Captain who was in charge when his family went missing is back in charge.

What’s even more surprising is why the old lady contacted him. She has seen a young girl, who’s mother has been missing for days, and both of who were thought to have suffered a similar fate as Schwartz’s family, has been found on board and his being hidden by the Captain

Schwartz only has a few days to find out what’s going on aboard the ship, because the owner can’t afford to have unsolved mysteries, with expensive loose ends to explain, when they arrive in the States.

What follows is an investigation that unravels a series of terrible crimes. Duplicity is rife, unexpected allegiances, are formed and broken and much more blood is spilled.

A mesmerising read

Pages: 416. Publisher: Head of Zeus. Available now

Ask No Questions. Claire Allan

One of the best books I’ve read this year.

25 years ago an eight year old girl goes missing during a Halloween night out.

3 days later 10 year old twin brothers Niall and Declan Heaney find her face down in a lake.

The families of the small Northern Irish town of Creggan are devastated and scared.

Ingrid Devlin was two years older than the missing girl and lived in the same town, now she’s a journalist who has written a couple of true crime books, so it’s natural that she is asked to do an anniversary piece on the murder, for the local paper.

What starts out as just a look at the victim, her family and the community, and how they have been affected takes a swing when James Harte, the man convicted of the murder, who was released 7 years ago, contacts Ingrid proclaiming his innocence.

The paper publishes the anniversary article, but Ingrid’s Editor refuses to run anything inflammatory from Harte. In fact the editor orders Ingrid to stop looking at the case. She decides that there is good material for a book and continues her investigation.

It’s not long before intimidating tactics start to persuade her to stop. That just makes her dig her heels in and carry on, but she’s scared, very scared, by what’s happening around her.

This book has a fantastic storyline. The tenacity of Ingrid’s investigation is underpinned by the effect it starts to have on her. How, as evidence starts to sway her thoughts away from what she has accepted as the truth since she was 10, she becomes scared.

The dynamics of the families involved in the incident, the girl’s mom and dad, the twins who found her and their parents is brilliantly written.

The tension in the book ramps up all the way until the last few pages, and in all honesty, I didn’t predict the end. Which is just how I like my crime fiction.

It wasn’t a surprise when I researched Claire Allan and found out she graduated with a Masters in Newspaper Journalism before becoming a renowned reporter in Derry. This book couldn’t have been written this well if the person writing it, hadn’t lived the life of a reporter in that area.

Did I save the best till last. This is certainly in the top 3 books I’ve read this year. So yes I think I did.

Publisher: Avon Pages: 336 Publishing date: January 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

The Art Of Death. David Fennell

This is so frustrating. The first part of the book had me instantly hooked.

The premise of the story is brilliant. A mystery artist going by a thoroughly modern name “@ nonymous” sets up an exhibition that will stun London. 3 homeless men killed, posed and sunk into clear cabinets full of formaldehyde. Videos put on line to show further victims before they are also found displayed in cabinets

A killer using social media to stalk his prey before catfishing them on dating apps.

A new, DI Grace Archer, who is taking over from a DI she arrested during a previous investigation, and suffering the wrath of his friends, whilst finding support in the few people that could see him for what he was.

So where does it become frustrating. The killer becomes obvious as soon as they come into the plot as a person, not as the first person narrator that is carrying out the killings.

But most frustrating is the inaccuracies that could have been sorted out by some easy research.

One of my pet gripes, and I know I am far from on my own, is authors who insist on calling forensics teams SOCO’s, there has been no such thing for over 15 years. All police forces have Crime Scene Investigation Teams, or Forensic Scene Investigation Teams or Forensic Support teams, the acronym SOCO has disappeared from modern policing

A section of the book involving an arson attack, where 2 men die, contains massive inaccuracies, the rank of the Fire Officer, the Fire Service Involvement, the interaction between the Police Officers and the Fire Crews are all completely wrong

The problem that leaves me with is a feeling that this book could have been so much better, all it needed was a bit of research

Pages: 432. Publisher: Zaffre. Publishing date: 4th February 2021

Wild Flower Graves. Rita Herron

Still struggling with her family secrets which devastated her in “The Silent Dolls” Detective Ellie Reeves is about to be pitched into another nightmare investigation

Just as Crooked County is getting over the fact that a serial killer had been stalking the Appalachian Trail, and that the much loved ex Sheriff, might have known about the killer for years, and done nothing about it, more bodies start to be discovered.

Ellie is pitched straight back into the deep end when the first body is discovered. A young woman has had her throat cut, been dressed, had makeup applied, and posed in a remote beauty spot on the Trail. Monday’s Child

With a section of the famous poem sewn into her mouth the victim is the first of potentially 7. When the next body is found the following day it becomes obvious that Ellie is in a race against time

Then the killer contacts her and she realises things are personal, and that the killer is taunting her, but it’s much more personal than that, he has already taken a good friend of hers, a fellow Police Officer.

Racing to find the killer Ellie finds two allies, one thrust upon her by her boss, the other a man she approaches herself. Both men are not her biggest fans

Ranger Cord McClain knows the Trail like nobody else but Ellie as good as accused him of being the serial killer in the previous case, she knows she needs his help but will he help her

Her boss calls in FBI Agent Derrick Fox, a man who helped with the previous investigation but who blew her family apart in his dogged pursuit of the killer who started by killing his little sister.

Not only does Ellie need to build bridges and restore relationships with the two men but she needs to act as a piece keeper, the men do not like or trust each other.

This story is outstanding. Earlier this year I reviewed Our Daughters Bones, the first in the series, and I raved about it. If anything this book is even better.

The setting of the Appalachian Trail is perfect for crime fiction. 2000 plus miles of wilderness walks stretching up the east of the United States, off grid communities, unique characters doted around a fantastic landscape, it’s perfect for intense storylines

Ellie Reeves is a character that it’s very easy to like, and emphasise with, but she can be frustratingly stubborn. Her professional relationships with Fox and Cord, the problems she has with the weird jurisdictional system of American Law Enforcement, and the hostile gossiping of much of the local community, following her family’s involvement with the previous killer, all add to the story.

The two books in the series so far, are amongst my favourite books this year. Can this one be read as a standalone? Yes it can, Rita Herron back refers enough to give the reader a full understanding of what happened in the first book.

But why miss out. Read The Silent Dolls first, then read this one. If you don’t you’ll kick yourself because you’ll definitely go back to it.

Pages 409, Publisher Bookouture, Publishing Date, 3rd December 2020

DARK FALLS. GREGG OLSEN

I wouldn’t usually start a review by saying “This is book three in a series”, but in this case I think I have to.

The first two Detective Megan Carpenter are brilliant, and this book is no different, but of all the series I’ve ever read this one has to be read in sequence.

The story picks up about a month after Waters Edge, the second book, ends; and it starts with a bang.

The opening few pages are some of the grisliest I’ve read as one of Megan’s friends, from her previous life, is killed.

Trying to keep her secret past, a secret from everybody who doesn’t know, and that’s just about everybody, whilst trying to investigate the murder of a person who was integral to it.

To protect her past she has to go back and investigate the murder of 3 people. But the more she digs the closer she comes to exposing her own secrets

What makes matters worse is the modern day killer is leaving clues to Megan’s link to victim and one of the historic murders.

This book is right at the top of the psychological thriller list. In fact this is more a thriller series than a cop series and for that reason it’s one of my favourite reads.

Megan is not the easiest character to like, as a person, but she’s growing on me as her hard ass personality starts to melt a bit.

The settings and the crimes are seriously some of the best in current fiction.

But, it’s the story across the series that has me hooked.

I hope there will be more to come.

Pages: 270 Publisher: Bookouture Publishing date: 4th December 2020

SILENCED GIRLS. Roger Stelljes

20 years ago twin sisters are growing up in small town Manchester Bay Minnesota. At 17 they are beginning to make the discoveries that all teenagers make. During the July 4th celebrations one sister goes missing, whilst the other goes off with a boy, a decision she will always struggle with.

The surviving sister, Tori, remembers her father “The Sheriffs” words to them “When a young girl goes missing, she’s never found”

That’s the case Jessie is never found

20 years later Tori is living in New York, and is an FBI agent. She left Manchester Bay just after her sister went missing and only returned for the Sheriffs funeral 18 months later. She has no intention of going back.

Until another girl goes missing in very similar circumstances, and Tori is sent a letter telling her to look at that case for similarities. The problem being the letter was sent the day before the new disappearance.

The old town has grown. Her father’s deputy is now Sheriff and welcomes her help as long as his lead investigator, Will Braddock agrees.

People are glad she’s back but somebody has invited her. Why? Is she now a target?

Some families have done well out of the towns growth. Others are still in shock from Jessie’s unsolved disappearance

Between Tori and Will the investigation starts to uncover some worrying threads and the story rattles along at a great pace. Until the end, but how will that end resolve the latest crime, and will it answer the mystery surrounding Jessie’s disappearance and give Tori some kind of closure.

This book is billed as being Agent Tori Hunter Book 1. I can only hope it is the start of a long new series. The story is brilliant.

The characters are addictive and I couldn’t help but get hooked on the relationships that Tori rebuilds, and how she works with Will and his team.

One of her old friends “ Steak” is now a cop and is working the case with his partner Detective Eggleston. Yes. Detectives Steak and Eggs. Any author that can dream up that little aside to put a bit of humour in the book is alright with me.

I really enjoyed this story . In fact I’d been going through one of those lulls when I was finding it hard to settle into a book and was having difficulty finding the enthusiasm to read. This book hooked me from the start and got me back into my reading. Brilliant

Pages: 478. Publisher: Bookouture. Publishing Date: 11th November 2020

Their Silent Graves. Carla Kovach

If ever a book hit the right buttons for a psychological thriller it’s this one. Hitting one of the most basics of our primordial fears, being buried alive.

The first murder is nearly a quarter of a century ago, but now the same method is being used again, and to make matters worse, the first victim is murdered at Halloween

DI Gina Harte has had a tough past, her back story has come out in previous books in this series, but her mental baggage really comes to the fore during this investigation.

She is being sent threats that would only make sense if they came from her husband, her dead husband. So is somebody playing with Gina’s head whilst she tries to investigate the latest series of murders. Does somebody connected with the murders have intimate knowledge of her past, or is the unthinkable happening.

There are two threads to this story. The murders, and Gina, and both are written in a way that gripped me from the start and I got lost in this book from page one, right up to the last page.

Carla Kovach has written a series of books that can all be read as stand alone but to get the best out of the series, it’s best to read them all in order. If you haven’t started the series yet I’m jealous, because you are in for a hell of a ride.

Gina Hart, and the regular characters in the series, are so realistic I feel like I’ve actually met them. The crimes and the way they are portrayed are so realistic it’s almost as if you’re reading news reports of something that’s happening now

But the most striking thing is the way Kovach seamlessly stitches them all together. If ever a book series was screaming out to be made into a TV series this is it.

Pages: 380

Publisher: Bookouture

Available now.

Little Bones N.V. Peacock

I’ve not read a book like this for a long time. It brings a whole new level to the psychological thriller genre.

I was convinced on so many occasions that I knew who was behind the crimes in his story, and every time I thought I had it, Peacock wrote a breath stopping scene that convinced me I was right; right up until the last second when I was proven wrong.

It is brilliantly written.

Cherrie has a live in boyfriend who is the father of her only child Robin.

At the end of the day Cherrie looks like any other mother in a modern, unmarried, family relationship, and although she’s in a retail job that’s under threat, all is well in her life.

Her new life that is.

Because nobody, not even her boyfriend are aware of her past.

So when a podcaster outs her as Leigh-Ann Hendy, the daughter of serial killer William Hendy, her life is turned upside down.

Not least because the reason she’s outed is because a young boy has gone missing from her neighbourhood. A young boy much like the ones her father killed, the ones he kidnapped and killed with her help.

Just when she is battling with the fact that everybody is going to know who she is, her son is taken. Is it an act of revenge against her, is it somebody who is playing out her fathers crimes, if you work it out before the reveal you are better than me.

This book is written from a unique point of view. Cherrie is the main character, she is a modern day victim, who was previously a perpetrator. The story s not just told through her eyes, it’s told through her thoughts, and not all of them make comfortable reading, but they do make compelling reading.

I have to say I’ve seen mixed reviews on this book. I’m not going to sit on the fence, I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

Publishers: Avon

Pages: 400

Publishing date: 31st October 2020

While You Slept. R.J. Parker

This is a book that evoked the emotions I used to have watching scary TV programs as a kid. The type you just had to watch but, before the days of fast forwarding through the scary bits on demand, you had to watch between your fingers.

Lily, a newly divorced single mother, has an alert on her phone. On her security camera a man is standing in her garden wearing a mask of her daughters face.

Rushing home to meet the Police Lily picks her daughter up from school. Maisie is scared by the policeman but soon settles down.

The next day Lily wakes up with a hangover, but that’s the least of her problems, she’s at home, in familiar surroundings, with all her possessions, except she’s not. Somebody has in prisoned her and Maisie within a complete replica of their own home, and there’s no way out

The only thing  that’s different are the photos in the family album. The ones that she and her ex, Ewan, took of Maisie have been replaced by ones taken at the same time, images that show Lily, Maisie and Ewan when the originals were taken.

When The mystery man from the security footage makes contact he tells Lily to obey his rules or she will be punished, and she is. The first time she annoys him he takes Maisie away for a night.

No more spoilers, this is an original and brilliant story.

If I was to liken it to any other writing I’d say it was like a cross between Stephen King and Dean Koontz at their best.

The story follows Lily as she tries to escape and tries to work out whose holding them. She examines her own memories dragging her thoughts back to things she’d rather forget.

I really did read this in two sittings, I really did read this holding my breath for way too long at times, but most of all, I really really did enjoy this book.

Pages: 257

Publishers: One More Chapter, Harper Collins

Publishing date: 24th July 2020