Book Review: Upstaged by Murder by C.S. Challinor

Upstaged By Murder
A Rex Graves Mystery #9
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5647-9
Trade Paperback

It’s opening night for a play by a local playwright that brings together five celebrated British literary sleuths to identify the murderer of a glamorous young woman, occupant of a luxurious manor house. At the end of Act 1, Lady Naomi Grove is scripted to be killed. Shockingly, a single shot rings out, killing the actress behind a theatre scrim.

In the audience is a well-known Scottish barrister and private detective, Rex Graves. He’s enjoying a short vacation with his new wife, Helen. His natural curiosity and reputation draw him to offer his services to the local policeman tasked with finding the real killer.

With Graves, readers will be treated to an interesting twisting trail through the lives of the amateur players, all of whom are initial suspects. The community is naturally enthralled by the dramatic circumstances and nicely used by the author as the broader setting for the detection. Red herrings will mis-direct readers at crucial points throughout this cozy mystery and the relationships between Graves, his new bride and the constabulary are well-thought-out and presented.

For mystery readers who are fans of cozy murder mysteries, this novel will provide a fine weekend of enjoyable recreation beside a nice wood fire.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Split by Sharon Bolton @AuthorSJBolton @TrapezeBooks @MinotaurBooks

The Split
Sharon Bolton
Trapeze/Orion Publishing, June 2020
ISBN 978-1-4091-7419-6
Hardback
Minotaur Books, May 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-30005-8
Hardcover

I’ve been a fan of Sharon Bolton’s for a number of years. She started out writing as S.J. Bolton no doubt because initials didn’t give away the fact that she was a woman. At any rate The Split is her newest standalone and in truth I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s opening quickly draws you in as we meet Felicity Lloyd who is a glaciologist working on the remote Island of South Georgia in the Antarctic Circle.

Felicity is worried, very worried. A cruise ship, the last of the season, is arriving and she soon learns that one of the passengers, Freddie, is the man she’s been running from for close to a year. She believes he wants to kill her, but she has no idea why.

To find out the reason behind her fears we jump back in time, to nine months previously. Felicity is in Cambridge, England. She has been found, her clothes torn, her face and body bruised and bleeding, with no memory of what happened to her. She is now undergoing a psychiatric assessment, that’s why she’s in Dr. Joe Grant’s office. She needs to pass this assessment in order to return to work.

Joe has his own problems but he likes Felicity and wants to help. For the next third of the book we get to know Felicity a little more. Strange things keep happening to her. She is attacked and she’s also sure someone is getting into her house while she sleeps. Her car goes missing and her fear and tension steadily escalates, leaving her petrified that she’s going insane.

Several street people, people Felicity knows, have gone missing and a body is found. Is Felicity involved? She doesn’t know for sure and neither does Joe, who is growing more anxious about his patient. Joe’s mother, Delilah, is a detective who is certain Felicity knows more than she is saying, and might well be a suspect.

I read a review of this book (after I’d finished it), and had to agree with the reviewer, who praised Sharon Bolton’s meticulous research, but wondered, as I did, that it seemed obvious what was happening to Felicity. That Joe and his detective mother should have reached a similar conclusion within the story.

This didn’t stop me from reading its thrilling conclusion.

But I’m still thinking and wondering about it. But while I came away feeling a little disappointed, I’ll certainly check out her next book.

Respectfully submitted,

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, July 2020.

Book Review: His & Hers by Alice Feeney @alicewriterland @MacmillanAudio

His & Hers
Alice Feeney
Narrated by Richard Armitage and Stephanie Racine
Macmillan Audio, July 2020
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

There are two sides to every story: yours and mine, ours and theirs, his and hers. Which means someone is always lying.

When a woman is murdered in Blackdown, a quintessentially British village, newsreader Anna Andrews is reluctant to cover the case. Detective Jack Harper is suspicious of her involvement, until he becomes a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Someone isn’t telling the truth, and some secrets are worth killing to keep.

I haven’t read anything by Alice Feeney before but, oh my goodness, His & Hers will most certainly not be the last. There are serial killer books and then there are serial killer books but this one stands head and shoulders above many that I’ve read before.

I can’t say much without giving away important plot details but let me just say that the author has done a masterful job of creating characters of such depth that none are completely good or bad (or perhaps I should say most are not) and none can be 100% trusted (I was especially intrigued by Jack’s young colleague, Priya). Ms. Feeney has also developed a high-tension plot that has a dramatic backstory and is largely dependent on all the bodies that keep showing up; the reader has a pretty good idea of who is going to end up being those bodies but guessing the killer’s identity is something else entirely. Twice—twice!—I was sure I had the murderer pegged and, both times, I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

There are three points of view here and the narrators handle them beautifully, Richard Armitage for Detective Jack Harper and Stephanie Racine for TV news personality Anna Andrews. The third POV is that of the killer but that voice is cleverly disguised electronically so the listener can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman and also can’t tell if it might be one of the two protagonists. Nice touch!

Serial killer stories aren’t for everyone but if, like me, you find them interesting and compelling, His & Hers is one you won’t want to miss. As for me, I’m adding it to my list of Best Books read in 2020.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.

Book Review: The Long Call by Ann Cleeves @AnnCleeves @panmacmillan @MinotaurBooks

The Long Call
The Two Rivers #1
Ann Cleeves
Pan Macmillan, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-5098-8956-3
Trade Paperback
Minotaur, July 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-20445-5
Trade Paperback

Ann Cleeves is the well known author of two very popular mystery series; Shetland with detective Jimmy Perez, and Vera, with Detective Vera Stanhope. Here in The Long Call we meet a brand new Detective, DI Matthew Venn. Matthew has returned to Barnstaple in North Devon where he grew up. His father died recently but Matthew hadn’t seen or spoken to his parents since he began attending university, unable to conform to the strict evangelical group they belonged to known as the Barnum Brethren.

The body of a man with no identification has been found on the beach. He’s been stabbed and DI Venn’s first task is to identify the victim. It isn’t long before they learn he’s Simon Walden, a secretive man with mental issues and a relative stranger to the area.

As DI Venn, along with detectives DS Jen Rafferty and DS Ross May, begin their murder investigation we meet a number of the locals as they are interviewed. Widower Maurice Braddick and his thirty year old Down Syndrome daughter Lucy who attends the Woodyard Centre; Hilary and Colin Marston who have recently moved to the area and might have seen the victim prior to his death; Gabby Henry an artist who teaches painting at the Woodyard Community Centre, who isn’t telling the whole truth, and Caroline Preece with whom the victim had been staying.

There are a few more players in this intriguing mystery including DI Venn’s mother who reaches out to Matthew when her friend’s daughter Christine Shapland, Lucy’s friend and another Down Syndrome girl, disappears. Lives are in danger as the perpetrator attempts to stop the police from uncovering the truth and solving the murder.

Ann Cleeves is a master at portraying these small towns and the people who live in them. They are an endless source of interest as inevitably behind closed doors all is not what it seems…

I highly recommend this mystery and hope it’s the first in a new series featuring DI Matthew Venn. I was happy, however, to see a reference to a new title in Vera Stanhope’s series – The Darkest Evening – due out later this year.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, June 2020.

Book Review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries
Elly Griffiths
First Mariner Books, March 2019
ISBN 978-0-358-11786-5
Library ebook

Clare Cassidy is an English Literature teacher at Talgarth High in the town of Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex. The school itself has some history connected to a writer R.M.Holland, well known for his short story “The Stranger” and for residing in the school back in the early 1900’s, long before it became a school. There is also a haunting tale about his wife who’d died in mysterious circumstances, and even now her ghostly presence wanders the rooms where she lived with her husband.

Ella Elphick, a teacher at Talgarth High well-liked by colleagues and students, has been murdered. The novel is told through three of the characters, Clare, her teenage daughter Georgia, and DS Harbinder Kaur, the detective assigned to the case. Clare is writing a book about R.M. Holland, and has been keeping a diary for years.

The reader comes to know these three woman through their everyday lives and their thoughts on the murder. DS Kaur, who once attended Talgarth High, is thirty-five and still lives with her parents. Georgia aspires to be a writer and is meantime dealing with her over- protective mother and her own self confidence. And Clare, unsettled by the murder of her friend, and worried about her teenage daughter’s budding romance.

Another body is discovered throwing light on the possibility that Clare may be in danger.

I wasn’t particularly fond of the way this mystery unfolded. Moving back and forth between the three main characters tended to duplicate some of the information and there was little urgency in unmasking the perpetrator, even after a second victim appeared. Scattered throughout the novel was the short story “The Stranger” which I also found distracting. The final outcome didn’t work, at least, for me…

However, as I write this, I’m aware that this novel has been awarded the 2020 Edgar award for Best Novel. Not my cup of tea I guess.

Respectfully submitted,

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2020.

Book Review: Turn to Dust by Rachel Amphlett @RachelAmphlett @AnAudiobookworm

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Author: Rachel Amphlett

Narrator: Alison Campbell

Length: 7 hours 56 minutes

Series: Detective Kay Hunter, Book 9

Publisher: Saxon Publishing

Genre: Mystery, Police Procedural

Released: May 14, 2020

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When the body of a naked man is found in the middle of a barren field, a rural community is left in shock – and fear.

Discovering that someone is offering money in return for information about the dead man and anyone connected to him, Detective Kay Hunter realises there is a dark side to the victim’s past.

When a key witness disappears and a web of deceit and lies threatens to derail the investigation, she fears the worst.

Can Kay and her team of detectives find out who is behind the man’s murder before another victim is targeted?

Buy Links

RachelAmphlett.com

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Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.

She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, Stuart MacBride, and many more.

She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreadsInstagram

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Narrator Bio

Alison Campbell is an actress based in Bristol, U.K. She has lent her voice to 50+ audiobooks, cartoons, documentaries and dramas. She can be found treading the boards across the country, in everything from Shakespeare to hip hop kids adventures. On screen she has appeared in dramas and science documentaries, her most recent co star was a CGI elephant. She can also be found performing the Natural Theatre Company’s award-winning surreal brand of interactive comedy around the globe.

Instagram

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I’m so happy to have another entry in this series and Turn to Dust is every bit as good as the earlier books.

When Detective Kay Hunter is called to the scene where a man’s body was found, it doesn’t take long before she and her team begin to find hints that this is no ordinary crime but they have no idea how dark this one is going to get. The man’s injuries are exceedingly bad, much worse than they’re used to seeing but, before much time goes by, they learn just why the body is in this condition.

Not long after, the team hears that someone is offering payment for information about the victim and a critical witness goes missing. All efforts go towards finding this girl and the trail leads them in some truly horrifying directions, ultimately towards the answers that show just how depraved and vicious some people can be.

As always in Ms. Amphlett’s books, a good deal of attention is paid to the individual team members — Barnes, Carys and all the others — and their interactions with each other, based on a camaraderie that has grown over time. I especially enjoy the time spent with Kay and her veterinarian husband, Adam, always wanting to see what adorable animals he’s going to bring home.

Alison Campbell continues doing an excellent job with the audiobook narration and, in fact, she gets better with each book. One thing in particular that struck me this time is that her tone is really mellow and soothing which you would think wouldn’t be quite right for a police procedural but somehow it works very well. Between her narration and Ms. Amphlett’s terrific storytelling, I’m already anticipating the next book 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2020.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Rachel Amphlett. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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Click here to view the full tour schedule!

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Plugging you into the audio community since 2016.

Sign up as a tour host here.

Book Reviews: Britain’s Forgotten Serial Killer by John Lucas and Phoenix Burning by Isabella Moldonado @johnlucas_news @penswordbooks @authorbella1 @midnightinkbook

Britain’s Forgotten Serial Killer
The Terror of the Axeman
John Lucas
Pen & Sword Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-52674-884-3
Trade Paperback

In 1975 a young, deeply troubled alcoholic boy, came before the court in London, charged with three brutal murders. Two were elderly women, one a neighborhood priest. The youth charged with their murders, Patrick MacKay, was twenty-two at the time and had a criminal career stretching back eleven years.

Journalist John Lucas has written a sober, detailed biography of this Nazi-obsessed youth, speculating over eight other similar murders of which Mackay might reasonably be accused, making him one of the most prolific and dangerous serial killers ever experienced in England.

At the time of his trial, Mackay was dubbed The Axeman, The Monster of Belgravia and the Devil’s Disciple. He never held a regular job for more than a few days, he was committed numerous times to psychiatric and other mental institutions for evaluation and treatment, but he was always released after short treatment or simply left the institution. Early on, a number of omissions, errors and missteps by various law enforcement agencies allowed Mackay to escape arrest and thus eight brutal murders attributed to him remain unresolved.

The book is evenly written with comprehensive research clearly presented. One of the most interesting aspects of the case of Patrick David MacKay is the number of citizens with whom he interacted and even occasionally lived with who, despite his erratic behavior, never saw clues to his murderous behavior. The book contains an extensive index, bibliography and several photographs of some of the principal characters.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Phoenix Burning      
A Veranda Cruz Mystery #2
Isabella Maldonado
Midnight Ink Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5102-3
Trade Paperbacks

This is a novel of crime, of brutality, of family secrets, of conflicts and of resolution. It is also a novel rich in a variety of good and evil characters, of violence expertly described and of characters conflicted, misunderstood and striving for their goals, personal and social.

In Phoenix, Homicide detective Veranda Cruz with her partner riding shotgun races to connect with an important drug dealer. As she dodges mid-day traffic on a busy street she worries about the unusual timing of the contact and immediately discovers her instincts are still working well when her vehicle is intercepted and the drug dealer is killed. She and partner Sam Stark pursue the killer into a crowded mall.

Thus begins a fast-paced, terror-filled novel that carries the talented Cruz through incident after incident, some fraught and dangerous, others poignant and emotional, all thoughtful and often original in design and result. Phoenix is the site of most of the action with a few side trips to somewhere in Mexico and the summer season is recognized if not belabored. The novel is a judicious blend of modern electronic uses and mis-uses, and good-old-fashioned policing, mostly the action is physical, dangerous and logical. The pace can be best described as fast and furious, interspersed with more normal family-based rhythms and interactions.

Cruz’s target is a powerful Mexican drug cartel of epic proportions and ruthless actions. Her partners in a monumental effort to take down the cartel represent every available local and federal law enforcement agency, requiring negotiation skills beyond belief, almost.

In sum, the novel careens to an unusual if satisfying ending leaving multiple traces of future possibilities. For fans of violent crime novels, this is a definite winner.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.