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Thursday, 11 July 2019

‘Five Bloody Hearts’ by Joy Ellis



Published by Joffe Books,
11 February 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78931077-1 (PB)

Five Bloody Hearts opens in the early hours of a summer’s morning as DCI Matt Ballard hurtles along a long, lonely road in the Fens to attend the scene of a murder.  The detective’s mind is torn between thoughts about the victim he is about to encounter and a consideration of his personal life.  His retirement plans have had to be put on hold until his successor is finally released from an important, but infuriatingly long, court case.

When Ballard arrives at the scene of crime DI Jason Hammond briefs him on what seems to be the third in a series of similar killings perpetrated by the so-called “Baltic Mafia” - a group of criminals from Eastern Europe, who appear to be exploiting tensions between Latvian and Lithuanian migrants.  Hammond is assigned to deal with the situation as the DCI makes his way back to Fenfleet to conduct the morning briefing.  When he arrives at the station, however, he meets prison visitor, Grace Repton, who wants to talk to him about Jem Reader who is currently serving a life sentence for murder and to whom she has recently become engaged.  Repton tells the detective that a young man, Alex, has become obsessed with Reader’s crimes and wants to emulate his hero by continuing his heinous offences.  Ballard knows Reader only too well - he had captured the murderer ten years earlier but not before the slaughter of a fifth and final victim in Fenfleet.  Grace Repton insists that Reader is now remorseful and, desperate to prevent a misguided devotee from re-enacting his past crimes, has requested Ballard’s help.

The DCI is not alone in feeling sceptical about Repton’s claims, but he and his team are forced to pay attention when a young woman is murdered using Reader’s modus operandi.  Faced with these two urgent investigations and juggling a plethora of less serious, but nevertheless important, enquiries Ballard is pushed to the limit.  His tribulations are further complicated by concerns about the health of his partner, DS Liz Haynes who is slowly recovering from injuries received in the line of duty.  As the body count rises, the necessity to find the copycat killer threatens to overwhelm Ballard who is tortured with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.  The detective team are forced to accept that Reader’s apparent desire to atone for his former sins could be sincere, but there remains a nagging doubt that he just might be orchestrating the murders from his prison cell. 

Five Bloody Hearts is a spellbinding novel with twists and turns aplenty as it advances towards a riveting conclusion.  The novel is driven by fascinating and unorthodox characters who reveal anxieties, fears, and regrets, as well as loyalty, determination and courage.  Well-researched contemporary themes, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and migration, are described with empathy and sensitivity.  The book marks a welcome return for Ballard and Haynes who made their first appearance in Beware the Past (2017).  As with all Joy Ellis’s books, Five Bloody Hearts can be read as a stand-alone work in its own right, and the best-selling author has once again delivered a novel that I simply could not put down.
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Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent

Joy Ellis was born in Kent but spent most of her working life in London and Surrey. She was an apprentice florist to Constance Spry Ltd, a prestigious Mayfair shop that throughout the Sixties and Seventies teemed with both royalty and ‘real’ celebrities. She swore that one day she would have a shop of her own. It took until the early Eighties, but she did it. Sadly the recession wiped it out, and she embarked on a series of weird and wonderful jobs; the last one being a bookshop manager. Joy now lives in a village in the Lincolnshire Fens with her partner, Jacqueline. She had been writing mysteries for years but never had the time to take it seriously. Now as her partner is a highly decorated retired police officer; her choice of genre was suddenly clear. She has set her crime thrillers in the misty fens.   

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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