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Thursday, 13 May 2021

Black River by Will Dean

Published by Point Blank,
20 May 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-78607-841-4 (PB)

This novel is the third featuring tough-minded reporter Tuva Moodyson.  It’s Scandi noir at its best by an English author settled in Sweden whose previous thrillers Dark Pines and Red Snow introduced us to the deaf, kickass protagonist.  It can be read as a stand-alone.

Set in the remote, rural one-horse town of Gavrik surrounded by dense, gloomy, pine forests, Tuva is drawn back from Malmo when her best pal, Tammy, who runs a tasty Thai food take-away from a van, goes missing, presumed forcibly abducted, during   Midsommer, a traditional Swedish festival, involving maypoles, outdoor games and much eating and drinking on the shortest day of the year.  Not long after Tammy’s disappearance, a second woman, an aspiring celebrity, vanishes and this ratchets up the tension.

Tammy, a Swede of Thai heritage, is regarded as an outsider and her absence is only taken seriously when the second woman from a well-to-do family with clout is also unaccounted for.  It becomes a race against time to find the two, very different, women before they become grim statistics.

The reader meets a host of bizarre, if not truly creepy, residents, with strange occupations and interests that clearly necessitated a depth of research by the author. Yet the research is skillfully woven into the storyline, a feat in itself, and one never feels burdened by the information.

Not a particularly complex plot, although none the worse for that, the author is a talented craftsman, a wordsmith who effectively creates an evocative and yes, also chilling atmosphere where characters are suspicious of outsiders, where the reader can feel, smell and witness the nasty seasonal insects and bugs and where the identity of the perpetrator is completely unexpected.  Tuva, too, is confronted by unimaginable danger and one wonders if she will live to fight another day.

From start to finish the pace is as fast as it is electric, the writing fresh and descriptive, characters are fully formed, the dialogue crisp and the bonds between women sensitively probed and explored.   What’s not to like? This book is a winner.
Reviewer: Serena Fairfax

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying Law at LSE, and working many varied jobs in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.  Dark Pines was his first novel.

Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practised in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals   then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. A tenth, distinctly unromantic, novel is a work in progress. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things.

‘Secrets on the Fens,’ by Joy Ellis

Published by Joffe Books,
11 February 2021.
ISBN 978-1-78931684-1 (PB)

The discovery of two bodies in a clearing in Saltmere woods is, as Sergeant Danny Crier said ‘strange’. The bodies are of two young people lying on a blanket entwined. They look peaceful, she dark haired, lying on her back, the young man lying beside her holding a red rose.  

Closer investigation by Detective Nikki Galena and DS Joseph Easter reveals that they were clearly killed somewhere else and then arranged to look like a lovers’ suicide pact. The team dub them Romeo and Juliet.

Eve Anderson and her friend from her RAF days Wendy Avery now retired from the MOD, had recently taken on the restoration of a Victorian artist’s attic studio, prompted by a guided tour of Oleander House which had shown the place to have been neglected for over a hundred years owing to a stipulation in the will that the studio was to remain untouched. But the owner Robert Richmond had managed to overrule the clause deciding it was time it was restore the studio.  Equally interesting to Eve and Wendy was the fact that the artist the late Robert Matthew Richmond had gone off one day to paint wildflowers and had never been seen again. Eve and Wendy love a mystery. A chance meeting with a lady who had inherited an original painting by Robert Matthew Richmond has resulted in an invitation to Eve and Wendy to visit her in the Lake District, as she has been doing some investigating of her own and suspects that there was foul play involved in the artist’s disappearance. 

Opting for an early start for their drive to the Lake district, Eve and Wendy set out at 3.30 am, but haven’t gone far when they are flagged down by a group of youngsters who are worried by a light in a tunnel. When Eve and Wendy investigate, they find the tunnel blocked by a boat and on the boat are two dead bodies. A young man and a young girl lying on cushions with a pink heart-shaped helium balloon drifting upwards from the girl’s hand.

Who will be the next victims? And Why?

Secrets on the Fens is the 12th book in the  Detective Inspector Nikki Galena series.  Rich in characters, this is an amazing read.  Intricately plotted, can Nikki and her team unravel the mystery of the deaths of these young people and find the killer or killers? Both family dynamics and personal choices play a part. But not just one tantalising mystery, but two. Will Eve and Wendy discover the truth of the hundred-year mystery of the missing artist.  Secrets on the Fens is a page turner, and is most highly recommended

Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

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.   

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

‘The Sister's Twin’ by Jane Adams

Published by Joffe Books,
29 March 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-78931727-5 (PB)

The Prologue tells of a young man visiting a “reader” at a psychic fair and how he is entranced by a pack of cards, similar to Tarot but called the Book of Angels. He then buys his own pack and learns how to read them. From that day he lived his life by their interpretation.


We then come forward to the present day. Ray Flowers, ex-detective, and his partner George Mahoney run a security firm installing alarms and maintaining them. Sometimes he still helps the police out using his detective skills. One day he receives a visit from a Lily Spencer who asks him to look into her twin sister Rose's murder. She explains that it hasn't happened yet, but a friend Elspeth, read it in a pack of cards called the Book of Angels. The police are not interested at all.


Then an elderly lady in a nursing home is found killed and a Book of Angels card is tucked in her hand. The police now have to take Lily seriously and interview an Alice Weston, creator of the pack of cards. They want to know about the one found at the murder scene. But she is mystified as to what the significance of it is.

Next, we learn that the young man with the cards of years ago is teaching two young women how to carry out his wishes. However, we have no idea of any of the identities.


Then there is another murder, also in a care home, the police now take the prediction of Rose's death seriously, especially as another Book of Angels card is left behind. Ray contacts his friend Detective Inspector Dave Beckett and offers to help.


Concern for Rose now really grows when there is a failed attempt on her life. In their hurry to escape, the assailant drops a card from the same pack. Worried there may be another attempt on her life, security is really stepped up at the nursing home where she lives.


No connection can be found between all the victims, so much against the judgment of Beckett's boss, Alice the creator is asked to help them. Can she do any better than the police?


As the murders mount up, they are certainly at their wits end.


Another spine chilling, nerve tingling thriller from Jane Adams. She certainly likes touching on the occult and is very good at creating a creepy and somewhat unsettling atmosphere. Once again, a highly recommended book from this intriguing author.


Reviewer:  Tricia Chappell

Jane Adams was born in Leicestershire, where she still lives. She has a degree in Sociology and has held a variety of jobs including lead vocalist in a folk rock band. She enjoys pen and ink drawing, martial arts and her ambition is to travel the length of the Silk Road by motorbike. Her first book, The Greenway, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Award in 1995 and for the Author's Club Best First Novel Award. Jane writes several series.  Her first series featured Mike Croft. Several books featuring DS Ray Flowers. Seven titles featuring blind Naoimi Blake, and six titles featuring Rina Martin. Her most recent series is set between the two World Wars and featuring Detective Inspector Henry Johnstone and his sergeant, Micky Hitchens. Jane has also written several standalone novels. She is married with two hildren.

Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.


Monday, 10 May 2021

‘Valse Triste’ by Marcello Fois

Published by MacLehose Press.
18 February 2021. 
ISBN 978 0 85705 884 3 (TPB)

Whilst driving back to Bolzano, a small city at the base of the Dolomites in northern Italy, the Ludovisi family, Nicolo, his wife Gaia and their autistic son Michelangelo, pull into the side of the road for a comfort break.  Almost immediately we hear Gaia calling for her son who seems to have vanished into the thick undergrowth at the bottom of the mountains.  A passing priest, don Guiseppe, stops his car and calls the police.

Commissario Sergio Striggio and Chief Inspector Elisabetta Menetti arrive at the scene soon afterwards. They determine the boy is not in his parent’s car and learn that Nicolo and Gaia’s marriage is going through a tough time. Nicolo admits Michelangelo is difficult to deal with - earlier we had seen him raise his hand as though to hit the boy. Routine investigations fail to discover the boy who seems to have disappeared into thin air. However, we learn that Michelangelo’s mother, Gaia, had a twin brother who had also disappeared without trace when he was young.  He had never been found, but their father had been convicted of abusing him and sent to prison. Gaia was subsequently fostered by Nicolo’s parent’s, and the teenagers developed a seriously intense relationship long before they married.

Whilst Striggio is trying to uncover what has happened to Michelangelo, he is conducting a relationship with Leo, whom he loves, and trying to avoid one with CI Menetti who loves him but whom he doesn’t love. He is also preoccupied with the impending visit of his father, Pietro. Striggio is determined to tell Pietro that he is gay, but Pietro is seriously ill and has more important matters on his mind.

Striggio’s investigation and his love life then become entangled. Leo teaches at the primary school Michelangelo attended, and he knows that Sarah, the boy’s class teacher, has been having an affair with the missing boy’s father. Leo has neglected to give this vital information to Striggio. Sarah has already hinted to Gaia that Michelangelo showed signs of being abused.

There are two main threads in this sensitively written and sympathetically translated book: crime, and communication with those you love. Of these, to my mind at least, communication is Marcello Fois’s standout achievement. Whether it is between father and son, Pietro and Striggio; between Striggio and his young lover Leo; or even between Gia, Nicolo and their autistic son, Michelangelo; the difficulties of communicating are beautifully portrayed. Possibly as a result of his less than satisfactory upbringing, Striggio has an inbuilt inability to communicate freely and honestly with those closest to him. During exchanges between Striggio and his father and lover, we are continually exposed to “shorthand conversations” that both convey and conceal the misery of years of shared experiences and missed opportunities. This is a book that deserves to be read, and read slowly, both to solve the mystery of what has happened to Michelangelo and why it has happened, and to savour the poetic nature of the text.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

Marcello Fois was born in Sardinia in 1960 and is one of a gifted group of writers called 'Group 13', who explore the cultural roots of their various regions. He writes for the theatre, television and cinema, and is the author several novels, including The Advocate (2003). Silvester Mazzarella is a translator of Italian and Swedish literature. He lives in Canterbury.

Angela Crowther  is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.