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Saturday, 16 October 2021

‘Murder on the Old Road’ by Amy Myers

Published by Severn House,
6 September 2010.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-6952-4 (HB)

Out for a Thursday lunch time drink at the local village pub The Three Peacocks, Georgia, her husband Luke and father Peter find themselves amongst forty-odd people dressed in medieval costume. Luke jokes they have stumbled into a Brigadoon situation, but it turns out they are the Chillingham Village Drama Group.

They are invited to accompany the drama group who are on a publicity walk along the Old Road to Canterbury dressed as pilgrims to publicise their play. Georgia senses tension between the two half brothers Julian Wayncroft and Valentine Harper, playing the lead parts of the King and Archbishop Thomas Becket and would have declined, but Luke is up for it. Georgia's father Peter is in a wheelchair, so elects to return home. Joining the walk with them is the pub landlord, Tim Hurst, and Anne Fanshawe the vicar. As they walk through Peacock Wood Georgia has an attack of nausea that signifies to her a presence of past evil in that part of the woods through which they are walking. She later learns that a murder took place in the wood - a murder that has never been solved.

Georgia is the other half of Marsh and Daughter who write True Crime. She is eager to speak to her father of her experiences in the wood and later learns from him of the murder in 1967 of Hugh Wyndcroft, the then Lord of the Manor and Julian's father. Georgia is aghast that Hugh had been killed on just such a pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury to stage Tennyson's play Becket.

As Georgia probes for information on the murder, she comes up against brick walls, and a divided village, just it was in 1967. When she joins the players for one day, she is aware that feelings are running high. Also, another brick wall is her father's attitude to the death of her brother Rick. There is also tension between her father and his girl friend Janie. And all is not totally plain sailing in her own relationship.

This is very much my type of mystery. Good characterisation, masses of undercurrents, layer upon layer to be peeled away before the truth is revealed. And like all really good books a twist at the end.
Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Amy Myers worked as a director in a London publishing firm, before realising her dream to become a writer. Her first series featured detective, August Didier, a half French, half English master chef in late Victorian and Edwardian times. She writes a series with her American husband James Myers, featuring Jack Colby, car detective, there are 5 books in the series. Her most recent series is set post WW1 and the first book is  Dancing With Death, published January 2017.  Amy also writes historical novels and suspense under the name Harriet Hudson.

‘Darkside’ by Belinda Bauer

Published by Bantam Press,
6 January 2011.
ISBN: 978-0-593062968 (HB)

Darkside is Belinda Bauer’s second novel. Her first, Blacklands, I reviewed and thought it was outstanding. It then went on to win the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger, a pretty amazing feat for a first novel. Darkside is just as good. Like Blacklands, it is set in the village of Shipcott on Exmoor in south-west England, this time in winter as an unusually cold winter brings blizzards to Exmoor and the village becomes virtually cut off from the outside world.

At the centre of the story is Jonas Holly, the village bobby, who has foregone a promising career in the Devon and Somerset Police to care for his beloved wife Lucy who has multiple sclerosis. Life in Shipcott is normally quiet and peaceful so that Jonas can devote himself to caring for Lucy. But then elderly Mrs Margaret Priddy, paralysed and bedridden for three years, is murdered and a crime squad is called in under the direction of Detective Inspector John Merlin who takes against Jonas, refusing to let him to be involved in the investigation except in the most menial capacity. Then there is another murder, this time of the Alzheimer sufferer Mrs Yvonne Marsh. And then three more in the local nursing home. None have anything in common except that they are elderly and frail. Jonas, in spite of being marginalised by Merlin, is determined to track down the killer.

The novel operates on several levels. Merlin is essentially a comic character - the stereotypical urban, macho cop, gritty, a loner, a drinker. He is cynical (‘his greatest gift was that he could see the bad in everyone’), a maverick operating by instinct so that with every death he lurches from one suspect to another saying ‘I like so-and-so for this one’. His squad loathe him, particularly his sergeant who is just hoping that this time he will put enough of a foot wrong to be finally brought down. At a darker level, there are Jonah and Lucy, each wracked with pain and anguish at the inexorable progress of her terrible disease, while the other inhabitants of Shipcott, so far from being bucolic rustics, have their tragedies and their secrets. And at an even darker level, there is a yet more shocking secret which will eventually spin out of control. I was completely gripped by the power of the narrative and the pity and fear it evoked.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa. She has worked as a journalist and screenwriter, and her script The Locker Room earned her the Carl Foreman/Bafta Award for Young British Screenwriters, an award that was presented to her by Sidney Poitier. She was a runner-up in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition for "Mysterious Ways," about a girl stranded on a desert island with 30,000 Bibles. Belinda lives in Wales.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.


Friday, 15 October 2021

‘The Murder Box’ by Olivia Kiernan

Published by Riverrun,
22 July 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-52940116-5

“Life and time are short”

Detective Chief Inspector Frankie Sheen and her team are engaged on a high-profile missing persons enquiry. Sheen and Detective Baz Harwood, her friend and colleague in the Bureau for Serious Crime, believe that TV celebrity Teddy Dolan could already be dead, but he has friends in high places and this, along with the public interest in his disappearance, has thrown a spotlight on their officers. They can’t let up on their search until Dolan, or his body, is found.

When a red box is delivered to the station addressed to Sheen, the DCI, who’s about to celebrate her birthday, thinks it must be a gift. She is intrigued when she reads the accompanying card, 

Welcome to The Murder Box, the addictive murder-mystery game.

The puzzle seems to be a timely distraction from the perplexing Dolan investigation, but then Neve Jameson arrives at the station to report that her friend, Lydia Callin, is also missing. During Neve’s conversation with Frankie, some disturbing facts come to light.

It soon becomes clear that The Murder Box is far more sinister than its Cluedo cousin. The mysterious disappearances lead Sheen and her officers into a chilling, murderous maze which threatens to jeopardise everyone who plays the game, including the battle-hardened DCI. The tension ramps up when the police team realise that the game has a deadline, and the Bureau finds itself in a race against time to discover the meaning and significance of evidence embedded within the game.

Olivia Kiernan's prose, sharp as a pathologist’s scalpel, carves out a thrilling narrative as the police team are led, and misled, through the taunting puzzle at the centre of the novel. Characters are carefully described and evoke empathy and interest.  A particularly touching example is Lydia’s father, a relatively minor character, whose response to life’s tragedies both moves and inspires. Similarly, the author’s description of the interaction between Frankie and Baz portrays the confusion, exasperation and poignant sense of loss that can happen when relationships are fractured by events.

The Murder Box is the fourth Frankie Sheehan book and works perfectly well as a standalone novel. It had me hooked from beginning to end. As one might expect in a plot that revolves around a murder mystery game, there are plenty of red herrings in the book.  Expect to be teased and surprised as the narrative moves towards a nail-biting dénouement.  Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Olivia Kiernan is an Irish writer living in the UK and author of crime thriller, Too Close To Breathe. She was born and raised in County Meath, near the famed heritage town of Kells and holds an MA in Creative Writing awarded by the University of Sussex.

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.

‘Murder In Bloom’ by Lesley Cookman

Published by Accent Press Ltd.
18 May 2009.
ISBN: 978-1-90637-377-1

This is the fifth book in the series featuring actress/amateur sleuth Libby Sarjeant, with a ‘J’. Libby is of mature years with three grown-up children and has settled in a small village in Kent. Currently her student son Adam has moved in with her whilst he is helping with the renovation of the garden at Creekmarsh Place owned by television personality Lewis Osbourne.

When during the course of the renovations a skeleton is uncovered, Lewis calls on Libby, now a minor celebrity owing to her previous sleuthing. And Libby calls on her friend Fran, who has physic powers. Fran is in the course of organising her wedding to Guy, but immediately rallies to the cause.  When the police turn up they are less than pleased to find Libby in situ.  Particularly Superintendent Bertram otherwise known as, Big Bertha.

Lewis appears to have obtained the house in less than clear circumstances and the story abounds with devious dealings, hidden passages, and secret rooms. But a second murder throws all their theories out the window and the reader is kept on their toes as they try to work out who did what to whom and above all why?

Throughout the mystery is the continuing saga of Libby’s relationship with Ben, a man she met when first she got involved with a murder at the Laurels nursing home. Both of mature years, their relationship is fraught with the pitfalls of a new relationship in later life. With the news of Fran and Guy’s impeding nuptials Ben becomes unsettled - which in turn unsettles Libby, who is not certain that she is ready to take the next step. The matter is handled delicately and with sensitivity and I found both the mystery and the personal relationship intriguing.  Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Lesley Cookman started writing almost as soon as she could read and filled many Woolworth's exercise books with pony stories until she was old enough to go out with boys. Since she's been a grown up, she followed a varied career as a model, air stewardess and disc jockey, she's written short fiction and features for a variety of magazines, achieved an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales, taught writing for both Kent Adult Education and the WEA and edited the first Sexy Shorts collection of short stories from Accent Press in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign.  The Libby Sarjeant series is published by Accent Press, who also published her book, How to Write a Pantomime, with a foreword by Roy Hudd.   Lesley is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers' Association.