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Wednesday, 26 January 2022

‘The Hunting Season’ by Tom Benjamin

Published by Constable,
13th May 2021.
ISBN 978-1-47213161-4

The Hunting Season is the second novel which features Daniel Leicester, an English expat working as a private detective in his father-in-law’s family-run agency in Bologna. Although I have not (yet) read the first book in this series, I had no problem reading this as a stand-alone.

The story revolves around Daniel’s investigation into the disappearance of a ‘supertaster’. Ryan Lee is a young Korean-American who has the skills to identify counterfeit truffles that are being smuggled in from Eastern Europe and which are threatening to undermine the local trade of lucrative Boscuri white truffles that are prized above all others. Ryan visited many of the restaurants in the area before he went missing, but Daniel discovers that few people seem keen to co-operate with his enquiries. The situation becomes more complicated when one of the major figures in the Italian food world is found dead on the ground below his study window at the top of a tower. Things become more desperate for Daniel when a second death occurs, and Daniel is accused of the murder. Daniel realises that the only way to clear himself is to find Ryan and he has only twenty-four hours to do so before he is taken back into custody.

The reader quickly finds him- or herself transported to a darker world of suspicion, immigrant prejudice and exploitation, and organised crime. Set against this on the plus side, is the Italian strong sense of family loyalty that shines through the novel. Also evident is the Italian love of food that takes precedence above almost everything else. Written in the first person, Daniel’s observations of Italian customs, attitudes and way of life could only come from a writer who, like his protagonist, is an Englishman who has chosen to live and work in Bologna.

The characters are superbly drawn from Daniel, his teenage daughter, his father-in-law, to my particular favourite, new recruit to the agency Dolores.

What struck me most about this novel was its vivid literary style, so unusual in a crime novel. Tom Benjamin takes his time creating memorable pictures of landscapes such as the untamed Emilian countryside, something that would normally annoy me, but I was happy to slow down and enjoy the peace before the fast pace of the action began again.

Written by a man who obviously loves his adopted environment, he has the ability to make the reader virtually smell the traditional produce in those grocers’ shops that have remained unchanged for generations. I can highly recommend The Hunting Season.

Reviewer: Judith Cranswick

Tom Benjamin  started off as a reporter covering crime in North London. After a stint on the nationals, he joined Scotland Yard as one of its famous spokesmen. He went on to pursue a career in international aid before emigrating to Italy, where he credits his language skills on the time he spent working as a bouncer on the door of a homeless canteen. A Quiet Death in Italy, the first in a series featuring Bologna-based gumshoe Daniel Leicester, was published in ebook by Little, Brown in November 2019, and in paperback in May 2020. Book Two in the series, The Hunting Season, will be published in November 2020.

Judith Cranswick was born and brought up in Norwich. Apart from writing, Judith’s great passions are travel and history. Both have influenced her two series of mystery novels. Tour Manager, Fiona Mason takes coach parties throughout Europe, and historian Aunt Jessica is the guest lecturer accompanying tour groups visiting more exotic destinations aided by her nephew Harry. Her published novels also include several award-winning standalone psychological thrillers. She wrote her first novel (now languishing in the back of a drawer somewhere) when her two children were toddlers, but there was little time for writing when she returned to her teaching career. Now retired, she is able to indulge her love of writing and has begun a life of crime! ‘Writers are told to write what they know about, but I can assure you, I've never committed a murder. I'm an ex-convent school headmistress for goodness sake!’

‘Dead in the Water’ by Aline Templeton

Published by Hodder & Stoughton.
May 2009.
ISBN: 978-0-340-97694-4

Aisla Grant’s body was washed up on the rocks at the Mull of Galloway, in October 1985 – she was just twenty-four years old and pregnant, and no one was ever charged with her death.

Now twenty years on DI Marjorie Fleming is asked by Donald Bailey, her superintendent, to re-open the case.  For Marjory this is not a welcome cold case as it was originally investigated by Sergeant Angus Laird, Marjorie’s late father, and Donald Bailey.  After looking through the dusty files, Marjorie and her team begin to re-interview the family and suspects.  As the investigation proceeds, Marjorie becomes more and more uncomfortable as to her mind the previous investigation was not handled to a professional degree.  The two prime suspects were Aisla’s brutish father Robert Grant, and the actor Marcus Lazansky who, it was rumoured, could be the father of Aisla’s child. At the time of Aisla’s death Marcus was reported to be in America, but that doesn’t stop Aisla’s mother blaming him.

This time, Marcus Lazansky is in residence in the family home, shooting a soap opera, and with him making an appearance after a long absence from the screen is actor Sylvia Lascelles, his ex-father’s mistress, now old and frail but still able to turn on the charm.  Also staying in the crumbling cold mansion is actor Jaki Johnston, Marcus’s current girlfriend.

The story is more than a mystery it explores the lives of several families: not only Marjorie’s parents’ but her relationship with her husband and children and the delicate balance she maintains to be a wife, mother and keep on top of a demanding job; Marcus Lazansky, whose life is still under the influence of his Polish father Laddie Lazansky even though he has been dead for some years; and the family of Aisla Grant.

All the characters are well drawn, and the tension is maintained throughout.  As the story progresses, more skeletons come out of the woodwork, and a murder takes place that relates back to the death of Aisla Grant. In the midst of the investigations Marjorie is personally put to the test. With many surprises along the way, this is an excellent mystery, and highly recommended by this reader.

Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Earlier books in the series Cold in the Earth, The Darkness and the Deep, Lying Dead, Lamb to the Slaughtter

Aline Templeton grew up in the fishing village of Anstruther, on the east coast of Scotland not far from St Andrews.  The memories of beautiful scenery and a close community inspired her to set the Marjory Fleming series in a place very like that – rural Galloway, in the south-west of Scotland. After attending Cambridge University to read English she taught for a few years.  She now writes full-time.  Her most recent series features DCI Kelso Strang, officer in charge of Police Scotland’s Serious Rural Crime Squad. Old Sins is the fourth book in the series.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

‘Her Perfect Secret’ by T J Brearton

Published by Joffe Books,
13 December 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-80405-029-3 (PB)

There are few jobs in which professional ethics are as important as in psychotherapy. The therapist is not only bound to maintain the patient’s confidentiality; she or she must also strive to avoid any situation in which personal bias might influence the direction the treatment might take. 

Emily and Paul Lindman’s intractable daughter invades their peaceful vacation with a new fiancé whom Emily is convinced she treated for memory issues years before. As a small child he witnessed a horrific crime, and the police needed her to unpick the series of conflicting accounts he had given them. But now he is about to become part of the family, helping him to regain the memories of that time which he appears to have blanked out is definitely not an option. Except... 

She does try to help him, of course, and in the process involves her entire family in a tangled web of  police corruption, miscarriage of justice, and eventually death and destruction and a whole lot more besides.

Most of the action takes place around the Lindmans’ enviable holiday home on the quiet, idyllic banks of Lake Placid in northern New York state. This almost tactile sense of place is the novel’s greatest strength; the glorious environment and beautiful weather are so well realized they almost become an extra character, and form an effective and potent counterpoint to the turmoil that is stirred up.

The characters are sharp and distinctive too: Joni the rebellious daughter, laid-back son Sean, edgy husband Paul, and of course Michael the charming but possibly disturbed fiancé, and Emily herself, normally calm but thrown off balance by memories and events which threaten to spiral out of her control and rake up a well buried past. A host of minor players, too, are memorable and well drawn.

The action begins at a leisurely pace and slowly gathers momentum, until skeletons come tumbling pell-mell out of the cupboard and the story suddenly becomes a rollercoaster ride. It’s one of those books which takes you by surprise; the clues are there, but they’re well concealed under a wealth of misdirection.

If you enjoy a good psychological thriller with a helping of violence and a lot of tangled threads, Her Perfect Secret will certainly appeal to you.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

T.J. Brearton is the Amazon best-selling author of Habit, a crime thriller set in upstate, NY, and Survivors, the second book in the Titan Trilogy. He is the author of Highwater, a supernatural crime thriller, his latest novel to be published by Joffe Books, based in London. He lives in the Adirondacks, USA, with his wife and three children and can be found at

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.


‘The Burning’ by Sue Walker

Published by Penquin,
1st October 2009.
ISBN: 978-0-141-02568-1

Murray Shaw is married to Rowan and living in London. But when Murray sees his dream home, the imposing St Margaret’s House in an exclusive Edinburgh district he buys it, and moves a reluctant Rowan and her son from London to Edinburgh.

But St Margaret’s house is not just Murray’s dream home – it is a house he knows well. Forty years earlier Murray’s schoolfriend Angus lived in that house until his death when he was ten years old which still remains a mystery.

Whilst Murray is surprised to find that the minister of St Margaret’s Church, the Reverend Shelagh Kerr is living next door, Shelagh is considerably unnerved.  Although it’s forty years since Murray has lived in the area, others have stayed and others have left and returned.  Fiona Muir is now headmistress of the local school, and so the past tragedy is far from forgotten. And Fiona has theories of her own that she is keen to share with Murray.

But for Rowan this is just a house and although she is still not totally convinced that moving so far from London is a good idea, she is prepared to give it a go. Until the unexplained acts of vandalism. Then she discovers that Murray has deceived her, and slowly Murray’s life starts to unravel as he can no longer keep the secrets from coming out.

A well plotted mystery that keep this reader turning the pages. Highly recommended

Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Other books are: The Reunion, The Reckoning, The Dead Pool

Sue Walker is an investigative television journalist. She has spent many years specializing in crime-related documentaries. Born in Edinburgh, she now lives on the Sussex coast but her novels are based in Scotland. They are set in dramatic locations such as the Outer Hebrides, the East Lothian coast, and lesser-known parts of Edinburgh. She began her career with the BBC before going freelance. Since then, she has worked for all the UK networks. This included a Channel 4 series on miscarriages of justice that helped free prisoners wrongly convicted of murder.

Monday, 24 January 2022

Hunt for the Margery Allingham Short Mystery Prize Winner 2022

 The hunt for the best unpublished short mystery story is on.

Entrants have until 6pm GMT on Monday 28 February to enter the international Crime Writers’ Association (CWA)

Margery Allingham Short Mystery competition, 2022.

Margery Allingham

The Margery Allingham Society, set up to honour and promote the writings of the great Golden Age author whose well-known hero is Albert Campion, works with the CWA to operate and fund the writing competition. Each year the competition attracts many entries from the UK and overseas.

 Entrants are asked to focus on specific elements to match Margery Allingham’s definition of a mystery, which is: “The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.”

The judging criteria rewards traditional mysteries that match this definition, as well as other criteria such as plot originality and characterisation.

Dea Parkin, Secretary of the CWA and competitions co-ordinator, said:
“It’s very much in a writer’s interests to study that definition and ensure their story follows that chronology. There are recent winning and shortlisted entries on the website which give a flavour of the kind of mystery the judges are looking for.”

Entries are invited from all writers, published or unpublished, writing in English.
Diamond Dagger winner and acclaimed crime writer and editor Martin Edwards won the Margery Allingham Prize in its inaugural year, in 2014, and his tips for writing a winning story are on the website

Shortlisted authors for the prize have also found wider success, such as Christine Poulson, whose short story ‘Accounting for Murder’ featured in the 2017 CWA anthology, Mystery Tour, and went on to be shortlisted for the CWA Short Story Dagger.

Dea added: “Last year saw the highest number of entries for some time. The pandemic and lockdown undoubtedly had an effect, and mystery stories are currently a strong trend with Richard Osman’s record-breaking debut, The Thursday Murder Club, a key touchstone for publishers. This short story competition is a fantastic way of building a writer’s craft, and profile, in this genre.”

Traditional whodunnits have been dubbed as a ‘pandemic-era balm’. Readers embraced Osman’s Agatha-Christie-style novels, and traditional whodunnits by authors such as Robert Thorogood, Elly Griffiths and Vaseem Khan have been popular. Thorogood created the TV hit show, Death in Paradise, whereas Elly Griffiths’ The Postscript Murders was shortlisted for the Gold Dagger last year and Vaseem Khan’s Midnight at Malabar House won the Historical.

Dea added: “These stories provide familiarity and comfort in an uncertain world as they offer clues, great characters and locations, with the mystery solved in the end and justice served.”

The longlist for the prize will be revealed online and at the CWA conference on 23 April, followed by the shortlist online in May, and the winner will be announced at this year’s international crime writing convention, CrimeFest, on Friday 13 May.

The winner receives £500 and two passes for CrimeFest in 2023.
Submissions have a limit of 3,500 words and it costs £12 to enter.

For the full rules and to submit an entry, go to Short Story Competition on the CWA website or contact

‘Old Sins’ by Aline Templeton

Published by Allison & Busby,
18 November 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-2718-6 (HB)

In these days when travel opportunities are limited, there are few greater pleasures than losing oneself in a good book set amid a glorious landscape – especially when the same book is a rattling good mystery peopled by series characters who are starting to feel like old friends.  

Old Sins is the fourth outing for DCI Kelso Strang and his maverick sidekick DC Livvy Murray, linchpins of the Serious Rural Crime Squad whose brief is to head out to whichever beautiful part of Scotland needs high-powered detective support. This time it’s a bit more complicated; there’s a suspicious death close to Inverbeg, a small village in the Highlands, where Kelso is spending a few days with an old army colleague – and when it becomes plain that the colleague is high on the list of suspects, Kelso is forced to recuse himself from the investigation.

By-the-book DI Rachel French is tasked with leading the team, a certain recipe for friction with Livvy Murray, so it’s fortunate that Kelso Strang can find a good reason to remain close by, especially when the problem seems to become knottier with each day that passes. One suspect after another is ruled out, and there’s clearly more going on than meets the eye.

Aficionados of the series, and I freely admit I’m one, will be familiar with the regular characters: Kelso and Livvy, and the redoubtable DCS Jane Borthwick, known as JB. Aline Templeton has a sure hand with the good (and bad) folk of Inverbeg too: irascible Ranald Sinclair and his good-natured wife Hattie; obsessive Sean Reynolds, passionate about wolves and little else, and his coolly efficient wife Maia and feisty but infirm mother Shirley; a varied assortment of villagers and estate employees, including elderly and perceptive crofter Angus Mackenzie. 

I once heard a good crime novel described as a beginning, a muddle and an end. That’s certainly the case here, but with Aline Templeton’s sure hand on the tiller the path through the muddle is a navigable one. For devotees of the puzzle at the heart of the novel there are clues to pick up and piece together before the penny drops for Kelso, Rachel and Livvy. If, like me, it’s the richness of the character-led drama you’re after, there’s ample to satisfy the most demanding reader.

This is a series that gets better and better. I look forward to Kelso Strang’s next case with eager anticipation.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Aline Templeton grew up in the fishing village of Anstruther, on the east coast of Scotland not far from St Andrews.  The memories of beautiful scenery and a close community inspired her to set the Marjory Fleming series in a place very like that – rural Galloway, in the south-west of Scotland. After attending Cambridge University to read English she taught for a few years.  She now writes full-time.  Her most recent series features DCI Kelso Strang, officer in charge of Police Scotland’s Serious Rural Crime Squad. Old Sins is the fourth book in the series.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.


‘The Herring Seller’s Apprentice’ by L. C. Tyler

Published by Allison & Busby
23 May 2015.
ISBN: 978-
0-74901826-9 (PB)

It is a precious thing to make people laugh; but to write humorous crime fiction must be fiendishly difficult.  I really enjoyed this book – the ease with which the author uses language is marked and his images and phrases frequently led me to chuckle; for example, ‘there is an important difference between fiction and real life. Fiction has to be believable.’ Or in reference to the police, ‘As the senior officer present, he usually got the best lines.  Except that, for the next few minutes, I knew that all the best lines were going to be mine.’ And his comment on the main character’s father who was a failed academic, that ‘though he was able to devote less time to it, his failure in the field of politics was every bit as complete.’

Ethelred Tressidor, the hero (or anti-hero) is a writer – under different names he writes historicals, romance and crime. Tyler skewers the peculiarities of the three genres very effectively.  As a historical novelist Ethelred deals only with the reign of Richard II who is described as a man out of his time who would have been fine as a Tudor or a Stuart but ’he couldn’t hack it as a Plantagenet!’ As a romantic novelist he eschews overt sex at his readers preference.  His redoubtable policeman has appeared in numerous adventures but aged hardly at all.

Crime seems to be to the fore for Ethelred as the disappearance of his ex-wife, Geraldine, leads to his acquaintance with crime in real life. Meetings with various characters from Geraldine’s life confuse Ethelred and his forthright literary agent, Elise Thirkettle, as they investigate. The whole story does makes perfect sense when the final explanations are made. The herrings of the title are of the red variety – as is only right in a detective story!

Tyler spoofs the genre unmercifully; Elsie’s comments on his use of a different type for a different character’s input are very funny and accurate.  The fact that it is her words that are being presented so only makes her attitude the funnier.

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer

L. C. Tyler was born in Southend, Essex, and educated at Southend High School for Boys, Jesus College Oxford and City University London. After university he joined the Civil Service and worked at the Department of the Environment in London and Hong Kong. He then moved to the British Council, where his postings included Malaysia, Thailand, Sudan and Denmark. Since returning to the UK he has lived in Sussex and London and was Chief Executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health for eleven years. He is now a full-time writer. His first novel, The Herring Seller's Apprentice, was published by Macmillan in 2007, followed by 8 further books in the series featuring Ethelred Tressider and his agent Elsie Thirkettle. The first book in a new historical series, A Cruel Necessity, was published by Constable and Robinson in November 2014. Since then, he has published six further books in this series. The latest being Too Much Water. His latest Ethelred and Elsie is Farewell My Herring.