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Monday 29 January 2024

‘The Last Word’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus,
30 January 2024.
978-1-5294-3-343-2 (HB)

It’s back to Shoreham-on-Sea in Elly Griffiths’s latest novel, and a new case for Edwin, Natalka and Benedict, the crew of unlikely amateur sleuths who solved a previous murder with the aid of Detective Inspector (then Sergeant) Harbinder Kaur.

Harbinder has decamped to the Met, so this time she is present in a purely advisory capacity, but the doughty trio manage quite well without her. In fact, Edwin and Natalka have set themselves up as a private investigation agency, with a little reluctant help from Benedict. When Benedict and Edwin are witnesses to a suspicious death at a writers’ retreat, the local police become involved too, led by Detective Sergeant Liv Brennan, who regards Harbinder as a role model.

Write what you know, goes the mantra preached to aspiring writers. As the body count rises, one might be moved to wonder what Elly Griffiths knows about her fellow scribes that makes her want to kill them off – in a purely fictional sense, of course. There’s Melody, whose daughters suspect her new husband of poisoning her; Don, whose heart attack may have been staged; Sue, the ‘suicide’ at the retreat... and the list continues to grow.

As always, Griffiths’s characters are at least as important as the ever-twistier plot. Elderly, dapper Edwin, diffident but perceptive Benedict and spiky, efficient Natalka are joined by a mixed bunch of writers, both would-be and published: unpleasant Peter, self-important Leonard and ebullient Johnnie are just a sample. A new arrival who seems set to stay around is Valentyna, Natalka’s boundlessly energetic and sometimes infuriating Ukrainian mum. DS Brennan bodes well as a future ally despite her less politically correct boss. And Harbinder Kaur is never far away.

All is revealed by the end, along with an extra surprise or two which may (or may not) impact on future investigations. It all happens with a large helping of the wry wit which has become Elly Griffiths’s trademark; and it left me itching to know what Edwin, Natalka and Benedict will encounter next.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elly Griffiths is the author of a series of crime novels set in England’s Norfolk County and featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The first in the series, Crossing Places, earned a good deal of praise both in Griffiths’ native country, England, and in the U.S. The Literary Review termed it “a cleverly plotted and extremely interesting first novel, highly recommended.  Since then, Elly has written fifteen further novels in the series.  Recently she has written a second series set in Brighton in the 1950’s featuring magician Max Mephisto and DI Stephens. There are six books in the new series, and a seventh scheduled to be published October 2023.

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 Bone Vault’ by Linda Fairstein

Published by Little Brown,
16 January 2003.
ISBN: 978-0-316-86003-4 (HB)

At a glittering reception hosted by Pierre Thibodaux, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to announce a cooperative exhibition with the American Museum of Natural History, the discovery of a perfectly preserved corpse in an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus sets DA Alex Cooper and NYPD’s Mike Chapman on a bizarre investigation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  For the body is identified as that of Karina Grooten, a young, shy, studious researcher from South Africa. Although preserved, evidence suggests that the victim has been dead for some months and the method of the killing appears to be arsenic poising.

With a staff of more than 3000 at the gallery, Mike Chapman is keen to trace the movement of the sarcophagus, but this proves to me a momentous task, as Pierre Thibodaux explains. Objects are constantly on the move and the gallery has more than three million objects and works of art, of which at any given time the most that is ever on display is less than 10%of that number. 

The descriptions of the mechanics of the gallery are enthralling, and as Alex and Mike delve into the workings of it they uncover several skeletons, such as the existence of private vaults which no one owns to know about. Not even  how many exist, or their exact locations in the vast area the gallery covers. Discussions with Katrina’s immediate colleagues Erik Poste and Anna Fredrichs reveal that arsenic is used in their work. Interspersed with the main investigation are the ongoing cases that Alex is handling, and as in her earlier books provide fascinating reading.

There are also interesting shifts in the relationship between Alex and Mike which now spans an eight year period. During that time they have developed a deep friendship and come to respect and rely on each other, but both have had relationships with other people. Could they be viewing each other differently now?

On every level this is a stunning book, and one I heartily recommend.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Linda Fairstein was born 5 May 1947 in New York. She was educated at Vassar College, University of Virginia School of Law. She was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney's office in Manhattan for more than two decades and is America's foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Her Alexandra Cooper novels are international bestsellers and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She lives in Manhattan and on Martha's Vineyard.

Saturday 27 January 2024

‘Take My Breath Away’ by Martin Edwards.

Published by Allison & Busby,
10 May 2002.
ISBN: 978-0-74900518-1 (HB)

When Nic Gabriel attends a glitzy cocktail party, the last thing he expects to witness is the murder of his friend Dylan Rees. In an effort to save his friend he hears his last words, which make no sense, although earlier that evening Dylan had said that he had a story to tell Nic that would pique his interest. The only clue he gave Nic was ‘dead lawyers’ and he chanted, ‘The rich man who burned his paradise’.The Giant who chopped himself in half’.

Although, there is no doubt of the identity of the murderer of his friend, Nic is struck by the coincidence of his friend’s murder just as he about to impart information relating to earlier deaths of lawyers, and Nic is suspicious of the circumstances behind the killing.

Nic Gabriel is a writer, well currently a one book author, and his publishers and his girlfriend are despairing of him ever writing again. Nic, however, is only keen to write when he possessed of a story.

His investigations lead to Creed, a firm of solicitors who are the country’s leading human rights law firm, that boast the slogan ‘Lawyers who are different’, and here he encounters Roxanne Wake, and Roxanne has her own secrets.

The story is told from the point of view of both Nic Gabriel and Roxanne Wake, and inexorably these characters collide at the end of the book.

I enjoy this style of book, where we are witness to multiple characters with secrets that slowly unfold as we progress through the story. On the surface the murderer is unmasked but there is a psychological twist. Recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Martin Edwards is the author of 21 novels, including the Lake District Mysteries and the Rachel Savernake books, and also an acclaimed history of crime fiction, The Life of Crime. He received the CWA Diamond Dagger for the sustained excellence of his work. He has also won the Edgar, Agatha, CrimeFest H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards, the Short Story Dagger and Dagger in the Library, plus the Poirot award for his contribution to the genre.

Friday 26 January 2024

‘Bleak Water’ by Danuta Reah

Published by HarperCollins,
5 June 2002.
ISBN: 978-0-00711629-2 (HB)

Eliza Eliot, creator of a small innovative gallery has pulled off a significant coup with a chance to exhibit The Triumph of Death, the work of a well-known artist Daniel Flynn.

Both the gallery and Eliza’s flat are housed in one of the old warehouses beyond the expensive and redeveloped canal basin that seemed to be the demarcation line between new Sheffield and old Sheffield. In this dark and lonely area, the body of a young woman is found just 24 hours after Eliza had attended the funeral of her friend Maggie Chapaman, whose nine-year-old daughter, Ellie was found murdered on almost the same spot four years earlier,

Whilst Eliza is the main narrator, giving insight into the artist Danial Flynn by flashbacks to her time in Madrid and her friendship with Maggie as she undertakes to clear her friend’s belongings from her rented flat where she discovers the long campaign waged by Maggie against her child’s killer, who is shortly to be released from prison. We also see another side of the story from the point of view of Kerry Fraser, friend of Ellie, and daughter of Mark Fraser, Ellie’s killer.

DC Tina Barraclough who is the investigating officer is fighting her own demons, and it appears fighting a loosing battle, which is slowly coming to the attention of her superior Roy Farnham, who is in charge of the murder hunt.

The story has many interesting characters, moody Jonathan Massey, the gallery director, Cara the single mother, and stroppy gallery assistant Mel Young. As the story unfolds the complexity of their lives in relation to each other is skilfully woven into a fascinating mystery, as is the feeling of menace which surrounds the gallery, but overriding everything is the brooding presence of the canal.

Atmospheric and rich in characters.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Danuta Reah who also writes under the name Carla Banks, was born in South Yorkshire. She comes from an academic family but opted out of formal education at the age of 16.  She went to university as a mature student and then went on to teach adults in Further and Higher Education. She taught linguistics and creative writing, and in the course of this, refined her own writing style. Danuta is the author of four novels of psychological suspense. Silent Playgrounds, Only Darkness, Night Angels and Bleak Water. Her most recent books in the UK, under the name Carla Banks are Strangers and Forest of Souls. In 2005 she won the CWA Short Story Dagger for No Flies on Frank (which was included in the The Best British Mysteries IV anthology published by Allison & Busby in 2006.  Danuta Reah is a past Chair of the Crime Writers' Association. She also publishes academic books, valued as resources for the study of language. She lives in South Yorkshire.

Thursday 25 January 2024

‘Out of The Dark’ by Natasha Cooper

Published by Simon & Schuster,
ISBN: 978-0-684-86154-2 (HB)

When a young boy is run over outside her flat, Trish Maguire accompanies him and the distraught driver to the hospital. Enquiring about the boy’s condition she is told that he had her name and address sewen into the seam of his fleece. ‘And he looks just like you!’

For Trish, trying to come to terms with some emotional problems, and coping with a big commercial case where she is acting as junior to her head of chambers, this is just one problem too many.

As she struggles to accept that this child must be related to her in some way, she starts to investigate the years between her father leaving her mother when she was a child, and coming back into her life. She meets strong resistance from her father to discuss previous relationships, but as the child, it seems will only talk to her, she feels compelled to establish if he is related to her. This decision puts her on a dangerous path as her investigations lead her closer to the boy’s mother. As she grapples with the family situation her loyalties are tested at work when she is confronted with a dilemma that may prejudice her client’s position and indeed her own.

In this the fourth book in the series Trish is beset by both personal and moral quandaries, and Natasha Cooper does a skilful job in providing an absorbing mystery, whilst exploring the complexities of both personal and working relationships. Although, dealing with serious issues, there are flashes of humour in the book, providing an excellent balance that enhances the readers enjoyment.
Most  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

N J Cooper has written three series. Her first series featured Willow King. There are seven books in the series. Her second series featuring Barrister Trish McQuire. Her most recent series features forensic psychologist Karen Taylor. She also writes psychological thrillers under the name of Clare Leyton. She was Chair of the Crime Writers Association in 2000/01. She Lives in London.


Wednesday 24 January 2024

‘The North Light’ by Hideo Yokoyama

Published by Riverrun,
12 October 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-52943-443-9 (HB)
Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

Minoru Aose is an architect, and the building he’s most proud of is the Y-House, which makes full use of the steadier north light... so he’s perplexed and worried when he finds out by chance that the Yoshino family he built it for only four months ago aren’t there. In fact, there’s no sign of them anywhere, and when he returns to the house it’s been broken into – maybe by the sinister red-faced man with the cast on three fingers who also seemed to be pursuing the family. All that’s left in the house is an antique chair. Aose is determined to solve this mystery ...

Each of Yokoyama’s books is different, and this turned out to be a gentle mystery with a feel-good ending, although I’m not sure it could quite be classed as a cosy. It’s told in the third person, following Aose throughout. The set-up is intriguing; as Aose keeps remembering, the family seemed ordinary, warm towards each other, and delighted by the house he’d designed. It hits his fragile self-confidence that they’ve apparently decided they can’t live there. He’s also worried about his daughter, almost a teenager, and how he and his divorced wife can explain their separation without blaming each other. When his boss comes up with a competition for a memorial which he’s determined their firm will win, life becomes even more complicated. Aose is a likeable protagonist, and Yokoyama took us into his past: the constant moves of his childhood, his father’s death, his drinking when his life collapsed in the slump, his regrets over his divorce. His search for the Yoshino family also helps him understand himself, and the ending was unexpected and completely satisfying.

I know very little about architecture but I found this novel’s background fascinating. The antique chair turns out to derive from Bruno Taut, a modernist architect who escaped Nazi Gernamy, and fell in love with Japan. During the novel Aose visits his former house and the only house he built in Japan, and the description made me want to go there. The preparation for the competition entry made me realise how many different people contribute to a finished building, and I loved their design so much I Googled the artist it was designed for, hoping she was real (no). As always, I loved the insider’s depiction of Japanese culture.

A gentle, moving mystery novel with an engaging protagonist, clever plotting and an interesting background.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Hideo Yokoyama was born in 1957. He worked for twelve years as an investigative reporter with a regional newspaper north of Tokyo, before becoming one of Japan's most acclaimed fiction writers. His first novel to be translated into the English language, Six Four, was a Sunday Times bestseller in hardback and paperback, became the first Japanese novel to be shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger, was named in the Crime and Thrillers of 2016 roundups in each of the Guardian, Telegraph, Financial Times and Glasgow Herald, and has since been translated into thirteen languages worldwide.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

Click on the title to read a review of her recent book Death in a Shetlend Lane

‘A Restless Evil’ by Ann Granger

Published by Headline,
13 May 2002.
ISBN: 978-0-7472-7472-X (HB

It was Meredith and Alan are house hunting, but so far cannot seem to agree on any house, which situation look set to continue when Meredith views the Vicarage in Lower Stovey. Alan Markby, enthusiastically surveying the large garden, recalls his visit to the house some twenty years earlier when investigating his first major case as an Inspector, and one that still rankles as the rapist dubbed ‘The Potato Man’ was never caught.

When a hiker discovers some bones in the nearby wood, Alan Markby has a feeling that they could relate to that earlier case.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to make some effort to see the Vicarage in a better light, Meredith returns to Lower Stovey to make another inspection of the house. Being early for her appointment she pays a visit to the local pub, which does not enhance her day, and the, still killing time she visits the local church, and there discovers a body.

Whilst investigating the murder in the church, the bones found in the wood are dated as being in the region of twenty years old, and while Alan has a feeling that the two cases must somehow be related, on the face of it there is nothing to toe these two cases together.

Ann Granger is truly brilliant at creating a village atmosphere. Particularly, one which spans generations. Like most villages a high proportion of the inhabitants are related dither by kin or marriage. As the story progresses, we learn of the uneasy relationships between adults who were at school together, the family secrets, loyalties and unlikely alliances, which all weave together to provide a fascinating mystery.

This is the fourteenth book in the series and as with all Ann Granger’s earlier books, I could not put this one down until I reached the satisfying conclusion. That does not of course extend to Meredith and Alans’s house hunting.
Most highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Ann Granger was born in Portsmouth where she was a pupil at the then Northern Grammar School for Girls and went from there to London University where she achieved a BA in Modern Languages (French with German). After a period spent first teaching English in France and then working in the Visa Section of British Embassies around the world. She met her husband, who was also working for the British Embassy, in Prague, and together they received postings to places as far apart as Munich and Lusaka. She is the author of the Mitchell and Markby Mysteries, the Fran Varady series and more recently the Lizzie Martin mystery series. She lives in Bicester, near Oxford.

‘The Defector’ by Chris Hadfield

Published by Quercus,
10 October 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-52942309-9 9HB)

The Defector is an unusual book. Despite there being no doubt that it is a work of fiction - and a very exciting one at that - the majority of the characters, events and things described in it are real. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the main two characters and some of the less important supporting actors are, however, fictional.

Starting in Israel in October 1973, and continuing at various military, research and political locations in the US and Russia during the months that follow, The Defector is a cold war espionage thriller par excellence. 

Commander Kazimieras Zemeckis, Kaz, and his girlfriend Laura are lying on a beach in Israel when Laura spots something strange happening in the sky above them. Before Kaz lost an eye in an accident, he was a top US fighter pilot. He is now an expert on security matters, particularly those relating to high altitude intelligence gathering.  Kaz sees an Israeli fighter jet fire a missile at a Russian plane. He waits for the inevitable explosion, but it never comes. Puzzled by what he has seen, and using his top-secret security clearance, Kaz goes to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, and alerts Washington about his concerns. 

It soon transpires that the Russian pilot, Colonel Alexander Abramovich, also known as Grief or Alexi, has risked his life and a prestigious Mig-25 fighter plane because he wants to defect to the USA. He gets his wish.  Both he and his plane are taken to what is supposedly the most secret US air force base.  The feeling is that he can be trusted, and he is eventually allowed to roam freely. But can he really be trusted? What advanced technologies, such as help with assembling a nuclear- powered rocket engine might the Russian military want him to acquire?

In the meantime, Kaz, who hates being grounded, persuades his old boss, General Sam Phillips, (a real person) to pull a few strings and have his fitness to fly with only one eye reassessed.  Kaz passes his medical and his flying tests and is free to fly again.  He is overjoyed. Later his flying skills are tested in some absolutely terrifying flight sequences.

Whilst The Defector has a large cast of characters and a complicated plot that befits a book about spies, it is clearly written and easy to follow.  As a former top test pilot and experienced astronaut who has actually lived in Russia, Chris Hadfield is undoubtedly an expert on his subject.  Besides his professional talents, Chris is also an excellent storyteller who has created - or described, if they are real people – a wide mix of well-drawn characters. This is an essential read for anyone who enjoys stories about the cold war, especially if they are interested in fighter pilots and planes.
Reviewer: Angela Crowther

Chris Hadfield is one of the most seasoned and accomplished astronauts in the world. The top graduate of the U.S. Air Force test pilot school in 1988 and U.S. Navy test pilot of the year in 1991, Colonel Hadfield was CAPCOM for twenty-five Shuttle missions and NASA’s Director of Operations in Russia. Hadfield served as Commander of the International Space Station where, while conducting a record-setting number of scientific experiments and overseeing an emergency spacewalk, he gained worldwide acclaim for his breath-taking photographs and educational videos about life in space. His music video, a zero-gravity version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," has nearly 50 million views, and his TED talk on fear has been viewed over 10 million times. He helped create and host the National Geographic miniseries One Strange Rock, with Will Smith, and has a MasterClass on exploration. Chris Hadfield's books An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, You Are Here and The Darkest Dark have been bestsellers all around the world.

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.

‘Foul Play at the Seaview Hotel’ by Glenda Young

Published by Headline,
14 September 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-8572-0

The Seaview Hotel is set on the corner of King’s Prade overlooking Scarborough’s North Bay on the Yorkshire coast.

It is Helen Dexter’s pride and joy. And having now been awarded a long desired four stars rating her joy is unbounded. Well, it would be if she could get the precious plaque to hang straight.  Comments from her cook Jean, didn’t help. Especially when the plaque fell off the wall.

The early arrival of the crazy-golf team didn’t help either, or their specialist requirements. Jean who she had inherited when she and her husband Tom, sadly now deceased, had bought the Seaview, is none too impressed to have received a list of breakfast requirements, Chia seeds, goji berries, manuka honey and Alfafa sprouts. Jean is a no nonsense Yorkshire cook famous for  her breakfasts, with emphasis on the no-nonsense.

The crazy-golf team are captained by Alice Pickle who makes it clear that her disciplined team are here to WIN, by fair means or foul, but mainly to beat their arch-rival Ricky Delmont and his team.

Complication arise when her next-door neighbour Miriam, owner of the Vista del Mar, and the most disagreeable woman on the planet, tells Helen that she has a team of crazy golfers booked in, but that she has overbooked and their Captain, one Ricky Delmont is threatening to sue her. Could she put him up at her hotel?

In this the third book in the series, Helen is struggling, but is not sure why. Plain speaking Jean says Helen has ‘lost her sparkle’. Then one of the guests is murdered, Jean quits, and people are receiving mysterious invitations to a party that Helen doesn’t want. It is said things come in threes. 

So, with no cook, and no cleaner, oops! did I not mention that Sally the reliable cleaner is on her honeymoon. The suggestion is that Sally’s mother Brenda will step in. I will leave you to make your own minds up about Brenda, but I am not sure she would be my first choice for a replacement for Sally. Mind you she has got green fingers, oh! and she likes a tipple.

Can Helen find the killer?  Will Jean return? The one character who does return is Jimmy, the Elvis impersonator who has been away with his troupe of Elvis impersonators on a gig.  He had been seeing Helen, but Helen is confused about her feelings for him.  

The characterisation is brilliant. I was so delighted when I received this book and had the opportunity to meet up again with the inmates at the Seaview Hotel.  A good mystery with flashes of humour.  I know that the question you will all be asking is ‘will Helen find the murderer, and get the 4-star plaque affixed to the hotel wall?’  Read it and find out.
Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett.

Glenda Young credits her local library in the village of Ryhope, where she grew up, for giving her a love of books. She still lives close by in Sunderland and often gets her ideas for her stories on long bike rides along the coast. A life-long fan of Coronation Street, she runs two hugely popular fan websites.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

‘Shot’ by Jenny Siler

Published by Orion,
17 October 2002.
ISBN: 978-0-75285328-7 (HB)

When Carl Greene is shot to death, Lucy Greene finds herself catapulted into a rollercoaster of events.

On the day of her husband’s funeral, she is contacted by an old school mate Kevin Burns who says that Carl had requested an urgent meeting just the day before his death. Wanting just to be left alone, Lucy blanks him. But then she disturbs an intruder in Carl’s office, and then people from his company turn up and take away his papers. Gradually Lucy becomes aware that there are people out there who want something that Carl had, and now they think she has it.

Forming an uneasy alliance with a Darcy, a female burglar who has her own agenda, and to protect her sister Angie, the three set out to uncover the secrets for which Carl died. To escape a contract killer they travel from Denver through Wyoming and into Montana where they stay at a retreat run by som friends of Darcy’s. But it seems there is no place for them to hide, and their only chance is to unmask the truth behind the company for which Carl has worked, the Bioflux Corporation.

This is a powerful book which I could not put down. The pace grips you and holds on, even though there are periods on introspection these provide a background to the characters that makes them believable.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Jenny Siler grew up in Missoula, Montana. She has travelled widely and worked her way around the world, starting as a prep-cook in a men's soup kitchen, through working in a fish cannery in Alaska, to being a nude sketch model in Germany. Her work, she says, has defined her and her writing. Recently she married, and returned to her roots in Montana.