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Friday 23 February 2024

‘The Bag of Secrets’ by Joy Ellis

Published by Joffe Books,
16 November 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-83526-240-5 (PB)

Ex-Chief Inspector Matt Ballard and his partner ex-DS Liz Haynes now run a Private Detective Agency. Currently they have more work than they can handle. A case of shoplifting, and trying to locate teenager Liam Cooper, who has been missing for ten days. But when Liz returns home with a carpet bag bulging with papers, handwritten on odd bits of paper, handed to her by librarian Chris Lamont, who is certain it was left by Old Molly, the bag lady, who is homeless and who has not been seen since> Like Liz his interest is aroused. The contents are random notes, but their content is disturbing, whoever wrote them, is very afraid.  Because of their current workload, Liz contacts her nephew David, who is delighted to come and help decipher the miscellaneous scraps of paper.

When a body is discovered lying in a lagoon of brackish water PC Jack, ‘Swifty’ Fleet recognises the bundle of rags as Old Molly. It doesn’t take their old friend pathologist Professor Rory Wilkinson long to establish that she has been murdered.  

As David painstakingly works his way through the bundles of notes on scrappy bits of paper, some on old birthday cards that have obviously been pulled from a bin, it becomes abundantly clear that Molly was frightened, and was leaving clues in case she was found and killed by whoever was after her.

Because the police are currently so overstretched DCI Charley Anders, Matts ex-boss, has cleared them to work on the murder and gives them DC Darren Norton as official help.  Darren is about as much use as a chocolate teapot, as the grandson of chief Superintendent Ewin Norton, he doesn’t think investigating the murder of an old bag woman is worth his time.  

While Liz is seeking people who knew Molly, she finds Clem and his dog Gunner. Clem is distraught as Molly gave him something to keep safe for her and he has lost it. Matt is talking to Jaxon, one of Liam’s friends, it’s like pulling teeth but finally he says that Liam keep talking about a place called the Bunker, he wouldn’t tell me where it is, but said it was zero cool! As Matt continues his search for Liam he hears further references to the Bunker, but no one knows where it is or what happens there.

Then a second body is found in a barn out on the fens.

The trail leads them to the remote fenland village of Marshdyke-St-Mary.  Matt and Liz must piece together the cryptic clues Molly has left for them before more people die. The answers lead to some shocking secrets stretching back many years.

As in all Joy’s books there are some marvellously fleshed out character’s Smokey Joe, George Miles, Clem and his dog Gunner, and Jeff, what a great character is young Jeff. I wanted to meet them all.

I could not put this book down. Intricately plotted the strands of the two investigations slowly come together providing an enthralling  mystery. 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.

Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival 2024

 More authors have confirmed for Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival 2024, and we're so happy to be able to release the details of a few more panels at this year's online festival.

Besides that, one of the authors who will be appearing at the festival has very generously donated five copies of his latest book. For your chance of winning one of these copies, take a look at the giveaway details below.

Also this month, we'll be highlighting a Crime Cymru member who took part in the 2023 festival as a Close Up Reader, while in our customary look back at our first festival in Aberystwyth by some of the people who were there, we have a superb article by Paul Burke, which you really mustn't miss.

 Watery Graves looks at crimes that take place in, on or around water, from the canals of Venice and the narrowboats of the UK to the wild seas and rugged shores of Shetland.

Andy Griffee is the author of the Johnson & Wilde series of crime mysteries set on the canals and rivers of the UK. His hero, a journalist called Jack Johnson, lives on board a narrowboat. Andy began writing fiction after a 25-year career at the BBC and lives in Worcestershire. 

Philip Gwynne Jones is the author of the bestselling Venice-based Nathan Sutherland series. Originally from Swansea, he now lives in Venice with his wife Caroline and a modestly friendly cat called Mimi. He enjoys cooking,  classical music, old horror films and listens to far too much Italian Progressive Rock.

Marsali Taylor writes puzzle-style crime novels set in contemporary Shetland, starring quick-witted sailor Cass Lynch and Inverness DI Gavin Macrae. Reviewers praise their clever plotting, lively characters and vividly-evoked setting. Marsali’s hobbies include sailing her 8m yacht around Shetland’s scenic westside, drama and learning to play the flute.


Sufiya Ahmed is an award-winning children’s and YA author of over twenty books. She regularly visits primary schools to talk about her love of reading and her childhood dream to become an author. She also discusses her previous career in the Houses of Parliament to educate and inspire pupils about human rights. She is the founder and director of the BIBI Foundation, a non-profit organisation which arranges visits to the Houses of Parliament for underprivileged children. Her latest book is Rosie Raja Mission To Cairo about a young Muslim heroine in WWII Egypt

Fleur Hitchcock has worked as a shop assistant, a dinner lady and a curator. She works as a children's bookseller, has two grown up children and she lives in the West Country. Dubbed as writing "thrillers for beginners" by the Sunday Times she continues to aim to keep her readers on the edges of their seats.

Sarah Todd Taylor was brought up in Yorkshire and Ceredigion, where she now lives. Inspired by years on the Welsh stage, she created the Max the Detective Cat mysteries set in the theatres of 1920s London. Her Alice Éclair books mix espionage and baking against the backdrop of inter-war 1930s Paris.  
In Pen and Pod three of today's leading crime podcasters discuss the art of the podcast, featuring Vaseem Khan and Abir Mukherjee, both award-winning crime writers and hosts of the Red Hot Chilli Writers podcast, in conversation with leading reviewer and podcaster Paul Burke.
Paul Burke writes reviews and features for Crime Time, Crime Fiction Lover and the European Literature Network. He is the editor presenter of the Crime Time FM podcast and is a CWA Historical Dagger Judge. Paul's first book An Encyclopedia of Spy Fiction will be published in March, 2025. 
Vaseem Khan writes two crime series set in India. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra was a Sunday Times 40 best crime novels published 2015-2020 pick. Midnight at Malabar House, the first in his 1950s Bombay-set series, won the Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger. Vaseem was born in England and is now Chair of the UK Crime Writers Association.
Abir Mukherjee is the bestselling author of the award-winning Wyndham & Banerjee series of crime novels. His books have been translated into fifteen languages and won awards including the CWA Dagger for best Historical Novel, the Prix du Polar Européen, and the Wilbur Smith Award. He co-hosts the popular Red Hot Chilli Writers podcast.