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Friday 28 June 2024

‘Death At A Shetland Festival’ by Marsali Taylor

Published by Headline Accent,
9 May 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-0354-0065-2 (PB)

Marsali Taylor’s Shetland has become another of the world’s beautiful but dangerous places, and it comes to life in a big way in the latest outing for her shrewd sailing sleuth Cass Lynch. One of the most prominent events of the year is about to get under way when the book begins: the Shetland Folk Festival, a huge and joyous jamboree which welcomes performers of traditional music from all over the world at a series of sell-out concerts at various locations on the islands.   

Cass and her policeman partner Gavin Macrae have tickets for the first concert – and since murder seems to dog Cass’s footsteps, it comes as no surprise when the body of one of the artistes is found in a pool of blood at the back of the venue. The artiste is Fintan Foyle, a famous Irish Canadian singer who has come to the Shetland event as part of a world tour.

The local police are on the spot to do the initial groundwork, but because of the victim’s fame, a major investigation team flies in from the mainland, and Gavin finds himself well and truly sidelined. Fortunately, the incomers involve local sergeant Freya Peterson in a minor role; she is as annoyed as Gavin to be pushed out, and keeps him and Cass informed. 

Meanwhile, Cass has another mystery to solve. A diary dating back to the 1980s has turned up in a box of books donated to a parish sale, and she sets about identifying the owner so it can be returned. She resists the temptation to read it, but Marsali Taylor takes pity on the reader and offers enough taster chunks to reveal how this story strand links to the murder.

Naturally, the major investigation team go off down blind alleys, and it’s the Shetland contingent who solve both the murder and the mystery of the diary. Along the way there are plenty of twists, turns and crossed wires, with Taylor’s trademark cast of interesting characters, including a host of different folk musicians, and a group of women with a common history of jobs at the workers’ camp when the Sullom Voe oil terminal was under construction forty years ago. She brings to life the boisterous final night of the folk festival and explores the subtle undercurrents and emotions of the relationships between the artistes and the locals. And as well as preparing for one more tour of duty on board the longship Sørlandet before settling down to domestic life with Gavin, Cass gets to go sailing in her yacht Khalida, another trademark of this engaging series.

Not for the first time, Marsali Taylor has ticked all the boxes: familiar characters to enjoy, and new ones to warm to (or not, as the case may be); a generous helping of Shetland landscape and everyday life; a nicely convoluted mystery; and as a bonus, a slice of recent island history to explore. Long may murder continue to follow Cass Lynch around her beloved Shetland!  
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

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.  

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.

Thursday 27 June 2024


sponsored by The Glencairn Glass
Winner to be presented on
Friday 13 September 2024
 on the opening night of the festival 

The 2024 McIlvanney Prize winner will be announced in the ballroom of The Golden Lion Hotel on the opening night of the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival and lead a procession of The Stirling and District Schools Pipe Band to the Albert Halls.  This year the prize will be judged by BBC Scotland presenter, Bryan Burnett; Category Manager for Waterstones, Angie Crawford and Journalist and Editor, Arusa Qureshi.

The 2024 longlist - selected by an Academy composed of booksellers, librarians, bloggers and broadcasters - is today revealed to be:

D V Bishop – A Divine Fury (Pan Macmillan)
Chris Brookmyre – The Cracked Mirror (Sphere)
Charles Cumming – Kennedy 35 (HarperCollins)
Andrew James Greig – The Girl in the Loch (Storm Publishing)
Doug Johnstone – The Collapsing Wave (Orenda)
S G Maclean – The Winter List (Quercus)
Val McDermid – Past Lying (Sphere)
Abir Mukherjee – Hunted (Vintage)
C S Robertson – The Trials of Marjory Crowe (Hodder & Stoughton)
Kim Sherwood – A Spy Like Me (HarperCollins)
Doug Sinclair – Blood Runs Deep (Storm Publishing)
Douglas Skelton – The Hollow Mountain (Polygon)

Debut author, Doug Sinclair, who also features on the shortlist for the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize, is up against some of the biggest names in Scottish crime fiction.  The longlist also features two previous winners (Chris Brookmyre and Charles Cumming) and a crime writer who got his first big break at Bloody Scotland when he won Pitch Perfect (D V Bishop).  Abir Mukherjee and Kim Sherwood are both new names on the list. Abir with his thriller, Hunted, set in the run up to the US presidential election and Kim with A Spy Like Me which has been described as ‘Fleming for the 21st century’.  In other stats there are three women (Val, Kim and S G Maclean), three members of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers (Val, Chris and Doug Johnstone) and three men called Douglas.

The McIlvanney longlist and the Bloody Scotland shortlist will be promoted in bookshops throughout Scotland in the period between the announcement and the presentation at 6pm on Friday 13 September. The winners will both be interviewed on stage in the ballroom of The Golden Lion by BBC presenter, Bryan Burnett.

Kirsty Nicholson, Glencairn Crystal’s
Design and Marketing Manager, said:

“This is the fifth year we’ve sponsored the Bloody Scotland literary awards with the world’s favourite whisky glass – The Glencairn Glass – and it’s always incredibly exciting to find out who has made it onto the McIlvanney Prize longlist. We congratulate all the authors and wish them all the best of luck, and we look forward to seeing who wins in September. In the meantime, the summer holidays provide the perfect chance to relax and read your way through one or all of these excellent crime books!” 

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@bloodyscotland #BloodyScotland

‘The Case of the Secretive Secretary’ by Cathy Ace

Published by Four Tails Publishing,
18 March 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-99055022-5 

The four women of the WISE Enquiry Agency are happily settled in the Welsh village of Anwen-by-Wye and their business is thriving, with each of them contributing their own expertise to their various investigations. They are very grateful to the Duke and Duchess of Chellingworth and to Althea, the Dowager Duchess, who have all been amazingly supportive. However, Mavis, who lives at the Dower House with Althea, often wishes that her elderly friend was not so determined to get actively involved with their investigations.

Mavis, the oldest of the WISE women, had been Head of Nursing at a home for retired servicemen before she became an investigator and the women’s latest case involves Frances Millington, a former colleague who had worked as a secretary at the serviceman’s home. Frances makes an appointment to consult the WISE women and when she meets them, she explains that she is now living at a small private hotel and does some secretarial work for the owner. She has been very happy living there, but several strange incidents have caused her concern. The owner has objected to her expression of worry and has threatened to dismiss her. Although Frances wants Mavis and her colleagues to help, she is very secretive about sharing her suspicions about the hotel staff and residents. Mavis decides to go to the hotel as a guest, but Frances warns her that she is unlikely to be accepted by the owner and, to Mavis’ dismay, it is decided that it is necessary for Althea to accompany her because her title will impress the owner and make him welcome them. Althea is delighted but Mavis is afraid that she is allowing her indomitable but frail friend to run into danger.

Back in Anwen-by-Wye, Annie, Christine and the rest of the WISE women are busy investigating two crimes that are minor in monetary value but are causing great distress to the victims. One is the warfare between the Duke and Duchess’ long-term cook and a new cook who has been employed to provide baked goods for the new cafe in the village. The question is whether one of the battling cooks is sabotaging the other or whether there is another player in the game? The duke is very fond of his food and he is extremely anxious to have this mystery solved before he loses his valued cook.

The second minor investigation is even more bizarre. Plastic ornaments are disappearing from outside the cottages of several villagers. None of the stolen items have any monetary value but they are of great sentimental value to the bereft owners. Annie is determined to help her neighbours and resorts to a high-tech solution for a distinctly low-tech crime.

When Mavis and Althea arrive at the hotel, they find that events have moved faster than they anticipated, and the game has grown a lot more serious. However, they continue with their investigation and Althea’s eccentric charm helps to win them some valuable allies. The two sleuths soon need all the help they can get when Althea takes one risk too many and finds herself in extreme danger.

The Case of the Secretive Secretary is the tenth novel in the series featuring the women of the WISE Enquiry Agency. It is an excellent addition to a delightful series that is filled with warm, lively and eccentric characters. All of the books in the series work well as stand-alone novels but the development of the characters and their relationships throughout the series is especially engaging. This is a book that explores and celebrates the whole community. In Anwen-by-Wye the inhabitants are united by shared history and customs but are also willing to accept progress and newcomers, and in the hotel that Mavis and Althea visit they help the permanent residents to form their own close-knit community. The characterisation is excellent and the four WISE women and their self-appointed assistant, the Dowager Duchess, are all distinct and likeable people, and so are the rest of the inhabitants of Anwen-by-Wye.

The Case of the Secretive Secretary is a thoroughly enjoyable read, which I wholeheartedly recommend.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales. With a successful career in marketing having given her the chance to write training courses and textbooks, Cathy has now finally turned her attention to her real passion: crime fiction. Her short stories have appeared in multiple anthologies. Two of her works, Dear George and Domestic Violence, have also been produced by Jarvis & Ayres Productions as ‘Afternoon Reading’ broadcasts for BBC Radio 4. Cathy now writes two series of traditional mysteries: The Cait Morgan Mysteries (TouchWood Editions) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (Severn House Publishers)

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 8 further mysteries.
Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People.
To read a review of Carol latest book click on the title
Death and the Dancing Snowman

Wednesday 26 June 2024

‘You May Now Kill the Bride’ by Kate Weston

Published by Headline,
23 May 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-0354-1245-7 (PBO)

Hen parties were never like this in my day. A few drinks in the pub with some mates, a bit of dressing up, maybe a wannabe Chippendale: that was your lot. Not a whole weekend at a posh glamping site with a lot of mind-body-spirit mumbo-jumbo to cleanse the soul and detox the body. Which means no alcohol and no phones. In theory, anyway.

That’s what events guru Saskia has organized for her lifelong friend Tansy, who owns a vegan cafe and is into all that stuff. There are twenty guests altogether, and four of them, chums ever since nursery, are going to be Tansy’s bridesmaids. As well as Saskia, there’s high-flying divorce lawyer Dominica, investigative journalist Farah, and Lauren, who’s something in marketing. Tansy’s marrying Ivan, who nobody else rates, Farah’s wedding to long-term boyfriend Toby is only weeks away, and Lauren’s in love with Farah’s brother Joss, hopelessly because he’s now involved with Eva. Sorry, I forgot to mention Eva. She hasn’t been around for long.

Are you keeping up so far?  

It’s all going reasonably well, with the help of some smuggled vodka and a whispered Wi-Fi code, until the cacao ceremony, whatever that is. That’s when Tansy, who is allergic to everything you can think of, hence the vegan thing, collapses with anaphylactic shock and her EpiPen has gone missing.

Tansy doesn’t recover before the paramedics arrive, or at all, and by now everybody’s in shock of the non-anaphylactic kind. The police turn up as well, and between the missing EpiPen and the contents of Tansy’s cacao cup (but nobody else’s), it’s soon plain that her death wasn’t an accident. I did say hen parties weren’t like this in my day. Probably not anybody’s, ever.

Before long closely guarded secrets and carefully nursed grudges begin to crawl out of the woodwork, and suddenly no one’s safe. It becomes clear that though the remaining four are lifelong friends, they really don’t like each other very much. The question, of course, is who didn’t like Tansy enough to spike her cacao cup with something deadly? Was it bossy Saskia? Jealous Farah? Ambitious Dominica? Surely not meek and mild Lauren? And we mustn’t forget over-emotional Eva, who seems to have attached herself to the group.

Sorry, folks, I’m not telling. You’ll just have to read it for yourself if you want to find out. Go on, spoil yourselves, curl up with a bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate – you’re worth it. I promise it’s jolly good fun. If you don’t count the murder.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Kate Weston is a former stand-up comedian who still gigs from time to time and likes nothing more than a proper giggle.  She is is the author of the YA Comedy Murder Mystery: Murder On A School Night, as well as Diary of a Confused Feminist and Must Do Better. Kate lives in London.

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.

Tuesday 25 June 2024

‘The Girl Beyond Forever’ by Adam Loxwood

Independently published,
2 January 2024. 
ISBN: 979-8873696437 (HB)

The Girl Beyond Forever revolves around Thomas Schaefer’s search for his daughter, Amber, who was just eight years old when she was abducted from her bedroom.  Schaefer and his wife Sarah had slept as their child was stolen.  Shortly after the crime, Sarah gave birth to their son and as the years have passed, she has become reconciled to the pain of losing Amber.  Husband Thomas, however, still riven with sorrow, is compelled to keep looking for his lost daughter; a fretful quest that has wrecked his marriage and poisoned his relationship with his young son. 

Schaefer now works as a private investigator, often alongside Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeants Peterson Jean and David Noel in what is described as “an uneasy alliance.”  Schaefer specialises in locating missing people and sometimes joins Jean and Noel on a raid if he thinks it might lead him to someone he’s been hired to find. Schaefer’s daughter, if she’s still alive, will be a young woman now and so his focus is on older teens or adults who have disappeared and who might have been lured into gangs or cults.  The work takes him into a murky underworld of societies that provide the desperate or gullible with a home, but not a haven.  Led by all-powerful leaders, these violent and sadistic communities exist outside societal norms.  Schaefer fears that Amber has been kidnapped by such a gang or cult and whilst he has been able to find and release others, the whereabouts of his child still elude him.

Deadly explosions, frantic chases and tragic deaths abound as Schaefer scours the highways and byways of south London in pursuit of his goal, to find out what happened to Amber and, against all odds, to find Amber herself. The P.I. thinks he knows just about all there is to know about modern day cults and then someone tells him about Totus, and things become much more sinister than even Thomas could have imagined.

The Girl Beyond Forever is narrated in the first-person through Schaefer’s point of view. This is highly effective in terms of conveying the detective’s anguish as well as his unflinching determination to rescue Amber. Disturbing cults and occult rituals are described in terrifying and sometimes graphic detail through Schaefer’s eyes. Tight prose conveys a sense of urgency as the plot accelerates page after breathless page. Yet, alongside the thriller aspect of the novel runs the poignancy of those whose loved ones have been enticed or forced into gangs and cults.

The blend of gothic, horror, thriller, romance and mystery writing ensures that The Girl Beyond Forever delivers an explosive tale that pulls at the heartstrings and frightens the life out you! A super read and highly recommended.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Adam Loxwood lives in the Weald of Kent. Other than creative writing his passions are making music, world cinema and contemporary art. The Artemis File is a sequel to his Debut novel, The Teleios Ring.  The third and final novel in the Vector trilogy, The Oedipus Gate, is currently in manuscript.”

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.   

Sunday 23 June 2024

‘A Killing in Paradise’ by Elliot Sweeney

Published by Wildfire,
6 June 2024.
978-1-47229272-8 (PB)

Private Investigator Dylan Jasper and his friend Mani watch another friend of Mani’s – Patience, convincingly win her boxing match. After the bout Mani tells Jasper, as he is known, that Patience’s younger brother Kwami was murdered on Paradise Estate. Despite its name Paradise is a really run down place, full of gangs and drugs with regular stabbings and shootings.

Mani takes Jasper to meet Patience in the changing room later. She tells him Kwami had started thieving and shows them a camcorder with a note from her brother telling her to destroy it should anything happen to him. They view it and it shows a young woman being tortured and killed, reminding Jasper of a snuff movie. But is it real? Patience wants him to investigate further, refuses to go to the police and gives him the camcorder.

Jasper starts making enquiries on the Estate, he lived there as a child and knows it well. He visits a supposed witness to Kwami’s murder and is set upon by two men. However, they soon wish they hadn’t touched him! Of course, this makes Jasper all the more determined to get to the truth. He unofficially enlists the help of an old girlfriend DS. Diane McAteer of Holborn Police.

Then there is the murder of a man who they discovered was linked to the film. Through a prostitute friend of Jasper’s the woman in the movie is identified, she was also a prostitute and an illegal immigrant.

On making enquiries about the producers of the film – Red Rose Productions – Jasper is led to Nate Willoughby, a rather well-known film maker with connections to Paradise Estate. However, he soon discovers he is certainly not as affable and pleasant as he seems to be at first and Jasper’s life is soon in jeopardy. It then becomes clear that a member of the police is also involved.

Soon Jasper’s friends are also exposed to grave danger. Can he prevent any more deaths? Can he prevent his own?

A rather brutal but very gripping and enthralling thriller, even surprisingly at times, amusing. Really highly recommended.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Elliot F. Sweeney is a community psychiatric nurse. In 2018 he was awarded the HW Fisher Scholarship to attend the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course, and he’s also been supported by Spread the Word through their London Writers Awards Scheme 2019 Cohort, and Hachette's Future Bookshelf scheme. He’s written for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Switchblade, amongst others.


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.

Thursday 20 June 2024

‘The Witness’ by Alexandra Wilson

Published by Sphere,
20 June 2024.

One of the pleasures of any novel is the glimpse it offers into someone else’s world, and this legal thriller delivers that twice over. First there’s lawyer Rosa’s home life: not the luxury dwelling you might imagine for a busy barrister, but a rented flat shared with her grandmother and her little brother. Junior barristers earn fees, not regular salaries, and however experienced they are, rarely find themselves in demand for lucrative, high-profile cases, and often have to wait months for modest fees.  

This time, though, Rosa is taking the lead on a case that makes headline news – and that gives the reader the second glimpse, this one into the legal world. She is asked to defend Emmett, a young black man accused of murdering a white male nurse in broad daylight in a busy park. The evidence against him is damning, and it looks like an open and shut case; Emmett insists he is innocent but refuses to say why.

It’s plain from the outset that both worlds, domestic and professional, are deeply familiar to Alexandra Wilson. Her own biography reveals a life not a million miles away from Rosa’s: a descendant of the Windrush generation who has forged a career in the law, her own rather more brilliant than her protagonist’s, but with parallels, nonetheless. Small wonder, then, that the novel’s background rings so true: hardworking grandmothers, close communities and a constant battle against other people’s preconceptions on the home front; and at work, dingy interview rooms, ill-prepared opponents and witnesses who are unhelpful at best, untruthful or disappearing at worst. 

The characters, too, are true to life. Rosa herself is determined and conscientious, and more concerned with achieving justice for her client than merely winning a case. Her grandmother Nana is taciturn and fiercely protective, though she doesn’t hesitate to take Rosa and her brother to task when she feels it’s needed. Craig the solicitor is overworked, practical and down to earth. Emmett, the defendant, is ingenuous, but loyal to his friends, and though he soon loses his naivety in prison, he retains his belief in the triumph of justice.

The tension stretches almost to the final page – can Rosa prove Emmett’s innocence? Will the one witness Rosa can rely on to tell the truth actually turn up at court? Can Rosa balance her domestic commitments with the most demanding case of her career? And what really happened that morning in the park? There’s only one way to find out – read her story!
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Alexandra Wilson is a junior barrister. She grew up in Essex. She studied at Oxford university and obtained a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), and her Master of Law at BPP University in London. Alexandra was awarded the first Queen’s scholarship by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. Alongside her paid and criminal law work, Alexandra helps facilitate access to justice by providing legal representation for disenfranchised minorities and others on a pro[bino basis.

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.

‘Bloodshed in Bayswater’ by John Rowland

Published by Galileo,
2 May 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-91553030-1 (PB)

First published in 1935, the novel begins as Margery Latimer is awakened in the night by a scream. Rushing to her window she sees a man hurrying away from the car in which a man has been murdered. She tells the police, in the shape of Rowland’s regular detective Henry Shelley, what she witnessed. Asked if she would recognize the man were she to see him again, she says she would. Latimer is a young woman who is employed as a secretary at her former guardian’s legal practice. The next morning, she is surprised when this man, Mr Bellingham, tells her that he intends to retire but suggests there is a more lucrative job available with the National Anti-Speed Association. When Latimer is introduced to her new employer, John Cook, founder of the association, she is alarmed to discover that he is the man she saw the previous night. For reasons of her own she does not reveal this to anyone, even though Cook later tells her that she should have done.

Before long another two murders are committed, with all three victims connected to the motor industry. Worse for Latimer is that John Cook, to whom she has clearly taken a shine (as Shelley notes in due course), was in the immediate neighbourhood each time the crimes took place. He is apparently the only real suspect for most of the story. Bellingham suggests that the police are not doing enough, so he suggests to Latimer that they employ a private investigator. Strange things continue to happen: Cook disappears for periods; Latimer is tied up but is unable to see by whom whilst Cook’s office is searched, as is his house later; unidentifiable people answer telephone calls; Latimer is blackmailed, but her blackmailer is found murdered shortly afterwards; she is abducted and drugged; she is perplexed at times by the odd behaviour of both Cook and Bellingham.

Latimer inadvertently leads Shelley to the perpetrator of the murders. It seems even to this reviewer (not one given to worrying too much about the plot if a book is sufficiently entertaining) that the unmasking of the villain is a bit of a contrivance, but I admit in hindsight that there have been hints even if the twist remains improbably unconvincing. All loose ends are certainly tied up. I think it fair to observe that the characters are not as memorable as in some Golden Age tales (although Shelley does a nice line in observation), but this is still a solid addition to the welcome list of Galileo’s republishing project.
Reviewer: David Whittle

John Rowland (1907-1984) was born in Bodmin, Cornwall and was brought up as a Methodist. He was, however, rather a rebellious Methodist, and quickly became interested in science.  He attended Bodmin Grammar School and Plymouth College, then the University of Bristol, where he studied physics and chemistry, receiving a BSc in 1929. He then earned a diploma in education and taught science in a Protestant grammar school in County Donegal. He disliked teaching, however, and became a freelance writer in London, as there were not enough opportunities in Bristol for him to earn a living. He became an editorial assistant for C Frederick Watts, a London publisher closely associated with the Rationalist Press Association, and became editor of The Free Thinker's Digest. He was a rationalist who attacked conventional theology, but felt reverence towards a universal mystery, and felt that rationalism ought to appeal to the emotions as well as to reason.

David Whittle is firstly a musician (he is an organist and was Director of Music at Leicester Grammar School for over 30 years) but has always enjoyed crime fiction. This led him to write a biography of the composer Bruce Montgomery who is better known to lovers of crime fiction as Edmund Crispin, about whom he gives talks now and then. He is currently convenor of the East Midlands Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association.

‘A Grave in the Woods’ by Martin Walker

Published by Quercus,
20 June 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-52942-828-5 (HB)

I’ve been an unashamed fan of Martin Walker’s Dordogne Mysteries series since I first discovered them more than a decade ago, and as well as the wonderfully drawn characters and location they have one thing in particular in common: at the end, I’m considerably better informed about one aspect of life. This time that aspect is the endgame of the second world war as it was played out in south-western France. 

The story begins with the discovery of a sealed grave in the grounds of a derelict building close to St Denis, where all the novels are based. The three bodies it contains date back to the 1940s, and paperwork buried with them identifies them as two German women and an Italian man killed in the line of duty. The Mayor of St Denis is conscious that they are all Europeans and allies now, and plans a ceremony to honour the three, And Bruno Courrèges, local chief of police and protagonist of the entire series, finds himself drawn into the arrangements although he is still on convalescent leave after being shot during his previous adventure, a tangle with Russian criminals.

Meanwhile, there are two newcomers to the area: Abby Howard, an American archaeologist who hopes to set up a business in the area, and Colette Cantagnac, the new administrator at the Mairie where Bruno is based. Abby is friendly, and happy to be drawn into both the plans for the ceremony and Bruno’s circle of friends. The frighteningly efficient Colette is another matter entirely, and soon earns the nickname Dragon of the Mairie.   

As usual, Bruno proves himself much more skilled than the average village policeman, and despite his best efforts to stay on sick leave, he becomes involved in a battle against cybercrime and cryptocurrency fraud. And also as usual, both commemorative and nefarious goings-on are set against the glorious scenery of the Perigord, and include wonderful food, music and history. All the familiar supporting characters make an appearance: Pamela the Scottish horsewoman, Fabiola the capable doctor, J-J the harassed chief of detectives in Perigueux and plenty more besides, not forgetting Balzac, Bruno’s ever-faithful basset hound.

All the threads come together in a dramatic climax which offers an insight into the effects of global warming. Martin Walker’s background as an eminent journalist is very much in evidence in the research that clearly went into this aspect of the story as well as the war history, but he never loses sight of the story itself, or the people who take part in it. Let’s hope there are many more stories to come in this engaging, entertaining and informative series.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Martin Walker was educated at Balliol College, Oxford and Harvard. In twenty-five years with the Guardian, he served as Bureau Chief in Moscow and, in the US, as European Editor. In addition to his prize-winning journalism, he wrote and presented the BBC series Martin Walker’s Russia and Clintonomics.  Martin has written several acclaimed works of non-fiction, including The Cold War: A History. He lives in Washington and spends his summers in his house in the Dordogne. Many of his novels feature the old-school chief of police, Captain Bruno. The most recent being A Chateau Under Siege. You can visit Bruno’s website 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.

Tuesday 18 June 2024

‘The Man in Black’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus,
18 June 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-52942-049-4 (HB)

What could be better than a new Elly Griffiths story? Nineteen new Elly Griffiths stories, that’s what! And that’s exactly what her many devotees can look forward to in this collection of bite-size tales. Ruth Galloway is here; so are Max Mephisto and Harbinder Kaur. They each have their own story, sometimes more than one, and there’s one which features all three of them. Even Justice Jones gets a look in, from Griffiths’s series for young people, though this is a grown up version of Justice. But familiar faces and locations account for fewer than half the stories; the rest are mostly set on home ground, but a couple venture as far afield as Egypt and Sorrento.

Mostly the stories are the kind Elly Griffiths is best known for: mysteries to be solved, the occasional body. Not all of them, though; there are ghost stories, domestic mini-dramas, and warm, sometimes wistful tales that are just about people. Every single one features well observed characters, and comes laced with the wry wit and sideways look at the world which has become something of a trademark.

They all have two essential qualities in common: characters we can recognize, and locations we can visualize. Griffiths’s regular readers know that Nelson is stolid and slightly grumpy, albeit observant and shrewd; that Harbinder is far cleverer than she thinks she is; and that Max Mephisto’s charm doesn’t always conceal resourcefulness and keen perception. For readers making their first acquaintance, all those qualities and much more besides are as clear as crystal here; and a host of new characters are every bit as sharply drawn. The locations, too, unfold like a movie behind the action: beaches and towns, homes and gardens; the effect of different kinds of light on the sea; the perilous route across the saltmarsh to Ruth’s isolated cottage; the way British weather can turn on a sixpence.  

It all adds up to the kind of absorbing storytelling established fans have come to expect and new ones will enjoy for its own sake and as a taste of pleasures to come – but in bedtime reading chunks which won’t keep you up till the small hours and make you sleep through the alarm. Unless you’re like me, and just keep reading another one... and another... and another. And for those of you who haven’t yet discovered the full-length novels (there surely can’t be more than a dozen of them!) these mini-treats are an ideal jumping-off point.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elly Griffiths  is the author of the bestselling Dr Ruth Galloway series, the Brighton Mysteries and three stand-alone crime novels. She won the 2020 Edgar Award for The Stranger Diaries and, in 2016, was awarded the CWA Dagger in The Library. The 15th Ruth book, The Last Remains, published in January 2023, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Elly also writes the Justice Jones mystery series for children.

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.

Monday 17 June 2024

Major Cecil John Charles Street OBE, MC (1884 – 1964) by Robert H Crabtree

John Rhode

In punning allusion to his own name, John Street wrote his crime novels under three pseudonyms, John Rhode, Miles Burton and Cecil Waye. The Waye novels did not take off and were soon abandoned but the other two series were long-lived and successful throughout the English-speaking world. Many of the Burtons were also translated into French and German and this must have been in substantial numbers because they have often survived in much larger numbers than the original editions, to judge from their relatively greater availability in the secondhand market.

The main character in the Rhode books, the distinguished but irascible ex-Professor of Mathematics, Dr. Priestley, makes oracular pronouncements that eventually lead his Yard policemen friends, Superintendents Hanslet and, later, Waghorn to the true solution. Priestley's right-hand man, Harold Merefield, marries Priestley's daughter, April, in an early novel but she unaccountably disappears from the scene thereafter although Harold continues to be described as Priestley's son-in-law. Did they break up? Did she die? It's a mystery within a mystery! Likewise, 'Jimmy' Waghorn marries Diana at an early stage of his career and, although largely invisible, Diana at least gets some later speaking roles. Rhode has no difficulty with placing women as major players in the cast of potentially criminal characters, however.

Rhode's forte was dreaming up exotic, ingenious and unexpected ways to kill the generally unpleasant corpses-to-be that infest his otherwise pleasant small towns and villages. Often these involve detailed technical knowledge, such as the way tides and wind combine to affect the way a boat rides at anchor in an estuary, thus affecting our interpretation of the direction from which the fatal shot was fired. If we find any of Rhode's suspects is technically competent, therefore, the chances are that we have also identified the criminal. Rhode is a tolerant individual and his works are generally free of the politically incorrect attitudes that sometimes mar the works of other authors of his vintage.

Judging from the prominence of pubs, drinking and smoking in his works, Street himself, no doubt a jovial and sociable soul, must have spent much time in pubs. This may even be where he picked up some of his detailed technical knowledge of jobs and professions relevant to his stories. His 1940s wartime novels show insider knowledge of the operations of the Home Guard, suggesting he was an active member. Many of his novels throw light on the social history of the period, for example the 1940s rationing or the multiyear waiting lists to buy a car in the early 1950s.

Street was extraordinarily productive, writing four novels a year for nearly 40 years. This level of production may well be the reason that he wrote under two main aliases for different publishers, because each one would probably take no more than two novels a year. Rhode's policemen age appropriately with time so Hanslet is eventually replaced by his protégé, Jimmy Waghorn at the Yard. On the other hand, Dr. Priestley is already in his forties when he first appears in 1925 in The Paddington Mystery, so his survival to 1961 with his mental faculties intact in The Vanishing Diary is something of a medical miracle. Clues in the text of Men Die at Cyprus Lodge (1943) suggest that he was born before 1882.

As for the writing itself, characterization is adequate for the purpose but not the main interest in Rhode novels, which reflect the details of contemporary life of small towns in Southern England. Rhode's plots often involve interesting twists and turns and involve a greater dose of realism than is the case for some authors of the period. Some of his wartime books are no longer convincing when he deals with German espionage in World War II, given what we now know about this, except perhaps to show the prevalence of spy scares at that time.

Particularly attractive titles in the Rhode series include the following:

The Davidson Case, US:
Murder at Bratton Grange (1929);
Tragedy On the Line (1931);
The Claverton Affair (1933);
Death at the Helm (1941);
The Lake House US:
Secret of the Lake House (1946);
An Artist Dies US: Death of an Artist (1956).
Death in the Hop Fields US:
The Harvest Murder (1937) 

is also of interest in documenting the yearly migration of East Enders to Kent for a paid holiday picking hops. The notorious unsolved Wallace case (Liverpool, 1931) which led Raymond Chandler to comment: "the Wallace case is unbeatable; it will always be unbeatable," is the basis for Rhode's nonseries The Telephone Call U.S.: Shadow of an Alibi (1948) that gives Rhodes fictional solution to the puzzle.

Burton novels have more flights of fancy than Rhode's, such as the witchcraft theme in the best known one, The Secret of High Eldersham (1930), which also constitutes the first of the series. Street must have careful not to advertise himself as Miles Burton, because the true authorship of these novels was uncertain until the text of Burton's The Menace on the Downs (1931) was seen to reflect special knowledge of Central European affairs that Street was known to possess. Burton's plots marry the brilliant amateur detective, Desmond Merrion, with the plodding Yard detective, Inspector Arnold. One of the best, Death in the Tunnel from 1936, has been reprinted in the British Library Crime Series and so is today probably his best known title. 

Other attractive ones include The Platinum Cat (1938) and Murder M.D. (1943), but many of the Burtons are totally unavailable today so I have not read the majority of his output. We can hope that additional Rhode and Burton titles will be reprinted by the British Library so that Street can be better appreciated by the reading public.

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