Tag Archives: crime fiction

#BookReview ‘City of Masks’ by @SD_Sykes #historical

It is 1358 and Lord Somershill, Oswald de Lacy, is in Venice with his mother on route to the Holy Land. But Venice is at war with Hungary and the pair are stranded in this city of secrets. City of Masks, third in the Oswald de Lacy medieval mystery series by SD Sykes, sees the young lord investigating the death of a friend. SD SykesVenice is a wonderful setting for Oswald’s detecting. A closed city with its own rules, customs, prejudices and culture, it is a minefield for a stranger seeking information. Oswald relies on acquaintances and new friends for help. But all is not as it seems. Not all deceivers wear a traditional grotesque Venetian mask, some are in full sight. Oswald’s mother continues to be an irritant to him but is full of surprises and there is tension in the house of their hosts, John Bearpark and his young wife, who is due to give birth. As Oswald’s investigations progress, so do strange happenings at the Bearpark house. Plus, Oswald has the feeling he is being followed everywhere he goes. Even to the dangerous military complex, the Arsenale, to the island of lepers and to the gambling dens where he wins, and loses, money.
In this instalment we learn more of Oswald’s inner devils. He is accompanying his mother on this pilgrimage not because he shares her beliefs but because he is running from a bad memory at home. This dark shame within him will not be repressed and as he closes in on the murderer, his thought processes become fickle and his decision-making unreliable. As the days pass, Oswald must solve the murder or an innocent woman will be executed. And Oswald owes money he doesn’t have, money lost at cards, to a thug named Vittore. Venice is portrayed as a repressive, autocratic society with abuse of the poor and infirm. The surface glitters with beautiful houses but beneath, the foundations are rotting. Each island in the lagoon is a separate territory, outsiders are watched, exploited, killed.
Oswald is an impetuous investigator. He assumes possibilities are fact and pursues numerous wild goose chases. He is not an ideal detective. He stumbles on truths and walks straight into danger. He is emotional and naïve. But hidden in his to-ing and fro-ing around Venice and other islands in the Venetian Lagoon, are hints of the real crime, the real culprits. Venice is riddled with deception and Oswald must learn to see beyond the disguises and dissembling, to apply scepticism to everyone and everything around him.

Click the title to read my reviews of the first two books in this series:-

If you like this, try:-
The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey
The Leviathan’ by Rosie Andrews
Dangerous Women’ by Hope Adams

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CITY OF MASKS by @SD_Sykes #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5RO via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Drowned City’ by KJ Maitland #historical #crime

The Drowned City by KJ Maitland is first in the Daniel Pursglove historical crime series. Maitland is a new author for me and the premise is fascinating. After the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, King James I is nervous of Catholic rebellion. Pursglove is plucked from prison and offered amnesty if he tracks down an elusive Catholic conspirator, Spero Pottingar, believed to be in Bristol. While there, Daniel must also prove if the recent deadly Bristol flood was a natural disaster or witchcraft. KJ MaitlandI enjoyed the Jacobean setting, unusual in historical crime novels, but found it slow to get going. Daniel’s introduction – we first meet him imprisoned in Newgate – is negative. Why he’s imprisoned isn’t explained, nor do we learn about his life prior to being locked up. But we do know he’s a magician and this sleight of hand proves useful as the story unfolds. I finished the book with no clear idea who Daniel Pursglove is.
The description of the Bristol flooding – a true event – is well done, visceral and moving. Death, destruction, disease, loss of livelihood. Maitland doesn’t spare the reader in her descriptions of violence and rotting corpses. People simply disappeared – drowned, safely embarked on a ship before the flood, or slipped away to start afresh somewhere new. Daniel has no idea if Pottingar is a real person or an invention. He may be in Bristol, have fled, or never been there at all. This gives wonderful opportunities for fictional twists and turns and when the twist came at the end, I was surprised.
The Drowned City is steeped in historical detail but at the expense of plot and character development, possibly because this is the first in the series. More is sure to be unveiled in further books but as the first book, this failed to keep me interested. Daniel’s reason for being in Bristol got lost at times in detailed description and the convoluted factions, with so many clues and red herrings that I got lost and the tension left the page. The middle section was particularly slow.
So, not a page-turner for me but if you like dense historical crime mysteries it may suit you.

If you like this, try:-
Winter Pilgrims’ by Toby Clements
Cecily’ by Annie Garthwaite
The Silver Wolf’ by JC Harvey

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THE DROWNED CITY by KJ Maitland #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5QM via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Fatal Crossing’ by @TomHindle3 #crime

‘When amateurs are involved… mistakes are made,’ says the detective. It is 1924 when a suspicious death occurs on board a transatlantic liner bound for New York with 2000 passengers.  A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle is set up as a classic closed room murder mystery. The detective has four days to find the murderer before the ship docks in New York. Tom HindleKey elements are mixed together. An elderly gentleman travelling under a false name is found dead, a key witness disappears, a painting is stolen, the captain wants an easy final voyage before retirement, while a Scotland Yard detective James Temple won’t say why he’s travelling to America. The captain, who is desperate to believe the death was accidental, permits Temple to investigate the crime only if accompanied by ship’s officer Timothy Birch. They are a mis-matched pair. Grumpy Temple is irritated by Birch’s interference. Birch, whose unspecified grief makes him an outsider amongst the crew, is intimidated by Temple. They begin to interview witnesses. Soon, Birch receives a death threat.
The story is told through the first-person narrative of Birch which is limiting and repetitive. It is a feature of crime novels to use more telling – not showing – than other genres, but here the options were reviewed again and again. I struggled to trust either Birch or Temple, but trust is a major theme of the book… trust tested under duress and grief, loyalty to someone hardly known, debts owed, and the sifting of truth from lies. The classic closed room setting of a ship should add to the tension but the nautical setting was under-used in terms of adding atmosphere, claustrophobia and the countdown of days as time runs out. As the story unfolds, we realise that information is being hidden by everyone and there are two mysteries to be solved. I started to long for a second voice as an alternative to Birch, to add perspective on the mysteries and bring a change of tone.
This is a novel featuring a soul-searching protagonist that also involves a crime, rather than a fast-paced crime novel with a single focus. Neither Birch nor Temple seems to be telling the truth. When a huge twist is revealed at the end, I was left not knowing what to believe.

If you like this, try:-
Death and the Brewery Queen’ by Frances Brody
The Mystery of Three Quarters’ by Sophie Hannah
The Secrets of Gaslight Lane’ by MRC Kasasian

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A FATAL CROSSING by @TomHindle3 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5xi via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Red Monarch’ by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries #crime

I’ve loved both of the Bella Ellis’s Brönte Mysteries series to date and the latest, The Red Monarch, is my favourite so far. If I could give it 6*, I would. It ticks so many boxes. Fast action, thoughtful detecting, literary and Brönte references, romance, the dirty violent underworld of London, dastardly baddies to defeat and wrongs to be righted.Bella EllisWhen Lydia Roxby runs into trouble in London, she writes to her former governess Anne Brönte appealing for help. Lydia’s actor husband Harry has been imprisoned by a violent gang, accused of stealing a jewel. Heavily pregnant Lydia is given seven days to return the jewel or Harry will be killed. The four Brönte siblings rush to London and find Lydia living in an attic room at the Covent Garden Theatre, run by Harry’s father.
The first problem for the Bröntes is how to find a jewel when no information is available. Lydia knows nothing and either people are ignorant or frightened to speak. The streets around Covent Garden are run by a gangster, Noose, and his network of thugs and spies. So, naturally, the first thing the Bröntes do is seek a face-to-face meeting with Noose.
Operating out of their comfort zone but driven by a clear determination of what is right, backed up by their love for each other, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell must negotiate the dangerous streets of the slums, adopting disguises, refusing to be cowed by threats and bluster, taking risks on who to trust. The more they find out, the clearer it is that they must confront the crime boss who terrifies everyone. But the so-called Red Monarch is so feared that no one dare say his name for fear of being overheard by one of his spies and subsequently killed as a traitor. The whole area exists in an atmosphere of fear and exploitation.
This is an original concept and a plot that, like its two predecessors, combines genres effortlessly. With witty asides and foreshadowing of the Bröntes’ writings – as this novel starts, the sisters’ first edition of poetry is published – this is both familiar and unfamiliar territory. Like comfort food, but surprisingly different. As the thoughtful, literary siblings pursue criminals, we see the strengths and weaknesses of each. Who would have imagined Emily carrying a sword?
Loved it. Oh, and another beautiful cover.

Here are my reviews of the first two books in the #Brönte Mysteries series:-

If you like this, try:-
A Death in the Dales’ by Frances Brody
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Cover Her Face’ by PD James

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THE RED MONARCH by Bella Ellis @bröntemysteries #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5wo via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Change of Circumstance’ @susanhillwriter #crime

Lafferton, the small town at the heart of the Simon Serrailler crime novels by Susan Hill, has until now only known small-scale drugs crime. In A Change of Circumstance, a young local man is found dead of a presumed overdose in a flat above the Chinese pharmacy in neighbouring hippy village Starley. County lines drug gangs are using local Lafferton children and people are beginning to die. This is the eleventh instalment of this excellent series. Susan HillHill’s Serrailler novels are always a delight to read, thoroughly grounded in the town of Lafferton with familiar characters and landmarks set against beautiful countryside. A reminder that crime happens in pretty places too. I wasn’t so sure about the veracity of some of the police procedure but the stories of Brookie and Olivia feel real enough, both children from fractured families pulled into crime by lies and bribes. A Change of Circumstance is a horrible portrayal of the manipulation and abuse of children but lacking in the narrative drive of earlier books. I finished it quickly but it is short – 315 pages compared with first in the series The Various Haunts of Men which is 448 pages long.
As always, a network of minor storylines add depth and colour to the main themes and Simon’s sister Cat is the beating heart of the drama. Now a GP for a private doctors’ service, she is called out to an elderly man who refuses to go into hospital. Her Yorkie terrier Wookie goes missing while son Sam is home from medical school and being secretive about his study plans. Small details that add to the real life feeling of the series, typical family life.
It’s an odd ending to the drugs case, almost as if a television drama stopped five minutes before the end. I felt slightly let down in not seeing the arrest of the guilty party, instead it is more a hint than an action scene and I missed that final feeling of justice done. The ending to Simon’s story is the change of circumstance of the title. I’m still not quite convinced but it will add a new angle to the next Serrailler story.

Read my reviews of the previous ten novels in the series:-

If you like this, try:-
Magpie Murders’ by Anthony Horowitz #1SusanRyeland
The Killings at Kingfisher Hill’ by Sophie Hannah #4Poirot
The Killing Lessons’ by Saul Black

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A CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCE @susanhillwriter #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5vO via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Big Sky’ by Kate Atkinson #crime #Yorkshire

I hesitate to express some disappointment with Big Sky, the fifth Jackson Brodie instalment by Kate Atkinson, but the feeling grew as I read deeper into the book. I realize this disappointment is based on my incredibly, probably infeasibly high expectations of this author. Kate Atkinson

I have loved Jackson since his first outing in Case Histories. The darkly comic tone is the same in Big Sky but I struggle to pin down what is different this time. The crime is sex trafficking. The action is told through a wide variety of viewpoints. The cast list is very long and the tying up of ends involves characters I had long ceased to remember. Some of the ends were tied up quickly in the last thirty or so pages.

There are still many things to love. The Yorkshire Coast setting – Atkinson was born in York and clearly knows the area well – is at times both realistically beautiful and sordid. And there are so many rough diamond characters to spend time with: Crystal Holroyd; her stepson Harry; the wonderfully named drag queen Bunny Hops, Harry’s co-worker at the Palace Theatre; and the inept Vince Ives. Jackson has moved to the coast and is working as a private detective on a number of small seemingly irrelevant cases; staying with him are his ex-partner’s dog Dido, and their teenage son Nathan. The story is anchored in the historic sex crimes case of Bassani and Carmody. Bassani is dead but Carmody is rumoured to be about to spill some names. Various people are being threatened. Two police detectives are investigating the cold case and how it links to the ‘magic circle’ but they have little luck in finding answers. Two Polish girls arrive in England. Four friends play golf, and one of them feels like an outsider.

Halfway through, the two sides of the story come together as Brodie is employed by Crystal Holroyd to find out who is following her in a silver BMW. After their first meeting, a warning is left for Crystal: a photo of her young daughter. ‘Keep your mouth shut, Christina’. The first hint of a former life for the expensively polished wife of Tommy Holroyd. This is a book in which the present catches up with the past, where past horrors are finally acknowledged.

I finished this book with mixed feelings. Jackson is still a character I want to spend time with, but the plot this time didn’t work for me. Also I put my hand up to say that, as an East Yorkshire girl, I was bamboozled by Atkinson’s mangling of East Coast geography [which she admits in ‘Acknowledgements’ at the end] which took me away from the page but won’t matter a jot if you’ve never been to Brid. That said, Atkinson is one of our best living writers and Jackson Brodie is not a typical fictional detective.

Read my reviews of these other novels by Kate Atkinson:-
Life after Life
A God in Ruins

If you like this, try:-
‘Eeny Meeny’ by MJ Arlidge
The Art of the Imperfect’ by Kate Evans
The Vanished Bride’ by Bella Ellis

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BIG SKY by Kate Atkinson #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Hq via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Brush with Death’ by @fkleitch #crime #cosycrime

A Brush with Death by Fiona Leitch is the second Nosey Parker cosy mystery and the first I’ve read. Jodie Parker, ex-Metropolitan police officer, and newly single mum has returned home to Cornwall. It’s the week of Penstowan’s inaugural arts festival and Jodie, no longer working for the police, is doing the catering. The festival’s main attraction is painter Duncan Stovall, famous for his Penstowan series of sea paintings. Fiona Leitch
This is a story with instant fizz. Written in the first person, Jodie’s, I loved the sly sometimes saucy asides that pull you straight into the jokes, the personalities and the action. If it were an item of food on a menu catered by Jodie, this book would be a mash-up of a Cornish saffron bun slathered with butter and clotted cream, a mug of steaming tea and a glass of scrumpy. Cornwall is a part of the book’s DNA, not just the dialect of the Penstowan residents or the food but the wonderful descriptions of coastal scenery that make you want to get into the car and head south on the M5.
When a visiting author is found dead at the bottom of the cliffs Jodie can’t resist sticking her nose in and asking questions, much to the annoyance of DCI Nathan Withers and the irritation of Jodie’s daughter Daisy and mum Shirley.
This is a silky read, one of the best of its genre I’ve read. A brilliant community of family, friends and townspeople, a beautiful seaside setting, with a witty detective, plotted on two levels. The foundation is Jodie’s life settling into the town of her childhood, a triangular-shaped romantic entanglement, and her burgeoning new catering business. Overlaying this is the case in which she becomes entangled; the art world, not just the creation of art but the finance, promotion, sales and investment.
I particularly enjoyed the joshing with childhood friends Debbie and Tony, including lots of cultural references from the Eighties that are lightly handled without huge signposts saying ‘laugh here’.
Read it and chuckle.

If you like this, try:-
Magpie Murders’ by Anthony Horowitz [#1SusanRyeland]
A Deadly Discovery’ by JC Kenney [#4 AllieCobb]
Jellyfish’ by Lev D Lewis

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A BRUSH WITH DEATH by @fkleitch #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5lq via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Deadly Discovery’ by @JCKenney1 #cosycrime #crime

Needing a change one day, as I sometimes crave a calming walk in the green countryside, I picked up cosy mystery A Deadly Discovery by JC Penney. Knowing the book was fourth in a series, I didn’t know what to expect. JC Kenney
Literary agent Allie Cobb lives in Rushing Creek, Indiana where her life revolves around her clients, their manuscripts, taking her cat Ursi for a walk, family and friends. Having previously investigated local murders, and being injured in the process, before this book starts Allie had promised her nearest and dearest that she would drop her private investigating. But when a body turns up in the local woods, everyone wonders if it could be a girl who disappeared twenty ago. As Allie asks questions around town, tensions with the police department arise with suspicions of clues missed at the time of the original disappearance.
This is a different style of whodunnit in that the story is firmly anchored and clues processed in the head of detective Allie. This is a tell-don’t-show style that sinks us into Allie’s daily life and concerns, the reader must unravel the clues from the seemingly ordinary. Of course this is a mystery story so clues, and red herrings, can be anywhere.
Diving into a series mid-way has its benefits and issues. I’m sure I missed lots of references to characters and past stories that would help my reading of Allie’s detecting and understanding of Rushing Creek. From page one a lot of names and relationships are introduced, featured in the previous novels, that I struggled to remember. A character cast at the beginning would help.
Kenney has created a believable small-town world at Rushing Creek where lives, secrets, resentments and loves have been entwined since birth. It reminded me of Charlotte Hinger’s Lottie Albright genealogical mystery series, set in another American small town. When everyone knows everyone else, secrets are not simply embarrassing or shameful. They can be deadly.
An easy, gentle read without a confusing tangle of multiple suspects. I guessed the murderer well before Allie’s big reveal scene, which owed much to the trend of Poirot. I finished it feeling curiously unattached from the people involved, perhaps because Allie dominates the story so thoroughly.

If you like this, try:-
Deadly Descent’ by Charlotte Hinger
‘Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death’ by MC Beaton
Murder at Catmmando Mountain’ by Anna Celeste Burke

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A DEADLY DISCOVERY by @JCKenney1 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5lg via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Moonflower Murders’ by @AnthonyHorowitz #crime

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a sandwiching together of two mysteries – one murder, one disappearance – that take place eight years apart in the same place. Second in Horowitz’s crime series featuring literary agent Susan Ryeland and Atticus Pünd, the fictional hero of her client Alan Conway’s 1950s detective books – are you keeping up? – this is at the same time a page-turning read and a mystifying Rubik’s Cube challenge. Definitely a book that will reward re-reading. Anthony Horowitz

Susan’s, now deceased, author Conway loved word play and riddled his short novels with in-jokes, complicated clues and witticisms. Many of these only make sense at the very end of Horowitz’s book. Susan, now living in Crete with boyfriend Andreas, running the just-surviving Hotel Polydorus, is asked by the owners of Branlow Hall hotel in Suffolk to investigate the disappearance of their daughter Cecily. Eight years earlier, one of the hotel’s staff was convicted of murdering a guest, Frank Parris. Shortly after the trial, Conway visited the hotel after which he wrote, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case. The book was edited by Susan who knew nothing about the links to the real-life crime.

Cecily, who manages Branlow Hall with her sister, reads Conway’s novel and is certain the wrong man was convicted of the crime. And then she disappears. How did Conway use the real crime in his fictional Atticus Pünd mystery to reveal the true murderer? What did Cecily see in the book that convinced her of the convict’s innocence? How can Susan unravel the clues and fit together two completely separate stories? And what has happened to Cecily?

The story is littered with clues, everyone has something to hide and it seems everyone is lying. Alongside the detecting we have the continuing story of Susan’s life – did she do the right thing in moving from London to Crete, should she marry Andreas or leave him, can she really be happy running a hotel and not editing books? And like the first in the series, Magpie Murders, there is also a book-within-a-book; we also get to read Atticus Pünd Takes the Case.

Layer upon layer, at times there are so many twists and turns it seems tortuous. Yes, there are coincidences and convenient secrets but if you enjoy Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot you will enjoy spotting the Christie links. If you go-with-the-flow and don’t get caught up on keeping track of the details, this is a fun read.

Here’s my review of Magpie Murders, first in the Susan Ryeland series.

If you like this, try:-
A Death in the Dales’ by Frances Brody
The Vanished Bride’ by Bella Ellis
Lord John and the Private Matter’ by Diana Gabaldon

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MOONFLOWER MURDERS by @AnthonyHorowitz #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5j9 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Heresy’ by SJ Parris @thestephmerritt #historical #crime

Including touches such as secret messages written in orange juice, ciphers and hidden codes, Heresy is the introduction to the Giordano Bruno series of historical mysteries by SJ Parris. Set in 1583, this is the English Reformation of Queen Elizabeth I and her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, as they steer the country from catholicism to protestantism. Meanwhile, catholics continue to worship in secret. SJ Parris

Former Italian monk turned heretic and philosopher Bruno rides out of London on a horse borrowed from the French ambassador, to meet with a royal party bound for Oxford. Accompanied by his friend, courtier poet and secret spy, Sir Philip Sidney, Bruno has two secret missions. The first, along with Sidney, is to expose a catholic conspiracy in the university city. The second is to find a heretical text, stolen long ago but rumoured to be in England, which states that the earth revolves around the sun. This second mission is the one, I suspect, that will continue beyond this book and through the whole series.

When the murders begin, Bruno’s position as an outsider at Lincoln College is both an advantage and disadvantage. His lack of foreknowledge gives him a clear vision of factual events and the awkward questions to ask, but his ignorance of the incestuous and competitive city’s petty squabbles, hidden feuds and flirtations puts him in the path of danger. He stumbles from incident to incident, working out who to believe and who to trust. Regarded as a foreigner and therefore a suspect by everyone else, Bruno’s difficulties reflect the turmoil of the times. The murders are brutal but so are the legal punishments for crimes.

A dense plot with an infinity of tentacles of historical fact and religious conflict that, at times, I found it hard to keep up. In the style of truly satisfying detective stories, when the villain was unveiled I thought ‘of course’ and was annoyed with myself for not guessing correctly.

Much-compared to CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series – which are set in the times of Elizabeth’s father King Henry VIII and his master fixer Thomas Cromwell – I found this book slower-moving and different in focus, but nevertheless enjoyable.

I do love finding a good series. Moving on to book two, Prophecy.

If you like this, try:-
Dissolution’ by CJ Sansom
The Ashes of London’ by Andrew Taylor
The Last Hours’ by Minette Walters

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HERESY by SJ Parris @thestephmerritt #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5dX via @SandraDanby