Tag Archives: crime fiction

#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

#BookReview ‘Magpie Murders’ by @AnthonyHorowitz #crime

In the tradition of the theatrical play-within-a-play, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a detective-mystery-within-a-detective-mystery. First in the Susan Ryeland series, more of her later, Horowitz has written a page-turner laced intricately with clues, delivered by a fictional detective in the Poirot tradition. Anthony Horowitz

Susan Ryeland is head of fiction at Cloverleaf Books whose star writer is Alan Conway, author of the hugely successful Atticus Pünd crime series. Reading the manuscript of his latest submission, Magpie Murders, Susan is surprised to find the last chapters are missing. The murderer remains unnamed. Worse, Alan Conway has committed suicide. If Ryeland and her boss Charles Clover don’t find the missing chapters they can’t publish the book. And with no future books to come from Conway, the company may go bust.

The first half of the book is dedicated to Conway’s story of his fictional private detective, Pünd, who investigates one accidental death and one murder which take place in the same West Country village within days of each other. The victims knew each other. There must be a connection. In classic Agatha Christie style, the possibilities, lies and secrets are discovered by Pünd but he keeps his conclusions to himself.

The second half of the book tells how Ryeland first sets out to find the missing part of the manuscript. But increasingly puzzled by inconsistencies and lies in those surrounding Conway, she begins to suspect his death was not suicide. And that the answer lies in the manuscript of Magpie Murders. Did Conway fear for his life, and did he leave clues behind for his killer to be brought to justice.

This is such a clever beginning to what is a new detective series from Horowitz, who has written extensively for television including Midsomer Murders and Poirot. All the tropes of the classic detective novel are here – family arguments, a crook going straight, injustice, jealousy and rivalry, mixed up with the tensions of a local community where everyone knows everyone else’s secrets… or do they? Why is the vicar so hesitant when answering Pünd’s questions? Why did a son tell his mother he wished she were dead? Who stole a dangerous drug from the GP’s surgery and what did they do with it?

I’ve read some good books recently but none that kept me reading into the dark of the night until my eyes drooped. Oh, and I guessed wrong the wrong murderer.

Good fun.

If you like this, try:-
A Death in the Dales’ by Frances Brody
The Art of the Imperfect’ by Kate Evans
The Guest List’ by Lucy Foley

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

#BookReview ‘The Fine Art of Invisible Detection’ by Robert Goddard

I always look forward to a new Robert Goddard book but wasn’t sure what to expect from his latest, The Fine Art of Invisible Detection. Partly, I think, because the blurb seemed more a detective novel than a thriller. Actually, this is both. Goddard has creative a heart-warming, realistic new hero, Umiko Wada, known simply as Wada. I raced through this book, full of Goddard’s clever twisty plotting, emotional dilemmas, should-I-shouldn’t-I moments. Robert Goddard

Wada is a 47-year-old secretary at a detective agency in Tokyo, making tea, writing reports for her technology-incompetent boss Kodaka. Widowed after her husband was killed in the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, Wada is quiet, efficient and invisible. But burning deep is a sense of righteousness. So when her boss asks for her help with a new case, she agrees to go to London to pose as the client who wants to find out if her father really committed suicide almost three decades earlier, or if he was murdered. From this point on, Wada’s life becomes unpredictable and her talent for being invisible becomes a lifesaver. Her boss dies in a car accident. The man she is due to meet in London has gone missing. Always logical, she follows the one clue she has.

Nick Miller is also due to meet the same man in London. Nick, a 41-year-old Londoner, is hoping to learn more about the father he has never met. Nick and Wada’s paths keep missing each other as they separately follow the trail of mystifying clues about the past. The action moves from Tokyo to London, Rekyjavik and the wilds of Iceland to Cornwall. There is a high-technology fraud, plus hints of terrorism and Japanese gang warfare, but this is not a violent read.

Wada is at the heart of this novel. Her logic and calm reasoning drive the narrative forward in that just-one-more-chapter way that makes this book a quick and fulfilling read. She is ordinary but extraordinary. I hope she returns in another novel.

Read my reviews of Goddard’s other books:-
Panic Room
The Ways of the World #1 The Wide World Trilogy
The Corners of the Globe #2 The Wide World Trilogy
The Ends of the Earth #3 The Wide World Trilogy

If you like this, try:-
Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore
The Accident’ by Chris Pavone
The Second Midnight’ by Andrew Taylor

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THE FINE ART OF INVISIBLE DETECTION by Robert Goddard #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5as via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘The Killings at Kingfisher Hill’ by @sophiehannahCB1 #crime

Red herrings, twists and turns, lots of lies, confusing motivations and a long list of characters make The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by crime writer Sophie Hannah the type of book you need to read when fully alert. Fourth in Hannah’s series of continuation Hercule Poirot mysteries, I finished it with mixed feelings. Sophie Hannah

Direct comparisons of Hannah and Christie seem unfair as these are continuation novels. Christie was a highly accomplished author who balanced likeable characters with dense but ultimately solveable crimes, while at the same time making the novels appealingly comfortable to read. If The Killings at Kingfisher Hill were a standalone novel featuring an unknown detective, it would be free of these comparisons. I enjoyed The Mystery of Three Quarters, third of Hannah’s Poirot novels, and will continue to read this series. It has also given me renewed impetus to re-read the Christie originals.

The complications start at the beginning. Poirot and Inspector Edward Catchpool are about to board a char-a-banc for Surrey and the exclusive Kingfisher Hill development, when they encounter not one but two women passengers behave strangely. One fears she is about to be murdered on the bus if she sits in a specific seat. The second woman confesses she has killed someone. Christie’s novels always have options – for victim, and murderer – but the options here did seem rather full-on with numerous characters introduced or mentioned in quick succession with none fully-formed in my mind. At one point I felt as Inspector Catchpool does, ‘My mind blurred, then went blank.’ So many possibilities in quick succession made me long for Christie’s more leisurely pace. True to character, Poirot is totally in charge of his investigation. He tells Catchpool, ‘Once one has a point of focus, all of the other details start to arrange themselves around it.’

Throughout I felt two steps away from the action because the murder has happened before the book begins. We are told the story of Poirot’s investigation by Catchpool and hear much of the necessary information as told to Poirot by third parties. Hearsay. I longed to be in the moment as it actually happened, or at the very least immediately afterwards – I think here of Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun and Death on the Nile.

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill wasn’t quite what I expected.

Here’s my review of The Mystery of Three Quarters.

If you like this, try:-
No Other Darkness’ by Sarah Hilary
Cover Her Face’ by PD James
The Secrets of Gaslight Lane’ by MRC Kasasian

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THE KILLINGS AT KINGFISHER HILL by @sophiehannahCB1 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-58W via @Sandra Danby

#BookReview ‘Death and the Brewery Queen’ by @FrancesBrody #crime

Death and the Brewery Queen, twelfth in the Kate Shackleton 1930s detective series by Frances Brody, is a story of two halves and two murders. As always, sensible Kate is on hand to bring calm and control to a messy situation. Frances BrodyKate and her sidekick Jim Sykes are employed by a brewery owner to sort out some business irregularities at Barleycorn Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire. Is it a matter of employee pilfering, aggressive competitors, inefficiency or fraud? This is a low-key beginning, a gentle start which allows Brody to establish a wide cast of characters. The portrayal of the brewery and the town is the foundation for the series of linked crimes that follow. Threaded throughout the book is the story of Barleycorn’s wages clerk, Ruth Parnaby, and her quest to be crowned Northern Breweries’ beauty queen. The story is told in multiple viewpoints – Kate’s voice is first person, but in the voices of Mr Sykes, Harriet and Ruth we gather information that Kate doesn’t know. It does seem rather a long wait for the first death, after which the story speeds up and the false clues and connections begin to make sense.
Kate is a memorable, admirable heroine. She is firm and managerial when she needs to be, determined and unafraid of confronting male officialdom but also well-connected which helps break down barriers and find information possibly quite difficult to confirm quickly at that time. And she’s not afraid to take risks. She also proves empathetic to the struggles of the grindingly poor people involved in the outer circles of the story. Kate, a widow, has her own close family – niece Harriet, employee Mr Sykes, housekeeper Mrs Sugden, and of course her bloodhound Sergeant Dog – who each bring different but essential skills when on the hunt for a murderer.
This is a stop-start read, in contrast to the previous Kate Shackleton books I’ve read, but enjoyable nonetheless. Brody excels at drawing her 1920s and 1930s settings, so realistic and believable. A special mention for the scenes in Scarborough’s Grand Hotel, which I visited as an awestruck child.

Read my reviews of these other Kate Shackleton novels:-

If you like this, try:-
Murder at Catmmando Mountain’ by Anna Celeste Burke
The Art of the Imperfect’ by Kate Evans
Due Diligence’ by DJ Harrison

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DEATH AND THE BREWERY QUEEN by @FrancesBrody #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-58h via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Diabolical Bones’ by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries

If you’ve never read a novel by one of the Brontë sisters, it doesn’t matter. There is plenty to enjoy about the Brontë Mysteries by Bella Ellis without figuring out the innumerable references to Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The Diabolical Bones is second in the crime series after the impressive first, The Vanished Bride. This one is better, and darker.Bella Ellis

When bones are found interred in the walls of a local house on the moor, the three detecting sisters and reluctant brother Branwell set out to confirm the child’s identity so it can be respectfully buried. There are few clues; the location of the find, the father and son who live in the house, the age of the child, and a medallion found with the bones. Top Withens, the remote house concerned, is said to be Emily’s inspiration for the house of the Earnshaw family, Wuthering Heights.

Ellis has constructed a convincing world for the sisters; the parsonage, their blind father, housekeeper Tabby, the villagers in Haworth and wider circle of acquaintances. The charm of this portrayal of the Brontës is the strength of the series. Branwell’s presence is key as in 1852, lone women could not venture out as the sisters do here without the company of a man. The portrayal of the sisters is fascinating, the dynamic between the three, the shared history and understanding of each other, the irritations and the love, their intellectual capabilities, their doubts and bravery. Each has differing strengths which lend weight to the investigations. Emily is impulsive and inspired, Anne is calm and logical, Charlotte is clever but insecure. As Anne says, ‘Detecting does seem to involve a great deal of time looking for something that might not exist.’

It is winter and freezing cold and as the sisters wrap themselves in cloaks to adventure outdoors, the atmosphere is dark and Gothic. Social issues are addressed; the exploitation of orphan children, the plight of urban and rural poor, the prejudice against Irish immigrants, the privilege of wealth.

Of course, the reward when reading crime novels is to spot the murderer early in the tale. I admit to thinking ‘surely it’s not…’ This plot is well constructed; read it and see if you spot any early clues. The story skips along at a fair pace and when I put the book down, I was always longing to read just another chapter.

The series is fast becoming a favourite. Brilliant escapism.

Here’s my review of The Vanished Bride, first in the Brontë mysteries series.

If you like this, try:-
‘A Death in the Dales’ by Frances Brody
The Mystery of Three Quarters’ by Sophie Hannah
Yuki Chan in Bronte Country’ by Mick Jackson

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THE DIABOLICAL BONES by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4YZ via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Guest List’ by @lucyfoleytweets #crime #thriller

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is a cracking crime mystery set on an isolated Irish island. The guests are there for the wedding of the year – magazine entrepreneur Jules Keegan is marrying reality TV star Will Slater. What follows is a closed room mystery recognisable from Agatha Christie novels. From the beginning you wonder, who in this group of thirty-somethings is going to be killed? Who is the killer and why? Lucy Foley

Foley expertly plays with our expectations, manipulating our first impressions of the characters as they are introduced. Old friends. Family. School days rituals. Hidden jealousies. Secret wrongs. The atmosphere on the exposed windswept island with its treacherous bogs, cliffs, caves and haunting churchyard is cranked up to full notch. We experience the weekend wedding almost hour by hour as each key character tells their own story, with the narrative chopping forwards to the present during the ceremony and reception. This switching of viewpoint and timeframe can be very sudden but it does ramp up the tension. The murder takes place quite late in the timeline making this more a psychological thriller, building up to the killing you know will happen.

The basic plot questions are – how well does Jules know her husband-to-be? What exactly happened on the stag weekend? What were the rituals at the public school attended by the groom and ushers? And why is Olivia, Jules’s sister and bridesmaid, clearly not coping with life? The options for victim and murderer are extended beyond the bridal group with Charlie, Jules’ best friend, and his wife Hannah; and bridal organiser and host Aoife and chef husband Freddie. Foley presents lots of hints about the past and secret resentments, I guessed a couple quite early on but this didn’t stop me turning the pages.

Read this over a weekend when you need an easy-to-read distraction.

Read my review of Lucy Foley’s The Invitation.

If you like this, try:-
The Animals at Lockwood Manor’ by Jane Healey
Chosen Child’ by Linda Huber
Summer House with Swimming Pool’ by Herman Koch

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GUEST LIST by @lucyfoleytweets #crime #thriller #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4M2 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Heartstone’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

The Matthew Shardlake series by CJ Sansom continues to get better. Heartstone, the penultimate book of the six, involves a puzzle which kept me guessing until the reveal. Despite Shardlake vowing to take a back seat from Royal intrigues, the Tudor lawyer/detective is pulled into a case at the behest of Queen Catherine Parr. This is a great series to lose yourself in. CJ Sansom

A tutor, son of one of the Queen’s staff, has alleged an injustice done against a former pupil, Hugh Curteys, by the Hobbey family who adopted Hugh and his sister Emma after the death of their parents. This complaint takes Shardlake before the Court of Wards, not Shardlake’s natural territory, where the lives and rights of orphaned minors are protected. In truth, it is rife with fraud and abuse and the case brings Shardlake face-to-face with old and new enemies.

A journey into Hampshire at the time King Henry VIII is mobilising his army and navy south to oppose the expected invasion by the French, is ill-advised. Normal life is suspended as Henry distributes new coinage, devalued to pay for his war, and men are conscripted in the fields and the streets. But Shardlake, as ever driven by the desire to correct injustice, becomes the scourge of the Hobbey family at Hoyland Priory, north of Portsmouth. Despite the misgivings of his clerk, Jack Barack, Shardlake also takes the opportunity to research another mystery; Ellen Fettiplace, a patient at Bedlam who featured in earlier novels, was born in a Sussex village and Shardlake takes the opportunity to research the events which led to her madness and imprisonment.

This is a clever series with legal cases providing the puzzles and Tudor politics – and this time, war – providing the scheming, manipulative characters. With the story climaxing on board the Mary Rose as it sets sail against the French, we all know the history but cannot know Shardlake’s part in it. This is a long book, encompassing the Curteys and Fettiplace mysteries and the preparations for war as Shardlake and Barak travel south with a company of archers destined to fight on one of the great warships. Stuffed with history and fascinating detail.

Here are my reviews of the first four books in the series:-
Dark Fire

If you like this, try:-
Orphans of the Carnival’ by Carol Birch
The Surfacing’ by Cormac James
Dark Aemilia’ by Sally O’Reilly

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#BookReview HEARTSTONE by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4CM via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Snapshot of Murder’ by @FrancesBrody #crime

In 1928, a Photography Society outing to Haworth to see the opening of the new Bronte Parsonage Museum has an unexpected outcome. One of the group does not go home alive. A Snapshot of Murder by Frances Brody is tenth in the Kate Shackleton 1920s detective series, a satisfying story about jealousy, long lost love and betrayal. Frances BrodyKate’s friend Carine Murchison runs a photographic studio with her boorish husband Tobias. Derek, friend of Kate’s niece Harriet, has a theory that Tobias wants his wife dead so he can inherit the studio. But the story is so much more complicated. Throw in a long lost lover returned, the wonderfully scratchy mother and daughter landladies of Ponden Hall near Haworth where the Photography Society stays, the flamboyant Rita who dresses in Indian silks and works in a pharmacy, and a London policeman and former love of Kate who arrives to investigate the murder, and there are plenty of options for arguments, jealousy, upsets and both rejected and reciprocated love. The echoes of the Brontes are welcome too, but Brody never allows this to dominate her story.
This is a character-led crime drama. Kate’s world is created with skill by Brody, I particularly enjoyed Mrs Sugden, Mr Sykes and the addition of Sergeant Dog who plays a key role. Kate investigates with a combination of skill learned from watching her policeman father and a sense of human nature of which Miss Marple would be proud.
The shadow of the Great War hangs over the story with everyone touched in some way by the conflict. Brody twists and turns our emotions, and her reveal of the facts, so our sympathy and dislike of characters is always in flow and the true stories of victim and perpetrator are never simple.

Read my reviews of these other Kate Shackleton novels:-

If you like this, try:-
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly
Blood-Tied’ by Wendy Percival

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A SNAPSHOT OF MURDER by @FrancesBrody #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4u9 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Revelation’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

I’m sorry if I’m beginning to sound like a cracked record, but I continue to love the Matthew Shardlake Tudor detective series by CJ Sansom. Fourth in the series, Revelation, is a roller-coaster ride of killings motivated by the Book of Revelation’s fire and damnation. Shardlake and his assistant Barak race around London struggling to second-guess the murderer’s motivations and identify his next likely target. CJ Sansom

Sansom achieves a difficult feat for a historical novelist, he balances world-building – the Tudor toxic politics and Tudor gossip-mongering – will Lady Catherine Parr say yes to the King’s proposal – with Shardlake’s legal world and the fascinating detail and colour which brings London in Spring 1543 to life. Once again we see Shardlake’s vulnerability – when an old friend is murdered in mystifying and frightening circumstances – and his moral strength as he faces the dangers of investigation. These dangers do not threaten only his life but of those around him; they also threaten his position and future, as he is drawn unwillingly again into the circle of the Tudor court where queens, and courtiers, often last only a short time. These are the only historical novels I have read which are truly page-turners in its meaning of ‘one more chapter before I turn out the light’.

Set at a time of radical religious reform, when saying the wrong thing may find you shamed, hanged or burned, Matthew is working on the case of a teenage boy sent to Bedlam hospital. Is he mad, or possessed by the devil? Is he safer in Bedlam or with his parents where he might escape and be burned as a heretic. When Matthew’s friend is found dead in bizarre circumstances he is charged with solving the crime by Archbishop Cranmer. Guy of Malton, former apothecary monk from Dissolution, the first book in the series, is now a doctor and has a theory that excludes God and religion. Could a serial killer be at loose?

If you want to lose yourself in book, to travel to another world and time, then try this series. I am already anticipating the loss when I have read the last book. But the Shardlake books have so much detail and depth with recurring characters who become familiar,  I know I will be re-reading them soon.

Read my reviews of the first three books in the series DissolutionDark Fire and Sovereign.

If you like this, try:-
Orphans of the Carnival’ by Carol Birch
The Lady of the Rivers’ by Philippa Gregory
The Cursed Wife’ by Pamela Hartshorne

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#BookReview REVELATION by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4fU via @SandraDanby