Bad for Good by Graham Bartlett @gbpoliceadvisor @allisonandbusby @RichardsonHelen

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 June 2022 from Allison and Busby
PP: 320
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0749028428

My thanks to Helen Richardson and Allison and Busby for an advance copy for review

How far would you go?

The murder of a promising footballer, son of Brighton’s highest-ranking police officer, means Detective Superintendent Jo Howe has a complicated and sensitive case on her hands. The situation becomes yet more desperate following devastating blackmail threats.

Howe can trust no one as she tracks the brutal killer in a city balanced on a knife edge of vigilante action and a police force riven with corruption.

There’s something pretty damned chilling about a former Chief Superintendent writing about systemic corruption in the force he used to work for. Graham Bartlett now makes his living advising some high ranking authors about police procedure and his testimonials are legend. He’s also written two non-fiction books, so his credentials are excellent.

So a debut novel from this expert was always going to be a ‘must-read’ and it does not disappoint. It is shot through with realism.  Bartlett shows us a Brighton rife with drugs, violence and corruption. Head of Major Crimes in Sussex Police, Detective Superintendent Joanne Howe is struggling to keep her head above water. Police numbers are being cut to the bone, drugs are flooding the city and crime, especially violent crime, is on the up. She’s fighting a losing battle against budget cuts and of course she has to withstand a daily round of misogyny.

Then the unthinkable happens. Harry Cooke, a rising star in the footballing world who has just been offered his first professional contract, is stabbed to death. Harry is the son of Chief Superintendent Phil Cooke whose wife has terminal cancer. The obligation to find Harry’s killer and wrap this case up tightly is keenly felt but there’s more to this case than meets the eye.

Meanwhile, in the background, a new business is doing a roaring trade. This business is stepping in where the police have failed and they are proving to be remarkably effective. The police keep turning up in response to reports of violent crimes only to find that the problems has..well…gone away.

A group of vigilantes is proving remarkably effective at dealing with problems, though their services come at a price. This well-organised group is slowly penetrating all levels of the police force and their agenda is focussed and utterly ruthless.

Graham Bartlett portrays a Brighton riven with crime and a Police Force on its knees and highly susceptible to corrupt influences. The ability of the vigilantes to manipulate and inveigle their way into the highest echelons of the Police service is remarkable.

Detective Inspector Bob Heaton is investigating Harry Cooke’s murder when he is attacked by a suspect. Utilising his baton, he hits the suspect hard and causes his death.  Meanwhile Howe is realising that the vigilante group is at work and sets up a ‘sting’ operation to catch them at work. This too goes very wrong and Howe finds herself suffering the ire of her Chief Constable.

When Phil Cooke stands for election to the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, people are surprised but even more so when he starts to put controversial plans into action.

Bartlett does a good job of weaving a number of threads together to show us a complex but related tapestry of wrongdoing.  There are multiple perspectives in a full cast of characters and the reader will find a need to concentrate on the many and diverse villains running through this book.

Graham Bartlett’s novel is violent, action-packed and pacy. It has an engaging and thought-provoking premise and is not short of evil characters to dislike. He also does a good job of showing us good people in impossible situations and the hard choices they are forced to make.

He also does a great job of showing the pressures that the police are under and makes us think about its core purposes as well as how easy it is to put pressure on a force already on its knees. As the book progresses the action really heats up and the denouement, which is perhaps a little too high-noon for me, offers a suitably grand and explosive ending. Jo Howe is a great character; down to earth, methodical and determined. I’d love to see more of her in future books.

Verdict: An excellent, compelling debut from an author I’d read again.

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Graham Bartlett was a police officer for thirty years and is now a bestselling writer. He rose to become chief superintendent of the Brighton and Hove force as well as its police commander. He entered the Sunday Times Top Ten with his first non-fiction book, Death Comes Knocking – Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton in 2016. He followed that up in 2020 with another non-fiction book, Babes in the Wood.  Both these books he co-wrote with international best seller, Peter James.  As well as writing, Bartlett is a police procedural and crime advisor helping scores of authors and TV writers (including Peter James, Mark Billingham, Elly Griffiths, Anthony Horowitz, Ruth Ware, Claire McGowan and Dorothy Koomson) achieve authenticity in their drama.

The Trenches by Parker Bilal (Crane and Drake #3) @girlofbooks @canongatebooks @Parker_Bilal @Normantweets

Source: Review copy
Publication: 7 July 2022 from Canongate Books
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1838855123

My thanks to Canongate Books for an early copy for review

In London, private investigator Dr Rayhana Crane is contacted by a woman who has received an unexpected letter from her estranged son Jason, not seen since he left to become a fighter for Islamic State. When his steps are traced back to the old stomping ground of her partner, Cal Drake, the former policeman goes undercover to infiltrate the sinister network which took Jason abroad.

Meanwhile, Crane pursues a woman whose seemingly unconnected disappearance off the English coast is soon found to reveal a deadlier connection. As the two investigators delve deeper, they find themselves mired in a violent world where terror and organised crime intersect.

To my discredit, I have not read a Parker Bilal book before; something I plan to remedy. Our protagonists are former Detective Sergeant Calil Drake, latterly of the Violent Crimes Unit and forensic psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane. This pair now works together as a team undertaking private investigations.

The Trenches opens with a woman being rescued by a fishing boat off the coast of Grimsby, resulting in the loss of a life.  That woman disappears and we are left to wonder what her connection might be to Jason, the missing son of a woman who is trying to trace him as he has not contacted her since he left to fight for Islamic State. Dr Rayhana Crane knows that Cal Drake has both the experience and the skills to go underground and infiltrate the networks that would have most likely helped to get Jason abroad to train.

They’re an interesting couple, Crane and Drake. Rayahnna Crane is Iranian, and is a motor cycle riding psychologist. She gives little away. Her romantic dalliances are always beautiful but fleeting. Cal Drake is ex-army as well as ex-police and in this book he needs all his experience to fathom what’s going on in the multi-cultural swirls of London’s criminal undercurrents. Drake is also mourning the loss of Zelda after her brutal murder and is tracking the man he believes responsible – a man he once trusted with his life.

The police are investigating the brutal murder of journalist Cathy Perkins, though no-one seems to know exactly what story she was working on. Drake’s former partner, DS Kelly Marsh is on point, working with DS Mark Chiang from Parliamentary and Diplomatic protection.  Chiang’s current theory is that it was a case of mistaken identity and that it was her partner, rising politician MP Zoe Helms, who was the real target, though Marsh remains unconvinced.

Parker Bilal’s books are firmly rooted in reality. The sense of not just a diverse police force but also a criminal strata based on ethnicity rings true. I really found the warring gangs truthful and the more chilling because of that.

In fact, I think chilling is the word I’d use for the overarching feeling this book gave me. There are all sorts of crime fiction and I like a wide variety in my reading, but this book felt closer to real life than anything I have read for a while and it is that authenticity, combined with a real understanding of how power and influence are inextricably linked to money laundering, drug smuggling and terrorism that really hits home in a deeply uncomfortable way.

This is the depiction of a London which is deeply riven by class and ethnicity in so many ways, yet also one where the interdependence of politics, money and organised crime explain so much about why nothing ever changes for the better, no matter who is in power.

Verdict: A chilling, uncomfortable book that shows how money and power make for corrupt influence and decision making. I enjoyed the authentic portrayal of multi-cultural London and the fascinating pairing of Drake and Crane makes for a great team of opposites. This is a powerful and impactful portrayal of how crime works at different levels. I’m certainly going back to read the first two in this series.

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Jamal Mahjoub is a British-Sudanese writer. Born in London, he was raised in Khartoum where his family remained until 1990. He has lived in a number of places, including the UK, Denmark, Spain and, currently, the Netherlands. His novels include Travelling with Djinns and The Drift Latitudes. Under the pseudonym Parker Bilal he is the author of the Inspector Makana crime series and, most recently, the Crane and Drake series. His latest non-fiction book, A Line in the River, was longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize.

Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks #Skelfs4

Source: Review copy
Publication : 29 September 2022 from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1914585296

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

The Skelf women live in the face of death every day, running a funeral directors and private investigators firm in Edinburgh, and their own grief intertwines with that of their clients as they reel from shocking past events.

A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave…pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly….

Oh my! Just when you thought you couldn’t love the Skelfs more, Doug Johnstone finds a way to turn up the heat.  I love this series and I adore these three generations of women who are both funeral directors and part time Private Investigators.

Things have moved on a little since we last met the Skelfs. One of the extended family is no longer with us. Hannah and Indy have cemented their relationship. Dorothy and Thomas continue to make each other happy and Jenny…well Jenny is a mess of unquantifiable proportions.

I’ve said before that these women are so beautifully and richly drawn that they feel real to me. They could be my friends and neighbours. These are women I care about and I understand them, have felt the way they feel.  Their concerns are so universal and utterly believable we see ourselves in them.

Edinburgh too continues to be a terrific character and roots this story in superbly drawn time and place.

Black Hearts is multi-layered book with a number of cases running through the book. Dorothy is investigating a missing man; Hannah seems to have acquired a stalker and an elderly man believes his wife is hurting him. Jenny, meanwhile, is hurting so badly her self-destructive behaviour is worrying everyone; even her therapist.

There’s a very real sense of foreboding runs through this book, stemming from events surrounding Jenny’s husband, Craig. It hangs over you and all the time I was reading I could feel the tension ramping up. It was as if there was a steel band around my chest, constricting every time I turned a page, making it harder to breathe. This is suspense that is truly palpable.

The cases in themselves are fascinating, especially so for Udo, the elderly man whose daughter, Willow has come to help him. But it is the sense of our place in the cosmos; the idea that there are so many things in the world and beyond that we have, as yet, no understanding of that makes this a special read. Life, love, death, science and belief all come together to create impact and resonance that engages the reader, brings empathy to the fore and really makes you care about the outcome for the characters.

Nothing here is easy; there are no pat answers. Life and death hurt and that pain is here on the page. But there is also love and joy and compassion and understanding.  It’s easy to love these characters because you could be one of them.

Japanese wind phone

Terrific, layered plotting, fabulous characters, some big shocks that really create a sense of drama and an awesome sense of place all combine with great mysteries to bring an overwhelming sense that science and physics are helping us to understand how much we don’t yet know about the world we live in.

Verdict: I am running out of superlatives for this cracking, unmissable series. I adore the Skelfs, and am an unshamed #Skelfaholic (I even have the t-shirt).  Black Hearts is outstanding. I loved it with a passion and Black Hearts is Johnstone’s best yet in this superb series which should be winning awards all over the place.

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Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve previous novels, most recently The Big Chill (2020). Several of his books have been bestsellers and three, A Dark Matter (2020), Breakers (2019) and The Jump (2015), were shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. A Dark Matter, the first in Doug’s first-ever series, was also shortlisted for the Capital Crime/Amazon Publishing Readers Awards. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions over the last decade – including at a funeral parlour ahead of writing A Dark Matter – and has been an arts journalist for over twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three solo EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

The Murder Book (Tom Thorne #18) by Mark Billingham @MarkBillingham @LittleBrownUK @laurasherlock1

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9 June 2022 from Little, Brown
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1408712450

My thanks to Little, Brown for an advance copy for review

Tom Thorne has it all.
In Nicola Tanner and Phil Hendricks, Thorne has good friends by his side. He finally has a love life worth a damn and is happy in the job to which he has devoted his life…

He has everything to lose.
Hunting the woman responsible for a series of grisly murders, Thorne has no way of knowing that he will be plunged into a nightmare from which he may never wake.

And he’ll do anything to keep it.
Finally, Thorne’s past has caught up with him and a ruinous secret is about to be revealed. If he wants to save himself and his friends, he must do the unthinkable.

I loved The Murder Book. Revisiting Tom Thorne, Phil Hendricks and Nicola Tanner is such a treat. And in this, the 18th in the series, Billingham shows us that he can still shock and surprise his readers.

You can read The Murder Book as a stand-alone but I guarantee you’ll want to read the whole series by the time you’re finished and you will get more from it if you have read previous books in the series.

D. I. Tom Thorne is a character you can’t help but like. He’s not great with bureaucracy, has a terrible track record when it comes to his love life, he sometimes finds it hard to reign in his temper, but he has the best of friends and this trio of close knit chums has a secret that binds them together in the most uncomfortable way. It’s a secret that is about to catch up to them – not that they know it yet.

In The Murder Book, Thorne’s worst nightmare, an old adversary has come back into his life – with a vengeance.  Three serial daters have been sadistically murdered and savagely mutilated and with diligent detecting skills, Thorne and the team soon have a suspect in custody. Far too soon for these crimes to be so simple and this is where the fun really starts.

The Murder Book is fast-paced, twisty and full of misdirection.  Just when you think you know where things are heading events take a different turn. Thorne, Tanner and Hendricks have strong reasons for needing this antagonist dealt with but so far they’re letting them run rings round them.

Thorne is worried for those closest to him and Nicola is taking chances that make the reader want to shout ‘beware’ at her. It’s a tense time and Billingham does a magnificent job of creating tension and then letting us laugh to blow off some of the head of steam that is building up.

Verdict: This is a book that really ratchets up the tension. You fear for Thorne and those he is close to. I formed and discarded theories all through the book, but in the end my heart was in my mouth because I could not see any way out of the terrifying situation that Thorne and his friends were facing. It’s an interesting and excruciating form of entertainment and I absolutely loved it. This is top class crime fiction from a master of the art.

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Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Crime Novel of the Year, and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer. Each of the novels featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has been a Sunday Times bestseller. Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat were made into a hit TV series on Sky 1 starring David Morrissey as Thorne, and a series based on the novels In the Dark and Time of Death was broadcast on BBC1. Mark lives in north London with his wife and two children.

The Siege by John Sutherland  @policecommander @orionbooks @orion_crime @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 June 2022 from Orion
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1398707566

My thanks to Orion and Compulsive Readers for an early copy for review.

Nine hostages. Ten hours. One chance to save them all.

Lee James Connor has found his purpose in life: to follow the teachings of far-right extremist leader, Nicholas Farmer. So when his idol is jailed, he comes up with the perfect plan: take a local immigrant support group hostage until Farmer is released.

Grace Wheatley is no stranger to loneliness having weathered the passing of her husband, whilst being left to raise her son alone. The local support group is her only source of comfort. Until the day Lee James Connor walks in and threatens the existence of everything she’s ever known.

Superintendent Alex Lewis may be one of the most experienced hostage negotiators on the force, but there’s no such thing as a perfect record. Still haunted by his last case, can he connect with Connor – and save his nine hostages – before it’s too late?

I am delighted to be starting off the blog tour for a book that grabbed my attention and held it firmly throughout. The Siege is a straightforward story, well told. It is the story of a hostage situation and it focuses in on three characters: the policeman, Superintendent Alex Lewis who is the Chief Negotiator, Grace Wheatley, a woman who is being held hostage and Lee James Connor, the hostage taker.

The first part of John Sutherland’s novel is spent grounding us in the everyday lives of these characters. He shows us that they are individuals with their own stories and preoccupations and this helps to ground the book and the situation it deals with, in reality.

Lee James Connor is a troubled young man. He is typical of the many young people who have been pulled into the terrible online culture of hate and poison. A culture that distorts the truth and pulls the angry, hurt and disaffected into a group, ready to be groomed.

For James Lee Connors it could have easily been the Incel movement, but this young man has been captured by the online radical-right extremists whose violent, homicidal actions are focused on racist ideology.

Connors, could he but see it, has been caught up in digital hate culture and his ideology has been formed through his online interactions. Like so many, his confused and angry frustrations are channelled into hate and aggression and his constant use of skunk only helps to fuel his paranoia.

Grace Wheatley is mum to Isaiah and is herself no stranger to violence. A daughter of the Windrush generation she is a committed church-goer and on this fateful occasion is in church to assist with welcoming a young Syrian refugee family, recently arrived in the country.

Alex Lewis is overworked and exhausted. He’s also suffering from PTSD but in typical male fashion his remedy consists of completely ignoring this and assuming it will go away. A father of two boys, he feels he is failing as a husband and as a father and he is troubled over his last negotiating mission which ended badly, through no fault of his, or anyone’s.

Nicely written with a tight plot and steady pacing, I found it easy to become engrossed in these lives and the storyline. I had no trouble believing the scenario and Sutherland’s own experience as a hostage negotiator shines through with authenticity on every page. He deals so well with the impact of what it means to be taken hostage and on the on the psychological impact on both the hostages and the hostage taker as well as on the police negotiating team and lead negotiator.

Interestingly the whole novel is kept low key but remarkably intense from the dialogue to the action. Everything in the police operation feels thought through and very well planned (reassuringly!). But what no-one can take into account are the unpredictable elements. The impact of the heavy duty cannabis combined with the mental strain on Connors as he negotiates his demands with the police. Then there is the bravery and sheer humanity of Grace, who sees a young man in pain and connects with him in that level.

Sutherland shows us the complexity of a hostage scenario and the weight that rests on the shoulders of the police in such situations. It is tense and atmospheric and the drama feels very real.

Verdict: A riveting story of the power of compassion and human connection that helps the reader to connect with each of the principal characters. The dangers of online radicalism and the manipulation of social media to create division and hate are clearly set out. I really got caught up in this powerful story and found myself willing a successful outcome for all the characters.

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John Sutherland is a father of three who lives with his wife and children in south London. For more than twenty-five years he served as an officer in the Metropolitan Police, rising to the rank of Chief Superintendent before his retirement on medical grounds in 2018. John is a sought-after public speaker and commentator who regularly appears on TV and radio and writes for major newspapers. His first book, BLUE, written and published while he was still serving in the Met, was a Sunday Times bestseller. It tells the remarkable stories of his policing life and describes his long road to recovery following the serious nervous breakdown that ended his operational policing career.

Fish Swimming In Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda Trs by Alison Watts @sashikolady @bitterlemonpub @RandomTTours

There is a Japanese concept called Shibumi. Shibumi is a Zen concept that captures the height of personal excellence and absolute clarity. In other words, it is the ability to achieve the maximum effect with the minimum means. Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is a short, simply written book in which the prose is clear and distinct and in many ways embodies this concept.

There are two people in a room in a Tokyo flat on a hot evening and we hear from each of them. Aki and Hiro have been sharing this flat and tonight is their last night. There are things each needs to say to the other and this is the last opportunity they have to speak their minds and get answers to their questions.

There’s an almost child-like clarity to Riku Onda’s prose and the effect of it is to make us feel quite unsettled.  When we hear Hiro’s thoughts as he replays his conversation with Aki, we are startled to hear that he believes that Aki is a murderer.

Then Aki’s thoughts tell us that although she has told Hiro that she is leaving to go to Vietnam, she has lied because she believes that he has murdered the same man that is at the centre of Hiro’s suspicions about Aki.

So who are Aki and Hiro? And why would either of them want to murder a tour guide who, the police believe, died as a result of a tragic accident.  

Rita Ondu’s cleverly simple structure slowly feeds in small pieces of information, letting the reader form a picture of this relationship and allowing us gradually to see what has bound these two people together. But what we hear is sometimes speculation and it’s not clear that what either Aki or Hiro is saying is always the truth; rather it is their interpretation of events. Who they are to each other lies at the heart of how their memories lead them to some deeply uncomfortable revelations.

Patches of their interchange reminded me strongly of Samuel Becket’s prose. Someone will say something simple, but it is imbued with meaning and overlaid with the commonplace.  The linguistic style strips and strips away any artifice until it is as if these characters are naked and yet everything is concealed.

The claustrophobia of what is not being said piles onto the heat of the warm, still evening and the smells of food and drink that are now going stale in this small room. It is suffocating and there is an undercurrent of unease and an intensity that builds and builds until you are sure that something has to give.

All credit then to Alison Watts’ translation which manages to keep that simplicity and intensity front and centre.

We come to understand that this couple share many things including a childhood that has real trauma attached to it. As Aki and Hiro recount their memories it is hard to know whether either of them is reliable. Through these half formed memories and the replaying of events in the forest where the tour guide died, we find some startling and quite honestly horrifying revelations.

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is more than a psychological thriller. It is an atmospheric, unsettling, deeply suspenseful book that deals with two people’s search for peace by finding the truth and it sometimes makes you forget to breathe. Terrific pacing, real clarity of prose and the drip-feed of revelations come together to build a truly breath-taking read.

I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time to come. Highly recommended.

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Riku Onda, born in 1964, has been writing fiction since 1991 and has published prolifically since. She has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television.Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight follows on from the success of The AosawaMurders and is her second work to be translated into English.

Alison Watts is an Australian-born Japanese to English translator and long-time resident of Japan. She has translated The Aosawa Murders, Aya Goda’s TAO: On the Road and On the Run In Outlaw China and of Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa.

The Botanist by M.W. Craven (Poe and Bradshaw #5)  @MWCravenUK @TheCrimeVault @BethWright26

Source: Purchased audiobook
Narrator: John Banks
Listening time: 11 hours and 18 minutes
ASIN: B09NWD4QRN

I swear I’m one bad mood away from calling it black magic and going home….

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe can count on one hand the number of friends he has. And he’d still have his thumb left. There’s the insanely brilliant, guilelessly innocent civilian analyst Tilly Bradshaw, of course. He’s known his beleaguered boss, Detective Inspector Stephanie Flynn, for years, as he has his nearest neighbour, full-time shepherd/part-time dog sitter Victoria.

And then there’s Estelle Doyle. It’s true the caustic pathologist has never walked down the sunny side of the street, but this time has she gone too far? Shot twice in the head, her father’s murder appears to be an open-and-shut case. Estelle has firearms discharge residue on her hands, and, in a house surrounded by fresh snow, hers are the only footprints going in. Since her arrest she’s only said three words: ‘Tell Washington Poe.’

Meanwhile, a poisoner the press have dubbed the Botanist is sending high-profile celebrities poems and pressed flowers. The killer seems to be able to walk through walls and, despite the advance notice he gives his victims, and regardless of the security measures the police take, he seems to be able to kill with impunity.

For a man who hates locked room mysteries, this is going to be the longest week of Washington Poe’s life..

Thanks to Constable for approving a review copy of The Botanist. In the end, I bought the audiobook, the better to read this book while tackling my TBR list.

I am a huge fan of this series and of M.W. Craven’s writing. You can read The Botanist as a stand-alone novel, but do yourself a favour and start at the beginning, because Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are an awesome team and their journey together is well worth following from the outset.

First, a word about the narration. This is a single person narration from John Banks and it is so good, I forgot I was listening to just one voice. Perfect intonation, nicely modulated tones and good, light use of accents made for an excellent listen. I’d listen to more of his audiobooks on this basis.

So what makes The Botanist so good? It’s a beautifully crafted mystery within a mystery set around Washington Poe, an unorthodox and grumpy detective working for the NCA and his fabulous technically brilliant and on the spectrum team-mate, analyst Tilly Bradshaw. What makes this series stand out is the brilliant, scathing sarcasm of Poe and the contrasting wide eyed unworldly innocence of the brilliant Tilly Bradshaw whose tendency to open her mouth and say, completely unfiltered, exactly what she is thinking makes for some fantastically funny moments. That and Poe’s ability to think the unthinkable makes for a great team.

This time our awesome duo have a devious killer to find and at the same time Poe has to make sure that one of his very few friends is not sent down for the murder of her father. Poe’s attention needs to be in two places at once and he needs his boss DI Stephanie Flynn watching his back as he works both cases.

Someone is selecting some of the UK’s more objectionable characters and poisoning them. How they are doing it is a mystery in itself but because our murderer is choosing the corrupt; the ignorant loud-mouthed incels and the social media influencers without a moral scruple; the public is barely stopping short of applause as he does so.

Each prospective victim is warned by the delivery of a pressed flower and a bad poem, but for all the warnings, and whatever security is put in place, our killer, The Botanist still gets to his victims.

Craven clearly enjoys playing with the convention of the locked room mystery and he does so with intelligent aplomb. This is such a great combination of good writing, wit, clever plotting and current social themes and it works beautifully.

The team’s banter, even in tense situations, is a joy to listen to and Craven’s pacing is excellent. There’s the usual great observational humour around food and in this book, some nice wardrobe choices that all adds to authentic interplay between our team members.

I also enjoy trying to guess what’s going on as the action proceeds. I guessed the password to the safe just before Poe (though admittedly I’d been handed all the clues on a plate) but completely failed to foresee that final awesome chapter.

Verdict: This is a must read series and The Botanist is an excellent addition. I absolutely loved this twisty, thrilling, devious, funny book and its brilliant characters. The Botanist is a book for everyone who enjoys first class crime fiction.

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Multi-award-winning author M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full-time author. The Puppet Show, the first book in his Cumbria-set Washington Poe series, was published by Little, Brown in 2018 and went on to win the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger in 2019. It has now been translated into twenty-five languages. Black Summer, the second in the series, was longlisted for the 2020 Gold Dagger as was book three, The Curator in 2021. The fourth in the series, Dead Ground, was published in 2021, became an instant Sunday Times bestseller and has been longlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the Theakston Old Peculiar Novel of the Year 2022.
Photo c. Gary Barton

           

Do No Harm by Jack Jordan @JackJordanBooks @RandomTTours @simonschusterUK #Audiobookreview

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 May from Simon and Schuster
Narrators: Lucy Paterson, Sarah Feathers, Jane Collingwood
Listening Time: 10hrs 26 minutes
ASIN: B09LK977SV

My thanks to Simon and Schuster for an advance audiobook for review

My child has been taken. And I’ve been given a choice….

Kill a patient on the operating table. Or never see him again.

The man lies on the table in front of me.

As a surgeon, it’s my job to save him.

As a mother, I know I must kill him.

You might think that I’m a monster.

But there really is only one choice.

I must get away with murder.

Or I will never see my son again.

I’ve saved many lives.

Would you trust me with yours?

Do No Harm is a thrill ride from start to finish. Jack Jordan’s characters stand out from the page and their narrative drives the book forward at a relentless pace. Told in three first person voices, this is perfect fare for audiobook listening and our three narrators more than did it justice.

Our key protagonist is a cardiothoracic surgeon who, when we meet her, is due to perform a coronary bypass on prominent politician, Ahmed Shabir.  Anna Jones is at the top of her game in Redwood Hospital and although she is in the midst of a difficult divorce, she is more than able to do her job with skill and precision and her outcomes are always good.

Ann is mother to 7 year old Zack, the light of her life. So when Zack is kidnapped and Anna is told by his kidnappers to do the unthinkable and break her Hippocratic oath, the dilemma she faces is one that causes her major anguish.

Our second narrator is scrub nurse Margot Barnes. Margot is at the bottom end of the hospital food chain. She has some serious issues of her own to deal with, including serious debt and not least of problems is her seriously deranged brother and she survives by scrimping and stealing. When she sees something that no-one else has noticed, she reckons she has an opportunity to put all her money worries aside for good.

Finally, we hear from Detective Inspector Rachel Conaty. She has a trauma in her past that she can’t get over and she carries a massive chip on her shoulder that impacts  on her professional life as she tries to fathom what’s going on with Anna.

Do No Harm is gripping, propulsive and full of intense emotion. You really feel for Anna when she is faced with an impossible dilemma. To rescue her son she must kill her patient. Jack Jordan lays out Anna’s soul-searching anguish so clearly that as a reader you really feel for her. All they along you hope and pray for a different choice, but as you read, the position only becomes more stark and your heart is in your mouth as you wait tor Anna to make her impossible decision.

Interspersing Anna’s chapters we learn more about the personal lives of both Morag and Rachel as we hear directly from them. Neither has had an easy life either and who they are and the decisions they make in this scenario are very much also shaped by their experiences.

Jordan manages to make both Anna and Morag feel like real people and they go through the gamut of emotions which ultimately drives them to do some pretty extreme things but for the most believable reasons.  Even though they may not always be likeable, you do want them to succeed.

Verdict: Jack Jordan’s writing is nail-bitingly tense; his plotting clever, twisty and his pace relentless. Do No Harm is a tale of the power of motherhood and the extreme lengths that people will go to to protect their children. It works really well as an audiobook and I’m sure just as well on the printed page. It’s an all-consuming rollercoaster ride and I really enjoyed it.

Audible                               Bookshop.org.                               Waterstones                         

           

Jack Jordan is the global bestselling author of Anything for Her, My Girl, A Woman
Scorned, Before Her Eyes, and Night by Night and an Amazon No.1 bestseller in the
UK, Canada, and Australia. After selling at auction in the UK and numerous foreign
territories, Do No Harm is set to be the thriller of the summer in 2022. The idea for
Do No Harm came to Jack after undergoing a minor medical procedure where he
had to be sedated and trust strangers with his welfare. After the anaesthesia wore
off, Jack began scribbling his notes, wondering to himself just how iron-clad a
surgeon’s oath is, and what it would take to break it..

Cat and Mouse by M.J.Arlidge  D.I. Helen Grace #11 @orion_crime @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9th June from Orion
PP: 512
ISBN-13: 978-1409188506

My thanks to Orion Crime and Compulsive Readers for an early copy for review on this blog tour

When you think you’re safe,
When you think you’re all alone,
That’s when he’ll come for you…

A silent killer stalks the city, targeting those home alone at night, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the victims.

As panic spreads, Detective Inspector Helen Grace leads the investigation, but is herself a hunted woman, her every step shadowed by a ruthless psychopath bent on revenge.

As she tracks the murderer, Grace begins to suspect there is a truly shocking home truth that connects these brutal crimes. But what she will find is something more twisted than she could ever suspect…

I’m a huge fan of the Helen Grace series and was very keen to read this one. Head of Southampton’s Major Incident Team, poor Helen is the most put upon, stalked police woman in the force anywhere in the UK and it’s fair to say that Southampton has more than its fair share of serial killers. It helps of course that she is tenacious, single minded and has no time at all for bureaucracy or bosses who get in the way of getting the job done.

Helen’s had her share of superior officers who thought they could better her, and this time it seems she may have met her match in Chief Superintendent Alan Peters, a man who expects his subordinates not to have minds of their own. But backing Helen into a corner just makes her all the more determined to come out fighting.

Arlidge writes in short sharp chapters and that helps to set a fast and furious pace for this action packed police procedural. Helen Grace is an extraordinary character and for the reader that is part of the attraction. She demands and gets 100% from her team, but no-one is harder on Helen than Grace herself. Let down by too many people, she has no life of her own and seems destined now, to be the leather clad, motor-biking avenger of Southampton’s streets.

In the 11th in the series, a vicious axe killer is stalking Southampton’s streets. What has the team stumped is an absence of discernible motive or any link between the victims. As Helen struggles to find a causal link between the crimes, she comes under heavy pressure from her boss and even her dependable sidekick, Charlie, does not seem to be entirely on the ball.

As if that were not enough, Helen is still being targeted by a killer from her last case and – as if that were not enough – the poisonous ex DS Joseph Hudson is hell-bent on bringing her down. Local newspaper reporter, Emily Garanita is never too far away either, waiting for Helen to make the mistake that will enable her to put Helen’s fall from grace on the front pages.

Verdict: I enjoyed this latest episode in the Helen Grace series, and I really enjoy Arlidge’s writing, but it is beginning to feel as if Helen has nowhere left to go. There’s no discernible character development (other than in Emily Garanita) and the plot while offering some points of difference seems too familiar to previous cases. It may be time to rest this series or to give it a major shake-up. I love Helen Grace and always enjoy the internal politics that M.J.Arlidge’s characters have to endure alongside their danger fuelled tracking down of vicious killers but this one is treading territory that feels just a bit too familiar.

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M.J. Arlidge has worked in television for the last twenty years, specialising in high-end drama production, including prime-time crime serials Silent Witness, Torn, The Little House and, most recently, the hit ITV show Innocent. In 2015 his audiobook exclusive Six Degrees of Assassination was a number-one bestseller. His debut thriller, Eeny Meeny, was the UK’s bestselling crime debut of 2014 and has been followed by nine more DI Helen Grace thrillers – all Sunday Times bestsellers.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill @SulariGentill @ultimopress

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st June 2022 ebook from Ultimo Press; H/b 15 Sept 2022
PP: 266
ASIN: B09R41JFYN

My thanks to Ultimo Press for an advance copy for review

Hannah Tigone, bestselling Australian crime author, is crafting a new novel that begins in the Boston Public Library: four strangers; Winifred, Cain, Marigold and Whit are sitting at the same table when a bloodcurdling scream breaks the silence. A woman has been murdered. They are all suspects, and, as it turns out, each character has their own secrets and motivations – and one of them is a murderer.

While crafting this new thriller, Hannah shares each chapter with her biggest fan and aspirational novelist, Leo. But Leo seems to know a lot about violence, motive, and how exactly to kill someone. Perhaps he is not all that he seems…

The Woman in the Library is an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship – and shows that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

I first became aware of Sulari Gentill when I read her stand-alone novel, Crossing The Lines, which I loved. In The Woman in the Library, another stand-alone, Gentill has again turned to metafiction, utilising the device of writers corresponding and thus telling stories within stories.

Hannah Tigone, is an Australian crime author. Her opus is about a murder in the Boston Public Library – a typical locked room mystery. Leo, her correspondent, is an aspiring author, as yet without an agent and with no manuscript accepted. He is Boston based and happy not just to beta read for Hannah, but to offer authoritative information on local customs and landmarks.

This book is a lot of fun. The heroine of Hannah’s book, Freddie Kinkaid, is an Australian in Boston on a writing fellowship. She is pondering her latest novel in the Reading Room of the Boston Library when she hears a curdling scream and soon after she, together with the three people sitting nearest to her, are all ushered out of the library.

It turns out that the body of journalist Caroline Palfrey has been discovered and she was murdered in the Library. Over coffee, the four library visitors – Cain, Marigold, Freddie and Whit discuss the murder and bond over their shared interest in finding out what happened.

So Hannah’s novel becomes Freddie’s story of solving the mystery of The Woman in the Library. And to further complicate matters, Hannah writes Leo into the story as a neighbour and helpful friend.

This pleases our correspondent and his namesake. As Hannah finishes a chapter, Leo reads it and offers feedback. Eager to be helpful in the beginning, he soon begins to offer more assertive suggestions and to query the direction of her novel.  It seems our beta reader hasstrongly held views about what Hannah should be writing…

The Woman in the Library is a murder mystery but the danger is both within the novel that Hannah is writing and from external sources. Both narratives come together and it seems that everyone in this fictional story has something to hide and our author may herself be under threat.

Verdict: I found The Woman in the Library hugely fun to read. The murder mystery stands up as a good read in its own right and the added layers of a chilling correspondent make for an extra frisson of interest. I especially love the exchanges between Leo and Hannah on what is important when writing her book. Gentill touches on the dilemmas every writer faces – do you include the pandemic in your story?  Should you be explicit about the race and colour of your characters, or leave it to the reader to form their own opinions? This is a brilliantly constructed novel. It is great fun, clever, thought-provoking and a joy to read.

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Sulari Gentill is the author of the multi- award-winning Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, a series of historical crime novels set in 1930s Australia.  Under the name S. D. Gentill, Sulari wrote the The Hero Trilogy – a fantasy adventure series based on the myths and legends of the ancient world. Her widely praised standalone novel, Crossing the Lines, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel, and was short-listed for the Davitt Award. Most recently, Sulari was awarded a Copyright Agency Cultural Fund Fellowship for The Woman in the Library. Sulari lives in a small country town in the Australian Snowy Mountains where she grows French Black Truffles and writes. She remains in love with the art of storytelling

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