No Sweet Sorrow (DCI Daley #11) by Denzil Meyrick @lochlomonden @PolygonBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1 June 2023 from Birlinn
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1846976377

My thanks to Denzil Meyrick and Polygon for an advance copy for review

A potent new drug has hit the streets of Kinloch, and DCI Daley and Scott are struggling to catch the notorious gang behind this evil trade.
After a party of Oxford students arrives in town for a camping trip before a Himalayan expedition, one of the group seeks out an illegal high and is violently assaulted. However, these students are well connected, and this brings further unexpected problems for Daley. Ultimately, he and Scott will discover crimes as disturbing in nature as anything they have ever confronted.

I’m always surprised by how real Kinloch feels to me. I can see the fishing boats in the water; I am sure I’ve drunk in the County Hotel with its dark wood and swirling red carpet, and of course the stunning countryside and coastline can’t be bettered.

But what I really like about Kinloch is that it is never idealised. Denzil Meyrick’s fictional town suffers from all the same ails as any place and feels them perhaps more acutely because of its sense of community. These novels always deal with the contemporary issues that afflict all of us, wherever we live. I think that’s why they work so well for me; this is no cosy crime series. Rather it highlights the crime we face on a day to day basis and brings the impact of those crimes closer precisely because we have got to know elements of this community so well.

In No Sweet Sorrow, the 11th in this outstanding series, a group of Oxford University students have come to Kinloch to hone their mountaineering skills and teamwork prior to embarking on a Himalayan climb.

Being from Oxford, there is at least one insufferably snotty student and more than one set of well-connected parents. The students are having a high old time until one of their group is violently assaulted. It appears that drugs are at the core of this assault. Kinloch is not immune from the scourge of drug dealing and being on the coast, has had its fair share of smuggling too. This case is destined to become even darker and more demanding of police time and this will add to the general air of impending doom that seems to be hanging over Kinloch.

DCI Jim Daley is grumpier than usual. His back is giving him gyp, and he’s needed to keep a closer watch than usual on DS Brian Scott, who is now drinking in The Last Chance Saloon, though Ella has, in her own inimitable fashion, found the perfect way to keep an eye on him. The ACC is less than enamoured with the recent goings on in the Kinloch station and one of the team is very unhappy – all of which adds to Jim’s unsettled dourness.

Jim Daley isn’t the only one who is unsettled either – Hamish feels an oppressive weight on his shoulders and his depressed demeanour is forcing him into making life changing decisions. He knows all is not well in Kinloch – he can feel it – and we all know that Hamish’s gloomy predictions are ignored at the risk of peril.

Each of these elements could offer a recipe that feels too dark, but the interactions between the characters intersperse the gloom and lift the narrative; Meyrick allows us to sense the deep-rooted connections among the characters in this close knit community and that raises the spirits. The banter between Brian, Ella and Jim is as priceless as ever and that, coupled with the ever delightful joy that comes with Brian Scott trying once again to deal with his fear of getting on a boat, brings some much needed light relief to shine a light through the winter gloom.

Verdict: No Sweet Sorrow creates a dark and suspenseful atmosphere into which Meyrick weaves multiple storylines, each with its own unique twists and turns, resulting in a louring, emotive narrative which is both complex and gripping. The tension is palpable and the strain on Daley feels all too real. It’s not easy being a an under-resourced police officer these days and it’s taking its toll.

Tense, exciting, rooted in the very real issues faced by rural communities, No Sweet Sorrow will keep you guessing ‘til the end. Reader, I inhaled it!                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Denzil Meyrick is one of Scotland’s biggest-selling crime writers. He hails from Campbeltown and life has taken him from studying politics to a varied career including time spent as a police officer, freelance journalist and director of several companies in the leisure, engineering and marketing sectors. His global best-sellers include the D.C.I. Daley thrillers and much-loved stand alone novellas. Denzil lives on Loch Lomondside.

The Spider (Joona Linna #9) by Lars Kepler trs Alice Menzies @ZaffreBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 30th May 2023 from Zaffre Books
PP: 496
ISBN-13: 978-1838777869

My thanks to Zaffre for an advance copy for review

Three years ago, Detective Saga Bauer received an ominous postcard describing a gun and nine white bullets – one of which was intended for her partner, Detective Joona Linna. The sender alleged that Saga was the only person who could save him. But as time passed, the threat faded.

Until now.

A sack with a decomposing body has been found hanging from a tree in the forest. A milky white bullet casing turns up at the scene. When the body count begins to rise, the police realise that the killer is sending riddles, offering them the chance to stop the murders before they happen.

But the police always seem to arrive a moment too late. As they begin to close in, the case becomes more and more tangled. Someone is spinning a fiendishly intricate web, pulling Joona ever closer to a trap he may not be able to escape.

This is the 9th book in the always dark Joona Linna series and I recommend that you read the others in the series as it does have some recurring characters other than the police duo. Lars Kepler (actually a husband and wife duo) specialises in complex mysteries, innovative and deeply creepy murders and pretty disturbing serial killers.  

In The Spider, Detective Superintendent Joona Linna of Sweden’s National Crime Unit is working with his colleague, Saga Bauer. Saga plays a leading role in this book and we see that, just as a spider weaves a gossamer thin web to trap his flies, so this Spider is setting out to entrap our intrepid duo.

An old threat, almost forgotten, suddenly comes to the fore.  A series of figurines arrive suggesting a string of victims and it is not long before a violent and macabre murder is committed and the body displayed in graphic style. Through a series of complex riddles, our perpetrator appears to give the police the opportunity to stop this series of murders. It does not take long to discover that an enemy we thought had long gone has reappeared and is bent on vengeance.

Joona Linna and Saga Bauer are caught in a deadly battle to stop this murderer, but in this web of deceit, has the spider already woven his silver threads around this pair? Just like the predatory spider, this murderer is leaving a trail designed to ensure that Joona and Saga will walk straight into his trap and his lure is the series of gruesome and lurid murders that lead straight to this sticky web.

The inventiveness of the serial killer, the complexity of the riddles and the pace of the story deliver plenty of action and excitement as a deadly psychological game plays out.  This killer is both cruel and cunning; he knows exactly how to draw Saga and Joona into his lair.

This is a very well-conceived race against time, with the threat to each victim seemingly offering another step forward on the path to finding the killer. Kepler uses innovative killing methods married with an insight into the mind of this loathsome protagonist – a killer who plays on the fears of each of the victims, leading to a scary and nightmare inducing read. Each of these murders resonates hard with Joona and Saga and every time they fail to stop the next murder, they lose a little of their confidence in their ability to catch this most heinous of killers.

The speed of the violence strikes hard, and the series of puzzles lead the reader down a path that ends in yet more dramatic and very graphic displays of death. This is evil personified and he’s not going to stop until he has our duo in his pincers. This trail is chilling, surprising, and leads down a path of no return.

Verdict: The pace is incredibly strong and the puzzles complex. The plot relies on the fast pace and the graphic, almost cinematic, style of the murders to carry the momentum forward and keep the reader on the hook. It is the increasing despair of Saga and Joona Linna though that makes this book as taut as a zip wire as our duo become increasingly frantic in their search to stop this monster. Not for the faint-hearted.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Store

Lars Kepler is the pseudonym of critically acclaimed husband and wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril (b. 1966) and Alexander Ahndoril (b. 1967), authors of the No. 1 internationally bestselling Joona Linna series. With nine instalments to date, the series has sold 17 million copies in 40 languages. The Ahndorils were both established writers before they adopted the pen name Lars Kepler, and have each published several acclaimed novels.

The Seventh Victim by Michael Wood @MichaelHWood @OneMoreChapter

Source: Purchased copy and review copy
Publication: 30 May 2023 (e-book) and 8 June (p/back) from One More Chapter
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-0008618544

My thanks to One More Chapter for an advance copy for review

On a cold February afternoon in 1990, seven-year-old Danny Redpath disappeared from his home. Four months later, his body was found in the nearby forest, wrapped in a sheet and washed clean of all evidence.

Apprehended while attempting to abduct another child, Jonathan Egan-Walsh was charged with the murders of more than a dozen boys. Convicted on all counts, he received life in prison and went unrepentant, still refusing to reveal the whereabouts of one of his victims, Zachery Marshall.

Twenty-five years later, Zachery’s mother Diane is still searching for his body. When Jonathan dies in custody, she realises she will never know its location – until she receives a letter he left in his cell, in which he admits he was guilty of all the crimes of which he was accused, except the murder of her son…

I was only one page into this review copy when I realised I knew this story. In fact I realised I had bought and listened to the audiobook when it came out in 2020. Only now is it being released in paperback and e-book though.

Like Michael Wood’s D.C.I. Matilda Darke series, this is a really fast and easy read with terrific characters, a strong storyline and a seriously horrible villain.

Diane Marshall’s son Zachery disappeared over 25 years ago and his body has never been found. The police believe he was the victim of a serial killer, Jonathan Egan Walsh, convicted of killing thirteen other boys whose bodies were discovered, wrapped in a white sheet. Egan Walsh has been in prison since his conviction but will not disclose where Zachery is buried, nor will he confess to his murder.

All Diane wants is to be able to bring her son’s body home and bury him in peace. Since Zachery’s disappearance her marriage has broken up and she is also estranged from her other son – all because she has been unable to move on from the grief of losing Zachery.

Now Jonathan, who has terminal cancer, has written to Diane confessing to the murder of thirteen children but saying he did not murder Zachery.

The police aren’t inclined to investigate: Jonathan was notorious for messing with the minds of his victims parents and this is likely just another example of his specialty cruelty.

But Diane can’t let it go and so she enlists the help of the now retired DI Caroline Turner, who originally investigated the case and is now running a dog walking business. Caroline gave up working for the police after a bad experience while working this case.

Caroline teams up with Alex Frost, Jonathan’s biographer who now wants to write a second book on Jonathan Egan Walsh and together they set out to find the truth by re-investigating this case from the beginning.

Michael Wood does an excellent job of creating the character of Diane and of conveying the anguish and interminable pain that she feels. His understanding of the way in which a series of murders, or indeed any murder, can impact on all those involved is really well done and the emotional impact resonates well with each of these characters.

This is a deeply disturbing story and Wood creates palpable tension alongside heart-breaking pain as more revelations come to light.

The conclusion, though not hard to detect, comes after a slew of more disturbing revelations and leaves the reader feeling heart-broken for everyone involved.

Verdict: A tense and emotional read with strong characterisation.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Michael Wood is a freelance journalist and proofreader living in Newcastle. As a journalist he covered many crime stories throughout Sheffield, where his DCI Matilda Darke series is set, gaining first-hand knowledge of police procedure. He also reviews books for CrimeSquad, a website dedicated to crime fiction.

The Last Dance by Mark Billingham (Detective Miller #1) @MarkBillingham @BooksSphere @laurasherlock21

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 May 2023 from Sphere
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1408717127

My thanks to Laura Sherlock and Sphere Books for an advance copy for review

Meet Detective Miller: unique, unconventional, and criminally underestimated…

He’s a detective, a dancer, he has no respect for authority ­- and he’s the best hope Blackpool has for keeping criminals off the streets. Meet Detective Declan Miller.

A double murder in a seaside hotel sees a grieving Miller return to work to solve what appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Just why were two completely unconnected men taken out?

Despite a somewhat dubious relationship with both reality and his new partner, can the eccentric, offbeat Miller find answers where his colleagues have found only an impossible puzzle?

I saw Mark Billingham on Saturday at Glasgow’s Literature Festival, Aye Write. He is, of course,always interesting. And he has a special brand of humour that really resonates with me.

It’s that brand of humour, that voice, that I can hear coming through in Detective Declan Miller, a brand new protagonist from a master of crime fiction.

There’s something immensely endearing about this character of Declan Miller. If you are a Coronation Street fan, as I am, you will remember the immensely poignant scene in Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom that resonates as our lasting memory of the sheer love and happiness that was Roy and Hayley.

I think Mark Billingham must have been channelling that scene when he wrote The Last Dance. Detective Declan Miller’s wife, Anna – also a Detective, was murdered. It is just six weeks before he decides he can no longer stand his pet rats Fred and Ginger as his only company and returns to work. Anna’s death is being investigated by another team and Miller’s frustration at being excluded from their thinking is driving him to distraction. Anna and Declan were ballroom dancers and they had built up a small but select group of fellow enthusiasts as friends. It is this group that sustains Miller through his very raw grief.

He is given a new partner, Detective Sergeant Sara Xiu – pronounced ‘jus’ and Miller instantly gives her a nickname. While others investigate the murder of Miller’s wife, he and Xiu are sent to investigate a double murder in a Blackpool hotel. Two men in adjacent rooms, have been shot in what looks like an execution style hit. One of the men, Adrian Cutler was a local gangster, while the other, Barry Shepherd worked as an IT Consultant. At first glance, it seems that they have nothing in common and Miller suggests that perhaps the killer first went to the wrong room before finding Cutler who surely must have been the intended victim? To add to the mystery, Declan’s wife Alex was investigating the Cutler family before she was killed.

Partly as a means of grief deflection and partly just his nature, Declan Miller wisecracks his way through this book to the consternation of both his new partner and the rest of his squad. I liked Xiu. She gives as good as she gets and she isn’t going to sit back and just let Miller run the show. Their partnership is one of opposites but they are learning to work together and the beginnings are promising. Declan Miller is a character that is going to live in my mind for a long time.

As for the case – well it has some great characters and the rival gangs that are working in Blackpool add to the tension of what is already and explosive situation. Everyone is a suspect and Billingham throws in red herrings so copiously you will worry about the price of fish going up. At the same time, Miller is not so subtly looking into his wife’s death and his actions have disturbing repercussions.

Verdict: A cracking start to a brand new series. The Last Dance is funny, emotional, thrilling and leaves you needing more. Billingham is such a strong storyteller. I loved it.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Store

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 One That Got Away (DI Heather Filson #1) by J.D. Kirk @JDKirkBooks @mucklemedia

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 May 2023 from Zertex Crime
PP: 380
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1912767731

My thanks to Muckle Media and Zertex Crime for an advance copy for review

What if your worst enemy was your only hope?

When a fifteen-year-old girl fails to make it home after school, DI Heather Filson believes she’s dealing with just another teenage runaway.

The girl’s grandfather, a notorious Glasgow gangster, disagrees. Convinced one of his underworld enemies has grabbed her, he’s prepared to bathe the city in blood in order to bring his princess home.

But, as the days pass and the evidence mounts, Heather starts to fear that they’re both wrong, and that a brutal killer from the past has returned.

A killer who once stalked the streets of her hometown, preying on vulnerable young victims.

A killer that DI Heather Filson is uniquely familiar with…

J.D. Kirk is an extraordinary success. A self-published author, he is a best seller with a legion of devoted fans.  So many readers eagerly devour his books as soon as they come out. He is immensely prolific with 16 D.C.I. Logan books under his belt, as well as 4 thrillers featuring the disgraced former Police Scotland Detective, Superintendent Bob Hoon.

His most recent novel, The One That Got Away is set in the world of DCI Logan, but features Detective Inspector Heather Filson as the protagonist. Heather comes with her own set of tropes – she drinks, has a habit of picking up randoms and taking them home, and she carries her own set of demons from her dark past as well as worrying constantly about her father. Heather can be a touch impetuous, underlined by her recent demotion from DCI to DI, after lamping a villain (not undeservedly, to be fair).

Paula Harrison has gone missing on her way home from school in Kilmarnock. Heather’s best instincts tell her the girl has probably run away, maybe to be with her older boyfriend, Conn.  But Paula is no ordinary runaway; her grandfather is a notorious Glasgow gangster and he’s pretty sure that Paula’s been taken by one of his enemies.

J.D.Kirk understands well that the combining fast-paced, high intensity drama with down to earth humour and unforgettable characters is a pretty unbeatable formula. Add to that a kick-ass protagonist forced to work with a low life criminal she loathes and you are off to a great start.

Heather’s adversarial relationship with her boss, DCI Samuel ‘Snecky’ Grant and his snooty sidekick D.C. Simon Wolfe provides much light relief and the addition of an anonymous sender of flowers that curdle Heather’s stomach adds another layer of mystery to this down to earth, potty mouthed Detective.

Then there’s a complete curve ball in the person of ‘Ace’ Wurzel who adds another layer of interest and helps to increase the tension, too. Ace is a great character. A 15 year old schoolgirl with a fierce intelligence, though something of a misfit among her classmates, she has her own podcast, Crime De La Crime.

The missing girl is a classmate of Ace’s and she has been sleuthing away seeking to solve Paula’s disappearance, which may fit into a larger unsolved series of heinous child murders that she is investigating. She wants to interview Filson and though Heather originally bats her away, she comes to realise that Ace may know more than she realises, but Ace also understands more about Heather than she ever wants anyone to know.

Child murder and abduction are difficult themes, but throughout Kirk offers humour, great characters and a lot of deflection and misinformation which just adds to our appetite to understand what’s really going on in this psychological thriller come police procedural.

It is that special combination of warmth, humour and great characters that enables the darker side of these investigations to come through and JD Kirk handles these elements with aplomb.

Verdict: Heather Filson is a fantastic new protagonist. I can well see her unofficial sidekick becoming a staple of these books because the unfiltered Ace is a wonderful foil to Heather’s sarcastic, ‘bah humbug’ attitude and I’d love to see that relationship develop. There’s a good reason why so many people love J.D. Kirk’s books and it’s exemplified in The One That Got Away.  Put simply, it’s a great read.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

JD Kirk is the pen name of multi-award-winning author, screenwriter, and writer of comics, Barry Hutchison. Born and raised in Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland, Barry/JD  wanted to be a writer from the age of nine, when a kindly librarian wrote his name on the spine of a notebook in which he’d written a terrible short story, and put it on the shelf. Since then, he has written over 140 books for children as Barry Hutchison, over 15 books for adults as Barry J. Hutchison, and is now thoroughly enjoying murdering people as JD Kirk. Barry still lives in Fort William with his wife and two children. He has no idea what the JD stands for.

SKIN DEEP by Antonia Lassa  @letxenike @CollinsJacky @CorylusB

Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 May 2023
PP: 116
ISBN-13: 978-1739298906

My thanks to Corylus Books for an advance copy for review

When police arrest eccentric loner Émile Gassiat for the murder of a wealthy woman in a shabby seaside apartment in Biarritz, Inspector Canonne is certain he has put the killer behind bars. Now he just needs to prove it.

But he hasn’t reckoned with the young man’s friends, who bring in lawyer-turned-investigator Larten to head for the desolate out-of-season south-west of France to dig deep into what really happened.

Larten’s hunt for the truth takes him back to the bustle of Paris as he seeks to demonstrate that the man in prison is innocent, despite all the evidence – and to uncover the true killer behind a series of bizarre murders.

Antonia Lassa’s Skin Deep is an absolute gem of a book. It is full of stand-out characters and one in particular who should return in future books. A novella, Skin Deep is a rich and satisfying story that really captured my attention.

Inspector Canonne of the Bayonne Criminal Investigation Team is not a happy man. His home life is not going well and to top that, he’s on a return visit to the dentist to try and sort out his woes with his dental implants. That he is obsessing somewhat over the implants question, assigning all his troubles to the absence of a solution, tells us something about the imagination and understanding of human nature that he possesses.

Madame Elisabeth Audiard, an 80 year old woman is found murdered in a somewhat shabby holiday apartment in Biarritz yet it transpires that she was from a wealthy family and had a suite in the best hotel in Biarritz. This murder is especially unpleasant with some strange aspects to it – notably the defiling of the woman’s facial skin- and Canonne does not have to look far to find the obvious suspect.  The handsome young man, Émile Gassiat has no trouble agreeing that he was in a relationship with this woman so much older than himself, but equally he is cool upon his arrest and completely sanguine about stating his innocence.

As the police delve deeper into this young man, it becomes clear that relationships with older, rich women are part of a pattern of behaviour for M. Gassiat; a pattern he freely admits. Not only that but the women with whom he consorts know beyond doubt that he is innocent and a bewildered Inspector Canonne cannot understand why none of these women can see what is pretty obvious to him.

One of Gassiat’s ‘friends’ turns to the former lawyer turned investigator Albert Larten to prove Gassiat’s innocence.

 Albert Larten is not only an investigator, he is also a wine expert and he has his own blog, entitled ‘The Wine Detective’. His persona is a little unsettling without being outré; he is a fluid character who strolls his own path and who brings all his senses to investigating a crime. It is this ability to look outside the obvious and to consider more than just the facts in front of him that makes him such an intriguing character. Larten works from a mobile home which enables him to travel anywhere a case demands and gives him a freedom and flexibility he enjoys.

Larten, because he is not interested in judging this case through the lens of societal judgements,  is prepared to walk through the origins of this crime and as he does so, to contemplate what might lead someone to do what this murderer has done and to defile this woman’s skin.

Verdict: Skin Deep is a beautifully written and utterly fascinating crime scenario which invites the reader to dispense with pre-conceived ideas and to embrace the whole of story, using all the faculties at the readers disposal. Jacky Collin’s translation is nicely spare, leaving all the flavour of the original and not imposing a different footprint on top. The result is a delightfully dark but ultimately satisfying story that really showcases this writer’s complex characters and direction. I’d read the next one in a heartbeat.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Born in Paris, Antonia Lassa is an enologist who works as a consultant for different private wineries around the world. This passion for wine has been instilled in her singular detective Albert Larten, for whom each new investigation is like a meticulous tasting. Wine is savoured through the eyes, the nose and the mouth, just like the crimes found in Skin Deep, with readers being invited to get involved with their five senses. Antonia Lassa is the pseudonym of Luisa Etxenike.

Dr. Jacky Collins, lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies at Stirling University, is the Festival Director for Newcastle Noir. As ‘Dr Noir’ she regularly interviews a range of internationally acclaimed and emerging crime fiction authors at national and international events. Her series of author ‘consultations’ on the Newcastle Noir YouTube channel – The Doctor Will See You Now – is where lovers of everything crime fiction can catch up on news about latest publications.

A Thief’s Justice by Douglas Skelton (Company of Rogues #2) @DouglasSkelton1 @canelo_co

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 May 2023 from Canelo Adventure
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1804360897

My thanks to Canelo and Thanhmai Bui Van for an advance copy for review

London, 1716. Revenge is a dish best served ice-cold…

The city is caught in the vice-like grip of a savage winter. Even the Thames has frozen over. But for Jonas Flynt – thief, gambler, killer – the chilling elements are the least of his worries…

Justice Geoffrey Dumont has been found dead at the base of St Paul’s cathedral, and a young male sex-worker, Sam Yates, has been taken into custody for the murder. Yates denies all charges, claiming he had received a message to meet the judge at the exact time of death.

The young man is a friend of courtesan Belle St Clair, and she asks Flynt to investigate. As Sam endures the horrors of Newgate prison, they must do everything in their power to uncover the truth and save an innocent life, before the bodies begin to pile up.

But time is running out. And the gallows are beckoning…

I’m delighted to be returning to Douglas Skelton’s Company of Rogues series – A Thief’s Justice is the second in this series, following An Honourable Thief. It can be read as a stand-alone, but as with all series, it is worth starting from the beginning to get the most out of the characters and their development.

The setting this time is London in all its glory, stench and politicking. Jonas Flynt is doing the bidding of his employer and blackmailer, Colonel Charters of the Company of Rogues. It’s not, on this occasion, such an onerous task. While outside the cold winter has frozen over the Thames, Flynt is well warmed through in a gambling club where he is keeping a watchful eye on Lord August Fairgreave.  He doesn’t know why Charters is interested in Fairgreave’s movements; his role is not to question why. But Jonas is a naturally curious chap and what he sees of Fairgreave does not endear him to the man, so much so that he is compelled to step out of the shadows and face him in a confrontation that makes him both a friend, in the person of Judge Sir Geoffrey Dumont and an enemy in Fairgreave.

For all that Jonas Flynt has a colourful past that is not without criminality. he is, nonetheless, a decent man with a good sense of right and wrong and a penchant for helping those in need. So though his acquaintance with Sir Geoffrey Dumont is slight, he liked the man and when Dumont is found dead (and in the process, disgraced) on the steps of St Paul’s, he is minded to accede to the pleas of Belle, a lady of his acquaintance.

Douglas Skelton’s fascinating political mystery is redolent with the sounds and smells of 18th Century London. His writing is engaging and his characters are richly drawn with the fabulous language of the time adding to the colourful, vivid sense of time and place.

The action moves at a good pace and the political intrigue that is spun is beautifully done as we quickly realise that double dealing is the order of the day even in the upper echelons of Georgian political circles.

As Flynt fights to restore honour to the Judge and to rescue a poor young man from Newgate prison, he comes up against a host of despicable characters from the lowest to the high born and he finds that nothing is straightforward and everyone lies.

Putting his own life at risk, Flynt has to tread a careful line to please both Charters and to help the beautiful Belle, as another lady with a powerful pull asks him to help rescue a gentleman from the Tower of London.

Skelton blends fact and fiction together artfully to give us a credible adventure that zings with colourful and unsavoury characters whose language is a joy to drink in.

Verdict: The political quagmire that was British politics under Robert Walpole is beautifully dredged here and the resulting intrigue and espionage is dark, deadly and delightful. Skelton has delivered another fascinating mystery from a protagonist who is fast gaining a place in my heart.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Store

Douglas Skelton has published twelve non fiction books and ten crime thrillers. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, shelf stacker, meat porter, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), reporter, investigator and local newspaper editor. He has been longlisted three times for the McIlvanney Prize, most recently in 2022. Douglas contributes to true crime shows on TV and radio and is a regular on the crime writing festival circuit.

Thirty Days of Darkness by Jenny Lund Madsen  by Jenny Lund Madsen  translated by  Megan E. Turney @JennyLundMadsen @OrendaBooks @meganeturney @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: May 25th from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1914585616

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

A snobbish Danish literary author is challenged to write a crime novel in thirty days, travelling to a small village in Iceland for inspiration, and then the first body appears…

Copenhagen author Hannah is the darling of the literary community and her novels have achieved massive critical acclaim. But nobody actually reads them, and frustrated by writer’s block, Hannah has the feeling that she’s doing something wrong.

When she expresses her contempt for genre fiction, Hanna is publicly challenged to write a crime novel in thirty days. Scared that she will lose face, she accepts, and her editor sends her to Húsafjöður – a quiet, tight-knit village in Iceland, filled with colourful local characters – for inspiration.

But two days after her arrival, the body of a fisherman’s young son is pulled from the water … and what begins as a search for plot material quickly turns into a messy and dangerous investigation that threatens to uncover secrets that put everything at risk … including Hannah…

I absolutely loved this book and I commend it to all lovers of crime fiction. It is refreshingly different, wonderfully witty and has a great plot as well as terrific characters.

Hannah Krause-Bendix is an author and has penned several notable volumes of literary fiction which have garnered critical acclaim, if not huge sales. She has a disdain for purveyors of popular commercial fiction, keeping her serious scorn for that most popular of genres, the crime novel.

She’s fed up doing the rounds of bookshop readings where the publicist clearly hasn’t even read her works. Finally, spotting a well-known best-selling crime author, Jørn Jensen, in her audience at one of these events, she finally cracks and says directly to him that writing crime fiction is so easy she could write a crime novel in a month. It’s a public pronouncement that gains some attention and so her agent, seeing the potential for more publicity for his clients, sends her to the small and isolated Icelandic town of Húsafjöður to write her first crime novel.

Hannah needs her props around her to work – most notably red wine and cigarettes – but even then she finds that starting her crime novel is nowhere near as easy as she thought it would be.

Her landlady, Ella, is taciturn; the two communicate in Pidgin English, and there’s really very little to distract Hannah as she stares at her blank pages, lost for words.

Then a local young man is found drowned – a teenager who hated the water – and Hannah believes he has been murdered. Suddenly she has a plot and she can at least begin to write what she knows. She becomes the detective in her own crime novel. Except that she can’t speak Icelandic and no-one really wants to talk to her. She’s not the most sympathetic of characters and so she takes to mithering Viktor, the local policeman, and then knocking on the doors of local people in a less than subtle attempt to find out more about the young man.

Hannah, you quickly realise, is not a happy woman, neither is she a particularly pleasant one. She has to get this drowning to be a murder and then she has to solve it or she has no book. And that’s really all that matters to her; she has to win her bet in order to prove her superiority.

The Icelandic setting works really well for atmosphere and a small character cast and Hannah lurches from house to house, stirring up trouble and poking her nose where it really is not welcomed.

For all that she is a pestering busybody in the eyes of the Húsafjöður householders she’s bothering, she does come to need to know why this crime has been committed and by whom. And that redeems her in so many ways as her disdain for anything that is not cosmopolitan and artistic gives way to a more burning need to understand the humanity that lies behind this cruel deed.

As Hannah becomes more interested in the human relationships involved in this case, so the case becomes darker and tenser and Hannah’s own safety is put in jeopardy.

Verdict: A terrific read, full of wit and yet beautifully dark and atmospheric. Hannah is a great character and I really thoroughly enjoyed this sparkling debut.

Orenda Books                                  Waterstones                           

Jenny Lund Madsen is one of Denmark’s most acclaimed scriptwriters (including the international hits Rita and Follow the Money) and is known as an advocate for better representation for sexual and ethnic minorities in Danish TV and film. She recently made her debut as a playwright with the critically acclaimed Audition (Aarhus Teater) and her debut literary thriller, Thirty Days of Darkness, first in an addictive new series, won the Harald Mogensen Prize for Best Danish Crime Novel of the year and was shortlisted for the coveted Glass Key Award. She lives in Denmark with her young family.

The Last Passenger by Will Dean  @willrdean  @HodderBooks @AlainnaGeorgiou

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 May 2023 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 496
ISBN-13: 978-1529382822

My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for an advance copy for review

Caz Ripley, a cafe owner from a small, ordinary town, boards the RMS Atlantica with her boyfriend Pete and a thousand fellow passengers destined for New York.

The next morning, she wakes to discover that everyone else on board has disappeared.

And that’s just the beginning. Caz must prepare for a crossing that will be anything but plain sailing …

If you’re a devotee of crime thrillers and suspense novels, chances are you’ve already read some of Will Dean’s work. He’s the author of the intensely atmospheric Tuva Moodyson series about a deaf journalist in the remote rural Swedish town of Gavrik. So you’ll know he writes characters really well and can develop stories that have warmth and compassion as well as spine tingling murderers.

But it is in his stand alone works that the depths of the harshness and cruelty of which he is capable really come to the fore. The Last Thing to Burn was one of my top books of the year because it combined that harshness so beautifully with understanding and compassion.  But in this stand-alone novel, The Last Passenger, Dean has shown that he is capable of understanding great cruelty and of bringing to life the lengths to which people will go in order to survive.

Caroline Ripley (Caz) is on the luxury cruise liner RMS Atlantica bound for New York. Caz owns and runs a popular teashop and this trip is a treat from her boyfriend Pete who is with her on their first real holiday together.

After a fabulous first evening, Caz and Pete retire to their cabin and sleep. When Caz wakes up the next morning she finds that Pete isn’t in the cabin. In fact, as she walks along the corridors, she can’t find any signs of any living person.  All the cabins are empty, each has its door wedged open; there’s no-one in the communal areas and even the bridge is deserted. The liner, it seems, is running on autopilot.

Caz is alone on a huge ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Now, if you read a lot of fiction you may see where this is going. I had an inkling and I was partly right. But nothing prepared me for what Caz has to ensure.

As she searches through the ship, she discovers that she is not totally alone. There are three other people on board and we gradually get to meet them. Daniel is a Korean-American who loves to travel. He is fit, good with tools and has a young daughter from whom he is estranged.

Frannie is a 21-year-old Welsh girl. Travelling with her parents on their anniversary cruise, Frannie comes across as weak and dependent. Then there’s Smith, an acerbic older American with an entitled attitude who believes that if you paid for it, you should damned well have it and his Diamond tier status with this cruise line already has him reaching for his lawyers to begin legal action.

These four are going to have to work together to figure out what’s going on and how to handle it.

Will Dean has written a shocking and incredibly immersive, pulsating chiller of a book which is somewhere between horror and a chilling look at the contemporary  trend for manipulation and voyeurism for profit that is more than ever prepared to cross the line.

As food stocks rapidly disappear and even drinking water becomes scarce, what will these four be prepared to do to stay alive?

The Last Passenger is an ocean going nightmare. It is vicious and venal; unforgiving and relentless; without pity or mercy, this is a cold and heartless journey that delivers pain and fear in equal measure.

It is structured in short, fast-paced chapters, full of action and suspense. Dean makes it so that you can’t trust anyone in this astonishing scenario.  Which brings me back to Will Dean, the amiable writer who lives in a cabin in the woods. Here is a man who goes out of his way to help other writers and whose love for his family and his big softy St. Bernard is not hard to see. Yet here is also a man whose mind has envisioned the most visceral of cruel ideas and has turned them into a compelling, propulsive theatre of agony with the kind of twists that burn like a knife cutting through flesh.

And just when you think it’s safe to land in dry dock, Dean delivers the most unkindest cut of all.

You can go off some people, you know.

Verdict: A breath-taking, harsh and utterly compelling thriller that left me all at sea. If this doesn’t leave you questioning this society’s twisted appetites, I’ll be very surprised. This is a corker of a book which is exceptionally suspenseful. I’d urge you to read it, but be warned, this five star read is not for the faint-hearted.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying Law at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. Red Snow was published in January 2019 and won Best Independent Voice at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019. Black River was shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Award in 2021. The Last Thing to Burn was released to widespread acclaim in January 2021. First Born was published in 2022.

The Twenty by Sam Holland (Major Crimes #2)  @samhollandbooks @FictionPubTeam @HarperCollins

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 May 2023 from Harper Collins
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-0008461645

My thanks to Harper Collins for an advance copy for review

The countdown has begun. Who will die next?

A shocking crime scene…

DCI Adam Bishop has never seen anything like it. Five murder victims – all with numbers written above. And the spray-painted daubs reveal a horrific truth: the killer is counting down…

A case that twists and turns…

When Dr Romilly Cole learns of the murders, they trigger memories of a traumatic past she has tried hard to forget. But getting involved with the case is a bad idea. She and Bishop have history – and working together could never end well.

A race against time to stop a killer…

Adam and Romilly soon realise the truth lies in a decades-old case, and only Romilly holds the key. But they must act quickly, because with every passing day, there are more victims. And as the numbers edge toward zero, the murders get closer to home…

I’ve never really understood why I enjoy a really good serial killer book, but this is one and I loved it.  From the outset the pace and tone is set with a gruesome, bloody crime scene which leaves you in no doubt that this is a killer with serious issues.

Following on from her successful novel, The Echo Man, this book can very easily be read as a stand-alone.

A grotesque crime scene awaits D.C.I. Adam Bishop and DS Jamie Hoxton as they are pulled away from a rare night off to a dark and violent crime scene. The killer has spray painted a Roman numeral above the victim and just as the pair fear, this proves to lead to a number of other murder victims. We’re looking at a macabre countdown, and the main question is whether Jones and Hoxton can catch this killer before the final victims are revealed?

Holland’s short, sharp chapters punctuate the urgency that this gives to the plot. Told from multiple perspectives, the plot is interspersed with chilling chapters told in the voice of the serial killer – a clearly angry and unhinged individual whose motivation provides the key to detecting this killer, if only our detectives can discern it.

Dr. Romilly Cole was once married to Adam Bishop and she believes she recognises some traits from these current killings. Does she hold the key to finding our murderer?

Holland’s characterisation is very good and her willingness to dispose of her characters helps to make this a surprising and tense read as we have to discard our suppositions and find that the plot is much more twisted than we at first envisaged. News cuttings, autopsy and psychiatric reports all help to embed the reader in the heart of the story.

Verdict: A brilliantly fast paced and very chilling serial killer thriller that is so propulsive it will have your heart pounding and leave your mouth dry and gaping.                                  Waterstones                                     HiveStores

Having always been fascinated with the dark and macabre, Sam Holland studied psychology at university then spent the next few years working in HR, before quitting for a full-time career in writing. A self-confessed serial killer nerd, her debut novel, The Echo Man, shocked and enthralled readers and reviewers alike with its sinister depiction of a serial killer copying notorious real-life murderers of the past. The Twenty is her second novel.

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