Dead Secret by Noelle Holten (DC Maggie Jamieson #4) @nholten40 @OneMoreChapter @BOTBS

Source: Review copy
Publication: E-book 23April 2021 from One More Chapter (P/back July 22nd 2021)
PP: 433
ISBN-13: 978-0008383688

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

Psychopaths can take root in the unlikeliest soil…

DC Maggie Jamieson crosses paths once again with Probation Officer Lucy Sherwood when a domestic violence survivor stumbles into her new refuge, unable to speak, desperate for help.

Then another case hits Maggie’s desk. A young man has been murdered, and a curious constellation of black dots has been inked onto his cheek.

That’s when DCI Hastings goes missing and Maggie uncovers a shocking connection that turns the case on its head.

Every family may hide secrets, but not every family buries them…

Maggie Jamieson and her cohorts are starting to feel like old friends now that we have got to book 4, though Noelle Holten does provide enough background to enable new readers to jump in and enjoy the book straight away. Part of the reason this series work is the way that the different agencies interact with each other, allowing Holten to direct a story from the perspective of social services, refuge workers, probation officers or the police. This does mean that you sometimes have to deal with more acronyms than a night with AC-12, but Holten always makes it clear who people are and which agency they are working for, so it’s never an issue.

This time Maggie has two cases on her hands and it’s proving very difficult. Staffing is really stretched. DCI Hastings (Mother of God!) has been off, presumed sick but now seems to have gone missing and closer inspection has revealed a nasty can of worms wriggling under the most respectable of facades.

Not only that, but a young man has been found dead on a patch of waste ground, his face inked with four dots, a pattern that stirs a remembrance in the back of Maggie’s mind.

Meanwhile, Lucy Sherwood is preparing to open her refuge; her way of dealing with the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex, and when a distraught young woman turns up at the door, she can’t turn her away. But this woman is so distraught she won’t speak about or report her abuse and Lucy is left to try and deal with it as best she can.

I do enjoy these different story lines running alongside each other and Holten does a great job of making them really interesting by weaving in threads from her characters personal lives, making you more even invested in her protagonists. Maggie especially is going to have to decide what (and who) she wants from her life, but for now she’s juggling a potential new romance with a longing for an old friend and a love for her job that seems all consuming. These choices are never easy…but for now there’s intense pressure to get to the bottom of this case as another dead body turns up…

Verdict: Strong female characters filled with determination are a hallmark of this series, whether it’s the fierce journalist, Julie Noble, Maggie herself or the determined Lucy Sherwood. Of course they have flaws and vulnerabilities, but this is a series that is hallmarked with the character and determination of the women that populate the pages. Good storylines, excellent pace and a nice series of twisty moments with lots of deflection keep this in the ‘must buy’ category.                  Amazon              Waterstones                    Hive

Noelle Holten is an award-winning blogger at She is the PR & Social Media Manager for Bookouture, a leading digital publisher in the UK, and worked as a Senior Probation Officer for eighteen years, covering a variety of risk cases as well as working in a multi agency setting. She has three Hons BA’s – Philosophy, Sociology (Crime & Deviance) and Community Justice – and a Masters in Criminology. Noelle’s hobbies include reading, attending as many book festivals as she can afford and sharing the booklove via her blog. Dead Inside – her debut novel with One More Chapter/Harper Collins UK is an international kindle bestseller and the start of a new series featuring DC Maggie Jamieson.

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The Whole Truth by Cara Hunter (D.I. Adam Hawley #5) @CaraHunterBooks @VikingBooksUK

Source: Audiobook review copy
Publication: 29 April 2021 from Penguin Audio
Narrators: Lee Ingleby, Emma Cunniffe and Roy McMillan
Listening time : 12 hours 22 minutes

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review purposes

An attractive student. An older professor.

Think you know the story? Think again.

She has everything at stake; he has everything to lose. But one of them is lying, all the same.

When an Oxford student accuses one of the university’s professors of sexual assault, DI Adam Fawley’s team think they’ve heard it all before. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

Because this time, the predator is a woman and the shining star of the department and the student a six-foot male rugby player.

Soon DI Fawley and his team are up against the clock to figure out the truth. What they don’t realise is that someone is watching.

And they have a plan to put Fawley out of action for good….

I’m a fan of this series and when the opportunity arose to listen to it on audiobook, I grabbed it. Readers of this series will know that Cara Hunter uses social media, e-mails, TV reports, newspaper headlines and reports to underline parts of her stories and I wasn’t sure how this would translate to the listening experience. I need not have worried. In fact this aspect works really well and helps to make it a really good listen.

I really enjoy this series. As with the best of all such series, it is the fact that you can connect with the characters, understand their vulnerabilities and enjoy the interactions with their teams that makes them feel like people you know. And in case you’ve forgotten any of them, Cara Hunter provides a very useful run down of the key characters at the beginning of this story.

As the book opens, Alex Fawley is heavily pregnant and somewhat uncomfortable as she awaits the imminent arrival of their baby. It’s a difficult time for them both, having lost a child – their ten year old son, Jake – in very sad circumstances a few years earlier. DI Adam Fawley is doing all he can to support his wife, but as it transpires, that’s not going to be easy because their past is about to rise up and bite them – hard.

But before that happens Alex has an unusual case to deal with. There’s been an accusation of sexual assault at Oxford University. This accusation is from a student against a Professor, and a high profile Professor at that. One who draws a great deal of business support towards her College. The complainant is a male student.

Caleb Morgan, is no wallflower. He’s a six foot well-built lad with a steady girlfriend and he is claiming that Professor Marina Fisher sexually assaulted him when she returned from a College dinner and he was in her home, babysitting her son. Morgan’s mother is an MP, so the team are faced with 2 high profile antagonists and they have to work out which one is telling the truth. It’s a beautifully presented case of ‘he said: she said’ and Cara Hunter does an amazing job of keeping the reader on edge not knowing who is the unreliable narrator as the evidence does not help them one iota. You really feel for DC Gareth Quinn, just demoted after getting involved with a suspect and now put in charge of this case in the absence, on holiday, of DS Chris Gislingham.

Then a friend of Alex Fawley’s is found murdered on the railway tracks; initially thought to be a suicide, she has been brutally raped. This happens just as Gavin Parrie, the Roadside Rapist is released from jail on licence. Alex Fawley has been listening secretly to the true crime podcast, The Whole Truth, which campaigns on miscarriages of justice. The Whole Truth is supporting Parrie’s claim that he is innocent, and is examining all aspects of the case in the podcast.

Suddenly, Adam’s life goes into meltdown. Not only is Alex about to give birth at a difficult age (she’s 44), but now evidence has been uncovered that seems to suggest Adam could be implicated in the young woman’s murder.

Cara Hunter really does flesh out all her characters very well and as a result you feel invested in them and their welfare. She really does highlight the interdependency of the team and I enjoy getting to know them, their partners and learning about their lives inside and out the police station.

In this book, we know at least who Adam can rely on, and that’s clearly not everyone involved in investigating the murder. As things start to look very bleak indeed, Adam believed he’s being set up, but with no way of proving it, the tension is mounting as things start to get very heated.

The Whole Truth intertwines these two main storylines really well; keeping our interest and at the same time challenging stereotypes and making us uncertain of who to believe. It’s brilliantly executed, nicely twisty and keeps the reader on the hook all the way through.

Verdict: This is a great addition to the series. Hunter does a terrific job in raising interesting and intelligent topical questions that really make you think in the context of a twisty and often surprising storyline that is pacy and holds the attention in a vice-like grip.  The narration is excellent and very clear. Highly recommended.

Bookshop. org                Waterstones                    Hive                     Audible

Cara Hunter is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling crime novels Close to Home, In the Dark, No Way Out and All the Rage, all featuring DI Adam Fawley and his Oxford-based police team. Close to Home was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and was shortlisted for Crime Book of the Year in the British Book Awards 2019. No Way Out was selected by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 best crime novels since 1945. Cara’s novels have sold more than a million copies worldwide, and the TV rights to the series have now been acquired by the Fremantle group. She lives in Oxford, on a street not unlike those featured in her books.

When I was Ten by Fiona Cummins @FionaAnnCummins @panmacmillan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 April 2021 from Pan MacMillan
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1509876969

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

Twenty-one years ago, Dr Richard Carter and his wife Pamela were killed in what has become the most infamous double murder of the modern age.

Their ten year-old daughter – nicknamed the Angel of Death – spent eight years in a children’s secure unit and is living quietly under an assumed name with a family of her own.

Now, on the anniversary of the trial, a documentary team has tracked down her older sister, compelling her to break two decades of silence.

Her explosive interview sparks national headlines and journalist Brinley Booth, a childhood friend of the Carter sisters, is tasked with covering the news story.

For the first time, the three women are forced to confront what really happened that night – with devastating consequences for them all.

When I Was Ten blew me away. Fiona Cummins has captured a very real sense of danger that begins with the opening sentence and prevails throughout the book. Imagine you are on a very powerful motorbike that is revving hard as you get on and then, without you having mastered it, it takes off leaving you clinging to it, trying to stay on as it whips and bucks like a bull in Pamplona. That sense of thrill, of very real danger, of knowing you could come a cropper at any time, is what it feels like reading this extraordinary book.

This is a dark book, and there is malice, cruelty, spite and hatred in it, so much so that that it is painful to read. From the very people who ought to be loving comes the most vile behaviour and it is hard to witness.

Told in two timelines, the present day (2018) and 1997, when Sarah and Shannon Carter, daughters of the local doctor, Richard Carter and his stylish wife Pamela, lived in Hilltop House, next door to Brinley Booth, and the three girls were fast friends.

Richard and Pamela are murdered in their beds, victims of a savage stabbing. That case was the headline in the tabloids because not only was it a savage double murder, but 10 year old Sarah Carter, dubbed forever ‘The Angel of Death, is sent to a secure institution for their murder, locked up for almost as long as she has been alive.

Told from first and third person perspectives, the book’s present day focus is sparked by a television documentary which revives all the horrors of ‘The Hilltop House Murders’. Shannon Carter has finally broken her silence and for Sarah Carter, relocated and living quietly under a different name, her life is about to change for ever.

Brinley Booth’s life is also destined to change. She is now working as a journalist for a tabloid newspaper and no-one knows this story as intimately as she does, outside of the sisters. But does she really want to make this story about her? That’s a can of worms she really did not want to confront.

Catherine Allen loves her husband Edward and their daughter Honor, though Honor is that that difficult age when truculence is at the forefront of their exchanges and secrecy is the name of Honor’s game. Catherine’s life is quiet and loving. Now all that, too is going to change because soon her life too will be over.

Fiona Cummins story is riveting, breath-taking and carries with it a real tension and ever-present sense of malevolent danger. An emotive, immersive tale of parental malice, sibling love and the impact that abuse can deliver over the longer term.

A side story of politics and greed helps to add another dimension to the tabloid feeding frenzy that Cummins depicts so well.

Verdict: Thrilling, visceral, a wild ride through dark and dangerous territory that is not for the faint of heart. Cummins pacing is spot on and her writing holds you in its grasp from first page to last.                                Waterstones                                  Hive Stores

Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. She lives in Essex with her family. When I Was Ten is her fourth novel.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams @ChattoBooks @vintagebooks @mia_qs

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 April 2021 from Chatto & Windus
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1784743864

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

In 1901, the word ‘bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.

Motherless and irrepressibly curious, Esme spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers are gathering words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.

Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day, she sees a slip containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutter to the floor unclaimed.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. She begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

This is a book for every etymologist and bibliophile to love. A book about words and the impact they have; about their power to move and change minds, to define an era and to highlight how words are so important when it comes to defining women’s contributions to society.

Beautifully researched, Pip Williams has taken real people and events and crafted behind them the story of Esme Nicoll, whose mother Lily died when Esme was born. Set in 1887, Esme’s da, Henry, works for Dr James Murray, the compiler of the Oxford English Dictionary. With other lexicographers, he sits every workday in an old iron shed in Murray’s back garden in Oxford. The shed is lined with pigeonholes. This is the Scriptorium and every day Henry takes Esme there to work with him and she sits under the sorting table as her da and the other men look at scraps of paper The words, their meanings and their use in quotes came on slips of paper with individual words and their meanings on them and argue about whether or not they should be included in the dictionary.

 This is the start of Esme’s love affair with words. As the word ‘bondmaid’ slips off the end of the table, she catches it and saves it, later storing it in a chest owned by Lizzie, their housemaid. Letting bondmaid slip out of the dictionary is a mistake, but as Lizzie comes to understand more about the arguments and which words are being excluded, she realises that there’s a whole lot of perspective being missed out and she begins to keep the discarded words in that same chest.

Lizzie is the closest thing that Esme has to a friend and a mother, even though their ages are separated by only 8 years, and understanding what Lizzie’s life is like helps to inform Esme’s understanding of how the language of the working class is being deliberately excluded from this dictionary. Indeed, after she queries the decisions once too often, Esme is finally banished from the Scriptorium.

She is prompted to start compiling her own collection of words; some from the discarded paper scraps of the Scriptorium; others from the people that Esme meets through Lizzie. These are words that are in common usage but often not written down, because writing skills are still not a common factor in the poor and some of these words are coarser than the gentlemen of the OED would think seemly to include. So Esme compiles her own dictionary; one that reflects the experience of the working class. Doing so is an enlightening experience for her as she understands that women’s experience especially is going unrecognised and unrecorded and she sets out to redress the male bias she has found in the ‘scrippy’.

Though the pace of this novel is slow for the first third or so, as Pip Williams sets the scene, it also feels right for a book that is all about the exploration of words and language. Pip Williams writes beautifully and the love of words and language is suffused through this book. Set alongside the suffragette movement, Esme’s understanding of the way that language defines and subjugates women is a revelation.

Williams intertwines this journey of discovery with the contrast between Esme’s life, which though not poverty stricken is nevertheless full of anxiety and depression and the housemaid Lizzie’s existence. For Lizzie is a woman who works morning, noon and night in service and who would no more think of joining the suffragettes than running away to find a life of her own. A marvellous cast of characters, some benign, others less so, have their own impact of Esme’s life.

There’s a love story here too, as World War 1 looms and Esme’s friendship with Gareth, an OED typesetter is blossoming. Esme will find that even in the midst of war and tragedy language can still play an important part in reaching people.

Verdict: A beautiful, fascinating and engaging story about language, loss and love that should appeal to everyone who loves words. Esme’s life is by no means easy and there’s heartbreak here too, but the author has a lot to say about the importance of words and that’s well worth enduring the heartbreak.                                Waterstones                    Hive Stores

Pip Williams, writer and researcher, was born in London, grew up in Sydney and lives in the Adelaide Hills with her partner and two sons. Her debut fiction, The Dictionary of Lost Words, was the bestselling new novel of 2020 in Australia. Pip began writing the story when she delved into the history of the Oxford English Dictionary and discovered that the definition of the word ‘bondmaid’ had failed to make its way into the first edition.

Everything Happens for a Reason by Katie Allen @KtAllenWriting @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 April 2021 in ebook and 10 June 2021 in paperback from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193614

My thanks to Orenda Books for an early copy for review.

Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.

When a misguided well-wisher tells her that ‘everything happens for a reason’, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.

Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…

Both a heart-wrenchingly poignant portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reason is a bittersweet, life- affirming read and, quite simply, unforgettable.

On the face of it, this isn’t the kind of book I’d normally pick up. It’s not crime, it’s about something intensely personal, dealing with a mother’s grief after the death of her stillborn baby boy. But the fact that it comes from Orenda makes it interesting and so I picked it up. I find that in a Covid world, my emotion is much closer to the surface than it used to be and I wasn’t sure that I was going to welcome that intrusion into my life.

What I found was a bit of a revelation. Katie Allen’s book is touching and quirky. It is funny and uplifting and even as she makes you laugh and you find yourself enjoying the madness of the characters her protagonist, bereaved mother Rachel, meets on her journey, Allen will deliver a sudden sucker punch that is a huge moment of grief that entirely takes the wind out of your sails.

Written in the form of a series of emails to her stillborn son, Luke, Rachel tells Luke of her days, while charting the progress he should have been making in his development. It should be maudlin, but it most certainly isn’t. There were times when I gasped at the sheer crassness of people’s responses, especially from Rachel’s family, to Rachel’s and her husband, Ed’s loss. From the titular ‘everything happens for a reason’ to unbelievable suggestions that its time she got over it, the difficulty people have in knowing what to say is very well portrayed.

So too is the impact on Rachel’s marriage. Not through direct exploration, but by the way we see how Rachel and Ed react differently to the decisions they have to make, including just the most awful discussion, if you can call it that, over whether or not to have a funeral. Honestly I think it’s one of the best explorations of how men and women think differently that I have seen in a book.

Katie Allen writes of grief with a light touch and Rachel’s need to find the reason that her son lost his life takes us on a journey that introduces us to some colourful characters as Rachel throws herself wholeheartedly into chasing down that reason (he’s called Ben) and then making sure that Ben lives a meaningful life. Into Rachel’s life comes Lola, the London Underground employee who helps Rachel find Ben, and Lola’s daughter, Josephine, who charms and enchants.

Allen writes with a dry humour mixed with wit and acute observation. And then sometimes she will put in a line that is so honest it takes your breath away as you contemplate the scale of grief she is dealing with. Sometimes it’s just a small thing, but it resonates like someone striking a gong in a room full of silence, because a moment earlier you were laughing with Rachel and now you’ve stopped in your tracks, remembering.

Everything Happens for a Reason is heart-breaking and emotional. It is laugh out loud funny and has wonderful moments where the reader gets lost thinking about hot men and sausage dogs as Rachel tries to transform Ben into living a life that is good enough to compensate for her baby dying. It’s mad, of course, but chasing down that idea at least keeps her mind focussed on something other than interminable grief.

Verdict: I’m not sure I’m doing a great job of explaining why this book works so well or is so warm and uplifting. I think it is that mixture of honesty, of humour, of Katie Allen’s ability to write characters that have depth and charm and sometimes brusqueness, coupled with scenes that linger in the memory because they are so powerful. Katie Allen has written a portrait of a woman in the midst of profound grief that is raw, truthful and immensely powerful but which makes you laugh even as you cry and which ultimately leaves you with hope. I really liked Rachel and I loved this book.

OrendaBooks                                                       Waterstones

Katie Allen used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London. She grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. Everything Happens for a Reason is her first novel.

Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison @robbiegmorrison @panmacmillan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 March 2021 from Pan MacMillan

My sincere thanks to Pan Macmillan for a review copy.

Glasgow, 1932. When the son-in-law of one of the city’s wealthiest shipbuilders is found floating in the River Clyde with his throat cut, it falls to Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn to lead the murder case – despite sharing a troubled history with the victim’s widow, Isla Lockhart.

From the flying fists and flashing blades of Glasgow’s gangland underworld, to the backstabbing upper echelons of government and big business, Dreghorn and his partner ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid will have to dig deep into Glasgow society to find out who wanted the man dead and why.

All the while, a sadistic murderer stalks the post-war city leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. As the case deepens, will Dreghorn find the killer – or lose his own life in the process?

In a strange act of serendipity, I recently re-read Laidlaw for the new Bloody Scotland Bookclub , having just finished the excellent Alan Park’s novel, The April Dead, the 4th in his Harry McCoy series which is a must read for me. Denise Mina’s The Long Drop remains an era defining crime novel for 1950’s Glasgow and Craig Russell’s Lennox series captures post war Glasgow perfectly. So the bar is set pretty high when it comes to historical crime fiction set in Glasgow and I wasn’t looking for interlopers.

But pretty quickly it became apparent that Robbie Morrison has achieved something very special with his 1930’s detective, Jimmy Dreghorn. 1930’s Glasgow is a grim place. The depression has set in. Unemployment is rife, the shipyards lie idle, razor gangs patrol the streets with a strict demarcation for which gangs own what territory. Corruption is rife, especially with the esteemed elected members of the Council, where being a Bailie just means you have more chance of pocketing a few bob from making the right decisions. No wonder discontent is rife in the streets and it is fuelled by religious bigotry and sectarianism. Mosely has just formed the British Union of Fascists and is making headway in England.

Corruption isn’t just confined to business either. The Police themselves are not immune and bent police officers contribute to the force being unable to handle the war on the streets. Percy Joseph Sillitoe, an Englishman has been appointed by Glasgow Corporation to bring some order into this chaos and sets up specially selected police teams, of which Dreghorn and McDaid are part. They are to be the public facing side of a reformed service that will embrace modern methods of crime detection. That won’t stop Dreghorn busting a few heads on his way to getting the information he needs though. Sometimes you have to fight violence with violence.

Jimmy Dreghorn is a bit of an anomaly. A Catholic in an almost wholly Protestant force. Dreghorn served in the First World War and it is an experience that hangs over him, as it does so many others, like a suffocating cloud of despair, ready to smother him at any time.

Dreghorn, or ‘shortarse’ as his partner ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid calls him used to be a boxer. McDaid is a Highlander and as a former Olympic wrestler, resembles a large mountain bear. He adds much needed good humour to the pair’s outings.

Morrison’s sense of time and place is pitch perfect. His language absolutely spot on and he captures the slang and cracking one liners perfectly, which sets the seal on what is an authentic and resonant portrait of a city and its people post WW1. His brush strokes are bold and vibrant but attention to detail is acute and the violence cuts through as sharply as the razors that wielded so brutally in the mean streets of the city.

When Charles Geddes, son-in-law of Sir Iain Lockhart – one of Glasgow’s wealthiest shipbuilders – is found floating in the River Clyde with his throat cut from ear to ear in a Glasgow ‘smile’, his widow Isla asks for Dreghorn to lead the investigation. He and Isla have history from Dreghorn’s time as one of Lockhart’s sponsored young boxers when he was younger and he also served under Lockhart’s son, Captain Rory Lockhart, at the Somme.

Morrison weaves a narrative that moves between the past and the present day as we follow young Dreghoen, bullied at school and taken under Lockhart’s wing to train as a boxer, getting to know his daughter Isla as he does so.

That background now plays into the Geddes case. Dreghorn knows that to get to the truth of who murdered Geddes and why, he will need to strike a deal with the devil, in this case, the leader of the ‘Brigton Billy Boys’ – Billy Grieveson. Grieveson is looking for his sister, Sarah who disappeared some time ago and Dreghorn agrees to look for her in return for information about who was after Geddes.

Two cases, a murder and a disappearance, are followed assiduously by Dreghorn, very much a loner in contrast to his partner McDaid who is a family man. As the story moves back and forth between exclusive businessmen’s clubs and the back streets of the city, Morrison blends fact and fiction to give us a dark, rich and intense sense of Glasgow and its brooding, simmering violence, sitting just under the grim poverty and despair. His characters are very well drawn and the story line itself breaks into dark and unpleasant territory not for the faint of heart.

Weaving in historical characters such as ex-footballer turned pathologist Willie Kivlichan, and Benny Parsonage from Glasgow Humane Society whose house on Glasgow Green was positioned to allow him to rescue the living and gather dead bodies from the Clyde, provides a realistic backdrop to what rapidly becomes a story about a vicious killer responsible for more than one death. It’s also a story about women in the 1930’s and the truly dreadful ways in which they were dealt with should they be unfortunate enough to land themselves in trouble. There’s room for more stories to be told about the women in this book from brothel keeper Kitty Fraser to the engaging and loyal WPC Ellen Duncan and I hope we see that in future books.

Verdict: There’s a sadness to Dreghorn that is almost melancholic, aided by the plotline which gets blacker the further the story develops. Morrison’s writing is sharp, evocative and rather beautiful, if somewhat bleak at points. I found myself immersed in this novel and unable to tear myself away. Morrison has depicted a wholly recognisable world that is evocative, intensely visceral and feels very real. I am impatient for the next book in the series. Readers, if you have not yet read this book, do so now, because when you’ve finished you will want to read the next one, I guarantee it! This is a MUST READ in my book.                               Waterstones                                  Hive Stores

Robbie Morrison was born in Helensburgh, Scotland, and grew up in the Renton, Coatbridge, Linwood and Houston. On both sides, his family connection to shipbuilding in Glasgow and the surrounding areas stretches back four generations and is a source of inspiration for the Jimmy Dreghorn series. He sold his first script to publishers DC Thomson in Dundee at the age of twenty-three. One of the most respected writers in the UK comics industry, Edge Of The Grave is his first novel.

The Plague Letters by V.L. Valentine @valentinevikki @viperbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st April 2021 from Viper Books
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1788164535

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review


London, 1665. Hidden within the growing pile of corpses in his churchyard, Rector Symon Patrick discovers a victim of the pestilence unlike any he has seen before: a young woman with a shorn head, covered in burns, and with pieces of twine delicately tied around each wrist and ankle.

Desperate to discover the culprit, Symon joins a society of eccentric medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague. Someone is performing terrible experiments upon the dying, hiding their bodies amongst the hundreds that fill the death carts.

Only Penelope – a new and mysterious addition to Symon’s household – may have the skill to find the killer. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the houses of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy…

Reading the Plague Letters, one can’t help but wonder if this is the author’s political satire upon the current pandemic. It isn’t, but there are parallels you can draw if you want to venture down that rabbit hole. The Rev Symon Patrick is a hapless buffoon, engaged in helping to find the cause of the deadly Great Plague that is laying waste to London in 1665, but he has not a clue and he and his doctor and apothecary acquaintances are foundering in the dark, trying all manner of bizarre remedies even as the better off move their families out of London. This plague is enduring and all told will kill a third of Londoners. There is fame and fortune to be had should one be the medical genius who discovers how to bring the Great Plague to an end.

As the plague ravages and spreads across London, we learn that it is not just disease that is killing off Londoners. For there is a serial killer in their midst. A killer, hiding in plain sight, in streets where the stench of death prevails above all the other smells of urine, rank decay and unwashed bodies.

Vikki Valentine’s book is not just a gruesome walk through pestilence and death; it has a sharp comedic edge to it that will have you laughing even as you shake your head at the ineptitude of our would-be hero. Interspersed with short extracts from Pepy’s diary and with Plague maps showing the spread of the plague at the top of each chapter,  Valentine brings the weekly death toll into a horrible perspective.

Symon Patrick is the Rector of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden and is most hapless sleuth you will ever come across. This holy man is spending his time writing somewhat plaintive and slightly obfuscated romantic letters to Lady Elizabeth Gauden, a flirtacious married woman whose husband is often in town on business.

When the Rev Patrick should be caring for the sick and ensuring decent burials for the dead, his mind is taking him to a country estate where the object of his affections has most recently given birth to a son.

Symon’s maid goes missing, and though he fails at first to do enough to find her, despite the beseeching of his staff, he feels bereft when her body turns up, her blonde hair all cut off, her body burnt in places and marked with a grid and her wrists and ankles showing she has been bound. She has died of plague but has clearly been tortured.

Into this household Penelope arrives. She is a young woman who is clearly seriously unwell. She is filthy and clothed in rags. They think she is probably dying and take her in. But Penelope has stamina and determination and as she pulls through, she starts to have an impact on Patrick’s household.

She realises as a result of her own horrible experiences, what is important in life, and she knows that for Patrick, his calling is not being fulfilled by his mooning around after a woman he can never have.

With all the energy of a piece of wet lettuce, he allows Penelope to point out that there is a real and present danger in their midst and that there are more bodies turning up that bear the same marks as Patrick’s maid. It appears that someone is experimenting on live bodies that are plague infected.

Penelope has been through a great deal in her young life and she has learnt to live on her wits. This makes her very observant. She also, perhaps as a result of everything she has experienced, sees ghosts. She can’t talk to them, but they are ever present around her and she feels acutely that she has a duty to stop what is happening. In order to do that she has to harness the attention of Syimon Patrick; a task that does not prove easy.

Once she has alerted him to what is going on, he begins to see that the killer might well be one of the Plague Society. A doctor, surgeon or apothecary looking for a cure and prepared to anything to find one. He stumbles his way around suspecting his best friend, his colleagues, everyone he meets without applying sense or judgement.

It is left to the ever brave and resilient Penelope to lead Symon Patrick, often by the nose, on a journey that will lead him to the answers, though not without disasters and danger at every turn.

Vikki Valentine’s book  has a great cast of memorable characters, some with wonderful names,  and she beautifully evokes a London that is putrefying and carrying the stench of death through its streets.

I love the character of Penelope, whose lack of airs and graces contrasts so beautifully with the selfishness and greed of the men she meets, including most of the medical profession. She is a woman of action, when the men just stand around arguing about where to get the bodies from to experiment on in search of a cure.

Verdict: There are levels of satire and laugh out loud humour from cracking one liners here that lift this book above the mere historical whodunit. V.L. Valentine has a great sense of place and atmosphere and her plague infested London is dark and putrefying. Funny and fierce, this is a fab read.                                Hive Stores                       Waterstones

V.L. Valentine is a senior science editor at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C., where she covers infectious disease outbreaks such as the coronavirus pandemic, Ebola and the Zika. She has a master’s in the history of medicine from University College London. Her non-fiction work has been published by NPR, The New York Times, The Smithsonian Channel and Science Magazine.

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Last Seen (D.I. Bernadette Noel #1) by Joy Kluver @JoyKluver @bookouture @nholten40

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 March 2021 from Bookouture
PP: 344
ISBN-13: 978-1800193604

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

‘A little girl is missing from under her mother’s nose. She’ll be scared and vulnerable – if she’s still alive. But no one is helping us search. No one wants to give us information. No one even seems surprised. What’s going on?’

Detective Bernadette Noel came to this quiet rural corner of south-west England from London to lie low after a high-profile prosecution led to death threats against her family. But she has barely settled in when the call comes. A woman’s voice, shrill with terror and thick with tears: ‘Help – it’s my daughter, Molly – I only had my back turned for a minute… She’s gone!’

A child abduction is about as far from lying low as it gets, and her boss wants to assign a different detective. But there’s no way Bernie’s not taking the case – she can’t miss this chance to prove herself.

Five-year-old Molly Reynolds has been snatched from the playground in the village where she lives. Normally in cases like this the community is an asset – eager to help search and full of local knowledge. But although Molly’s mother Jessica is in anguish, the other villagers don’t seem to want to know.

As details emerge, Bernie discovers a possible link to a shocking crime that has never been solved, and which the locals have never forgotten. But what exactly is the connection to Molly’s abduction? Cracking a cold case is the only way to find out – and meanwhile time is running out for Molly.

Last Seen is Joy Kluver’s debut novel and on the strength of this book I am really looking forward to reading more of this series.

Detective Bernadette Noel was on a fast track programme with the Metropolitan Police when a case she was working on forced her to leave London. Now she is in rural Wiltshire and keeping a low profile so as not to attract attention. She’s achieved her promotion to Detective Inspector and suddenly finds herself in charge of a case that is as awful as it is puzzling. A 5 year old child has disappeared from a children’s playpark in the small village of Otterfield and it looks like abduction.

There’s no obvious motive, but one thing is really strange. As you’d expect, Bernie is organising house to house questioning and search parties to look for little Molly – but it’s clear that no-one in either her village, nor the neighbouring one, want anything to do with the police investigation.

Bernie is puzzled. Apparently Molly hadn’t made any friends at school either. Her mother is at a loss as to why she might have been taken and is distraught. She doesn’t know why the village is so unfriendly.

Largely told from Bernie’s perspective, Last Seen presents a convincing portrait of an intelligent police officer in charge for the first time and seeking to solve a serious case into the bargain. Bernie is still grieving for her grandfather, recently laid to rest, and with a lot on her plate her confidence is not reassured when her boss tells her that she may not yet be ready to command such a high-profile case.

Joy Kluver does a great job of introducing us to the investigations team of Detective Sergeant Kerry Allen and Detective Constable, Matt Taylor with whom she is already establishing a great relationship.  There’s a fly in the ointment though when her boss foists on her a new team member, DS Dougie Anderson, transferred in from Birmingham and who is hardly in the door before he starts doing things his own way instead of taking his orders from Bernie. That’s the last thing Bernie needs on this case and she has to work hard to keep him in line. Not only that, but it looks like the force’s Press officer for the area is no ally and is pushing Bernie to accept her view of how she should handle the public facing side of this disappearance.

When her boss tells her that if she doesn’t get results soon he is handing the case over to a more experienced officer, Bernie is determined that her team will find Molly before that happens.

The imposition of a deadline adds urgency to an already pressing case and as Bernie and her team race against time to work out who has taken Molly and why, we get a real sense of D.I. Noel’s shrewd and extremely capable thinking processes. She’s not flawless, but she is a good detective and that comes across as she handles this investigation.

As the team battle to find Molly the tension is high and there are many false leads and wrong paths to go down. As Bernie comes to realise that the silence of the villagers is a clue to what has happened to Molly she has to re-think her whole understanding of this case if she is to find Molly before it is too late.

Though perhaps a little slow to start as Kluver establishes the scene and her characters, the pace and tension ramps up mid-way through the book and holds the reader’s attention well and there are many pieces to this puzzle which all fit neatly together in the end.

There’s a great deal we still have to learn about this team and their backstories before they become fully fleshed, but that just adds to the intrigue in this book and makes us want to read more about the team. Joy Kluver drops just enough nuggets of information to make us curious and want more.

Verdict: A strong start to a new police procedural series with well thought through puzzles and characters that intrigue. I really enjoyed reading this knotty case and am actively looking forward to the next in the series.

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Joy Kluver has been an avid reader and writer since childhood. More recently she’s been escaping the madness of motherhood by turning her hand to crime novels. A book blogger, she’s also part of the First Monday Crime team and if you’ve been to any of their events it’s likely you’ve eaten one of her cookies. She also organises author talks for her local library. Joy lives in SW London with her husband and three children. ‘Last Seen’ is her debut novel and the first book in the DI Bernadette Noel series.

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Bound by Vanda Symon (Sam Shephard #4) @VandaSymon @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 March 2021 from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193522

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.

The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation.

And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.

I don’t think I have ever loved Sam Shephard more. I feel like a proud godmother who has watched her god-child turn to adulthood; looking at her and thinking ‘our little girl has grown up and what a fine woman she has become’.

Oh she still enjoys a glass of wine, a good video and a serious Toffeepops snack with her bestie flat-mate Maggie, but a combination of personal and professional events has matured her somewhat and though she has lost none of her gumption, there’s a definite tinge of maturity to her these days.

Newly promoted to Detective in Dunedin, she’s still seeing her boyfriend, Paul who is working in the same team. She’s not getting on any better with her boss, D.I. Johns and since his accident, Smithy whom she got on with really well, has been remote and bad-tempered. So she’s lost an ally and as a result feels a bit more isolated.

Family problems and a fractious relationship with her mum aren’t helping and the case the team are working on is really nasty.  A local businessman, John Henderson, has been shot dead and his wife Jill left injured, both discovered at home by their teenage son, Declan. Sam is family liaison duties trying to get information from Declan and the injured wife. 

Sam’s torn between sympathy for the wife and needing to get as much detail as possible, all the while knowing that at the same hospital her family are sitting at her dad’s bedside. The trouble is that when she visits him, her mum is constantly biting her ear; tearing her off a strip. Sam feels isolated and emotional, so she pushes all her efforts into her work and solving the case.

There are two suspects who fit the bill nicely, and the team are convinced that they have the evidence they need to tie this case up neatly. But Sam’s not quite so sure and she is prepared to burn her bridges with D.I.Johns to get to the truth.

This is the Sam we know and love. Determined, prepared to stand her ground and brave enough to say what she thinks even if that opens her up to ridicule. She is in the police because she believes in justice and she’s going to make sure that’s what she delivers. Sam is nothing if not tenacious.

As ever Vanda Symon’s sense of place and atmosphere creates a vivid mental picture for the reader and you can picture Dunedin and feel its vibrancy and the lush varied nature that abounds. Even a short trip to Auckland provokes the contrast that we need to understand how Dunedin contrasts with a larger city. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be anywhere as much as I want to visit Dunedin right now.

After a stunning opener to hook you right in, short, sharp chapters keep you fixed on the narrative and a tight, twisty plot coupled with Sam’s own emotional journey engages and consumes the brain to the exclusion of anything else.

Verdict: I loved Bound. It feels like Sam has reached a really interesting crossroads in her personal and professional development and I can’t wait to find out where she chooses to go next.                                Hive Stores                                     Waterstones

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons

The April Dead by Alan Parks (Harry McCoy #4) @AlanJParks @BlackthornBks@RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25th March 2021 from Black Thorn Books
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1786897190

My thanks to the publisher and Random Things Tours for an early copy for review


In a grimy flat in Glasgow, a homemade bomb explodes, leaving few remains to identify its maker.

Detective Harry McCoy knows in his gut that there’ll be more to follow. The hunt for a missing sailor from the local US naval base leads him to the secretive group behind the bomb, and their disturbing, dominating leader.

On top of that, McCoy thinks he’s doing an old friend a favour when he passes on a warning, but instead he’s pulled into a vicious gang feud. And in the meantime, there’s word another bigger explosion is coming Glasgow’s way – so if the city is to survive, it’ll take everything McCoy’s got . . .

April is the cruellest month and that’s pretty much how Harry McCoy is finding it. Newly diagnosed with a peptic ulcer and advised to give up smoking, drinking and fried foods, McCoy isn’t in the best of tempers to begin with. It’s 1974 and a bomb has gone off in a tenement flat. It looks like it’s gone off by mistake, killing its maker, but who was building the bomb and why?

Though this investigation will touch on what’s been happening in Northern Ireland, Scotland has been mercifully spared much of the terror of the Irish bombing campaigns and not even Special Branch thinks this one is worth adding to their caseload. Still, it’s very worrying and McCoy needs to find out what’s behind it.

McCoy meets an American, Alan Stewart, who is desperately looking for his missing son, Danny, gone AWOL from the US naval base at the Holy Loch. Stewart himself is an ex-Navy Captain and McCoy takes him on a trip to Aberdeen to help keep him company and to hear more about the missing lad.

McCoy has gone to pick up his childhood friend, gangland boss Stevie Cooper, newly released from Peterhead Prison after a six month stretch. Stewart and Cooper hit it off over a mutual love of boxing, Cooper’s newest money laundering exercise, but even so, McCoy can tell that not everything is well with his old friend from their children’s home days.

Nothing stays static and there are those who sought to take over Cooper’s territory while he was inside. Now Stevie wants to root out the corrupt and re-establish his prominence. This is a game where weakness destroys and he can’t afford to give any quarter.

There are myriad reasons to love Alan Parks writing and Harry McCoy. His attention to detail beautifully evokes 1970’s Glasgow from the glorious dingy pubs to the boxing and the young lads on street corners freezing in their wee bomber jackets and flapping wide trousers, looking for trouble. It doesn’t matter who you are in this city; it’s where you came from and who you grew up with that counts.

Down these mean streets McCoy must travel and as he goes he straddles the very fine line between being a decent cop and a corrupt cop at one and the same time. It is this pushing of the boundaries that makes McCoy so interesting and yet there isn’t really any moral ambiguity; when push comes to shove, you know you want McCoy on your side.

Parkes is slowly revealing more about what bonds Cooper and McCoy together. Some bonds are so well forged they are nigh on impossible to break, yet these two come close to extreme violence on occasion as things get sticky.

This time Wattie, McCoy’s sidekick and now a brand new dad is struggling to make his mark on a case of his own. Closely watched by Chief Inspector Murray, Wattie has to solve the murder of gangland boss Jamesie Dixon but the word on the street is clear: this one was down to Stevie Cooper. It’s a poisoned chalice, and sleep-deprived Wattie is way out of his depth.

As another bomb goes off – this time at the Cathedral – Harry has to find who is responsible and what is driving them. His travels will take him to a hippy commune headed up by a famous actress and thence to a country house where the heart of the British establishment is laid bare in the guest book for all to admire.

In his darkest and most gritty narrative yet, Parks gives us a murdering psychopath targeting pubs; a mind-set driven – or at least fuelled – by terrible atrocities. This is fascinating because what we see are the repercussions – here in Glasgow and in the Irish bombings – of a hundred years and more of British Imperialism coming home to roost. The crime wave sweeping McCoy’s Glasgow streets is more than just home grown poverty striking back; it is the result of years of deliberate and planned invasion and suppression of peoples without a backward glance and all in the name of the British Empire.

Little wonder that nationalism is on the rise in places where Britain once ruled the roost. We reap what we sow, it seems. This is a much bigger canvas than Parks has previously offered and his revelations about McCoy and Cooper’s experiences as children is just one part of that.

Verdict: This is noir at its bleakest. Hard edged, gritty and uncompromising, this is Parks’ best yet. It’s thought provoking in all the right ways without being grandiose and his setting and characters gleam with authenticity. Parks does that really clever thing of being absolutely riveting, hard and forensic with the violence that’s riddled throughout this book and yet somehow, without ever playing on it, he catches your emotions, too. Put simply, this series is unmissable                                Hive Stores                                     Waterstones

Alan Parks has worked in the music industry for over twenty years. His debut novel Bloody January was shortlisted for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. He lives and works in Glasgow. The April Dead is the fourth Harry McCoy thriller

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