Category Archives: Crime

Dead If You Don’t by Peter James

Macmillan | 2018 | 389p (in Hb) | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Dead If You Don't by Peter JamesBrighton and Hove Albion is about to play one of the biggest football games in its history – the team is to play its first Premier League match and it’ll take place in Albion’s magnificent new home, Amex Stadium. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is there with his son Bruno and so too is local businessman Kipp Brown. Kipp Brown lives in a world of stress and it’s all because of his gambling habit. He’s lost almost everything – it’s just that the world doesn’t know it yet. An afternoon at the football with his son Mungo will provide relief, if only for a few hours, but, in the time it takes for Kipp to greet a client, Mungo disappears. A message follows that the teenage boy has been kidnapped. Kipp must pay or Mungo will be killed. Elsewhere in the stadium, just a few rows in front of Roy Grace, a man acts suspiciously and walks out leaving his expensive camera unattended. Security detects an explosive device. The countdown has begun.

Roy Grace has no choice but to think that these two unusual crimes must be related, although it’s impossible to see how. As he oversees the investigations – and more are added as Brighton endures an unparalleled run of serious crimes – Grace finds himself caught up in Brighton’s underworld of crime, torture, murder and revenge. Grace might be the boss but he’s always hands on. Lives depend on it.

Dead If You Don’t is the fourteenth novel in Peter James’s long-running and ever popular series featuring Brighton Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. This is the sixth I’ve read and, while I have found a couple of them more miss than hit (including the last one Need You Dead), I’m delighted to say that Dead If You Don’t is excellent and most certainly the best of those that I’ve read, giving the series some of the oomph that it needed. This might be partly because the series – and Roy – has now moved on from Sandy, a figure from Roy’s past who has overshadowed the novels for such a long time. I’m so glad to see her gone! There are hints that there may be issues to come with Roy’s son Bruno but, for the time being, these are left to simmer in the background. For now we can focus on the crimes at hand and they are corking!

Dead If You Don’t has a fantastic plot. Brighton (such a good setting for the series) is facing multiple crimes and they weave in and out through the novel. The narrative moves along with them. It can be a little difficult in the early chapters to keep track of the individuals we meet but it’s well worth paying attention because this story soon takes off. The danger is both targeted and general. The opening chapters in the Amex Stadium are so gripping. I read it compulsively, reminding me of the lesson of not to start thrillers late at night. Fast, short chapters hurl us along. Roy Grace frantically tries to retain control. He’s as breathless as we are.

Dead If You Don’t doesn’t have the sentimental streak of some of the other novels. The focus is very much away from Grace’s family, on crime, and the focus is welcome and very effective. Peter James writes thrillers very well indeed, as can be seen by the recent and brilliant Absolute Proof, a thriller I enjoyed very much indeed in 2018. Those skills are used well in Dead If You Don’t. The baddies are horrible – as they should be – and there are scenarios here that… well, just the thought of them, makes me go pale. They certainly shocked me.

Now that Grace has moved on from the past, my love of this series has been reborn. Packed with suspense, action and intrigue, with so much going on, Dead If You Don’t promises much for the future of Roy Grace and this popular series.

Other reviews
You Are Dead (Roy Grace 11)
Love You Dead (Roy Grace 12)
The House on Cold Hill
Absolute Proof


Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Quercus | 2019 (7 February) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Dirty Little Secrets by Jo SpainThe exclusive gated community of Withered Vale in Ireland appears to have much going for it. These are expensive houses, their owners are aspirational and wealthy, their children allowed to roam free behind the gates. But not all is as it seems. Secrets lurk behind each of these doors but particularly behind No 4. The body of Olive Collins, the owner of No 4 Withered Vale, lay unnoticed and undiscovered for three long months. It was the cloud of flies bellowing out of the chimney that finally gave the game away. Police officers Frank Brazil, so close to retirement, and his partner Emma, so close to the start of her career, are given charge of the investigation into what might be a suspicious death. As they begin to make their visits around the small number of houses on Withered Vale, there are questions they really need the answer to – why did nobody in this small community notice that Olive was missing? Perhaps because they knew that she wasn’t?

This is such a gripping read! And it is indeed packed full of dirty little secrets and it’s up to Frank and Emma to wheedle them out of the occupants of the perfectly named Withered Vale. We’re introduced to each of the households one by one as key members of the community take over the narrative – we have the cheesy lover, the pretentious (and rich) hippies, the mother and daughter who keep themselves to themselves, the retirees who may or may not have been in their holiday home abroad at the time of Olive’s death, there is the son of a wealthy man who now lives alone and is controlled by his addiction, there’s the loving couple who really hate one another, and there’s the wayward children. And then there’s Olive. Olive better than anyone seemed to know what was going on within each of these elegant houses. Her voice isn’t neglected in Dirty Little Secrets. Olive speaks from the grave.

My favourite characters in Dirty Little Secrets, though, apart from one of the young children, are the police officers, Frank and Emma. They investigate this case, hanging around the Vale constantly, almost as if their bosses are trying to get rid of them. Frank is so close to retirement. It’s as if they want to keep him out of trouble. Emma has much to learn but she has a distinctive feel for the case that Frank is keen to develop. Their relationship is absolutely fascinating. They each have their own past to deal with, which they slowly reveal to the other. It’s poignant and so beautifully done. I grew to care for both of these people very much.

And this is what makes Dirty LIttle Secrets such a sophisticated and elegant triumph. The reader might have their preconceptions about the way in which this novel might develop, not least due to the signpost of its title, but they will be wrong. I’m not going to say anything at all about this except to urge you to keep your expectations on hold.

Dirty Little Secrets is such a clever, rich and witty novel. It has that wonderful Agatha Christie feel of a crime committed by one of a small number of confined suspects. There’s such a charm about the way in which we learn about the goings on in each of the houses. But then the reality kicks in and that’s what left me enthralled. People are complicated, even if they live in Withered Vale or if they have to police it, and Jo Spain teases out their true natures, their involving stories, in such a fascinating way. I loved The Confession but it’s quite possible that Dirty Little Secrets is even better. Jo Spain’s books will always go straight to the top of my reading pile.

Other review
The Confession

Marked for Death by Tony Kent

Elliott and Thompson | 2019 (7 February) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

Marked for Death by Tony KentWhen a retired Lord Chief Justice is viciously slaughtered in his home, tortured and crucified, London’s legal establishment is shocked. And then another solicitor is killed in the same way. Someone, somewhere, is clearly out for terrible vengeance and Detective Chief Inspector Joelle Levy is given the job of finding out who that is and why. It’s not an easy task and matters aren’t helped when the most audacious and astonishing gangland killing takes place on her patch. One of the most well-known journalists of the day, Sarah Truman, investigates the crucifictions on her own as a worrying pattern emerges. Meanwhile, Sarah’s fiancé, QC barrister Michael Devlin is consumed by his own court case, in which he must prove the innocence of his client against enormous odds. But both Michael and Sarah have no idea how close the killer will come to their own lives. The clock is ticking.

I loved Tony Kent’s debut thriller Killer Intent and the good news is that its successor, Marked For Death, is every bit as compelling, if not even more so. I was so pleased to see Sarah and Michael return. Both have done well from what happened before. They’ve not only received promotion and admiration in their professions, but they are also now engaged and living together. It’s a good life. It’s about to get turned upside down.

As with Killer Intent, there’s an engrossing story at the heart of Marked For Death. The novel starts with a shock that sets the pace and mood for the rest of the novel. It doesn’t let up at all. There is so much going on as more than one thread weaves its way through the plot. We follow Sarah and Michael in their busy daily lives but we also have a killer to watch. It’s such a good story and Tony Kent tells it brilliantly well.

Sarah and Michael are joined in this book by DCI Joelle Levy and she is given plenty of space, meaning that we get to know her very well indeed. We get involved in her relationships with her fellow detectives, with her child and also with Sarah. I love the depth of character that Tony Kent gives us. It’s skilfully done as it doesn’t in any way distract from the plot. It keeps us invested in what’s going on and raises the stakes. We don’t want anything to happen to these people while fearing that it must.

The author’s legal background adds authenticity to his novels, especially for the character of Michael Devlin and his court case. There are some great moments of cross-examination here, with complex detailed argument (I’ll admit that I had to concentrate a great deal to follow the cross-examination about mobile phone masts!), which I thoroughly enjoyed. This combines so well with the thriller element of the plot outside the courtroom, although there is tension in both worlds. I was gripped by Marked For Death from the outset and it was a perfect read for the Christmas holidays. I just hope they’ll be more soon from this very talented thriller writer.

Other review
Killer Intent

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

Quercus | 2019 (7 February) | 365p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Stone Circle by Elly GriffithsThe bones of a young girl, buried so long ago in the Bronze Age, have been found on a henge site on the Saltmarsh on the Norfolk coast. Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, is investigating. But, when more bones are found nearby, Ruth knows there is something different about them. They aren’t old. The bones are soon identified as those of Margaret Lacey, a child who disappeared thirty years ago. DCI Harry Nelson must reopen the cold case but he’s troubled. Nelson has been receiving anonymous letters which are similar to those that he was sent years before by a man now dead. Are the cases connected? The writer certainly seems to know more about the buried child than he should.

The Ruth Galloway series is one of my very favourites. In fact, I love everything that Elly Griffiths writes, whether it’s this series, or the Stephens and Mephisto books, or the stand alone marvel The Stranger Diaries, which was one of my top books of 2018. And so I fell on The Stone Circle as soon as it arrived, keen to be back in this warm world (despite the murders), with detectives Judy and Cloughie and with Cathbad the Druid.

In the last novel (book ten of the series), The Dark Angel, we were taken to Italy (and I loved it) but The Stone Circle returns us to the familiar territory of the marshes of the coast, no distance at all from where a man died in an earlier case and who is remembered here. It’s worth mentioning at this point that, as far as the case is concerned, you don’t need to have read any of the other books. It’s all easy to follow.

It’s certainly worth reading the books in order, though, for what they reveal about the relationship between Ruth and Nelson, which is the key element of the series. In these books the murder is most definitely secondary to the people whose lives we have grown so close to over all eleven books. All of the books are character-driven, much more than they are action-driven. It’s Ruth and Nelson who matter, as well as Ruth’s child Kate, Nelson’s children, and his wife Michelle who is now on the point of giving birth once more. These characters have all spun a tangled web and by now we are well and truly involved. I think if you read this novel on its own, with no knowledge of what’s gone on before, then you might feel a little uninvolved. But if you’ve read these books as a progression then there are some key moments here. Both Ruth and Nelson are getting ready to make some big decisions. Babies are a big theme in this book – new beginnings.

I love the Norfolk setting of the novels. The sea is never far away. The marshes are beautiful and lethal at the same time. I love how Elly Griffiths writes. She has brought us completely into Ruth and Nelson’s world. The tension between them continues and now it is involving another generation. At least they have a murder mystery to distract them! But the case is such a sad one and it becomes very involving. I lose myself so easily in this series. I find these books comforting and such a pleasure. Long may they continue. Thank you so much, Elly Griffiths!

Other reviews
The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway 9)
The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway 10)
The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens and Mephisto 1)
The Vanishing Box (Stephens and Mephisto 4)
The Stranger Diaries

To Catch a Killer by Emma Kavanagh

Orion | 2019 (24 January) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

To Catch a Killer by Emma KavanaghWhen DS Alice Parr is first on the scene at a stabbing, it’s not long before she and the rest of her team understand that this is far more than a mugging gone wrong. Alice is changed by the attack. She holds the hand of the woman whose throat has been cut, only able to utter one word before she falls into a coma: ‘wolf’. Alice is determined to discover the identity of this woman and to catch the person whom, she’s more than certain, will prove to be a murderer. Alice’s boss and colleagues, especially her closest friend Poppy, worry for Alice. It’s not long since she survived a terrible fire. She carries the scars and the trauma. But Alice is not going to give this case away. But who is this victim? The clues she’s left behind will lead Alice on an extraordinary journey of secrets and lies, each more elaborate than the last. And watching it all will be the killer.

Emma Kavanagh is one of my favourite authors, and is one of the writers who got me back into reading crime fiction several years ago. I have much to be grateful to her for. Each of her books stands alone. They’re unusual, distinct and clever crime mysteries, asking questions about identity and relationships. To Catch a Killer demonstrates this yet again. But the first thing to mention is how beautiful the writing is. We spend much of the time in Alice’s head. And, despite the trauma of the recent fire, it’s an utterly believable place to be – Alice feels recognisable emotions, especially guilt and fear, and this is expressed by Emma Kavanagh with such feeling and empathy. I cared for Alice from the very beginning and this continued through the novel, enriching the real power of its complex and thoroughly satisfying plot.

That brings me on to one of the main reasons why To Catch a Killer stands out. It constantly shifts the ground from under the reader’s feet. So little can be taken for granted. But the plot is grown through the most fascinating detective work by Alice and her team as they follow an astonishing trail of clues. Alice is an instinctive detective. We see how she pulls things together, making leaps into the dark and discovering results. But there is a strong sense that understanding remains beyond reach, that the killer is always at least one step ahead and knows it. The reader constantly has to reassess their opinions. Yet it’s not done clinically – there’s emotion here, quite a lot of it. And we get completely involved in the story of this mysterious woman found so close to death by Alice.

A new novel by Emma Kavanagh is always such a treat and To Catch a Killer is especially good. It’s engrossing and extremely difficult to put down as we’re taken deeper and deeper into its layers of mystery. You might work out some of it, as I did, but there will be so much here to surprise you. I was left with an even deeper admiration for Emma Kavanagh’s skill than I had before. I’m not going to forget Alice in a hurry.

I’m delighted to review To Catch a Killer as part of the blog tour to celebrate its publication on 24 January. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

Other reviews
The Missing Hours
The Killer on the Wall

Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Mantle | 2019 (24 January) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

It is 1781 and an unidentified man is discovered hanging upon a hook at Deptford Dock, tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Captain Harry Corden, a war hero now embarking on a political career, suspects that he knows who the man is. His close friend, the abolitionist Tad Archer, has disappeared having just revealed that he was about to announce something that would end British slavery for good. But there are many who would do anything to stop that happening – the rich who’ve made their fortunes from the cruel trade and the crews and merchants of docks such as Deptford who think they could not manage without it. And, in their minds, why should they? Surely the slaves are less evolved, in need of religious salvation, something that would be provided for them as they lay in packed lines in the stinking depths of hundreds of vessels sailing the oceans.

As Harry investigates, he becomes as immersed as Tad ever was in the dark side of Deptford’s brutal business. It’s not long before he too is receiving threatening notes, soon more murders follow, almost everyone that he meets has more than one side to them, as some secrets emerge while others remain truly concealed. Harry has good cause to dread that this appalling trade in human life may well be the death of him.

Blood & Sugar is, without doubt, one of the very best books I read in 2018 and is most certainly one to watch in 2019. The fact that it is a debut novel makes it all the more astonishing. It is a sophisticated tale, written with such confidence by an author who has clearly immersed herself in a period that she understands very well indeed. And she brings it to life, especially that little bit of 18th-century England that is Deptford, to the east of London, where slavery is everyone’s business.

Deptford lies at the heart of Blood & Sugar and it’s so well depicted that you can almost smell its stench. One half of the town is gentrified, living off the profits of the poorer half who labour in ships, in docks, in inns and brothels, in warehouses. Everything has a value, whether it’s information, a bed to sleep in, a whore, a spice, a ship, a wife, a slave. It’s all interconnected and woe betide anyone who stirs the pot. I loved the descriptions of Deptford, of the journeys to and fro from London, of life in the inns.

The characters we encounter are every bit as fascinating as the place in which they live. Freed slaves live among their previous owners, while there are others in Deptford who will never be free. They are exotic objects. Is it even possible to murder a slave? Their masters act without fear of prosecution. Miss Cinnamon is someone we grow to care for deeply as her story comes to represent the trade that enslaved her. There are so many stories here as Harry blunders his way around the town. I loved Harry. He’s so difficult not to like. His character brings with it the background of the American War of Independence and that adds another intriguing element to the novel’s setting. The narrative is in Harry’s own words and so he’s careful what he reveals to us about himself and others. But he trusts us more as his story progresses. I hung on to every word.

No punches are pulled here when it comes to the slave trade. The cruelty and inhumanity is laid bare and some sections, with which the author has taken so much care, are upsetting to read but they are also powerfully informative. Harry is playing a dangerous game, as are some of the other people we meet, but it’s clearly one that’s worth it. There is a heavy cost but Harry knows it must be paid.

Blood & Sugar is a compelling novel. The murder mystery is such a good one. The book is action-packed and as page turning as you could wish for. This is such a hard novel to put down! The characters are richly varied and deeply interesting, including a complex, driven main character who I felt such an attachment to. It is wonderfully written. It is also a stark, honest, devastating depiction of slavery in Britain – this isn’t a book to forget in a hurry. With Blood & Sugar Laura Shepherd-Robinson has laid down the gauntlet – she is most definitely an author to watch.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

Bantam Press | 2019 (24 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Suspect by Fiona BartonAlex O’Connor had saved for such a long time for a trip to Thailand to celebrate finishing her A Levels. While there she’ll learn the exam results which will start her off on the next phase of her life. With her is school friend Rosie Shaw, stepping in when Alex’s best friend couldn’t afford it in the end, and they are going to have the time of their lives! First in Bangkok and then touring around the country to experience its culture and beaches. But the day of the results comes and goes. Alex doesn’t phone home. Her regular emails have stopped. There isn’t a word from Rosie either. Both sets of parents are immediately worried and contact the police. DI Bob Sparkes is put on the case in the UK. He’s not the only one to be interested. Newspaper reporter Kate Waters is immediately on the case, not least because her own son Jake went silent in Thailand four long years ago.

The Suspect is the third stand alone novel by Fiona Barton to feature The Reporter – Kate – and The Detective – Bob Sparkes. I loved The Widow and The Child so much. They cleverly combine police procedural with psychological thriller and are driven by characters I can’t get enough of, namely Kate and Bob. As a result, these books go straight to the top of my reading pile and I gobbled up The Suspect just as soon as I could.

The Suspect is, in my opinion, every bit as involving and engrossing as the two that went before but there’s something extra in this novel. Kate is more implicated than ever before as she becomes a part of the story she is supposed to be writing. This is as much Kate’s story as it is that of the mothers of the missing girls. These women each go through their own personal torment. But it is also Bob’s story for an entirely different reason. His mind, like Kate’s, is very much on family but for him the case is almost a necessary distraction. At times, this is a very emotional read – the themes aren’t easy, no matter have engrossing they might be.

Much of the novel is set in Thailand and there’s such a real sense of gritty reality as we learn about Alex and Rose’s experiences and worry for their safety. The book moves back and forth in time as we also have Alex’s day-by-day contribution to the narrative. It’s so hard not to become caught up in Alex’s story. Her voice is so innocent and vulnerable. The narrators and perspectives of the book constantly shift and this drives the pace along, supported by such an excellent story. There are also moments of strong impact.

I loved the setting of the novel and I also enjoyed Fiona Barton’s treatment of its themes – family, guilt, suspicion, blame and unconditional love. Fiona Barton quickly became one of my favourite authors. I empathise so strongly with her characters. There is good in so many of them while in just a few she reveals the very worst. But life is complicated. Matters are rarely straightforward or black and white and that too feels like a realistic element in these hugely enjoyable and compelling novels.

Other reviews
The Widow
The Child