Tag Archives: Crime

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

Viper | 2022 (6 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Twyford Code by Janice HallettMany years ago, schoolboy Steven Smith found on a bus a book by Edith Twyford, a writer now considered old-fashioned, a bit dodgy. It’s covered in strange scribbles and messages. He took it to his teacher Miss Isles who became obsessed with it, believing the book to contain a code that could decipher a great mystery. On a school trip to Bournemouth shortly afterwards, she vanished without trace, her disappearance haunting Steven for the rest of his days.

After a stretch in prison, Steven decides to do something about it. He determines to decipher the code himself and to find out what really happened to Miss Isles. Steven isn’t good at writing and so he records all of his interviews with his old schoolfriends and anyone else he encounters in his investigations to solve his own past. But Steven soon discovers that he isn’t the only person to be intent on solving the mystery of the Twyford Code and by then it is too late. Steven is caught in a web and, just out of reach, the answers to it all tantalise.

The Appeal was my favourite crime mystery of 2021 and one of my very top reads of the year. It’s actually one of my favourite novels of all time, not just for the story it tells but for the way in which it tells it. It’s ingenious. It’s an updated epistolary novel, which involves the reader with the mystery in such an engaging and thoroughly gripping way. It’s a hard act to follow but Janice Hallett is a very clever writer and in The Twyford Code she tweaks the style just a bit to deliver another original and consuming standalone mystery.

This time, the novel comprises a series of transcripts. These contain numerous mis-hearings of certain words, presumably due to the transcription software, adding a very curious element to the prose. This is the sort of novel, like its predecessor, in which the reader needs to keep their wits about them, staying alert and always on the look out for clues. The whole book is a puzzle. But where does it lead?

The Twyford Code is also a novel about a vulnerable boy who grows into a damaged soul. We learn about his relationships with his family, his school days and the trouble that he has found himself in. Now he has a mission. But will it be the death of him?

More than that, I cannot say. These are books to immerse oneself in, to be driven by curiosity and fascination to discover where they lead. I cannot wait for the next novel.

PS – I love the cover!

Other review
The Appeal

The Mitford Vanishing by Jessica Fellowes

Sphere | 2021 (4 November) | 416p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It is 1937 and Europe is marching towards war, with Civil War already raging in Spain. Idealists on both sides – Communist and Fascist – are drawn to the conflict in Spain, perhaps not realising the horrors they will face there. The Mitford family is as divided as Europe but they come together when they realise that Communist sister Jessica (nicknamed Decca) has eloped to France and believed to be heading for Spain. Their former maid Louisa now runs a private detective agency with her ex-policeman husband Guy and the two of them are surprised when novelist Nancy Mitford hires them to track down Decca and her unsuitable lover. Scandal, war, ruination face the young woman if she cannot be found in time.

The Mitford Vanishing is the fifth novel in Jessica Fellowes’ wonderful series, which follows the lives of this extraordinary,  glamorous and controversial family. Each one tends to look at a different sister and so you can pick them up easily but I’d really recommend reading the series from the beginning as then you’ll know more about Louisa and Guy. Louisa is the star of these novels however shiny the sisters are. One thing’s for sure, they all attract trouble and they have kept Louisa’s investigative skills busy since the day she first met them.

This time we’re on the trail of Decca but, as she remains elusive for much of the novel, the focus is on the people that Louisa and Guy meet on their travels across France. The war in Spain looms over events and the details about that are fascinating. Louisa, though, has other matters on her mind and spends much of the novel investigating another case in London of a missing woman while Guy chases clues on the continent.

The novel mixes fact and fiction very well and the scenes in France are particularly compelling. I wasn’t convinced as much by the London missing person case or its conclusion but Decca’s mysterious disappearance is thoroughly entertaining and a great device through which to look at the rise of fascism and the Spanish Civil War.

Louisa is a fabulous main character and I’ve enjoyed following her over the years. Her husband Guy plays a much bigger role than usual and he is improved for it. The two now feel like an equal partnership and they work so well together.

I listened to the audiobook, which was well-read but I think the treebook would be better due to the many brief chapters.

We are running out of Mitford sisters now but arguably the strangest of them all remains – Unity. I really, really hope Jessica Fellowes tackles her next!

Other reviews
The Mitford Murders catch up (The Mitford Murders and Bright Young Dead)
The Mitford Scandal
The Mitford Trial

Five Minds by Guy Morpuss

Viper | 2021 (2 September) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Five Minds by Guy MorpussIn the near future, Earth’s population crisis has been solved through drastic measures. On reaching adulthood, people can select how the rest of their lives will be lived – as a worker in their own bodies, as glamorous and wealthy pleasure-seekers (but for a pitifully short life), as a kind of human-android hybrid. All have their lifespan limited. But, for the longest life, people can opt to share a body – five minds in one body for about 140 years – but with consciousness limited to four hours as each mind takes its turn through the day.

Alex, Kate, Sierra, Ben and Mike have lived together in one body for 25 years. While Mike does everything he can with his time to keep the body fit, others within the commune have treated it less well. The time has come to compete for time credits to buy a new host body. They must play a series of virtual games in the ‘death parks’, places where people play to gain time but so often lose it. But, as the games play out, one of the five goes missing and soon it becomes terribly clear – they have been murdered. Someone wants to kill them off one by one. But who? Could they be sharing a body with a killer?

Five Minds is such an original and clever speculative novel, which takes the concept of a locked room murder mystery to extremes, with some of the suspects confined within one body, and each of the minds using their allotted shift of time to investigate. The chapters move through the structure of the day, moving between the minds, with Alex starting the day. It’s purposefully disjointed with each mind having to readjust to where their predecessor in the body has left them. They can communicate through messages, leaving clues and warnings – or lies and deceits. It’s an intriguing way for a murder enquiry to be conducted.

The science fiction element comes to the fore in the Death Park, a horrendous place of shifting realities and manipulation. Some of the games are frightening, others physically challenging, but the cost can be extreme, even fatal. What a place!

It is a dark novel. There seems no pleasure to be had living in four-hour chunks, in a body that isn’t your own, with the minds of others that you don’t particularly like. What if you’re the one who never sees the sun or even daylight? You can see why few select this course but there is a sadness about the other types of life. The setting of the Death Park seems appropriate to the gloom of a world that has no room for the people who live on it.

Five Minds raises questions about what type of life one might want, what one might be prepared to do to have more time, what time one might give up for a short life of luxury. But it is also an excellent crime novel that goes off in all sorts of unexpected directions. It does get complicated, which you’d expect when nobody has time to see the full picture, and is very clever and satisfying in the way it develops.

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves

Macmillan | 2021 (2 September) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It’s a hot summer’s night when DS Jen Rafferty attends a party thrown by her magistrate friend Cynthia. She is approached by Nigel Yeo, a doctor whose role is now to monitor NHS trusts in this part of north Devon. He needs official advice from a police officer but, drunk, Jen is in no state to offer it and so he leaves. The next day Yeo is discovered murdered at Westacombe, the home of a rural community of artists, a shard of glass from a vase made by his daughter Eve in his neck. While Jen struggles with the guilt of not having helped Yeo when he needed it, her boss DI Matthew Venn must unravel the lies that tie this community together and seek out the killer in its midst. But one of the suspects is a close friend of Matthew’s husband Jonathan. This unusual case is about to get very personal, for Matthew and for Jen.

The Heron’s Cry is the second novel in Ann Cleeves’ new series, Two Rivers, which began in fine style with The Long Call. Matthew Venn immediately became one of my favourite literary detectives (along with the author’s other famous creation, Vera). Matthew is a fantastic character. He’s quiet, well-dressed, reserved and infinitely kind and well-loved, not just by his husband but also by his friends and colleagues (except for his boss, of course, who hates everyone except DC Ross May), and it’s good to see them all again in The Heron’s Cry.

Once more, the emphasis is on the people who drive the story onwards, making it an immersive and gentle read. It’s lovely to meet such characters as Lucy again while it’s also good to get to know others better, such as Jen and Jonathan, and especially Matthew. The author takes her time to guide us through the personalities and conflicts of the community of artists, and their relationship with their powerful, wealthy patron Frank Ley.

The locations by the coast in north Devon are wonderful! It’s a hot summer, the beaches are beautiful and full of holiday makers, contrasting with the unhappiness of the artists and the menace of the killer, as well as the stories of despair that Matthew and his team uncover.

I should mention that this is a good example where the author’s foreword should most definitely be at the back of the book. I found it spoilery. Resist the urge to read it!

While it is a little slow in places, perhaps frustratingly so at times, The Heron’s Cry is a very enjoyable read, filled with wonderful characters, and it tells a story that has depth, heart and menace. I can’t wait for the return of Matthew, Jen and Jonathan.

Other review
The Long Call

The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

HarperCollins | 2021 (2 September) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Chateau by Catherine CooperAura and Nick have uprooted their young family – boys called Bay and Sorrel – and moved from London to a dilapidated chateau in France. There is an unbelievable amount of work to do on it but a project such as this is just what Aura needs to take her mind off why they left England in such a rush. Best not to think about that. Luckily, chateau buying is all the rage with Brits and so the local ex-pat community soon takes the new couple under their wing, offering practical help as well as glamorous parties. It helps that the project is being observed by a TV documentary film crew. They even manage to get an au pair for no more cost than food and board. It seems too good to be true. And of course it is. The alarm bells are starting to go off even before one of their neighbours is found murdered.

Hot on the heels of The Chalet comes The Chateau. I love the recipe of these novels – a remote location, a small community of strangers, a murderer in their midst, a bunch of lies. I thoroughly enjoyed The Chalet and so I was looking forward to this and it did not disappoint. What a bunch of people…. It’s difficult to know who is the most despicable. Aura is our narrator for much of the book and it’s clear that what she doesn’t say is more important than what she does. The reader is left to fill in the gaps as slowly the truth emerges about what they left behind in London. You’ve got to wonder about anyone who would name their sons Bay and Sorrel, though.

The chateau itself is a fantastic location for a psychological thriller. It’s an abomination. Aura might view it as this beautiful ruin crying out for repair but it’s clearly horrible, dangerous, creepy and malignant. It fits the mood of the novel perfectly and reflects the characters of most of the people in it, including the ghastly ex-pats. Even the film crew are shifty.

I’m not going to give anything away but what I will say is that the way in which this story plays out is thoroughly satisfying. Catherine Cooper is such a good writer, she sets the scene so well. It’s creepy but it’s also fun and a little bonkers! I can’t wait to find out where she’ll take us to next!

Other review
The Chalet

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

Michael Joseph | 2021 (19 August) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

For Your Own Good by Samantha DowningTeddy Crutcher has been teaching English at Belmont Academy for a long time and, at last, he has won Teacher of the Year. At last. Nobody deserves it more, at least in Teddy’s eyes. He always wants the best for his students, especially those who treat him with respect and have influential parents on the School’s Board. He also likes to teach a different kind of lesson to those who deserve it, especially gifted student Zach and the popular teacher Sonia. To his chagrin, Sonia is about to be given a party to celebrate her tenth anniversary at the Academy. But when a member of the School’s Board, a pupil’s mother, is poisoned at the party, it’s not just Teddy who is shocked into action. This is a school where it seems everyone has a secret and nobody is safe.

Samantha Downing is an absolute genius at witty and wicked psychological thrillers. She did it with My Lovely Wife and she’s done it again with For Your Own Good. Usually, I need to like someone in a novel, at least a little bit, to engage with it but this novel shows that, as long as a book is written as well as this one, that’s really not the case. Pretty much everyone at Belmont Academy, including the over-reaching parents, is despicable! Sonia might be ‘nice’ but she’s living some sort of dream in her head that doesn’t seem to fit with reality. We might feel sorry for one or two of the students but not for long. And Teddy is utterly appalling.

The reader spends time in the heads of several people, although it’s Teddy who sets the mood. The more he reveals of himself the more you can hardly believe what you’re hearing. And then we move into the perspective of other students and teachers and you realise that you’re in some sort of nightmare territory and it’s all brilliantly wicked! As the story goes on, nothing seems impossible. There seems nothing these people won’t do. But do they actually do them? That’s the thing. We spend time in people’s minds – how much of what they think is true?

The plot is fabulous and it kept me reading compulsively.  The more the novel went on, the more intrigued I became. By the end, it was absolutely compelling and engrossing, so much so that I read it in one day. I can’t remember the last time I read a book in one day. This delicious book demanded it.

Other review
My Lovely Wife

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Viking | 2021 (16 September) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard OsmanWhen ex-spy Elizabeth receives a letter from a man she knows to be dead, it becomes clear that this is not going to be a normal week for the residents of the Coopers Chase retirement community. A man with whom Elizabeth has a long past needs her help – and that of the Thursday Murder Club. He’s now realised that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea after all to steal those diamonds worth many millions of dollars from the NYC Mob. It’s hard to imagine a bigger target on his back. It’s not long before the septuagenarian Thursday Murder Club and their police friends have a ruthless murderer to hunt. You could almost feel sorry for the killer…

Richard Osman’s debut novel The Thursday Murder Club was one of my top reads of 2020. I absolutely loved it, with its delicious mix of wit, cosiness and wickedness, all brought together with the most fantastic prose. Any fears that the author couldn’t do it again were instantly dispelled when I read the very first page of The Man Who Died Twice. It is absolutely fantastic!

I’m giving nothing more away about what’s going on in this fine novel but I do want to say a bit about why I love it so much. I love all of the characters but Joyce, whose journal entries are scattered throughout the book, is my favourite. A former nurse, she’s lived for others and is now having the time of her own life helping Elizabeth to dig out bad guys. The disparity between how she appears and what she reveals in the journal is just wonderful, but, while it’s funny, it’s also extremely poignant in some ways. And that poignancy is present with others, too, especially Ibrahim, the psychiatrist. The humanity of the writing is incredible. All of the characters are given their little moments for us to connect with on really quite a deep level, even DCI Chris Hudson. I was so moved by him in The Man Who Died Twice. So, actually, when I say that I love Joyce the most, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I adore them all equally.

The baddies are brilliant! The insight we’re given into the mindset of one of the villains is fantastic – evil trying not to be evil while knowing that he really is very evil but still wanting to be polite. Absolutely wonderful.

The plot is magnificent and works on so many levels. Enough said about that.

Richard Osman has done it again. Rarely have I felt so warmly attached to characters and, in these books, there’s not just one or two characters to love but several. A fabulous plot, beautifully witty and kind, clever, poignant and tragic at times, even shocking, and so completely fun to read. Please can we have more!!

Other review
The Thursday Murder Club

The Good Death by S.D. Sykes

Hodder & Stoughton | 2021 (5 August) | 304p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It is 1370 and time has passed at the manor of Somershill in Kent. But the past has never been so urgent for its lord, Oswald de Lacy. Oswald’s mother, a formidable woman, is dying and in her possession is a letter that raises ghosts from that terrible time of 1349 when the Black Death crossed the land, killing so many in its path, including Oswald’s father and brothers. Oswald’s mother needs to understand what happened all those years before in order to make peace with her son before it is too late. And so Oswald sits by her bedside and recalls the time when young women disappeared from the village and he, a young novice monk, tried to find out why, when every day the world grew smaller as communities shrank into themselves, or fled, as the plague crept relentlessly nearer.

The Oswald de Lacy series is wonderful. It’s beautifully written and it moves around the years, and around Europe (Oswald has spent time in Venice), but its focus is always the plague years and always this Kentish haven. Almost ten years have gone by since The Bone Fire but this fifth novel, The Good Death, calls a halt and instead goes back into the past. We spend brief interludes in the ‘present’ of 1370 but the majority of the time is spent in the days leading up to the arrival of the Black Death when Oswald found himself with reasons to investigate the disappearance, and presumed murders, of several girls from the village. At the time, Oswald was a novice monk on the cusp of manhood, never expecting to inherit. Everything was about to change.

The story, as usual in these fabulous novels, is excellent and the further it progresses the more involved the reader becomes. It has a gentle pace but during the second half I found myself utterly engrossed and read all of that half in one sitting. The mood and atmosphere build and build as the plague creeps ever nearer. The village feels like a refuge but for how long? And where are the young women? The answers lie in the woods around the village and, in that lawless place, anything is possible. It is sinister and menacing in equal measure while Oswald, the innocent, falls into the thick of it.

The Good Death is beautifully written and immersed in its time, surely one of the most terrible periods in English history. Of course, this was written, and read, in a time of pandemic and that certainly adds to its mood and perhaps makes it easier for us to relate to these frightened communities. You don’t need to have read the other novels to enjoy this one, although you might have a greater appreciation of Oswald’s mother and sister if you have done. The focus is most definitely on the past, although that is rather pleasing as it means we have fresh light thrown on the earlier novels in the series. It’s clever, without a doubt.

I love Oswald. He feels real to me, as do his family and friends. I marvel at the way in which the author evokes this feudal age. It’s so well drawn and full of lots of historical details about life, society, law, medicine, work, obedience in a mid 14th-century manor, in which workers are compared to mute insects, and monastery. Oswald bridges society and in some ways is very alone and on its margins. There is a strong sense that he must let the past go and here we find out why.

The Good Death is a fabulous historical crime mystery and I didn’t guess it at all! The historical setting is great, as is its location in woody Kent. The story is so good but this book goes bigger than that, finding a way in to explore a time in our history when death became more horrifying than ever and when feudalism itself came under attack from an unexpected foe, plague.

Other reviews
Plague Land
The Butcher Bird
City of Masks

The Bone Fire

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Century | 2021 (19 August) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

A Line to Kill by Anthony HorowitzFormer Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his biographer Anthony Horowitz are rather pleased when they are invited to a literary festival on the beautiful and quiet Channel Island of Alderney, although Anthony is a little surprised that Daniel agreed to it so readily. It’s almost as if he knew that they would soon be embroiled in a murder case that has the whole island locked down while the police (and Anthony and Daniel) seek out the killer. There is a fine selection of suspects among the festival attendees, speakers and organisers, not all of whom will leave the island alive. But who among them is the murderer?

I love this series so much and A Line to Kill, the third, is every bit as fun and engrossing as the previous novels, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death. The concept is fabulous – the author as a character in his own novel, helping an enigmatic detective to solve murders, but often getting it all wrong while Daniel works it out. These books are wonderful, witty satires on all things literary, whether that’s authors, publishers, agents, reviewers or, in this case, literary festivals.

The Alderney setting is my favourite of all the locations in the novels, not least because I really want to go to the historical literary festival there one of these days (when I can conquer my terror of small planes), and I love the descriptions of the island. There is also a strong sense of history. The horrendous years of the Occupation during World War Two, when the island was prison to thousands of slave labourers and transformed into a fortress, cast a shadow over the novel and adds another fascinating element. The past cannot be forgotten.

I’m not going to give away anything about the plot, other than to say that the suspects are an incredible bunch of characters, including a blind psychic and a celebrity chef. They are a lot of fun to read about while Daniel Hawthorne is his usual aggravating self.

I love cosy, locked room whodunnits and I also like it when cosy crime is played with, as this series does so well. A Line to Kill is a thoroughly entertaining, clever and engrossing read, as are all of the novels I’ve read by this author. I really hope Anthony will assist Daniel Hawthorne in another case and very soon.

Other reviews
The Word is Murder
The Sentence is Death
Magpie Murders
The Moonflower Murders

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Century | 2021 (22 July) | 480p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa JewellIn 2018, detective novelist Sophie arrives to live at Maypole House, a country boarding school. Her boyfriend is its new head and she finds it hard to settle so far away from her old life in London. When she goes out for a walk in the woods behind the school, she finds a sign nailed to a fence – ‘Dig here’. What she finds will re-open raw wounds among the members of the school and surrounding small community.

In the summer of 2017, teenage mum Tallulah left her baby son at home with her mother Kim to go out on a date night with her boyfriend. They ended up at a pool party at Dark Place, a house in the woods behind the school. Neither Tallulah or her boyfriend Zach were seen again, leaving Kim and the detective in charge of the case in limbo, endlessly searching. But now, after all these months, somebody is trying to get Sophie’s attention and the mystery intensifies.

Lisa Jewell writes such brilliant stand alone crime and psychological thrillers or twisters and with The Night She Disappeared she has done it again. The premise is appealing and the mystery intriguing. I really wanted to know the answer to what happened to Tallulah and her boyfriend Zach.

But this is more than just a crime mystery, it tells several stories in a structure that moves between the present – Kim and Sophie’s stories – and the past – Tallulah’s life as a teenage mum trying to fit in with her friends who are so entirely different from her, all leading up to the night of her disappearance. Following that disappearance, our sympathies move to Kim who now has to raise an unhappy small child. She is filled with love for him but wasn’t ready to raise another child. And, of course, he is a constant reminder of the child she has lost.

So there is the deeply involved story of Kim and then the outsider perspective of Sophie, looking on the mystery with fresh eyes and finding potential suspects all around her. The school and its woods take on a sinister and menacing air as Sophie literally digs for clues.

I did find the ending slightly rushed and a little unconvincing but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed The Night She Disappeared and found it hard to put down. Its portrait of Tallulah is particularly well done as she does battle with herself. The structure of the novel works very well. Lisa Jewell is such a wonderful storyteller.

Other reviews
Then She Was Gone
Watching You
The Family Upstairs