Ursula Archer and Arno Strobel: Strangers Sunday, Jan 21 2018 

Auntie M enjoyed Ursula Archer’s Five with it’s solid plotting and great characters. So she was anxious to read her new book, written with Arno Strobel, and Strangers is their dual result.

The book hooks readers from the outset, when Australian Joanna, looking forward to an evening alone e, finds a strange man in the house she’s renting in Germany as she works on her photography. After a heart-pounding few moments–and after ascertaining he’s not a rapist–he claims to be her fiance.

Erik can’t understand why Joanna not only doesn’t recognize him or remember their last months together, what’s happened to all of his clothes and other belongings while he’s been at work.

For all traces of Erik have been wiped out of the house, reinforcing Joanna’s feeling that the man standing before her is one she’s never met before. Being the daughter of am Australian millionaire, she’s always been wary of people taking advantage of her. What game is Erik playing?

The more this couple try to unravel what’s happened, the more confusing their situation becomes until it becomes obvious that they are in jeopardy and must learn to trust each other to overcome the forces that have put them in this weird and uncomfortable situation.

It’s a wild ride they find themselves on, with people they thought they could trust making them question which one of them is crazy–or perhaps they are both going insane.

A complex plot has increased tension by alternating the points of view of Joanna and Erik. We see each one’s confusion as it mounts that drives the action as the suspense builds. A clever read.


Nicki French: Sunday Silence Wednesday, Jan 17 2018 

This compelling psychological thriller series returns with Sunday Silence, featuring therapist Frieda Klein.

At once strong and resilient, the Frieda who walks London to examine her thoughts is shaken to the core when the body of dead policeman is found under the floorboards of her own living room. At once a person of interest in the case, Frieda is more concerned that appears killer Dan Reeve is making his existence known, to the chagrin of the police commissioner who has refused to take Frieda seriously when she tried to explain that contrary to his own supposed death he’d orchestrated, Reeve was alive and well, and circling Frieda.

She’s already lost a former lover to this maniac who is obsessed with Frieda and vows it won’t happen again to any one close to her.

Then Frieda’s niece is abducted and other horrible events occur to those in her circle. Is this the work of Reeve, confirming he’s alive? Or is there a copycat out there, trying to impress either Reeve? Or even far, far worse: could it be down to both killers at work?

It’s a difficult time for anyone close to Frieda, and soon her friends are staying together as Frieda and the few police who believe her try to flush out the killers. She will use her instinct and keen awareness of body language to figure out who the copycat is, and when and where he will strike again.

The married duo forming Nikki French bring another fascinating installment to readers as Frieda will cross a line even she never thought she would professionally in a bid to save those she loves. Louise Penny calls this series “fabulous, unsettling, and riveting,” with good cause. Highly recommended.

Tony Parsons: Die Last Sunday, Jan 14 2018 

Tony Parsons bring readers the fourth DC Max Wolfe thriller with Die Last. More than a standard police procedural, Max is raising his young daughter, Scout, accompanied by their little dog, Stan.

His newest case brings him a dozen dead young women when a refrigerated lorry breaks down in the snow in London’s Chinatown. The illegal immigrants inside all die of hypthermia, but not before one touches Max.

In the cab of the deserted truck, Max finds 13 passports, and realizes one young woman has escaped. His search for that one survivor takes him into the dark world of human smuggling and the desperate acts people will take to convince themselves they are angling for a better life.

With an eye for the telling detail, Parsons brings readers inside the story with his compelling characters and great plotting. The twists add to the understanding he exhibits of human nature with all of the foibles we exhibit.

And there’s Stan and Scout, two who shall not be ignored and who keep Wolfe grounded.

One of Auntie M’s favrorite series, this is a continued series winner. Highly recommended.

Fiona Barton: The Widow Tuesday, Jan 9 2018 

Fiona Barton’s debut thriller came highly recommended to Auntie M, so despite being out last year, she bought it herself and agrees: don’t miss The Widow.

Told through the lens of journalist Kate Waters, a realistic person you’ll want to spend time with again, Kate manages to get an interview with a new widow. Jean Taylor’s husband was tragically hit by a bus and died instantly.

But that’s the new story. The history surrounding Glen Taylor is very different. Four years ago he was found not guilty of kidnapping and murdering a two-year old girl.

Jean has spent those years in his shadow trying to eke out a life and putting on one face to the public. Now that Glen’s dead, that can end.

The story is told in alternating chapters from Kate and Jean’s perspective, as well as that of the detective on the unsolved case, who’s almost compulsive about finding the truth.

But what is the truth? And when exactly did Jean know it? A compelling tale from a voice in crime fiction that will be sought out again. Highly Recommended.

Best Reads of 2017: Horowitz, Upson, Khan, Griffiths, McDermid, Crombie, MacBride, Oswald, Bolton, Penny, Billingham, Ward, Flanders and more… Sunday, Jan 7 2018 

The Best Reads of 2017

Last year was a banner year for wonderful books. Of the 174 books Auntie M reviewed, 25 of them received her coveted “Highly Recommended” rating. All of these have longer reviews archived on the site, but just to refresh your memory, here they are listed simply in the order I read them:

Everything You Want Me To Be/Mindy Meja: The story of a small-town high school senior’s murder, told from three voices including the dead girl. Well-crafted and surprising.

Garden of Lamentations/Deborah Crombie: the 17th Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James police procedural finds James’s newest case revolving around the murder of a young nanny in Notting Hill while Kincaid is involved in high espionage.

Among the Ruins/Ausma Zehanat Khan: the third Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery takes the duo from their Canadian home to Iran, where intrigue swirls around them both as they investigate the murder of a Canadian-Iranian documentary filmmaker.

Swiss Vendetta/Tracee de Hahn: this debut introduces Swiss-American detective Agnes Luthi, trapped during an ice storm at the castle-like chateau of a wealthy family to investigate a murder, just as she’s recovering from her husband’s suicide.

A Death in the Dales/Frances Brody: Kate Shackleton, supposedly on vacation, finds herself investigating an old murder and becomes convinced the wrong man was hung as the killer in this entertaining historical series.

A Cast of Vultures/Judith Flanders: Editor Sam Clair finds herself wrapped up in a murder when a body is found after a neighborhood fire, to the chagrin of her detective partner. Entertaining and well-plotted with a self-deprecating protagonist.

The Satanic Mechanic/Sally Andrews: Visit South Africa’s Karoo where Tannie Maria, baker extraordinaire, must investigate when a man is poisoned in her presence. Creative and unique and complete with recipes.

Quieter Than Killing/Sarah Hilary: the fourth detective Marnie Rome series brings the detective facing her own ghosts when she and partner Noah Jake tackle a series of what might be vigilante crimes. Deeply emotional and highly original.

Conviction/Julia Dahl: the third Rebekah Roberts novel takes the investigative journalist’s newest story too close for comfort when she tries to free an innocent man convicted of a murder he didn’t commit.

Written in Bones/James Oswald gives Insp. Tony McLean a strange case when a body is dropped from the sky and lands in a tree.

The Chalk Pit/Elly Griffiths: the series featuring forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway takes on a personal threat when she’s called to investigate old bones found during a chalk pit excavation for a new restaurant. Highly absorbing.

Magpie Murders/Anthony Horowitz: the mystery-within-a-mystery by the author of Foyle’s War and many Midsomer Murders scripts creates a prickly homage to the Golden Age authors, as an editor searches for the final chapter of the last book of her publishing house’s most lucrative series.

Die of Shame and Love Like Blood intertwines two of Mark Billingham’s grand novels, bringing DI Nicola Tanner and Tom Thorne together in a most creative way. Complex and compelling reads.

Perish the Day/ John Farrow: highlights the Canadian author’s series featuring retired detective Emile Cinq-Mars with weather always an issue, as he and his wife travel to her NH roots and become involved with the killing of her niece’s friend.

The Marsh King’s Daughter/ Karen Dionne: a sophisticated tale of revenge and heartache, told compellingly from the POV of a young woman whose mother was held in captivity since before she was born. A distinct sense of place adds to the atmosphere.

The Child/Fiona Barton: Book 2 Auntie M read out of order in the series featuring reporter Kate Waters –see Jan 8th for the review of The Widow, Book 1, also HR. Here an infant’s bones are found from a decades-old burial, sparking a new investigation.

Glass Houses /Louise Penny: an Inspt. Gamache tour de force, when murder hits Three Pines and Gamache is forced to make one of the hardest decisions of his career. Unsettling, creative and very Gamache.

Let the Dead Speak /Jane Casey: Detective Maeve Kerrigan is saddled with a rookie and a strange case where the victim is missing from the murder scene. Inventive, with twists and turns that keep the series fresh.

Dead Woman Walking/Sharon Bolton: a stand-alone with two sisters who take a fated balloon ride and only one survives. A fascinating story that will surprise readers from a master plotter.

A Patient Fury/Sarah Ward: Third DC Childs mystery, where the young detective is faced with a possible murder-suicide of a entire family, but suspects it’s what she’s meant to believe. Compelling, with a super-surprise ending.

Insidious Intent/Val McDermid: the Queen of Scottish Noir at the top of her game, as Tony Hill and Carol Jordan investigate when a series of burned out cars containing bodies lead them to an elusive killer. Has an ending readers can’t possibly predict that has left everyone shocked and more than one in tears.

Nine Lessons/Nicola Upson: continues her series set between the World Wars with Josephine Tey as the main character, this time in Cambridge when a rapist is on the loose just as her friend, Detective Archie Penrose, has a strange case to investigate, and their private lives become entangled. Literary prose, compelling plotting and great characters.

Sweet Little Lies /Caz Frear: introduces DC Cat Kinsella, whose must ask her father if he has an alibi for the night a woman is murdered near his pub. An accomplished debut.

Sleep No More/P D James: a slim collection of short stories by the master of crime fiction, with stories that will have readers thinking long and hard with their atypical murders and often surprising twists. Engrossing and readable.

Anthony Horowitz: The Word is Murder Friday, Jan 5 2018 

Continuing a January run of HIGHLY RECOMMENDED reads for readers:

Anthony Horowitz is a man Auntie M would like to interview. The author of the Alex Rider teen spy series, he’s responsbile for some of the UK’s best television series, including Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War, and wrote what was one of Auntie M’s favorite reads last year, Magpie Murders. He’s also written two Sherlock Holmes and one James Bond novels, is on the board othe Old Vic Theatre, and oh yes, don’t forget his OBE from the Queen for servies to Literature.

Now he’s turned to the start of a new series that promises to be just as successful and entertaining. The Word is Murder brings his creative bent to the forefront in the debut, which features Detective Daniel Hawthorne and . . . author Anthony Horowitz.

That’s right. Horowitz appears as a character in his own series, when Hawthorne approaches him to write a book about the detective’s newest case, and it’s a humdinger Howorwitz can’t ignore: victim Diana Cowper arranged her own funeral service and is murdered later that same day. Did she anticipate her murder, or was she just doing as many older people do and putting her affairs in order?

Hawthorne is known for solving tough cases and Horowitz soon finds that he is also very good at holding clues and secrets to himself until they need to be shared. This leads Horowitz as assistant detective into some hot water at times, even as he struggles to like the detective he’s shadowing. It’s an interesting mix of personalities and Horowitz-Author parses out information on Hawthorne to Horowitz-Character.

With the writer reluctantly gaining respect for Hawthorne’s talents, it’s still a dark and dangerous path they follow with surprising twists and turns in a pleasing mystery with a surprise ending.

A masterful and complex mystery that has Auntie M waiting in anticipation for the next in the series. Highly recommended.

AJ Finn: The Woman in the Window Tuesday, Jan 2 2018 

AJ Finn has hit it out of the park with his debut psychological thriller The Woman in the Window, the first book of 2018 Auntie M is reviewing and giving her “Highly Recommended” status.

This one’s a winner, whether you’re a fan of Hitchcock movies or not. Finn is, and that influence is seen in the highly cinematic feel of the book, which has been optioned by Fox 2000 Studios.

Dr. Anna Fox is the narrator, a child psychologist who has been inside her home for the past eleven months suffering from severe agoraphobia and depression. Her reclusive life includes visits from a physical therapist, Bina, and her psychiatrist. She speaks to her husband, Ed, and daughter, Olivia, who are not living with her. She has her groceries delivered, doesn’t shower often enough, and has a basement tenant to do chores if she needs them. And she watches her neighbors.

She also plays online chess, but tries to feel useful by running a chat room for other agoraphobics, using her skills as a therapist to help them, even as she can’t help herself. It’s the one place she feels a modicum of positive output, even as her drinking gets out of control.

When a new family move in nearby, the Russells seem unremarkable; father, mother, awkward teenaged son who seems emotional. Then the mother, Jane, comes to visit Anna, and in their brief time together, they laugh and drink and play chess. Anna jokes about the actress, Jane Russell, and feels that she might just have a new friend.

It’s a hollow victory when she subsequently sees Jane stumbling through the house with a blade sticking out of her chest. But no one in the NYPD, her therapist, Bina, Ed–no one believes she saw what she knows she saw: Jane being murdered.

Or did she? Has her preoccupation with old movies, especially those of the Hitchcock thriller variety, combined with too much wine and the multiple psychotropic meds she’s on, caused Anna to hallucinate the events? What is real and what has she imagined?

There are references to classic movies, but Finn manages to make this story his own, with a riveting tale that crackles with tension as the story advances. The whoosh sound you’ll be hearing is you turning the pages as you devour this gripping, dark novel. As Auntie M started out, it’s highly recommended.

P.D. James: Sleep No More–Auntie M’s Christmas Present to Readers Sunday, Dec 24 2017 

It’s no secret P. D. James was a mentor and friend to Auntie M for 15 years until her death. In fact, her own Death Unscripted was written as a promise to the Baroness and is dedicated to James.

So it ‘s no surprise that the Christmas treat she has for you is Faber and Faber’s new collection of short stories to enjoy, Sleep No More.

The subtitle is: “Six Murderous Tales,” and its easy to see why the publisher’s chose that phrase to title the stories they’ve arranged that bring back the words of one of the greatest crime writers of the 20th century.

The collection ranges over decades in various English settings, some with strong remininces of the narrator, such as in “The Yo-Yo” where an old man facing death looks back onto a school age Christmas when he was a witness to a murder and chose to say nothing about it.

It’s a toss-up as to who’s the real victim in “The Victim” when a revenge killing has a twisted ending readers won’t see coming. Another chilling tale recounts the experience of a young woman, set free to return to the home she left as a child, as her memory clears and she remembers the real reason why she’s become “The Girl Who Loved Graveyards.”

The thread these stories have in common is the genuis of James, whose keen insight into human nature as illustrated in her crime novels is on display in these stories. It’s a varied methodology she uses for her killings, whether it’s a blue poison bottle, a knife for cutting linoleum, or a revolver.

Sleep No More, those same words that horrified Macbeth, is an apt title for stories that explore the unsettling remnants of murder that affect these characters, whether through remembrance or participation.

It’s a wonderful book, read with the eye of sadness as one remembers there will be no more great stories from this Queen of Crime. Savor every lush description, every telling detail, every moment of chilling horror.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Sherri Hollister: Chrome Pink Wednesday, Dec 20 2017 

Please welcome guest Sherri Hollister, to talk about her debut romantic suspense novel, Chrome Pink, the first of the Leeward Trilogy.

The evolution of Chrome Pink

The idea for Chrome Pink started with an online class I took a few years ago. The instructor told us to list ten things about a person or character. I used my husband. He is a tow truck driver, motorcycle rider, mechanic, he does woodworking and construction, he is kind to people and animals but if he doesn’t like you, you know it. He likes fast cars, bourbon and me.

After we sent in our lists, we were instructed to change the sex, ethnicity, religion or politics of the person. From that class came the idea of Rae Lynne Grimes, who I tell people is my husband in drag.
Rae is a tough girl with a bad attitude. She is an alcoholic, anti-social and hell-bent on her own destruction but she is also kind, generous and beautiful.

After I started working on the story, I met my son’s friend. She had taken him in and was letting him stay with her and her partner. She brought him to visit us and she was trying to help him get on his feet. She was a beautiful Hispanic girl, with dark hair and eyes, with tattoos and piercings and a streak of pink in her hair. My son told me she’d had a rough life but even through her own adversities, she’d offered kindness to my son.

Combining these two ideas created the frame work for my character. From there I started asking questions and Rae Lynne Grimes evolved into a person whose story I had to tell.

I was supposed to be a romance writer. At least that is what I believed when I first started writing. I thought I wanted to write historical romances as they were my first love. When I fell in love with contemporary romance it was after reading Jayne Ann Krentz who also writes historicals as Amanda Quick.

Contemporary romance, especially the subgenres of romantic mysteries, thrillers and suspense intrigued me. I started marketing Chrome Pink as a romantic suspense novel. It wasn’t until after several very kind rejections and a couple of years of working with an agent that I learned my story doesn’t fall into the typical romance framework. My couple doesn’t meet on the first page and fall in love by page fifty.

Chrome Pink is about Rae Lynne Grimes, a rape survivor, and her journey from self-destruction to finding her strength. It is a suspense thriller, with some women’s fiction and, oh yeah, a bit of romance.

Sherri Hollister is a member of the Pamlico Writers Group and former news reporter who had had stories published in several anthologies. Chrome Pink is her first novel.

Someone doesn’t want Rae to stay in Leeward. When warning her doesn’t work, they try to scare her away. Logan Birdsong has fallen for Rae Lynne, but she won’t be with him if he’s working for her nemesis. Afraid of losing the company his step-father has entrusted into his care, Logan is torn between his growing attraction to Rae and his need to succeed. When her dates start turning up dead, Rae and Logan both become suspects. They can’t prove their innocence while on the run but returning to Leeward could cost them everything.

Donna Malane: My Brother’s Keeper Tuesday, Dec 19 2017 

An award-winning writer and producer for television, Donna Malane turned her hand to novels, winning the New Zealand Society of Authors-Pindar Publishing Prize with Surrender, which introduced lead character Diane Rowe.

She returns with the sequel, My Brother’s Keeper, another strong entry in the series captained by the wry voice of Diane and peopled with characters who are fully fashioned and realistic.

It’s an interesting premise: Diane, a missing-persons expert, is asked by an ex-con now out of prison to track down her daughter, Sunny. Karen Mackie fears the girl may be in danger.

Diane doesn’t have difficulty finding the girl, living with her father, stepmother and stepbrother in Auckland, an hour’s plane ride away. But Karen asks Diane to meet the girl first and pave the way for a possible reconcilation.

It’s a tough sell, and the family situation is more complicated than Diane would like. In fact, everything’s a bit complicated in Diane’s life right now, with her friendly ex-husband, Sean, needing their house sold; her current boyfriend, Robbie, becoming friendly with both her dog, Wolf, and her ex; and then there’s the good-looking stepson of Karen’s dead mother she meets in Auckland.

It’s enough to drive a gal to distraction. But fortunately, and despite at one point coming under the Auckland PD radar, Diane manages to put it all together, but with considerable danger to herself and before she can stop a murder.

This is a complex plot and the book, which starts out with a simple premise, rapidly becomes so much more, aided by snippets of memory in flashbacks from a young Sunny, explaining why Karen was in prison.

A chilling twist at the end provides an engrossing climax with a character who will have you hooked with her engaging voice and waiting to read more of Diane Rowe.

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