Kate Rhodes: The Locked-Island Mysteries Sunday, Jan 22 2023 

Kate Rhodes has been a favorite author of Auntie M’s, starting with her compelling Alice Quentin series. Now that’s she’s branched out to her Locked-Island Mysteries, set in the Scilly Isles, Auntie M caught up with the series that features local detective DI Ben Kitto, with the 5th and 6th in this compelling series.

Devil’s Table centers on the island of St. Martin’s, where young Jade and her twin brother, Ethan, are attacked after leaving their shared bedroom at night. Ethan escapes but Jade is nowhere to be seen, and an island-wide search starts with residents and police battling the incessant fog that permeates the island.

Then a body is found in a dramatic, posed fashion, and Ben and his small team scramble to redouble their efforts to find the missing girl, while at the same time searching for a killer amidst the seemingly innocent narcissi harvest. The juxtaposition between the fields of fragrant bulbs, to be picked and flown to the mainland for Christmas and New Years clashes with the tiny community burdened by suspicion. 

Having grown up on nearby Bryher, Ben knows most of the people on St. Martin’s, who suddenly become suspects in this baffling murder of a man who is seen differently by people. Grudges held from long ago surface, and he must question everyone, regardless of his history with them.

A tense and gripping plot combine with an atmospheric mystery that make this an instant classic.

The Brutal Tide has Ben looking for clues to a set of old bones found during the excavation for a new outdoor activities center on Bryher, spearheaded by two locals who married and have returned home to complete this project.

Not everyone is a fan of the new center, and as Ben tries to find the identity of these bones, they suddenly disappear, and one of the  loudest critics of the project is found dead.

At the same time, a young woman whose father has been a crime kingpin sets up a plot to take out the officers whose information sent her father to prison. Now dying, Craig Travis has constructed this plan for his daughter Ruby with a devious way to take his revenge on those he hates, all from his prison hospital bed.

Ben Kitto, whose undercover past has returned to haunt him with a vengeance, must search for a killer on his home island while he avoids being Ruby’s last victim—all while his partner reaches the end of her difficult pregnancy.

A taut, clever mystery, with a very real protagonist at the heart of this series, makes this a tense and beautifully written mystery. 

Rhodes abilities as a poet surface in her lyrical prose and beautifully constructed descriptions and prose; her talents at creating tension have Elly Griffiths calling her “An absolute master of pace.”

Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already discovered the wildly talented Kate Rhodes, and immerse yourself in her wonderful sense of place and character, wrapped in stunningly good crime stories.

Ausma Zehanat Khan: BLACKWATER FALLS Tuesday, Nov 1 2022 

Khan’s first in a dynamic new series, BLACKWATER FALLS, is set in Colorado and introduces readers to a fresh new protagonist, Detective Inaya Rahman, and her lieutenant, Waqas Seif.

Young girls from immigrant communities in the area have disappeared over the past months, but the sheriff seems disinterested in pursuing any real exploration of the situation. Then the body of a good student and Syrian refugee is found outside a mosque, hanging in a horrific crucifixion-like manner.

A right-wing evangelical biker group called The Disciples displays open hostility to any newcomer with their threatening attitudes, yet when Inaya and her team try to investigate, their efforts seem thwarted by the sheriff.

When their investigation uncovers links to the other missing girls, Inaya feels that Seif is obstructing their own case. It becomes difficult for her to understand his motives when she’s drawn to him, but she keeps her distance, instead gathering strength and help from her female colleagues. It’s a delicate balance when she doesn’t understand his true motives, which are revealed to the reader as the detectives race against time before another young girl is killed.

There will be connections to art, a layering of different interpretations of justice, with moments of terror balanced by poignancy. It’s a tour-de-force of timely fiction that teaches and educates, as it reflects how easily fears can escalate.

Khan gives us a clear picture of Inaya’s home life, and brings readers a deep perspective to cultural conflicts. She explores different expressions of faith contrasted with prejudices, all wrapped up in a strong and complex mystery.

With a PhD in international human rights law, Khan is the author of the Khattak/Getty series and also the Khorasan Archives fantasies. She has a clear talent for bringing a nuanced sensitivity to complex issues, including racial tension and police corruption.

Readers will be glued to the action and surprising twists, with deep characterizations that add to the tension. This reader is already waiting for the next in this evocative and insightful series. Highly recommended.

Marcia Clark: The Fall Girl Thursday, Oct 13 2022 

Hear the name Marcia Clark, and some of us think back to her work for the LA DA’s office prosecuting such trials as that of Robert Bardo and OJ Simpson.

But there’s so much more to this talented author, with two series in print that feature strong female lawyers, one a prosecutor (the Rachel Knight series) and one on the defense side (the Samantha Brinkman series).

So when a chance came to read her new stand alone, FALL GIRL, I was excited to crack this one open but not prepared for the wild ride she would take me on.

Charlie Blair leaves Chicago and assumes a new identity for very good reasons, moving to the Santa Cruz DA’s office to start over and protect her family. Assigned to work a murder case with high profile prosecutor Erika Lorman, Charlie tries to keep away from the limelight, even as she feels she’s being sidelined and soon start poking her investigative nose into their most recent case with surprising results. She starts to question who she can trust.

At the same time, the man who she lives in fear of, after devastating her family, is making his presence known…

This is a fast-paced legal thriller, but even more so, a nuanced look at the question: What is justice and how do ethics figure in? How does morality reside alongside one’s conscience?

With deep characterizations and troubled pasts for both lawyers, the cat-and-mouse game these strong, intelligent women play with each other is as fascinating as their drive. At one point you can’t see any way there can be a a satisfying outcome, and yet, Clark managed to do just that.

A strong, quickly-paced read, with excellent legal scenes balanced by the action that takes place out of the courtroom.

MW Craven: The Washington Poe series Wednesday, Oct 28 2020 

MW Craven’s Washington Poe series features two highly unusual and creative characters: Poe himself, whose origins he wants to unearth, and Tilly Bradshaw, the sheltered genius who works as a civilian analyst and can run rings around any computer or hacker.

Starting the series off, which won multiple awards including the CWA Gold Dagger Award in 2019, is The Puppet Show, which introduces the suspended detective Poe.

In Cumbria, a serial killer had taken to burning people alive amongst the many stone circles in the area. There is no forensic clue left, and no doubt in anyone’s mind that these victims suffered terribly before their deaths. The press have dubbed the killer the Immolation Man.

On suspension from the National Crime Agency for a previous decision, and enjoying his time at the croft he’s bought in rural Cumbria, Poe and his springer spaniel, Edgar, have settled into a routine that doesn’t include policing one whit. Then his former sergeant, Stephanie Flynn, now in his old position as DI, shows up at the croft and proffers an Osman Warning.

When police receive information that a person is in significant danger, they issue an Osman Warning, which informs that person of the threat against him or her.

Flynn explains that her best civilian analyst at the Serious Crime Analysis Section has found multiple slashes on the third victim’s chest, which a multi-slice computed tomography has revealed, despite the heavily charred tissue, as spelling out “Washington Poe.”

Back working the case as a sergeant under Flynn is not only a new experience, it brings Poe into contact with Tilly, a young woman whose brain has allowed her to advance through universities and degrees at a young age but who has missed any chance of having a youth, and the social clues that go with it.

Tilly is direct, follows orders to the point of rudeness, and the smartest person Poe has ever met, with a mind that sees patterns. This is whom Poe will grudgingly come to respect in their hunt for the madman setting people on fire after torturing them.

The plot is carefully constructed, a real tour de force, as Poe and Tilly, aided by Flynn, try to find the thread that connects the victims. The resolution is as startling and sad and it is inventive. No wonder it won the CWA Gold Dagger!

Carven followed this series debut up with Black Summer, another compelling plot that seemingly has no solution.

One of Poe’s old cases put a celebrity chef, Jared Keaton, behind bars for life for the murder is his daughter, Elizabeth, despite no body being found. Poe had recognized the man as a psychopath and convinced the CPS and a jury that the man had killed his own daughter.

Then a young woman turns up at a police outpost and claims to be Elizabeth Keaton, abducted and kept prisoner for years. Blood DNA proves she is telling the truth. How is this possible, if is?

And if Elizabeth is alive, Poe is in deep trouble when the young woman once again disappears. Now he’s suspected of killing Elizabeth. Once again, he will depend on his own smarts and those of Tilly to figure out the workings of a psychopath.

The third installment finds Poe and Tilly investigating a strange case of body parts left in different parts of Cumbria with only the message “#BSC6” accompanying each one.

It appears some victims received anesthetic before being separated from their body part, while others were not. The only clue Tilly can unearth is that each victim took the same two weeks off work several years earlier. Then an FBI agent horns in on their investigation, saying that in the US they’ve had similar deaths.

It’s a slim lead, but it’s all they have to work on. Using the victim’s lives as the catalyst, Poe and Tilly will find their way through the labyrinth plot.

As the relationship between Poe and Tilly relaxes, he helps her grow her social graces while she grows to be someone he and Flynn can depend on. All three books in the series show original plots, based on the characters and their histories, and with such creativity that Auntie M is anxiously awaiting the next outing of Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw.

This entire series is Highly Recommended.

L. C. Shaw: The Silent Conspiracy Wednesday, Oct 21 2020 

L.C. Shaw brings back the duo of investigative reporter Jack Logan and free-lance television producer Taylor Parks in a dark thriller, The Silent Conspiracy.

With their young son in tow, they hope their lives will settle down two years after their debut in The Network. But then a pattern of murder-suicides raises its ugly head and Jack starts to investigate.

Meanwhile, Taylor’s newest story is a Supreme Court case, a class-action suit against a national insurance company, and has an all-too realistic feel about it.

Things take a complicated turn when it seems there may be an overlap in their stories. And all the while a nemesis returns, and family secrets that have been kept far too long impact the couple. There are political and religious ramifications, with conspiracies that are pure evil.

As the puzzle pieces come together, the stakes are raised and the couple find their family in more jeopardy than they could imagine.

This is a high-action thriller, with international settings and a whopper of an ending. The cliffhanger promises that the third in the series will be just as thrilling.

Cara Hunter Day: DI Adam Fawley Sunday, Oct 18 2020 

Oxford. Crime. Auntie M is so there. Here’s another roundup of a great series you might want to look for:

Cara Hunter’s DI Adam Fawley introduces a detective with an unusual background. In the debut mystery, Close to Home, Fawley and his team are called in to investigate the disappearance of eight-year-old Daisy Mason, when the girl vanishes during a party held in her family’s backyard.

It’s a barbecue of sorts, and a costume party. Daisy’s family strikes Fawley are weird, from her mother who is height of perfection to her distanced, cold father. And her younger brother won’t speak, or make eye contact.

It’s obvious there is an undercurrent here, and as his team sorts out the lies from the truth, his own home situation comes into play. And then there’s that twisted ending that will have you reaching for the next one in the series straightaway.

In the Dark takes Fawley and his team into a disturbing nightmare of a case. A woman and her young child are found locked in a basement room, with nothing to identify them. Barely surviving, the woman refuses to speak. Is she mute or terrified?

The elderly man who owns the house is confused and it seems he doesn’t know these two people, nor why they were in his basement. Has he lost the plot totally? Or is someone toying with him?

The is masterful plotting, with secrets being kept in a quiet Oxford street, right under the gaze of neighbors. Another winner with a startling resolution.

In No Way Out, it’s a sad Christmas for one family when their home burns down and children are lost. It appears at first glance that they were in the house alone. Where are their parents?

Trying to give the distraught grandparents answers, Fawley and his team race to find answers to these questions, especially after it’s deemed that this fire was set on purpose.

Another gripped mystery with a twisted ending, readable and compelling.

All the Rage makes residents of the streets of Oxford sit up and take notice when a young teen is attacked, a plastic bag thrown over her head, and she’s dragged away. Taken to a remote area, she somehow escapes.

Fawley’s team is cohesive now and his DC Eric Somer, can’t help but feel this young woman knows exactly who attacked her, but some obscure reason isn’t willing to say.

The case echoes a similar early string of cases and causes more than a few sleepless nights for Fawley. And at home things are ramping up, too, with threads to an earlier case.

The series is a winning combination of great cases with stealthy police investigation, coupled with the instincts of the team. There’s the sense that nothing is formulaic about this series.

While the mysteries are solved in each individual book, the hallmark of a great series is that the reader can follow the personal life of the detective, and Fawley certainly has his share of his personal past he and his wife are dealing with, parsed out over the course of the series in a highly effective way that do not detract from the individual book.

It’s an absorbing series, with the next book due out in February 2021. And Auntie M will be reading.

Anne Cleeland: Murder in Revelation Friday, Oct 16 2020 

Anne Cleeland’s twelfth Doyle and Acton Mystery, Murder in Revelation, brings the married detective duo back into action.

Kathleen Doyle is the sergeant who receives a tip that leads her to a doctor being assaulted at a London free clinic. The witness she finds, who’s obviously been assaulted, spins Doyle a tale of evil doers eating the souls of children.

While Doyle realizes there is a cultural component to the woman’s interpretation, she tries to convince DCI Acton, her titled husband, to put surveillance on the clinic. It doesn’t help that another doctor who volunteered at the clinic was recently murdered. Something’s rotten at the clinic, and children are involved.

Doyle’s Irish fey countenance will come into play as she can tell if someone’s statements are true or false. Only a few people know of her gift, and she uses it wisely.

With a toddler son and a new baby on the way, Acton is hyper vigilant over his wife, doing his best to keep Doyle rested and fed with good food like fruit, instead of haring off on a case. The ghost who haunts Doyle’s dreams seems to agree with him.

But Doyle knows her husband and his peculiar ways of justice, just as she knows she must become the buffer for him and those who want to destroy him.

There are multiple murders and several old foes who return. This is not a cozy mystery but one where careful plotting excels as Doyle helps Acton in the only way she knows how–by being in the thick of things.

One of the highlights of this series is the charm of the main characters. Readers feel the chemistry between them, and accept their unusual relationship. While Doyle does her best to reign in her husband, Acton remains far ahead of her and everyone else, orchestrating things.

But Doyle has the last word in this one. There are several surprises along the way that add to the engrossing read, and the final chapter gives a glimpse to the future.

M.E. Browning: Shadow Ridge Thursday, Oct 8 2020 

M.E. Browning’s new series starring Detective Jo Wyatt is off to a strong start with Shadow Ridge, featuring a nicely twisted plot and brisk pace.

The author of the Agatha-nominated Mer Cavallo Mysteries brings her former police captain experience to the book, set in the town of Echo Valley, a nature-filled area of Colorado.

When Jo is called out to what appears to be a suicide case, she still takes all the precautions she should if it turns out that video game designer Tye Horton didn’t kill himself. Something feels off to her.

The young woman who found Horton, Quinn Kirkwood, seems to be keeping secrets, even as she asks Jo for help with an internet stalker. Quinn was a beta tester for one of Horton’s lucrative games, as were several others in the area. An eccentric and unreliable character, Quinn has her own baggage.

Then a tragic car accident takes a second life, and as Jo investigates, she realizes there are ties to Horton, and that Quinn’s life is in danger. Suddenly, Horton’s suicide seems unlikely. As she tries to pair Quinn’s stalker with a deadly killer, her small community will face a bigger tragedy than it has even seen.

Browning does a great job of exploring Jo’s personal life and its disappointments, along with the rigors of being a woman in a police force where men are promoted. The setting is engaging, and the characters well-drawn.

Jo is a smart woman with the skill set needed to be a great detective, and can more than handle the lead in what promises to be an entertaining and suspenseful series.

Jo Spain: After the Fire Wednesday, Oct 7 2020 

Jo Spain’s sixth Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery, After the Fire, combines the best of police procedurals with a team of characters who grow more familiar with each book.

Tom’s job as chief superintendent of the National Bureau of Crime Investigation in Dublin takes him away from being in an on-the-ground investigation, tied up in administrative bureaucracy.

Forced to take two weeks off of holiday time, he and his wife Louise are helping their physician daughter, Maria, with caring for her six-year old daughter, Cait. He’s having lunch at the hospital with Maria during his time off when he overhears two porters discussing a new patient, and is all ears.

A young woman was found walking down the street, naked, exhibiting signs of smoke inhalation and burns on some surfaces of her body, mumbling about a not being about to save the baby.

That’s all it takes for Tom to check out the patient, and soon his friend and colleague, DCI Laura Lennon of the murder squad. Tom soon finds himself lending a Laura’s case a hand, when the house the young naked woman escaped from is found to contain more victims and was a case of arson.

Only slightly escaping Louise’s wrath at becoming involved, Tom manages to help Laura and her team investigate what might be a trafficking ring. Meanwhile, Laura’s husband, Ray, assigned to the new gun-related crimes unit, has his own sources that may contribute to the situation.

The people living in the burned out house were not the casual renters thought at first glance. Several others are missing. And where is this baby?

Spain’s newest elevated the police procedural in a fast-paced race to find those at risk, rescue an infant, and keep the burn patient from becoming the next victim.

All the while, she manages to give the effect of the Irish accent without resorting to overdone brogue dialect. Her dialogue sparkles with the relief of black humor most long-term police adopt, adding a realistic feel and depth to her characters.

A fast and engrossing read. Already looking for the next one.

Nicola Upson: The Secrets of Winter Tuesday, Oct 6 2020 

Nicola Upson’s ninth historical mystery novel featuring Josephine hey, The Secrets of Winter, takes readers to a Cornish Christmas in December 1938 with a devastating opening that will proved to be key to the resolution.

Hitler is on the rise, trying to gather friends, even celebrities, for support. But Josephine and Marta have been issued an invitation by their good friend, DCI Archie Penrose, to be part of a special Christmas celebration in aid of charity taking place in the castle high on St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.

Accessed at low tide by a causeway and by ferry boat at others, the Mount has its own medieval church, and the castle, filled with history, seems barely changed from its origins with the exception of a few modern conveniences. The charity being bolstered by Miss Hilaria St. Aubyn of the current family in residence is in aid of bringing thousands of Jewish children out of Nazi Germany to be cared for in hostels and private homes.

When Archie and soon the assorted company, which includes a famous film star, are faced with a murder in the small town at the foot of the Mount and a second murder on the castle premises, it’s easy to feel the chill of the cold stone as a blizzard keeps the gathering cloistered at the castle during what should have been merry Christmas festivities.

Now Archie, aided by Josephine with her keen sense of human nature and her discerning eye, will need all of their attention turned to figuring out who amongst their company is a murderer, before death strikes again.

This is the UK cover for the same book, titled The Dead of Winter. Both covers and titles convey the story inside, based on real history and real people. Auntie M had the great good fortune to visit St. Michael’s Mount, off the coast of Marazion, when she stayed in Penzance on a setting research trip. It’s a must-stop for anyone traveling to Cornwall, despite the steep walk up to the castle. The dizzying height and glorious gardens on the island, plus its innate charm, will surely delight any traveler.

Upson perfectly captures the charm and essence of the community in this era who live and work on the island, and the families who keep the castle at its summit running. A better setting for murder and intrigue could not be imagined, and Auntie M is only sorry Upson got there first.

For this story is full of twists and compelling intrigue, perhaps not quite the Christmas holiday Josephine had envisioned, but one that will have readers enmeshed in the lives of those who have gathered to celebrate Christmas in a castle on top of a high hill. It’s to her credit that Upson manages to create a world where Tey and her friends survive and live on, one that is built on reality but imbued with the authors’ knack for the telling detail and her character’s inner lives.

Another solid entry from an award-winning writer whose work has been shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger, this one is definitely Highly Recommended.

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