Roz Watkins: Cut to the Bone Sunday, Aug 9 2020 

Roz Watkins delivers direct wallop with the newest entry in her Peak District series featuring DI Meg Dalton with Cut to the Bone, series that keeps getting stronger and stronger.

Violet Armstrong has created a name for herself in social media by taking on the meat vs vegan culture, and along with that, the eighteen-year-old is working in a pig abattoir.

Violet barbecues meat while wearing a bikini, actions intended to stir up feminists and animal rights activists, and indeed she has managed to do just that.

When she disappears, with her car found at work but no sign of Violet, speculation turns to suspicion that harm has come to the young woman and there are many suspects for Meg to focus on.

With her team in tow, and her complicated feelings for her DS in the back of her mind, Meg is surprised when her estranged father suddenly appears for a visit. Still reeling over the recent death of her grandmother, Meg’s closer to her mother, and to her best friend, Hannah. With her emotions all over the place on a personal level, Meg finds herself bonding with a young man with a dicey history.

Then evidence found points to Violet being fed to the pigs, and Meg realizes things are getting out of hand. Not convinced Violet is dead, Meg faces public ridicule when one of her suspects turns up dead. The feeling that there are other forces at work here is too strong for the detective to ignore.

At the same time, chapters set in 1999 illustrate events of the Armstrong family that have a direct bearing on what’s happening now, and how that family, local gentry, have been courted to for years.

There is a complicated but nicely twisted plot, with characters who will gain your empathy, and one of the most startling climaxes Auntie M has read. Very original, with a taut pace and a most atmospheric setting, this chiller intricately weaves modern society into a stunning read that makes this Highly Recommended.

Doug Johnstone: The Big Chill Sunday, Aug 2 2020 

Doug Johnstone introduced the women of the Skelf family in last year’s well-done A Dark Matter, prompting Twitter cries for #MoreSkelfs. He listened, and brings the trio back in The Big Chill.

Matriarch Dorothy, daughter Jenny, and university student grand-daughter Hannah, along with her partner, Indy, have kept the business running that has made the Skelfs a well-known Edinburgh name after the death of father Jim: a funeral home the older two women live over, and with it, a private investigation agency.

The events in A Dark Matter have led to the women healing physically but grieving emotionally in different ways. With Jenny’s ex-husband creating a startling wave of anxiety, the book opens with a car crashing into the open grave at one of the funerals the Skelfs are conducting.

Dorothy soon makes it her mission to discover the identity of the dead driver, and find out about his life. Jenny is caught up in a new romance, one she’s not certain she deserves, while dealing with her ex’s second wife. Could they have anything in common? And Hannah’s friendship with an elderly professor takes its own dark turn, causing her relationship with Indy to suffer in the process while she ponders life’s big questions.

It’s been said people grieve in their own way, and the women’s grief after Jim’s death was interfered with by the events in A Dark Matter. Now as they each explore the different ways to deal with their often overwhelming thoughts, more pressing needs at hand, such as a disappearing teen, often take precedence.

There are different kinds of mystery here, as each thread is followed, connections made, and unsettling events occur while life continues on in its way. There are surprises, too, that make the plot a twisted but realistic thing, one that readers will swear they can almost see happening to them.

This is a darkly funny tale, with so much knowledge of human nature running through it. Perhaps it is not that Johnstone understands humans better than some of us, but more that he is open to the many variations we offer as a response to situations, especially when we are emotionally vulnerable. In this, he has a clear eye. In these women, he’s created three strong, vastly different characters whose reactions reflect their individuality.

Auntie M loves this series and you will, too. #MoreSkelfs. Highly recommended.

David Rosenfelt: Muzzled Thursday, Jul 30 2020 

David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter Mysteries returns with his newest, Muzzled.

Andy is the consummate dog lover, which mirrors Rosenfelt, and like his creator, the funds and brains behind a rescue organization, the Tara Foundation. He’s also a retired lawyer but is not retired enough, often taking on cases that fall into his lap for one reason or another.

In this case, it’s his friend Beth Morris who gets him involved with a new request: she’s caring for a lab named Lucy, whose owner was a murder victim, a man who perished on his boat along with two others when it was blown up.
Only thing is, said victim contacted Beth to say he wants to come and pick up his dog.

After confirming Alex Vogel is indeed the dog’s owner, and more importantly, still alive, Andy finds himself listening to Vogel’s explanation that his life was in danger, and he disappeared to figure out what was going on.

Soon Andy, with the encouragement of his wife, Laurie, his chief investigator, finds himself involved against his will in defending Vogel of the murder of the two men who were on his boat when it exploded.

He reasons a man who loves his dog enough to come out of hiding to find her couldn’t be a murderer. Right? Unfortunately, the police don’t see it that way when evidence mounts up against Vogel.

As they prepare for trial, it soon becomes clear to Andy and his team that the only way to clear Vogel is to track down the real killer.

A treat for dog lovers, courtroom thrillers, or mystery fans, Muzzled is another treat for those who enjoy a dose of humor with their crime.

Anne Cleeland: The Spanish Mask Monday, Jul 27 2020 

Anne Cleeland turns from her modern Doyle and Acton series, set in London, to the seventh in her Regency series, The Spanish Mask, set in the Spanish countryside.

The time period is during the aftermath of the Napoleanic War, and beautiful Elena is a postulant at an Andalusian convent. She takes care of her ward, Eduardo, a young lad trusted to her care. When Frenchmen come to the convent, she hides Eduardo in the orchard she loves, only to be found by a band of others led by a British commander.

There is Spanish treasure, relics from the royal family, and Elena knows where it is hidden. Money and other valuable items abound, as does a Spanish mask, encrusted with precious jewels. This information must be withheld from everyone, even those she begins to trust.

Elena soon find herself traveling with Lord Raike, who mistakenly believe her to be a survivor of the royal family. But the chemistry between Elena and the British leader crackles, and adds to the delicious tension. Avoiding those who would kill them takes skill and the help of others along their route.

As they traipse the countryside, with Elena all the while explaining she is not the missing royal but knows where she is, the attraction between the English lord and the young postulant grows, as does the danger.

There will be switches in allegiance, battles, stolen identities, and intrigue galore before the truth is revealed.

An action-with-romance delight, with a mystery at its heart.

Ellison Cooper: Cut to the Bone Thursday, Jul 23 2020 

Ellison Cooper’s Sayer Altair series calls on her own experience with neuroscience, as a murder investigator, and as a certified K9 Searach and Rescue Federal Disaster worker to inform the series with a high degree of authenticity.

She returns with the third in the series, Cut to the Bone, an original story with the kind of didn’t-see-it-coming twists that will startle readers.

Sayer is still grieving for her dead fiance’and building her reputation with her work into the minds of serial killers for the FBI, as she builds her little untraditional family in Washington DC and its environs.

When she’s called to the scene of young girl’s body, left inside a circle of baboons by the Einstein Memorial outside the National Academy of Sciences.

It isn’t long before Sayer and her team, with several returning and interesting characters, learn that just hours before, the victim was one student on a bus filled with twenty-four high school STEM students.

Within the first hour that bus left DC, the bus, driver, chaperone and all of the students have completely disappeared. And then a grisly discovery leads to an all-out manhunt for the sick person who had engineered this tragedy.

But hope survives for some of the students, and Sayer finds herself thwarted at every turn as she tries to find the psychotic person with a fixation on Egyptology who is behind this.

But when she finds out who it is and how that has happened, her world will be turned upside down once again.

Cooper has created realistic characters who gain our attention and empathy. The setting brings DC and its neighborhoods to life. All of this is wrapped within a chilling tale of false leads, laced with real science, to create a story with fast pacing and a race against time.

Mark Billingham: The Killing Habit; Their Little Secrets Wednesday, Jul 8 2020 

For some reason, Mark Billingham’s last two Tom Thorne novels didn’t make it to Auntie M’s To Be Read shelf, but she’s bought them herself to catch up.

The Killing Habit bring Thorne at first into the world where pets are being killed. A classic sign of a psychopath in the making, his goal is to find the culprit before his crimes can escalate.

To that end, he enlists DI Nicola Tanner, a welcome addition to the series. With her own quirks and the secret that binds them together, she’s working her own murder, a shooting by a motorcyclist that has drugs at its heart.

When the two find a serial killer is using a dating agency to target his victims, the chase is literally on before more women can be killed.

The opposing natures of Thorne and Tanner make them a dynamic couple with their interplay and dialogue some of the best in the book. Both are struggling with their personal lives, too. A great installment in one of Auntie M’s favorite series.

In Their Little Secret, with the personal aspects still looming for Thorne and Tanner, they duo become involved in the tragic suicide of a woman who has been the victim of a swindler.

At the same time, readers follow Sarah as she drops her young son off at school. She’s a devoted mum, has a strict routine, and couldn’t appear nicer.

When a young man’s bloodied body is found, CCTV shows a woman he was with shortly before his death. The reader knows more about how these two cases overlap than Thorne and Tanner do, and only heightens the suspense.

Coroner Phil Hendricks is back, too, a great character who manages to stay friends with Thorne and now Tanner. It’s a race to the finish between a couple who bring new meaning to the term psychopath.

This one is the 16th in an a police procedural series that is as authentic as it is filled with humanity.

Both books are Highly Recommended.

Ragnar Jonasson: The Mist Tuesday, Jun 23 2020 

Following the heels of the book that introduced us to her (The Darkness), Ragnar Jonasson brings Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir’s case that led to that action to the page in The Mist.

Hulda is obviously having a difficult time at work when she’s handed a case that will at least get her out of the office. Alternating where she finds herself now with what led up to her depression, readers see the events of the prior two months have led to this case, and to her situation at home.

They also see what has happened to an older couple who live in a very isolated farmhouse in eastern Iceland. While the couple are readying for Christmas, the become even more stranded when a huge snowstorm blankets the area.

Erla and Einar have lived in this remote location their entire marriage, after taking on Einar’s family farm. Erla has had a tougher time getting used to the loneliness, especially in the winter. When a stranger knocks on their door, lost in the weather, Einar invites him in. What was to be an overnight stay turns longer when the storm continues unabated.

Erla is suspicious of the stranger, and even more so when some aspects of his story don’t add up. Her fears ramp up as more and more things cause her to suspect their uninvited guest is not whom he says he is at all.

It’s a chilling turn of events and more so when Hulda fears she is searching for a serial killer.

Well-done, with complex plot and dark premise that builds to a stunning climax on many levels.

Elly Griffiths: The Lantern Men Tuesday, Jun 16 2020 

NOTE: This review was first published back in April. Auntie M is repeating it today, on its US publication date. If you aren’t already a fan of Elly Griffiths, get on board now! She’ll leave it up for a while so you can look for your copy, and while you’re at it, check out Griffith’s standalone, The Stranger Diaries, too, as well as her Stephens and Mephisto series set in 1950s Brighton.

It’s no secret Elly Griffiths long-running Dr. Ruth Galloway series is one of Auntie M’s favorites. She brings readers the newest, The Lantern Men, as accomplished as any of those preceding, one to read and savor, containing her wit and original and creative voice.

It’s been two years since Ruth left her marsh side cottage and her position at the North Norfolk University and as the police’s resident forensic archaeologist. She’s moved Cambridge to teach, and plan a future with historian Frank, and brought her daughter with DCI Nelson, Kate, and their cat, Flint. But where has she left her heart?

This is the subtext as the current story plays out. Having completed a week’s writing residency to finish what will be third book on forensic archaeology, Ruth is surprised when DCI Nelson appears for a visit.

Ivor March, in prison for life for murder, has offered to give up the site of more murdered bodies than he’s in prison for, but only if Ruth oversees the dig.

Reasonably wary, Ruth can hardly turn down a chance to bring closure to the families of the two missing young women, Nicola Ferris and Jenny McGuire. The Norfolk site where March insists the women are buried borders the fens in an area where local legend has it being haunted by figures holding lights and capturing travelers to bring them to their death. They are known as the Lantern Men.

The cast includes many of those readers will have met before and continues their stories but the case can be read as a stand alone. The setting continues its role as central to the case and to Ruth’s feelings as she becomes immersed in the case. But she’s chosen a new life in Cambridge; so why is she having panic attacks?

When a third body is found at the site, and another young woman is murdered, all bets are off. Nelson isn’t happy to entertain the thought that Ivor March is innocent? But if he isn’t the killer, then who is? While he keeps his feelings for Ruth buried as deeply as one of Ruth’s archaeological digs, he misses her, and that adds to his frustration over her new life with Frank in Cambridge.

It’s a finely wrought plot, with enough suspects to keep the reader at bay, while adding in terrific plot twists that will keep the reader on their toes with a building sense of urgency. Who is really at risk from a killer here?

All the balls Griffiths juggles stay afloat and lead to a stunning climax that finds this one Highly Recommended.

Marlowe Benn: Passing Fancies Saturday, May 30 2020 

Marlowe Benn brought readers her first Julia Kydd mystery, Relative Fortunes, and returns with the sequel, Passing Fancies. Set in the 1920s, I had the opportunity to speak with Benn about her books and their fascinating look at the era she’s chosen to delve into:

Auntie M: This is your second book set in the 1920s and your research is extensive, from manners to the clothing and food. What drew you to this era?

Marlowe Benn: First let me say thank you for this chance to share a bit about my books with your readers. I’m truly honored to be a part of this blog. I’ve always loved the style of the 1920s—the lively music, the daring fashions, the flamboyant determination to enjoy life’s pleasures. But while it looks like one big party, there was a lot of reckless desperation beneath all the rule-breaking fun. Notions like honor, duty, and moral responsibility seemed pointless after a crushing world war and global pandemic. With those old values discredited, new ones vied to take their place.

As I try to show in Passing Fancies, hopes for greater freedoms and opportunities for women and people of color struggled to compete with more cynical celebrations of wealth and power. I was drawn to this combination of eye-popping exuberance and deep social frictions. No shortage of mystery and crime fiction plot ideas there!

AM: Tell readers about creating the fascinating character of Julia Kydd, a thoroughly modern woman in this era, and one who has an unusual area of expertise that readers will learn about. How did your own past experience influence her development?

MB: Julia loves books. She likes to read, but it’s physical books she’s passionate about, as works of art. She’s been smitten by the Arts and Crafts “fine printing” movement, which revived the old hand bookmaking crafts. When I was in graduate school studying the history of that movement in the 1920s, I learned how to set type, print, and bind books by hand. As anyone who’s ever dabbled in today’s popular book arts can understand, it’s a heady thing to give visual and tactile form to a writer’s words. Julia is as addicted to that pleasure as I am.

AM: Julia’s family life is . . . complicated, to say the least, with several recurring characters. Care to comment on that?

MB: Complicated, and then some. In my first book, Relative Fortunes, Julia is vexed by her estranged older half-brother’s power over her money and thus over her independence. Although Philip is her closest relation, she barely knows him and seems to have nothing in common with him beyond a surname. Lacking conventional family attachments, in Passing Fancies Julia forges somewhat daring new bonds to take their place, both with Philip and with her lifelong maid and confidante, Christophine.

AM: In this second book in the series, Julia faces the racism of the era and has an epiphany of her own. It’s clear you feel strongly about that. Why choose that to explore?

MB: I often hear friends and acquaintances, who are white like me, talk about racism with sympathy for people of color, as if the problems don’t involve white people too. In fact, centuries of racism shape the experiences of all Americans, not just those of color. But because racist policies and values have always benefited white people—whether or not we condone or even perceive them—we tend not to see, or to deny or justify, our advantages. Julia is disturbed to realize this about herself, and readers may squirm too. Unfortunately, history is full of uncomfortable truths we cannot escape. As Faulkner famously put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

AM: What’s next for Julia?

MB: I wish I knew. Future publishing decisions are as uncertain as everything else these days. Julia has grand plans to get her Capriole Press off the ground, now that she finally has her printing studio, but we’ll all have to wait and see what happens.
AM: Thanks so much for these insights, Marlowe. And now on to discuss Passing Fancies.

Julia Kydd is trying to launch Capriole Press, a small press that will have limited but exquisite books that would be as beautiful to hold and admire as to read, and to that end, she attends society parties to find works she can produce. She’s also looking to find collectors who would back her and to be accepted into the publishing world.

It’s the Jazz Age in New York, and Julia is introduced to Harlem nightclubs. One particular performer she meets at a house party captures her attention, and even more so when Julia sees her perform.

Eva Pruitt is a black singer with a divine figure who has written an explosive novel. Despite being under contract, the novel is wanted by several houses until it goes missing during a murder.

The men in Eva’s life all want different things from her and go to great lengths to have what they want. The reality she has lived with and must continue to experience shocks Julia and creates a bond between the two women.

Julia steps in to help Eva while coming face-to-face with her own racial prejudices and assumptions. It will prove to be a life-changing relationship for Julia and those she loves.

In creating Julia, Benn has a young woman who chafes at the freedoms of the men who surround her. She’s bold and yet empathetic. She probably drinks too much at parties. Yet she holds the book together well and readers will be rooting for her to succeed as she matures.

Benn captures the era perfectly, and dazzles readers with the clothing, food, and excesses. She also takes a good hard look at the class and racial divides of the time, which still echo today.

James Oswald: Bury Them Deep Wednesday, May 13 2020 

James Oswald’s tenth Inspector McLean novel, Bury Them Deep, reinforces why he’s one of Auntie M’s favorites, whether its the newest McLean or in his equally well-written, yet vastly different series featuring detective Constance Fairchild (No Time to Cry; Nothing to Hide).

This time the Scottish detective mixes with a highly politicized operation when he sets out to find a missing administrative member of the Police Scotland team who’s not shown up for work. It doesn’t help that the woman’s mother is a retired Detective Superintendent Grace Ramsey, recovering from a broken hip, but still as intimidating as McLean remembers.

Assigned to the team working on an huge anti-corruption scheme, Anya Renfrew’s disappearance sets off alarm bells. With her access to many of the systems in place that unlock the secrets of Edinburgh’s most powerful businessmen, none of the possibilities look good. With fears Anya may have been bought off for the information she could share, another possibility is that she been silenced to keep her knowledge quiet.

Last seen in ancient hills where the maps are difficult to follow and the stories from folklore imbue the atmosphere, McLean and his team set out to find out all they can about Anya Renfrew, her current life, and her past.

At the same time, just to muddy the waters, an old foe of McLean’s at a long-term psychiatric hospital claims to have information about the missing woman.

It’s a race against time to find Anya as the team investigates a disturbing pattern of other women having disappeared from the same area where Anya is last seen.

One thing about Oswald’s plots: they are consistently creative and bring a new level of knowledge to the reader, as he explores areas most readers won’t be familiar with.

This ability to hit on unique stories, inhabited by a familiar cast of characters led by McLean, all set in the city and surrounding area of Edinburgh, make this a Highly Recommended read.

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Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

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Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews

Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & Writing, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews