Allison Montclair: The Right Sort of Man Sunday, Jun 16 2019 

Allison Montclair’s new series starts off with a delightful bang with the charming The Right Sort of Man.

The second World War has just ended in 1946 London, and two young women who couldn’t be more opposite are thrown together. Iris Sparks is the unmarried, savvy woman with an Oxford education and a shady past; Gwen Bainbridge is the war widow with a young son, still grieving the loss of her handsome husband, and subjected to living with her staid in-laws.

The two meet at a wedding and agree to start a new business to cement their independence, and do it in one of the Mayfair buildings that escaped bombing with The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. They approach it in an organized manner, trying to match suitables, and even have had a few marriages from their pairings.

New client Tillie La Salle sets off Iris’ warning bells as someone who might have her own checkered past, but the women set her up with her first date. Then Tillie is found murdered, and the man arrested for the crime is Dickie Trower, the man they matched to Tillie, who claims he never met with her at all.

Now the duo have a two-fold problem: try to rescue Dickie from the hangman’s noose, and try to reclaim the reputation of their new business. The two will ennlist their friend, Sally, a budding playwright who reminded Auntie M of Stephen Fry, to cover the office as they take turns sleuthing Tillie’s life.

The thing that struck Auntie M about these two well-developed characters (make it three if you include Sally) was their snappy dialogue, which hums and zings off the page. The period details are spot on, and the the light-hearted feel is contrasted with moments of the realities of a post-war nation.

An assured start to what promises to be a wonderful and interesting series for fans of historicals, this one will be snapped up and not put down until it’s done.

Vanda Simon: Overkill Monday, May 20 2019 

Shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, Overkill is Vanda Symon’s debut featuring police constable Sam Shephard and promises to be a strong series.

With the natural setting intriguing to readers unfamiliar with the area, this New Zealand procedural starts off with a bang with the disappearance of a young mother.

The reader knows more than the police in this case, and what is first deemed a suicide is quickly ferreted out to be a murder. The chilling opening creates a picture of a young mother desparate to save her child and is all the ore compelling for what she is forced to endure.

For Sam, the knowledge that there is a killer in the small town of Mataura is compounded by the victim being the wife of Sam’s former lover. With a young child left behind complicating matters, Sam is determined to find the killer, especially after her invovlement and close ties finds her suspended from duty and on the list of suspects.

Sam has a no-nonsense approach to policing that makes her a feisty woman on a mission and also her a prime candidate to carry a series that weaves together the unusual rural landscape with the harsh realities of gossip that is small-town life. Sam must face prejudice and ignorance as she realizes that people she’s known her entire life must be involved in the young mother’s murder.

With the tension mounting, Sam and those close to her will find themselves in danger as the stakes rise higher and higher. An accomplished debut.

Angie Kim: Miracle Creek Monday, May 6 2019 

It’s tough to believe Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek is her first novel, as the legal thriller is so well done, but Kim’s trial attorney experience has been put to good use in making readers feel they are residing in the courtroom and heightens the suspense.

The premise revolved around the “miracle submarine” of early hyperbaric chambers. Miracle Creek, Virginia is a small rural town and the Yoos operate their miracle submarine in their backyard. There are different uses and different people using the device when an explosion occurs and the tragedy affects so many people.

The medical issues that drive people to use a hyperbaric chamber are thoroughly discussed but never boring, and bring hope to so many. So the question revolves around who would set this fire and why?

Told from multiple points of view, this is as much a haunting character study as it is a courtroom drama when one of the parents, Elizabeth, whose autistic son was using the chamber, is put on trial for murder when her child and another adult die in the fire, not to mention severe injuried to others.

There is the family drama here, plus the wonderful courtroom scenes, and also the underlying mystery of what really happened that day. There is the cultural situation of the Korean family, too, and the story is heightened by the way Kim chooses to have her characters tell it.

This is an accomplished debut by a writer who must have more stories to tell that we’ll be reading.

A. M. Peacock: Open Grave Thursday, Apr 18 2019 

Auntie M just finished reading A. M. Peacock’s debut serial killer thriller, Open Grave, which introduces DCI Jack Lambert. Having managed to hurt or offend pretty much everyone in his life, struggling with his own choices, Lambert is a workaholic who heads a team tasked with unraveling murders where two victims are buried and then dug up. Whether they two know each other is just one of the many items under investigation. In a realistic light, this isn’t the only case on the team’s plate. An effective start with a Newcastle setting to what promises to be a strong series, here’s Peacock’s story on is inspiration for the book. And Happy Birthday!

My inspiration for Open Grave:

Before I began writing Open Grave, my education consisted of a healthy obsession with reading crime fiction. A number of years ago, I discovered Stuart MacBride and read Cold Granite cover to cover in two days. From then on, I was hooked. I got the chance to see MacBride at a local library event, before he became a household name, and took the opportunity to pick his brains regarding the process of writing a book and how he came to be published.

In fact, this is a common thread in my journey to publication. A number of authors I admire have provided both inspiration and advice to me, whether this was due to a question at an event, or having the opportunity to meet them in another capacity. Authors such as Mari Hannah, Tess Gerritsen and Ann Cleeves all contributed to my own journey to publication in different ways.

Like most writers, I also write short fiction, and I have been published on multiple occasions. Before migrating onto writing longer fiction, this gave me confidence in my ability to pen something worthwhile. Also, like most writers, I wrote a very ‘autobiographical’ 70k word novel that is currently sitting in a drawer never to be read again. Once this was out of my system, and the stabilisers had been removed, it felt natural for me to delve into the world of crime.

I am constantly inspired by a number of other writers. Other than those highlighted above, I absolutely adore books by Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell, Lee Child and Dennis Lehane. I think the ability to create characters that you care about, with interesting crimes and a strong sense of environment, is the key to good crime writing. The authors I mention above all do this.

It’s no coincidence that my novel is set in the bleak Newcastle winter. Granted, we don’t get much sun in the North East of England anyway, but there is something much more atmospheric about a cold, grey, miserable setting, than a sunny jaunt by the seaside in my hometown of South Shields.

With regards to my main character, I was keen to bring Jack Lambert to life by giving him an interesting back story, one which would impact on everything he does. Jack, the hero of the book, is one of the only gay male detectives I can think of. When Open Grave begins, we see that he has only recently admitted this to the people around him. Because of this, we see a tension amongst those who know him and within Jack himself. He also comes from a troubled background, with links to a local gang.

This may or may not impact heavily on the story as things progress…

Open Grave, the first in the DCI Jack Lambert series, is available now in paperback, audiobook and ebook, via Amazon and other book retailers. As for book two, it’s just about done, so watch this space…

A.M. Peacock grew up in the North East of England before leaving to study for a degree in music technology at the University of Hull. A subsequent return to his hometown of South Shields saw him spend seven years as a teacher in a local college before changing careers to become a trade union official.

Having always been an avid reader, he took to writing after being encouraged to do so by his PGCE tutor. He has since gone on to produce a number of short stories, winning the Writers’ Forum Magazine competition on two occasions, as well as producing articles for both the local press and a university magazine.

A.M. Peacock is passionate about crime fiction and his debut novel, Open Grave, is the first in what will become a series of books featuring Newcastle-based detective, DCI Jack Lambert.

Away from writing, A.M. Peacock enjoys watching films, playing guitar and can often be found pavement pounding in preparation for the odd half marathon.

A.M. Peacock can be found on Twitter at @ampeacockwriter.

James Oswald: No Time to Cry Sunday, Mar 17 2019 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! But we’re going to England and Scotland today with a debut that will knock your shellelagh to the floor.

It’s no secret James Oswald’s Inspt. McLean series is a favorite of Auntie M’s. So it was with great interest that she looked forward to reading the first of his new series, featuring DC Constance (Con) Fairchild, No Time to Cry.

It’s an ambitious start in a London setting when Con, working undercover, finds the body of her boss, executed after being tortured. DI Peter Copperthwaite has her mentor and friend, and his influence is seen throughout the book, a device Auntie M quite liked and hopes will continue.

It seems the higher-ups want the blame for Pete’s death to fall to Con, unfair as it is, and she’s on suspension while it’s sorted out, but it seems clear there’s more here than her being named a scapegoat for the ruined operation. Who she can trust soon becomes Con’s primary question.

At a loose end, Con decides to help her brother’s girlfriend and agrees to search for the woman’s younger sister, a run away from the same school Con attended as a child. This secondary plot line adds to the trickiness when the two lines of her invesstigation overlap.It soon becomes clear that this is yet another situation where there is more going on than meets the eye.

At one point Con finds herself at her aunt’s Scottish home, a lovely setting. A secondary character, Madame Rose, is introduced during this visit. She’s one Auntie M fervently hopes will return in the next book, along with her lovely vintage car. A highly original character, she will be one to watch out for.

Con Fairchild is a unique and steadfast gal who can easily carry a new series. It will be interesting to see what kind of path Oswald takes her down in book two. Highly recommended.

Christian White: The Nowhere Child Wednesday, Jan 30 2019 

Melbourne writer Christian White’s manuscript for The Nowhere Child won last year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, along with its $15,000 prize. It didn’t stay unpubbed long, and besides the book, with a second to follow, there’s a planned mini-series on this first.

And with good reason as readers will see once they read this story that has the feel it could happen to anyone, one of its attractions.

Photographer Kim Leamy is teaching evening classes in Melbourne when a stranger approaches her. The American man insists she is really Sammy Went, kidnapped from her Kentucky home when she was 2 years old. With her mother dead from cancer, her step-father refused to answer her questions but acknowledges there is a secret to her Australia origins. Kim flies to the US to visit Kentucky with this man who says he is her brother, determined to find out the truth.

Small-town Kentucky comes alive under White’s skilled pen, with anyone who has ever traveled through remote southern towns able to recognize the dusty woods and small town minds that populate Manson. It’s perhaps coincidence that the town’s name echoes one of the US’s most recognizable madmen, but the name resonates with readers and adds to the creep factor Kim finds.

Seeing the US for the first time, Kim’s accent is remarked upon, but DNA shows she really is Sammy Went. She has an entire family she doesn’t remember. Who took her and why becomes her driving force as she visits people and tries to get to the bottom of a life she’s forgotten.

Alternating between NOW, Kim’s first person account, and third person accounts of THEN, when Sammy was taken, make this a most interesting and creative way to tell this story. The Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal snake-wielding congregation, held sway over a good portion of the town’s inhabitants when Sammy was taken. Being different, or trying to leave the fold, wouldn’t have been easy when Sammy was kidnapped.

Parsing out the historical details adds to the tension, and armchair detectives will swear they’ve worked things out–until a final twist shows they’re not quite there.

The sustained tension is impressive, with shifting points of view adding to the intensity. This is elevated psychological suspense, with its crackerjack pace and all-too believable characters that will not only have readers glued to the page, but have them anticipating White’s next novel. Highly recommended.

Paula Munier: A Borrowing of Bones Thursday, Jan 24 2019 

Paula Munier debuts a new series that’s destined to become a reader favorite with A Borrowing of Bones.

Any mystery that features dogs is already off to a good start, and this one has two incredible working dogs: Elvis, the Belgian Malinois bomb-sniffer that belonged to ex-MP Mercy Carr’s recently deceased soldier fiance`; and Susie Bear, the Newfie-retriever mix search-and-rescue cuddler owned by game warden Troy Warner.

Warner responds to Mercy’s call when she’s out in the Vermont wilderness with Elvis and they find an abandoned baby. But that’s not all they find: there’s a shallow grave with bones, with a few clues left behind, and the scent of explosives, which brought the area to Elvis’ attention.

With the baby girl safely in hospital, its mother, Amy, steals Helena to keep her away from an abusive home situation, and begs Mercy for help. And while Mercy’s doing that, she and Troy are also on the trail of those bones, to the chagrin of the State Police.

Mercy is an interesting character and so is Elvis. Both are healing wounds and suffer from PTSD, and try to keep others from getting too close to them. It’s highly original to see a former military cop and her dog suffer from this, as most readers will be surprised a dog can have PTSD.

The characters are drawn from reality, from Mercy and Troy, to Mercy’s grandmother, revered Quaker vet Patience, and the baby’s mother, Amy. And that setting, lovingly described, makes any reader want to drop everything and visit Vermont if you haven’t been there yet.

There’s plenty going on here for any mystery lover, involving the art world, Shakespeare, and that beautiful Vermont countryside, the perfect backdrop to an intriguing new series with original characters.

Cozy Christmas: Cozies for Holiday gift-giving Wednesday, Dec 12 2018 

Around the holidays, Auntie M likes to give her readers choices for great gift books for those on their list. No matter what holiday you celebrate, a new book holds the promise of a story yet to be told. Today we’re talking cozies:

MB Shaw’s new series debuts with Murder at the Mill
, where artist Iris Grey, coping with a disintergrating marriage, rents a house to give herself mental breathing space. Enjoying the nature-filled area and sketching soon give way to a commission to paint the portrait of her cottage’s owner, celebrated crime writer Dominic Wetherby. Iris meets the extended family and more at the Christmas Eve party the Wetherby’s hold.

Becoming entangled with the entire Wetherby family, the idyllis Hampshire village soon turns nightmarish after the youngest son finds a body in the water on Christmas Day. Was this an accident or a murder? Attracted to the family attorney, Iris finds herself sleuthing when she becomes frustrated with the local police, just as she soon feels herself being stalked.

A terrific puzzle and an engaging start to a new series.

Ellen Crosby’s newest in her Wine Country series, Harvest of Secrets, takes readers to Virginia and the Montgomery Estate Vineyards during their busy season. Mixing an unearthed skull on Lucie Montgomery’s family property with a modern mystery, Lucie also has a new murder to contend with when shortly after arriving in the area at a neighboring vineyard, head winemaker Jean-Claude de Marignac is found dead.

The prime suspect is an immigrant worker, Miguel Otero, who had quarreled with the new winemaker. But with Lucie’s own immigrant helped ready to revolt during the harvest, she plunges into figuring out the real culprit. It doesn’t help that the dead man was one of Lucie’s first crushes decades ago.

A nice mix of old and new mysteries, with Lucie facing buried secrets.

The 27th Agatha Raisin mystery, Dead Ringer
, features all of MC Beaton’s usual wit and eccentric characters. The Bishop’s visit means the bellringers are practicing up a storm when Agatha manages to convince the lawyer Julian Brody of their team to hire her to investigate the Bishop’s missing fiancee`. Local heiress Jennifer Toynby disappearance years ago, with no body found, remains unsolved.

But that’s not the only thing occupying Agatha. There’s the body of the local policeman discovered in the crypt; one of the bellringers twins is murdered near the church; and a journalist who was once briefly Agatha’s lover is found dead in her very own sitting room. Just how is the Bishop connected to these deaths?

Now a British TV show, the Agatha Raisin series remains a favorite and a classic cozy series.

From its charming cover to the the cast of cats in the characters, Melissa Daley’s Christmas at the Cat Cafe` glows with all that is merry and bright. Set in the town of Stourton-on-the-Hill, owner Debbie allows her sister to move in after a heartbreak. But that doesn’t sit well with the cat side of the home, Molly and her three kittens, who are soon at the mercy of Linda’s dog, Beau. Things go from bad to worse when another cat threatens Molly’s home ground.

With Molly’s point of view at the forefront, this tale is a holiday delight for cat and animal lovers.

Olga Wojtas: Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar/The Bunburry Mysteries Wednesday, Dec 5 2018 

Please welcome Olga Wojtas, author of the new Bunburry series, which has been described as a mix between Miss Marple and Midsomer Murders. She’s here to talk about Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, a time-travel mystery with an inept sleuth, written as an homage to writer Muriel Spark.

Greetings from Edinburgh, Scotland, where I went to high school, and where I still live and work. The writer Muriel Spark was a fellow alumna of James Gillespie’s High School, which she immortalised as Marcia Blaine School for Girls in her iconic novel, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”

That’s what inspired my novel, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar. It’s a wacky romp featuring 50-something librarian Shona McMonagle, a former pupil sent on a time-travelling mission to 19th century Russia by Miss Blaine herself.

Shona has a generally sunny disposition, apart from her deep loathing of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name. Impeccably educated, and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, she is thrilled to be chosen for the one- week mission, which she deduces is to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins.

But despite having had the finest education in the world, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. In fact, she arguably qualifies for the grand Scottish word “numpty” (according to The Urban Dictionary, “A person who is incapable of performing the simplest of tasks correctly”). As the body count rises, will she discover in time who the villain is?

It’s unusual to have a crime novel in which the protagonist is completely inept. But my aim is to have that as part of the comedy. Astute readers like yourself will pick up on the clues long before Shona does, and I hope you’ll have fun watching her get into deeper and deeper water (literally, at one point, when she’s the victim of an attempted drowning). If you’re a fan of Jeeves and Wooster, one of the loveliest reviews I’ve had described my book as “Anna Karenina written by P G Wodehouse”. Shona is something of a female Bertie Wooster, touchingly unaware of her own limitations and, I hope, endearing with it.

She’s surrounded by a host of extraordinary Russian characters, from the serf Old Vatrushkin (a young man who’s terrified of being emancipated) and an elderly nanny who knits (though never produces anything recognisable) to a snobbish countess with a dangerous cleavage, and her ill-trained lapdog which Shona describes as an animated floormop. Will it all work out in the end?

I hope it’s not a spoiler to tell you that it does – but whether Miss Blaine thinks Shona deserves to be sent on another mission is another matter. I’m thrilled that the novel is one of the Christian Science Monitor’s top ten books for November 2018, and one of the Kirkus best books of 2018.

I also write the Bunburry e-book series of novellas under the name Helena Marchmont. These are short cosy crime mysteries which can be read in a couple of hours, set in the rolling hills of the English Cotswolds. I’m half-Scottish and half-Polish, and figured that my real name didn’t fit very well with the quintessential Englishness of the subject matter. So I took my middle name, Helena, and the street I grew up on, Marchmont Road, to create a new persona who I think sounds suitably Anglicised.

The main character is Alfie McAlister, a self-made millionaire who has relocated from London to the idyllic village of Bunburry following a personal tragedy, but finds himself playing amateur detective alongside his late aunt’s best friends, Liz and Marge.

He’s touchingly unaware of how attractive he is (less to do with his money than his good looks), and it never crosses his mind that local policewoman Emma and American environmental activist Betty might be interested in him. Each novella contains an individual mystery. But there’s also a mystery in his family background which gradually unfolds as the series continues: the first e-book came out in September 2018, and the others are being published at two-monthly intervals.

Alfie doesn’t remember his Aunt Augusta who left him a cottage in the village, although he has fond memories of his grandparents who were killed in a car crash when he was twelve. Through Liz and Marge, he begins to discover more about the crash and about his family.

These are more mainstream stories than the quirkiness of Shona, but I’ve still introduced some humour. Alfie’s best friend is the aristocratic Oscar de Linnet, who refuses to leave Bunburry to visit the country, which he dismisses as “pub grub, mud and cows”. He sees himself as a reincarnation of Oscar Wilde, and is always prepared with a Wildean quip.

News Flash: The Bunburry Mysteries will soon be available in Audio in GERMANY, performed by none other than Nathaniel Parker of Inspector Lynley fame.

If you read either Shona or Bunburry (or even both), I do hope you enjoy them! And thank you, Marni, for this opportunity to introduce myself! selections golden-samovar/

Robert Scragg: What Falls Between the Cracks Wednesday, Nov 28 2018 

Robert Scragg has a cracking good debut of a new series with What Falls Between the Cracks.

Introducing the London detective duo Jake Porter and Nick Styles, their latest case is a mix of old and new, when a severed hand is found in a freezer.

It’s strange enough to find a hand, in this case one missing a finger. Yet once DNA matches the hand to the apartment’s owner, Nina Barclay, its even stranger that her family agrees Nina hasn’t been since since 1983.

Why no one has been looking for Nina is just one of the many questions Porter and Styles must answer as they investigate Nina’s extended family and acquaintances, and find far too many unsavory characters.

As their search extends itself, everywhere they turn the team come up against walls thwarting their progress, from interior police structure politics and a drug squad case that has been slowly gathering evidence against one of their main suspects.

One of the highlights is the nice banter between the two detectives, balanced by Porter’s struggle to restart his life after a tragic personal loss.

This is the kind of police procedural Auntie M eats up. An accomplished debut, one that will have readers seeking the second Porter and Styles outing. Highly recommended.

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