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.

Claire Gradidge: The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox Sunday, Oct 4 2020 

It’s 1941 in Romsey, England, in Claire Gradidge’s fine mystery, The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox. This is another of Auntie M’s TBR personal file from other crime writers’ recommendations.

Jo hasn’t been to her hometown for two decades, after her grandfather unceremoniously threw her out. Born out of wedlock, her mother had already been banished from the family home.

But the young woman, who’s husband is missing in action, returns to uncover who her father was, after her mother dies without telling her.

Needing a job, she arrives the day after the local pub has been bombed, and soon finds herself the coroner’s assistant. But the waters soon muddy when the bodies found in the pub are increased by one unexpected body that doesn’t seem to have suffered bomb damage, that of a teenaged girl, unknown in the area.

The coroner is her childhood friend, Bram Nash, who has suffered his own war injuries, and works at a local law firm as he carries out his coroner duties. The two will set out to discover who the unknown girl was, with Jo bearing the brunt of the investigation. And as she searches for this young girl’s identity, she also finds herself coming closer and closer to the truth of her own parentage.

Atmospheric, with an authentic voice, and with a determined protagonist in Jo, this was the winner of the 2019 Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition. Readers will root for Jo and hope to see her return.

Laura Thompson: Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life Thursday, Oct 1 2020 

What better way to celebrate fall than with the stunning biography Laura Thompson wrote on the queen or mystery. Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life is a complete, fully researched examination of the woman whose crime novels are only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare.

From the Edwardian idyll that was her childhood, Agatha was closest to her mother, although she loved her father. After his death, mother and daughter became even closer, although there was an older brother and sister in the family. Clara’s influence would be clearly felt by Agatha for the rest of her life, in ways large and small, and in her attitude towards money.

The tall, slim girl with the lovely golden hair soon grew into an athletic and graceful young woman, one who wrote poetry and had a leaning to writing. She was a listener, one who absorbed what people said and how they behaved. When she falls for Archie Christie, handsome but without means, her mother is less than impressed with her new son-in-law.

As her writing takes off and a child appears, daughter Rosalind, Agatha’s maternal attitude became diffident, and while she loved her daughter, they never had the same connection Agatha had with Clara. Too long the beloved daughter to be an effective mother, Agatha allows nannies and boarding schools largely to care for her daughter after a few years.

And then the unthinkable happens: Archie has fallen for another woman and wants a divorce. Agatha’s subsequent breakdown, manifested in her disappearance for eleven days that caused an international sensation, is cleverly explained by Thompson, who spins what seems to be the most realistic story of what really happened.

Once Agatha is found at a Harrowgate spa, the divorce occurs and her life changes. She would refuse to discuss the incident ever again, and if anyone dared question her about the period, that person would be obliterated from her life.

Her second marriage several years later to archeologist Max Mallowan was more of a reassurance to Agatha, and her books took off as her writing flourished when she traveled with him. She helped him in his work; theirs was a comfortable relationship that brought Agatha emotional security.

There were multiple houses, too, including the lovely summer home Greenway in Devon that Auntie M visited in 2013. There were also multiple tax issues her ‘fortune’ created, with UK high taxes and the US suddenly deciding they were owed back taxes, a situation that literally dragged on for decades until settled, leaving her an employee of a trust created in her name to control the debt.

Thompson takes issue with those who have called Agatha’s stories simple. They were created out of her deep knowledge of human nature, with almost geometric plots. “But at the heart was her fascination with human nature. This is the great joke: Agatha Christie was not interested in murder.”

Thompson makes a grand case with supporting documentation for this, and also explores the dame’s writings as Mary Westmacott, where she allowed herself to explore the emotions she usually kept in check.

For anyone interested in understanding the evolution and influences of Dame Agatha Christie, look no further than this compelling and highly readable examination of her life that is Highly Recommended.

Clare Chase Day: The Tara Thorpe Mysteries Monday, Sep 28 2020 

Auntie M has been reading several series in order, and today she’s talking about Clare Chase, whose Tara Thorpe series is set in Cambridge.

Murder on the Marshes introduces Tara, a Cambridge journalist who is investigating the death of a young woman found in the fountain of one of Cambridge’s college courtyards.

When Tara learns the woman had been receiving death threats, she can’t help but flash on the one that was left on her own doorstep the night this woman died.

Her personal interest in the case catches the attention of DI Garstin Blake, and he reluctantly comes to see that her journalistic nose has its advantages, as she interviews what they both feel are potential suspects. But Tara’s past experience with police has left her wary of police in general.

Refusing to acknowledge the pull she feels toward the married Blake, Tara doesn’t share the secret in her past that might have bearing on the case, even as they get closer and closer to the killer.

Death on the River opens a few years later, when Tara has left journalism and entered the police force. Only a few weeks into her position as a DC in Cambridge, she is shocked one night to find a woman on the doorstep of her isolated fens cottage. Dr. Monica Cairncross begs Tara to investigate the death of her brother, Ralph.

It’s been deemed an accident, but Tara’s immediate supervisor, DS Wilkins, has little time for Tara’s efforts to find out about the accident and if there was any possibility it could have been murder. But going behind Wilkin’s back, Tara finds out Ralph Cairncross had an earlier accident with the wiring on a faulty lamp that almost killed him.

Butting heads with her DS isn’t missed by their boss, DI Blake, who is determined to give Tara the chance she deserves in his team, despite the misgivings of Wilkins. Just how far will her DS go to scupper Tara? Then a second body is found, and it becomes clear someone has murder on their mind.

With Death Comes to Call, Tara’s newest case revolves around the disappearance of local painter Luke Cope. Inspecting his paintings, Tara is alarmed to see one of a pretty woman with a man’s hands around her throat.

She’s at a loss, until the body of a young woman is found on a nature preserve, left overnight. The dead woman is Freya Cross, an art gallery employee who modeled for Cope and is the woman from the painting. Is life imitating art?

Tara investigates, sometimes using unusual methods she’s fond of from her journalism days. There have been changes to Blake’s team, too, that effect their working. As Tara and the team investigate both Freya’s husband and stepson, there are other forces at work trying to destroy the new detective constable.

Murder in the Fens brings Tara and her team to the body of a young woman found on the edge of the fens, her pockets stuffed full of dead flowers. Was this an affair gone wrong, a crime of passion, or something more?

Searching the young student’s room, Tara finds what turns out to be a rare family heirloom hidden among her things. What was smart Julie Cooper doing with something valuable that belongs to the family of the master at her college?

Was this simple theft, or the hint of something much more? And how far back in time will Tara have to look to find the threads of what is at the heart of this death?

With team changes come a new detective who seems too good to be true, but at least Tara isn’t the lowest in the pecking order. Her tense relationship with DI Blake takes an unexpected turn in this one.

The mystery is solved in each one, so the books don’t strictly have to be read in order, but there was an undeniable pleasure in watching the progression of the relationships Tara has, first as a journalist, and then as a young detective with the various members of her team.

She has her own past, a complicated family situation, and support in odd corners, but it all works and makes her an interesting and strong young woman, whose sense of determination sometimes gets in the way of being a team player, something she must learn.

Chase does a good job, too, exploring Cambridge as a setting, bringing the ancient city and its many colleges to life, as well as the stark fens countryside.

All in all, it’s a satisfying series and Auntie M is looking forward to Tara Thorpe’s next case.

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