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writer Christian White’s manuscript for The Nowhere Child won last year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, along with its $15,000 prize.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.

Fiona Barton: The Suspect Tuesday, Jan 22 2019 

Fiona Barton returns with her series featuring reporter Kate Waters, along with detective Bob Sparkes, in a startling third novel that kept Auntie M up all night to finish it. The Suspect is that good and that compelling. Once it’s started, readers won’t be able to stop.

When two girls go missing in Thailand, Bob reaches out to Kate to involve the press. This hits close to home, as Kate’s son Jake dropped out of university two years ago to travel in Thailand and has rarely been heard from since.

Kate soon finds herself on the way to Thailand to investigate a fire that involves the girls, but also finds to her surprise and dismay that Jake might have been on the premises at the time. Turning her usual position on its head, Kate soon finds she is the one being hounded by her reporter colleagues, not all well-meaning, as she tries to find her son while investigating what happened to the girls.

Things escalate, if that’s possible, from there. The parents of both girls have very different reactions to the situation. Social media posts from one of the girls tracks their trip, but is this the reality?

It’s a complicated situation, one that explores the complexities of families,husbands and wives, sons and mothers, and loss and grief, alongside one humdinger of a thriller. No character is left untouched by this story. The inner voices of each character ring true in a moving and realistic way that will bring a catch to your breath. It’s a complicated tour de force of emotions and situations, a beautifully written novel that delves into the psychology of us all.

By turning the tables on Kate and involving her own family, the reporter who usually tells other peoples stories must acknowledge that we can’t really know the people we love totally and completely. Highly recommended.

Joanna Schaffhausen: No Mercy Friday, Jan 18 2019 

Schaffhausen brings back tenacious police officer Ellery Hathaway in No Mercy, the follow-up to The Vanishing Season with FBI profiler Reed Markham. Readers will pick up on the action from the last book with Ellery on forced leave.

After shooting a murderer, and refusing to apologize for it, political correctness has forced Ellery into group therapy. Not a people person to start with due to her childhood horrors, she has difficulty getting close to people and this is a kind of torture for her.

Two people there come to her attention: a wheelchair-bound woman, scarred from the fire that cost her young toddler’s life decades ago, and a young woman whose life has been changed forever after a brutal in-home rape.

Ellery turns to Markham on both counts, the man who freed her from a killer’s closet when she near death as a child. The event tied the two together in a way that neither has tried to investigate–until now, when the threat to Ellery is raised in a way she might not survive.

With Ellery determined to explore both of these cases, divorced father Markham finds himself involved at a level that may cost him the promotion that would let him spend more time with his beloved daughter, especially when his boss and mentor’s former actions are called into question.

The flawed Ellery allows affection only from her adorable basset hound, Bump. Along with Markham, both unusual characters do more than carry this suspenseful plot. With fast pacing as the two cases heat up, Ellery is never far from the memories of her own violent past.

Simon Lelic: The Liar’s Room Tuesday, Jan 15 2019 

Simon Lelic’s The Liar’s Room bring an original concept to a thriller, a high stakes cat-and-mouse game that is unsettling while entrapping the reader in this gripping read.

When therapist Susanna Fenton starts a session with a new patient, her instincts tell her something’s off. Adam Geraghty gives off vibes that have Susanna’s sense on high alert, but she gives him the benefit of the doubt.

Until she soon realizes from their exchanges that Adam is determined to break into the secrets of her past which include her new identity, started years ago to protect her teen daughter.

During the course of this single therapy session, as the light fades and her hopes start to dwindle, Susanna must face the tragedy of the earlier life she sought to overcome.

The story alternates between this session, diary entries, and Susannna’s own memories to tell the story. Who is the real liar here? An unsettling and yet deeply engrossing story, where neither the patient nor the therapist are whom they claim to be.

Stefan Ahnhem: Eighteen Below Thursday, Jan 10 2019 


Stefan Ahnhem’s Fabian Risk novels have a growing audience for the international bestelling author. His third, Eighteen Below, brings the same twisted plot to the Swedish detective and his well-drawn team.

Risk has always been torn between his family and his job, and this dilemna takes center stage with a serial killer on the streets of Helsingborg. The opening is particularly strong, bringing a whiff of the monster they are dealing with, slotted alongside the head of the crime squad, Tuvesson, who can’t get over her divorce and is drinking too much.

There are more secrets within the team, but they often must take a back seat when dealing with the evil at work here, for most victims are found to have been frozen alive at eighteen below, and their identity taken over for financial gain.

How Risk and his team, with great personal jeopardy, must uncover who is behind this sophisticated scheme and stop it.

There’s a lot of darkness here, and the resolution, while it answers some questions, raises different ones for the next book. An intricate plot will have readers glued to the book.

Louisa Luna: Two Girls Down Wednesday, Jan 9 2019 

Louisa Luna’s knockout Two Girl’s Down introduces two highly original characters readers will want to follow.

California PI Alice Vega finds herself on a plane to a small town in Pennsylannia when two young girls disappear. Having built up a reputation for finding missing children, the girl’s aunt has contacted Vega to assist the local police.

Max Caplan is a disgraced cop trying to make a living as a PI while raising teenaged daughter, Nell, after a divorce. When Vega contacts him to be her local contact and work the case with her, an unlikely partnership develops.

The local police are less than helpful, and with Cap’s history, the two strike out on their own at first. With the FBI’s invovlement, an uneasy truce is struck on sharing information and the two go to town.

Vega is unlike any other investigator Cap has known. Tough and smart, strong and feisty, she has contacts he doesn’t. But Cap has the local knowledge she needs as the fast plot crackles with suspense.

All of the characters are well-drawn, from the distraught family to the witnesses the duo encounter. It’s a read that will keep you rooted to the page, cinematic in its detailed view. You can hear the screenwriters sharpening their pencils.

The twists keep coming with an ending that flips back on itself and brings even more surprises. Readers will be clamoring for more Vega and Cap. This is Auntie M’s first Highly Recommended of 2019.

Charlot King: The Cambridge Murder Mysteries, and Animal Tales Sunday, Jan 6 2019 


Auntie M recently had a chance to interview Cambridge author Charlot King. She’ll tell readers about her two series, The Cambridge Murder Mysteries, and Animal Tales.

Auntie M: You write the Cambridge Murder Mystery series but just brought out a new series, Animal Tales, very different. What prompted the switch?

Charlot King: Stories pop into my head, and I write them. I reckon it’s more of an addition than a switch. I’m still writing a lot more Cambridge Murder Mysteries if I’m spared, as I enjoy writing them. But sometimes, it’s nice to try something different, and the two series could not be more different. I hope that those readers of the Cambridge Murder Mysteries who try the Animal Tales will enjoy them. I don’t have a long-term plan; the strongest story or character at the time gets my attention.

AM: The covers on both series are wonderful, very eye-catching. Who designs them for you, and do you have input?

CK: I’ve commissioned Robin Howlett to illustrate all my stories so far. I have initial ideas of how I’d like each of the covers to look. I then give Robin a brief, and he brings each one to life. I wanted to find an illustrator who could draw art deco well. I struck lucky with Robin. I found him by spotting his poster illustrations and only afterwards discovered that he lives really near me. We have since been to the pub together on more than one occasion, and I count him as a friend!

AM: The mysteries give readers a great setting in Cambridge. Was it always on your mind to set them there?

CK: Places leave a strong impression on me, like they’re a living character or someone I know. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way. I write about other places in other books that I love, too, but the Cambridge Murder Mysteries are an homage to the city I live in that’s captured my heart. Cambridge is a very beautiful place, and there are so many little streets and alleyways, perfect for setting a murder or two. I don’t think I’d ever run out of places to stage the next murder mystery.

AM: You do a series of photographs of Cambridge taken on walks with your dog, Moobear . I keep telling you they should be made into notecards or postcards; they’re that good. Is your photographer’s eye something you call on when writing the mysteries?
Charlot King and Moobear:

CK: That is kind of you, I’m a total amateur, and all the photos are on my iPhone. Just snaps. I like to capture moments, steal them for later. I’m in awe of beauty generally. Who isn’t? I don’t set out to photograph Moobear either, she just mostly walks into the shot! I find walking more than therapeutic. It is part of who I am. Wherever I am, if I’m indoors for too long I get a strong urge to get outside. I don’t mean that I’m a mountain climber, but if I had all the time in the world, I’d love to walk from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. At rambling or wandering pace. With lots of stop offs for tea and cake. Perhaps it’s something about slowing down? Chatting to people through happenstance? The photographs are just something I do when I’m out walking. If I had to give up one of them, it would be the photography.

AM: The Animal Tales showcase your affinity for animals. Have you always loved animals?

CK: Wouldn’t it be a boring and strange planet without them? If they could talk, everything would be so different… When I was younger, the family always had dogs and cats. We mostly lived in towns, and when I was very little, I wanted a pony, mainly from reading the Norman Thelwell books. I also wanted a lion, after watching Daktari on Saturday morning television. I suppose as I grew older I realised that would be a bad idea. But I’ve always wanted to share my life with animals as I think they teach us so much. They are humbling and awe-inspiring. And they deserve better than they get from humanity.

AM: Elizabeth Green is the professor who does the sleuthing in your Cambridge Murder Mysteries. How did you develop her character?

CK: Back in the early 2000s, I was on a walk in Chilham near Canterbury in Kent – of all places. My father had been the head teacher in the village, and I wanted to go back and take my family to see it. While walking, we saw this lady standing outside her back gate. She had such an intelligent face and was engrossed in conversation. Her voice boomed out as we walked by. The idea came to me as I was walking past her. I have no idea who she was, but she inspired me. As we drove back home, I already had the first murder in my head.

AM: There’s a lot of science involved in those plots. Do you do the research yourself or have a good resource?

CK: I studied politics for my first degree, but then for my PhD, I studied public policy and biotechnology. Specifically, I looked at the deliberate release of genetically manipulated organisms and public policy. I am not a biologist, but I did have to read up on an awful lot of genetics, biology and botany. So I draw heavily on memory and books on poisons. I try as best I can to be accurate, but my novels are in no way police procedural. They are just stories, so I’d hope my readers like them for other reasons than for their scientific precision.

AM: Who were your influences to turn to crime fiction when you started writing?

CK: Colin Dexter and Agatha Christie for sure, but I don’t read crime fiction these days. I used to read a lot when I was younger. I think the books that influenced me the most – which I think this question is about – came to me when I studied the Politics of English Literature as a module for part of my first degree at the L.S.E. It covered the whole sweep of political novelists, poets and playwrights. I was in heaven on that course, reading Woolf, Wilde, Shaw, Thomas, Huxley, Yeats, Joyce, Orwell, the list goes on. Our teacher, Professor Black, would take us to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club for some of our lessons.

I also like a bit of poetry. Favourites at the moment include: ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, by Rupert Brooke (there’s a lovely recording of that poem on YouTube by the way!) Also, love listening to Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’, read by Richard Burton. Dylan Thomas’ poem, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ was particularly helpful recently, as I lost my father just last year. Perhaps that’s why I’m going through a phase of reading a number of autobiographies by comedians. My heart belongs to comedy. I’m just not a funny writer. I’ve tried.

AM: What’s a writing day like for Charlot King when you’re working on a manuscript?

CK: I aim to write 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it comes quickly. Sometimes it takes ages. I find writing the first draft the most enjoyable. But, I spend most of the time rewriting a book. Probably 80% is rewriting for me. That is a much more agonising task. I much prefer making up the story in the first place. I like the puzzle. I expect one day a computer will do all the hard rewriting for us. Can’t wait.

AM: Finally, whose books would we find on your nightstand, waiting to be read?

CK: I’ve mentioned I like reading autobiographies about British comics. I’ve just bought Paul O’ Grady’s ‘Country Life’. I don’t tend to read at night, as my eyes are pretty shot and need the rest.

AM: Where can readers find your books?

CK: Amazon around the world, and if they are in Cambridge, Heffers Bookshop. And if any of your readers are on Twitter, please do get in touch. I’m @queencharlot. Or Instagram is charlot_king_cambridge, and my website is charlotking.com.

Best Reads of 2019 Wednesday, Jan 2 2019 

In 2018 Auntie M reviewed 160 books! That’s a new record for her, and doesn’t include the several dozen extra books she’s read for her own pleasure. Phew!

There are so many BEST OF lists going around now and here are those that stood out to Auntie M and earned her HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating. That doesn’t mean the other books aren’t worth reading! But these had that something special that lingers after the read, or causes you to zip through them to the end of the story. All of the reviews of these books are archived, so if you missed any, you’ll be able to pull up the individual review.

They are listed on the order they were read. Many of these are now available in paperback or Kindle or Audible. Happy Hunting!


AJ Finn: The Woman in the Window


Anthony Horowitz: The Word is Murder


Tony Parsons: Die Last


Nikki French: Sunday Silence


Tracee de Hahn: A Well-Timed Murder


Alex Gray: The Swedish Girl


Emily Winslow: Look For Her


Ausma Zehant Kahn: A Dangerous Crossing


Stefan Ahnhem: The Ninth Grave


Stuart MacBride: A Dark So Deadly


Kate Rhodes: Hell Bay


Claire MacKintosh: Let Me Lie


Elizabeth George: The Punishment She Deserves


Elly Griffiths: Dark Angel


Sharon Bolton: The Craftsman


Ashley Dyer: Splinter in the Blood


Tony Parsons: Girl on Fire


CJ Tudor: The Chalk Man


Erik Rickstad: What Remains of Her


Hank Philiipi Ryan: Trust Me


Stuart MacBride: Blood Road


Peter Blauner: Sunrise Highway


Mandy Morton: Magical Mystery Paws


Michael Robotham: The Other Wife


Louise Penny: Kingdom of the Blind


Sarah Ward: The Shrouded Path

Sarah Ward: The Shrouded Path Monday, Dec 31 2018 


Almost Happy New Year to Auntie M’s readers, and she leaves you for 2018 with one of her favorite reads of this year.

Sarah Ward’s newest DC Childs mystery, The Shrouded Path, has led the Guardian to note: “Like Ann Cleeves . . . Ward has a gift for the macabre.”

Auntie M hadn’t really thought of Ward’s series that way, but she supposed it fits, as that sort of creepyiness that infiltrates the best of Cleeves work is at play in this series, too.

The plot centers around events of 1957, with some details dropped in from that time period alerting the readers to a well, macabre incident that happened then but isn’t made clear until near the end of the book. All in good time . . .

For DC Connie Childs, getting used to DI Matthews covering for DI Sadler, having a staycation, news that an elderly woman has been found dead sitting upright in her own living room sounds like nothing more than a routine death, if death can ever be routine to the person whose died. Then why does Connie feel like she should pursue the matter? Is it simple boredom, or a wish to impress their new DC, Peter Dahl?

At the same time, Mina Kemp, a gardener known locally as the Land Girl, has been visiting her dying mother in hospital. When her mother becomes agitated over a girl known as Valerie, it soon becomes apparent that to ease her mother’s mind, she must find this Valerie, whom her mum keeps insisting has visited her. But then the oddest thing happens. Mina’s mum confesses Valerie is dead.

With Connie using her instincts to push on the investigation, a second death of an eldery woman comes to light, and when it seems the two women knew each other, Connie and Peter Dahl are alert to the connection. And then a third woman dies, and this time there can be no pretending this was a natural death, especially when she’s linked to the other two women.

With tales of old, secrets kept, and people who’ve learned to cope moving on, even Sadler will be surprised at the turn of events in this fully realized, compelling mystery. A strong entry in a fine series, this one just keeps getting better and better, and earns Auntie M’s ‘highly recommended rating’ for the last day of 2018.

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