Bruce Robert Coffin: Among the Shadows Wednesday, Sep 28 2016 


When you’re a retired law enforcement officer and your last name is Coffin, it would seem only natural that the next step would be to write a police procedural, and Bruce Robert Coffin has done just that with Among the Shadows. Auntie M couldn’t help but be reminded of Gwendolyn Butler’s John Coffin Mysteries, but these couldn’t be farther from the handsome English detective surrounded by theater friends.

This Coffin has created a very different detective, even as he gets his Portland, Maine setting down just right. He captures the rhythm and politics of the detective force and its team, too. Then the veteran homicide detective gives readers an intriguing main character in Detective Sergeant John Byron, a man who has the true detective’s dedication to the Job, despite the costs.

The son of a detective who committed suicide, Byron’s at a crossroads in his life. His marriage has disintegrated and he sunk into drinking too much. Coffin avoids veering into cliche’ by having Bryon acknowledge this and actually do something about it, a refreshing character change that makes Byron all the more interesting with this determined inner strength when he’s caught up in the current case.

It starts with the deaths of two former Portland PD members, and at first it’s only Byron who sees a connection when a photo surfaces that contains an old team of law enforcement officers who formed a Special Reaction Team–and Coffin’s father was one of that team.

With a loyal team assisting him who each have their own area of expertise, Byron will fight his superiors to connect the deaths. He insists the team members are being killed off for their connection to an old case where robbers got away with over a million dollars with the money never being recovered. One of the four robbers disappeared, while the other three were shot on scene, as was a member of the police team. It’s long been thought that the missing robber has the proceeds.

Coffin will have to fight some of his superiors every day, despite his lieutenant trying to give him the autonomy he needs to set his team where they need to be headed. He’s thwarted in particular by the Chief and Assistant Chief, and as the case heats up, trailed everywhere by a young investigative reporter out to build a name for himself who manages to get in his way.

The pace is kept taut, and the closer the team gets to resolving these cases, the more danger the team find themselves in. Before it’s over, there will be surprises that will keep readers wanting to figure out this twisted case as much as John Byron himself.

An intriguing debut from a storyteller to watch, Coffin has already made a name for himself as an artist. He paints everything from portraits to landscapes, but the piece Auntie M was most intrigued to read about is a work titled “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity.” The commissioned portrait commemorates the one hundredth anniversary of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and depicts Special Agent Edwin C. Shanahan, the first agent ever killed in the line of duty. The portrait is currently on display in the Boston field office of the FBI.

Coffin is a talented writer to watch~

Arnaldur Indridason: Into Oblivion Wednesday, Mar 16 2016 

Arnaldur Indirdason’s Icelandic thriller series, featuring Inspector Erlendur, continues with this look into his early days as a detective in Into Oblivion, an aspect first explored in last year’s acclaimed Reykjavik Nights. The CWA Gold Dagger Award winner is the only author to win the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel two years in a row, and with good reason.

The book opens a few years after Erlandur decides he wants to be a detective. It’s 1979 and the year springs to life, the mood set by the music, clothing and social mores of the era. The detective is working with Marion Briem, an older, more experienced detective, when the body of man is found in a blue lagoon known for its healing waters.

Examination reveals that the man has fallen from a great height and died before his body was moved to the lagoon. Could he have fallen from a plane? The only immense height in the area is an aircraft hanger on the grounds of the controversial US military base nearby.

When it becomes apparent the base is involved, Erlandur and Briem find themselves tiptoeing around the base to investigate after the US powers that be have stalled their investigation and denied them access to the hanger. It will take an unlikely accomplice to help them get to the bottom of the man’s death, thwarted by a rogue CIA agent.

As the action unfolds, Erlandur also takes it upon himself to run a parallel cold case investigation. A young teen went missing on her way to school, her body never found, and as both cases heat up, the young detective finds himself in his element, conducting interviews and following slender leads to find resolution.

Another hit that gives insight into what made Erlandur the detective he becomes.

Sarah Ward: In Bitter Chill Tuesday, Oct 13 2015 


England’s rural Derbyshire is the setting for Sarah Ward’s debut mystery, In Bitter Chill, introducing introspective DI Francis Sadler, DC Connie Childs and their team. It promises to be the best of police procedurals, where the mystery is strong and setting as stark as the killings being investigated.

Thirty years ago two young children were kidnapped on their way to school. Rachel Jones was found wandering hours later, but her companion, Sophie Jenkins, never surfaced and no trace of her body was ever found.

On the 30th anniversary of what is surely Sophie’s death, her mother commits suicide, which reopens the cold case in hopes the original team overlooked something that might lead to resolution of the case.

Rachel has become a genealogist and a local history expert who lives quietly and would continue to do so but this reopening of the case on the heels of Mrs. Jenkins suicide disrupts the peace Rachel has created, bringing reporters at her door. Worst of all are her efforts to remember details of that horrific day, when the girls were coaxed by a woman into a car with disastrous results.

Then a former teacher of Rachel’s is found strangled in the same woods where the girls went missing, and suddenly no one in the area feels safe, least of all, Rachel Jones. As Sadler and Connie investigate the new and old cases, they uncover secrets long kept buried as the threat rises.

Ward does a nice job of letting the setting become another character, and gives us enough of the inner lives of Sadler and Connie, as well as Connie’s closest competition in the team, the almost-married Palmer, to make readers look for the next installment of this team. Destined to be a series readers will seek out.

Auntie M had the pleasure this past week to meet with Sarah Ward at the Bouchercon Mystery Convention. A blogger for Crimepieces, Ward’s love of crime fiction kept us talking about our favorites and how In Bitter Chill came to be written:

Sarah Ward: I was living and Greece at the time I wrote the book and having a bout of homesickness. It was incredibly hot, and I kept myself cool by thinking of the Derbyshire winter. It seemed natural to use that area, but Stephen Booth has stolen a lot of the popular places! So I made up a fictional town surrounded by the real ones and that’s worked well. I think being at some remove helped me write it, too, although having lived there I obviously know the area well. In the winter the tourists have gone and it’s deserted and feels isolated but very beautiful.

Auntie M: That certainly comes through, the majesty of the area as well as its bleak isolation. What about the sequel, which I hear is written and will be out next year? What it easier or tougher to write?

SW: I was back in Derbyshire by then and it seemed a bit harder to remove myself from the area as I wrote. It’s such a lovely area, with the Peak District National Park owned by private landowners. I’m quite proud of the fact that it was the first national park, this jewel of nature surrounded by South Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham, great industrial areas.

AM: After you chose the setting, what prompted this particular storyline?

SW: I had a very similar incident happen to me when I was twelve and walking to school. A woman stopped and asked me to post a letter for her, which I did, and then wanted to drive me the rest of the way to school. I didn’t get in her car, but she was persistent until she finally drove off. I never told my parents about it, either. But years later I wondered what would have happened if I HAD gotten into that car . . . so I made the story revolve around two younger girls who had gotten into the car with the woman.

AM: Was there a kind of release in writing it down, exploring that episode?

SW: To a degree, but the most surprising thing about exposing secrets, which the book revolves around, is that people come up to me all the time at signings and tell me their secrets, completely without prompting. It’s usually family secrets of some kind, so I suppose the book has struck a chord with them.

AM: What about the relationships of Sadler, Connie and Palmer?

SW: I have a story arc planned, oh yes, but I’m not giving away secrets except to say there’s a surprise there–you’ll just have to read the next one to see what’s happening!

Lynda La Plante/Wrongful Death and M R Hall/The Burning Sunday, Jan 4 2015 

Lynda LaPlante’s newest DCI Anna Travis novel, at close to 500 pages, could encompass two stories and then some. The London detective finds herself heavily embroiled in a case of suicide which is reopened after a criminal awaiting trial claims he has information that proves the man was murdered. With too many suspects to count, and far too many toes to step on, Travis is treading lightly when she’s handed a partner from the US, FBI profiler Jessie Dewar, part of the same exchange program that finds Travis seconded to an FBI course in the US.

Dewar’s brash approach soon ruffles feathers in everyone from suspects being interviewed to members of Travis’ team. It’s an uneasy alliance, even as Travis realizes Dewar has solid information to contribute.

Auntie M has a love-hate relationship with these books. La Plante’s dialogue with its lack of contractions often sounds stilted and formal. Yet there’s no question the author of the Prime Witness series has a knack for complex plots and that is certainly on view here. You’ll notice Auntie M keeps reading the series, because despite the reading flaws, the stories are compelling and the cases far from simple.

Always on the side is Travis’ boss, Langton, with whom she has her own complicated history. And there will be the potential for Travis to finally have some kind of private life after the death of her fiancé two years ago. A storyline in the US is conveniently cleared after Travis gets on the case, and it remains to be seen if she will return to the US in future entries in the series.


Auntie M is a huge fan of M R Hall’s series featuring Coroner Jenny Cooper and her complicated life. He gets inside a woman’s head well and writes in a believable voice. The cases are complex and yet have the ring of truth, and along the way, readers learn what constitutes the real job of a coroner.

In this outing, it’s the cold period between Christmas and New Year’s when Jenny is called to an horrific scene: a house has burned to the ground and it’s later discovered that three members of the family were inside; two daughters and stepfather Ed Morgan. With evidence of shotgun injuries to the three bodies, it is felt that Ed killed the girls and turned the gun on himself after starting the fire. But what has happened to his young son with wife Kelly, who was off premises at work that evening?

It’s a complicated case, made all the more so by some witnesses withholding information and others not realizing how important their information may be. And how does it tie in to the disappearance ten years ago of another young girl from the same village? There will come a time when Jenny isn’t certain who she can trust and that includes members of the police force who are supposed to be helping her investigation.

Add in the twists of Jenny’s personal life, and the return of her assistant after an accident from she sustained in the last book, helping to save Jenny’s life and that of her son, and it all adds up to a complex and compelling read.

Auntie M is surprised more readers haven’t discovered this always-satisfying series. Give it a try if you haven’t yet found the delightful and compelling novels in this series.