Ava Marsh: Untouchable Wednesday, Apr 20 2016 

Take one unusual, flawed protagonist, add in the details of her life as an elite London call girl and some explicit sex scenes, wrap it all in a damn good mystery and you have Untouchable, former journalist Ava Marsh’s strong debut.

“Stella” has a complicated past that has made her turn to her life as high class escort. When she’s not working she’s taking night shifts at a rape crisis center. Then one of the escorts she knows is murdered, and it quickly becomes apparent that a group party she shared with the dead woman makes her a likely victim. What is it that she knows but isn’t aware she knows?

The way the women are exploited will make some readers blood boil, but Stella’s unapologetic approach makes this most unlikely woman a striking protagonist as she tries to unravel what happened to the young murdered woman. She knows that the death of a prostitute will not be taken as seriously as would the murder of a society matron or a young mother. And when she feels some of the powerful men in London she’s come across might be involved, it’s only a matter of time before she finds herself on their list for extermination.

What started out as way to explain a death quickly becomes a race to save her own life for Stella.

This is a fascinating look at the life these women live, from waxing and personal appearance woes to the sadistic men they encounter. There are powerful men, too, and others who are lonely, merely looking for a connection to a woman who will listen to them. For that’s one thing Stella is paid to do, besides perform sex acts, and that’s listen. It’s a gift that may end up saving her life before it’s all over.

A gritty, unusual debut Auntie M found highly readable.

Judith Flanders: A Bed of Scorpions Wednesday, Apr 6 2016 

Auntie M enjoyed Judith Flanders first mystery, A Murder of Magpies, and was happy to receive the ARC of her second, A Bed of Scorpions, featuring the smart and savvy London editor, Sam Clair. There’s a nice balance of humor in the series, with Sam’s first person point of view providing a running commentary on the people she runs across, too.

Fast forward to the summer after the happenings in “Magpie” and Sam is happy in her routine: work, the occasional drink or lunch out, and many evenings spent with her Scotland Yard detective boyfriend, who now has a key to Sam’s flat.

Summer also means Sam is busy setting up her schedule for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, and one can’t help but wonder if the next installment will take us there . . . but in the meantime, Sam has enough on her plate with the personalities at work. And a long-planned lunch with an old friend, Aidan Merriam, an art dealer, who is an old ex of Sam’s.

But lunch takes a sour note when Aiden tells her that he had the great misfortune to be the one to find his business partner dead of a gunshot wound. Is this an apparent suicide by Frank or his murder? Aiden needs Sam’s help, both to clear himself and to find out if anyone else would want Frank dead. And guess who is the one of the detective’s on the case from Scotland Yard? And who was on the from the night before–a night he spent with Sam, when he neglected to tell her about the death of her friend’s business partner: None other than that same detective, Jake Field.

What’s a girl to do? Sam calls the person she nows who knows the law, and is straight up and business-like to a fault without turning a hair: her mother, Helena, who rushed in to defend Aiden and sort this case out.

Now Sam finds herself stuck between her mother, Aiden, and Jake, and soon after realizes she’s put herself right in the sights of a murderer who assumes she knows more than she really does.

A few of the characters from the first installment return with welcome scenes. There are her upstairs neighbors, including the delightful Mr. Rudiger. There is talk of where Jake and Sam are headed in their relationship, which is clearly not well defined. And then there’s also the pretty big matter of a killer to be caught.

The mixed worlds of books and art are sharply and cleverly defined with Flanders’ trademark humor spiking the pages as the action speeds along. The author’s work as an editor stands her well here, especially her work for the publications department of the National Portrait Gallery in London. That knowledge infuses these books with the kind of inside look readers love, a way to see inside a different world. Wrap that up with a darn good mystery, a hint of romance, and a believable protagonist you wish was your friend, and you’ll surely enjoy A Bed of Scorpions as much as Auntie M did.

Colette McBeth: The Life I Left Behind Sunday, Jan 17 2016 

If you enjoy the novels of S J Watson and Rosamund Lupton you’ll be crazy for Colette McBeth’s accomplished second suspense novel, The Life I Left Behind.

Strong female perspectives tell the story: Melody Pieterson, whose close escape with death six years ago still haunts her and has changed her daily life, despite her former close friend, David Alden, being caught and serving time for her attack. Engaged to be married to Sam, he’s built a house for her that’s safe and secure and even installed a fence around its perimeter when her David is released from jail. Yet she can’t escape the feeling she’s being followed at times, while questioning the life she’s leading, closed off from everyone.

Eve Elliot, a determined investigative reporter and friend of David’s sister, is the most poignant of the voices, and speaks to the reader after her death, recounting her agreement to take on the job of trying to clear David. Despite him already having served his sentence, David maintains his innocence and wants his reputation cleared. Once Eve agrees to take on his case, her usual thorough job of dissecting the evidence against him finds discrepancies the original police investigation missed. Just as she’s ready to bring her findings to the police, Eve is murdered in exactly the same way Melody was attacked and left for dead, and David is arrested for her murder.

DI Victoria Rutter is assigned the case of Eve’s death. Her mentor cleared Melody’s attack in record time. Facing retirement in a matter of weeks, he urges her to bring charges against David, and she feels she’s betraying her mentor for not accepting his blithe acceptance that David Alden would attack a woman in exactly the same manner he was jailed for last time, just a few weeks after being let out of prison. Her conscience makes her investigate Eve’s death more fully.

And then a friend of Eve’s turns in the files she’d been working on after giving a copy to Melody, and things change dramatically. Secrets will be revealed and the tension mounts as Melody and Di Rutter both go through the files and come to the same conclusion: David is probably innocent of both incidents. But that means a murderer is still out there, and Melody is jeopardy once again.

Readers will find themselves unable to put this one down. Auntie M was close to finishing it and stopped reading on on purpose to make dinner. She wanted to stop the dramatic flow of action so that she could fully absorb the ending she knew was mounting. This is writing that gets deeply into the heart of human emotions and examines the faces we wear for others, the ones they expect, and the ones we think they expect. Highly recommended and a writer to watch for down the road.

Debut Series: Clare Donoghue and Karin Salvalaggio Sunday, Oct 12 2014 

Never Look Back
Across the pond, UK author Clare Donoghue’s new series features DI Mike Lockyer, racing to find a serial killer in Never Look Back.

Lockyer, aided by a decent team headed by DS Jane Bennett, and burdened with a snarky psychologist he’s forced to endure, has an added motive to stop this killer: the victims bear an increasing resemblance to his own daughter.

As Lockyer and Bennett look for clues to the brutal murderer, a young woman finally makes a report that she’s being stalking by an unseen man. Sarah Grainger’s phone rings, a mysterious van appears on her block, she feels she’s being followed. Is she losing it or are her fears real? And how can Lockyer convince her it’s safe for her to leave her home, which has become her prison, when he can’t know the answer to that question?

With the body count at three murders, the stalker who might or might be the culprit, Lockyer tries to reestablish a fragile relationship with his estranged daughter, all the while fearing she may be the next victim.

Donoghue’s device is to tell some chapters from the perpetrator’s point of view, which adds a chilling layer to the story. But which one is this–the stalker or the murderer?

A convincing debut with its sense of urgency and a well-constructed plot.

In the US, Karin Salvalaggio takes readers to the cold of Collier, Montana, in her debut Bone Dust White.
The opening has a powerful start that will hook readers immediately. Looking out her window, young Grace Adams sees a woman on the trails behind her house, and as she watches in horror, a man emerges from the shadows, stabs the woman and flees.

After a frantic call to the police, Grace goes out to the woman and is shocked to realize it’s her mother, who abandoned her years ago. Now recuperating from a heart transplant, in a fragile state physically and emotionally, Grace yearns for answer from her mother but the woman is dead.

Enter Detective Macy Greeley, heavily pregnant and not happy to be back in Collier to face some of her own old ghosts. Those include a paramedic she shares a past with, and an unsolved case involving Grace’s mother Leanne. With the woman dead, Macy must try to piece together the answers that eluded her so many years ago.

The setting is as bleak as the future most of its inhabitants face, and adds to the cold and calculating feel of the mystery. This one has gained prominence from readers who enjoyed her portrayal of the gritty town and its inhabitants almost as much as the suspenseful plot. Who is keeping secrets, and why?

Salvalaggio reveals just enough of Macy’s life and issues for readers to want to follow her in the next highly anticipated novel in this series that will entertain fans of Longmire and Craig Johnson.

NEW IN PAPERBACK: These previously reviewed books are all available now in paperback–

THE EDGE OF WATER: Elizabeth George’s second in her YA series featuring Becca, a young girl who can hear people’s thoughts. Set on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington State.

THE GOOD BOY: Theresa Schwegel’s crime movie with eleven-year-old Joel Murphy and his father’s police dog, Butchie, highlight this thriller set in Chicago.

THE EGE OF NORMAL: Non-fiction author Carla Norton’s debut crime thriller featuring Reeve LeClaire, the young woman who was kidnapped and held captive from age twelve to sixteen. Helped by her therapist and friend, she can’t turn him down when Dr. Ezra lerner asks her to mentor a young girl rescued from a similar madman. A truly original protagonist.

Summer Kickoff: Hannah, Casey, Dahl, Mina, Russell, French, Eriksson Sunday, Jul 13 2014 

Summer beckons with new books ready for you to investigate. Here’s some of the newest summer crop to get you started with great reads:
Sophie Hannah’s The Telling Error is her newest entry in the Zailer/Waterhouse series, an unconventional procedural set in England, where the action centers on a participant in the murder.

Nicki Clements is the unlikely focus pulled in for questioning after the unusual murder in her neighborhood of a controversial columnist. Nicki is an easy liar, a woman who holds secrets of her own, but she’s not a murderer. How she’s gotten herself deeply into trouble, and the reasons behind her inability to tell the truth and to fabricate stories, all converge into this tale that has the feel of a nightmare too easily imagined by the average person.

Here’s Nicki in her own words: “This is the thing about deception that some people forget: its practitioners don’t do it solely for their own sakes. Often they do it to make others happy. It’s embedded in the training programme we liars o through; we see that when we tell the truth, our instructors scowl, raise their voices, turn red in the face. Anyone who cares more about pleasing other people than about their own happiness–anyone who believes, deep down, that everyone else matters more than they do–learns fluent dishonesty at a young age.”

Award-winning Hannah has developed the art of telling a story that resonates with readers for her ability to decipher human emotions and actions. Her first Poirot novel will be published this fall.

In her fifth Maeve Kerrigan mystery, Jane Casey’s The Stranger You Know brings readers the newest case for the London detective. Three women have been brutally murdered and arranged in a ritualistic manner. Each has had her eyes cut out, their hair sheared off, and lie on a bed or flowers.

The killings echo a death from the past of Maeve’s partner, DCI Josh Derwent, the frustrating man she admires at the same time as he exasperates her with his unprofessional remarks and hot temper. Now she must decide if this man she works beside is wrongfully accused of murder–or if he’s being framed in a most horrendous manner.

A vibrant addition to the series, Kerrigan’s frailties in terms of her own relationships add to the mix.

Journalist Julia Dahl makes her crime fiction debut with the riveting Invisible City.
Using her experience in several areas, she bring to life an new protagonist readers will want to follow: Rebekah Roberts, born to a Hasidic Jewish mother from Brooklyn and the Christian preacher from Florida who raised her. Rebekah takes a job in New York to bring her closer to the mother who abandoned her as an infant, convinced her motives are to be in the center of the journalistic scene.

Working as a stringer she’s called to cover the story when the body of a Hasidic woman is found brutally murdered in a junk yard. Calling into question the NYPD’s relationship with the ultra-Orthodox community, she’s shocked to learn the woman will be buried without an autopsy, her husband never questioned by police. She’s determined to find the truth, and perhaps along the way, unravel a thread that may lead to her mother. Original and readable.

Denise Mina’s Alex Morrow series finds the mother of young twins investigating the death of a businessman, only to discover a complicated network of corruption and deceit that reaches back to the Glasgow to the night Princess Diana died, when a 14 yr old girl found herself sitting in a car with a dead body and the murder weapon in her hand.

How Morrow uncovers the real story, and finds a murderer, make for compelling reading in the unsentimental but very well-written series that never shirks at the realities in our world.
Stop Dead

Leigh Russell’s Geraldine Steel series has been reviewed here before. The newest addition, Stop Dead, finds Steel in her Met job in London, investigating the murder of a highly successful and unorthodox businessman. At first the victim’s business partner are prime suspects–until he, too, is killed in the same gruesome manner, and Morrow races to find the culprit with only one clue in hand: DNA that leads to two women, one dead and the other in prison.cold sacrifice

Russell brings back Steel’s former partner, DS Ian Peterson, in his own series in Cold Sacrifice. Still adjusting to marriage and thinking he may have made a mistake, Peterson’s newest case will take him away from his bride more than ever when three dead bodies pile up quickly. When the first victim, a middle-class housewife, is found stabbed in a nearby park, her husband comes under suspicions, but is soon cleared. That is, until the prostitute who gave him an alibi turns up dead, followed soon by the murder of another prostitute. Peterson will have his hands full trying to placate his wife at home while devoting his time to unearthing a killer.

The husband and wife duo of Nicci French have a winner in the Frieda Klein series. Waiting for Wednesday finds a weakened Frieda recuperating from the events that ended Tuesday’s Gone and have left her with physical and emotional wounds. Then DCI Karlsson asked her insights when a health visitor and mother of three is found dead in her home, the victim of a horrific attack. When her niece befriends one of the teens left motherless, Frieda finds the answers may lie closer to home than she thinks. And she’s very aware of her own teeming emotions and fragility, which affects her impulsive actions on several fronts. Another satisfying entry in the series.

New to Auntie M but not new to Swedish fans everywhere, Kjell Eriksson’s Ann Lindell series brings the fifth entry, Black Lies, Red Blood. With an interesting protagonist, the female police inspector finds her newest case coming too close to home, when the journalist she’s been having an affair with is implicated in the murder of a homeless man. After his disappearance, Ann must decide if the man she’s fallen in love with could be a killer, while keeping the news of their relationship from her colleagues as she searches for another explanation. Filled with psychological and descriptive details.

Kill Call
Stephen Booth’s wonderful Fry and Cooper series returns with Kill Call,this time exploring the world of hunting and horses.

The case presents in a strange way, when on a rainy Derbyshire moor, hounds from the local foxhunt find the body of a well-dressed man whose head has been crushed. Yet an anonymous caller has reported the same body lying half a mile away.

DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper investigate and find themselves embroiled in the violent world of hunting and the saboteurs against it, Throw in horse theft and a connection to the meat trade and you have a mystery. Fry tries to unwind the complex and shady business interests of the murder victim, while Cooper decided that the answer to the case just might lie deep in the past.

History is everywhere around him in the Peak District landscape — particularly in the ‘plague village’ of Eyam, where an outbreak of Black Death has been turned into a modern-day tourist attraction. Cooper can’t ignore the instinct that tells him this is at the heart of the case.

New in paperback and in ebook from Witness Impulse, one of the slower-paced books in the series but nonetheless with an interesting and arresting case to follow.

Also from Witness Impulse, the 10th Ben Cooper/Diane Fry Booth, Lost River; previously reviewed. This strong entry in the popular Peak District series revolves around a May Bank Holiday ruined by the tragic drowning of an eight-year-old girl in picturesque Dovedale. For DC Ben Cooper, a helpless witness to the tragedy, the incident is not only traumatic, but leads him to become involved in the tangled lives of the Neilds, the dead girl’s family.

Cooper begins to suspect that one of them is harbouring a secret – a secret that the whole family might be willing to cover up. DS Diane Fry finds herself drawn into an investigation of her own among the inner-city streets of Birmingham, and quickly Fry realises there is only one person she can rely on to provide the help she needs, and that’s Ben Cooper.