4 star

Hangman – Daniel Cole

Title – Hangman

Author – Daniel Cole

Published – 22 March 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

Set eighteen months after the end of Ragdoll, police in the US are investigating a body found hanging from Brooklyn Bridge, the word ‘BAIT’ carved into the chest. The potential connection to the Ragdoll murders brings an FBI and a CIA agent to DCI Emily Baxter’s desk, they want to interview Lethaniel Masse. And there starts a fast-paced, action-packed rollercoaster of an investigation. The action moves backwards and forwards across the Atlantic as more and more related crimes occur. The body count ramps up at a rate of knots and the scenarios become ever more shocking.

If Ragdoll was Wolf’s book then this is Baxter’s. I loved Wolf in Ragdoll and I think Emily Baxter may be my new favourite police woman. I picture her as Suranne Jones playing Bailey in ‘Scott and Bailey’. She’s smart as can be (underneath it all) and has (some) principles but she’s a bit of a drinker, bit of a control freak, secretive and trusts no-one. And did I say she drinks?

As with Ragdoll this is a pretty gruesome, no holds barred, book and the author certainly has  a warped imagination. There are some dark issues at the heart of the story and an interesting contrast in how different characters have dealt with them. The counterbalance to this is the humour, which is dry and sarcastic and lifts the mood in the right places.

No worries about ‘second  novel syndrome’ with this – it’s a cracking read with great characters – very few clear heroes and villains, lots of shades in between. If you’re tempted to pick this book up then do try to read Ragdoll – there are lots of references and it will make more sense to have read it first.

Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.






Deep Blue Trouble – Steph Broadribb

Title – Deep Blue Trouble

Author – Steph Broadribb

Published – November 2017

Genre – Thriller

This is the follow-up to Steph’s debut ‘Deep Down Dead‘ and takes place pretty much where Deep Down Dead ends – Lori is desperate to get JT out of prison and in the absence of a witness (the only one who can vouch for JT is in a coma) Lori agrees to take on a job for FBI agent Alex Monroe.

Monroe seems to hold all the cards which isn’t a situation that Lori is exactly comfortable with and flies in the face of everything she learned from JT – but she has no choice. Leaving her daughter, Dakota, at summer camp she sets off to recapture Gibson ‘The Fish’ Fletcher, a man she has captured in the past but who is now on the loose following a jail break. It’s obvious that Monroe has a personal reason for wanting Lori to be the one to take Fletcher but he operates on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis. What unfolds in a rollercoaster of a chase across America and even venturing into Mexico on the trail of the missing man.

Lori remains driven by her feelings for JT and her worries for her daughter. She’s as ‘kick-ass’ as she was in the first book but the situation demands that this time she’s acting more on her own than as part of a team. She has one person she can call on for help and is given the support of a team through Monroe but she’s not used to trusting people she doesn’t know but her lack of allies leads to more internal monologue.

The first book featured a lot of Lori’s backstory (so you may be better reading the series in order) so it was going to be interesting to see how the second book would develop without this. Some of this is dealt with by having some of the story from JT’s point of view and for the reader understanding his situation in jail adds to the tension – there are some repercussions from the previous book. There’s also more of an investigative aspect – so part PI/part bounty hunter.

What I particularly admire is how different the voice in the book is to the author. You can often go to events or meet authors and when you speak to them you can see something of them in their books – the voice they write with is similar to their own. If you’ve ever come across Steph at an event you will know how different she is to Lori. Perhaps if you’re American and read the books something might jar but for me it feels completely authentic and there’s nothing that would make me think this wasn’t written by someone as American as Lori.

If you like a strong female character with a unique voice and rollercoaster thriller then this is the book for you. Many thanks to Lounge Books for the free download.


Cruel Mercy – David Mark

Title – Cruel Mercy

Author – David Mark

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been missing DS McAvoy so it was a relief to finally catch up on book 6 in the series. This book sees McAvoy even further out of his comfort zone than normal as the action takes place in New York City. Three Irishmen who have arrived in New York, one is dead, one is in a coma and one is missing. As the missing one is Roisin’s little brother strings have been pulled and McAvoy has been allowed to cross the Atlantic to see if he can find out what’s happened – because if he can’t a huge family feud will engulf those he loves. If there’s one thing that drives McAvoy it’s his love for his wife!

If McAvoy normally seems like a fish out of water then the change of environment does nothing to improve the situation but he remains true to his character in his dogged determination to get to the bottom of whatever mystery he’s presented with. He’s given a contact in the NYPD and the Detective seems like a decent guy but it doesn’t take McAvoy long to realise that he is being played in all sorts of ways. Detective Alto has his own agenda and he’s happy to try to manipulate McAvoy to get what he wants.

The author makes the most of the location – with Irish priests, bare knuckle fighting, Feds, Mafia mobsters and Chechen gangs. The book picks up some of the atmosphere of New York but with a wintery setting it shares a lot in common with Hull. The story (as is usual in this series) is complex with lots of seemingly disconnected threads. This is perhaps the reason that the opening of the book feels a little disjointed; there are a number of different points of view and it’s not clear at the start (in some cases it isn’t actually resolved until the end of the book) who the characters are.

Like a jigsaw all the pieces come together to make a satisfying final result but for some of the way it felt like there were a few annoying bits of sky lying about that were never going to fit in! This is a challenging read. The topics the books tackles and some of the violence are at the opposite end of the crime fiction scale to ‘cosy’. There is some brutal violence and some depraved behaviour, it’s complex and you need to keep your wits about you.

It’s great getting reacquainted with McAvoy again but the change of location did mean that, for me, there were some downsides. I missed the team spirit that closer proximity to his colleagues would normally give and a disembodied Trish Pharaoh via Skype is a pale imitation of the real thing. There have been some storylines in earlier books in the series concerning McAvoy’s colleagues that I really wanted to see develop or be resolved but these were neglected. And of course there’s Roisin and Aector together – a force to be reckoned with but not quite the same when they are on different continents.

An enjoyable if challenging read but not quite Aector McAvoy at this best. Thank you to the library for letting me borrow the book. You can see another point of view on Puzzle Doctor’s blog.


A Darker State – David Young

Title – A Darker State

Author – David Young

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

I reviewed David Young’s debut, Stasi Child, in October 2015,  last year it was the second novel in the Karin Müller series – Stasi Wolf, and now we have the third instalment in A Darker State.  Set some months after the end of the second book, Karin is feeling a little more domesticated with her newly extended family. Her break from work doesn’t last long, however, when she gains another speedy promotion and a new apartment, but as she well knows, everything has its price and she is soon involved in a new case following the discovery of the body of a young boy.

Berlin, Karl-Marx-Allee, Strausberger Platz

Karl-Marx-Allee, Strausberger Platz, Berlin Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-U0416-0017 / Schulz / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The investigation is slow to develop – it seems that the different divisions within the police and bureaucracy weren’t up to much in the way of cooperation. Karin isn’t one to give up easily though, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of the previous books in the series. The case is brought closer to home when it becomes apparent that there may be a link between the young man’s death and the disappearance of the son of one of her co-workers and as a new mother Karin is more sympathetic than perhaps she might have been in the past.

The missing boy is Markus Schmidt and throughout the book there are chapters told from his point of view where we get to find out about his backstory as the events unfold that see him become ever more distant from his parents. His story is both sad and his treatment despicable, a thought-provoking thread to the story.

We get a tiny glimpse more into the relationships between the main characters and find out that there is more to Tilsner/Jäger’s relationship than we might have thought. And just when I thought that Karin’s ex-husband had been forgotten we get a tantalising hint that all isn’t as it should be.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised at what was going on behind the Berlin Wall and this gives the author the opportunity to develop some real-life incidents into more gripping fictional ones. The political divisions and the controlling influence of the Stasi also allow for dramatic and tense situations and regardless of how the reader knows Karin she still ends up at the wrong end of the legal system.

Young writes really immersive historical fiction – there’s never a moment when the writing takes you out of the book and makes you question what you’re reading. The book is both a mystery and has its thrills and of course Karin is a great leading character. So do you need to have read the previous books in the series? This would probably make enough sense if you read it first but you would miss some of the backstory and character development that are relevant in the series.

Another enjoyable piece for Cold War crime fiction – many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


Turn A Blind Eye – Vicky Newham

Title – Turn A Blind Eye

Author – Vicky Newham

Published – 5 April 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of the books that got a mention in my look forward to 2018 and I’m thrilled that I got a copy so early in the year.

The book is set in East London and embraces the diverse multi-cultural aspects of the communities there. When the body of a head teacher is discovered in her office by a colleague at Mile End High School Detective Inspector, and former pupil, Maya Rahman is keen to lead the investigation, even though this means cutting short her leave to do so. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept, suggesting, if nothing else, that the murder was premeditated.

Like any good police procedural the book follows the pattern of increasing body count, increasing pressure on the team and a number of possible suspects. The setting of the school provides quite an enclosed environment which narrows down those potentially involved to a rather limited pool. With her own history at the school Maya takes on a determination to solve the murder and to protect the reputation of the school – two things which don’t always require the same action!

The pace varies through the book to give some fast-paced and intense scenes, balanced by the necessarily slower parts of the investigation and more introspective scenes for the main characters. Of the characters it’s Maya that we come to know best with a number of scenes taking place in the past, filling in important aspects of her backstory. Maya’s scenes are told in the first person, making them seem more immediate and bringing the reader closer to the character. She is a Muslim (although seemingly not a particularly devout one) of Bangladeshi origin, at the beginning of the book she suffered a loss but she’s anything but the traditional dysfunctional detective.

There are two other points of view used in the book – Steve, the teacher who finds the body at the beginning of the book, and Dan, a new DS unexpectedly thrust on Maya as a new colleague, who is an Aussie and has left his young family behind to work in the UK. There’s quite a lot of police detail and although I’m a fan of police procedurals I am tempted to think that this might be a case where the reader doesn’t need to know too much about different systems and acronyms.

Drawing on her own experiences teaching in the area the author paints a vivid picture of live in an inner-city school and some of the issues that they face – whether that be from dealing with the multi-cultural aspects of the students and their families or the wider pressure on performance and reputation. The book touches on a number of social issues, both specific (such as forced marriage) and the more general issue of what happens when different cultures collide in the same environment and how it can feel to be an outsider.

Vicky has set herself a huge challenge in writing in such personal detail from the perspective of a character from another culture. Authors are obviously doing this all the time, after all their job is to make things up, but there are going to be some people who will be able to read this with a much more informed eye that I can. I think the shame is that there aren’t many authors bringing a range of cultural experience to the genre. It will be interesting to see how the series develops in the future and which characters make it into the second book.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can follow Vicky on twitter and her detectives have their own twitter account too. You can see another review of Turn a Blind Eye on Liz’s blog.


A Song From Dead Lips – William Shaw

Title – A Song From Dead Lips

Author – William Shaw

Published – 2013

Genre – Crime fiction

If you follow my blog you probably know that I’m a huge fan of police procedurals. It was only when I read (and loved) The Birdwatcher that I discovered William Shaw had also been writing a police procedural series and just before Christmas I treated myself to the first three books (book no. 4 is the most recent to be published).

Set in London in the late 1960s (the book opens in 1968) the series is ‘Breen and Tozer’; Breen is DS Cathal Breen and Tozer is WPC Helen Tozer. Breen is a member of the Marylebone CID and not its most respected officer. Tozer is assigned to work with him as a Temporary Detective Constable at a time when WPCs were expected to do nothing much more than make the tea.

The initial case Breen investigates is the discovery of a young woman’s naked body in an alley close to Abbey Road. The investigation, both to identify her and to find her killer, proceeds quite slowly but the lack of pace doesn’t feel like an issue. The book is a pleasure to read and as Breen works on the case a number of other threads come in to play and we also find out more about Breen as a character. He is certainly one of the more enlightened members of the CID and that, perhaps, has something to do with his lack of friends in the force. He’s willing to give Tozer an opportunity and listen to her point of view where other colleagues only subject her to sexist jibes. Of course their relationship isn’t all plain sailing but compared to much recent crime fiction it’s refreshing to have two characters who may have their flaws but also manage to be likeable. The book does speed up and there’s a good, old-fashioned car chase and an exciting climax.

This is the London of The Beatles and the White Album, of hippies and John and Yoko, “Rivers of Blood” and anti-Vietnam protests. Shaw captures the feeling as effortlessly as he did the desolate setting of The Birdwatcher. The details are skilfully dropped into the story and I can’t be the only person to have read the book and have had some ‘I remember that’ moments. Writing about a past that your readers may remember feels like a risky choice but I can’t imagine that Shaw has made errors in the setting, it feels absolutely real.

Shaw uses the plot to highlight political issues of the time, and not necessarily those you might be familiar with. One of the characters is from Biafra and I now know more than I did when I started the book about the struggles in Nigeria / Biafra at the end of the 1960s. The theme of ‘outsiders’ and their treatment is also a strong one throughout the story and unites most, if not all, of the threads.

If I do have a quibble (and I gave this 4 stars rather than 5) it’s around the resolution of the main plotline. But I can’t say anything more without giving the game away! Having looked at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads I think this is just me.

Regardless of this I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series and finding out more about how the relationship between Breen and Tozer develops. A cracking start to a series!


The Fear Within – J S Law

Title – The Fear Within

Author – J S Law

Published – November 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the follow up book to Tenacity (now called The Dark Beneath) by J. S. Law. So there are two burning questions – did James suffer from ‘Difficult Second Book Syndrome’ and is Dani (Dan in Tenacity) Lewis still the kick-ass maverick that she was in the first book?? I’m pleased to say that the answer to the first certainly appears to be ‘no’ and I’m not left in any doubt that the answer to the latter is a resounding ‘yes’.

The book is set a few months after the end of Tenacity/The Dark Beneath and Dani has not long returned to active duty. After an action packed opening the main plot is Dani’s investigation into the disappearance of Natasha, a young woman who has gone missing from HMS Defiance. It quickly becomes clear that what could be someone who has just not turned up for work is actually something more sinister. As the investigation moves forward the timeframe shifts between Dani’s timeline and the months leading up to Natasha’s disappearance and her experience on the ship. Although the destroyer is less claustrophobic than the submarine in the first book, the confines of a warship present their own issues for the crew and especially for a young woman fresh out of training. An advantage in the shift of the main location is that Dani gets to work more closely with her colleagues which gives more insight into her character.

This seems more complex than the first book with multiple threads that intertwine. It links back to its predecessor because Dani is still determined that there was more to the case she solved and this provides a longer story arc that could potentially carry on over more of a series.  There’s a lot of reliance on coincidence, on people knowing each other, which in another setting might push the credibility, but with a naval one it’s difficult for an outsider to doubt its authenticity.

With its unusual setting the author has the opportunity to give readers something a little different to the run of the mill police procedural and he certainly grabs that opportunity with both hands. This is at the thriller end of police procedurals and at the gorier end too, there are no punches pulled here. As with the first book the author is hard on his heroes and even harder on the villains and victims. You need a strong stomach for some of the scenes and while in the first book there could have been criticism of his treatment of women, the men seem to suffer equally here. Dani, with her sense of justice and relentless determination to seek it at all costs goes some way to counterbalance the bleakness.

The Fear Within will make sense if you read it without having read the first book but it would make a whole lot ore sense to read the series in order.

Many thank to the publisher for the review copy, you can see another point of view on Kate’s blog.