Category Archives: Ellis, Joy

The Great Crime Read: The Day of The Three Reviews

Sherlock Holmes with magnifying glass - cartoon.You’ve heard of the Year of the Four Emperors?  This is the Day of the Three Reviews of three crime novels by three different authors.

‘Last Seen Alive’ by Claire Douglas

The title is apt and intriguing.  This psychological thriller starts with mc murdering her husband.

Libby and her lovely, cuddly husband, Jamie, have taken a holiday cottage in Cornwall in an informal house-swap arrangement.  Libby, a teacher, has recently achieved fame in the press by rescuing children from a fire and the Cornish holiday is to aid her recovery.  But they can’t understand why the Heywoods would why anyone would want to exchange the Hideaway, their beautiful Cornish holiday home in Cornwall, for their poky little flat in Bath.  Strange things happen, such as their finding a taxidermy workshop in the cellar, but surely this is because Libby is overwrought after the fire incident and a miscarriage shortly afterwards?

This novel has one of the most complex and complicated plots I have ever read, with several twists and changes of pov.  Congratulations to author Claire Douglas for devising such an intricate storyline and keeping it together.  The action alternates between Cornwall, Bath and Thailand and she writes with confidence about all three settings.

***  So why am I awarding it only three stars?  It’s a strong three stars, I’ll grant, but I couldn’t take a liking to any of the major characters and the crime story-line was slow to get going.

‘Beware the Past’ by Joy Ellis

By one of my favourite crime authors, and with a draw-me-in title if ever there was on, Amazon cites this as a Noir thriller, so this must be right.

The story starts in the 1990s with Matt Ballard as a rookie police officer discovering the body of an eleven year old boy in the Fens, the last murder by a serial killer, whose identity the police think they know but who was never charged because he died in a motor accident.  What Matt sees will haunt him for ever.  Move on several decades, to him being Detective Chief Inspector Matt Ballard, in charge of a team and on the point of retirement, and another eleven year old boy is murdered… and a further one kidnapped.  The case has not waited for Matt Ballard.  In fact, the killer seems to be pulling all the strings, leaving messages for the police and having Matt and his team running around and getting nowhere.   Moreover, the killer seems to possess a lot of information about Matt and his team, where Matt took a respite break in Greece many years ago, for instance, and the names of Jason, his assistant’s, children.  Matt is a troubled man;  his wife died and his only other serious girlfriend disappeared in mysterious circumstances.  The killer knows all this and is probing deep into police lives.

Joy Ellis has two series on the go, both police procedural and set in the Fens (the Nikki Galena series and the DI Jackman and DS Marie Evans series), this book is a stand-alone, and, seeing as Matt Ballard is about to retire, will probably remain so.   Any novel which features murder and torture of eleven year old boys is going to be gruesome and there were elements that made me gulp, although Joy Ellis knows when to back off and move on to content more readable.   A very complex plot – again – and a very exciting read, with characters I could like and emphasise with.   One of Joy Ellis’s best.

**** Four stars.

‘PorterGirl:  First Lady of the Keys’ by Lucy Brazier

A non-police-procedural crime story at last.  Bliss?  Maybe.

This novel arose out of a blog which, in itself, arose out of the author’s private diary of her career as a porter at an illustrious Cambridge college.  We are invited into the archaic world of Oxbridge, to admire its quaintness and laugh at the foibles of academics, and so we do, but the main thrust of the crime plot begins very very late in, at about 50% on my Kindle.  The reader gets the feeling that the detective bit is secondary to depicting a word photograph of college life.

The author’s tone is sardonic, bringing up some useful turns of phrase.  My favourite is:

‘Not quite a pregnant pause, but certainly a pause that is “late” and is considering weeing on a stick.’

Some threads were left unresolved, such as the progress of the Committee for the Prevention of Drunken Behaviour.

‘Portergirl’ is written in the first person, present tense.  Most characters are referred to, in the narrative, by their office (Deputy Head Porter, Head Porter, Junior Bursar, Head of Housekeeping) and also in conversation, when characters are addressing each other.   Professors and other academics are identified by initials, as in Professor K.  Towards the end of the book, mc (Deputy Head Porter herself) invites Head Porter to call her by her first name, but he declines.  At the very end, Professor Fox (the only person given his full name) does ask her what her real name is:  it turns out to be Lucy, the same as the author.

Characters are well-drawn and distinct, although Head Porter wobbles precariously between goody and baddy, without any real substantiation.   Mc herself has two unladylike traits:  a voracious appetite (She’s greedy!) and a liking for the bottle, both easily accommodated in a college environment.  To my mind Professor Horatio Fox, supposedly Amercian, was an enigma;  his manner of speech was very stilted and certainly did not belong on the other side of the pond and the attraction between him and mc fades into nothing, despite her being all over him like a rash in the first chapters.

*** An enjoyable read, definitely, but rambling, even for cosy crime.

So where is that nice reviewer who will only give good reviews, and pass over what she can’t review nicely?  The truth is many books are curates’ eggs, good in parts, and, as writers, we learn by looking at ‘all kinds of everything’ (to quote Dana inappropriately).  What is very evident is that all three of these books were written out of love and for the enjoyment of the reader – and that is the way I like it.









‘Their Lost Daughters’ by Joy Ellis

Oh Joy!

DI Rowan Jackman and DS Marie Evans (of ‘The Murderer’s Son’ fame) are starting a murder  investigation for one teenage girl when they are asked, by their inappropriately named chief inspector, Ruth Crooke, to renew the cold case of Kenya Black, a child who vanished eight years ago.  Ooh, and then they are commanded, by detested Superintendent Cade, to investigate the disappearance of Toni Clarkson, the teenage daughter of one of Cade’s masonic mates.  You feel their stress.  But luckily for them Toni Clarkson’s case provides helpful leads into the murder of the first girl.  The storyline is complex, but unfaltering executed, with twist after twist and pitching the breathless readers into another angle, another set of characters and another facet of the main plot.  However, without giving away any spoilers, the conclusion of the plot was a little too neat.  In my opinion, Ellis should have stopped three or two chapters before she did.

This story involves a huge number of characters, many with just a walk-on part in one short scene, yet the author expects to remember all of them.  At one point, a chapter begins with ‘William Hickey…” and launching into a serious bit of action, leaving me wondering ‘Who he?’  (I catch up after a page or so.)   As a result, none of the characters are developed in any depth.  I remember (from ‘The Murderer’s Son’) that Marie was into motorbikes and was widowed when her husband had a motorbike accident, but this wasn’t mentioned specifically in this book (and, actually, Dear Reader, that I did remember this is pretty remarkable, because I read a lot of books).  But I don’t know anything about Rowan Jackman at all, except that he lives in a nice property, in some comfort, and is looked after by a housekeeper.   Other crime writers (like Ruth Rendell) write about their detective’s family life, providing a counter-balance to the, often grim, main story, and, also showing the reader more about him/her as a character.  I must say, though, I prefer Jackman and Evans to Nikki Galena (Joy Ellis’s other mc) who does have a backstory and some character, which comes on a bit too strong at times.

Joy Ellis writes illuminatingly of the Lincolnshire Fens, with which she is clearly familiar.  The reader readily picks up the bleak landscape, yet I read the whole story wondering what time of year it was.   I think I must’ve overlooked this because I was too engrossed in the plot.

Amazon tell me I purchased this book on 21 May 2017.  What kept me so long?

This book is available from Amazon.

Police Procedurals – Is There Anything Fresh to Write About?

Lincolnshire Fens

Lincolnshire Fens (not my pic)

Yes, I think so, and Joy Ellis is writing them.

Joy Ellis self-publishes eminently readable crime fiction, set in the Lincolnshire Fens.   Like many other contemporary British crime writers, Joy writes police-procedural and about strong, women women in the police, and she does it very well.  Altogether Joy has eight novels to her name – see her page on the very useful Books Series in Order site – and, for the latest book, Their Lost Daughters, Joy’s own website.  Joy writes about two sets of characters (both police officers and both based in the Fens):  ultra-tough and ultra-bitter Nikki Galena and gentler Joseph Easter and crew;  young, university-educated and fast-tracked DI Jackman and older, experienced DS Marie Evans, who happens also to be a biker.

Stalker on the Fens (Nikki Galena and Joseph Easter)

Nikki Galena and Joseph Easter are the better defined characters, the characters Joy seems most confident in writing about.  The two are a complete contrast, with Joseph Easter being sympathetically-drawn, gentle, wise and temperature, whereas Nikki Galena is just hard and tough.  The relationship between the two is well evolved, the sort of relationship that develops between colleagues in a tough environment, of mutual trust and dependence – a man and woman without any sexual or romantic element (Ohmigod!  Surely no such thing could ever happen!)

However, the plot line in ‘Stalker on the Fens’ just did not work for me.  Elements of it were good:  Helen, an aromatherapist, trapped in a building following an explosion, remembers another person, who is trapped in there with her, confessing to a murder.  Years down the line, she is being stalked and cannot come to terms with her memories.   Her partner is behaving strangely and seems unsupportive.   Then Helen is murdered.  Many questions are being asked, but the answers are too complicated and not satisfying.  Also, I do not believe that thousands of people would attend an event, which included flower floats being launched in the river at midnight, for an aromatherapist, however good she was.

The Murderer’s Son (DI Jackman and Marie Evans)

Marie Evans and DI Jackman are not so well drawn.  In fact, DI Jackman did not come alive to me at all, and we don’t realise that Marie is a bikey until well into the book.  I’ve ordered Their Lost Daughters and am hoping to get to know them better.

The plot to ‘The Murderer’s Son’ is compelling from the word go.  Daniel Kinder, a successful journalist, has a lot going for him, a developing career and a lovely girlfriend, Skye, with whom he has a good relationship, and a supportive home life with his adoptive mother.  However, he has come to believe that his natural mother was the violent murderer, Francoise Thayer, and,  when he  comes into the police station to confess to a particularly bloody recently committed murder,  Marie Evans disbelieves him.  When she asks him why, he answers that he ‘has it in him’.  We readers don’t want Daniel to be guilty, but he is obviously suffering from psychiatric problems, particularly from ‘absences’, when he cannot account from his actions.  The plot progressed well and the ending was satisfying.

Do I recommend these books?  Yes, definitely.

I’ve read several more books since then.  I’d better carry on reviewing!