Tag Archives: Crime fiction

‘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.

‘The Jazz Files’ by Fiona Veitch Smith

Jazz Trumpet The Jazz Files starts with a death, at a railway yard in Slough, on a cold Guy Fawkes Night in 1913.  The characters we’re meeting are Suffragettes (or Suffragists) and already we are learning about terrible secrets contained a cedarwood box.

Immediately afterwards, we meet Poppy Denby disembarking from a train at King’s Cross Station in June 1920.  She has just travelled from her home at the Manse in Morpeth, Northumberland, to London, to become a paid companion to her disabled Aunt Dot, a long-standing Suffragist.  However, on her arrival at her aunt’s house in Chelsea, Poppy learns that Dot has more ambitious plans for her.  After applying for numerous jobs, Poppy ends up working as an editoral assistant for the editor of The Globe newspaper.   On her first day, one of the reporters, Bert, falls down the stairs at the newspaper offices in mysterious circumstances and so begins a trail which Poppy has to follow and which weaves in and around the Suffragist movement and her aunt’s group, the Chelsea Six, one of whom is a mole.  From almost the outset, we know who the villains are.  The questions are how, when and who with.

Jazz SaxophoneFiona, a lecturer in media and scriptwriting, takes us straight into the delicious world of pre-computer journalism, where reporters were proper reporters who used notebooks, wore braces, smoked and drank, and into an office with a lattice-gated lift and where old paper files, containing useful information, but not quite enough for a story, are stored in ‘The Morgue’.  The most tantalising of these, the ones pertaining to high society, are the Jazz Files.   Although the ghosts of World War I linger, this is the Jazz Age, of jazz clubs where Poppy drinks champagne (as she doesn’t know about any other drinks), of Charlie Chaplin and Lillian Bayliss at the Old Vic.

The reader is also taken to the darker side of the Roaring Twenties – to the lunatic asylum, a convenient place to hide away an inconvenient female relative, especially if she’s a Suffragist.  Elizabeth Dorchester has been imprisoned in an asylum for six years.  Only her steadfast Christian faith gives her hope.  Fiona, also the author of the Young David and Young Joseph picture books on Bible-based themes for pre-schoolers, blended the Christian element into the story as part of real life, by far the best way to do it.

Do I recommend The Jazz Files?  Definitely.  As former readers of reviews on my older blog, Write On, know, as a rule, I don’t review unless I can give a good review, and, if I can’t, my silence must speak for itself.   However, I did read The Jazz Files some weeks ago, but Christmas got in the way of my review, Dear Reader, Christmas and family and friends.  You can’t be on your computer all the time (although I am normally).  I hope, shortly, to review my other recent reads.

The Jazz Files, which was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Endeavour Historical Dagger award, 2016, is available from Lion Hudson here.   A Poppy Denby sequel, The Kill Fee, is currently for sale in North America, but not yet in the UK, and a third book, The Death Beat, is due to be published later this year.


Review of 'In the Kitchen With a Knife' by Susan Wright

Available from Alfie Dog Fiction here.  This is a repeat of a review I’ve posted on Goodreads and Amazon, as a member of the Reading Panel for Alfie Dog Fiction.

Caroline rents a Riverbank Cottage in a Sussex village with no thought of ‘getting involved’ with the neighbours. On the run from an abusive husband, Caroline just wants to get on with writing her erotic novels, but, as everybody in the village rushes to tell her, many years ago A Murder took place in Riverside Cottage – in the kitchen with a knife. No one had been convicted of the crime, nor was there anyone with an obvious motive. Some people think it must be the victim’s husband, others her rather fit son, Toby… or any number of other people. Oh, and by the way, the little house is haunted, although this turns out to be more of a plumbing issue.

When Caroline discovers that her erotic novels are not selling as well as before, she considers writing a book about the Riverside Cottage murders. However, as soon as she announces this intention, the village clams up on her, poison pen letters plop on to her doormat and her agent refuses to continue to represent her. Caroline, however, soldiers on with her combined sleuthing cum novel research, with the help of her good-natured and indefatigable neighbour, Maggie Clements. The story ends with a twist that I certainly didn’t anticipate, but, like all the best twists, hints, which the reader only recognises after the reveal, were dropped earlier in the text.

Caroline herself was a companionable sort of main character, although not particularly distinctive. Susan might have developed a point she made early on, that Caroline was actually quite ‘straitlaced’, unsuited to writing erotica, and what brought her into this genre. She might also have made more of the abusive husband; the reader is told repeatedly that Caroline is terrified of him finding her, but, when he does appear, he is despatched very quickly, and not mentioned again. The most effective character in the book is the neighbour, Maggie Clements, locked in a dysfunctional marriage, fat, slovenly, and obsessed with her two enormous dogs. Kind and obviously fond of mc, she also takes advantage of Caroline. Maggie’s reaction, when she finds out what her husband is really getting up to, is from the gut and totally believable, but she moves on, with the help of Caroline and others.

‘In the Kitchen With a Knife’ was an enjoyable, easy read – ‘cosy crime’, of the sort Caroline intended to write, with a love interest. Do I recommend it? Yes, definitely.  Dagger, possible murder weapon

What I did not include on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews was that this novel was what kept me going during one of the most demanding and exhausting periods of my working life.  As you will have become aware, Dear Reader, I have not done ANY writing at all over the last few months, except for occasional blog posts here.  Never believe it when people tell you that teachers get long holidays and generally don’t do anything.  Last weekend, I marked ALL weekend, except for a few hours when my husband dragged me away for a drive out in the country and a cream tea.  This week, I have marked every evening and all day Saturday.  I am still not out of the heat yet.  When I return to college tomorrow morning, I will once again find myself rushing around marking, organising students and speaking to/emailing parents whose kids are suffering understandable mental stress caused by an extremely poorly designed and managed qualification (by the awarding body, not our college).  I am so tired I don’t feel like writing at all.  I have to get this lot sorted out by 15 July, when I go on leave.  Many of you are having successes, with stories placed and published.  Well done, all of you.  I long to be up there with you.

Review of 'Fatal Act (A Geraldine Steel Mystery)' by Leigh Russell

Available from No Exit Press and Amazon.

This iFront cover of 'Fatal Act' by Leigh Russells the sixth in the Geraldine Steel series.  Geraldine has now moved to a new job as an inspector in the Homicide Assessment Team with the (London) Metropolitan Police, and now reports to Chief Inspector Reg Milton, who she hasn’t yet got the measure of.   This book is set firmly in the world of theatre and acting, the characters including: a successful, glamorous but petulant actress; a driven, wannabe actress; students at drama school; a set designer.  The ‘Fatal Acts’ all concern people associated with casting director, Piers Trevelyan – a stereotypical casting director who bonks everything female, although many of his bits of skirt seek out him and his casting couch as a means of  advancing their acting careers.    The three murders are gruesome, and enigmatic, because the murderer seems to be able disappear from the scene, and CCTV cameras, as if by magic.  Everything seems to point very directly to Piers as the perpetrator – too directly, Geraldine thinks.  ‘Don’t be blinded by this man’s attractions’, said Reg Milton.  (If someone had said that to me, I would have committed a ‘fatal act’ on him, although Reg is not the main mcp here.)

Reg Milton is an interesting, but not altogether likeable, character.  (He) had a tendency to regard questions as a challenge to his authority.’  ‘He was more comfortable issuing orders.’  ‘Yet he had a ‘reputation for running successful investigations.’  Towards the end of the book, Reg gives Geraldine a – richly deserved – roasting for putting a colleague (Sam Haley) in danger.   (Ruth Rendell’s) Reg Wexford and Mike Burden and (Alexander McCall Smith’s) Mma Ramotswe with Mma Makutsi have cosy relationships.   (H E Birley’s) Wycliffe always worked within a cohesive team.  Inspector Kate Miskin fawns over (P D James’s) Adam Dalgliesh – rather irritatingly so, imo.  Geraldine’s relationship with Reg Milton will no doubt smoulder for books to come.

Geraldine is a Janey-no-mates, with nothing to do and nobody to see when she has time off, but her friendship with (female) Sergeant Sam Haley showed her friendly side, even though, as the Inspector, she assumes the upper hand.  The reader also gets to renew acquaintance with Geraldine’s former Sergeant, Ian Peterson; I understand from Leigh’s website that she is currently working on a spin-off series about Ian.  Maybe that is why Geraldine had to move from Kent to London?  More creepy was Geraldine’s relationship with Nick Williams:  a sexist (‘Why don’t I go in?  Surely this is a job for a man.  You said yourself he could be dangerous-‘), an alleged wife-beater and known for unfunny anti-women jokes – Leigh hardly sells Nick to us, even though he is the one who saves the investigation, and Geraldine, and Sam.   This relationship will also, no doubt, develop in future books.  Geraldine is her name – Steel – but Leigh lends her vulnerability by occasionally letting her get things wrong.

Crime fiction requires a thorough technical knowledge of how the police work, their procedures and how they interact with each other.  It also requires a tighter plot structure than other genres, although the plot is always the same one, more or less.  Without this technical knowledge, it is impossible to write plausible crime fiction – although some writers have tried.  (Wince, wince.)  I myself have never dared to write crime fiction, although it is probably my favourite genre to read.  I sometimes wonder if there is a gap in the market for a crime series featuring a cyber forensics expert, but, although I teach computing, I’m deterred by the amount of police research I would have to do.

So, Dear Reader, do I recommend ‘Fatal Act’?  Yes, of course.  If you like crime writing, you’ll enjoy ‘Fatal Act’.

(Image reproduced with permission of the author of the book.)

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear


This was my second Maisie Dobbs story and, having enjoyed the first one (‘Maisie Dobbs’), I was looking forward to it, especially as I was aware that Jacqueline has written a long series.  So what went wrong for me?

Set in the 1920s, we had the setup classic detective story setup, with Maisie in her own office and her side-kick, Billy Beale, the munificent Lady Rowan in the background and flashbacks to the First World War. The plot was well-constructed: the daughter of a bossy and over-bearing self-made man, Joseph Waite, with a string of grocery stores (I kept thinking of Sainsbury’s), had disappeared and Maisie had to find her. Although it earned its place in the crime section with some proper murders, there were elements of a historical novel, with references to the ‘Order of the White Feather’ movement during the early years of the War. However, although the reader was supposed to be outraged by the activities of this organisation, the introduction of conscription (which followed hard on the heels of the White Feather) would have forced the young men affected by its activities into the trenches anyway. Well done to Jacqueline for being honest enough to point this out, but it did spoil the impact.

Although I’m not an expert on the 1920s and 1930s, Jacqueline’s research seemed thorough and she certainly has a feel for the era.   However the historical ambience was occasionally spoilt by her insistence on Maisie wearing trousers – something 1920s women didn’t like doing – and I’m afraid her and Billy’s ‘case maps’ had a Tony Buzan/Mind Genius feel to them. It’s difficult to write about a world which is nearly modern, but where characters didn’t have all the gear we have now. Sometimes the attitudes of Maisie and also some of the other characters were a little twenty-first century politically correct.

What really annoyed me was Maisie herself. She seemed to have developed into a real know it all, guessing links in the plot from the remotest hooks, and with personal and communication skills beyond her thirty years. Without giving too much away, at the end of the story, she tells middle-aged Joseph Waite how to run his life and his family in a way that made me, the reader, squirm.

So, dear Reader, do I recommend this book? No. But am I prepared to give Maisie Dobbs another go? Actually, yes. I’m willing to believe that the Maisie in this book was a blip.