Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Romance

Dare to Love a Duke – Eva Leigh 5* #Review @MillsandBoon @EvaLeighAuthor #MillsandBoonInsiders #RegencyRomance #HistoricalRomance #Extract #ScandalousLadiesofLondon #TheLondonUnderground #BlogTour

Dare to Love a Duke

A Masked Stranger. A Passionate Encounter. A Chance at Love?

For a dashing duke and the proprietress of a secret, sensual club, passion could lead to love…

Thomas Powell, the new Duke of Northfield, knows he should be proper and principled, like his father. No more duelling, or carousing, or frequenting masked balls. But he’s not ready to give up his freedom just yet.

Lucia—known as Amina—manages the Orchid Club, a secret society where fantasies become reality. Yet no member of the club has ever intrigued her…until him, the masked stranger whose heated looks sear her skin. After months of suppressed longing, do they dare to give in to temptation…?

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I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon in return for an honest reveiw.


My Thoughts…

On first acquaintance, Lucia is, the most scandalous of the ladies in this Regency romance series. The proprietress of a secret sex club, although not the owner, she is above the wild abandonment that takes place behind its doors, and never fraternises with members, until Tom. The early chapters of this book are explicit, but not in a gratuitous way. The descriptions demonstrate the ethos of the club and the double standards of polite society. It is a surprisingly egalitarian place, where identity is secret, members are drawn to the place for its freedom.

Tom first visits the club as the Duke’s heir, when it fits into his hedonistic lifestyle, Twelve months later, he attends only for his interaction with Lucia or Amina as she is known in ‘The Orchid Club’, they talk but don’t touch, which sets them apart from everyone else. Then his circumstances change, and he realises, so must his life.

Tom and Lucia are from different social classes, but they share the same beliefs, even if it takes Lucia to make Tom realise his true self. The plot has many twists, that force the couple together. Their relationship is full of conflicts that make their chance of lasting happiness unlikely.

Lucia, like all the women in this series, wants to help women and children subjected to deprivation and poverty, which she has experienced first hand. Scandal and social reform are the main themes of this Regency romance, which showcases the strength and tenacity of Lucia and her friends, in a class controlled, male-dominated society.

While the message of the novel is clear, it doesn’t deter from the delicious interplay between Lucia and Tom, and their passionate romance. The ending is romantic and satisfying, and the epilogue rounds off the series perfectly.

#TheLondonUnderground
Extract From – Dare to Love a Duke – Eva Leigh

Chapter 1

London, England

1816

A droplet of sweat rolled between the shoulder blades of Thomas Edward O’Connell Cúchulain Powell, Earl of Langdon, as he steadied the cocked duelling pistol and took aim. He looked down the weapon’s barrel, his concentration fixed on his target twenty paces away. His exhalation misted in the chill midnight air as he fought for calm.

He inhaled, held his breath, then pulled the trigger.

There was a flash and a cloud of smoke as the weapon’s

concussion split the night’s stillness.

Twenty paces away, glass shattered.

The hushed crowd burst into applause and cheers of “Bravo!” as Tom lowered the pistol and grinned. He kept his footing as people swarmed around him, offering their congratulations and hearty thumps on the back. Numerous women, scented heavily with perfume, kissed his cheeks—so many that he imagined it looked as though he wore rouge.

“The hero of Regent’s Park,” George Mowbray declared.

“Not to Culver, I’m afraid.”

Tom looked over at his opponent, Lord Culver, who sulked as he handed his duelling pistol to a footman. Culver had missed when taking aim at the bottle of claret. Perhaps if Tom had been more virtuous, he would have deliberately missed so that there was no winner and no loser. Though Tom was an earl and the heir to the Duke of Northfield, no one would ever call

him virtuous.

“Ah, shag him,” Mowbray said magnanimously.

“I’ll leave that to the professionals.”

Tom smiled ruefully as Culver’s hired companion for the evening attempted to soothe her client. When Culver shoved her away and she stumbled, Tom immediately strode through the crowd and jammed his fist into his opponent’s sternum.

“You may have lost, but you’re still a gentleman,” Tom said in a low, warning voice. Gently, he took the woman’s arm to make sure she kept her footing.

“Apologize to the lady.”

“She’s just a whore, Langdon,” Culver said.

“Apologize.” Tom’s jaw firmed as he held up the pistol. “Or else the next time I fire this, it will be at your worthless heart.”

Culver scowled, but said in a grudging voice, “I’m sorry.” Under his breath, he muttered, “You Irish son of a bitch.”

Tom narrowed his eyes. “Repeat that.”

“I . . .” Culver gulped. “It was a jest.”

“A poor one.” Since the age of twelve, when he’d been brought from his mother’s Irish home to be educated in his father’s country of England, Tom had heard some variation of Culver’s insult. Why anyone thought Tom ought to be embarrassed about his Irish blood, he’d no idea. But he wouldn’t tolerate slurs.

“Must I ask for another apology?”

“My sincere contrition,” Culver said. After casting Tom a wary glance, he hurried toward his waiting carriage.

“Hope I didn’t cost you your night’s earnings,” Tom said to the woman.

“Ah, no.” She gave him a dry smile as she eyed the throngs of young, wealthy bucks passing bottles back and forth as they caroused. “There’s plenty of pickings in this crowd.” She glanced at him and her smile turned more genuine. “Happens that I’m free right now, my lord. If you’re interested.”

“Perhaps another evening.” He wasn’t ready for bed yet.

One of the rakes came forward with a substantial bundle of cash and jammed it into Tom’s hand. “Your winnings, Langdon.”

No sooner than the cash was in his hand than Tom turned and handed it to the woman. “For putting up with Culver.”

“I couldn’t, my lord,” she said as she tucked the money into her bodice. She gave him a wink. “ ’Night, love.” She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek, then

strode off into the darkness.

“That was near seventy pounds, Langdon,” Mowbray said in shock.

“She’ll have better use of it than me.”

There was no shortage of funds in Tom’s coffers, between income from his earldom as well as his generous allowance provided by his father, the duke. Other lordlings and bucks swam in seas of debt, hounded constantly by tailors, club proprietors, and wine shop owners. Tom made certain to pay everyone on time, for no other reason than the fact that he could.

“I’d do it again for free if it meant humiliating Culver. Bloke’s had it coming since he refused to cover his mistress’s bills.”

“You’re a daft bastard,” Mowbray said with a shake of his head.

“I’d agree,” Tom said affably, “except everyone knows about my parents’ celebrated fidelity. Bastard in deed but not blood.”

Someone handed him a bottle of whiskey and he took a drink before passing the spirits along to a trio of bucks who looked in dire need of refreshment.

“Good Christ, here you are!”

The throng opened up just enough to allow Christopher Ellingsworth to emerge, looking slightly bedraggled despite his military bearing. Since returning home from the War a year ago, Ellingsworth had renewed the friendship he and Tom had begun at Oxford, and from that point forward they had been nigh inseparable, with the exception of tonight.

“Missed the excitement.” Tom handed his pistol to the footman, who returned it to its polished mahogany case.

“Not for want of trying,” his friend said. “I’ve been to the opera, two gaming hells, and a phaeton race. Everywhere I went, I’d just missed you by ten minutes.” He shook his head but his eyes gleamed with reluctant admiration. “Good thing we’re not competing for the title of Most Scapegrace Gentleman in London, or else you’d best me.”

“That trophy isn’t much sought after, anyway. Why such urgency to find me?” Tom lifted an eyebrow.

“My father’s not looking for me, I hope.”

The duke periodically got it into his head that Tom would somehow reform and conduct himself with the dignity and sobriety of a ducal heir with a family history of deeply traditional beliefs, but that was precisely why Tom spent his days asleep and his nights in endless rounds of revelry. One day, hopefully in the far distant future, Tom would inherit the title, and with it, the morass of responsibilities and duties that came with being one of the most powerful men in England—and a voting record dedicated to preserving the ancient systems of power.

Life as Tom knew it would end. He’d say goodbye to nights entertaining opera dancers, midnight swims in the Serpentine, and behaving like the kingdom’s veriest rogue, with his equally dissolute companions keeping him company.

As a marquess’s third son who had recently sold his commission, Ellingsworth had considerably less money but shared Tom’s appetite for running riot. There wasn’t one corner of the city they hadn’t explored in search of amusement and pleasure.

Ellingsworth hooked an arm around Tom’s neck and led him several paces away from the celebrants.

In a low voice, he said, “I’ve heard about something that I knew would interest you. A place in Bloomsbury called the Orchid Club.”

Tom groaned. “I’ve grown weary of clubs. Same games of chance, same people, same wine, same everything.”

His friend’s grin flashed. “This club is different.

For one, it opens its doors only once a week and it just so happens to be open tonight.”

That wasn’t enough to snare Tom’s interest. Many clubs did what they could to cultivate an air of mystery in order to ensure steady business from those eager to discover its secrets.

“What else makes it so special? Is it a brothel?”

“It is most decisively not a brothel. You’ll need this, however.” Ellingsworth unhooked his arm from around Tom’s neck. He reached into his coat before producing something, then slipped the item into Tom’s hand.

Tom held up the object so he could study it better. It was a half-mask made of midnight blue satin.

“What the devil . . . ?”

Ellingsworth chuckled. “You’re intrigued.”

“You’ve gotten my attention.”

Tom had torn all over London tonight, but still, edginess and restlessness pulsed just beneath his skin. He needed diversion. Surely there had to be something in the city he hadn’t already done.

“Excellent.” Ellingsworth clapped his hands together. “I left my horse with the boy watching yours.”

He headed toward where the animals waited, and Tom quickly followed.

“Won’t you tell me more about this mysterious Orchid Club?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t dream of ruining the surprise.”

They reached the horses and after tossing coins to the lad holding the reins, Tom and Ellingsworth swung up into the saddles.

“Not even a hint?” Tom pressed.

In response, Ellingsworth put a finger to his smirking mouth, then wheeled his horse around.

Together, he and Tom rode off into the night.

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Excerpt, Extract, Romantic Comedy

Meet Me In CockleberryBay – Nicola May 4* #Review @nicolamay1 @EyeandLightning @rararesources #RomCom #HolidayFiction #SelfDiscovery #Romance #Coastal #Relationships #Friendship #BlogTour

The cast of the runaway bestseller, The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay, are back – including Rosa, Josh, Mary, Jacob, Sheila, new mum Titch and, last but by no means least, Hot, the adorable dachshund.

Newlywed, and with her inherited corner shop successfully up and running, Rosa Smith seems to have all that anyone could wish for. But the course of true love never did run smooth and Rosa’s suspicions that her husband is having an affair have dire consequences.

Reaching rock bottom before she can climb back up to the top, fragile Rosa is forced to face her fears, addiction and jealousy head-on.

With a selection of meddling locals still at large, a mystery fire and Titch’s frantic search for the real father of her sick baby, the second book in this enchanting series will take you on a further unpredictable journey of self-discovery.

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I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

There is nothing fluffy about this romantic comedy. It is romantic and humorous, but it explores what happens after ‘The Happy Ever After’, and deals with addiction, self-belief and jealousy.

I haven’t read the first book in this series, but there is sufficient backstory, on events and characters, to make this one enjoyable as a standalone read. However, I do think I’ve missed out and want to read the first one too.

The setting of Cockleberrybay is authentic and lovely. The beauty of the setting hides a myriad of emotions, relationships and secrets you would never be aware of. The village setting is realistic, with the usual do-gooders, gossips and sense of community that is nearly always there and unique to this type of setting.

The story covers Rosa’s personal struggle with self-esteem and addiction, catalysed by her new marriage to Josh, which flounders when they are separated by distance. Titch needs to find her baby’s father, and her desperation adds emotional depth to this story.

Contemporary social issues are explored through flawed characters, who are easy to empathise. They are believable and you root for them. This story draws you into its picture-perfect setting and lovely, quirky real characters.

A story of real-life relationships, extraordinary friendship and community in a lovely coastal setting,

extract from Meet Me in Cockleberry Bay
where Rosa and Mary are still finding their feet in their relationship

‘Keep your sense of identity, Rosa.’ Mary took her daughter’s hand as they walked down the steep street to the beach. ‘“Give your hearts but not into each other’s keeping. For the pillars of the temple stand apart and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow”.’

          ‘Mary! Enough of Kahlil now, thanks.’

‘All he means is that space is good in a relationship.’

‘Says the woman who’s never had one,’ Rosa tutted.

Hurt, Mary released her hand. ‘You don’t know that.’

Rosa felt a sudden anger rising. ‘And anyway, I don’t need your advice,’ she said bitterly. ‘Thanks to you, I’ve been on my own in many ways and for many years.’

Mary squeezed her daughter’s shoulder. ‘And for that, I am truly sorry.’

Rosa softened. ‘Oh, I’m sorry . . . I didn’t mean . . . I think what I’m trying to say is that I’ve found love now, with Josh – and with you, of course. And I want to spend as much time as possible living and breathing it. It’s all so bloody confusing.’

‘There is no rush, let it all happen naturally. Although Josh is thirty-one now, isn’t he?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Rosa reared up again.

 ‘I know you had a miscarriage, love.’ Rosa flinched as Mary promised, ‘If you ever want to talk about it, you know you can.’

Rosa thought back to the painful and ongoing period she had suffered not long after the wedding.

 ‘In sickness and in health, my dear,’ Mary said gently.

‘I was just late, that’s all,’ Rosa lied, ‘and I tell Josh everything normally. I was just so happy about the wedding.  Didn’t want to make a fuss and spoil things.’

They reached the beach and Rosa bent down to let Hot off his lead. The excitable dachshund immediately tore down the beach towards a group of unsuspecting seagulls.

Mary stuttered, ‘I d-do love you, Rosa.’

Giving her mother a watery half-smile, Rosa turned and started to run over the sand towards the sea’s edge and away from the mutual affection they both struggled to accept and convey.

Award-winning author Nicola May lives in Ascot in Berkshire with her rescue cat Stanley. Her hobbies include watching films that involve a lot of swooning, crabbing in South Devon, eating flapjacks and enjoying a flutter on the horses. Inspired by her favourite authors Milly Johnson and Carole Matthews, Nicola writes what she describes as chicklit with a kick.

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Giveaway to Win a signed copy of The Corner Shop on Cockleberry Bay (Open INT)

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*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Extract, Guest post, Thriller

The Mark – Heather Burnside – #BlogTour – @Aria_Fiction @heatherbwriter @HoZ_Books #GuestPost #Crime #Thriller #Extract TheWorkingGirls 4*#Review

A TRIP TO THE DARK SIDE

When respected journalist, Maddy, goes to interview prostitutes in a rundown Manchester pub, she doesn’t reckon on attracting the attention of their ruthless pimp, Gilly. He quickly decides to use Maddy for his own gains; he just needs to work out how.

A TOXIC AFFAIR

In the weeks that follow, Maddy is oblivious to Gilly’s growing obsession with her, particularly when she begins a romance with a successful businessman, Aaron. Their passionate love affair starts to dominate her life, and she finds herself losing control and alienating the people around her.

A TARGET ON HER BACK

As Maddy’s safe and successful life starts to crumble around her, she must quickly work out who has it in for her, before it’s too late…

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I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Journalist Maddy’s latest assignment takes her to interview working girls. Their pimp sees something in Maddy, a lifestyle that used to be his, and could be again. Maddy lives with her young daughter, she has a good life, all of which her pursuit by the pimp and her new man could jeopardise.

This story is dark and menacing. Maddy, despite her professionalism, is naive and this makes her vulnerable to manipulation. All the girls have a story, why they ended up as working girls, as Maddy’s life unravels she realises how fine the line between safety and danger is.

The story is slow paced, to begin with, as the characters are introduced, and the ease with which different worlds can collide is explored. As the book progresses the adrenaline increases. An interesting start to this new series, with a contemporary, realistic edge.

How ‘The Mark’ Developed – Heather Burnside

I first found my inspiration for The Mark when watching a TV detective series many years ago. I tend to jot down ideas as they occur to me then revisit them years later when I’m deciding which novel I should write next. This particular TV scene featured a senior female detective who was sitting in a rundown pub talking to prostitutes and trying to get information from them.

She was refined, well-dressed and well-spoken and looked totally out of place surrounded by street girls with their provocative clothing and garish makeup. I remember thinking how brave she was to venture into the pub alone and that she was leaving herself open to all sorts of risks.

That gave me the seed of an idea. The police detective became my protagonist, Maddy, who is followed home from the pub by a seedy pimp, Gilly. She appeals to him because she is so different from the women he is used to dealing with and initially he sees her as a challenge. Gilly is attracted not only to Maddy but to her lifestyle too.

During the course of the novel, we find out that Gilly’s background is far different from the life he now leads. As a young man he came from an affluent middle-class home but he was thrown out of university for dealing in drugs and his parents subsequently disowned him and left him to find his own way in the world. In Maddy he sees the life he should have had and he soon becomes obsessed with her. I won’t tell you any more than that as I don’t want to give the story away.

Once I decided to write ‘The Mark’, I carried out a lot of research by reading books about the life of a prostitute and watching online videos. The videos, in particular, were a real eye-opener. They featured several street girls who discussed what they did and what led them to a life of prostitution. Most of the girls were hooked on drugs and were prostituting themselves to feed their drug habit. Many had difficult upbringings or had spent time in care and living on the streets.

Watching the videos made me think that each of the girls had their own story to tell, which made me decide to expand ‘The Mark’, into a series of books with each subsequent book featuring the story of one of the girls. So, that initial idea many years ago has led to a series of possibly four or more books.

One of the girls, in particular, stuck in my mind when I was watching the videos. She was an ageing prostitute with a bad chest problem who couldn’t afford to take time off work because she needed the money for drugs. She was therefore still plying her trade in all weathers despite her considerable health problems. That particular girl provided the inspiration for a character that appears in a later book in the series.

It’s interesting how one small idea can take root in an author’s mind and develop into the basis for a whole series of books. I suppose that’s why authors do what we do because we have such active imaginations.

Heather Burnside spent her teenage years on one of the toughest estates in Manchester and she draws heavily on this background as the setting for many of her novels. After taking a career break to raise two children Heather enrolled on a creative writing course. Heather now works full-time on her novels from her home in Manchester, which she shares with her two grown-up children.

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Extract from ‘The Mark’ – Heather Burnside.

Maddy was behind the wheel of her Audi. Sapphire blue and polished until it was gleaming, the vehicle was just as easy on the eye as its driver. She turned into the tree-lined road in Flixton where she lived. She owned a three-bedroomed detached house, which she shared with her eight-year-old daughter, Rebecca.

As Maddy sped into the drive, she glanced again at the clock on the dashboard. 19:58. She’d just made it. Maddy was surprised that her first interview with the prostitutes had taken so long but at least she’d gleaned some good information from them and had managed to arrange another meeting before the girls had all become nervous of someone at the bar.

Maddy’s ex-husband, Andy, was bringing Rebecca back at eight o’clock and, although he was fairly easy-going, Maddy always liked to be on time. Thank God his working hours were flexible. It meant he could pick Rebecca up from school whenever Maddy had to work late. As she parked the car, Maddy put thoughts of her working day out of her mind. It was time to concentrate on family now and, in her line of business, it wasn’t always a good idea to mix the two.

As soon as Maddy stepped inside her hallway she had that familiar comforting feeling she always got when she returned home. Like everything else surrounding Maddy, her home was immaculate and tastefully furnished. But it was more than that; it was a cosy home that felt lived in. She quickly switched on the hall lamp, which bathed the interior with a subtle amber glow, highlighting the polished wooden flooring, expensive rug, and stunning artwork that hung on the walls.

Maddy walked through the house, switching on the lights in the main rooms and plumping up cushions before flicking the switch on the kettle. She had no sooner pulled a mug from the cupboard than she heard the doorbell ring. Maddy dashed to answer the door, delighted to find her daughter Rebecca standing there with Andy by her side.

Rebecca gave her mother an affectionate hug. ‘I scored a goal, Mum,’ she gushed before rushing indoors.

‘Everything OK?’ Maddy asked once Rebecca was inside.

‘Yeah, she’s fine,’ said Andy. ‘She’s been to netball club after school. They had a practice match and apparently, she was the hero of the hour.’

Maddy smiled. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘I must go and congratulate her.’

‘OK. See you next weekend,’ he said.

‘Yeah, see you then,’ said Maddy.

Then she shut the front door straight away and went through to the lounge to find Rebecca. That was how it was with Andy now. After being divorced for four years, emotion didn’t come into it as far as she was concerned. They were just two adults sharing joint responsibility for their daughter.

Maddy was well over those early days when their separation had torn at her heart. It had been difficult to walk away but Andy’s infidelity had left her with no choice. She was too proud to carry on with the marriage after that and knew that she’d never be able to trust him again.

Nowadays they maintained a united front when it came to anything involving Rebecca whilst getting on with their own lives. Maddy preferred it that way and she knew that it was the best way to deal with the situation.

Rebecca had already switched on the TV and Maddy sat down beside her, stroking Rebecca’s hair as she held her close.

‘So, you scored a goal, did you?’

‘Yes, and all the girls were cheering. And Jade Coulson said after the match that I’d saved our side from getting beat. Jade Coulson doesn’t normally bother with me much. She’s, like, so-o-o cool. I can’t believe she likes me now.’

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Extract, Guest post, Historical Crime Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

The Playground Murders – Lesley Thomson -5* #Review @HoZ_Books @LesleyjmThomson #CrimeFiction #ThePlayGroundMurders #TheDetectivesDaughter #BlogTour

Forty years ago, in the dark of the playground, two children’s lives were changed forever.

Stella Darnell is a cleaner. But when she isn’t tackling dust and dirt and restoring order to chaos, Stella solves murders. Her latest case concerns a man convicted of killing his mistress. His daughter thinks he’s innocent and needs Stella to prove it.

As Stella sifts through piles of evidence and interview suspects, she discovers a link between the recent murder and a famous case from forty years ago: the shocking death of six-year-old Sarah Ferris, killed in the shadows of an empty playground.

Stella knows that dredging up the past can be dangerous. But as she pieces together the tragedy of what happened to Sarah, she is drawn into a story of jealousy, betrayal and the end of innocence. A story that has not yet reached its end…

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I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

I didn’t discover,’The Detective’s Daughter Series, until Book 6 The Death Chamber. That story, and this one, ‘The Playground Murders’, reads well as a standalone. There is sufficient background, especially about Stella’s enigmatic father to let you understand what motivates the main protagonists. However, for the full experience read the older books too.

Original characters and complex cold cases to solve are the hallmarks of this detective series. The characters are quirky and realistic, they all have believable flaws, neuroses and aspiration.

Stella, the detective’s daughter, has two main focuses, cleaning and solving previously unsolved crimes. She runs a cleaning company and a detective agency, with her partner Jack and a cast of unique individuals. They are a family, look out for each other, criticise each other, and share a bond that resists any outside interference.

This story connects a recent murder, with a past child killing, investigated by Terry, Stella’s father. Present day action is complemented by flashback chapters in 1980 when Terry was involved in the child-killing case. The ethos of the historical part of the story is chilling, the contrast of innocence and evil disturbing.

Aside from the detective case, there are snapshots of Stella and Jack’s lives outside work. Stella and her mother Suzie, have the usual mother-daughter issues and Jack a father of twins, has to come to terms with only seeing them periodically, and the spectre of a new father figure in their lives.

This story has a clever, twisty plot, and a menacing undertone. Slow-paced it lets you absorb the action, and atmosphere, as you try to solve the crime. Another exciting chapter in ‘The Detective’s Daughter’, series.

Guest Post – Lesley Thomson – The Playground Murders

With the exception of The Death Chamber (#6), there are children in my stories. As victims of crime or adults who go on to commit a crime. I hope that meeting them as a child gives readers insight into their later actions. Until The Playground Murders, I’d never created a child killer who is a child. No surprise, it’s a disturbing subject. Traditionally childhood is a time of happy innocence. If, for whatever reason, it’s not this is usually down to the transgressions of adults. That a child might deliberately end the life of another child is terrible to contemplate. That photo of James Bulger being led away from his mother by two ten-year-old boys shattered our life-view.

Can a child be evil? Can we forgive the adult a child becomes for a crime they committed long ago? As children did we do bad stuff? Do we write off those misdemeanours because, hey, we were kids? What if punching a kid in the dinner queue caused their death? Do children even understand what death is? The Playground Murders explores these questions.

The playground setting was a no-brainer. Archetypal, it’s in the bones of many of us as kids and as parents. Typically a locus of excitement and fun, joyful shouts, urgent cries and the gales of laughter of children deep in their game carries over municipal lawns, rotundas where Sunday brass bands are long gone. Playgrounds were developed from observing children playing on bombsites after the war. Bounded by railings within a landscaped park or in a school, they offer the change for kids’ imaginations to be free. Girls and boys are heroes of their make-believe. Or villains.  

These days playgrounds are populated with jolly coloured climbing walls, slides, swings and roped walkways but when I was young, and until the nineteen-eighties, the playground was a relatively dangerous place. Heavy iron equipment, the witch’s hat and juggernaut roundabout trapped limbs and crushed fingers and feet. Swings without restraining bars could fly high until chains twisted or snapped propelling occupants onto unforgiving concrete.

There were fatalities. It’s not plot spoiling to tell you that in The Playground Murders one child falls from a tower slide (equivalent to plummeting from a first-floor window), the death ruled an accident because it wasn’t unusual. I feel lucky to have got away with only breaking my arm by crashing pell-mell into my friend Tina when we were eight. Actually, I recently read that kids colliding with each other is a thing. Not just us then.

The Playground Murders, a tale of mired ambitions, of deceit and betrayal and ruined childhoods is also about hope and regeneration. Here’s hoping you enjoy it.

Lesley Thomson grew up in west London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won the People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a number 1 bestseller and sold over 500,000 copies.

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Extract From The Playground Murders – Lesley Thomson

The group considered the furry mass. The cat was large with a collapsed tummy.

‘I think it’s old,’ Sarah decided. ‘Is it dead like Robbie’s dead?’

‘Yes,’ Nicola snapped at her.

‘Robbie didn’t get runned down,’ Sarah said.

‘No one said he did, darlin’.’ Danielle imitated her older sister Maxine being nice to Jason. ‘Best you go to bed. No nightmares.’ She yanked Sarah to her.

‘You can’t chop it up,’ Jason said. ‘It’s not yours.’

‘I’m a detective,’ Danielle repeated.

‘Can we play Doctors and Nurses with it?’ Sarah enquired.

‘It’s dead so it doesn’t need nursing or… doctoring.’ Danielle forgot to be nice.

‘Let’s pretend it’s alive. Like you did with Robbie,’ Sarah said.

‘Sarah!’ Lee snatched her hand. ‘We’re going. And don’t tell your Dad about this, OK?’

‘Ouch.’ Sarah squirmed crossly. ‘I want to stay for the chopping.’

‘We should tell the owner. They’ll be waiting to give it its tea,’ Nicola said. ‘When Spiderman didn’t come back, Robbie cried. I did too. He’d got stuck in next door’s shed. He was starving. Robbie was allowed to give him Whiskas with a fork.’

‘Robbie’s dead,’ Danielle said.

‘He wasn’t then. Spiderman is alive,’ Nicola mumbled.

‘Has this cat got a collar?’ Danielle wished Nicky would shove off. She folded her arms.

Kevin felt under the cat’s chin. Revolted, Jason sniggered. In his doctor’s voice, Kevin reported, ‘She doesn’t have no collar.’

‘A collar. Not no collar,’ Danielle barked. ‘You don’t know it’s a lady.’

‘It’s had babies, that’s why it’s all flabby like that.’ Kevin did sound like a doctor.

‘I know.’ Danielle tapped her front tooth. Her notion of a detective was derived mainly from Scooby-Doo. ‘We’ll call on everyone in the street and detect the owner. Kevin, you’re my sergeant.’

Kevin scrambled to his feet and stood next to Danielle, hands behind his back like a policeman.

‘There’s hundreds of houses in this street,’ Sarah said.

Everyone went quiet as they digested this.

‘Spiderman crosses the road as soon as he comes out,’ Nicola said at last. ‘He goes in a straight line. If this cat does that, it lives there.’ She waved a hand at the house behind them. A decorated Christmas tree sparkled in the window.

‘No. It’s down there,’ Danielle stated firmly.

‘How can you be sure?’ Nicola asked.

‘I keep saying because I’m a detective. I’ll sling it behind there and people can work it out for themselves.’ Tiring of the operation, Danielle pointed at the memorial for the three dead policemen. She hauled up the cat in both hands. More blood spewed from its mouth. The children scattered like birds.

‘Dead! Dead! Dead!’ Jason did a war dance.

‘We should tell the owner since you know it’s them in that house,’ Lee stepped in.

‘I’ll do it.’ Nicola went along the pavement to the house where Danielle had said that the cat had lived.

Sarah dragged on her brother’s Harrington jacket. ‘Lee, I got to tell you a secret.’

‘Not now,’ Lee hissed.

‘There’s no one in,’ Nicola said.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Literary Fiction

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World – Elif Shafak #BlogTour @PenguinUKBooks @VikingBooksUK @Elif_Shafak #Turkey #LiteraryFiction #PoliticalFiction #Extract 5* #Review

‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’

For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .

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I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

There are so many facets and layers to this absorbing and inspiring story, it’s breathtaking. Family, friendship, abuse, religion, politics, corruption, culture, custom, mysticism, prejudice, history and equality are the ones that resonate. The idea that even when the body dies, the mind lives on, recalling memories, sensory experiences and emotions, is lovely. It forms the basis for a literary and political adventure, instilled with humanity, faith, poignancy and humour.

Leila is dead, but her mind refuses to die and in the 10 minutes and 38 seconds it has it recalls her early life, her friendships, choices, tragedies and eventual demise. Even though her life was hard, it was vital and enriched by friendships. Her five true friends have all faced their own battles, but together they survive and it is this connectivity that allows Leila, freedom in death that was never hers in life.

The fluidity of Istanbul is at the heart of this story, its gateway to both the east and west and its vibrant and violent historic past, makes it unique and this storyteller knows it in intimate details, which is fascinating.

The pacing is perfect, the characters engaging and believable, you hate the injustice they encounter, and cheer on their seemingly insignificant victories because they matter to you. The writing is full of vivid imagery, sometimes uncomfortably so, but this story holds your interest and is an addictive read.

An emotional, vibrant story that makes you think.

Extract from 10 Minutes 38 Seconds This Strange World – Elif Shafak

Her name was Leila.

Tequila Leila, as she was known to her friends and her clients. Tequila Leila as she was called at home and at work, in that rosewood-coloured house on a cobblestoned cul-de-sac down by the wharf, nestled between a church and a synagogue, among lamp shops and kebab shops – the street that harboured the oldest licensed brothels in Istanbul.

Still, if she were to hear you put it like that, she might take offence and playfully hurl a shoe – one of her high-heeled stilettos.

Is, darling not was . . . My name is Tequila Leila.

Never in a thousand years would she agree to be spoken of in the past tense. The very thought of it would make her feel small and defeated, and the last thing she wanted in this world was to feel that way. No, she would insist on the present tense – even though she now realized with a sinking feeling that her heart had just stopped beating, and her breathing had abruptly ceased, and whichever way she looked at her situation there was no denying that she was dead.

None of her friends knew it yet. This early in the morning they would be fast asleep, each trying to find the way out of their own labyrinth of dreams. Leila wished she were at home too, enveloped in the warmth of bed covers with her cat curled at her feet, purring in drowsy contentment. Her cat was stone deaf and black – except for a patch of snow on one paw. She had named him Mr Chaplin, after Charlie Chaplin, for, just like the heroes of early cinema, he lived in a silent world of his own.

Tequila Leila would have given anything to be in her apartment now. Instead, she was here, somewhere on the outskirts of Istanbul, across from a dark, damp football field, inside a metal rubbish bin with rusty handles and flaking paint. It was a wheelie bin; at least four feet high and half as wide. Leila herself was five foot seven – plus the eight inches of her purple slingback stilettos, still on her feet.

There was so much she wanted to know. In her mind she kept replaying the last moments of her life, asking herself where things had gone wrong – a futile exercise since time could not be unravelled as though it were a ball of yarn. Her skin was already turning greyish-white, even though her cells were still abuzz with activity.

She could not help but notice that there was a great deal happening inside her organs and limbs. People always assumed that a corpse was no more alive than a fallen tree or a hollow stump, devoid of consciousness. But given half a chance, Leila would have testified that, on the contrary, a corpse was brimming with life.

She could not believe that her mortal existence was over and done with. Only the day before she had crossed the neighbourhood of Pera, her shadow gliding along streets named after military leaders and national heroes, streets named after men. Just that week her laughter had echoed in the low-ceilinged taverns of Galata and Kurtulush, and the small, stuffy dens of Tophane, none of which ever appeared in travel guides or on tourist maps. The Istanbul that Leila had known was not the Istanbul that the Ministry of Tourism would have wanted foreigners to see.

Last night she had left her fingerprints on a whisky glass, and a trace of her perfume – Paloma Picasso, a birthday present from her friends – on the silk scarf she had tossed aside on the bed of a stranger, in the top-floor suite of a luxury hotel. In the sky high above, a sliver of yesterday’s moon was visible, bright and unreachable, like the vestige of a happy memory. She was still part of this world, and there was still life inside her, so how could she be gone? How could she be no more, as though she were a dream that fades at the first hint of daylight? Only a few hours ago she was singing, smoking, swearing, thinking . . . well, even now she was thinking.

It was remarkable that her mind was working at full tilt – though who knew for how long. She wished she could go back and tell everyone that the dead did not die instantly, that they could, in fact, continue to reflect on things, including their own demise. People would be scared if they learned this, she reckoned. She certainly would have been when she was alive. But she felt it was important that they knew.

Elif Shafak is an award-winning British-Turkish novelist and the most widely read female author in Turkey. She writes in both Turkish and English, and has published seventeen books, eleven of which are novels. Her work has been translated into fifty languages. Shafak holds a PhD in political science and she has taught at various universities in Turkey, the US and the UK, including St Anne’s College, Oxford University, where she is an honorary fellow. She is a member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy and a founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). An advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights and freedom of speech, Shafak is an inspiring public speaker and twice a TED Global speaker, each time receiving a standing ovation. Shafak contributes to major publications around the world and she has been awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2017 she was chosen by Politico as one of the twelve people who would make the world better. She has judged numerous literary prizes and is chairing the Wellcome Prize 2019.  

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Family Drama, Saga

The Path to the Sea – Liz Fenwick -5* #Review @HQStories @liz_fenwick #Cornwall #Extract #BlogTour #HistoricalFiction #Saga #Family

Sometimes going home is just the beginning…

Boskenna, the beautiful, imposing house standing on the Cornish cliffs, means something different to each of the Trewin women.

For Joan, as a glamorous young wife in the 1960s, it was a paradise where she and her husband could entertain and escape a world where no one was quite what they seemed – a world that would ultimately cost their marriage and end in tragedy.

Diana, her daughter, still dreams of her childhood there – the endless blue skies and wide lawns, book-filled rooms and parties, the sound of the sea at the end of the coastal path – even the family she adored was shattered there.

And for the youngest, broken-hearted Lottie, heading home in the August traffic, returning to Boskenna is a welcome escape from a life gone wrong in London, but will mean facing a past she’d hoped to forget.

As the three women gather in Boskenna for a final time, the secrets hidden within the beautiful old house will be revealed in a summer that will leave them changed forever.

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I received a copy of this book from HQ in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Set in the rugged beauty of Cornwall, a family drama, that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, unfolds through the eyes of a dying grandmother, a driven daughter and a dutiful granddaughter. Each woman loves the house on the Cornish cliff, even though it is the scene of tragic events that have marred their lives.

Joan has a secret, kept hidden for most of her adult life, but now she is dying, she wants forgiveness and understanding. Told from her point of view as a young, mother in 1962, her secret life and the terrible events of the last family holiday at the house are revealed.

Diana has never forgiven her mother for taking her away from the house she loved, and leaving her to a soulless boarding school when as a grieving child all she needed was her mother’s love and presence. In her mother’s final days, she returns to her childhood holiday home, wanting answers, but most of all wanting to make sense of her life. We learn her story in 1962, as she discovers the answers she seeks in 2018.

Lottie lurches from crisis to crisis, seeking something that only her mother could give her, but never did. She doesn’t understand her mother’s coldness, and is grateful for the love and support her grandmother gives her. Returning to the house where she spent many happy childhood days, she finds more questions than answers, and is determined to confront her mother, about the father she refuses to discuss.

The plot moves effortlessly between 2018, 2008 and 1962, as the love, pain and secrets are uncovered and revealed. The three outwardly successful women, all hide emotional pain, that has damaged the part of their lives that should be the most precious.

The parts of the plot set in 1962 are rich in historical detail and are notably atmospheric, the fear surrounding the escalation of the cold war is tangible, and adds to the family drama that unfolds. The plot has many twists and the complex characters are authentic. You become engrossed in their lives and as the truth reveals itself, the true poignancy of the situation is breathtaking.

‘ The Path to the Sea is enthralling to read, it takes you back to another world, but lets you see how the problems and fears are just as relevant today. The family dysfunction, and the events that precipitated it is very sad, it perfectly illustrates how personal sacrifice can facilitate a greater good. The ending is hopeful, speaking of forgiveness, and lessons learned.

The perfect Summer read.

I Love All Things Coastal
Extract from The Path to The Sea – Liz Fenwick
1
Lottie

3 August 2008, 11.30 p.m.

All was silent except for the sound of the waves reaching the beach. ‘Happy anniversary,’ he said.

Lottie frowned. ‘Anniversary?’ Turning, she tried to see his expression. ‘Are you taking the piss?’

He traced her mouth with his finger. ‘Would I do that?’ ‘Yes.’

She felt rather than heard his laugh as his body was stretched out next to hers, thigh to thigh, hip to hip.

‘We’ve been together for a month and a half.’

‘So, we’re celebrating half months as well as months?’

He kissed her long and slow and she wasn’t sure what they had been talking about as his hand ran across the skin of her back, just above her jeans.

‘I celebrate every day, every minute, every second that you are mine.’

Her breath caught and held, and she looked up to the sky. The milky way stretched above, vast and mystical. She was captivated. The universe and all its glory filled her. Here on this beach, wrapped in his arms, was where she wanted to be always.

It could happen if they wanted it enough and she believed they did.

‘Alex?’

‘Yes?’ His arm tightened around her.

‘Will . . . ’ Just then a shooting star sped across the sky and seemed to fall into the sea. She wished with all her heart that she could be in Alex’s arms for the rest of her life. She rolled onto him. ‘Did you see it too?’

‘The shooting star?’ ‘Yes.’ He kissed her. ‘Did you make a wish?’

He nodded and pushed her hair back, tucking it behind her ears. ‘I did.’

‘I wonder if it was the same thing?’

‘I hope so,’ he whispered against her ear.

She brought her mouth to his, praying that he would be hers forever. ‘Tell me.’

‘No, because if I do it won’t come true.’ He pulled her even closer to him.

‘You are all my dreams come true,’ she said, wrapping her arms around him.

He hummed Gramps’ favourite song, ‘A Kiss to Build a Dream On’, and she knew then they would make it happen . . . Alex and her and Cornwall forever.

Back Cover

I was born in Massachusetts and after nine international moves – the final one lasting eight years in Dubai- I now live in Cornwall and London with my husband and a cat. I made my first trip to Cornwall in 1989, bought my home there seven years later. My heart is forever in Cornwall, creating new stories.

Press Release
Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Extract, Thriller

#BlogTour- Bold Lies-Rachel Lynch – 5* #Review @canelo_co @r_lynchcrime #extract #DIKellyPorter #Crime #Thriller #BoldLies #FridayReads

An investigation leads Kelly back to her former command… and the ex who betrayed her

A brutal murder in the Lake District.

A double assassination in a secret lab in London’s west end.

Seemingly unconnected, unexpected links between the gruesome crimes emerge and it’s up to DI Kelly Porter to follow the trail – all the way to the capital.

Back amongst old colleagues and forced to work alongside her calculating ex, DCI Matt Carter, Kelly must untangle a web of deceit that stretches into the highest echelons of power. A place where secrets and lies are currency and no obstacle is insurmountable.

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I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Two locations, Three murders and an unwelcome trip back, to her troubled past for DI Kelly Porter, in this, book five of the Cumbrian based detective series. The murders, appear professional, but are the Lake district and London killings connected?

It is symbolic that as Kelly’s personal life improves, her past has to be faced, on both a personal and professional level. Even though much of the investigation takes place in London, the Lake District references are welcome to all who love the region.

Suspense, clever plot twists and unexpected connections, are all found in ‘Bold Lies’, the true perpetrators of the crimes, think they are above the law, but DI Kelly Porter and DCI Matt Carter, need to prove they aren’t. The crimes are savage, premeditated and carried out with ruthless intent. This is a different crime for Porter to investigate, but every bit as deadly, and menacing as her previous cases.

The characters both old and new, antagonist and protagonist are believable and complex. The psychopathic isolation of the main antagonist is truly chilling, and makes solving the crimes much harder, as little or no emotion is involved. DI Kelly Porter is a true professional, but someone who values her personal life, and lets it balance her. Her humanity is what makes her easy to empathise.

A riveting read, and I eagerly anticipate the next case for DI Kelly Porter.

Read my review
Extract From Bold Lies -Rachel Lynch

Detective Inspector Kelly Porter stared at her computer screen. The office was undergoing a quasi-refurbishment: a few new chairs, a new carpet and a paint job. HR had ruled the old stiff chairs ergonomically unsound, and the whole force was getting replacements that could be set at the user’s preferred angle. Kelly had to admit they were comfortable. Some of her colleagues had spent the morning racing up and down the corridor on them. DC Rob Shawcross had just beaten DC Emma Hide three to two, and she was refusing to shake his hand. As a responsible senior officer, Kelly should have admonished them, but it was highly entertaining to watch. No blood or coffee had been spilled and it had taken mere minutes out of their day. On top of that, it had lifted the spirits of everyone who’d worked on the Tombday case three years ago. David Crawley had appealed his sentence, and the Old Bailey had delivered its verdict this morning.

Tombday had been a complex web of money-laundering and trafficking, run by businessmen in the Lakes and reaching way beyond the UK borders. David Crawley had only been one cog in the wheel, but he was a childhood friend of Kelly’s and an ex-boyfriend. It was a touchy subject. The Court of Appeal had argued that it was never proved that he had obtained material benefit from the people he’d carried in his lorries and that he was unaware of the transactions made in order to get them there. It was also ruled that the persons had come willingly rather than being coerced, and it was questionable that he had ever intentionally planned to exploit them. In fact, there were so many sections of the Trafficking Act that the original case failed to satisfy that Crawley’s offences were reduced to aiding and abetting, carrying a five-year sentence. On account of his impeccable record sheet in prison, and the fact that he’d served almost three years already, he had been freed this morning.

It was a huge blow.

DC Emma Hide brought Kelly a coffee and placed it on her desk. Kelly looked up and smiled at her junior. Her iPad pinged and she flipped it open to notifications from HQ. A 999 call had been transferred to the serious crime unit for North Lakes, and Kelly was expected to move on it straight away. She toyed with sending Emma along but decided against it because she wanted some fresh air. Try as she might, she couldn’t keep herself tied to her chair, and this was a serious crime scene. She’d handed out plenty of domestics, illegal hunting and burglaries to her team. But this was different. A body had been found at Derwent Marina. As yet, it was unidentified. The only information she had was that it was male, and had been found by Graeme Millar, who ran the marina. If Graeme hadn’t recognised the victim, then chances were he wasn’t local. That raised a flag for Kelly. It meant that he was either a tourist or a traveller. A forensic officer was already at the scene.

‘Emma, I’ve got to go out. Are you working on the burglary at Allerdale House?’

‘Yes, guv. I think Kate said she was in between paperwork, though.’

‘How’s it going?’

A local call early this morning had alerted police to something suspicious at Allerdale House’s boatshed. People knew one another round the lake, and apparently, a kayaker had spotted that the doors were open and passed the information on to the police. Upon inspection, the first uniforms on the scene discovered that a crime had occurred.

Old Lord Allerdale was dead, but his grandson and heir, Sebastian Montague-Roland, had been tracked down in London and had supplied a list of items stored in the shed. The house had been standing empty for the last six months, but there were rumours that building work was due to start there to renovate the place and turn it into a luxury leisure complex.

At first glance, the robbery looked like an opportunist break-in. An old pile like that with no one living in it was tempting for the criminal-minded, but apparently, some of the equipment taken from the boathouse was valuable. This raised Kelly’s interest, as it meant that the place could have been targeted.

‘The site is still being processed, guv.’ Emma was dressed in casual gear and could have been planning to sprint out of the door for a run at any moment: but then she always looked like that, and carried it off. Kelly glanced down at her feet, and sure enough, she was wearing trainers. Kelly was relaxed about dress, up to a point. If they were driving round Cumbria, in and out of sheds and boat huts, then formal gear just wasn’t practical.

‘Can you ask Kate to come in here?’ she asked. Emma nodded and disappeared. Kelly sipped her coffee and scanned the few details she’d been given about the body found at the marina. Male, over fifty, Caucasian and naked. That was it. She knew Graeme Millar through Johnny; they drank in the same watering holes after a fell race or a lake swim. The Keswick area was extensive to an outsider, but the fell-racing world was an exclusive and tiny club, one that Johnny had only recently become part of. He and Graeme had much in common, in that Graeme had spent five years as an infantry officer around the same time as Johnny had been serving. They had an instant connection. It was the beginning of weekends of sailing lessons, and the inspiration behind Johnny’s boat purchase. Wendy had been transferred to Derwent Marina from Pooley Bridge in the spring, and Graeme turned a blind eye to the mooring fee.

DS Kate Umshaw came into Kelly’s office and sat down. ‘I do like these chairs.’

‘I know. I think they’re a bit too comfortable, though. We need to take a drive to Keswick.’

Kate raised an eyebrow. Everybody knew she preferred paperwork. This was one of the reasons Kelly wanted to get her out of the office for a change.

‘What’s happened?’ she asked.

‘Body. Derwent Marina.’ Kelly shared the sparse details she had so far and grabbed her coat. Kate did the same.

‘Forensics are there. Let’s hope it’s just a drunk who found somewhere to shelter and stripped off.’

‘Did he die of exposure? In June?’

‘Might be a suicide. How are the nicotine patches going?’ Kelly asked.

‘Dull. It’s the worst decision of my life,’ Kate said. Kelly shook her head. Kate was one of those smokers who would choose a fag over a life jacket.

They checked in with the rest of the team before they left, then headed to the lift. Eden House had several floors, and their office was at the top. Uniforms manned the lower floors, and the two women acknowledged nods as they filed out of the building towards Kelly’s car.

They’d only gone a few hundred yards when Kelly began to feel the benefits of being out of the office. The thought of bumping into Dave Crawley was pushed to the back of her mind, and she concentrated on the drive. With a bit of luck, the body would keep them busy all day. There might be a perfectly innocent explanation, but the Murder Investigation Manual dictated that the first rule of inquiry into a deceased body without an obvious cause of death was to treat it suspiciously.

Derwent Marina was past the town of Keswick, at the end of a tiny road just beyond the village of Portinscale. Kelly had spent many school trips learning to kayak down there, and memories flashed back as she parked up outside the main office. Business had been suspended for the day, and uniforms were on the scene interviewing various groups and individuals. She spotted Graeme, and he waved. Kate got a bag out of the boot that contained all they needed to oversee the processing of a crime scene, and they walked over to him.

‘Hi, Kelly. I hoped it would be you they called.’

Graeme looked ashen, and Kelly realised that it was easy to forget what the sight of a dead body did to people, even an ex-army man. Graeme hadn’t seen active service, though, not like Johnny, and so it was possible that he’d never encountered a corpse before, at least not one that had expired outdoors with no clothes on.

‘You all right?’ she asked. He was sitting on an upturned canoe.

‘It was the smell.’

‘Ah, I get it. That’s not something you’ll forget in a hurry.’

He ran his fingers through his hair.

‘I understand you’ve given a statement?’

He nodded.

‘Thanks, you can go then. Maybe go home and distract yourself with something else.’

He hesitated. ‘When do you think they’ll take him away?’

Kelly looked towards the boatshed, which was now cordoned off with police tape. She felt Graeme’s anxiety. This was a cash business and his livelihood depended upon it.

‘I won’t know that until I’ve seen him. I’m sorry.’ It was all she could say. There were no guarantees. His brow knitted and he got up slowly.

Kelly and Kate walked through the trees towards the large shed. A uniformed officer standing outside moved aside for them. The tape extended around the back and down to the shoreline, but already campers from the neighbouring site were gathered, taking pictures with mobile phones. At least the cover of the shed meant the body was protected from exposure on social media.

As soon as they stepped inside, Kelly appreciated what Graeme had said about the smell. Kate handed her a bottle of perfume and she rubbed some under her nose. She also heard flies. She climbed a ladder and made her way to the stern of the launch. Another smell caught her attention: recently varnished wood. It was in stark contrast and was rather beautiful. The forensic officer, in full kit, was clicking away with a camera.

The dead man was slumped over the captain’s chair. Kelly reckoned he was in his late fifties, and apart from a huge wound to his temple, he looked as though he was asleep. It was an undignified way to go. His skin hung off his body in saggy rolls. He wasn’t fat, just not used to exercise. He was pale, almost white, apart from his arms and face, which were tanned from outdoor life. Kelly wondered if he was on holiday. He wasn’t malnourished or prematurely aged, which indicated a certain amount of prosperity; that ruled out vagrancy or homelessness. There was a watch mark on his wrist and an indentation on his wedding finger: the body had been stripped of every piece of clothing and jewellery.

‘Gunshot wound?’ she asked the forensic officer. He nodded. Kelly raised her eyebrows. It wasn’t what she’d expected to find on a Monday morning on the shores of Derwent Water. It would be difficult to keep this one out of the press, that was for sure.

‘We’ve got two entry wounds, but, so far all I can find is one exit unless they came through the same mess. That’s one for the Coroner.’

She didn’t need to get too close to recognise the wound pattern. On his left temple, two entry wounds had crusted over, and she could see that flies had laid their eggs already. On the other side, a massive exit wound had ripped his skull apart. It was something Kelly had witnessed a few times before, but never here in the Lakes. What was less obvious was why somebody had gone to all the trouble of removing clothes and jewellery to conceal the identity, but left the body in an obvious place. A cursory glance confirmed the absence of blood splatter or matter adhering to the surrounding panels of the cabin: he hadn’t been shot here.

The man had been shot through the brain, execution style. If he’d done it himself, the gun would have fallen from his dead hand and would still be on site. He also probably wouldn’t be naked. And it would be messy.

‘Weapon?’ she asked.

‘Feel free to look around. I haven’t found anything.’

With no weapon and no crime scene, just a dump site, and no name, Kelly knew that today would indeed be a busy day. Happy Monday, she thought.

Rachel Lynch grew up in Cumbria and the lakes and fells are never far away from her. London pulled her away to teach History and marry an Army Officer, whom she followed around the globe for thirteen years. A change of career after children led to personal training and sports therapy, but the writing was always the overwhelming force driving the future. The human capacity for compassion as well as its descent into the brutal and murky world of crime are fundamental to her work.

Twitter: @r_lynchcrime