‘I tried to talk to you today but you snubbed me and walked away. It wasn’t wise to give me the brush-off, Gemma. I can be a truly good friend but I also make the perfect enemy.’
Sasha’s eighteen-year-old daughter Gemma was all she had in the world. Sasha fell pregnant with Gemma when she was still at school, and the two are as close as sisters. So when Gemma’s burned and broken body is found, Sasha’s world ends. What kind of person would want her beautiful daughter dead?
Leading the case is Detective Natalie Ward, scarred by her own recent tragedy. When she finds a note in Gemma’s diary from a ‘secret admirer’, she moves quickly, determined to un-mask them. But interviews with Gemma’s devastated ex-boyfriend, and her charismatic teacher, who has been seen embracing his student far away from the classroom, don’t give Natalie the answers she’d hoped for…
And then the case takes a devastating, personal twist. CCTV footage reveals Natalie’s estranged husband David followed Gemma home every evening the week before she died.
Natalie is forced to put personal feelings aside and follow procedure, even though she can’t believe David could be guilty. But when Gemma’s housemate is found murdered, Natalie thinks the killer could still be at large. Is she right to trust her instincts about David and can she discover the truth before another precious life is taken?
Grippingly fast and nail-bitingly tense, The Secret Admirer will have you flying through the pages long into the night.
I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
No spoilers but after what happened at the end of the previous book, The Blossom Twins it’s surprising Natalie can carry on.
Another horrific crime draws Natalie back to work. The investigation is complex and full of suspects a personal connection further threatens Natalie’s objectivity, but her professionalism shines through.
This book achieves the right balance of investigative and character detail. Natalie’s courage and tenacity make her easy to empathise. She’s flawed and human and relatable.
The plot keeps its secrets, engaging with clues but not revealing all until the end, making it realistic.
Bologna: city of secrets, suspicion . . . and murder
A dark and atmospheric crime thriller set in the beautiful Italian city of Bologna, perfect for fans of Donna Leon, Michael Dibdin and Philip Gwynne Jones.
When the body of a radical protestor is found floating in one of Bologna’s underground canals, it seems that most of the city is ready to blame the usual suspects: the police.
But when private investigator Daniel Leicester, son-in-law to a former chief of police, receives a call from the dead man’s lover, he follows a trail that begins in the 1970s and leads all the way to the rotten heart of the present-day political establishment.
Beneath the beauty of the city, Bologna has a dark underside, and English detective Daniel must unravel a web of secrets, deceit and corruption – before he is caught in it himself.
Tom Benjamin’s gripping debut transports you to the ancient and mysterious Italian city less travelled: Bologna.
I received a copy of this book from Little Brown Books – Constable and the author in return for an honest review.
Private Investigator Daniel’s intuition and experience make him an insightful and tenacious detective. He explores Bolgona’s radical past in this politicised murder mystery, searching for past connections with the present murder. The investigation is complex and intriguing as authentic characters come to life in a vibrant setting rife with inefficient bureaucracy, corruption and evil.
Tom Benjamin started off as a reporter before moving to the press office at Scotland Yard and running drugs awareness campaign FRANK. He moved to Bologna where his work as doorman at a homeless canteen inspired him to create English detective Daniel Leicester in a series that serves up equal helpings of the local cuisine and ubiquitous graffiti; the city’s splendour, decay, and danger.
A controversial new property development is planned in Whitstable which will encroach upon the green open space of the downs, to the dismay of Whitstable residents who view this as the thin end of the wedge with regard to local wildlife conservation.
A campaign springs into life, spearheaded by a friend of Pearl’s family, Martha Laker. A committed environmentalist, Martha is no stranger to controversy herself. She has also managed to divide opinion across town, with the locals viewing her as their fearless champion while establishment figures seeing only an interfering agitator.
Tensions escalate between the developers and Whitstable residents, straining Pearl’s close relationship with London-born police officer, DCI Mike McGuire, who harbours concerns that the local campaign will spiral out of control. Pearl’s loyalties are torn, but the protest duly goes ahead – and newspaper headlines claim a moral victory for the residents in this David and Goliath battle.
But the victory is short lived when Pearl discovers a dead body on the downs…
I received a copy of this book from Constable in return for an honest review.
How have I missed this series? It has complex characters that bring the story to life and an authentic coastal setting. The murder mystery plot has many suspects and twists and a contemporary edge to it.
Pearl is a restauranter and private investigator who lives in Whitstable in Kent. Her relationship with McGuire, a Detective Chief Inspector, is challenging but rewarding. The family dynamics are believable, and there’s a host of supporting characters, who bring the story to life.
The author’s use of sensual imagery makes the characters, location and story easy to imagine and the story enjoyable.
This is another series that I will be seeking out.
“Julie Wassmer was born in the East End of London, studied at Kingston University and had a variety of different jobs before she finally settled down to become a professional television drama writer.
She worked on several TV series, including ITV’s London’s Burning, C5’s Family Affairs and the popular BBC soap, EastEnders, which she wrote for almost 20 years.
In 2010, her autobiography More Than Just Coincidence was published by Harper Collins/True. The book entered the Sunday Times Best Selling Non Fiction Top Twenty and went on to become Mumsnet Book of the Year.
In 2015, Julie’s debut crime novel, The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, was published by award-winning publisher, Little, Brown Book Group. Six other books have since followed in the series with more on the way, and the television rights to the series have been optioned by the TV production company, Buccaneer, the makers of Marcella, starring Anna Friel.
Julie moved to Whitstable twenty years ago where she shares a home with her husband, Kas, and three cats, Charlie, Lily and Maisie. She also spends a great deal of time campaigning on environmental issues.
Murder on the Downs is the seventh book in the Whitstable Pearl Mystery series. …
When DS Felicity Springer is reported missing after a police training conference, the countdown to find her begins…
On her way home after an exhausting weekend, with colleagues she can’t wait to escape, Felicity notices something odd about the white van in front of her. A hand has punched through the car’s rear light and is frantically waving, trying to catch her attention.
Desperate to help, Felicity dials 999 and calls it in. But whilst on the phone, she loses control of the car on the icy road, crashing straight into the vehicle ahead.
Pinned in the seat and unable to move, Felicity feels a sudden whoosh of cold air across her face. Someone has opened the passenger door… and they have a gun.
With Felicity missing and no knowledge of whether she is dead or alive, DS Nikki Parekh and DC Sajid Malik race to find their friend and colleague.
But Felicity was harbouring a terrible secret, and with her life now hanging in the balance, Nikki can only hope that someone will come forward and break the silence…
I received a copy of this book from HQ via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This is a gritty, police procedural focusing on modern slavery. Bradford and its criminal fraternity are brought to life by an author that knows the city well. DS Nikita Parekh is a dedicated police officer who believes in getting the job done. She wants justice for victims. The police team’s dynamic and the partnership between Nikki and Saj is believable. It keeps the reader invested in the investigation.
Contemporary and sometimes violent, this is a challenging read. With a complex pacy plot and relatable characters, this is hard-hitting suspenseful crime fiction.
Born in Scotland, Made in Bradford sums up Liz Mistry’s life. Over thirty years ago she moved from a small village in West Lothian to Yorkshire to get her teaching degree. Once here, Liz fell in love with three things; curries, the rich cultural diversity of the city … and her Indian husband (not necessarily in this order). Now thirty years, three children, two cats (Winky and Scumpy) and a huge extended family later, Liz uses her experiences of living and working in the inner city to flavour her writing. Her gritty crime fiction police procedural novels set in Bradford embrace the city she describes as ‘Warm, Rich and Fearless’ whilst exploring the darkness that lurks beneath.
Struggling with severe clinical depression and anxiety for a large number of years, Liz often includes mental health themes in her writing. She credits the MA in Creative Writing she took at Leeds Trinity University with helping her find a way of using her writing to navigate her ongoing mental health struggles. Being a debut novelist in her fifties was something Liz had only dreamed of and she counts herself lucky, whilst pinching herself regularly to make sure it’s all real. One of the nicest things about being a published author is chatting with and responding to readers’ feedback and Liz regularly does events at local libraries, universities, literature festivals and open mics. She also teaches creative writing too. Now, having nearly completed a PhD in Creative Writing focussing on ‘the absence of the teen voice in adult crime fiction’ and ‘why expansive narratives matter’, Liz is chock full of ideas to continue writing.
In her spare time, Liz loves pub quizzes (although she admits to being rubbish at them), dancing (she does a mean jig to Proud Mary – her opinion, not ratified by her family), visiting the varied Yorkshire landscape, with Robin Hoods Bay being one of her favourite coastal destinations, listening to music, reading and blogging about all things crime fiction on her blog, The Crime Warp.
As the Hughes family celebrate bonfire night, a terrible accident leaves the garden shed in flames – and father and grandfather Thomas trapped inside.
Tragic though it is, Thomas’s death passes without suspicion – until a local journalist makes accusations of a police cover-up in the press. WPC Trudy Loveday is sent to investigate, and asks coroner Clement Ryder to help.
But the more questions the two ask the less clear the case seems. There’s no evidence of foul play, and yet the dead man’s family are obviously hiding something. Then there are Thomas’s dubious business practices – was someone out for revenge?
All Trudy and Clement know for sure is that everyone is lying – and that they must find the truth…
I received a copy of this book from HQ via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The fifth book in the ‘Ryder and Loveday Mystery’ series, ‘A Fatal Truth’ captures the 1960s perfectly. The mystery is a standalone but to appreciate the partnership between coroner Ryder and police officer Loveday read the previous books in the series.
Loveday’s confidence needs a boost, at the beginning of this story, and she’s apprehensive about working with Ryder again. The story portrays the misogyny prevalent in the 1960s’ police force showing that intelligence and solving crimes aren’t enough for women to succeed.
The story relies on observation and astute detection skills rather than forensics and technology. The clever plot has authentic characters and dialogue. The character development of Loveday is notable and contrasts with Ryder’s ailing health. There is a feeling of the end drawing near for this enigmatic partnership.
The drinks are flowing. The music is playing. But the party can’t last.
With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.
Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.
As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.
Atmospheric, poignant and compelling, Louise Hare’s debut shows that new arrivals have always been the prime suspects. But, also, that there is always hope.
I received a copy of this book from HQ via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This atmospheric and insightful story set in London in the 1950s captures the ethos of post-war Britain still in the grasp of rationing. Lawrie is a young man drawn to England with promises of a better life. The welcome banner in the skies above the Windrush proves to be a cynical publicity stunt. The reality? Prejudice, poor housing and no jobs.
Lawrie’s secures work as a postman and works as a musician in a Soho club when he can. He has a girlfriend and a future until he offers a helping hand, and his life changes forever.
This is a well-written story with events and characters that resonate.
Jack Johnson, ex-journalist, newly divorced and feeling unmoored, has bought a 64-foot narrowboat with absolutely no idea how to captain it. So when an attractive stranger takes pity on his dismal attempts and comes aboard to assist him manoeuvre, Jack is only too happy to make her welcome. But it’s soon apparent that Nina is keeping her own secrets and when they stumble into a murder investigation the past begins to intrude. What’s Nina afraid of? And who is stalking the towpaths?
Jack Johnson has a talent for trouble – wherever he goes on his narrowboat, it seems to follow him. Moored up on the River Avon in the beautiful Georgian surroundings of Bath, he’s working at the local paper when a prominent magistrate and heritage campaigner is attacked and drowned. Could it be a serial killer copying the Canal Pusher? Or a biker gang who swore revenge on the magistrate? Against his wishes, Jack is pulled into the investigation by his ambitious editor who wants the scoop. Jack and his friend, Nina Wilde, have also been drawn into another struggle. The moorings of a small settled boating community sit alongside a huge former industrial site that property developers want to fill with luxury housing. Nearby residents are enlisted to petition against the boat people, and as the campaign spirals out of control, lives are threatened. Who is helping their enemies? Another gripping tale of corruption and intrigue from the riverbank, full of dark waters and deadly secrets.
I received copies of these books from the author in return for honest reviews.
A new crime series is exciting, especially when it’s full of rich characterisation and originality. Jack Johnson is newly divorced and still reeling from the emotional and financial implications. Living on a narrowboat is not his first choice, but at least it’s cheap and will give him a place to live and work.
A freelance journalist he has a keen eye for crime, which comes in useful in this series. A complete novice at boating his serendipitous meeting with Nina leads to an unusual but mutually beneficial friendship. Nina has secrets which reveal themselves as the story progresses.
There is a sinister point of view that adds a noir element and draws the intrepid couple into a dangerous investigation. Jack and Nina are complex, relatable protagonists.
The suspenseful plot is well written. The setting is authentic and full of vivid imagery, in stark contrast to the dark crimes committed.
River Rats fulfils the potential suggested in Canal Pushers. Jack has moved down to Bath and is working at the local newspaper for an ambitious editor with dubious scruples. A suspicious death draws Jack and Nina into another dark investigation. Unscrupulous developers threaten a community of boaters and Jack and Nina search for the truth.
The characters continue to develop realistically in a multilayered plot. The setting is easy to visualise and gives the story its uniqueness.
Andy Griffee is a former BBC journalist and media consultant with a fascination for stories. He began his journalism career at the Bath Evening Chronicle, and then spent twenty-five years at the BBC, culminating in his role as Editorial Director of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House. Andy lives in Worcestershire and, when he isn’t writing, rears rare breed pigs, struggles to keep a 1964 Triumph Spitfire on the road and enjoys hiring narrowboats with his wife Helen.
When Crystal’s pimp, protector and former lover, Gilly, dies of a drugs overdose Crystal is bereft. She refuses the paid protection of a rival pimp, determined to go it alone. But a vicious beating from a client leaves her feeling vulnerable and angry.
Meanwhile, Crystal’s daughter, Candice, is asking difficult questions about her job. Crystal decides it’s time to make some changes, and, when a high-profile judge offers her payment to keep schtum about his nefarious activities, it gives her an idea. Perhaps other clients will also pay for her silence…
Crystal engages on a revenge mission to rob, blackmail and expose her most depraved clients. But some of these men are highly dangerous and, if Crystal wants to exact her plan of revenge, she must accept the risks that go with it.
Heather Burnside is back with this breath-taking, heart-racing series
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus -Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The third book in the gritty and gripping working girls series features Crystal. Addicted to alcohol and drugs, Crystal reaches an all-time low when her partner and pimp Gilly dies. It’s decision time for Crystal. She chooses to fight against her addictions and take revenge against her worst clients. Blackmail forms the basis of Crystal’s exit strategy from her old life, but she fails to see the inherent dangers.
Crystal’s significant character development makes the ending positive in this story of redemption and revenge. Characterised by a pacy, twisty plot and positive female protagonists working girls is an addictive series worth reading.
Crystal – Heather Burnside – Extract
Ruby was becoming irritated as she listened to Crystal defending Gilly. ‘I know he had a temper but I never f**kin’ saw him lose it big time with anyone else,’ she snapped. ‘You were the one that was always on the receiving end and don’t forget that you were the one he beat unconscious as well.’
‘No, he didn’t just lose it with me,’ said Crystal. The guilty expression had returned and Ruby knew there was something more.
‘Go on. Who?’
Crystal swallowed and without further encouragement she came out with it. ‘He killed a man.’
Ruby sprang back in her seat. ‘You’re f**kin’ joking!’
The words hit her like a thunderbolt. It wasn’t only the revelation; it was because it brought home to her that she too was a killer. But, despite prompting Crystal to confide in her, there was no way Ruby was going to share her own secret. Too many people knew already; her partner, Tiffany, and her cousins who had helped her to dispose of the body.
Ruby’s mind drifted back to the scene when Kyle, her childhood nemesis, had tried to take advantage of her. Then she thought of her own callous treatment of him and stifled a shudder of revulsion. Although she was ashamed of how far she had gone, she refused to feel guilty for the piece of shit that was Kyle Gallagher. He was another one who deserved everything that happened to him. And, at the end of the day, she had only paid him back for what he had done to her.
Not content with scarring her for life as a child, Kyle had then moved on to her business, a city centre brothel, where he’d collected protection money and manhandled her girls. But when he’d tried to manhandle her it had been a step too far. There was no way she was going to submit herself to him so he’d had to die.
‘What happened?’ she asked, quickly shifting the focus back to Crystal and blocking her memories but not before she had subconsciously run her finger over her facial scar.
‘He didn’t mean to,’ said Crystal.
Ruby held back her irritation again as Crystal went on to describe how Gilly had made it his mission to punish a client who had abused her. When they’d eventually tracked him down Gilly had driven him to a secluded place, intent on retribution. But the man had retaliated fiercely, forcing Gilly to take desperate action to stop him.
‘He did it for me,’ Crystal added. ‘He felt really bad about it afterwards. He never meant to kill him.’ She paused and took a deep breath before adding, ‘So we went back and buried the body. It was on the news about the man disappearing. But we just kept quiet. Gilly didn’t want anyone to know.’
‘So you kept it secret for him?’ asked Ruby. ‘As well as helping him to bury the f**kin’ body!’
‘Yes,’ Crystal whispered before finding renewed vigour as she continued. ‘But, like I said, he did it for me so it was the least I could do.’
Ruby shook her head but Crystal wasn’t finished yet. ‘I feel really bad about that too. Now that I’ve lost Gilly I realise what that man’s family must have felt like. I think I should tell the coppers everything.’
‘What, and take the rap for what Gilly did? Are you off your f**kin’ head? You keep schtum about the f**kin’ lot, Crystal.’ Ruby looked at her friend who had now bowed her head low and was sobbing again. ‘Are you listening?’
‘Yes,’ Crystal mumbled.
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.
A stolen painting. A gangster intent on revenge. And nothing is what it seems.
Art consultant Kate Carpenter has an off-the-books sideline in art recovery, dealing with thieves, gangsters and the occasional war criminal to reunite priceless artworks with their owners. But when she refuses a request from the owner of one missing painting, Yuri Sokolov isn’t prepared to take no for an answer.
Her knowledge has cost him millions, he wants revenge, and he isn’t planning to show any mercy. The only way that Kate can get Yuri Sokolov to keep his distance is to find out exactly what happened to his painting, but when she starts scraping away at the surface, she finds that nothing is exactly as it appears.Don’t Blink is the first book in the Kate Carpenter series.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
This story gives tantalising glimpses into the world of art and crime. Kate Carpenter is an art consultant with a rich and powerful clientele. Her less well-known role is as an art recovery expert. She loves this dangerous work which draws her into the darker side of life.
Kate’s associates are complex characters who give the plot its authenticity and vibrancy. Kate’s romantic life is never dull, but she is wary of commitment. Kate’s romance with Pete fizzles out, in favour of the flamboyant Koyla which perturbed me slightly after reading the prequel Vanishing Point.
The suspenseful plot is addictive. Kate is an enigmatic protagonist who is easy to like.
Vanessa Robertson has lived in Scotland for over twenty years. A former publisher and bookseller, she won the Pitch Perfect event for unpublished writers at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Stirling in 2015.
Death Will Find Me, a crime novel set in 1920s Edinburgh featuring former spy, Tessa Kilpatrick, was her first novel, and Don’t Blink, the first in a series set in the world of art crime investigator Kate Carpenter was published in May 2020, with the second, Trace Evidence, scheduled for later in the year. Vanessa has also published a short novella, Vanishing Point, introducing the character of Kate, which is available on Amazon and free via her website at www.vanessarobertson.co.uk.
Vanessa lives in a cottage in the middle of a Scottish wood with her family and ridiculously large dog. Currently, she’s editing the third Kate Carpenter thriller, researching the next Tessa Kilpatrick 1920s novel, and trying not to be distracted by new plot ideas. Vanessa loves windswept beaches, the coffee-scented fug of Venetian cafes and wandering around art galleries.
But when sixth former Nicky Stevens sets his sights on her, he begins to reel her in at a time when she’s most vulnerable. Soon Izzy is risking her family, her career and her life as she finds Nicky wants more than she ever planned to give.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return of an honest review.
Authentic characters, a believable scenario and some surprising twists make this an absorbing read.
It’s a story of two parts. Firstly the forbidden attraction. Izzy behaves recklessly and betrays her position of trust. You understand her motivations, but she crosses a line that anyone with children finds hard to condone. Nicky’s manipulation of Izzy in a depraved narcissistic game makes the second part of the story dark and chilling.
This is an intense and immersive story well-paced and believable.
Extract from Reckless Gemma Rogers
Steadying my breathing until I felt in control, I pulled open the door and stepped into the busy corridor, almost colliding with the frowning headmaster.
‘Ah, there you are. Welcome, Isabel.’ He smiled, opening his arms wide and, for a worrying second, I thought he was going to envelop me in a hug.
‘Izzy, call me Izzy. Sorry, you had someone in your office,’ I explained but he waved me away.
‘No problem. Now, Izzy, let me take you through to your classroom. As I mentioned before, you have a lovely year eight class that you’ll be form room teacher for. You’ll be known as 8C; they are all aged between twelve and thirteen. They’ll be with you for about twenty minutes twice a day, each morning and afternoon, where you’ll take the register. I looked after them for part of last year and they are a smashing bunch.’ Mr Scott strode quickly down the corridor and I hurried to keep up. My skirt too tight at the knee to walk fast. Why did he look after a form? In my previous school that would have been unorthodox for a headteacher.
‘Will I teach my lessons from the same classroom?’ I asked.
‘Yes, absolutely, that will be your classroom.’ He glanced over his shoulder. ‘Still raining out there?’ I nodded, remembering my umbrella in the boot of the car.
‘Afraid so, but I think it’s slowing down. The Great British Summertime, eh,’ I said, palms dampening as a tirade of bewildered-looking students pushed through the doors and ploughed towards us.
Someone bumped my shoulder and mumbled an apology.
‘Stevens,’ Mr Scott said sternly.
The boy turned around and my stomach plummeted to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
‘Yes, sir?’ he replied in a bored tone, his mouth in a tight smile.
‘You bumped into Mrs Cole. Can you apologise please?’ He hadn’t seen me properly; hadn’t registered me yet. But I saw him, clearer now he wasn’t behind a windscreen. Blond shaven head, blue eyes, vaguely resembling a young Jude Law. Athletic-looking, he stood almost as tall as the headteacher. Our eyes met, and I thought I heard him gasp.
His smile faded, and he stuttered, ‘I, I did.’
‘He did,’ I agreed, unsure why I was defending him. I eyed him coldly. He could have killed us this morning.
‘Off you go and tuck that shirt in,’ Mr Scott instructed, nodding towards his untucked T-shirt, before we carried on down the corridor.
As he held open the classroom door to 8C, I glanced behind me in the direction we’d come from. The boy, last name Stevens, was still standing there, staring at me. A permanent fixture in the corridor as students scurried around him. I paused, my hand briefly touching the small mound on my head. My thumping skull stepped up a notch. Mr Scott’s voice was muffled in the background. As I crossed the threshold into the classroom, I took one last look down the corridor, sure I saw the corners of the boy’s mouth curl upward.
Gemma Rogers was inspired to write gritty thrillers by a traumatic event in her own life nearly twenty years ago. Stalker is her debut novel which Boldwood will publish in September 2019 and marks the beginning of a new writing career. Gemma lives in West Sussex with her husband, two daughters and bulldog Buster.