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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

‘Guilt in the Cotswolds’ by Rebecca Tope

Published by Allison & Busby,
May 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-1904-4(HB)

Until I read this book, I never dreamed that house-sitting could be such an exciting – or potentially dangerous – occupation. It’s the fourteenth – yes, the fourteenth – in a series of cosy ‘village mysteries’, in which Thea Osborne takes care of houses for their absent owners, and apparently keeps on tripping over bodies which have met their end by unnatural means.

This time the victim is Thea’s employer, who has availed himself of her services not to house-sit, exactly, but to make an inventory of many decades-worth of intriguing belongings which have accumulated in the former home of his 90-year-old mother. He goes missing when Thea has been in residence for only a day or two, and his body turns up in a picturesque barn which she and her partner Drew decide to explore during a brief excursion.

Was his death suicide, as the police are happy to assume? Or is the truth rather more sinister, and Thea and Drew fear? When various relatives start taking an interest and the family’s past proves to be a mystery in itself, the plot thickens up nicely, with plenty of red herrings.

Rebecca Tope’s first great strength is her characters, who are all the kind who it’s quite possible to imagine having a life off the page. I especially liked Rita, the 90-year-old who takes feistiness to a whole new level; if I reach that venerable age, that’s how I want to be.

Just as well realized is the setting. I don’t know if villages like Chedworth and Blockley actually exist, but they certainly feel as if they could, and doubtless similar places do. Chedworth in particular, with its convoluted lanes and confusing signposts, is the kind of place I’ve been lost in more than once.

Add to that a few circumstantial details like knowledge about ‘green’ burials, and how much an undertaker can deduce about the way a dead body met its end, and the result is a story with plenty of warmth, and a feeling that it’s not necessary to suspend disbelief very far to imagine something similar happening in reality. 

For the lover of cosy crime, this is a series to look for. The implication towards the end was that Thea was about to abandon house-sitting in favour of a different kind of life with Drew; if that’s the author’s true intention, I hope the characters will live on.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Rebecca Tope is the author of four popular murder mystery series, featuring Den Cooper, Devon police detective, Drew Slocombe, Undertaker, Thea Osborne, house sitter in the Cotswolds, and more recently Persimmon (Simmy) Brown, a florist. Rebecca grew up on farms, first in Cheshire then in Devon, and now lives in rural Herefordshire on a smallholding situated close to the beautiful Black Mountains.
Besides "ghost writer" of the novels based on the ITV series Rosemary and Thyme. Rebecca is also the proprietor of a small press - Praxis Books. This was established in 1992

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘Classic At Bay’ by Amy Myers

Published by Published by Severn House,
31 March 2016. 
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8608-8

Jack Colby owns and runs his classic car repair business from his home at Frogs Hill in Kent. He also works as a consultant for the Kent Car Crime Unit whenever a crime seems to be within his field of expertise. Jack has heard of Adora Ferne, who in the Sixties was a notorious cabaret singer at a London club called The Three Parrots, but Jack's main interest in her is that she possesses twelve classic Jaguar cars. Rumour has it that Adora was given these cars by her ex-lovers and ex-husbands and Jack is surprised when Adora's manager, Danny Carter, commissions him to approach the Earl of Storrington with an offer to buy his rare Jaguar sports car: 'the thirteenth car'. Jack finds the Earl charming and civilised but resolute in his refusal to sell his car and Jack suspects that the Earl had also once been one of Adora's lovers.

When Jack reports back to Adora, he is told that she has been receiving anonymous letters and death threats, which Jack reports to the police. Soon after this the first death occurs, but it is not Adora who dies.

Jack works with the Kent Police to discover the truth behind the murder, which he believes is tied to the past and what happened at the Three Parrots fifty years previously, when one of Adora's lovers had been killed. He tries to discover the truth behind the twelve beautiful Jaguars and the men who donated them and the secret behind the elusive thirteenth car, but perhaps the greatest mystery of all that puzzles Jack is the character of Adora and whether she is a blackmailer or an enchantress. As the death toll mounts, Jack knows he has to discover the truth quickly before Adora also becomes a victim.

Classic at Bay is the eighth book in the series featuring Jack Colby. It is a delightful read, with well-drawn, likeable characters, many of whom are old friends from previous books, and a fascinating, multi-layered plot. This a page-turner and I recommend it.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Amy Myers worked as a director in a London publishing firm, before realising her dream to become a writer. Her first series featured detective, August Didier, a half French, half English master chef in late Victorian and Edwardian times. She is currently writing a series with her American husband James Myers, featuring Jack Colby, car detective.  Classic in the Pits, is the fifth in the series, its successor, Classic Cashes In, will follow later this year.  Amy also writes historical novels and suspense under the name Harriet Hudson.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

‘Fire Damage’ by Kate Medina

Published by Harper Collins,   
24 March 2016. 
ISBN 978 0 00 813226 6

This is a new series featuring Jessie Flynn an army psychologist with more problems than her patients. Jessie is asked to take on the case of 4 year old Sami, the son of Captain Nick Scott who has recently been injured in Afghanistan, injuries that have left him severely burned and blind in one eye. His son appears to be traumatised by it and Jessie tries to delve into what is behind the little boy's torment as she suspects it is more than just that his father looks so different.

While the main story focuses on Jessie trying to figure out what has happened to Sami, the plot also follows two other viewpoint threads. Local detective Bobby Simmons investigates the charred torso washed up on a Sussex beach, and Military Police Officer Ben Callan, a former patient of Jessie's, investigates the murder of an Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan. While for the most part this is quite a leisurely read the ending is face-paced and powerful, bringing together the threads in an unexpected and satisfying way.

The themes of this book revolve around the issues of war with the Middle East but deal with the effects of army life on both the soldiers and their families and the injustice of what happens when they are no longer fit for duty.
Reviewer Christine Hammacott

Kate Medina while studying for a degree in Psychology, joined the Territorial Army where she spent five years, first as an officer trainee and then as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers.
She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and now writes full time. Her debut novel, White Crocodile (published under the name K. T. Medina), a thriller set in the minefields of Cambodia, received widespread critical acclaim.

Christine Hammacott lives near Southampton and runs her own design consultancy. She started her career working in publishing as a book designer and now creates covers for indie-authors. She writes page-turning fiction that deals with the psychological effects of crime. Her debut novel The Taste of Ash was published in 2015.

‘Blood Torment’ by T F Muir

Published by Constable,
12 May 2016. 
ISBN: 978-1-47212-116-5

The earlier titles in T F Muir’s St Andrews-based series featuring DCI Andy Gilchrist have been characterized by their setting amid the glorious eastern Scotland landscape, and plenty of blood and violence.
The landscape is still in evidence in this latest in the series, but this time he has opted to pull back from the gory details, give or take the odd axe murder and beating with a hammer. The blood in the title is used in the sense of family, and the violence is largely emotional.

A small child disappears, and it’s soon plain she has been abducted. Gilchrist’s investigation reveals a wealthy, high-profile extended family which takes dysfunctional to a whole new level, and not one of them is vouchsafing any useful information. Gilchrist has his own methods of digging for evidence, but this time it proves to be well buried.

Meanwhile, Gilchrist’s own personal life is threatening to fall to pieces around him. His pregnant lover, the ice-queen pathologist Rebecca Cooper, has gone quiet on him; his artist son finds himself embroiled in the murder of a violent drug dealer whom Gilchrist has encountered professionally himself; a corrupt detective has a hold over him; even his adopted cat is keeping its distance. Gilchrist does his best to be an understanding partner and father, but finds it all more than a little bewildering – especially when his career is on the line if the missing child doesn’t turn up.

Mean streets and St Andrews don’t seem to match in real life, but Muir succeeds in making the darker side of a beautiful place feel very real indeed. Likewise his leading characters: Gilchrist is a sharp, intuitive detective but lacks perception and strength in his private life; his sidekick DS Jessie Janes is tactless and mouthy but self-aware and soft-centred. The bad guys do seem to be quite unremitting, with no visible redeeming features, but that goes with the ‘tartan noir’ territory. And of course it all comes right in the end, albeit with enough loose ends to suggest that Muir is far from done with it all.

Blood Torment shows a different side to T F Muir’s writing, and thus broadens the remit of the   series as well as extending its length.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

T F Muir Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Frank was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells.  By the time he graduated from University with a degree he hated, he’d already had more jobs than the River Clyde has bends.  Short stints as a lumberjack in the Scottish Highlands and a moulder’s labourer in the local foundry convinced Frank that his degree was not such a bad idea after all.  Thirty-plus years of living and working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country.  Now a dual US/UK citizen, Frank makes his home in the outskirts of Glasgow, from where he visits St Andrews regularly to carry out some serious research in the old grey town’s many pubs and restaurants.  Frank is working hard on his next novel, another crime story suffused with dark alleyways and cobbled streets and some things gruesome.


Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.