Lambert & Hook return for Final Act

Kindle edition coming 1 September 2016
Kindle edition coming 1 September 2016

Recommended:  Final Act (Book 29 in the Lambert & Hook series) by J.M. Gregson; Kindle ebook scheduled for release 1 September 2016 from Severn House Publishers, Kindle pre-order price $15.33 (USD); hardbound edition now available, list price $28.99 (USD), current price $24.05 (USD).

A company of actors all but upstage the “real” detectives in Final Act, the latest mystery in J.M. Gregson’s long-running Lambert & Hook series.

Sam Jackson chews the scenery behind the scenes as the highly successful television producer pretending to be a Hollywood mogul – coarse in appearance, behavior and speech – until he’s found dead in his caravan in a break between shooting. Everyone on location, from his assistant to the star to the aging actor in a cameo role, has a reason to wish him dead, and Gregson focuses suspicion on each one equally, and convincingly.

Jackson himself is so repulsive that the reader won’t regret his demise. In fact, I enjoyed the mystery more once he was off stage, so to speak, and the other characters could take over. And they do take over, pushing Detective Chief Superintendent Lambert and Detective Sergeant Hook out of the limelight and into supporting roles for their 29th appearance.

The series began in 1989 with Murder at the Nineteenth. That one, alas, alack, is not available for Kindle, but many of the earlier ones have been re-released by Endeavour Press. I’ve picked up several at discounts, though they are still a bargain at anything from 99 cents to $3.99 (USD). The list price on Final Act is much higher, and much higher than many of the U.S. mysteries. The quality is also higher.

Gregson writes well. The characters are fully fleshed. Even when they are the stock characters of drama – the national treasure with a knighthood, the Page Three girl with a plunging neckline, the good-looking gay with a house-husband – they aren’t stereotypical shortcuts or social statements. The story demands them, and Gregson provides them. He also provides a satisfying puzzle. Until the very end, it seems as though anyone could be the killer. But at the very end, it seems that only one could ever have been suspected.

What more can a mystery reader expect?

NOTE:  Sis received a complimentary advanced reading copy from Severn House via NetGalley, for which she is grateful. Neither attempted to influence her review.

Description:  Sam Jackson is not a man who suffers fools – or anyone else – gladly. A successful British television producer who fancies himself as a Hollywood mogul, he makes enemies easily, and delights in the fact. It is no great surprise that such a man should meet a violent death. Detective Chief Superintendent Lambert and Detective Sergeant Hook deduce that the person who killed him is almost certainly to be found among the company of actors who are shooting a series of detective mysteries in rural Herefordshire. But these are people who make a living by acting out other people’s fictions, people more at home with make-believe than real life – and the two detectives find interrogating them a difficult business. How can Lambert and Hook fight their way to the truth when faced with a cast of practised deceivers?

About the author:  J.M. Gregson, a Lancastrian by birth and upbringing, was a teacher for twenty-seven years before concentrating full-time on writing. He is the author of the popular Percy Peach and Lambert & Hook series, and has written books on subjects as diverse as golf and Shakespeare.

Readers who are reluctant to, or who refuse to, pay so much for ebooks may prefer to borrow this title from a lending library, but many of the titles in this series are quite affordable. Here are a few:

Description: Lydon Hall is, as the estate agent’s brochure puts it, a house full of character. But its many interesting features should surely not include a corpse in the elegant drawing-room? Is this death the suicide it appears to be? Superintendent John Lambert and Sergeant Bert Hook are brought in to investigate the tight-knit village community which houses Lydon hall. And everyone one they meet seems suspicious. From the glamorous French widow of the deceased to the man living rough on the moor they all seem to know more about this death than is at first apparent. Moreover, it gradually emerges that the staff of the estate agency he owned all had their different reasons for disliking the dead man…

‘Making a Killing’ is a chilling, expertly plotted mystery story and the second book in the Lambert and Hook Detective series.

The Fox in the Forest When the town vicar Peter Barton is found shot in the woods between two peaceful villages on Christmas Eve, Superintendent Lambert and his CID team are called in to investigate. His estranged wife herself was missing in the days before her husband’s death, busy with her lover. Could she be the killer Lambert is looking for? Or could it be the only man who seems to dislike the victim and owns a matching shotgun? Or the sweet local boy who travels through the woods every day? Then a second victim is found, again in the woods, again with a shotgun: a man they had held for 36 hours before. It seems that they have a serial killer on their hands, selecting victims at random, a killer who the papers are calling the ‘Fox’. With an endless list of potential suspects and no real evidence, Lambert struggles to find his culprit. The rural community closes in upon itself with secrets when another girl is attacked by the Fox and everyone seems to know the details of the two killings. Can Lambert and his team find a killer amongst the various townspeople with connections to the murders? More importantly, can they piece together the few clues they have to find the truth before another victim is found?


Death in Disguise delights

Recommended
Recommended

Death in Disguise slayed me with its first sentence:

“The Royal Victoria Hotel, Whitebridge, was widely considered to be a superior hotel for superior people, and most of the guests who stayed there would have thought it very bad manners to allow themselves to be murdered within its confines.”

How could I resist a mystery about a woman so gauche as to allow herself to be murdered under such circumstances?  I couldn’t.  I didn’t.  The author rewarded me, strewing the story with many delightful witticisms while weaving a complex and memorable mystery.

Make that mysteries. The fatal faux pas is one.  The victim’s identity, and her presence at the Royal Victoria and, indeed, in Lancashire itself, are others.  And they all tie into a murder committed some 54 years in the past, with the accused unsatisfyingly acquitted but not cleared of suspicion.  This ending is all a reader can expect, unmasking the identity of victims and villains in crimes old and new.

I’d not read the earlier Monika Poniatowski mysteries, nor the DCI Woodend series that preceded them, but I wasn’t lost.  The story had just enough hints of earlier events to pique my interest in the past without pulling me out of the present.  The setting is handled with equal ease. The “present day” mystery occurs in 1978, while the old murder took place in 1924. Nothing shouts nostalgia, nothing constantly reminds you that the present day is not, in fact, present, except that detecting does involve detecting and not simply forensic sciences.

All in all, this was a pleasure to read . . . good writing without gratuitous violence or embarrassing sexual encounters.  Hints of the unsavory provide a bit of spice without making the reader squirm in discomfort.  Nothing unmannerly, except murder, of course!

The hardcover edition is now on sale with a list price of $28.99 (USD) but an actual price of $24.09 (USD) at Amazon.com; the Kindle edition is available for pre-order with an expected release date of 1 August 2016, at a price of $20.93 at the time of this post.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House, via NetGalley. Sis, and Severn House, would have thought it very bad manners to expect anything more than an honest and independent review in return.

Description: When the body of an American woman is found in the Prince Alfred suite at the Royal Victoria Hotel, DCI Monika Paniatowski is faced with one of the most baffling cases of her career. The woman who called herself Mary Edwards had been a guest at the hotel for the past two weeks, having paid cash in advance. But who was she really – and what was she doing in a small town like Whitebridge? If Monika could discover why the dead woman had come to Lancashire, she would be one step closer to catching her killer. The investigation takes an intriguing twist when Monika learns of a possible link to a 50-year-old murder – but the only person who could tell her why it’s relevant is lying in a coma.

About the author:  Sally Spencer is the pen name of Alan Rustage, first adopted when he wrote sagas and convention dictated that a woman’s name appeared on the cover.  Rustage was a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. He worked in Iran in 1978-78 when the Shah was overthrown.  He writes that he got used to having rifles – and on one occasion, a rocket launcher – pointed at him but was never entirely comfortable with it. He lived in Madrid for more than 20 years and now lives in the seaside town of Calpe, on the Costa Blanca.

His first series of books were historical sagas set in Cheshire (where he grew up) and London. He has written 20 books featuring DCI Woodend (a character based partly on a furniture dealer he used to play dominoes with) and 10 or so about Woodend’s protegé Monika Paniatowski. His DI Sam Blackstone books are set in Victorian/Edwardian London, New York and Russia, and the Inspector Paco Ruiz books have as their backdrop the Spanish Civil War.

Take a chance on No Second Chances

By Lyndon Stacey, 224 pp., published by Severn House Ltd. Available in hardcover, list price $28.95 (USD); pre-order Kindle edition, list price $14.99 (USD).
By Lyndon Stacey, 224 pp., published by Severn House Ltd. Available in hardcover, list price $28.95 (USD); pre-order Kindle edition, list price $14.99 (USD). Release schedule 1 July 2016.

No Second Chances opens with an unintended mystery:  Why should Daniel Whelan, an ex-cop delivering farm supplies, jump to the aid of a client he scarcely knows and her insanely impulsive 15-year-old daughter? It doesn’t make sense, and it never makes sense, yet the mystery deserves a second chance and readers, especially those with a passion for animal rescue and dogs in particular, should give it that chance.

Whelan and Taz, the German shepherd who retired from the police force when his handler resigned and now accompanies him on his farm rounds, are engaging and fully developed characters.  I liked them, and I’d like to know them better.  Lorna Myers, the client who only learns her husband has disappeared when a pair of thugs shows up at their farmhouse in search of him, is never much more than a supporting character.  Her daughter, Zoe, is a primary personality, and utterly annoying.

Yet these irritations are what drive the plot.  She rushes headlong into danger, pulling Whelan and everyone else along and irritating both characters and readers alike as she searches for her missing boyfriend while all but ignoring the danger confronting her mother in the wake of her stepfather’s disappearance.  Not to mention the dangers confronting herself, both from those who want to stop her from finding the 19-year-old Traveler (also known as a gypsy, though from Ireland rather than Romany), those who are searching for her stepfather, and those who know that her search for the boy may very well lead to the whereabouts of the stepfather – or at least the reason for his disappearance.

Against all odds, Whelan sticks with Zoe, her boyfriend, and her mother.  Readers who are willing to give the book a second chance should ignore the odds and stick, too, because the mystery is neatly plotted, Stacey’s writing is a pleasure to read, and several of the characters are deftly drawn. The book introduces a character, a beauty who rescues greyhounds, who seems poised to appear in future books in the series, and, like Whelan, I’d like to know her better.

Mysteries, by definition, must include some violence. This isn’t a cozy (although Amazon.com currently has it categorized as such), but the violence shouldn’t offend most readers’ sensibilities. The dialogue does include some vulgar language, though far from egregious by common standards and not unexpected with Travelers among the cast of characters.  I did, however, object to Daniel’s use of an epithet as a term of endearment in the last line. It stopped the story from ending on an otherwise good note for me.

Note:  Severn House provided a complimentary advanced reading copy via NetGalley to allow Sis to read and review this mystery. The review reflects her own and only her own opinions. Sis doesn’t take any chances where her reputation is concerned.

Publisher’s Description: Ex-police dog handler Daniel Whelan finds himself drawn into the complex affairs of a neighbouring family – with potentially fatal consequences. Lorna Myers thinks she knows where her businessman husband is – until two men come looking for him one October evening. By lucky chance, ex-police officer Daniel Whelan happens to be on hand to take control of the situation, but for Lorna it’s the start of a nightmare. If Harvey isn’t abroad working, then where is he?  When Lorna’s daughter asks Daniel for help with a problem of her own, he finds himself reluctantly drawn into the complex affairs of the Myers family – with what could be deadly consequences for both him and his faithful canine partner, Taz.

Pre-order Kindle edition:

Previous books in this series:

No Going Back (Daniel Whelan Mystery, Book 1)


The first in an exciting new mystery series featuring ex-police dog handler Charlie Whelan – When two young sisters run away on Dartmoor, Charlie Whelan and his German shepherd, Taz, are called into action, and a desperate search quickly turns up one of the girls. However, rather than showing relief at being rescued, she seems terrified. Darkness halts their hunt for her elder sister, and Charlie returns home with one distressing question on his mind: just what were the girls running from?

No Holds Barred (Daniel Whelan Mystery, Book 2)


The second in the exciting new mystery series featuring ex-police dog handler Daniel Whelan – When ex-police dog handler Daniel Whelan is asked by his former boss to help a friend who is struggling to run her husband’s haulage company while he is recovering from a vicious attack, he and his German shepherd, Taz, rapidly find themselves attracting the wrong sort of attention. Daniel investigates and soon finds evidence of some very nasty business indeed – but after several violent warnings, he begins to wonder . . has he bitten off more than he can chew?

Nothing But Lies: A British police dog-handler mystery (Daniel Whelan Mystery, Book 3)


Daniel’s ex-colleague, police officer Joey Matsuki, has asked for his help. Joey is concerned for the safety of his fiancée, Tami, who has reported sightings of a sinister, hoodie-clad figure lurking in the area. Joey fears the involvement of a notorious local criminal recently released from prison. But with nothing concrete to go on and police resources scarce, he’s asked Daniel to keep an eye on Tami on his behalf. Working undercover as Tami’s temporary horse-box driver, Daniel soon begins to believe there may be more to the situation than meets the eye. As he questions Tami’s friends and neighbours, it becomes clear that something is not quite right. There are things people aren’t telling him; small but significant incidents that can’t be explained. Events take a tragic turn when there is a fatal hit-and-run incident. But was it really an accident – and could Tami herself have been the intended target?

About the author: Lyndon Stacey is an animal portraitist by trade and loves Western style horse riding. She lives in the Blackmore Vale in Dorset, with three assorted dogs and two cats, and is now a full-time writer. Her many interests include horse riding, animal psychology, classical music, genealogy and exploring the countryside on her motorcycle.

Deep Waters swirl into the ’60s

Recommended:
Severn House, U.K., in hardcover and Kindle.
Severn House Publishers Ltd., U.K., in hardcover and Kindle.

Patricia Hall’s Deep Waters pulls London Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeant “Flash” Harry Barnard and his girlfriend into the undertow of an old crime that churns up new victims in the Swinging Sixties of London’s East End and its environs.

The story focuses more on Harry than on Kate O’Donnell, his photographer girlfriend, and Hall crafts a complex mystery using Harry’s wartime childhood, his national service during the floods that devastated England’s East Coast in 1953, and his assignment on the CID’s Vice Squad more than a decade later.  I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read the previous mysteries in this series, but Hall provides sufficient background and this story stands on its own.

The writing is strong, with a literary style that maintains just the right amount of tension while bringing just enough of the past into the present.  This is no Austin Powers parody, swamping readers with references to cultural icons. Hall tosses out a few references to Lennon and the Beatles, the Kinx, the Rolling Stones and Cilla Black.  She also tosses in a few phrases from Sixties’ slang, like dolly bird, but younger readers and U.S. readers ought to be able to follow along without any real difficulty even if, unlike me, they haven’t previously encountered these.

For me, learning about different places and different times is part of the fun of reading fiction – and I’ve been reading British literature nearly as long as I’ve been reading American literature.  Those who are well-versed in Brit lit won’t find any obstacles.  Those who are not should enjoy the exposure to different spellings and new words.

The ending might disappoint some readers, as Hall doesn’t mop up every single storyline.  It’s no cliffhanger, but neither is it neat and utterly complete.  The crimes are violent – it is, after all, a murder mystery – but the depictions are no real threat to the reader’s sensibilities.  The dialogue does include some of the vulgar words to be heard in London’s East End, both then and now, but Hall doesn’t drown the reader in them.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley, for which she is grateful.  This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions.

Deep Waters by Patricia Hall; 208 pp.  Severn House.  Hardcover $28.95 (USD); Kindle  list price $22.91 (USD), pre-order price $14.99. Hardcover available now; Kindle edition scheduled for release 1 July 2016.

Synopsis:  A past crime leads to new murder in the latest O’Donnell mystery

It’s 1964. Detective Sergeant Harry Barnard has been ordered to track down notorious Soho club owner Ray Robertson, who hasn’t been seen for several days. The case takes on a greater urgency when a battered body is discovered at the gym Ray owns. Is Ray the killer … or is he a victim? Photographer Kate O’Donnell works on a feature about the rebuilding of Canvey Island after the devastating East Coast floods of 1953. But as Kate and Harry are about to discover, the Canvey Island floods, the murder and Ray Robertson’s disappearance are connected in more ways than one …

Written in Red, an Oxford Dogwalkers Mystery by Annie Dalton

Recommended:

Slated for release 15 June 2016
Slated for release 15 June 2016

Neither headaches nor hurricanes are powerful enough to pull me from the pages of a good mystery, yet I set aside Written in Red on my own accord somewhere in the fifth chapter – but only to add the first book of Annie Dalton’s Oxford Dogwalkers Mystery series to my TBR list. As soon as I had done so, I picked up where I’d left off and read straight through–despite a growing headache and, so I’m told, violent thunderstorms outside (a factor, no doubt, in the headache).  This award-winning YA author has created a multi-layered mystery with story lines that twist and wrap like a leash attached to a capricious canine.

From the publisher:  Shortly before Christmas, Professor James Lowell is found brutally attacked in his rooms at Walsingham College, where Anna Hopkins works as an administrator. Baffled as to why anyone would wish to harm such a gentle, scholarly man, Anna discovers that Lowell had a connection with her fellow dogwalker, Isadora Salzman, who knew him as an undergraduate in the 1960s, a co-member of the so-called Oxford Six. It turns out that Isadora has been keeping a surprising secret all these years. But someone else knows about Isadora’s secret: someone who has sent her a threatening, frightening letter.  Could the attack on Professor Lowell have its roots in a 50-year-old murder? And who is targeting Isadora and the surviving members of the Oxford Six? Anna, Isadora and Tansy, the dogwalking detectives, make it their business to find out. 

For me, the novel has two flaws:  Too little restraint with “four-lettered” words that became tiresome, rather than effective, by the middle of the mystery and an over-tidiness in a late and otherwise dramatic scene that left me somewhat, just a tiny bit, less eager to read the next one.

I still have Book One – The White Shepherd – on my To-Be-Read list and I still look forward to a third book in this series, but less is very much more when it comes to salty speech for readers like me who don’t encounter these words in our everyday lives and don’t care to add them to our everyday vocabularies.  Less can be more when it comes to tension, too.  If you pull too tightly, even a strong strap of leather will snap and you may be left holding a broken leash in one hand while watching a four-legged friend rush toward potential dangers.

Dalton shows she has the talent, though, to stitch the pieces back together, and I expect nothing less when Anna, Isadora, and Tansy return to Oxford’s Port Meadow to walk Bonnie (the beautiful White Shepherd with a past as traumatic as Anna’s own) and Hero (Isadora’s half-spaniel, half-terrier puppy) for a third time.

These delightful dogs are among the many pleasures to be found within the pages of Written in Red, and dog lovers in particular will want to devour this series.  The dogs are characters in their own right, as beautifully drawn as the portraits Anna’s grandfather paints of them, as well as devices Dalton uses to breathe life into her two-legged characters.  For example, consider one of the benefits Anna derives from sharing her home and her life with Bonnie:

“When you have a dog, you can say, ‘I need to go out and walk Fido now,’ and nobody thinks you’re strange.  Whereas saying ‘I urgently need to be by myself . . .’ made you sound as if you were somewhere along the spectrum.”

Anna herself is a mystery, a mystery that begins to unfold in the first book in the series and continues in the second, a mystery that Dalton holds out as a reward for following her further and further into the series.  The relationships between the continuing characters provide further enticement to keep reading.  And the writing is good enough to be its own reward.

Note:  In obedience of federal regulations, Sis must disclose that she received an advanced reading copy courtesy of Severn House, the publisher, through NetGalley in exchange for an independent and unbiased review of the novel.  The biases here are Sis’s and Sis’s alone – no one has attempted to influence her review or her writing . . . except her reliable editor, who serves as a faithful watchdog against errors without attempting to affect Sis’s views.

Quick and the Dead

Highly recommended — despite reservations

Scheduled Publication Date 1 May 2016
Scheduled for release  1 May 2016

Introducing outspoken female sleuth Alex Quick in the first of a new mystery series by Susan Moody. When her business partner, acclaimed art historian and university professor Dr. Helena Drummond, disappears, Alexandra Quick is consumed by guilt. Shortly before she vanished, Helena had complained of being menaced by a stalker, and Alex had dismissed her fears as groundless. Now Alex, a former police detective, is determined to use her finely-honed investigative skills to find out what’s happened to her friend and colleague.  But the more she uncovers, the more Alex realizes how little she really knew Dr. Helena Drummond. As it becomes increasingly clear that the woman she thought she knew so well has been keeping a great many secrets from her, Alex must decide: is Helena a victim . . . or is she a killer?

Susan Moody’s Quick and The Dead is exactly the kind of mystery I want to fling in the face of my more intellectual friends who decry my preference for “frivolous” fiction – or, as they scathingly condemn such books, “mind candy.”

First, you won’t find anything “frivolous” about Alex Quick, a former high-ranking homicide detective who left the force after finding out about her husband’s infidelities . . . and suffering a heart-rending miscarriage of the child she hadn’t known she carried.  Second, no one who reads Quick and The Dead with a mind even partially pried open could dismiss this as “mind candy.”

Instead, this is the highly literate fiction for which British mystery writers, in particular, are so well known – and well regarded.  Think P.D. James, although I am not suggesting that Moody’s style is anything other than her own.  Not for a moment.  No, this is literature that just so happens to involve murder and other mysteries.

The murder is disturbingly violent – and readers need to know that the initial depiction of the murder scene is disturbingly detailed as well.  This is no comfortable cosy!  Yet, I strongly recommend Quick and The Dead to readers who even think they may be able to handle it, and they can thank Moody’s deftness in dealing with the scene from there on out for that recommendation.  Quick herself is so deeply affected by the violent killing that she cannot (and Moody does not) continue to dwell on these details.  Instead, the restraint employed by the character and her creator serve to heighten the sense of heinousness without subjecting the reader’s mental imagery to further violence.

Readers should also be prepared for a bit more than a sprinkling of four-letter words, in particular one that is usually considered the most objectionable by those of us who dislike them.  (That includes me.)  And yet, I still think readers who can possibly overlook their objections to graphic violence and obscene words should and would enjoy this novel.  Some can’t, and those won’t.  And that’s a pity, because this is a stunning read.

Alex Quick is both tough and tender.  It’s not just “cop-speak” when she blurts out such words.  This is who she is, and that is how she would speak.  Moody has created a complex, multi-dimensional character who fascinates, and I look forward to getting to know her better.  I also look forward (and plan to look backward, too) to more from Moody.  I like her way with words, even if I don’t like all of the words she employs, and I like her sense of story.

The mystery begins when Quick discovers a dead woman in her colleague’s flat . . . and quickly realizes how little she knows about the woman with whom she works.  Helena Drummond, the art historian with a body in her bed, is as much a mystery as the identity of the killer.

“She comes across as so open and let-it-all-hang-outish, but in fact she gives almost nothing away.  So I don’t know anything about her background or her family situation.  Nothing.  Apart from the fact that she’s been married twice,” Quick tells another character as she begins her search for her missing partner.  She’s immediately stunned to learn that one of those husbands is a painter whose work she has long admired and has urged Helena to include in one of the compilations of pictures and text that they have published to much acclaim and some profit.

The police, not surprisingly, want to find Helena, too.  One does tend to wonder about the disappearance of a woman when another woman’s body is found, brutalized, in her bed.  Quick is sure Helena couldn’t be involved . . . but the more she searches for answers, the more questions she finds.  About Helena.  About the victim.  About herself.

The intensity builds, as Moody layers mystery upon mystery, pulling the reader further and further into the story, swiping page after page until there is nothing left to discover.  And that’s just as well, because, by then, the reader should be thoroughly satisfied, even satiated.

One final warning:  Readers may very well have a hard time settling on what to read next because, I promise, they will not want to settle for less.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley.  This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions.  The book is for sale, but Sis is not – nor has the publisher nor anyone else connected with this or any other book attempted to corrupt her.

Hardcover $28.95 (USD), pre-order price $23.01 as of 30 March 2016; Kindle list price $22.36 (USD), pre-order price $14.99 as of 30 March 2016.  Scheduled for release in the U.S. on 1 May 2016.featured