Bamburgh by L.J. Ross.

From the moment LJ Ross’s marvellous series about aristocratic copper DCI Ryan and his close-knit team appeared, I’ve been a huge fan. The plots are solid, the countryside and other settings beautifully drawn and the characters – well, they’re what really make this series sing. Bamburgh, no. 19 in what’s now a hugely successful series for Ross, is yet another good addition to the ongoing story of Ryan, his wife, Anna, his investigative team: Frank and his wife, Denise, Melanie and Jack… or, it would be, except I have one small gripe.  

Don’t get me wrong – the writing is still good; the characters interact with each other in familiar and heart-warming ways, making the bonds they’ve developed over the years and many cases rock solid… or are they? When the book opens we already know from the last one that the killer of Melanie’s sister, Gemma, years ago, has left his DNA on a victim from the previous book – a Thai woman who survived brutal injuries and captivity. Melanie is driven to identify this killer and bring him to justice and while the professional in her demands this occur, it’s far more personal reasons that provide her motivation and give her cause to be deceptive. Nothing wrong with all that – it’s in keeping with her character and the way in which her sister’s murder has not only torn her family apart, and haunted her for years, but also set her on her current career path.

Concomitant with the hunt for Gemma’s killer (who is suspected to have left behind a string of victims over the years), is the investigation into the suspicious death of a wealthy and popular old woman who owns a great deal of property and has left it to one of her loyal workers. Again, all good.

What bothered me about this book (and I really loathe being critical because it’s so readable) is the fact it’s the third book in this fine series to use almost identical plot and character development to drive the story. Seriously. The ideas – the structure, the character, the psychopathy of the villain, the ability to fool peers and family for decades, everything, have been used not once, but twice before.  In fact, when a new character was introduced, I had the fleeting thought, ‘oh, please don’t make this person behave like…’ Well, Ross did. I even eye-rolled when it became evident the storyline was the same. I mean, how many times can a small police station tolerate this kind of thing? Even one of the characters makes a joke about it towards the end. Not sure that lets Ross off the hook. It’s just as well the characters are so damn loveable and, after 18 books, we’re invested in them, and the overall story so gripping you keep reading. But I confess to feeling disappointed that, yet again, this particular plot device and type of character was deployed.

I think it’s well and truly time to retire it – but not, please, Ryan and co. They still have work to do and cases to solve! And I’ll look forward to reading their next adventure.

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Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza

Robert Bryndza burst onto the crime-writing scene a few years back with his excellent Erika Foster series, which I thoroughly enjoy. It was with great excitement then that I picked up this first book in a new series, featuring police officer, Kate Marshall.

Kate was a high-flying young police woman who, after sleeping with her superior, also catches a sought-after serial killer – the Nine Elms murderer. Instead of being rewarded for her efforts, she leaves the force in disgrace. The story begins fifteen years later as Kate, now a mother and a criminology lecturer, is living a quiet life by the coast, teaching keen students and interacting with her brilliant research assistant, Tristan Harper.

When she’s approached by distraught parents with a missing daughter, Caitlyn, essentially a cold case that the police never took seriously but which the parents believe is connected to the Nine Elms murders, she reluctantly takes it on. In the meantime, a Nine Elms copycat killer has emerged and the body count is growing. Against her will, Kate finds herself doing private investigating with Tristan, not only to try and resolve what happened to Caitlyn, but learn what she can about this mimic killer, a killer who is getting too close to Kate and her son, Jake, for comfort.

This novel opens in a strong and brutal manner (which is Bryndza’s style), grasping the reader by the collar and not letting go for a while. After this knockout beginning, the book slows a little as we’re introduced to Kate and invited to peel back the various layers that make the person she is now. Likewise, her professional and personal environment are described and explored, setting the groundwork for the character and future stories. But before long the pace builds again to breakneck speed as past and present collide. Well-written, tightly plotted and with great characters, this is a fabulous introduction to a great new series.

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Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

You know when you pick up a Michael Connelly book you’re about to hugely entertained by a tight, gritty plot, intense characters, high-octane moments and a realistic setting. Fair Warning, the third book in his Jack McEvoy series, ticks all those boxes and then some.

Jack is a reporter with a long-from investigative paper that usually focusses on softer issues that everyday readers find interesting. But when a woman he had a one-night stand with twelve months earlier is found brutally murdered, he’s not only pulled into the investigation, but determines to uncover the culprit.

What Jack does find leaves him not only under suspicion for the crime he’s also seeking to solve, but on the brink of uncovering a serial killer who’s been on the loose for years and with a (growing) body count that makes even Jack and his associates baulk. As Jack gets closer to finding out the killer’s identity, so too the murderer is getting closer to Jack. Is breaking news worth risking your life for?

Connelly has done it again with an edge of the seat read that plunges the reader into some very dark corners before hauling us out again, giving us a good ol’ shake and then setting us upon another shadowy, dangerous path. Replete with characters who always act in ways that make sense – whether it’s in relation to who they are, their personal relationships, their job, laws, rules etc (too many crime books ask readers to suspend their disbelief just a bit too much – Connelly, I find, is never guilty of that particular sin but always works within the logic of the world he evokes) – possess flaws, egos and big hearts as well as dire intentions, this is another sensational read.

I read this over a couple of days staying up way too late to finish it and then regretted it when I did! Same old, same old with a Connelly book… now I have to wait impatiently until the next one is out.

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Enmity (DI Munro and DS West #3) by Pete Brassett

Another easy read featuring Scottish curmudgeon (with a heart and ethics) DI Munro and his forever hungry side-kick and pseudo-daughter (or that’s how it seems) DS West. Enmity, book number 3 in the series, sees DI Munro travelling with DS West to Ayr to solve the murder of a former colleague’s daughter. When more bodies turn up and it appears that someone innocent is being framed, all Munro and West’s skills and that of the team at their disposal are required. But when one of the team doesn’t want to co-operate and, worse, falls under suspicion, it seems the murderer is closer to home than anyone thought.

These books are great when you want to read a crime book that isn’t too complex, contains central characters who are likeable and clearly drawn (if somewhat stereotypical) and a setting you enjoy. Clichéd at times, with a tendency to include “Scottish” words randomly, much can be forgiven for the effortlessness of the read – even when you guess, “whodunit” part of the pleasure is discovering how the author concludes the case.

A good series.

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Gallery of the Dead by Chris Carter

Firstly, I want to thank the publishers and Net Galley for providing me an ARC of this gripping novel.

This is the first book by Chris Carter I have read, though it is the 9th in the DI Robert Hunter series. This didn’t matter as it was easy to plunge into and get a sense of the central characters, especially Hunter who, according to everyone who knows and works with him is an intellectual force to be reckoned with. Heading up the Ultra Violent Crimes Unit within the LAPD, Hunter and his partner, Carlos Garcia, think they have seen everything. That is until a gruesome discovery alters their assessment.

Not only is the body brutally disfigured, the room in which it is found is presented in such a way that it sets off alarm bells, not only in Hunter but, when more bodies are discovered, also violently dispatched and with a specific signature, the FBI as well. Joining forces, the LAPD and FBI are working against time and a strange and deadly psychopathy. They are also working against each other and must learn to put aside internal tensions and prevent the serial killer from striking again. But it’s not just the killer with a big ego and personalities and personal lives soon become intertwined with shocking consequences.

I mostly enjoyed this book and the characters. While the murders were gruesome, the rationale behind them was explained, and the narrative progressed steadily, building tension. However, two things bothered me in relation to character. The first was the main character Hunter. It felt as if the reader was continually being told, through other characters, how amazingly brilliant the man was, rather than being shown. That one of his colleagues makes the first major break-through in the investigation also undermines his apparent cleverness and people’s desire to impress him. I found that aspect a little frustrating and even rolled my eyes once! Apart from that, he was a fascinating character who, perhaps, is explored and explained in earlier books and that was one disadvantage of reading the ninth book in the series and would explain why these reminders of his intelligence and likeability kept appearing.

The other character that really got up my nose was the female FBI agent, whose name I appear to have forgotten already. Why the woman had to be the one to grandstand, rile and rub people up the wrong way and be such a pain in the arse (almost a caricature), I am not sure. I understand that in pop culture (and maybe even real life) enmity between the police and FBI is legendary, but surely, when a psychopath is on the loose, it’s time for the professionals to be just that: professional. Not for this woman agent. Some of her actions and comments were so OTT and I wondered how her partner could stand working with her let alone have genuine feelings. She was a silly cow much of the time. This also went some way to undermining the final chapters of the book and what happens. It was hard to have sympathy for someone who hadn’t been a good colleague, took offense at just about everything and went out of her way to aggravate people throughout most of the investigation.

Looking briefly at other reviews, no one else has passed comment on this, so maybe it’s just me. I have no issue with women being pariahs and pains, but again, it was so at odds with the loyalty and affection she commanded, what others said about her, I just felt the latter didn’t ring true. Again, the reader was being told not shown – though in this instance what we were told (by other characters) was the opposite of what we were shown. Actions were speaking louder and contradicting words.

Overall, however, I thought this was a really entertaining read – one which, despite a couple of minor misgivings, I really enjoyed.


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