‘No Bodies’ by Robert Crouch

No Bodies

Environmental health officer and part-time sleuth, Kent Fisher, finds himself caught in the middle of another mystery when he agrees to investigate the disappearance of Daphne Witherington, wife of a family friend. But Daphne isn’t the only missing woman in Downland and Kent is soon rubbing people up the wrong way as he struggles to find a connection in a seemingly unconnected puzzle. And as if that wasn’t enough, he must also contend with an outbreak of E.coli that could threaten the future of the sanctuary, as well as his job…

This is the third Robert Crouch book I’ve read and the second in his Kent Fisher series. As with the first one (No Accident), the story is cleverly told with a well-thought-out storyline. Though a little more complex than Book 1, a bevy of suspects and other disparate characters pepper the plot with a delicious variety of reddish herrings, building to a climax that surprised me, but which also made perfect sense.

Mr Crouch is a great storyteller with a talent for creating memorable characters. ‘No Bodies’ is a darn good read that’ll satisfy anyone who loves mysteries that don’t simply trot out the usual amateur sleuth rituals. I’m looking forward to the next book already.

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‘Death of a Gossip’ by MC Beaton

Death of a Gossip

Gossip columnist Lady Jane Winters rubs everyone up the wrong way when she joins a fishing class in the quiet village of Lochdubh. Her scathing comments prompt many of the group members to wish her ill will, and local constable Hamish Macbeth isn’t surprised when she turns up dead. But when detectives arrive to take over the case and try to push the young copper’s nose out, Hamish decides to carry out his own investigation…

Marion McChesney had already penned dozens of romantic novels by the time she turned her talents to creating the Hamish McBeth series. Written in 1985 under one of her many pen names, ‘Death of a Gossip’ is the first of these and was apparently inspired after the author witnessed a squabbling group of would-be anglers in the Scottish Highlands.

If you’re expecting something along the lines of the TV series (Hamish Macbeth, starring Robert Carlyle), you’ll be disappointed. In fact, Ms Beaton herself was not happy with the production and when you read you books it’s easy to see why. Her hero is a very laid-back and slightly work-shy individual who has an appealing and comic sense of dialogue. However, McBeth himself is one of the few shining lights in this first novel – the plot is achingly slow to get going and by the time an actual murder occurred I was beginning to wonder if I’d misunderstood the title. Apart from the canny copper, the rest of the cast seem stuck in a bygone age of repressed emotions and romantic ideals that would have been perfect if set in the 1950s, but stand out like a row of sore thumbs in this scenario.

Having said that, it’s an enjoyable tale and McBeth’s witticisms had me laughing out loud. The book fits well in the ‘cosy’ theme often associated with this type of writing, so will have wide appeal, and given that the author has topped twenty million sales worldwide, I don’t think she has anything to worry about.

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‘Blood Bath’ by Stephen Leather

Blood Bath

Supernatural detective Jack Nightingale faces a demonic killer when he investigates a series of gory deaths in a Brighton hotel. Along with his sidekick Jenny, Nightingale must find a way to tempt the monster into a trap, but what will the shrewd sleuth use for bait?

Stephen Leather is a bestselling thriller writer with an impressive track record. This story, however, is my first foray into the world of his paranormal detective, Jack Nightingale. Superbly narrated by actor Paul Thornley, ‘Blood Bath’ has a running time of about an hour and a half. It’s a well-written and clever tale that held my interest and left me wanting more. It’s also worth pointing out that the Kindle edition is accompanied by six additional stories penned by fans of the author, whereas the Audible version (which I bought), includes only the title story.

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‘The Ambassador’s Wife’ by Jake Needham

The Ambassador’s Wife

When a woman’s body is found naked and badly beaten in a Singapore hotel, Inspector Sam Tay is reluctant to view the gruesome scene. He’s also reluctant to go along with the FBI when they claim the murder is a terrorist killing. But then another body turns up and the similarities point to a serial killer.

Jake Needham’s hero is fascinating – an unwilling detective who doesn’t say much, isn’t keen on checking out murder scenes and often doesn’t know how to respond to women. Nevertheless, he’s an absolute gem of a character whose dogged determination leads him into an intricate mystery that throws up barriers at every turn. This isn’t a the usual troubled-cop, hard-drinking, squealing tyres sort of a book, but it’s got what a lot of modern crime writing doesn’t have – great characters, clever dialogue and a real page-turner of a plot that kept me guessing right to the end.

Whenever I discover a novelist I really like, that old chestnut ‘so-many-books, so-little-time’, comes to mind, but it’s a genuine thrill to find Mr Needham has given me plenty to catch up on – not only are there four books in the current Inspector Tay series, there’s also the Jack Shepherd series, which looks equally appealing. ‘The Ambassador’s Wife’ is the first of the Inspector Tay novels and the first time I’ve read this author, but it won’t be the last.

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‘Random Bullets’ by Joy Mutter

Random Bullets

A gunman runs amok in a London park killing apparently random victims. But what could have provoked such monstrous behaviour? Moving through several locations and a myriad of ordinary (and not so ordinary) characters, the story gradually slots the pieces into place to track the series of events that lead to one moment of madness.

Part thriller, part paranormal mystery, this is one of Ms Mutter’s early frays into the world of the paranormal. (Her talent for all things mystical is more pronounced in her later books – most notably, the ‘Hostile’ series.) The characters, as always, are an eclectic bunch and like all good mysteries, the links between them emerge slowly. The plot develops into a complex tale of family feuds, fallings-out and misunderstandings that – as we all know – can so easily lead to murder and mayhem. Narrated by actor and voice artist Alexander Doddy, this is an enjoyable and occasionally laugh-out-loud story, and while I don’t think it’s quite up to the standard of the author’s later works, it is no less entertaining.

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