Dark Skies by LJ Ross


Dark Skies by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Beware what lies beneath…

One fateful, starry night, three friends embark on a secret camping trip but only two return home. Thirty years later, the body of a teenage boy rises from the depths of England’s biggest reservoir and threatens to expose a killer who has lain dormant…until now.

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan returns from honeymoon to face danger from all sides. In the depths of Kielder Forest, a murderer has escaped justice before and will do anything to protect the secrets of the past. Meanwhile, back at Northumbria CID, an old foe has taken the helm as Superintendent and is determined to destroy Ryan at any cost.

Who will prevail in Ryan’s most dangerous case yet?

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

DCI Ryan has technically not even come back from his honeymoon when a private diving lesson over the weekend unearths a long-mummified corpse of a teenage boy in England’s biggest reservoir. The mummified corpse holds any number of secrets, but forces within DCI Ryan’s team threaten to tear the close-knit group apart and those close to Ryan are an even greater danger than that of a re-awakened murderer.

This book is in the DCI Ryan series, and I would strongly recommend readers have at least some experience with a few of the previous installments. While it’s not necessary to have read every book preceding this, a very large amount of the plot and conflict arise from inter-team changes and clashes, so I feel readers who pick this story up alone won’t have as good an experience without the emotional attachment and investment in the various main characters. That said, the story is absolutely easy to follow along with, the author has done a solid job of explaining everything and the murder mystery plot stands very well on its own. But with a twist in the mystery plot right at the end of the story and tensions in the characters’ relationships still extremely high at the end of the book I definitely feel at least some of the previous stories should be read and a number of readers might feel the somewhat cliffhanger ending – which very clearly leads directly into the next book – doesn’t lend this to be a story to be read purely on its own.

I understand a number of the characters actions and clashes and the reasoning behind it, but I strongly feel readers who prefer a more police procedural style of story – and less character driven drama – might not find this book as enjoyable as previous stories in this series. I struggled in a few places to feel some of the characters acted in an understandable way. While the main antagonist was suitably manipulative and dastardly, I was a little surprised how easily convinced and swayed one of Ryan’s team in particular was. There was a large amount of conflict in this story which I do feel will appeal to some readers, but equally I feel the splintering of the team might also be viewed by a number of readers as a bit over the top in relation to the conflict/drama of the story.

In some respects, the mystery was secondary to everything happening within the police team. I did enjoy how the murder which occurred thirty years in the past re-awakened a number of simmering issues and I thought the plot surrounding how the past and present interwove was very well done. For this particular book, however, I do feel the actual mystery took almost a back seat to all the politics and schisms within the team. I also strongly feel readers should be prepared to want to read the following book virtually immediately after finishing this story as it ends setting up for the next installment very much. I, personally, would have found it painful to wait. Thankfully I had the next book already on hand and would suggest readers who know themselves to be impatient at times shouldn’t crack this one open until they have the following book on hand.

A well written book this was somewhat different to others I’ve read in the series but was nevertheless a good read.

Cragside by LJ Ross


Cragside by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Are you afraid of the dark..?

After his climactic battle with notorious serial killer The Hacker, DCI Ryan is spending the summer with his fiancée within the grounds of Cragside, a spectacular Bavarian-style mansion surrounded by acres of woodland. When they are invited to attend the staff summer party – a Victorian murder mystery evening – it’s all a joke until the lights go out and an elderly man is found dead. It looks like an unfortunate accident but, as the dead man’s life begins to unfold, Ryan and his team of detectives realise that all is not as it appears.

When a second body is found, terror grips the close-knit community and Ryan must uncover the killer who walks among them, before they strike again…

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

DCI Ryan and his fiancée have been spending the summer on the grounds of Cragside – a Bavarian style mansion. They both attend the annual staff summer party only for one of the guests to die in what at first appears an accident toward the end of the night. It soon becomes apparent though that this isn’t a tragic accident and there is far more to the victim – and others at Cragside – than anyone first believed.

This is the sixth book in the series around DCI Ryan and his team and I’m pleased to still be enjoying this series. In some respects, I feel like this book can be read by itself. The murder mystery as the feel a little an old school Agatha Christie style “closed house” mystery and as such there’s a whole slew of characters and suspects who have only been present at the party and so no prior knowledge is needed and there is no link to any of the previous books. So, from that perspective the mystery aspect to the book is easily stand alone and anyone can pick this book up and enjoy it.

That said, for the other members of Ryan’s team who are called in to help the investigation, there is a quite a bit of recent history that needs to be unpacked. Ryan’s partner is under a bit of a shadow after an enforced sabbatical and another member of the team – MacKenzie – is still recovering after having been kidnapped and tortured. In addition to that there is a young new member of the team who is trying to find her place and fit in with the others, and an old superior officer from Ryan’s past who has suddenly reappeared on the scene again. So, there is quite a bit going on under the surface of the murder mystery and while I definitely feel readers can easily work out what’s going on, I equally can’t help but feel a lot of the emotional connection and empathy with the characters situation mainly stems from having read some of the previous books and knowing exactly what the characters are recovering from.

I definitely feel readers looking for an interesting “closed house” style of murder mystery should be easily able to pick this book up. The plot can be read and easily enjoyed by itself. Readers who are after more of a long-term investment in the team dynamic and various characters and their growth should likely investigate starting earlier in the series than this book. There is definitely the feel that the working and personal relationships for the team members are becoming equally important than the various cases this team investigate. While I’m pleased the various plots help keep the books interesting and the police procedural aspects are excellent, the emotional investment in the main characters is given just as much eight and importance as these books progress.

A strong mystery book, this is a good series I am really enjoying.

High Force by LJ Ross


High Force by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Hell has unleashed a demon – and he’s coming for you…

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan’s worst nightmare has just become a reality. Notorious serial killer The Hacker has escaped prison and kidnapped one of his best detectives from her own home. His brutality is the stuff of legend – Ryan lost his sister and nearly his own life bringing the man to justice first time around. Can Ryan do it again to save his friend?

There’s a nationwide manhunt underway but the trail has gone cold and fear spreads like a virus. Ryan and his team must find The Hacker before he takes another life – but are they too late?

The clock is ticking…

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

This book follows on almost immediately after the conclusion of the previous book (Angel). Angel ended on a high-stakes cliffhanger with DI Denise MacKenzie being kidnapped by DCI Ryan’s greatest foe. While this kidnapping and the immediate ramifications are detailed from the very first page of this story – so I feel reading Angel is not strictly necessary to understand what’s going on – I do feel much of the readers’ connection to the characters as well as much of the suspense/tension is better gained for readers having read at least some of the previous books, so they have an emotional investment in what’s going on, particularly for Denise. That said, readers shouldn’t feel like it’s critical to have read any of the previous books as the author does a very good job of explaining the plot, the real danger Denise is in and enjoy the thriller aspects as the team hunt for their colleague.

I was pleased that the author managed a good balance between keeping the conflict/suspense and tension very high but didn’t resort to too many gritty details nor dwell on the serial killer aspect merely for titillation purposes. I strongly feel that there was ample conflict as it was, so I really thought there was no need to go over the top with more delicate or grisly aspects to the story. Rather obviously, the entirety of the book focused on the team hunting Denise to rescue her and bring her safely home, but also return The Hacker to prison.

At times I wondered if there could have been a little more to the plot – because when you really boil it down the book is only about chasing the Hacker and rescuing DI MacKenzie. I feel maybe some readers could feel like the plot of this book is a little one-dimensional for a full-length novel – but there was enough adrenaline, action, suspense and tension I lean toward thinking the book didn’t need more plot to it, but I really did wonder a few times while reading this. I readily admit had there been another sub-plot that it could easily have detracted away from the importance of the team focusing on Denise and her rescue, or stolen pages away from Denise surviving her capture. This could very well have been a Catch-22 for the author with no “correct” answer.

With exceptional characters and a boatload of tension in this thriller/suspense novel this is a good read that might tempt you to finish it in one sitting. Not for the faint of heart (this is about a main female character surviving being kidnapped for a period of time by a serial killer and known enemy), this is a page-turning kind of story that I feel will suit a wide range of readers.

Angel by LJ Ross


Angel by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

He’ll make you his angel, but first you have to die…

After a turbulent time, DCI Ryan’s life is finally returning to normal and he’s looking forward to spending an uneventful Easter bank holiday weekend with his fiancée.

Then, on Good Friday morning he is called out to a crime scene at one of the largest cemeteries in Newcastle. The body of a redheaded woman has been found buried in a shallow grave and the killer has given her wings, like an angel.

Soon, another woman is found at a different cemetery, followed quickly by another. Panic spreads like wildfire as a new serial killer is born, and Ryan’s band of detectives must work around the clock to unmask him before he can strike again.

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

The fourth installment of the DCI Ryan series is an excellent full length novel and I feel it can definitely be read as a standalone mystery. While some insight is given into the mind and reasonings behind the killer right from the first few pages, I was pleased that there was still enough mystery and shadows around the identity of the killer to keep me guessing and invested well into the story. I also really enjoyed trying to figure out before DCI Ryan’s team whether his case dove-tailed with MacKenzie’s case or whether they weren’t linked by anything other than coincidence.

I do admit that I feel a large part of my interest and emotional investment into DCI Ryan’s team was due to having read the previous stories in this series. That said, I believe the easy and enjoyable writing style that LJ Ross has would lend itself to readers getting attached to the characters, especially as they work together through hard cases and difficult situations. The plotline and murder-mystery aspect to this book I feel is definitely self-contained. Aside from a few brief references to the previous cases this book centers around a new killer with new victims and reasonings, which I feel means readers who have not read the first three books of the series should not find themselves lost if they start with this book.

Fans and readers should be aware though that the last chapter or so of this book definitely acts as a “lead in” to the next book. I feel it ends on quite a cliff hanger (which I personally really hate in a series, particularly if I haven’t been forewarned and don’t have the next book on hand to continue reading). A major development occurs (not related to this books murder plot) and a major incident with one of the main characters happens all within the last few pages of the book. While I don’t exactly feel like this detracts from the book, I do hope this isn’t a frequent occurrence in upcoming books in the series.

With a well-drawn cast of main characters who I have really come to enjoy, and a very strong murder mystery plot I feel this book has a good level of tension and conflict. I found the mystery to be strongly written and suspenseful, the potential for danger to one character in particular was realistic without being overwhelming.

Overall, I found this to be a good addition to the series and I absolutely will be reading the next in the series.

Heavenfield by LJ Ross


Heavenfield by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

The hunter becomes the hunted…

When a man is found dead at the remote church of Heavenfield, DCI Ryan is the only other person for miles around. The police have no weapon, no motive and no other suspects.

Already suspended from Northumbria CID, Ryan must fight to clear his name. But soon, more than his career is at stake when prominent members of the mysterious ‘Circle’ begin to die. Somebody wants Ryan’s name to be next on the coroner’s list and to survive he must unmask the devil who walks among them – before it is too late.

Unfortunately for Ryan, the devil looks just like everybody else…

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit from LJ Ross, set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

When newly suspended DCI Ryan is found crouched over a recently murdered man, he is arrested, and things look dire. Ryan knows he must fight to clear his name, but the murdered man is an extremely close friend of Anna – Ryan’s girlfriend – and despite the fact he currently is suspended and not in a position to officially investigate Ryan can’t help himself. He needs answers and Ryan believes he is willing to face the consequences of getting them – and justice.

This is the third book in the DCI Ryan series by LJ Ross and while I enjoyed it, I have to be honest that I am starting to get tired of the shadowy sect “The Circle” that simmers below the surface of these first three books. While I feel the occult/pagan rituals and ties of the sect are interesting and they certainly add colour and flavour to the storyline, I personally feel I am ready to move on from this particular plot/sub-plot and I was hoping for a new, unconnected murder mystery. That said, I am hopeful the author may have wrapped things up enough in this book to move on to fresher ground for the next book in the series, so for now I’m willing to stick with it as the characters and writing are really quite good.

Readers may find that they need to start back at book 1 (Holy Island) and read at least these first three books in order. While there is plenty of explanation as to how DCI Ryan finds himself in his current predicament there is quite a bit of backstory around The Circle, the first murder victim and the connection to Anna that really needs the fuller explanation of the previous two books for the reader to fully grasp all the nuances of what’s going on. I have to admit had I picked up this book and simply read it by itself there are a number of factors and subtle connections that might have skipped my attention even with a very careful read of the story. I do feel these three books really need to be read together and in order for the fullest enjoyment to be reached.

I did greatly enjoy the authors writing style and feel the murder and mystery itself was very well handled, as well as some commendable tension of conflict surrounding DCI Ryan himself and his suspension from the police force. That was all very well written, and I found myself quickly sucked into the story as a whole. There is a small but solid group of main/secondary characters with Anna and the small police unit, and with a number of members of The Circle to add flair and tension there is a lot to commend to this book.

Readers who like a fair dollop of paranormal/cult like activity in with their British murder mysteries should find that this is a solid read and a good author to keep note of.

Sycamore Gap by LJ Ross


Sycamore Gap by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

The past never stays buried for long…

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan believes he has put his turbulent history behind him. Then, in the early hours of the summer solstice, the skeleton of a young woman is found inside the Roman Wall at Sycamore Gap. She has lain undiscovered for ten years and it is Ryan’s job to piece together her past.

Enquiry lines cross and merge as Ryan is forced to face his own demons and enter into a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer who seems unstoppable.

Murder and mystery are peppered with a sprinkling of romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular scenery of Hadrian’s Wall country in Northumberland.

Life has settled into a comfortable and happy routine for DCI Ryan. He is living with his lady-love, his police work fulfills him and the events from six months ago are finally turning into memories. When an old murder site is discovered in the old Roman wall at Sycamore Gap though, events and connections from the past once more threaten to steal Ryan’s happiness for good.

I really enjoyed this story. For the most part this is an excellent British police procedural story with interesting characters and a slow but well plotted murder mystery. While I feel this book can be read as a stand alone there are a number of factors that link the present mystery plot with items from the first book (Holy Island) and even the events from DCI Ryan’s past that are deeply important to him and the work at large. So while I genuinely feel readers can pick this book up and enjoy it by itself, I also strongly feel a deeper understanding and enjoyment will be gained from having read the first story – and as this is the second in a much longer running series I am beginning to feel it likely is best to read these books in order to gain a full understanding of some of the longer-running plotlines.

That said, this is an excellent and well plotted story. There are a few different factors swirling around – the cult from the Holy Island series that was never fully resolved, the serial murderer who killed DCI Ryan’s sister whom Ryan incarcerated, the relationships between the small police squad and DCI Ryan’s solid but still-new relationship with Anna. Each of these components are exceptionally written and all interlinked together marvelously and I was particularly pleased that in this book I felt Anna and Ryan’s relationship felt far less stilted or forced. I felt the balance in this book was really well handled and even and the book sang because of it.

Readers looking for a fast paced or highly action orientated story probably wont be as satisfied as I was, this book is far more procedure and “discovering who done it” based rather than running around hunting the killer and bad guy. Personally, I wasn’t bothered by this at all and found the more character and process based story really interesting and well woven. I feel readers who enjoy a series with a longer-term story arc as well as a mystery/case for each individual book should find this story and series as a whole really fits their needs.

An excellent book with good balance I am really pleased I’ve given this series a chance and am looking forward to reading more in the future.

Holy Island by LJ Ross


Holy Island by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan retreats to Holy Island seeking sanctuary when he is forced to take sabbatical leave from his duties as a homicide detective. A few days before Christmas, his peace is shattered and he is thrust back into the murky world of murder when a young woman is found dead amongst the ancient ruins of the nearby Priory.

When former local girl Dr Anna Taylor arrives back on the island as a police consultant, old memories swim to the surface making her confront her difficult past. She and Ryan struggle to work together to hunt a killer who hides in plain sight, while pagan ritual and small-town politics muddy the waters of their investigation.

Murder and mystery are peppered with a sprinkling of romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set on the spectacular Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, cut off from the English mainland by a tidal causeway.

On somewhat enforced sabbatical on Holy Island, DCI Ryan is surprised but willing when the murder of a young woman on the island forces his bosses hand into cutting his rest period short. With the window for the murder clearly proving the only suspects are those of the regular island residents, DCI Ryan initially thinks this will be a quick case and he can start to reclaim his usual life back. What at first seems a simple enough case quickly turns convoluted, with ritual and possibly pagan overtures, historical elements and more than a few skeletons in the closet Ryan quickly realizes this case will be anything but clear cut and simple.

I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and by the time I was half way through I had purchased the second in the series. While the small island was a delightfully picturesque setting with a small and sleepy coastal kind of feel, the delicious elements of a complex history and an interesting cast of characters this book from the first page had enough excellent points to capture my attention. I was so pleased that the author did an exceptional job laying out the scene – giving me as the reader enough backstory into DCI Ryan to understand where his character was coming from but still leaving plenty of mystery around him that I was eager to read and discover more.

The trappings of a “closed room mystery” also really appealed to me. With the island cut off by the tides and a set window for the murder occurring there was a definite number of suspects which on the surface makes things easier but of course people – and their secrets, skeletons and motives – are always so much more complicated than that.

The only point where I felt the author lost some ground with me with the incorporation of an attraction and fledgling romance between Dr Anna Taylor (a civilian expert called in from the University) and DCI Ryan. While I am all for a well written romance, the addition of this attraction and chemistry between Anna and Ryan felt a little stilted to me, personally, particularly at the start when there were a lot of other plot points occurring.

In most ways this is an impressive book – with a number of strong elements to the plot (the setting of the Island, the numerous characters, the police procedural aspects of the case and the pagan/ritual aspects to the crime as well as the many motives and elements of the investigation). Adding in a romance on top of that while understandable, really made me feel as if the book was somewhat bloated, particularly when I think back and realise had those romance elements been cut from the book I feel it would have been stronger – not lessened in any way for me, personally.

I also feel I should note that right at the very end of the story – when I believed all the loose ends of the plot had been very satisfactorily wrapped up, there was a bit of a twist added in the final few pages. While definitely not a cliffhanger, I feel some readers mightn’t be impressed that the author added a few extra tidbits after the murder plot had been fully revealed and solved. I have no idea if the author did this to whet the appetite of the reader to purchase the second book, which I am guessing will follow closely along behind this story and pick up on the twist in those final few pages, but instead of leaving me the reader very satisfied with a complicated – and solved – murder, it instead left me feeling as if I’d snuck a read of the first few pages of the next book and left feeling somewhat incomplete.

I should reiterate this is an exceptionally well written book. I loved the plot – it was quite complicated and well threaded together, there were a large number of interesting characters, some great police procedural work and a really striking setting. I will definitely be reading the second book in the series and count this as a new author found for my own reading pile.

Readers looking for a fast paced or action-orientated story might find this lacking for their tastes. Personally I prefer the slower, step-by-step style the book has taken. It helped give me a really good feel for the township, the setting, the characters and the overall air of the storyline. I could well understand it won’t suit all readers and many with more modern tastes would likely expect more action and drama and a faster pace. I thought the plot was very well woven together – with a few hints and tips and false leads which should keep most readers turning the pages. Overall I was really happy with the pace and writer’s style and was really pleased to have found this new series.

For a slower moving story with a delightful setting and interesting characters this is a good read and I feel it’s an excellent debut novel. I’ll certainly be checking the next story in the series out.