Restless Dead by David J Gatward


Restless Dead by David J Gatward
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

His latest case has him chasing ghosts. But the murderer is flesh-and-blood hiding in the ashes…

DCI Harry Grimm is on the cusp of a stunning decision. Considering making his move to the scenic Yorkshire Dales permanent, he ends up reviewing details of a terrible car accident that killed a retired colonel’s beloved wife. But when the panicked widower calls the police claiming the deceased woman’s spirit is haunting him, the dedicated detective wades in to piece together a less implausible explanation.

With suspicions running high after a cabin on the property burns down, Grimm and his team are shocked to identify the scorched human remains that leave behind a twice-grieving family. And when he uncovers evidence the fire wasn’t simple misfortune, the no-nonsense investigator is certain the culprit is more than a ghastly ghoul…

Can he nab the phantom killer before they vanish into thin air?

DCI Harry Grimm is settling in well to life in the Dales, both the small police force he’s working with and the friendly community. When a road accident tragically kills a woman Harry and his team are drawn into the strange goings on at Black Moss House – which the community whisper tales about, believing it was – and maybe still is – haunted. With the additional stress of a herd of valuable sheep being stolen by a seemingly well-established gang there is plenty going on for Harry and his team.

I really enjoyed this book, an excellent addition to the DCI Harry Grimm series. While the book can be read by itself, I feel readers will definitely get much more out of it having read the previous books in the series. The sheep/animal rustling plot in particular had been started in previous book and the lingering sub-plot of Harry, his brother and their father has been going on in the background for a few books now. The main plot – that of the car accident and death – along with how the family cope with their grief and the strange goings on at their home can certainly be read by itself and I feel the reader can easily enough follow along with the two plots intertwining in this story, so readers shouldn’t be too put off by it being the middle book in a series.

The slower pace and the freshness of the small-town feel and close community really was a pleasure to read, and I enjoyed how the small police force all had easily differentiated characters who were well drawn. I found them engaging and easily got sucked back into this authors world.

Readers who enjoy a solid mystery with interesting characters and a small-town feel should definitely enjoy this book, though I would recommend going back to the start of the series and enjoying each of these works. Recommended.

Think Twice by John Carson


Think Twice by John Carson
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

As the end of the year draws to a close, Detective Chief Inspector Sean Bracken is called to a murder scene near the Writer’s Museum. The body of a woman is sitting on a bench in the square, her frozen hand holding a paperback.

The book is by famous American professor of psychology and crime writer, Edwin Hawk. Who has just ended a book tour, culminating in Edinburgh.

Hawk doesn’t know her and thinks she may be just a fan of his.

Knowing he is the number one suspect, he sets out to convince Bracken of his innocence. But Bracken has dealt with people like Hawk before. Is the man telling the truth or using psychology to get away with murder?

Bracken discovers the real reason the professor is still in Edinburgh, and it’s not for Hogmanay. And when he discovers the secrets he’s been keeping, not only could his own life be in danger, but those around him.

Bracken will have to deal with not only a vicious killer but somebody who doesn’t like to lose. But Bracken has played these games before, and one of them has to lose.

And for the loser, life will never be the same again.

DCI Sean Bracken has been back in Edinburgh for only a few weeks and already he’s drawn into another murder investigation. A woman is murdered and left holding a book – the author of whom she was a strong fan of and had been to a small soiree for just hours before her death. The more DCI Bracken investigates the deeper and more complicated the mystery – and everyone’s motives – become.

This is the second book featuring Sean Bracken and I really enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of this author’s DCI Harry McNeil’s books but while the tone of the author’s voice is similar in a “more-ish” manner I was really pleased that the actual feel and structure of the story was quite different for this series. Sean Bracken is a fair bit harder and grittier than Harry McNeil and there’s a noticeable amount of more force and swearing in this series. The whole feel to the story rather than a fun romp through a police investigation is a lot harder and sharper. Readers who enjoy the darker edge many British based stories tend to lean towards should really enjoy this series and this book in particular.

I strongly feel readers can pick this book up as a standalone. The entire events of the first book were all crammed into a little over one week of story timeline – so quite a bit of explanation and background/character history was parceled out in this story. This should help keep fresh readers completely aware of what’s going on and the plot itself is very well written and completely contained in this book.

With a small cast of vibrant characters and a solid plot that kept me turning the pages and guessing well into the story this was a good book and an exceptional new series I plan to thoroughly enjoy.

Return To Evil by John Carson


Return To Evil by John Carson
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

A woman is found in a local cemetery, crushed to death under a gravestone. A production company is there, filming the remake of a classic sci-fi TV show in the grounds, making the investigation more difficult for DCI Harry McNeil. It’s his first day in charge of the cold case unit in Edinburgh. After spending four years in Professional Standards, he has little choice but to take the promotion. The Crown Office decides which cold cases should be reviewed, and this time, they’ve decided the murder of a teenage girl from twenty years ago should be re-opened. A girl who was murdered by somebody pushing a gravestone on top of her… The case gets more complicated when they find out who the latest victim is. Suddenly there are no shortage of suspects. As the filming continues, so does the killing. And McNeil wonders, has a killer been murdering for twenty years? Or is this case completely unconnected? With Frank Miller’s help, he’s going to find out…the hard way…

DCI Harry has just transferred out of Professional Standards and into the Cold Case unit. With a short period under his mentor to ease the transition for both Harry and the other officers no one expected them to suddenly pick up such a large and active case. Someone has murdered a woman in the cemetery in an identical manner to the killing of a pregnant teenage girl twenty years ago. With a film crew also currently inhabiting the cemetery shooting for a TV show there are any number of complications as Harry and his new team try to piece everything together.

I found this to be a fun and well-paced story. While this book was written after Sticks and Stones (the first in the DCI Harry McNeil series) the setting in the fictional world is shortly before Sticks and Stones – being Harry’s first case after leaving Professional Standards. It is still quite modern though and I found it was quite easy to read it out of chronological order.

There are a number of other cast members, including DCI Frank Miller who is featured in another of Carson’s series. At times I wondered if maybe there were too many secondary characters, but I feel Carson handled this quite well and I thought the story was better for having the somewhat larger size to its cast.

The mystery plot was very interesting and captured my attention pretty much from the beginning. This is a very well written police procedural style of story and Carson has an excellent writing style – the “voice” of which I really enjoy and personally I feel it flows very well and is easy to get sucked into the characters and stories. I greatly enjoy this series and am always happy to read more when each book is completed. This book – despite it being chronologically moving backwards – is no different.

A strong and well written police procedural style murder mystery book that I really enjoyed; I’ll definitely be purchasing more of Mr. Carson’s works.

Point Of No Return by John Carson


Point Of No Return by John Carson
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

An old mystery solved after thirty-five years. And a new one just beginning…Millionaire Murdo Wolf took off in a small plane from the island where he lived, and neither he nor the plane was ever seen again. Until now. The Wolf family have gathered on the island they used to call home. They’re celebrating the life of their father, Oliver Wolf, who died six months ago. Now, one of Oliver’s sons has been murdered. And when his body is discovered, so is the body of his grandfather. Did the son know where his grandfather was hidden? Did he die because of it? DCI Harry McNeil is sent to the island to investigate the cold case and track down a killer who may or may not still be there. Helping with the investigation are two detectives from Glasgow, DCI Jimmy Dunbar and DS Robbie Evans. This isn’t an open-and-shut case and they discover the killer is still lurking on the island, and the body count is increasing. But with no clear motive and no direct links to the patriarch going missing all those years ago, this is going to be one of the hardest cases Harry has ever worked on.

I found this to be an excellent addition to the DCI Harry McNeil Scottish mystery series. With a small cast of long-standing characters and an interesting murder mystery plot this book was a solid addition. Best of all while I do feel readers who have read some of the previous installments will get a deeper understanding from the book, the characters and setting is well-laid and explained fully enough that readers should feel comfortable picking this up and reading it as a stand-alone.

I greatly enjoyed the “closed room” aspect to the mystery plot. The murder occurs on a small Scottish island – off the Isle of Mull – with a limited number of local inhabitants and the members of a wealthy family who have gathered for the patriarch’s funeral service. This lent the whole book the air of an older style who-did-it sort of mystery with a limited number of people who could possibly have committed the crime – with the rich family members right at the top of the list.

Indeed, I strongly feel the characters and their interactions are what make this story so wonderful to read. The author does a really good job to my mind of writing the Scottish police characters in a realistic and relatable manner, without being too cliched or over-the-top. I found the main characters to be particularly vivid and enjoyable, their camaraderie and clearly solid relationships were really well handled and made the reading quick and pleasurable for me. While the other characters and suspects were also very well drawn I was pleased a large part of the story focused on the police investigation and interactions. This might make the plot feel a little slow moving for some readers – those used to high-octane and strongly action orientated novels – but personally I enjoyed the deeper characterizations and slightly slower pace.

Readers who enjoy closed room murder mysteries – or smaller town settings like, say Agatha Christie or more plot and character centric novels with a little less action and adrenaline, should find this book really fits the bill. I found the mystery to be interesting and well handled, though admit there is an equal – if not slightly greater – focus on the main characters and their interactions and investigation. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and look forward to the next in the series. Recommended.

Starvation Lake by John Carson


Starvation Lake by John Carson
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Brand new series from the creator of the DCI Harry McNeil and DI Frank Miller novels, comes DCI Sean Bracken.

A killer on the loose.

A killer behind bars.

And a detective caught between them…

Ailsa Connolly was a brilliant psychologist and a respected criminologist.

She was also a serial killer.

Six years ago, DCI Sean Bracken caught her just before he was about to become her seventh victim. Every year on the anniversary of her incarceration, she taunts him with a phone call, giving him one message; when I get out, I’ll kill you.

Now, Bracken has transferred back to Edinburgh from Fife and is thrown into the deep end on his first day back on duty.

There’s a killer who is emulating Ailsa, threatening to surpass her body count.

Bracken knows he needs her on board to help him track the killer down, but she’s reluctant to get involved.

Then the case takes an unexpected twist, and she agrees to help. But this new killer is taking them down a dark, twisted path, where nobody sees the outcome.

Until it’s too late.

Needing a change, DCI Bracken transfers from Fife back to his original home base of Edinburgh. He’s hoping to start a fresh chapter, but when a serial killer begins mimicking Bracken’s biggest arrest – Ailsa Connolly – he finds his life changing but not in a good way.

I really enjoyed this full length novel. It’s the first of a new series, and I was eager to try it given I’m a big fan of one of this author’s other series – DCI Harry McNeil. I found this book absolutely lived up to my expectations and I’m really pleased to now have another series to look forwards to.

I thought the pacing of this story was good. While it’s absolutely a Scottish police procedural the plot might feel a little slow to readers looking for a more action-based or full throttle type of story. Yet I found the plot really well balanced, between introducing new characters, setting up the police team so I could get a handle on all the new people, and really begin to dig my teeth into the murder mystery plot. I also enjoyed that while Ailsa – the previously caught serial killer – was a strong part of the storyline she didn’t overshadow any of the main cast of characters.

There was a very, very light touch to the first bloom of romance between DCI Bracken and one of the pathologists. I was also fairly pleased with this. I often don’t mind there being no romance at all in my mystery reading (especially the more police procedural style of stories) but I felt this book didn’t have the romance or attraction take over from the actual mystery and thriller parts of the plotline.

Readers looking for a well plotted, slower paced and character centric style of story should find this book really fits the bill. I personally adored that it was set in Scotland and felt it added a lot to the ambience and general atmosphere of the story without feeling too cliched or overdone.

A good book and a new series I’m looking forward to getting into.

Hour Of Need by John Carson


Hour Of Need by John Carson
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A death in the family. A man cut down. A cold-blooded killer with no boundaries.
DCI Harry McNeil wasn’t fond of his stepfather, but he never wished him dead. And there’s no time to comfort his mother when he’s pulled away to upscale Edinburgh to investigate a sadistic doorstep stabbing. But despite the victim having lived a perfectly ordinary life, McNeil suspects a gruesome hit.

When the deceased’s widow witnesses a dark stranger lurking in the neighborhood, the seasoned detective is certain he has the assassin in his sights. But when his hunt for the culprit swerves too close to home, McNeil fears the killings have become personal.
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Will he track down the murderer before death knocks on his own door?

DCI Harry McNeil and his girlfriend DS Alex Marshall are with Harry’s family at the funeral for his stepfather. Their grieving is interrupted when both Harry and Alex are called away for a difficult crime. A man has been brutally murdered on his doorstep practically in front of his wife and kids. The victim appears to be an ordinary man with a boring Bank job – so why does this look like a professional hit? Can Harry, Alex and their team solve this before anyone else gets hurt?

This is the fourth book involving DCI Harry McNeil and I have to admit I’m really enjoying the series. The mysteries are interesting, police procedural style of cases and while there are often a few coincidences that make me squint a little the quick pace, light tone of writing and interesting characters always have me reading these books pretty quickly. I find them very “moreish”. I’m starting to feel that Harry and Alex’s relationship – while progressing well – is the only aspect to the story that isn’t very “stand alone”, in that all other aspects of the story (the team, the plot, the victim, the crime etc) all stand very independently and well if this was the first book I had ever picked up. And while Harry and Alex are obviously explained, their connection, teasing and history thankfully isn’t rehashed over and over. So while as a reader who has been on board since the first book, I know what’s going on and how this relationship has evolved, it’s the only point I’m beginning to feel might give a pause for someone who picked this book up by itself not having read the previous ones.

I really enjoyed that in this book we get to know more about Harry’s family. His mother and brother are strong secondary characters throughout this story and his sister is also mentioned though not shown on page very much. I also really enjoyed catching up with Harry’s team again and refreshing my memory on some of the exceptionally memorable characters there.

Readers who are sensitive to character deaths should probably be warned that a supporting/secondary character dies in this book. I truly feel that this should add deeply to the plot and hopefully also the character development of Harry and I have to give kudos to the author for having the gumption to kill off an important character. I doubt it was done lightly or easily and I definitely feel it makes the story stronger for it.

Fast paced with an interesting plot and a good-sized cast of wonderful characters this is a great book and a good addition to the series. I’m eagerly looking forward to reading more.