Twelve books we’ve enjoyed reading in the past month.

Several of the books we read last month were the first of a successful series or, in one case, a prequel that was inserted into the middle of a series. Whatever… all of them proved to be great to read and useful too, in that they filled in some of the gaps we’ve found in later stories. We list our reviews in descending order, by author.

Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry
This is a difficult book to review without giving too much away, but Oxo assures us it’s an absolutely top-notch psychological thriller! Two women on a road trip, although they have never met before. When a truck pulls up fast behind them, they assume the aggression is run-of-the-mill road rage but it soon becomes clear they are being hunted. Each chapter provides a bit more of the backstory of each of the women and it’s totally absorbing. Oxo wouldn’t have picked this off the library shelf but it arrived in her Mystery Selection and she’s so glad it did. When it was published last year it had terrific reviews, and A.J. Finn said of it “… part chase thriller, part psychological suspense, altogether audacious, wholly ingenious.” Oxo awards 4+ Stars.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty
Feebs says this was so good she just couldn’t put this multi-award-winning novel down. Complex and interesting, even when the plot lagged a bit. The protagonist, Rachel, is pitchforked into a heinous money-making scheme when her teenaged daughter is abducted from a bus stop. Rachel receives a call telling her that she will only get her daughter back if she pays a ransom and then finds another child to kidnap. She is now part of The Chain, a scheme that turns victims into criminals. But Rachel proves to be more resilient than most and she’s not going to make things easy for the mastermind of the The Chain. It’s totally gripping and Feebs will be looking for more by this author. 4+ Stars.

The Diplomat’s Wife by Michael Ridpath
It’s 1979 and Emma, aged 64, travels to Europe to revisit the places where she and her diplomat husband were posted before World War II. She has an inoperable brain tumour so she takes her 18-year-old grandson, Phil, with her to do the driving; and because she wants to tell someone her story before she dies. And what a story! Told in two timelines – 1979 and the pre-war years – it’s a tale of espionage, deception, murder, betrayal and more. The tension ramps up because, it turns out, the pre-war and present day intermingle. And with MI6 and the KGB still involved, the road trip through Germany, France and Spain is anything but straightforward. Cornish Eskimo really enjoyed it and rated it 4+ Stars.

Prince of Spies by Alex Gerlis
The Richard Prince series is set in Europe and England during WW2, and in its immediate aftermath. Prince is a police detective from Lincolnshire who is recruited by the secret service. Eve says they are very well written, good on atmosphere and tension, and seem to be very well researched. All of them have complex plots with characters who are utterly believable.  So far there are three books in the series, which starts with Prince of Spies. She’s read all of them and says they’re each worth 4+ Stars and she’s looking forward to the next (and final) book which is due out in April. She also recommends Gerlis’s Spy Masters series, also four books, and each again earning 4+ Stars.

Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle
This story, about a wife on the run, is told from the perspective of three different people. There’s Beth, who’s left home and is running from her abusive husband; Jeffrey, whose wife, Sabine, has disappeared; and Marcus, a police detective trying to find the missing woman. But are the two women one and the same, and who are Jeff and Marcus? As the plot progresses it’s obvious that no-one is quite as they seem. This is a twisty psychological thriller that Freyja says has an unexpected and rather satisfactory ending. She enjoyed it so much she’s looking for more books by this author. 4-Stars.

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
Oxo first discovered the Shetland series featuring Jimmy Perez through the television series, and she then got hooked on the books. But she’d never read this one before, which is Book 1, so it was the ‘missing link’ that filled in Jimmy’s backstory and provided lots of extra detail. And she loved it! Fran Hunter discovers the body of her teenage neighbour, Catherine, who has been strangled. Jimmy is considered too inexperienced to manage a murder inquiry on his own, so a senior policeman is sent across from Inverness. The locals strongly believe the murderer to be a young man called Magnus Tait but it’s not long before suspicions appear about others. Oxo says the story was interesting and complex, and the murderer came as a complete surprise to her. 4-Stars.

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths
Book 8 in the Ruth Galloway series and Ruth’s friend, Hilary, has been getting unpleasant letters on the fact that she is a priest. She tells Ruth about it while she is on a course near Walsingham. When a model staying at a clinic nearby is murdered, the police investigators (led by Ruth’s friend DCI Nelson) wonder if the letters are connected in some way. Is someone out to threaten and kill women? Norfolk Gal enjoyed the twists and turns of this novel, and the links to the passion play that took place at the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham. She gives it 4-Stars.

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths
This isn’t an intricate or thought-provoking novel, but it is an entertaining mystery – and none the worse for that! It’s Book 13 in the Ruth Galloway series so it’s maybe no surprise that, in places, the plot feels a bit ‘samey’. After all, there’s only so much you can do to insert an archaeologist into a police investigation. This time there’s the discovery of a Bronze Age skeleton alongside more than a few murders. What sets these books apart from many run-of-the-mill mysteries is that Elly Griffiths writes with such a light touch and wry humour, which always makes them fun to read. Cornish Eskimo gives it 4-Stars.

The Infirmary by L.J. Ross
Although this is actually Book 10 in the DCI Ryan series, which is set in Northumberland, Norfolk Gal thinks it should be read first as it is a prequel. Readers are introduced to DCI Ryan and his team and it’s a helpful starting-point for the series. A murderer, known as The Hacker (for obvious reasons) enjoys killing and making an art of the deed and also enjoys taunting the police. Ryan has a tight team, with his sidekicks Philips and Mackenzie, and in many ways, this is the case which defines and haunts them. Norfolk Gal is a fan of these books and recommends them, saying they are an easy read and very enjoyable. She’s now read all of them and gives this one 4-Stars.

With our Blessing by Jo Spain
Book 1 in the DI Tom Reynolds series. When the body of an elderly nun is found in Phoenix Park, Dublin, in the dead of winter, it seems possible the murder is linked to the Magdalene Laundries. The nun had once lived in a convent that had been one of the laundries and the police team head out into the Irish countryside to investigate. The story is well written, the characters very believable and the plot draws you in. And it has a surprising, if sad, ending. This was the first book of Jo Spain’s that Mo has read but it won’t be the last. 4-Stars.

The Health of Strangers by Lesley Kelly
This debut novel, published in 2017, is intriguing, interesting and now very topical. The story is set in Edinburgh, but in a different present to ours. The world is in the grip of a pandemic – a flu virus, simply known as The Virus. It mainly attacks young adults and has been around for several years, so monthly health checks are mandatory and policed by Health Enforcement Teams. One of these teams gets caught up with the disappearance of several young female students who are deeply involved in a Virus inspired religious revival; and there’s also the smuggling and dealing of a drug that’s said to prevent the Virus. It’s a pretty complicated story but with interesting characters, and it’s an uncanny read given our current situation. Freyja gives it 3+ Stars.

A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
Another Book 1 of a series, this time by American author Deborah Crombie, which is set in a timeshare complex near Thirsk in Yorkshire. Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is on holiday there when a body is found and he quickly realises the death wasn’t an accident. As he gets involved in tracking down the killer the investigation reveals more links between the different guests than had first been thought; and there are more deaths before the case is resolved. Mo had picked this up in a charity shop without realising it was an American edition and she said her enjoyment was spoilt by the Americanisations (language and spelling) and although this sounds a bit picky, it was really grating. 3-Stars.  

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