Category Archives: Crime Fiction

The Eddie Flynn Series by Steve Cavanagh

I was brought up on crime thrillers. Nothing excited me more than watching the good guys catch the bad guys, and getting them put away for murder and fraud. I also enjoyed thrillers where an innocent person needed help to clear their name. I watched old shows like Petrocelli, where a low-key defence attorney who lived in a trailer used his skills and intellect to get his clients cleared of crimes they did not commit. (Occasionally he got it wrong, but he always stuck to the law.)

Modern shows like Law & Order, in all its incarnations, focus on both law enforcement and criminal justice, and are equally compelling in presenting the thrills and spills of the legal system. It’s deeply flawed nationally and internationally, but when it comes to fiction writing, the genre lends itself to providing many, many hours of entertainment. The current HBO show, Perry Mason, is testament to how popular crime and courtroom dramas are and will remain.

Belfast native Steve Cavanagh is a writer who’s currently riding high on the success of a series of electric and exciting novels about New York lawyer Eddie Flynn. To say Eddie is offbeat and eccentric is to do an injustice to a man who uses every trick in the book and under his sleeve to win a case, normally at great cost to himself and those around him. A former con-man and street hustler, Eddie was driven to use his skills in misdirection to help his mother during a medical insurance case.

The first novel proper in the series is The Defence. Eddie’s personal life is a mess, and he’s lost his way in life, but he’s dragged back into court with a bomb strapped to his body, and his daughter’s life in danger. Forced to defend the head of the Russian Mafia in New York, Eddie is in a literal race against time. And did I mention he’s also got a drinking problem? All of this in the first couple of chapters, too. Cavanagh wastes little time on the niceties, and we’re all the better for it. Of course, Eddie realises that no matter what he does, he’s toast, just like his former partner. So he draws on his experience on the streets and in the courtroom, and with the help of a friendly judge, uses the 48 hours he’s been given to turn the tables on his new employers. The book is high-octane, a page turner, and Eddie has always one more trick to play. The pace never lags.

Steve Cavanagh (Credit: Kelly M Photography)

After finishing The Defence, I picked up the other four available books in the series. In The Plea, the FBI and CIA blackmail Eddie into defending a client who’s been accused of murdering his girlfriend. The agencies want Eddie to get the accused man to admit his guilt and take a plea. But Eddie knows there’s more going on. In order to protect his estranged wife, who’s unknowingly tied to a money laundering scheme, he has to go head-to-head with a highly ambitious district attorney who looks down on Eddie as being unworthy of his time. This is another excellent thriller, and Cavanagh lays on the surprises and twists with dexterity.

The Liar continues the trend, with another serpentine story involving Eddie defending an acquaintance from his younger days who’s been charged with the kidnapping and murder of his own daughter. Convinced of his friend’s innocence, Eddie works the case while also helping out the friendly judge, Harry Ford, whose career is in jeopardy due to another lawyer who has demanded the release of casework on a trial the judge was working on. The Liar introduces Agent Harper of the FBI, who eventually works side-by-side with Eddie as the twists come chapter after chapter. Both plots are connected and Eddie and co. have to find out how.

My persona favourite of the series is Thirteen. Eddie is at the centre of the celebrity murder trial of the century. Bobbie Solomon, a movie star, is charged with the murders of his wife and security guard, and Eddie takes on his defence. The twist in this book is that a serial killer, known only as Kane, has found their way onto the jury. This is a premise that can only come from the mind of Steve Cavanagh. There are echoes, however faint, of John Grisham here, but Cavanagh takes his level of plotting to another universe. He mixes the chapters with first person narrative from Eddie himself, and the sinister voice of the killer. The clues as to who this person is are laid out throughout the book, so that when the big reveal comes, we’re not tricked. Bamboozled, stunned, yes; but not taken for fools. Thirteen is glorious.

The last (for now) is Fifty-Fifty, the premise of which is deceptively simple. Two sisters, Alexandra and Sofia Avellino, are accused of the murder of their father. Each blames the other for the crime. At the centre is a $44,000,000 inheritance. The sister found innocent will get the lot. The other goes to prison for life. Eddie represents Sofia, while another lawyer, Kate Brooks represents Alexandra. As in the previous novel, the guilty party, ‘She’, gets chapters to herself. So which of the two lawyers is on the winning side? Cavanagh once again piles layers upon layers of twists, surprises, intrigues, and a shocking death midway through adds to the punchy storyline.

I am in awe of Steve Cavanagh. From the first book till now, with a new one due out hopefully this year, I haven’t read anything near as compulsive and propulsive as the Eddie Flynn novels. He leaves the likes of Grisham and co. for dust.

City of Forts by Jason Beech

Growing up where I did, a suburban town within a bus ride of Dublin’s city centre, wasn’t tough, really. You could say I was born and raised in a “good” part of town. There was little trouble, schools were good, families looked out for one another; there was a community spirit that lives to this day, I believe, although I haven’t been back for years. Growing up often means moving on, moving away, sometimes to a better life, sometimes not. Luck and ambition comes into it. The 1970s and early 1980s were challenging for a lot of families around me, but if you were provided, as I was, with a decent education and a start in the jobs market, then you were already winning. Then the crash happened. And it kept on happening.

It’s still happening, for many families all over the world. Jason Beech‘s novel, City of Forts, tells of one such family, who live in an unnamed town near an unnamed city, somewhere in Midwest, USA, who are in danger of falling into the cracks of society. Caitlin Nardilo is a single mother to Ricky and Brett. She holds down three jobs so she can keep food on the table. Her husband has long since headed to the Coast and is almost completely absent from their lives. Ma doesn’t know that when she heads out to work, Ricky, 13, leaves his younger brother alone in the house for the day so he can escape to the City of Forts with his friends Liz, Bixby, and Tanais. The City of Forts is a piece of land upon which there is an disused factory and a series of abandoned houses. The four friends lay claim to this place and make it their playground. It’s the final summer before they all go to high school. Ricky is in love with Liz, who for her part is unsure about where her life is going to go. Bixby is on the run from social services, having fled his foster home, and is now among the ruins. Tanais is a young Black girl, new to the group, but still figuring out if she belongs with the group or not. They are from the Town, but the City looms nearby, offering hope and menace in equal measure.

We get used to seeing them act around each other. They make do with what cards life has dealt them, and there’s a certain sense, especially with Ricky, that this is going to be as good as it gets. Then, at the very start of the story, Liz falls through a floor and literally lands on a dead body. Not knowing what else to do, because calling the cops will only lead to them being denied access to their secret playground, they decide to bury the body, but not before Ricky steals the money from the dead man’s wallet and takes a look at his ID. This course of action brings the group to the attention of Tarantula Man, the leader of a local criminal gang, the Ghost Boys, who wants to know what happened to his friend. The children are in danger, but don’t trust an adult to help them out.

Ricky’s only saviour is Floyd, a homeless man who seems to be the boy’s guardian angel. Then there’s Mr Vale, and his son Charley, who seem to want to help, but may have an agenda of their own.

Jason Beech has an amazing way with words and characters. His evocative turn of phrase, and his ability to guide us through this story from Ricky’s point of view is breathtaking in its simplicity and execution. You can sense the impending doom from the very first chapter, and this feeling never goes away even in the novel’s quiter moments. City of Forts is beautifully paced throughout, and every character is given their moment to shine. By the time the book comes to a close, each of their lives have changed, not always for the better, it has to be said. Each of their actions demand consequences. Jason Beech is wise enough to allow his characters grow and become young adults. What they do with this new-found maturity is a story for another day. City of Forts is a compelling coming-of-age story, that crosses over into crime fiction, with teenage characters that are likeable and frustrating, just as they should be.

Alter Ego by K.A. Masson

Any book that name checks Matt Johnson’s The The, and in particular Uncertain Smile, has got to have a lot of things going for it, right? In fact, this book, Alter Ego, the debut thriller from English writer K.A. Masson, is peppered with plenty of musical references throughout its taut narrative, with two of the story’s main characters at one point going through their Spotify playlists and cranking out some banging tunes, with no decade being left out. But it was the The The reference that sat with me. I haven’t listened to this band for some time, and when I’m done writing this review, I will queue up Soul Mining and get all nostalgic.

(Image: heyitscarlyrae.com)

Alexandra (Alex) Kendrew is a single mother who lives with her young son Ned in suburban London. Estranged from the boy’s father Sean for some time when the novel begins, Alex trawls dating websites looking for love and someone to settle down with. She’s a freelance photographer who juggles her professional and personal life, and during the course of the story, drops balls on a regular basis. Some of her friends question her lifestyle choices and parenting skills, but Alex knows what she’s doing.

Or does she?

When Alter Ego begins, Alex is arrested for the attempted murder of her boyfriend Mal Russell, who was brutally stabbed the night before in the flat he shares with a friend. Alex has been identified by said friend as the woman who she admitted to the flat and subsequently stabbed Mal. Alex doesn’t believe what’s happened to her. There is no way she could’ve done what she’s accused of. She was at home with Ned. The detectives investigating the case don’t believe her, and lock her up in a cell while they collect enough evidence to charge her. Alex’s arrest happens in the first chapter, so there’s an immediacy to the story already. What the author does next is take us back four years and work us through Alex’s life until the time of her arrest.

Alex hooks up with a couple of men she met online, some better than others, but lands on Mal, who appears to be the man of her dreams. Things go pear-shaped quickly when Ned wanders in and catches them in an private but awkward moment. As Mal still holds a candle for a recent ex, he ghosts Alex shortly afterwards. She is distraught, but manages to pick herself up off the floor when Adrian comes into her life. Then things take a really nasty turn, with Adrian turning out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Not for the first time, Alex is left with a mess to sort out, but desperate to not be alone, she jumps at the chance of salvation when Mal comes back into her life.

I’ll leave it at that for the plot, for fear of giving too much away. I would prefer to leave you in the more than capable hands of K.A. Masson to take it from here. I had to remind myself that Alter Ego is a debut novel, because it reads like Ms. Masson has had a number of novels under her belt already. She is masterful at holding the story together despite having to fill in a lot of blanks over a four year period. The tension rises with each chapter, and I confess to reading the last third of the book in one late night sitting. I had to find out what happened, and I wasn’t disappointed.

K.A. Masson

One proviso, though: Alex as a character may not appeal to those who prefer their main characters whiter than white, with nary a blemish to their name. But for me, it was important to relate to Alex as a woman troubled by her past and fearful of her future. At times she is the author of her own misfortune, making the same mistakes in dating time and again, without really learning from past behaviour. This is a completely human characteristic. We want things to go well for ourselves, and when our friends point out our failures, we can sometimes take this criticism as a personal insult rather than a learning moment. Ms Masson does well by giving us a deep insight into Alex’s thought processes with her tight first person point of view. We see what Alex sees; we feel what she does; and we want her to do better. She could — and this is something to keep in mind — be an unreliable narrator. Not everthing that happens is what it seems; the same applies to the people around her.

Alter Ego is an intelligent psychological thriller with moments of violence that will make you uncomfortable. Domestic violence is a blight on modern society, and the author brings a lot of research into her story. I seriously look forward to what she writes next.

I wish to thank NetGalley and the publishers for supplying me with a copy of Alter Ego in return for an honest review.

My Year in Books and Sudoku: 2020

As we’re just weeks away from throwing 2020 into the trashcan, many websites and media outlets are doing what they can to throw a positive spin on what has been a tumultous time for citizens of this planet of ours. It’s a hard task, I know. Many of you reading this will have been directly affected by the pandemic that wreaked havoc on the way we live our lives. Some of you will have lost someone dear, and are still unable to grieve properly because of national and international social restrictions. Life hasn’t been fair, and while we see a chink of light in the near distant future, we’re still anxious as hell.

(Image: Literary Hub)

But we found ways to cope. For me, while I was apart from my family in the US, I gained solace in three things. I put a lot of effort into cooking and baking, not just for me but for my family in Ireland. Cooking for others is a sure-fire way of showing love and gratitude, and it’s something I’ve done quite a lot of this year. The second thing to give me comfort just when I needed it is a YouTube website called Cracking The Cryptic. Thanks to an article from The Guardian in May, I came across two English gentlemen, Simon Anthony and Mark Goodliffe, who live solve complex puzzles twice daily. During the course of this year, they picked up so many subscribers to their channel that they now have over 303,000 followers, with one particular video attaining over 2.1 million views. They work hard on their content, and are a joy to watch. Because of them, I now attempt theNew York Times Hard Sudoku a few times a week. We take our comfort where we find it, and if it ends up being good for our brain, well, all the better.

Thirdly, and just as important, there wasn’t a time when I wasn’t reading a book. I started the year finishing off Stephen Donaldson’s Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and began my journey to more than 40 books read in a calender year. Not a record, though: a few years back I managed over 50. One of the highlights of my reading year was James S.A. Corey’s science-fiction series The Expanse. I read books two through eight consecutively, touching nothing else until I was done. Now, like all Expanse fans, I wait for the new season to drop on Amazon in a matter of days, and the release of the ninth and final book in the series, Leviathan Falls, next year. Right now, I’m reading Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark‘s new novella. I’ll post a review of this brilliant piece of dark fantasy in a future blog.

Throughout the short life of this blog, I’ve written about many of the books and authors I’ve encountered this year. Very few, if any, let me down. And I read everything I started, including the bad boy of the bunch, Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery, a book with a reveal so racist and disgusting, it will be a long time before I try anything from that era again. But it did lead me to Martin Edwards and his Rachel Savernake series, so at least some good came out of it. I enjoyed books mainly in the mystery, thriller, and sci-fi/fantasy genre. It was the kind of year where I needed the escapism, and I doubt 2021 will change my approach. Hooking up with NetGalley allows me to request books pre-publication, and I have Caldwell Turnbull’s hotly anticpated follow-up to The Lesson, No Gods, No Monsters, to look forward to early in the New Year.

So, do I have any favourites, any book I would urge you to read right now, out of all the ones I’ve read this year so far? Well, I’ve written about Anthony Horowitz twice already, so his books and series are always a good place to start. Mary Robinette Howal’s Lady Astronaut series will always have a special place in my heart, combining science fiction and alternate history with some whip-smart and hard-hitting social commentary. Get on these if you haven’t already. Steve Cavanagh continues to knock it out of the park with his Eddie Flynn series: Fifty-Fifty was yet another stunning legal thriller that very much kept to the high standards of previous instalments. Shout-outs to Kellye Garrett and Rachel Howzell Hall for providing me and their fans with a hefty dose of LA-centred crime fiction. Their characters and prose kept me up and entertained many a long night this year. I especially loved Rachel’s And Now She’s Gone, but I can’t wait to see what Kellye has in store for us in 2021.

For the year that was in it, Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe quartet was a dream to read, and a nightmare to contemplate. I still want Rudy to cook all my dinners, though.

I hope to read at least 50 books in the forthcoming year, and it will give me great pleasure to talk about them on this website. I would appreciate the company, but with the world being the way it is right now, we’re all we’ve got and we need to stick together. Let’s live, love, read, and enjoy, and never stop caring for each other. Well done for making it through so far. I’ll see you on the other side.

Amid Rage by Joel Burcat

Mike Jacobs is a young, up-and-coming litigator in environmental law, working for the Department of Environmental Protection in the state of Pennsylvania. He knows his job, is diligent, and can go rogue now and again, working behind his boss’ back and against standard protocol to ensure the law protecting the land and the citizens that live on it are safe-guarded. Professionally he’s got what it takes. Personally, though, his life is messy.

Amid Rage is the second book in PA author Joel Burcat’s Mike Jacobs series, the first being Drink To Every Beast, which was published in May, 2019. I’ve yet to read the first book, but happily Amid Rage is enough of a stand-alone novel that doesn’t require the reader needing too much prior information: Joel Burcat fills in the blanks early on in proceedings, allowing you to plow ahead with what is quite a page-turning story.

It beings violently, with the death of a mining inspector: he’s burned to death in his home by the villain of the piece, Ernie Rinati, the owner of Rhino, a mining company. Rinati isn’t getting what he wants from the DEP, with too many conditions placed on his operations, rendering him unable to make the kind of money he feels he deserves. He’s not above pressuring homeowners into buying up their property at knock-down prices, either. Basically he’s a vile human being, valuing the life of his three-legged dog Butch over anything or anyone else. Unfortunately, though, he’s a one-note and rather cartoonish villain.

Joel Burcat’s speciality, however, is in the court room. A practicing environmental lawyer himself, the Philadelphia native brings his experience to the table, giving us courtside seats to the legal wrangles regarding permits and temporary restraining orders (TROs). All of this wouldn’t be half as exciting if there wasn’t a decent story to tell, and Burcat has one, thank goodness. At the centre of the plot is a piece of land that Rinati wants to mine on. In his way are people who own homes on that land. The DEP has allowed Rinati some leeway, but not enough. The homeowners resist his efforts and have hired an inexperienced lawyer, Miranda Clymer, to lead their lawsuit. Mike’s orders are to act as observer only, but a startling bit of sexual blackmail forces Mike to take a more active role than his department allows. (I did mention that Mike’s personal life is messy as hell, right?)

So he’s on his own, although he does, in all fairness, inspire a couple of close friends, Ben and Nicky, to help him out. If it wasn’t for the fact that Rinati is obviously insane, and has henchmen that would make Darth Vader question his choice in allies, Mike would have an easy time of it. But no! Danger lurks in every chapter of this fast-moving, and for the most part, engrossing thriller. Saying Mike Jacobs is just a lawyer is like saying Indiana Jones is just an archaeologist. Mike’s pursuit of the truth gets him and his friends into a lot of trouble, with Nicky especially feeling the full force of Rinati’s vengeance. Parts were uncomfortable to read, but in the end I see what Burcat was aiming for. In fairness, I would’ve preferred if he drew his characterisation of women better;in many instances men, including Mike Jacobs, spent far too much energy ogling their physical characteristics to the point of fantasism and wishful thinking. They’re strong characters in their own right, but I felt they needed their own agency rather than being at the beck and call and the subject of abuse from their male counterparts. Still, it was good to see such abusers get what they deserve.

Joel Burcat

Burcat brings the story to life with principled and unprincipled attorneys. I like how Mike has to deal with people from his past who haven’t made his life and career any easier for him. Watch out for Judge Diaz and Sidney Feldman. It’s in the courtroom scenes that this novel really comes to life. The action scenes are well done, too. But it’s the personal bits, where Mike questions his choices in love and romance, that need a bit more spark and care. I like Mike a lot. He has a lot to learn, but he’s willing to work hard, and he makes it up as he goes sometimes. Which is what most of us are doing right now, I guess. I give Burcat praise for writing a book that I pretty much enjoyed reading. I expect him to get better the more he writes and publishes.

I thank NetGalley and the publishers for supplying me with a copy of Amid Range prior to publication (Feb 2021) in return for an honest review.

Martin Edwards’ Rachel Savernake Series

The website CrimeReads has become a veritable cornucopia: a treasure trove of authors, genres, concepts, covering all four corners of the world of detective, mystery, and thriller fiction. Long before this blog came into being, I scoured CrimeReads looking for new books to explore and new authors to follow. It’s how I found out about many of the authors you’ll read about here, including Rachel Howzall Hall and Kellye Garrett.

Martin Edwards (Image: Goodreads)

Martin Edwards has become my newest obsession. I grew up on Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. Later on, I read Ruth Rendell and PD James, favouring the more erudite detective, looking for perhaps the modern Sherlock Holmes. Now, I know no one can take Holmes’ place in the detective fiction Hall of Fame; so much so that many authors, including Anthony Horowitz, continue his adventures for emerging generations, thanks to the BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary. But a lot of authors choose to set their mysteries in a similar era to the aforementioned greats. Mr Edwards is one of them.

Welcome to the strange and unsettling world of Rachel Savernake, a wealthy heiress and amateur sleuth. Set in and around London of the 1930s, Gallows Court harks back to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, hitting the ground running with an assortment of gothic characters and atmosphere. Indeed, as you work your way through the pages of this book, you can almost smell the gas from the streetlamps and hear the hooves of horses as carriage hurtle through a fog-filled city. So far, so very comfortable for Holmesians alike. I felt at home.

(Image: Goodreads)

Rachel Savernake is the enigmatic daughter of a notorious hanging judge, and the story of her childhood on the island of Gaunt in the Irish Sea, as well as her frosty relationship with a girl named Juliet Bretano, runs concurrently with the main plot of the novel: in which a journalist, Jacob Flint, new to London and intent on making a name for himself as a crime reporter, is both helped and hindered by Rachel when their separate investigations of a series of bizarre and gruesome murders and apparent suicides result in a meeting of minds and resources.

It’s important to note that every character in Gallows Court is vital to the story. From the flashback events on Gaunt to the newsrooms of The Clarion, the paper Jacob writes for; from the backstreet hovels, to the secluded London mansion that Rachel calls home, no detail, no person, is wasted. Nothing is thrown away. I was glued to each page and couldn’t wait to finish, because there was a second book to hit up: Mortmain Hall.

It’s not a spoiler to reveal that both main players, Rachel and Jacob, live to solve another case. And this is yet another violent conundrum that is more cross-country than Gallows Court, with the bulk of the action taking place at the eponymous Mortmain Hall, owned by Leonora Dobell, a criminologist obsessed with murderers who appear to have gotten away with their crimes. She enlists Rachel’s help. The heiress is intrigued because her attempt to prevent the murder of Gilbert Payne, a man presumed dead who returned to England for his mother’s funeral, ended in failure. Leonora’s invitation to Rachel to attend a weekend at the Hall provides her and Jacob with the key to unlock several mysteries.

(Image: Goodreads)

Rachel knows much more than she ever lets on to Jacob. In fact, only her inner circle of attendants know the full script in advance. Every twist in the story, when you think about it after, is cleverly foreshadowed in the pages of both books. Gallows Court sets up Martin Edwards’ universe, and then Mortrain Hall picks up the already frenetic pace and has an absolute ball with political conspiracies, secret societies, identity theft, and a million different gruesome ways to die. Unlike most Golden Age detective fiction, the blood is on the page, but these are not gratuitously violent books. A lot of the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek, and the main characters possess a sense of justice that is both charming and blood-curdling.

Martin Edwards was recently awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in the genre. Up unti a month or so ago, I had never read his work. Now, for sure, I will eat up whatever I can get my hands on. Do yourself a favour, if you love your detective fiction historical and bloody, grab these books with both hands and enjoy the mayhem.

Check out Martin’s website, too. It’s a feast of articles, advice for writers, and you might as well take a look at his new non-fiction book, The Golden Age of Murder, a must-have for detective fiction fans everywhere.

Detective By Day: Kellye Garrett

AN APPRECIATION

My previous post recommended Rachel Howzell Hall’s new novel, as well as her back catalogue (seriously, why are you waiting?). Another Black writer to feature on BestBub’s 100 Best Crime Novels Of All Time is Kellye Garrett. Eight years of working in Hollywood, including writing for the TV show Cold Case gave Kellye an insider’s view on the rat-race that is entertainment’s premier capital town. Like Rachel, Los Angeles is in Kellye’s heart, blood, and soul.

Kellye Garrett (Image: author’s website)

Her two books to date feature Dayna Anderson, an actress who was well known for being the face behind the Chubby Chicken commericals (I don’t think so, boo!), and is consistently almost recognised wherever she goes (Didn’t we go to high school together?). Now broke and unable to afford gas, Dayna has taken up residence in a room the size of a closet at her best friend Sienna’s apartment. She’s a proud woman who refuses to capitalise on her fame, instead she’s focusing on how she can save her parents’ home from going into foreclosure.

An opportunity arrives in the form of a billboard asking for information on the hit-and-run death of local shop worker Haley Joseph. As luck would have it, on the night of the incident, Dayna and her friends were witnesses to what would turn out to be murder. There’s a $15,000 reward offered for any imformation that leads to apprehension and conviction. So Dayna decides there and then to become an amateur sleuth. This is the premise for the first Detective By Day novel, Hollywood Homicide.

We are introduced to Dayna’s friends. Sienna I’ve mentioned briefly, but she’s a hoot. Chasing Instagram likes and trolling Twitter feeds for gossip, Sienna opens doors that were once held open for Dayna, as well as casting off her considerable collection of shoes and clothes to Dayna once she’s done with them. With an ego the size of a small planet, Sienna is ever-present at Dayna’s side, even when they fall out (which is a lot over the two books). Emme is more than just a computer nerd: she’s the anti-social twin sister of Oscar-nominated actress Toni Abrams, and deserves a series devoted to just her. Omari Grant is Dayna’s on-again-off-again boyfriend. Now the leading man of a cop show franchise, Omari and Dayna’s relationship hits more hurdles than an out-of-shape athlete, but the spark (once it hits) is dynamite. Completing the main cast is Aubrey S. Adams-Parker, an enigmatic ex-cop with a weird taste in orange reflector suits, who may or may not be in need of a partner.

And that’s not all. Add in Nina, Omari’s agent and (in book two, Hollywood Ending) a murder suspect, and The Voice at the other end of the police tip-line, the wonderful support cast is complete. Suspects come and go — sometimes permanently gone — but the core group doesn’t change over the two books.

Hollywood Ending gives us a front-row seat at the Silver Sphere Awards, where Omari is nominated as Best Actor. When Lyla Davis, a publicist for Silver Sphere is killed at an ATM robbery, Dayna and her team have a crack at solving it. It’s a more complex investigation than Hollywood Homicide, and when the situation calls for it, the potential for slapstick comedy, about-turns, mortal danger, and snappy dialogue is heightened to a fantastic level.

What I love about the Detective By Day series is its wit and freshness. Dayna Anderson takes her job seriously, but her sense of self-esteem nonetheless gets a bruising over the course of the two books’ pages. Her friends, though, are always there for her, and try to keep her out of harm’s way. Yes, Dayna needs the money, but she’s a fighter for truth and justice as well. She’s also very funny. In the midst of all the murder and mayhem, Dayna has a delightfully cynical attitude to all things Hollywood, but she loves it all the same.

The intended third book in the series, Hollywood Hack, is, according to Kellye’s website, still in draft, awaiting a new publishing deal. In the meantime, she’s working on a new novel. I await both breathlessly.

Hollywood Homicide: Paperback, 306 pages. Published August 8th 2017 by Midnight Ink

Hollywood Ending: Paperback, 312 pages. Published August 8th 2018 by Midnight Ink

And Now She’s Gone: Rachel Howzell Hall

Rachel Howzell Hall is a writer I introduced myself to last year. Featured on the crime writing website CrimeReads as an author to watch out for, in a genre typically dominated by white writers, and because I love a good series, I picked up the first novel in Rachel’s Detective Elouise (Lou) Horton’s quarter, Land of Shadows. Over the next year or so, I read all four and found myself a little in love with Horton’s voice and character. Possessing the traits a women needs to survive in the cut-throat world of policing, Lou Horton also carries with her a desire for justice, the love of family and friends, her own messy private life, and the pride of being a Black women in the streets of Los Angeles.

Rachel Howzell Hall (Image: Goodreads)

Four books in, with Rachel seemingly done with Lou for the time being, this talented writer wrote a stand-alone thriller in the vein of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a beautifully paced and meticulous thriller called They All Fall Down. It was a change of scenery for Rachel, one I thoroughly enjoyed. She then followed it up with And Now She’s Gone.

Grayson Sykes works as a private investigator for Radar Consulting, and is charged with her first real case: find Isabel Lincoln, a woman with more secrets than an intelligence agency, a woman who very well might not want to be found. But Gray’s client is an acquaintance of her boss Nick, so she has to do her due diligence. Ian O”Donnell, Isabel’s not-so-distraught husband is more concerned about his missing dog than he is about his wife, leading Gray to think he’s hiding his own skeletons. A surprise meet-up with Isabel’s new best friend in a bar early in the story confirms Gray’s suspicions: Isabel is a victim of domestic abuse.

(Image: Goodreads)

Running parallel to the main story is a subplot about a woman called Natalie Dixon, herself on the run from an abusive relationship. Although it doesn’t take long for the reader to conclude that Natalie and Grayson are one and the same person, the complexities that Gray’s background bring to the hunt for Isabel Lincoln aren’t that simple to work out. It doesn’t take long for Gray’s two worlds to collide.

This is a novel about survival, and I think Rachel Howzell Hall’s protagonists wear this mantle in all of her books. In fact, Grason Sykes and Lou Horton could very well be close friends if they were ever to meet. They both share elements in their histories that have led them to become the strong women they are. Their successes come at a cost, but never to their humanity – which is important. When they’re on your side, they will not rest until the case is closed and the truth has been delivered.

And Now She’s Gone never goes where you expect it. It’s a literal page-turner, filled with suspense and surprise, and when I finished the book I immediately went on Twitter and asked Rachel for more. You probably will, too. It’s that good.

And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall (Forge Books, $27.99 hardcover, 384p., 9781250753175, September 22, 2020)

The Moonflower Murders

Since the start of the pandemic, I have found solace in books. Sudoku, too. But when I wasn’t cooking and baking for family, and trying to work out where a 9 went in box 3 of the grid, books have been my constant companions. Throughout 2020, no writer has kept me company more times than Anthony Horowitz.

A prolific writer in all forms of the art, Horowitz is known to all as the creator of classic TV shows like Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, and has written a number of well received episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. His YA adventure series featuring teenage spy Alex Rider recently premiered on Amazon in the form of a big budget adaptation. I haven’t read any of this series, but the Amazon show is a lot of fun and I hope for news of renewal soon. It’s worth your time.

I will examine Horowitz’s James Bond and Sherlock Homes novels at a later date, but for now I want to focus on The Moonflower Murders, his sequel to 2016’s Magpie Murders, both featuring publisher Susan Ryeland and, in a novel-within-a-novel twist, Atticus Pund. Pund features in a series of detective fiction edited by Ryeland for her publishing house, and is the creation of the now-deceased author Alan Conway. In Magpie Murders, Conway’s unpublished manuscript is the basis of an elaborate whodunnit, and is replete with wordplay, hidden clues, murder and mayhem, ultimately ending in a face-off in a burning building with the murderer. It’s a lot, but by God is it satisfying! I urge you to read Magpie Murders before starting Moonflower.

Anthony Horowitz

Following the events of the first book, Susan Ryeland now lives in Crete with her Greek partner and together they run a Bed & Breakfast. Ryeland thinks of home a lot, and while she loves her partner very much, they’re under considerable financial and personal strain. So it’s no wonder Ryeland jumps at the chance of solving another mystery when an English couple arrive at the B&B, asking for her help in finding their missing daughter who was last seen reading an Atticus Pund novel. The couple, who own a hotel in England, itself the scene of a murder some years back, worry for their daughter’s safety, and because Conway himself was a guest at the hotel, they hope Ryeland can offer assistance. She agrees, mainly because she’s a sucker for a mystery, but also because she’s been offered a cash reward plus expenses, and she needs the money for the business.

The book the missing girl was reading is Atticus Pund Takes The Case, and the entire short novel forms the centrepiece of this complex tale. Horowitz takes obvious delight in putting Ryeland and his readers through the mill in the pages of The Moonflower Murders. Alan Conway’s disdain for humans and human nature is prevalent throughout the narrative, and although he’s dead (this is not a spoiler; he’s very much dead at the beginning of Magpie Murders), his presense is very much palpable. Ryeland has to untangle a mystery that once again places her in mortal danger.

The Moonflower Murders is a delightful read, one I gobbled up in a couple of sittings almost as soon as it was published. It’s twisty, it contains more red herrings than you can bake a fish pie with, and even manages to save the perfect surprise for the epilogue. It’s the perfect blend of classic Golden Age detective fiction and contemporary settings. Dame Agatha would be proud, as would Detective Chief Superintendant Foyle. I’m not sure what the denizens of Midsomer would make of it, though.