Review: The Dinner Lady Detectives by Hannah Hendy

 

Title: The Dinner Lady Detectives

Author: Hannah Hendy

Published: 18th November 2021, Canelo

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Canelo/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

When the body of Caroline Hughes is discovered in the walk-in freezer of the Summerview secondary school kitchen, her colleagues are stunned. The police are quick to reassure the dinner ladies that their elderly kitchen manager’s death was simply a tragic accident, but when long time employees Clementine Butcher and Margery Baker, espy the coolroom’s bloodied innards, they disagree. With little more than a hunch and a stray earring to go on, Clementine and Margery begin their own investigation, determined that whoever is responsible will get their just desserts.

Having enjoyed a number of cozy mysteries featuring elderly amateur sleuths recently I had quite high expectations for The Dinner Lady Detectives, but unfortunately I felt its potential was unrealised.

I thought the basic premise for the story was appealing, and I enjoyed several scenes, but I found the way in which the mystery played out was disappointing. It almost seemed as if several of the mystery plot elements were an afterthought, and the clues felt disjointed. The plot was also hampered by slow pacing and there was a lack of suspense generally expected in a mystery.

I did like Clementine and Margery, a couple of some thirty years living quietly in the tiny village of Dewstow, South Wales, but I sometimes had difficulty distinguishing between them. The rest of the cast was problematic in that few held much appeal, including the victim who had a fondness for mean-spirited pranks.

While I wouldn’t consider The Dinner Lady Detectives to be a terrible read, I’m afraid I did find it lackluster at best.

+++++++

Available from Canelo

Or from your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Amazon

Review: The Maid by Nita Prose

 

Title: The Maid

Author: Nita Prose

Published: 20th January 2022, HarperCollins Australia 

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley 

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“Today at work, I found a guest very dead in his bed. Mr. Black. The Mr. Black. Other than that, my work day was as normal as ever.”

 

The Maid is a quirky dark comedy cozy murder mystery from Canadian book editor turned debut author, Nita Prose.

Molly Gray is a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel, a five-star boutique hotel. Completing every task with the good humour, efficiency and attention to detail her late grandmother encouraged in her, she loves everything about her job from donning the crisply laundered uniform to fluffing pillows. Discovering a VIP hotel guest very dead in his bed not only disrupts Molly’s daily routine but very quickly her whole life when the police name her as a suspect.

Told from her point of view, twenty-five year old Molly is an endearing character, sweet and artless but also socially awkward. Raised by her grandmother, who recently passed away, Molly clings to her routines, struggling to adapt to a life without her. Her work is all she has, and though she is generally content to be invisible as she carries out her duties, Molly, who has trouble interpreting nuance, is susceptible to people willing to take advantage of her.

It seems absurd that anyone would consider Molly capable of murder, it appears obvious that she’s unwittingly been manipulated into a vulnerable position by a desperate wife and a roguish barman. In fact there doesn’t seem to be much to the mystery of Charles Black’s death at first, so disclosures later in the story came as a brilliant surprise. There is unexpected depth to The Maid which is easily overlooked, reflecting the complexity of Molly’s own personality. It’s with her Gran’s advice echoing in her head, and the help of a few true friends at the Regency Grand, that Molly begins to blossom, and find a way out of her predicament.

Prose seems to have been partially influenced by movies such as Clue, and Knives Out, the former obvious given the character’s names associations with colour, and the cozy eccentricity of the latter. Already optioned for development The Maid will translate well to the screen.

Clever, heartwarming and charming, The Maid is an absolute delight to read.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: A Little Bird by Wendy James

 

Title: A Little Bird

Author: Wendy James

Published: 30th November 2021, Lake Union Publishing

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Lake Union Publishing/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Little Bird is an intriguing, character-driven mystery from Australian author Wendy James.

When the end of her relationship coincides with learning her father is ill, journalist Jo Sharpe reluctantly returns to her home town of Arthurville in western New South Wales to take up a position at the town’s local newspaper. Her father, a grumpy alcoholic, bitter about his wife’s desertion over twenty years ago, hasn’t changed much but the town, in the grip of drought, is in obvious decline.

One of Jo’s first assignments for the Arthurville Chronicle, which is really not more than a community newsletter, takes her to Pembroke, her wealthy grandmothers estate on the outskirts of town. The Beaufort’s are little more than strangers to Jo, given they disowned her mother, Miranda aka Merry when she married Jo’s working class father, and failed to reach out even after Merry vanished, taking Jo’s baby sister Amy with her, in 1995.

Confronted with her past, Jo is motivated to re-examine her mother’s disappearance, and makes a shocking discovery that changes everything.

Shifting between the past and present, as Merry’s history unfolds, exposing her frame of mind prior to her disappearance, Jo’s narrative, set in 2018, is related in the first person.

Jo is a well-developed, likeable character. She presents as resilient, smart and determined, though her vulnerabilities, stemming from her mother’s abandonment, her father’s neglect, and the collapse of her long term romantic relationship, are evident.

The small community of Arthurville is realistically portrayed, a conservative rural town affected by drought and the subsequent economic downturn. Of its residents I was fond of local vicar Shep, with whom Jo rekindles a relationship, as well as the teens he is mentoring.

Jo’s investigation begins as she reconnects with the people from her past, most notably her mother’s friend, Kirsty, who provides Jo with some information that prompts her to look at Merry’s disappearance differently. While I felt the pacing was a little slow through the first half of the novel, there is a gradual increase of tension during the second half. I really liked the way the mystery played out, I thought James’ plotting was clever, and I was anxious to understand Merry and Amy’s fate.

A slow-burning, but gripping domestic thriller, I enjoyed A Little Bird.

++++++++

Available from your preferred retailer via

Amazon Int I Booko I Book Depository 

Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan

 

Title: The Sorority Murder

Author: Allison Brennan

Published: 28th December 2021, MIRA

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

The Sorority Murder is a gripping novel of loyalty, betrayal, and murder from Allison Brennan.

For his college Capstone Project, Forensics student, Lucas Vega has launched a podcast in the hopes of solving the cold case murder of popular nursing student, Candace Swain. Three years ago Candace left the Sigma Rho Spring Fling after an argument with a few of her sorority sisters, and disappeared, her body was discovered a week later in a nearby lake. The podcast isn’t gaining the traction Lucas hoped, even with some bombshell revelations, until his advisor connects him with former US Marshall, Regan Merritt. As listeners finally begin to respond to his pleas for information, Lucas and Regan attempt to make sense of the secrets they uncover, but someone is determined that the truth remain buried, even if it means more die.

Though the story is a little slow to get moving, I soon found myself engrossed in The Sorority Murder. The mystery surrounding the disappearance and murder of Candace  is intriguing. Though the police believe an alcoholic, homeless vet known to trespass on the University grounds is likely responsible, as additional details surface, it becomes clear that the circumstances of the crime don’t support the theory.

Short diary entries by Candace placed through the narrative hint at a dark secret she carried, which Lucas and Regan slowly piece together, bringing them closer to exposing the killer. I had an inkling of the ‘who’ early on, that was proved correct, though I didn’t fully grasp the ‘why’ until Brennan chose to reveal it. There’s not a lot of suspense in the novel until Lucas begins receiving threats, and then the tension rises sharply when another young woman dies.

Lucas is an appealing character, while his motive for the Sorority Murder podcast isn’t quite as it seems, his intentions are good, he’s just a bit naive to the realities of what he is trying to achieve. Former US Marshal Regan Merritt tends to overshadow Lucas once she is introduced. She’s a more well rounded and capable character, and I found her, and her backstory, to be interesting. There is a suggestion that The Sorority Murder will be the first in ongoing series to feature Regan, which I think could work well.

Entertaining and absorbing, I enjoyed The Sorority Murder.

+++++++

Available from Harlequin

Or from your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I Amazon

Review: Bad Habits by Sarah Evans

 

Title: Bad Habits {DI Eve Rock #2}

Author: Sarah Evans

Published: 1st September 2021, Clan Destine Press

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Clan Destine Press

+++++++++

My Thoughts:

Bad Habits by Sarah Evans is an entertaining romantic mystery featuring Detective Inspector Eve Rock.

With both her house and her car nothing more than ashes after being blown up by a drug baron, Eve has temporarily moved in to the exclusive St Immaculata’s School for Girls in Perth with her mother, former prostitute turned schoolmistress nun, Sister Immaculata, and her 16 year old daughter, Chastity. It’s Christmas, and Eve is desperate for some distance from her disapproving mother, her volatile daughter, the father, Henry Talbot, she was only introduced to a fortnight ago, and colleagues and romantic rivals, Quinn Fox and his son Adam, so it’s fortunate that the festive season gifts Eve a series of gas fires in the CBD, a multi-million dollar jewellery and art heist, a murdered man in a skip bin, and body parts in a freezer to keep her busy.

Bad Habits the same energy as Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, with its mix of faintly ridiculous comedy, crime and romance. Eve isn’t as hapless as Stephanie, but she’s definitely a magnet for trouble, hard on vehicles, and torn between the men in her life.

There is plenty of drama, both professionally and personally for Eve as she tracks tattoo artists selling inked flesh as artwork, brazen jewellery thieves, and discovers suspicious behaviour in the school basement, all while attempting to dodge a sociopath bent on revenge. Eve is also preoccupied with uncooperative insurance agents, getting to know her father, a flirtatious lawyer, and finding the right time to tell Chastity that Quinn is her dad, not to mention her attraction to Quinn, and his son. There is rarely a dull moment as Eve is shot at, abducted, framed for a murder, and drugged (twice).

The story is busy, but well crafted and moves at a good pace. Evans has a keen sense of comedic timing and I enjoyed the snark and banter of the dialogue. Though Bad Habits is a sequel to Operation Paradise, it works well as a stand alone.

An engaging read, I found Bad Habits to be a fun crime caper, and I’d be happy to read more.

++++++

Available from Clan Destine Press

Also available from your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath

 

Title: Kill Your Brother

Author: Jack Heath

Published: 30th November 2021, Allen & Unwin

Read: December 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A twisted tale of revenge and redemption, Kill Your Brother is a thrilling novel from Jack Heath.

When Elise Glyk’s brother, Callum, disappears, no one will believe her, a proven liar and cheat, when she tells them something is very wrong. As days turns into weeks, Elise refuses to give up, changing her appearance and masquerading as a private investigator in the hopes that people will answer her questions if they don’t recognise her. It’s while tracing an unusual purchase of her brother’s that Elise realises she is being followed, and tracks the stalker to an isolated farmhouse, where she finds Callum being held in an underground tank. Before she can raise the alarm she finds herself a captive too, but Stephanie Hartnell is willing to give Elise her freedom, as long she agrees to kill her brother.

This edition of Kill Your Brother is a novel length expansion of an Audible original novella of the same name, but there doesn’t seem to be any padding. The story is well-written with a tight, cleverly crafted plot and developed characterisation.

Heath is skilled at turning the tables on his characters, and by extension the reader, with twists that surprise and shock. There is a lot of convincing, well paced tension as Elise tries to understand why Stephanie, a seemingly ordinary women in her late 40’s, has tortured her brother for weeks, and now wants him dead. Callum claims to be baffled by the woman’s vendetta, and Elise has no reason not to trust the only person who has been on her side through scandal and scorn. As long as Stephanie thinks Elise is just a PI, Elise hopes she can convince her to let them both go. When that fails, there are some gripping action scenes as Elise and Callum fight to save themselves from a determined assailant.

Provocative, entertaining and exciting, Kill Your Brother is a great read.

+++++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Canticle Creek by Adrian Hyland

 

Title: Canticle Creek

Author: Adrian Hyland

Published: 1st December 2021, Ultimo Press

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Ultimo Press

+++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

It’s been a decade since I have read Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road and Diamond Dove yet both Australian crime novels remain favourites, so I jumped at the opportunity to read Canticle Creek.

When Kulara police officer Jesse Redpath learns about the death of Adam Lawson, a young man from her Northern Territory community, the circumstances don’t make sense to her. Serendipitously, an invitation for her artist father to an exhibition in Melbourne, gives Jesse the opportunity to visit Canticle Creek and do a little investigating of her own.

Canticle Creek is a gripping murder mystery, just a brief examination of the crime scene is enough to convince Jesse that the police, who believe Adam killed his girlfriend, Daisy, and died when his car left the road as he attempted to flee, are wrong. Looking for an alternative narrative, Jesse puts several of the locals, and a Melbourne mobster, offside as she noses around the small community.

Hyland’s deft plotting has several suspects in the frame for the murder, and it took me a while to eliminate all but one. There’s plenty of well paced action as Jesse gets closer to the truth and becomes a target of a killer determined to stop her asking questions. A bushfire that rips through the drought stricken town also adds enormous tension in a thrilling climax.

Jesse’s an appealing protagonist, a thoughtful and capable and police officer, with investigative skills learnt from Danny Jakamarra, the Aboriginal Community Police Officer, whom she works with in Kulara. I liked the character of Possum, the teenage friend of the murdered woman, and the surprise of Nadia’s character. There’s an authenticity to Hyland’s characters generally, both in the way they talk and act, that gives them substance.

The writing is polished and engaging, and the dialogue has a familiar rhythm. The setting is recognisably Australian, Hyland’s prose effortlessly evokes the baking hot weather, and varied landscape of rural Victoria.

A well-crafted, absorbing mystery with strong characterisation, Canticle Creek is gripping crime fiction, and I hope Hyland has plans for more.

+++++++

Available from Ultimo Press

Or from your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: The Waterhole by Lily Malone

 

Title: The Waterhole

Author: Lily Malone

Published: 21st November 2021, Lily Malone Publishing

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy the author

Read an excerpt

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Australian author Lily Malone, best known for her rural romance series, ‘The Chalk Hill’, dips into the crime genre with The Waterhole.

When human bones are discovered in what once was waterhole on the edge of a suburban development, Detective Marley West and Constable Brigit Winger, are tasked with unraveling a complicated cold case that opens old wounds in the community of Cowaramup, Western Australia.

Three timelines reveal a feud between brothers, Jack and Bill Ross, stretching back almost half a century, the predatory instincts of a itinerant traveller, and the legacy of Marley’s late grandfather, a corrupt cop. To learn the identities of the bodies buried in the waterhole, Marley needs to overcome the distrust of the locals, and the concerns of his colleagues, to expose the secrets others tried to bury. Malone skilfully manages the multiple threads that weave their way through the story and connect many of the characters in the past and present.

Though there’s quite a large cast, the characters are well drawn, from the warring brothers and the woman they both love, to young troubled teen, Jay. Marley’s personal life is a bit of a disaster but he presents as a decent man, and cop, and I imagine his and Brigit’s partnership could carry further novels.

With its cleverly crafted mysteries, and appealing characters, I thought The Waterhole was an excellent police procedural and I hope there will be more.

+++++++++

Available from your preferred retailer

via Amazon I Booktopia I KoboAppleBooks

A signed print copy is available from the author

Review: The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths

 

Title: The Midnight Hour {The Brighton Mysteries #6}

Author: Elly Griffiths

Published: 7th December 2021, Mariner Books

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Mariner Books/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

In this sixth instalment of The Brighton Mysteries (previously the Magic Men/Stephens & Mephisto series), The Midnight Hour, former showgirl Verity Malone engages former WDS Emma Stephens and journalist Sam Collins, whom have launched a private investigation firm, when she is implicated in the poisoning death of her husband, theater impresario, Bert Billington.

As it happens, Verity isn’t the only one who had reason to dislike Bert. A notorious narcissist and philanderer, he had a number of enemies, and Emma is excited by the opportunity to investigate, even though the situation may make things awkward for her husband, Superintendent Edgar Stephens.

Griffiths offers several red herrings as suspicion swirls around Verity, her long term housekeeper, Alma, the women’s adult children, a nosy neighbour and a mystery woman (or man) in a long brown coat. Max Mephisto, coincidently filming a movie co-starring Verity’s middle son, also becomes entangled in the case when it’s revealed he once had an affair with Verity.

WPC Meg Connolly, introduced in Now You See Them, plays a large role this novel, proving to be an eager, intuitive police officer, just as Emma was before being forced to retire upon her marriage. Griffiths continues to explore the lot of women in society during the era through the fates of Billingham’s carnal victims, the limits placed on Meg’s career, and Emma’s desire to be more than just a mother.

With its satisfying resolution to an interesting mystery, and engaging characters I enjoyed The Midnight Hour as much as previous instalments, and I look forward to the next.

+++++++++

Available from Mariner Books

Or from your preferred retailer

via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I Amazon

Review: Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Unforgiven

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: 1st December 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Harlequin Aus/Netgalley

 

+++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Unforgiven is a compelling, gritty thriller from Australian bestselling author, Sarah Barrie.

When the body of a young girl dressed in a mermaid costume is discovered among bushland on the central coast of NSW, doubt is thrown on the conviction and imprisonment of serial killer and paedophile, Thomas Biddle aka The Spider. Lexi Winter has no such doubts, as a victim of Biddle and his paedophile network which included her own parents, she has never forgotten the man who orchestrated her abuse. Determined to prove the latest murder is the work of a copycat, Lexi is reluctantly reunited with Detective Inspector Rachael Langley, who arrested Biddle 18 years ago.

Offering plenty of tense moments, Unforgiven offers a well crafted, fast paced plot. I was caught up in the hunt for the murderous ‘copycat’ as Rachael and Lexi, along with Lexi’s younger sister Bailee, and the members of the task force, work together to expose the truth and prevent the death of any more innocent children.

I liked Lexi a lot, she’s a complex character, essentially a functional alcoholic, who makes her living as an escort. Hardened by her life experiences she is a survivor, tough, resourceful, and sometimes reckless, but also not without her vulnerabilities. It’s brave of Lexi to become involved in the ‘copycat’ case, given both her past, and present (which includes a dead man in her boot), and her general antipathy for authority.

There’s an interesting backstory between Lexi and Rachael which results in tension between the two women that also spills over into Lexi’s relationship another detective on the case who happens to be Rachael’s nephew, Finn Carson. I found both Rachael and Finn to be appealing characters, and I really liked their dynamic with Lexi.

Though Unforgiven deals with the grim subject of child abuse, there is unexpected levity to be found in Lexi’s sarcastic wit, and the behaviour of her remarkably helpful neighbour, Dawny.

Unforgiven is a terrific, riveting read, I’m left with the impression that there will be more books featuring Lexi and her role as a police consultant in the future, and I really hope there will be.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Previous Older Entries