26 May 2024

Review: THE DARK LAKE, Sarah Bailey

  • This edition made available by my local library
  • published in 2018
  • ISBN 978 1 76063 297 7
  • 432 pages
  • #1 in Gemma Woodstock series
  • winner Ned Kelly Award for best first novel, Winner of Davitt Award for best debut

Synopsis (publisher)

A hot summer. A shocking murder. A town of secrets, waiting to explode. A brooding, suspenseful and explosive debut that will grip you from the first page to the last.

A beautiful young teacher has been murdered, her body found in the lake, strewn with red roses. Local policewoman Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock pushes to be assigned to the case, concealing the fact that she knew the murdered woman in high school years before.

But that's not all Gemma's trying to hide. As the investigation digs deeper into the victim's past, other secrets threaten to come to light, secrets that were supposed to remain buried. The lake holds the key to solving the murder, but it also has the power to drag Gemma down into its dark depths.

The Dark Lake is an addictive crime thriller, a mesmerising account of one woman's descent into deceit and madness, and a stunning debut that has caused a stir around the world. 

My Take

I first reviewed this book in 2017. I am rereading it for my U3A Crime Fiction group.

Like the victim, Gemma Woodstock is working in the town that she grew up in. She has some background knowledge of the victim and her family. In some ways that should be an advantage in a police investigation but Gemma underplays how close her relationship with Rosalind Ryan was. In fact she lies to her boss, and she probably should have stood herself down from the investigation.

Her boss "Jonesey" is so taken with what he sees as Gemma's brilliance that he is more than willing to accept her assurances at their face value. More than that he is prtty well a boss that doesn't rock the boat. However there are times when he should be much more asserive and observant.

One of the blurbs I have seen describes Gemma as troubled and brilliant. I would add damaged and unstable.

Rosalind Ryan has returned to the town of Smithson that she grew up in and has been teaching English to senior students there for four years. She has persuaded the principal to allow her to produce a version of Romeo and Juliet. The play is a great success with the students and Ms Ryan is very popular. The production occurs late in the last school term, after exams. It is opening night when Ms Ryan is killed, found face down in the lake the following morning.

THE DARK LAKE is tightly plotted and takes concentration from the reader. The plot has several twists. The investigation into Rosalind Ryan's murder takes nearly 3 weeks, approaching Christmas and New Year. Almost everyone in the town comes under intense scrutiny and there are few clues.

In addition a number of issues and relationships in Gemma's life cause complications, her young son is abducted, and Gemma herself is attacked. 

The plot structure is interesting with narrative from "then" accompanied by daily accounts of what is happening in the investigation.  Most of the latter are from Gemma's point of view. However these are supplemented with short third person accounts of incidents where Gemma is not a witness. 

The Australian setting is very strong, and the weather plays a strong role too.

Secrets Gemma Woodstock is hiding

  • the extent of her connections with Rosalind Ryan and the role she played in past events
  • what happened to Jacob Morgan
  • her relationship with her Sergeant Felix McKinnon

My rating: 4.7

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  • This edition available from Amazon on Kindle
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00N01TS36
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Allison & Busby (October 23, 2014)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 323 pages
  • (Amory Ames Book 1)

Synopsis (Amazon)

1932, Devon. 

Amory Ames is glamorous, wealthy and unhappily married to notoriously charming playboy Milo. She willingly accepts her former fiancé Gil Trent's plea for help in preventing his sister Emmeline from meeting a similar matrimonial fate. Amory accompanies Gil to The Brightwell, the sprawling seaside resort where Emmeline and her fiancé, the impeccably groomed, disreputable cad Rupert Howe are holidaying, along with the other rich and sumptuously-dressed guests.

Champagne flows but the sparkle soon fades as a dark and unresolved history between Gil and Rupert surfaces. After a late night quarrel the luxurious hotel is one guest fewer by morning. When Gil is arrested for murder Amory is determined to defend his innocence. But if she's right, the killer is still in their midst - can she prove it before she, too, becomes a victim? And what of the unexpected arrival of Milo? Extravagance, scoundrels and red-herrings abound as Amory draws closer to discovering the murderer - as well as love.

My Take

It came as a surprise to me to discover that the author of this cosy set in 1932 is an American. The story is set at the British seaside in 1932 amongst a flapper set. I thought she did a good job of creating the ambience of the period, at the same time creating a respectable whodunnit.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

ASHLEY WEAVER is the branch manager at Oberlin, the headquarters branch of the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University. She lives in Oakdale, Louisiana. Murder at the Brightwell is her first novel. 

18 May 2024

Review: MURDER ON THE FARM, Kate Wells

  •  this edition read on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0C727GM8K
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Boldwood Books (September 4, 2023)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 346 pages
  • #1 Malvern Farm Mystery series

Synopsis (Amazon)

Lambing season always brings the unexpected… But no one expected murder

Jude Gray never thought she’d find herself widowed and running a working farm full-time, but here she is, living in the small Malvern village her husband Adam spent most of his life in.

After a particularly gruelling lambing season, she is looking forward to some time off, but there’s no rest for the wicked, especially when she finds the body of one of Adam’s oldest friends on her farm.

Unimpressed with the local constabulary's efforts, Jude starts an investigation of her own. But as the body count rises, danger creeps ever closer to Malvern Farm.

A killer is on the prowl. And all that stands in their way is one woman – and her dog.

My Take

A well constructed cozy mystery with a number of plot strands. I thoroughly enjoyed it and liked the central character Jude Gray. Life has not been easy for Jude since her husband Adam died of cancer but she is making a go of her sheep farm with the help of a shepherd Noah.

But now her best friend Sarah is in trouble with problems that Jude had not even guessed existed. And then the bodies start to pile up, and the perpetrator is someone Jude has always trusted.

My rating: 4.5 

About the author

Kate grew up in Malvern on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border and still spends much of her time there. It is her heart's home and the muse for a lot of her writing.

She began her adult life training as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital and then moved to Reading where she took a teaching degree.

When she took a break to have her two daughters she began creating stories and hasn't stopped writing since!

Having spent time living and working on farms she developed a love of the rural life and often dreamt of running a sheep farm, especially when she married the son of a farmer. It wasn't to be though, so instead, she lives out her farming dreams through researching and writing her books.

These days she's often found in a field talking to the sheep, or out on the Malvern Hills walking her border collie cross.

17 May 2024

Review: HIGH PROFILE, Robert B. Parker

  •  made available as an e-book on Libby by my local library
  • published originally in 2007 by No Exit Press
  • e-book published 2014
  • ISBN 978-1-84344-327-8
  • #6 in Jesse Stone series

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The murder of a notorious public figure places Paradise, Massachusetts, police chief Jesse Stone in the harsh glare of the media spotlight.

When the body of controversial talk-show host Walton Weeks is discovered hanging from a tree on the outskirts of Paradise, police chief Jesse Stone finds himself at the center of a highly public case, forcing him to deal with small-minded local officials and national media scrutiny. When another dead body - that of a young woman - is discovered just a few days later, the pressure becomes almost unbearable.

Two victims in less than a week should provide a host of clues, but all Jesse runs into are dead ends. But what may be the most disturbing aspect of these murders is the fact that no one seems to care - not a single one of Weeks's ex-wives, not the family of the girl. And when the medical examiner reveals a heartbreaking link between the two departed souls, the mystery only deepens.

Despite Weeks's reputation and the girl's tender age, Jesse is hard-pressed to find legitimate suspects. Though the crimes are perhaps the most gruesome Jesse has ever witnessed, it is the malevolence behind them that makes them all the more frightening. Forced to delve into a world of stormy relationships, Jesse soon comes to realize that knowing whom he can trust is indeed a matter of life and death.

My take:

This is the first novel that I have read by this author.

His style is very distinctive - the story is mainly told by dialogue through the main characters, with just a little descriptive writing. There is a little humour too, mainly in Jesse Stone's dealing with his offsider Suitcase Simpson who does a lot of the leg work, but is not yet accorded the title of detective.

Running in the background is Stone's own relationships with his ex-wife whom he is finding it hard to beak off relationships with, and Sunny, the woman he would like to develop a relationship with.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Robert B. Parker began writing in 1971 while teaching at Boston's Northeastern University. Now he is acknowledged as the dean of American crime fiction and was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America (2002). His novels featuring the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye Spenser have earned him a devoted following and reams of critical acclaim. The Spenser character inspired the television series Spenser: For Hire and a number of made-for-television films.

16 May 2024

Review: TO THE RIVER, Vikki Wakefield

  • this edition supplied by Text Publishing
  • published 2024
  • ISBN 9781922790590
  • 347 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

The Kelly family has always been trouble. When a fire in a remote caravan community kills nine people, including 17-year-old Sabine Kelly’s mother and sister, Sabine confesses to the murders. Shortly after, she escapes custody and disappears. Recently made redundant from marriage, motherhood and her career, journalist Rachel Weidermann has long suspected Sabine made her way back to the river—now, twelve years after the ‘Caravan Murders’, she has the time and the tenacity to corner a fugitive and land the story of the year.

Rachel’s ambition lights the fuse leading to a brutal chain of events, and the web Sabine weaves will force Rachel to question everything she believes. Vikki Wakefield’s compelling psychological thriller is about class, corruption, love, loyalty, and the vindication of truth and justice. And a brave dog called Blue.

My Take

Twelve years after she, 17 years old, confessed to the 'Caravan Murders', Sabine Kelly wants to tell her story and obtain justice for her mother, her sister, and the other 7 innocents who died then. An opportunity presents itself when Sabine realises that journalist Rachel Weidermann is living in the property next to Sabine's grandfather Ray on the river. The time has come to reveal the truth. Ray is dying. The policeman who lost his son in the fire has retired. And Rachel has time on her hands.

From the start Rachel sees Sabine as steps to her own redemption in the journalistic world where her career has flagged. She had begun an investigation a few years ago, but didn't get very far because she couldn't locate Sabine. But now Sabine has re-appeared. There is a reward on Sabine's head and Rachel could simply turn her in. But there is more money to be made from the story. But what Rachel doesn't realise is that just as she is playing Sabine, reeling her in, so Sabine is manipulating Rachel to her own ends.

The author has created her setting from the Murray River backwaters in South Australia. Sabine and Rachel are the primary voices telling the story, while the time frame flits between 2007 and 2019. The characters are much alive, also including Sabine's dog Blue.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read

13 May 2024

Review: THE MARLOW MURDER CLUB, Robert Thorogood

  • This edition available as an e-book from Amazon (Kindle)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B088F6TLVX
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HQ (January 7, 2021)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 348 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

To solve an impossible murder, you need an impossible hero…

Judith Potts is seventy-seven years old and blissfully happy. She lives on her own in a faded mansion just outside Marlow, there’s no man in her life to tell her what to do or how much whisky to drink, and to keep herself busy she sets crosswords for The Times newspaper.

One evening, while out swimming in the Thames, Judith witnesses a brutal murder. The local police don’t believe her story, so she decides to investigate for herself, and is soon joined in her quest by Suzie, a salt-of-the-earth dog-walker, and Becks, the prim and proper wife of the local Vicar.

Together, they are the Marlow Murder Club.

When another body turns up, they realise they have a real-life serial killer on their hands. And the puzzle they set out to solve has become a trap from which they might never escape…

My Take

Suffice it to say, that all the way through the reading of this novel, I thought that I had somehow read it before, but I never checked if I had, until I came to write this review, and then I discovered that I actually had. My earlier review is here.

Anyway. it seems that I have enjoyed it a little more this time around.

And did I find it derivative of THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB, a question that seems to worry many readers, afraid of wasting their time if they take the plunge? The answer to that is No. Similar in plot lines but not derivative. It stands well on its own.

My rating: 4.6

Review: THE SUMMER PARTY, Rebecca Heath

  • This edition made available by my local library as an e-book on Libby
  • Published     05 Jan 2023
  • Format     Ebook (Epub & Mobi)
  • Extent     416 pages
  • ISBN     9781804540978
  • Imprint     Head of Zeus -- an Aries Book
  • Publisher     Bloomsbury Publishing

Synopsis (publisher)

Perfect families are only as perfect as their best kept secrets.

Summer, 2000
The Whitlam siblings have it all and sixteen-year-old Lucy only wants one thing – to be close to them. Soon she's lazing around their impossibly large pool, wearing Annabel's expensive clothes and having secret rendezvous with Harry, until at their lavish clifftop party she sees something that could jeopardise it all.

Winter, 2020
One failed marriage later, Lucy is back in town and quickly lured back into the Whitlam's shiny world. But when a body washes up on the beach and someone seems determined to frame her for murder keeping their secrets this time could cost her everything.

Now that summer is over is she with them or against them? 

My Take

Lucy came to stay with her grandmother for the summer when she was 16. The Whitlams lived in the white mansion on the hill in a rural town on the Yorke Peninsular in South Australia.  Lucy's grandmother's cottage was next door. Alongside the three Whitlam siblings Lucy was an unsophisticated teenager and she idolised them. Lucy's grandmother worked as a cleaner for the Whitlam family and she warned Lucy not to get too friendly with them.

At the end of the summer, on the last night Lucy was there, the mother, Brooke Whitlam, left home forever and Lucy witnessed something without really realising what she had seen.

Twenty years later Lucy's grandmother has died and Lucy comes back to clear out the cottage. A foot is washed up under the jetty on the Whitlam's property, and it is identified as Brooke's. Lucy renews her "friendship" with the Whitlam siblings, their father, and the local policeman.

This is Rebecca Heath's debut novel, and though her later novel THE DINNER PARTY is much better, THE SUMMER PARTY is very readable and the plot is well constructed. 

My rating: 4.5

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