24 June 2023

Review: ABSENT IN THE SPRING, Mary Westmacott

  • this edition made available as an e-book on Libby by my local library
  • first published 1944 as Mary Westmacott
  • #3 of 6 novels
  • ISBN: 9780007534982
  • ISBN 10: 0007534981
  • Imprint: HarperCollins
  • On Sale: 24/04/2014
  • Pages: 224

Synopsis (publisher)

A striking novel of truth and soul-searching.

Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone and stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks.
Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her…

Famous for her ingenious crime books and plays, Agatha Christie also wrote about crimes of the heart, six bittersweet and very personal novels, as compelling and memorable as the best of her work. 

From https://www.agathachristie.com/en/stories/absent-in-the-spring

Agatha Christie was always prolific, often finishing a book within a few months, but Absent in the Spring was written in just three days. A psychological exploration, a woman finds herself alone for the first time and begins to reassess her life, finally understanding how others must see her. “She would be, as it were,” Agatha Christie writes in her autobiography, “continually meeting herself, not recognising herself, but becoming increasingly uneasy.”

Under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, it was published as a novel in August, 1944. The publishers Collins were unenthusiastic about the prospect of a third Mary Westmacott, stories which took Agatha Christie away from traditional mystery and allowed her to examine crimes of the heart instead. But they were proven wrong and Absent in the Spring remains one of Agatha Christie’s most surprising and revealing pieces of work. She wrote in her autobiography: “it was written with integrity, with sincerity, it was written as I meant to write it, and that is the proudest joy an author can have.”

It has never been adapted.

My Take

While I have read all of Agatha Christie's novels and short stories, this might be the first time I have read anything written under the nom de plume of Mary Westmacott.

This novel is not crime fiction and you can't help wondering how autobiographical it is.

Joan Scudamore is travelling back from Iraq to England and misses her train to Stamboul to connect with the Orient Express. She reads the books she has brought with her far too quickly and in the days that ensue has nothing to do. She looks back over her life as a wife and a mother and sees events through different eyes. Joan begins to suspect that others have not always seen her as she sees herself and resolves to behave differently once she gets home.

But will that happen?

A very readable and interesting book.

My rating: 4.6

Review: MALICIOUS INTENT, Kathryn Fox

Synopsis (author website

In Kathryn’s Own Words

“The title was inspired by the Dalai Lama, of all people!

I met him when I was sixteen and wondered what would happen if someone else with the same charisma, charm, intelligence and wit had malicious intent.

The story involves a manipulator who targets women with varying degrees of vulnerability.
In Italy, it was retitled L’ Incantatori, which means, ‘The Enchanter’.”

More about Malicious Intent

Dr Anya Crichton, a pathologist and forensic physician, finds work is sparse for the only female freelancer in the field. Between paying child support, a mortgage and struggling to get her business off the ground, Anya can’t yet afford to fight her ex-husband for custody of their three-year-old son, Ben.

After her expert evidence helps win a high-profile court case, Anya is asked by lawyer Dan Brody to look into the drug overdose of a young Lebanese girl. While investigating, Anya notices startling coincidences in a number of unrelated suicides she’s been asked to examine by friend and colleague, Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer. All the victims disappeared for a period of time, before committing suicide in bizarre circumstances. As Anya delves deeper, the pathological findings point to the frightening possibility that the deaths are not only linked, but part of a sinister plot. One in which Anya is unwillingly immersed…

My Take

My mini-review for MALICIOUS INTENT (rating 4.5)
Dr. Anya Crichton has recently struck out to work on her own as a freelance forensic pathologist. Work is a bit hard to find but she is gaining a reputation as a credible courtroom authority. She is not without friends in the police, the New South Wales State Forensic Institute, and among the criminal barristers. Something about the apparent suicide of Clare Matthews doesn't sit quite right: the fact that, a nun, she disappeared shortly before she was due to take her vows, that she suicided by jumping off the Gap, that she was 6 weeks pregnant, and that she had strange fibres in her lungs. And now another case with similarities crops up: Fatima Deab overdoses on heroine after being missing for some days and her lungs contain the same fibres. Debut publication by Australian author. It is obvious to the reader that Kathryn Fox has a lot to say, lots of issues that she wants to make us aware of, and sometimes this novel takes on a bit of a didactic tone. But the plotting is so good, the tension so well built that by the end I could forgive her anything! 

Business is slow for Anya Crichton, a freelance forensic physician and pathologist. But after her evidence helps to win a high-profile case, demand for her services grows. Perhaps now she can start building up her income to the point where she can afford to fight her ex-husband for custody of their three-year-old son.
When lawyer Dan Brody asks Anya to investigate the apparent accidental death of the teenaged daughter of a local Lebanese businessman, Anya comes across something unexpected. There are links between this death and those of a nun and a doctor. All appear to be suicides, but there are similarities which make Anya question this finding in all three cases.
As she probes deeper into the case, Anya struggles to find a motive for the deaths and, through her own brand of detective work, to find the evidence which will lead her to the killer. What she finds is as unexpected as it is shocking, leaving Anya fighting not just for her own safety, but also that of her colleague, Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer and of Anya's son, Ben.
An Australian author, but doesn't feel much like an Australian setting, although the place names are there. Doesn't feel like a first novel either.


I am re-reading this novel for discussion with my U3A Crime Fiction reading group. I think I originally read the novel soon after publication. Kathryn Fox was at that time a new voice on the Australian noir landscape. In Fact she was largely pioneering this style of crime fiction in Australia. Most of this style of fiction came from British and American authors. (Barbara Seranella, Deborah Crombie, Marcia Muller, Heather Graham, Stephen Booth, Laura Lippmann, Val McDermid, Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Jeffrey Deaver - to name a few)

I would like my group to understand in what ways Kathryn Fox is a pioneer.

I feel that with this novel Kathryn Fox had a lot that she wanted to say (as if she was speaking from her experience and her observations). There were topics such as domestic violence that were comfortable reading about (and still aren't).  This novel is very different from an Agatha Christie cozy.

We learn that domestic violence is not just physical violence.

Among the other topics that this novel touched on were the cultural differences shown in the various cases, the difficulties of being a single mother (who got custody and why), the importance of forensic evidence being documented and followed up from crime to crime, the importance of appropriate forensic funding, and of there being a place where records are centralised and indexed. She is also telling us that solving crimes is not just a matter of intuition but of training and experience.

Fox is a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners with a special interest in forensic medicine. After 12 years, she ceased medical practice to concentrate on writing.

In 2005 her achievement with MALICIOUS INTENT was recognised by being shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Awards for Crime Writing — Best First Novel and she was the 2005 winner of the Davitt Award for Crime Writing — Best Adult Novel

My rating: 4.6 

I've also read


Review: DIGGING UP DIRT, Pamela Hart

  • this edition published by HQ Fiction 2021
  • made available by my local library
  • #1 in the Poppy McGowan series
  • ISBN 9-781867-201878
  • 341 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

Renovations are hell. And that's before you find the body beneath the floorboards. An intriguing mystery from a stylish new voice in crime fiction, for readers of Kerry Greenwood and Holly Throsby.

When your builder finds bones under the floor of your heritage home, what do you do? For TV researcher Poppy McGowan, the first step is to find out if the bones are human (which means calling in the cops and delaying her renovations) or animal (which doesn't).

Unfortunately, 'help' comes in the form of Dr Julieanne Weaver, archaeologist, political hopeful, and Poppy's old enemy. She declares the bones evidence of a rare breed of fat-tailed sheep, and slaps a heritage order on the site. The resultant archaeological dig introduces Poppy to Tol Lang, the best-looking archaeologist she's ever met - and also Julieanne's boyfriend.

When Julieanne is found murdered in Poppy's house, both she and the increasingly attractive Tol are considered suspects - and so Poppy uses her media contacts and news savvy to investigate other suspects. Did Julieanne have enemies in the right-wing Australian Family Party, for which she was seeking preselection, or in the affiliated Radiant Joy Church? Or at the Museum of New South Wales, among her rivals and ex-boyfriends? And who was her secret lover?

Can Poppy save herself, and Tol ... and finally get her house back?

My Take

I read this book out of order and so some things I came across in the second book in the series made a little more sense. The plot in this one is marginally better and more credible in this debut title.  The novels are set in Sydney and Poppy works as a researcher for the ABC Education section. In this debut title however she fills in as an interviewer. The style is more that of a cozy.

The focus of the novel is who has killed Dr Julieanne Weaver and the police have many suspects. The body is found in Poppy's house which has temporarily become an archaeological dig. The fact that Weaver has been trying for political pre-selection widens the array of suspects, but also makes looking outside the usual range of motives imperative.

My rating: 4.5

I've already read

4.5, AN A-LIST FOR DEATH #2 Poppy McGowan 

21 June 2023

Review: MURDER ON THE LAKE, Bruce Beckham

  • This book available as an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)
  • #4 in the Inspector Skelgill series
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00RU7SNP0
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Lucius; 1st edition (January 4, 2015)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 317 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

BY THE TIME Detective Inspector Skelgill becomes the tenth person to be stranded on secluded Grisholm (Pigs’ Isle in Old Norse) where a writers’ retreat is taking place, one of the assembled literati is already dead. Though natural causes may provide the explanation, a second ‘accidental’ death and a raft of curious experiences convince Skelgill that a cold and calculating killer is at large. But where is his evidence?

Set around Derwentwater in the English Lake District, this traditional whodunit sees Skelgill striving both to fathom the mystery and convince his superiors that it is not merely his imagination at play.

My Take

Here I've hit on a series that I am really enjoying. Out fishing for a monster pike (to win a wager) Skelgill comes across a group at a writer's retreat where one of their number has died. The plot smacks a little of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, a small group of people invited to a secluded island, with no communication with the mainland, host elusive or unknown, and the first of their number killed, and maybe another lined up.

Unable to contact the police, Skelgill decides to spend the night with them, and by the morning another is dead. Back on the mainland Skelgill and his team investigate the connections between the guests and come up with some surprising answers. 

The plotting is well done, and Skelgill and his team are well drawn.

My rating: 4.5 

I've also read

16 June 2023

Review: DEATH AT PARADISE PALMS, Steph Broadribb

  • This edition an e-book available on Kindle (Amazon)
  • The Retired Detectives Club, Book 2
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09R4GKR8V
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Thomas & Mercer (October 11, 2022)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 313 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

It looks like an open-and-shut case—until one of the Retired Detectives disappears…

When movie producer Cody Ziegler goes missing from The Homestead’s Millionaires’ Row, his wife, retired actress Olivia, immediately claims there’s foul play afoot. A million-dollar ransom demand soon follows, with clear instructions not to involve the cops. In desperation she enlists the help of Moira, Rick, Philip and Lizzie, aka the Retired Detectives Club.

Racing against the clock, the four retirees set to work. Sure, Cody had enemies—there’s a disgruntled employee, a jilted film-maker and a hundred other people who know how much he’s worth. But when it emerges that Cody’s apparently perfect marriage isn’t what it seems, even Olivia isn’t above suspicion.

When Cody’s car turns up in a nearby lake with a shocking surprise inside, the case becomes even more complicated. But with Philip and Lizzie’s marriage on the rocks, and threatening notes sending Moira into a spin, the Retired Detectives Club risks falling apart before getting any closer to the truth.

My Take

Book 1, DEATH IN THE SUNSHINE left the newly created Retired Detectives Club ready to take on a new case, despite uncomfortable relations between married couple Philip and Lizzie, and the fact that we know that Moira is hiding something quite significant.

There are several threads in this novel: the disappearance of Cody Ziegler, strange threatening messages that Moira is receiving on her phone, the difficult relations between Philip and Lizzie. All the group however are very glad to be back "working" but the local police are still not welcoming, seeing their investigation as interference.

Very readable.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read Book 1:  4.5, DEATH IN THE SUNSHINE

12 June 2023

Review: THE LOST MAN OF BOMBAY, Vaseem Khan

  • this book made available by my local library
  • published 2022 by Hodder & Stoughton UK
  • ISBN 978-1-529-34110-2
  • 366 pages
  •  #3 in The Malabar House series

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction

Bombay, 1950
When the body of a white man is found frozen in the Himalayan foothills near Dehra Dun, he is christened the Ice Man by the national media. Who is he? How long has he been there? Why was he killed?

As Inspector Persis Wadia and Metropolitan Police criminalist Archie Blackfinch investigate the case in Bombay, they uncover a trail left behind by the enigmatic Ice Man - a trail leading directly into the dark heart of conspiracy.

Meanwhile, two new murders grip the city. Is there a serial killer on the loose, targeting Europeans?

Rich in atmosphere, the thrilling third chapter in the CWA Historical Dagger-winning Malabar House series pits Persis against a mystery from beyond the grave, unfolding against the backdrop of a turbulent post-colonial India, a nation struggling to redefine itself in the shadow of the Raj.

My Take

Although I have read #1 in another series by this author, I haven't obeyed my own "rule" and read #1 in this series (Malabar House). That means that there are relationships between characters that were revealed and developed in the earlier two novels which I have come to cold. Nevertheless the author did a fairly good job of filling in the gaps for me.

The plot is a fairly complex one. A dessicated body is found in a cave in the Himalayan hills by a climber. Shortly after that three people are murdered in Bombay and Inspector Persis Wadia discovers a connection between them and the Ice Man.

India is newly independent and relations between India and their former masters have to be handled carefully. Research into the past is fraught with problems and these are exacerbated by the personality of Persis, particularly because she is female in what is essentially a male world.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read

4.4, THE UNEXPECTED INHERITANCE OF INSPECTOR CHOPRA - #1 in the Inspector Chopra series

Review: THE SOULMATE, Sally Hepworth

  • This book made available as an e-book on Libby through my local library
  • ISBN: 9781761263064
  • ISBN-10: 1761263064
  • Format: ePUB
  • Language: English
  • Published: 25th October 2022
  • Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
  • 336 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

Gabe is alone at the cliff's edge. His arms are outstretched, palms facing the empty air.

He said she jumped. He wouldn't lie.

Before the woman went over the cliff, Pippa and Gabe were happy. They had the kind of marriage that everyone envies, as well as two sweet young daughters, a supportive family, and a picturesque cliff-side home - which would have been idyllic had the tall beachside cliffs not become so popular among those wishing to end their lives.

Gabe has become somewhat of a local hero since they moved to the cliff house, talking seven people down from stepping off the edge. But when Gabe fails to save the eighth, a sordid web of secrets begins to unravel, pushing bonds of loyalty and love to the brink.

What wouldn't you do for your soulmate? 

My Take

Since he and Pippa have moved to their clifftop house on the Mornington Peninsula, Gabe has become a sort of Good Samaritan, persuading 7 people who've come there not to end their lives. Until the 8th one jumps. Or at least that's what Gabe says. Pippa is not so sure. What Gabe doesn't tell her, is that he knows this woman. 

There are two narrators: Pippa and Amanda, the woman who jumped. The dual narration provide between them a fascinating story. What seemed simple at first becomes a very complex plot with far stretching threads.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

8 June 2023

Review: SO SHALL YOU REAP, Donna Leon

  • This edition made available by my local library
  • published by Hutchinson Heinemann UK 2023
  • ISBN 978152153323
  • 262 pages
  • #32 in Commissario Brunetti series

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

On a cold November evening, Guido Brunetti and Paola are up late when a call from his colleague Ispettore Vianello arrives, alerting the Commissario that a hand has been seen in one of Venice's canals. The body is soon found, and Brunetti is assigned to investigate the murder of an undocumented Sri Lankan immigrant. Because no official record of the man's presence in Venice exists, Brunetti is forced to use the city's far richer sources of information: gossip and the memories of people who knew the victim. Curiously, he had been living in a garden house on the grounds of a palazzo owned by a university professor, in which Brunetti discovers books revealing the victim's interest in Buddhism, the revolutionary Tamil Tigers, and the last crop of Italian political terrorists, active in the 1980s.

As the investigation expands, Brunetti, Vianello, Commissario Griffoni, and Signorina Elettra each assemble pieces of a puzzle-random information about real estate and land use, books, university friendships-that appear to have little in common. Until Brunetti stumbles over something that transports him back to his own student days, causing him to reflect on lost ideals and the errors of youth, on Italian politics and history, and on the accidents that sometimes lead to revelation.

My Take

Looking over The Fantastic Fiction list of the Brunetti series, I was surprised to see how many I have missed. The first in the series was published in 1992 and have continued at the rate of about one per year. That makes it a rather daunting list to read if you have never read any, as I am going to assert that you should read them in order. Not only do the books focus on contemporary Venetian social and political problems, there is also a very nice development of Brunetti and his family over time.

I've got to the stage where reading a Brunetti is rather like catching up with an old friend.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

4.5, DRAWING CONCLUSIONS, Donna Leon - abridged audio version

4.6, TRANSIENT DESIRES - #30     

Commissario Brunetti Mysteries (Fantastic Fiction)
1. Death at La Fenice (1992)
2. Death in a Strange Country (1993)
3. The Anonymous Venetian (1994)
4. Death and Judgment (1995)
5. Acqua Alta (1996)
6. Quietly in Their Sleep (1997)
7. A Noble Radiance (1998)
8. Fatal Remedies (1999)
9. Friends in High Places (2000)
10. A Sea of Troubles (2001)
11. Willful Behaviour (2002)
12. Uniform Justice (2003)
13. Doctored Evidence (2004)
14. Blood from a Stone (2005)
15. Through a Glass Darkly (2006)
16. Suffer the Little Children (2007)
17. The Girl of His Dreams (2008)
18. About Face (2009)
19. A Question of Belief (2010)
20. Drawing Conclusions (2011)
21. Beastly Things (2012)
22. The Golden Egg (2012)
23. By Its Cover (2014)
24. Falling in Love (2015)
25. The Waters of Eternal Youth (2016)
26. Earthly Remains (2017)
27. The Temptation of Forgiveness (2018)
28. Unto Us a Son Is Given (2019)
29. Trace Elements (2020)
30. Transient Desires (2021)
31. Give Unto Others (2021)
32. So Shall You Reap (2023)

Review: DEATH IN THE SUNSHINE, Steph Broadribb

  • This edition available as an e-book on Amazon (Kindle)
  • Book #1, The Retired Detectives Club
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B094JMFJNK
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Thomas & Mercer (March 1, 2022)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 319 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

Four ex-cops in a retirement paradise. Sure they’ll rest…when the killer is caught.

After a long career as a police officer, Moira hopes a move to a luxury retirement community will mean she can finally leave the detective work to the youngsters and focus on a quieter life. But it turns out The Homestead is far from paradise. When she discovers the body of a young woman floating in one of the pools, surrounded by thousands of dollar bills, her crime-fighting instinct kicks back in and she joins up with fellow ex-cops—and new neighbours—Philip, Lizzie and Rick to investigate the murder.

With the case officers dropping ball after ball, Moira and the gang take matters into their own hands, turning into undercover homicide investigators. But the killer is desperate to destroy all the evidence and Moira, Philip, Lizzie and Rick soon find themselves getting in the way—of the murderer and the police.

Just when they think they can finally relax, they discover that someone has infiltrated their ‘safe’ community. Can they hunt down the murderer and get back to retiring in peace? And after all the excitement, will they want to?

My Take

A crime fiction that is not quite a cozy, and not quite geezer lit. Moira, married couple Philip and Lizzie, are British cops who have, for various reasons, decided to retire to Florida in the USA. Philip and Lizzie have been retired at The Homestead for about 10 years while Moira is recently arrived. Rick, on the other hand, is American, recently widowed. Moira is trying to maintain a low profile and seems to have a lot to hide. She is cautious not to reveal too much about herself to her new neighbours.

All four feel that they have been either forced into retirement or have retired too early, that they still have a lot to give. So when Moira discovers a body in the lap pool they slip into old ways. They all know what ought to be done in terms of an investigation, and find it hard to understand while the local police are slow to react.

A reasonably satisfying read with plenty of room for a sequel or two.

My rating: 4.5 

About the author
Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego - Crime Thriller Girl - she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at www.crimethrillergirl.com
Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens.


4 June 2023

Review: HERMIT, S.R. White

  • This edition made available from my local library
  • Headline Publishing 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-4722-6844-0
  • 375 pages
  • #1 in Dana Russo series

Synopsis (publisher

After a puzzling death in the wild bushlands of Australia, detective Dana Russo has just 12 hours to interrogate the prime suspect – a silent, inscrutable man found at the scene of the crime, who disappeared without trace 15 years earlier.

But where has he been? Why won’t he talk? And exactly how dangerous is he? Without conclusive evidence to prove his guilt, Dana faces a desperate race against time to persuade him to speak. But as each interview spirals with fevered intensity, Dana must reckon with her own traumatic past to reveal the shocking truth . . .

Compulsive, atmospheric and stunningly accomplished, HERMIT introduces a thrilling new voice in Australian crime fiction, perfect for fans of Jane Harper’s THE DRY and Chris Hammer’s SCRUBLANDS.

My Take

Three main mystery threads run through this novel. 

First of all how is it that "the hermit" has been "off the radar" for the last 15 years. Why did he become a hermit? How has he lived? 

Secondly, did he kill the person he was found standing over? Why? If he didn't, then who did?

Thirdly, why does Detective Dana Russo avoid contact with people on this day in particular? 

I have never quite met a detective like Dana Russo. Her main aim is to get to know the suspect, to get him to trust her, and to find out what has happened to him in the past. She interviews him in short bursts, on her own, although under observation by her boss and colleagues. She compiles questions that she wants her team to find the answers to, to give her ammunition for her questions to the suspect. She gets him to see her as his only friend, so eventually he will reveal his innermost secrets.

All the time though Dana is comparing their experiences. Asking him questions without revealing too much of what has happened to her in the past.

A fascinating novel, and a compelling read.

My Rating: 4.6

About the author
S. R. White’s debut novel, HERMIT, was a top ten bestseller in Australia and nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association award for the best crime novel by a first-time author. He now lives in Queensland, having worked for a UK police force for twelve years before taking an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.


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