‘The Night Before Christmas’ – Alex Pine

For DCI Walker and his team, Christmas has come to be a much disliked time. Having solved a number of cases around this time over the past few years, they shouldn’t be surprised when yet another Christmas Eve is marred by a very odd case.

A call is received saying that four men went for a walk and haven’t returned. They can’t be contacted and it’s hours after they were expected home. The police treat this – logically – as a risk to life due to the increasingly bad weather and mountain rescue are called out to help search for the men and their dogs.

As the time passes, DCI Walker comes to realise that there is nothing ordinary about this case.

The four men who’ve gone missing were actually on a hunt. The home of one of the men is discovered vandalised and the word ‘murderers’ is found daubed on the walls. With the man’s neighbour a keen anti-hunt saboteur, this quickly becomes a more dangerous situation.

It was hard not to feel frustrated by the pace at which things happened here. This is not a criticism. We follow each moment of the case and see in detail just how difficult the job can be. The dedication the police show to their cause shines through from start to finish, and the pressure they are under by the increasingly social-media focused world it’s hard.

The topic was darker than previous books in the series.

When a picture of a body is sent to news outlets with the phrase ‘let the hunt begin’ we know there’s more to this story. It’s not long before the police recognise they’re no longer looking for survivors, but their hunt for the murderer/s is not an easy one.

Once again, Pine manages to create a scenario that draws us in. The beautiful backdrop of the series is used to great effect to emphasise the danger that is also present. A topic that generates much debate is at the heart of the story, and the thorny issue of who was behind it was a puzzle that I could not wait for them to solve.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read and review this prior to publication.

‘The Accomplice’ – Steve Cavanagh

The Accomplice now has me determined to go back through this series and read the ones I’ve missed. Gripping from the off, with some twists that you may or may not see coming, it was hard to put down once I got started.

The Sandman has struck terror into the hearts of those living in the area. With no evident link to his victims, his unique calling card scared people. However, he has a name…Daniel Miller. Currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, Miller has evaded capture. His wife, however, is about to go on trial as accomplice to his crimes.
Eddie Flynn is asked to take on her case.

What follows is nothing short of audacious. As the trial draws nearer, key witnesses for the prosecution are found dead. The Sandman is back, determined to ensure that Carrie – the woman he loves – is not imprisoned. Flynn and his team – convinced of her innocence – have a short window to try and work out how to get her off. This is made harder when she skips bail, and Flynn’s friend is snatched as hostage to try and ensure Flynn will do his best to get the required result.

I can’t say anything more about the story. There’s a lot of gruesome details of crimes committed, and there’s more than one or two close calls. Some wonderfully timed twists are dropped in at just the right moment to create the bombshell effect that keeps you reading…and the ending makes me think Lake’s story is far from over.

‘Notes on an Execution’ – Danya Kukafka

Notes on an Execution is a novel that I feel has slipped under the radar somewhat. Told from the viewpoints of three very different women, this was the story of serial killer Ansel Packer. It offers a fascinating exploration of modern society, and our attitude to crime.

Ansel is on Death Row and has twelve hours to live. He doesn’t want to die, but he recognises that he has taken the lives of a number of young women and needs to pay for what he has done.

While it was interesting to learn about the background of this character, it was good that we were not forced into a particular way of viewing him. Certainly not the product of a loving family background, Ansel was a character you felt some sympathy for but – ultimately – what he did was hard not to judge. Seeing him through the eyes of those who interacted with him also offered a different viewpoint.

Ansel’s mother, Lavender, tried to give him the best start she could, but her lack of support made it hard. I’m glad we got the opportunity to catch up with her later on and see how she tried to atone for the choices she had made. Saffy, the detective who knew Ansel as a child, was an intriguing character and there was a small part of me that wanted to applaud her dogged determination to do the right thing by characters that so many were able to forget.

The closing stages of the book took things in quite a different direction to that signalled at the start. It’s certainly a book to get you thinking.

‘All the Sinners Bleed’ – S.A. Cosby

A compelling read, and one which doesn’t shy away from asking some awkward questions.

Crosby’s latest is a tightly-plotted, gripping thriller which forces us to consider the deeply rooted prejudices expressed within and how these might be dealt with moving forward. There’s no easy answers here, but this was a compelling read.

Titus is the first black sheriff of Charon. The book opens in dramatic fashion with him being called to the local high school where there’s rumours of a shooting. The shooter is black, and the only victim is a beloved teacher (who’s white).

With residents feeling from the incident, tensions are high. Some within Charon immediately start the process of using this event to manipulate and stoke anti-black sentiment in the area. Titus is determined to be beyond reproach, calling for an internal investigation.

What he uncovers sets up a truly chilling scenario.

The much-loved teacher was a monster hiding in plain sight. The killer, one of his victims. As tension runs high, Titus uncovers damning evidence of decades of abuse and shocking murders…all perpetrated by someone close.

As we follow Titus through the case we see the depths to which people are prepared to stoop. While the details are visceral, they do not feel unnecessary. If I were being picky I’d complain about the fact that Titus is the only really fleshed-out character within the book, but this works and keeps our attention on the case at hand.

‘Death of a Bookseller’ – Alice Slater

Brogan Roach has been a bookseller since she was sixteen. She works in Spines, a rundown store in Walthamstow. Obsessed with true crime, Roach does not make friends easily. Awkward, prone to obsessive behaviours and not keen to change she is a hard character to like.

As part of a move to try and overhaul the fortune of an ailing store, a team of booksellers are drafted in. Amongst them is Laura Bunting, professional and full of positivity. She writes poetry and seems to have everyone wrapped around her little finger. But she does not like Roach.

The rejection sends Roach into a dangerously obsessive spiral. This is made worse when Roach learns that Laura’s mother was murdered by a serial killer. Determined to get closer to Laura, Roach takes increasingly dangerous steps to try and force a friendship.

Told in alternating viewpoints we see very different perspectives on the fascination with true crime. Neither character endears themselves to us, and there were a number of moments where I wondered quite where this would end up. It didn’t take quite the dark turn I feared it might, but there’s plenty to find unsettling. I liked the setting of the bookstore and some of the discussions around reading behaviours. The ending was interesting, and it certainly offered an unusual way for each to resolve their issues.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me opportunity to read and review this in exchange for offering my honest thoughts.

‘Sad Cypress’ – Agatha Christie

A mystery that breaks the unwritten rules that mean we should be able to work out the truth if we’re paying attention. In this Poirot story, he plays his cards close to his chest and only reveals a key detail at the latter stages. Frustrating at the time of reading, but a nice change from the other Christie books I’ve read.

The story itself centres around Elinor Carlisle who is on trial for the murder of Mary Gerrard, a young woman befriended by Elinor’s late aunt. Elinor’s fiancé, Roddy, travelled down with her to visit their aunt, sees Mary and falls in love with her. The suggestion is that Elinor, wracked with jealousy, poisoned the object of her fiancé’s blossoming affections.

The truth is far simpler (and stranger).

Sad Cypress is organised into three distinct parts. We begin with an introduction to the characters and their situation. The second part focuses on Poirot’s casual interrogation of the key players. Finally, we have the trial, evidence and eventual revelation of the crime. Very distinct sections, and it did feel rather slow.

 

‘The Snowstorm’ – Triona Walsh

I was able to read and review this thanks to NetGalley.
A remote Aran island. A storm cutting the island off from the outside world. Six friends gather to mark the anniversary of a terrible tragedy that changed them all, and one of them is found dead. The killer was someone on the island, so it’s up to Garda Cara to try to work out what happened.
I like a locked-room story as much as anyone. Unfortunately, our locked room was an island so the tension was somewhat dissipated by the comings and goings, and endless scenes involving a search of yet another potential site of interest.
The group of friends consists of Cara, the outsider whose position is reinforced by her job, and her childhood friends. Each of them has their history and this is exploited as Cara tries to work out who killed her best friend, Maura.
While the story sounded tense, the pacing of the story was not quite what I thought. Events took a while to unfold, the additional characters muddied the water and delayed the truth being discovered, and the resolution felt like something that would have been known on some level a lot earlier. I found the characterisation of all but Cara quite superficial, and I always felt as if something was being held back.
There were some evocative descriptions of the storm, and I found the creation of the environment in which the story took place quite intriguing. The inclusion of two languages is integral to the book, though this in itself started to feel like another detail included simply to serve a point later on.

 

‘Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone’ – Benjamin Stevenson

As soon as I saw the title while bookstore browsing, I was intrigued. This is the kind of book that won’t necessarily be one I’ll rave about but it was darkly humorous and cleverly put together.

The story itself focuses on a decades-old crime and a rather common situation. However, when we begin it’s fair to say that the links between this past crime and the present are not apparent.

Ernest Cunningham is something of a fan of crime books. He has got used to life as one of the Cunninghams, a family that have had their share of hard luck. However, when we’re told that every member of the family has killed someone I couldn’t help but wonder what we were about to get. The truth is not something you’d easily come to, so it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ride.

From the moment we know Erin was caught up in a shooting and that he is sitting on several hundred thousand dollars for his brother I really couldn’t have guessed where this would end up. As the bodies pile up and we start to learn exactly who the mysterious body at this holiday resort is, I was desperate to learn exactly what had happened.

 

‘The Nothing Man’ – Catherine Ryan Howard

Thank you Catherine Ryan Howard for giving me such a read for my final book of 2022. A book about a serial killer might seem an unusual choice to rate so highly, but this was clever…and once I’d started I really didn’t want to put it down.

The story focuses on a decades-old series of crimes committed by the killer dubbed the Nothing Man. Though he seems to have got away with his crimes, Eve Black survived the attack on her family. She was twelve when The Nothing Man broke into her home, killed her younger sister, raped her mother and left her father dead at the bottom of the stairs. Eve has taken years to feel comfortable talking about her experience, and has now written a book that examines what happened.

Eve’s book has become something of a runaway hit, and it has everyone in Cork talking about this killer. No traces of him were ever found at the scenes of his crimes, and nobody linked to the attacks is seemingly able to offer any details that could help to catch him. But Eve maintains that her book will help in the ongoing pursuit of this killer.

Alongside the fictional book that has generated such interest, we are given the character of Jim. Never has a title felt more fitting as Jim was – is – The Nothing Man. Now in his early sixties, and a security guard in a local shopping centre, Jim’s viewpoint focuses on him learning about the book and his desperate attempts to find out exactly what Eve recalls of that night…and how he can stop her before she reveals what she knows.

From start to finish this was a compelling read. While the details given about the crimes were sparse, enough was given to help us understand the horror of such scenes. I was strangely absorbed by the character of Jim and the insight into his mind, though the real hit was the decision to let the story unfold through the pages of this fictional book.

A clever read, which was paced perfectly, and which I’m surprised not to have heard more about. It’s certainly one that I’d recommend.

 

‘The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels’ – Janice Hallett

It’s fitting that at around the same time last year I was reading The Twyford Code, since ending the year’s reading with the latest offering from Janice Hallett could quite easily become a part of my Christmas routine. Another great example of a story where nothing is quite as it seems, where the characters know a lot more than they realise and where we are privy to the secrets before we quite understand their significance.

With the mention of a key to a safety deposit box holding the only copies of research by author Amanda Bailey at the start, I was immediately intrigued. The research was focused on the case of the Alperton Angels and Amanda’s quest to find the right angle to hinge her upcoming book on.

While the premise of the book drew me in, it took a while for me to fully engage with the intricacies of the story. The relationship between Amanda and her former associate Oliver was a puzzling one, and the vast array of characters and material being discussed made it quite tricky to keep track of the key events. Certain anomalies in the story stuck out, but were not drawn attention to…at least, that is how it seemed.

Everything centres on the case of the Alperton Angels, a group of people who believed they were angels on earth. Three of the group were found in a deserted basement, their throats cut and evidence of satanic rituals. The purported leader of the group is in prison for the murder of a young restaurant worker, and many believe him to be responsible for the other deaths. A young girl and boy were rescued at the scene, and the baby at the centre of the case was adopted afterwards and their current identity is unknown. Almost eighteen years after the event interest is high, and Amanda is keen to learn the identity of the baby and hopes to discover exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, anyone who has investigated this case has a nasty habit of meeting an untimely death. Supernatural forces at play, or a more mundane attempt by those involved to cover up the truth of what happened? As Amanda and Oliver race to find their truth, each gets drawn into the story in ways they could not have foreseen. Shadowy figures and things that are not recalled clearly by witnesses make this a frustrating case to examine…but once we know the truth (or what seems to be the truth) it’s hard not to be impressed by what Hallett offers.

Again, thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this before publication, and thanks to Viper books for spotting another great story.