Die for Me (Axel Steen #2) by Jesper Stein

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Synopsis: A serial rapist wreaks havoc in Copenhagen. The police investigation is hampered not only by the absence of evidence or clues to the attacker’s identity but also by the force’s own incompetence and prejudice.
A DNA sample links the attacks to the cold case that caused DI Axel Steen’s wife to leave him four years earlier. Steen becomes obsessed with solving the case, a desperate grasp at reconciliation, but his self-destructive behaviour only serves to alienate his wife further. His increasingly volatile behaviour also causes his former police partner, now his boss, to question his competence.

My thoughts

Not sure if something got lost in the translation of this but I struggled to read it. The premise itself of a DNA sample connecting several crimes and the possible redemption of Steen is a good one but I just couldn’t take to any of the characters. Steen just doesn’t seem to have anything worth liking beyond his desire for solving the crime. Normally I really enjoy Scandi crime but sadly this one wasn’t for me. 

We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk

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Synopsis: Some doctors are sicker than their patients. When a troubled psychiatrist loses funding to perform clinical trials on an experimental cure for schizophrenia, he begins testing it on his asylum’s criminally insane, triggering a series of side effects that opens the mind of his hospital’s most dangerous patient, setting his inner demons free.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed this debut psychological horror. I looked at the reviews beforehand it they seem quite polarised. You never quite know what to expect when that happens but I’m erring on the positive side. It’s a book of two parts with the first setting the scene of Alex testing his untried miracle cure for schizophrenia on first his brother and then a crazy serial killer. However the serum allows the patient to create new worlds which are transferred onto others. It’s a thought provoking piece and complicated in some areas complicated (and if you’ve read any of my reviews before I’m no good with science) but I followed enough to be creeped out with what was happening. People need to accept pasts, reconcile themselves with their less than desirable personality traits and so on. It all gets very crazy so fitting it’s set in a mental health facility. 

My one fault is there wasn’t enough of the POV from the serial killer. I felt his story was covered and resolved a bit too quickly but that’s a small bug bear as I enjoyed the rest of it. A good debut and looking forward to what the author does next

Extras

Nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel

@flametreepress

Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien

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Synopsis: 1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne. For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland. But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army. To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow of the axe. To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.

My thoughts

An interesting historical story of a time period I’m less familiar with. As with anything regarding royals and gentry of that time there is intrigue, scandal, plotting and fighting and all is included here. It felt well researched and there was a lot to take in. A little too much for me, in some parts it was a little weighty but overall an enjoyable read. 

Old Bones (Bill Slider #19) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

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Synopsis: A young couple discover human remains buried in the garden of their new house: could this be the resting place of 14-year-old Amanda Knight, who disappeared from the same garden two decades before, and was never seen again?

The problem comes almost as a relief to DCI Slider, still suffering from the fallout of his previous case. He is not popular with the Powers That Be, and his immediate boss, Detective Superintendent Porson, reckons that at least this little puzzle will keep Slider out of trouble. After all, with a murder twenty years in the past, this is the coldest of cold cases. Most of the suspects and principal players are now dead too, and all passion is long spent … Or is it?

My thoughts

A new year and a new author for me to try and one where I now have to go back and read the other 18 in the series because I enjoyed this so much. I really need to get on board with writers at the start! 

The thing I enjoyed most about this is not a huge amount happened really. Some old bones are found that look to belong to a girl who went missing 25 years ago and the detectives set about finding out the whodunnit. Apart from a DNA test that becomes important later in the book, there’s no forensics just interviewing, footwork and brain power. It’s quite refreshing and at the same time there’s no drag in the story. 

There’s a sub plot from something that appears to have happened in previous books but I didn’t feel I needed to read them (only want) to understand that part. There’s a gentle humour between the detective team and no one seems to have any damaged pasts (again based on the one book). Again…refreshing. 

I really enjoyed the pace and unravelling of the mystery. Full marks 

Script for Scandal (Lillian Frost & Edith Head #3) by Renee Patrick

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Synopsis: 1939, Los Angeles. Lillian Frost is shocked when her friend, glamorous costume designer Edith Head, hands her the script to a new film that’s about to start shooting. Streetlight Story is based on a true crime: the California Republic bank robbery of 1936. Lillian’s beau, LAPD detective Gene Morrow, was one of the officers on the case; his partner, Teddy, was tragically shot dead. It seems the scriptwriter has put Gene at the centre of a scandal, twisting fact with fiction – or has he? With Gene reluctant to talk about the case, the movie quickly becoming the hottest ticket in town, a suspicious death on the Paramount studio lot and the police reopening the investigation into Teddy’s death, Lillian is determined to find answers. Can Lillian and Edith uncover the truth of what happened that fateful day and clear Gene’s name?

My thoughts

This is the third book in a golden age of Hollywood mystery series full of interesting little side pieces of long dead stars. I’m not so up on that era so no idea how much of these are fact or fiction. I’m assuming a lot of the people were real based on a couple of reviews I read. It gave the book a nice charm.

I liked the change of pace in the noir style from some of the other crime books I’ve read. The main two cosy detectives trying to clear the police officers name are fun and lively. A fun glamorous book to start my new year reading.

The Darkest Place (Inspector Tom Reynolds #4) by Jo Spain

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Synopsis: ‘Island of the Lost was the isle’s name long before the hospital was built. In winter, they say the fog falls so heavy there that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Storms rage so forcefully you can be blown from the cliffs. Once St. Christina’s was built, the name took on a new meaning. Very few who went into that place ever left.’
Christmas day, and DCI Tom Reynolds receives an alarming call. A mass grave has been discovered on Oileán na Caillte, the island which housed the controversial psychiatric institution St. Christina’s. The hospital has been closed for decades and onsite graves were tragically common. Reynolds thinks his adversarial boss is handing him a cold case to sideline him.
But then it transpires another body has been discovered amongst the dead – one of the doctors who went missing from the hospital in mysterious circumstances forty years ago. He appears to have been brutally murdered.
As events take a sudden turn, nothing can prepare Reynolds and his team for what they are about to discover once they arrive on the island . .

My thoughts

The first full book I’ve read in 2020 and I loved it. A mysterious island housing a former insane asylum and a body found in a mass grave that shouldn’t have been there. Thinking they’ve found the answer to a 40 year old disappearance the detectives head across to investigate and find more mystery. There’s been a lot in the news over the years about treatments in institutions not just in Ireland where this is set but everywhere. Treatment is not as it was and often barbaric methods were used where nowadays we would simply take a pill. Reynolds and his team uncover such horrors while they try and solve a murder. 

There are plenty of twists and turns and our baddies are truly evil. It makes for grim but fascinating reading. As the author says the story may be fiction but it’s based on things that genuinely happened to people. It’s excellently written and as mentioned with plenty of twists to keep you guessing right to the end. It’s very atmospheric with the small island , abandoned asylum and lots of fog, so easy to picture and be creeped out by. A great start to my years reading and I highly recommend it. 

Winter of Despair (A Gaslight Mystery #2) by Cora Harrison

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Synopsis: November, 1853. Inspector Field has summoned his friends Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to examine a body found in an attic studio, its throat cut. Around the body lie the lacerated fragments of canvas of a painting titled A Winter of Despair.
On closer examination, Wilkie realizes he recognizes the victim, for he had been due to dine with him that very evening. The dead man is Edwin Milton-Hayes, one of Wilkie’s brother Charley’s artist friends. But what is the significance of the strange series of faceless paintings Milton-Hayes had been worked on when he died? And why is Charley acting so strangely?
With his own brother under suspicion of murder, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens set out to uncover the truth. What secrets lie among the close-knit group of Pre-Raphaelite painters who were the dead man’s friends? And who is the killer in their midst?

My thoughts

A new crime fighting duo for me with writers Dickens and Collins trying to solve the murder of painter Edwin Milton-Hayes & clear the name of Collins’ younger brother who is one of the main suspects. I liked these two working as detectives and it makes for an enjoyable read in the main. It ran a little slow for me at times though, I wanted a little more from it. If you like cosy mysteries and clue solving crimes then you will enjoy this.

A Rush of Blood by David Mark

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Synopsis: When her friend Meda fails to turn up for dance class one evening, 10-year-old Hilda is convinced that something bad has happened to her, despite Meda’s family’s reassurances. Unable to shake off her concerns, Hilda turns to her mother, Molly, for help. Molly runs the Jolly Bonnet, a pub with links to the Whitechapel murders of a century before and a meeting place for an assortment of eccentrics drawn to its warm embrace. Among them is Lottie. Pathologist by day, vlogger by night, Lottie enlists the help of her army of online fans – and uncovers evidence that Meda isn’t the first young girl to go missing.
But Molly and Lottie’s investigations attract unwelcome attention. Two worlds are about to collide in a terrifying game of cat and mouse played out on the rain-lashed streets of London’s East End, a historic neighbourhood that has run red with the blood of innocents for centuries.

My thoughts

This is one creepy, disturbing book and that’s a good thing. Despite the modern day setting, it captures the eeriness of Victorian London and the days of Jack the Ripper. It’s not a Ripperology book though, the antagonist here is kidnapping young girls and performing blood transfusions on them. 

All excellent characters and keeping with the setting we have Molly, an ex-policewoman who enjoys dressing in fashions of years gone by including Victorian as per the theme bar she runs, Lottie the blue haired vlogging pathologist and 10 year old Hilda who seems a very intelligent child although I guess being brought up in a medical world her knowledge fits with the book. 

I liked the multiple character narrations especially Hilda’s who’s own twist at the end was unexpected. There’s a 4th narrator, that of Mr Farkas who is descending further into grief-filled madness who’s obsession with historical medical procedures is the key to the mystery. 

It’s creepy, spooky, full of weird and wonderful characters. It’s an unusual mystery even with the Lithuanian gangster sub-plot which makes it quite refreshing. It definitely left me a little unsettled which I’m seeing as a positive because so often I finish a story unmoved especially when there’s horror or supernatural angles. Good to see I can be surprised after all. Loved it and looking forward to see what else David Mark has.

The Driftwood Girls (The Sea Detective Book 4) by Mark Douglas-Home

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Synopsis: Kate and Flora Tolmie have always lived with a mystery: what happened to their mother, Christina? Twenty-three years ago, she vanished without trace from coastal northern France, leaving her young daughters orphaned and alone. Now Flora is also missing. In desperation, Kate searches her Edinburgh house, and finds a piece of note paper with just one name: Cal McGill. Cal is a so-called sea detective, an expert on the winds and the tides, and consequently an exceptionally gifted finder of lost things – and lost people. Kate hopes that Cal might not only find her sister, but also unlock the mystery that has overshadowed both women’s lives: what happened to their beloved mother all those years before? Unfortunately, Cal doesn’t think he can help. But that’s only because he hasn’t yet realised that the dark undercurrents of the case will ultimately lead him back dangerously close to home…

My thoughts

I’ve read many different detectives but an oceanic detective is definitely a new one. Cal McGill helps find things, including people, lost in the ocean. After burying his old friend at sea he is asked to look for Kate’s mother, missing over 20 years. The way that Cal looks up tides and wind speed etc to work out where the woman went missing from is fascinating even if I didn’t understand it all (me & science= not friends). On doing so he links her to another dead girl from the same time period but other side of the country. 

I really did like how it all came together. At the start you wonder how people in different areas in different countries will link up and it does really well. I liked Cal and (police) detective Helen. I’m interested to see where their friendship goes. 

It’s not a fast paced book, Cal is quite methodical and the pace matches his personality. I don’t normally like a slower paced book but this did hook me from the beginning and I was keen to see how it would unfold. It’s my first of this series but I think it works well as a stand alone, I didn’t feel I’d missed anything by not having read the others but I enjoyed it enough to want to go back and try them.

Press Here! Chakras for Beginners: A Simple Guide to Balancing Your Energy Centers by Victor Archuleta

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Synopsis: Focusing on the three most powerful modalities for chakra harmonization—foot reflexology, reiki, and crystal energy techniques—Press Here Chakras for Beginners empowers you with a number of choices to maintain your chakras as well as perform the necessary adjustments to alleviate some of the most common ailment.

My thoughts

This is a colourful fun starter book for anyone interested in chakras however having learnt about chakras, reiki and crystals there is a lot missing. It’s a bit too simplified. I found it interesting to read the reflexology but there’s more to it than the book suggests. The charts at the end are a useful tool though. I think more could have been added to make it a fully rounded book.