Crime On the Fens by Joy Ellis




A good read, worthy of one’s time…..   ***

Every good detective story has the same key elements – a detective who is great at their job yet is often at odds with the higher ups, a personal life that is in disarray for whatever reason, a good team of co-workers who admire the detective and will do what is necessary to help, and sometimes a pairing with a partner that is either strained or was forced on them.

Joy Ellis has written a novel that includes all of the above with just enough differences to make Crime On the Fens a good read. The female detective, Nikki Galena, is a hard driving, focused DI bent on avenging her daughter who is lying in a hospital, and bringing those responsible to justice. She is being forced to work with DS Joseph Easter, whose reputation is as questionable as her own. The team she assembles to solve the disappearance of a young girl consists of misfits in their own right.

Ellis wove the threads of the story with just enough twists to keep me turning the page, not so much as to what was going to happen but in how she was going to bring things together. As with any good series the ending leaves a teaser that does make you want to read the next book. It also suffers from the series weakness of when the main character is in jeopardy you know she will somehow survive because there is a next book.

Ellis has been compared to writers Rachel Abbott, Mel Sherratt, and Ruth Rendell. This last one may be stretching it, but I would add Ian Rankin to the list. Her DI Galena could be the female version of John Rebus, even down to the suspicious relationship with an underworld figure. Rebus had “Big Ger” Cafferty and Galena has Archie Leonard.

This is a good book, maybe not outstanding, but an average read worthy of one’s time.

This one gets three stars.


Life or Death by Michael Robotham



More like life, then dull…..   ***


Having read all of Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin series, I was curious to read one of his stand alone novels.

Life or Death is a unique story that grips you from the beginning. Just the premise of a character breaking out of prison one day before his release is enough to make you want to read the book. Weaving the present with the past, Robotham reveals the motivation behind the escape, saving the twist to near the end. I do have to admit I had not figured things out until the author revealed the full story. Up to that point the novel is well written.

Robotham even manages to take what could have been a cliche –  prisoner on the run connects with down and out mother and child – and gives it a twist that was surprising.

It is not until the climax that this novel falls apart. The confrontation between the good guys and bad guys is so full of holes, I was expecting the pages to fall apart. The rest is tied into a neat little package and left me with a feeling of being let down.

This one gets three stars.  Actually it is a four star read up to chapter 64, then it becomes a three star read.

The Check by Clair Wm. Harmony

best    Great idea, devil in the details……  **


What a great idea!  Someone is putting money in Ronald Sizemore’s bank account and is then sending checks out to people in need. The money is being drained from every imaginable drug dealer, terrorist, or criminal’s account and is being used for good. This sounds reminiscent of a story one might have seen on Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.

The idea is good and the novel holds together for about the first third of the book.  Unfortunately, it then deteriorates from cliche to unbelievable.

Harmony does a good job of setting  up the plot and brings the reader in deep. I found myself turning pages anxious to see where this was going and who was causing the money transfers. The story begins to fall apart after Sizemore hires a security firm to protect him from threats on his life. Without giving anything away, the decisions made for his protection soon become unbelievable.

The novel could use a rewrite. Harmony mixes up the names of his characters. Sid Madras is the man Sizemore rescued as a marine but is called Sgt Pollock in a TV interview. There are inconsistencies that throw the reader out of the story. For example, when the head of the security team calls to set up a meeting, he says he will be bringing egg McMuffins and coffee in the morning. When he gets there he has egg McMuffins and says he didn’t have time to get anything better as if it was never said before. There are more plot holes here than potholes on a California highway.

This good idea just needed a good editor to flesh out the details that would have made this a thought provoking read, as opposed to a read that ended with me saying, “Really?”

This one gets two stars.



Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham



Hold on, and don’t close your eyes…..   *****

Some writers who write a series get lazy after a few novels and rely on formula to put out the rest of the series. Lee Child is a good example of this. Michael Robotham is one of the exceptions. His novels have only gotten better as the series featuring Joe O’Loughlin has progressed. His latest, Close Your Eyes, is one of his best.

Once again, using first person for the viewpoint of both the antagonist and the protagonist, Robotham creates a page turner that not only doesn’t let you go, but in the last few chapters had me breathing fast and on the edge of my seat.

The story revolves around two people who were murdered at a farm house and a seemingly unconnected group of women, and men, who have been attacked throughout the city, left alive, with a letter “A” carved in their foreheads. (Yes, Robotham pays homage to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.)  Finding the connection between the victims becomes O’Loughlin’s task and he recruits Vincent Ruiz, as usual, to help.

While the story of solving the crimes is enough to make this a good read, it is the side story of Joe’s family that cements this as a must read. It has been a while since a book actually made my heart pound and had me completely engrossed in the fate of the characters.

This one gets a full five stars!

Watching You by Michael Robotham



Another good one from Robotham….  ****


Once again Michael Robotham proves he is at his best when at least one of his characters is written in first person.  This time we are in the head of the protagonist, who Robotham uses to take the reader down a path that has twists, turns, and finally a slight head scratcher. I can’t say who the protagonist is without this being a spoiler.

Marnie Logan’s husband has disappeared and she goes to see Joe O’Loughlin for therapy. This puts Joe and his retired detective sidekick, Vincent Ruiz, in the middle of the story. Someone is eliminating or harassing people in Marnie’s life that have wronged her, and the question of who is doing this drives the plot.

In the middle of the book, a secret about Marnie is revealed and Robotham wants the reader to think this will be the answer to the mystery, but then the twists and turns begin.

In the end, I was left thinking, “Okay, this was possible, but it does stretch believability.”  This is a good read and one of Robotham’s better novels.

This one gets four stars.




Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham



Nothing to be sorry about in this one……   ****


Reading Robotham’s novels is like playing Ping Pong. One is good, the next not so good, then good, and on and on. This is a good one!

It seems when he writes the protagonist, in this case Joe O’Loughlin, in first person and adds one other character in first person, Robotham’s writing excels. He did this in Shatter, where the other point of view character was the villain. In this novel the other first person point of view is a teenager, Piper Hadley, who was kidnapped three years ago along with her friend, Tash McBain. Robotham’s ability to get into the heads of these characters makes for an outstanding read.  In this case, he reveals the mind of a teenager in a way that is not only believable but made me forget it was the author writing.

This novel has a great deal of tension, a few scenes that made me cringe, and plenty of twists at the end that kept me guessing. Once the kidnapper is revealed, I had to stop for a minute and think about whether it made sense for that character to be the culprit.  And yes, it did.  There is even a moment when I caught myself saying out loud to the character, Piper, “Don’t do that, don’t you know who that is!?” I will let you figure out when I did that.

My only concern now is since the last book, The Wreckage, was not one of his good ones, and this one is, what will the next one be like in this game of back and forth?

In the meantime this one gets four stars. This one loses a star for a couple of plot points that I can’t point out without this review being a spoiler.



The Wreckage by Michael Robotham



An apt title for this one…..  **


This novel starts out well. Somewhat – gripping, interesting characters, multiple viewpoints. Then it begins to drag, the characters multiply a bit too much and become hard to keep straight, and then it just becomes unbelievable in regards to what the characters do.

Michael Robotham has a knack for writing good and not so good novels. This would be one of the not so good. His two main characters, Vincent Ruiz and Joe O’Loughlin, are back and as we expect save the day. It is the how that adds to the unbelievable aspect.

The settings jump between Baghdad, London, Luton, Istanbul, and Washington. The chapters are short and the characters are exposed only a little at a time, making the story somewhat confusing. Fortunately, each chapter heading lets the reader know where they are, otherwise it would be more confusing than it is.

One of the threads that weaves through the story is around a character known only as The Courier. He is a ruthless killer who lets nothing get in his way nor leaves anyone alive in his wake. I realize the heroes Ruiz and O’Loughlin have to survive to continue the series, but for both to encounter The Courier and not die was a bit much. This is not just a weakness in Robotham’s novel, but a problem in most thrillers – when a killer hesitates when confronted by the protagonist or leaves them bound and gagged instead of dead.

The most unbelievable scene, however, is when Ruiz interrupts a dinner meeting between the CIA and the bankers involved in the story. Ruiz would have never been able to even get close to the table, much less sit down as if he belonged.

This one gets two stars as I move on to the next Robotham novel, hoping for a good one.