Dying Breath by Helen Phifer

The woman’s face was pale and waxy. Her milky, partially open eyes stared into the distance. There were drag marks in the grass; she’d been placed here and posed. Who did this to you and why have they left you like this?

When a woman’s body is found on a lonely patch of scrubland, Detective Lucy Harwin is called to the scene. The victim’s clothes have been wrenched to expose her, and her feet are bare. 

Lucy and her team have only just started investigating who could have wanted local mother Melanie Benson dead, when a young woman is discovered strangled in a dark alley. As more bodies appear in the run-down seaside town, the small community is gripped by fear, and the pressure to solve the case becomes unbearable. But with each victim dying in a different way, Lucy struggles to find a link between the murders. Are these random killings, or part of the same plan? 

Just as she thinks she’s getting close, Lucy starts to suspect the killer is watching her. Can she find the murderer before they strike again, or will she be next?

Welcome to my first book review of 2018. I’m absolutely determined to try to fit in more reviews this year, and what better way to start, than with a writer who is always guaranteed to have me gripping the Kindle tightly, heart thumping, as I try to work out whodunnit, and if the dastardly fiend is going to get away with it. Truthfully, with Helen Phifer’s fabulous female detectives on the case, it’s guaranteed that the murderer will be caught, but things don’t always go according to plan …

Dying Breath is the second in the DI Lucy Harwin series. I read and loved the first, Dark House, back when it was named The Lost Children (you can read that review here) but I honestly think that Dying Breath is even better.

We’re thrown into the action immediately, with the brutal murder of a woman. Before long, it becomes very clear that the killer has no intention of stopping at one victim. What I love about Helen Phifer’s books is that we always get to see inside the murderer’s mind. It’s quite chilling to read how twisted his thoughts are, and the weird kind of logic he applies to the crimes he commits. It’s also very unnerving to realise how much he enjoys the chase, the plotting, the setting up of the murder. How he chooses his victims and why, what delight it gives him to stalk them, devise their manner of death, the excitement each body’s discovery brings him. It’s morbidly fascinating to follow his thought processes, even though it does make you feel sick with horror.

Lucy Harwin is a great character, with a strong work ethic and passion for her job that sometimes battles with her home life. She’s a devoted mother, but she’s also separated from her husband, the love of her life, and struggles with that failure. Her on-off relationship with a hospital doctor is currently more off than on. She has a great working relationship with her colleague, Mattie, and there’s clearly a great bond there, although that hasn’t (yet) tipped over into a romantic relationship. Lucy is highly respected at work, and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which sometimes causes her to clash with other members of the investigating team. But her determination and dedication have made her many friends, too, and she certainly has her admirers.

The setting of a slightly rundown seaside town is well-drawn, and there is a great sense of authenticity in the police procedural scenes. You really feel as if you’re watching a real police team; it becomes clear that police work isn’t at all glamorous and exciting. There’s an awful lot of hard work and painstaking tasks involved, and quite a lot of frustration at the red tape and box ticking that has to be done. But you also get to see the bond that forms between the colleagues who are working together to solve the case. Real friendships develop, and there’s a good sense of comradeship and looking out for each other.

Throughout the course of the book, I changed my mind several times about the killer’s identity. The author very cleverly leads the reader down several false trails and it was only towards the end that light began to dawn in my mind. When it did, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, as Lucy finally confronts the serial killer in a highly dramatic finale.

I won’t say any more about the story, because I’m desperately trying not to give anything away! I’ll just finish by saying that Dying Breath is a cracking crime novel, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. 5/5

You can buy Dying Breath here.

Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea by Liz Eeles/Annie’s Holiday by the Sea

Every now and again, you pick up a book (or your Kindle) and find a story that just seems so easy-to-read that it feels like coming home. Which, in the case of Annie’s Lovely Choir by the Sea, is quite fitting, really, since that’s one of the main themes of the story.

Annie Trebarwith is a real loner. Since the death of her mum, she has been living an independent life in London, sharing a flat in the capital, embarking on a series of temporary office jobs, and putting her failed romance with a lecherous ex behind her. Life with her mother was unconventional, and Annie has grown used to moving around, never settling, never putting down roots. She is all too aware that her mother’s Cornish family turned its back on her when she got pregnant and that her parents wanted nothing to do with her, or her baby. As a result, Annie is equally determined to have nothing to do with her extended family.

So it’s a bit of a shock when she is invited to Cornwall to visit her great aunt Alice, who has not been well and is in need of help. Finally meeting a member of the family is bad enough, but the culture shock of Cornwall in January, after the busy streets of London, is enough to make Annie decide that this visit will be very brief indeed. Her determination only increases when, upon arrival in the coastal village of Salt Bay, she has an unpleasant encounter with Josh Pascoe – a grumpy-looking chap who definitely isn’t someone she wants to get to know better, even if he does look like a cross between Poldark and Richard Armitage.

The dismal, wet weather does nothing to change Annie’s mind, but Aunt Alice turns out to be rather lovely, and new friend Kayla, who is Australian and great fun, makes the village more interesting. When Annie’s love of music leads her to revive the Salt Bay Choral Society, her bonds with the village and its past tighten, and she makes new discoveries about her own family’s past.

But events conspire to drive Annie back to London, where she is employed by her new found relative Toby. But are Toby’s motives for giving her a job entirely honourable? Annie frets about Aunt Alice, about the future of the choir, and – in spite of all her best attempts – about what exactly the devilishly handsome Josh is getting up to.

But an independent London girl doesn’t belong in a Cornish village, does she? And with Josh’s evident dislike of the Trebarwith family, there’s really nothing to go back to…Is there?

I absolutely loved this book. It’s written in such a deceptively easy style that I just found myself turning page after page, eager to find out what happened next. Annie is a wonderful main character – her vulnerable nature brilliantly masked by a great sense of humour. Josh is absolutely gorgeous, and yes, I did fall in love with him. Too right, I did!

Salt Bay is such a delightful village. Having holidayed many times in Cornish coastal villages, it felt very real and familiar to me. I laughed at the scene which featured a coastal path down to the beach. I totally related to poor Annie’s struggles with it. I’ve struggled  similarly myself. Those paths are horrendous! There were some real laugh-out-loud moments in this book, and yet it had an emotional pull, too. I will confess, I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as I read the last page. Very moving indeed.

I would definitely recommend this book. It’s a great holiday read, and I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel and find out what Josh and Annie get up to next. 5/5

Updated to say the title of this book has been changed to Annie’s Holiday by the Sea.

You can buy Annie’s Holiday by the Sea here.

The Lost Children by Helen Phifer

After a previous case ended in a tragic double murder, Detective Lucy Harwin, has been on enforced absence from the force. But when the body of an elderly man is discovered in an abandoned hospital, she is plunged straight back into a case that will test her to breaking point.

For decades, The Moore housed the forgotten children of Northern coastal town, Brooklyn Bay. But ever since a scandal forced its closure, the abandoned building has been left untouched.

Together with her partner, Detective Mattie Jackson, Lucy begins to unearth its terrible history, and soon finds herself on the trail of a killer ruthlessly fixated on avenging the crimes of the past.

As Lucy begins to close in on the killer, a woman is found murdered on her own doorstep. With the attacks escalating, and those closest to her now a target, can Lucy protect them and herself before it’s too late?

 

This is a really gripping story of revenge and murder, and I think it’s possibly my favourite of Helen Phifer’s books so far. It definitely pulled me in from the first page, and the action never stops. A really grisly murder in an old asylum – how can it not hold your attention and make your heart beat just that little bit faster?
I’m a fan of this author’s Annie Graham books, so I wondered if Lucy Harwin would appeal as much. She did. I could relate to the overworked detective, whose husband had walked out on her for another woman, and whose daughter, Ellie, is struggling with issues around their separation, her mother’s obsession with her job, coping with a new family, and all the other teenage angst that girls of her age have to deal with. Lucy is battling the inevitable guilt over Ellie, sadness over losing her husband, and the aftermath of events in her professional past, which have led to her being ordered to undergo counselling.
When the first murder occurs, it puts added pressure on Lucy’s and Ellie’s relationship, as, before long, Lucy is in the grip of an all-consuming police investigation, involving an old asylum, the people who once worked there, and the patients they “treated” – the lost children. As the body count rises, Lucy and her sidekick, Mattie, find themselves in a race against time. Someone is out for revenge, and the killer is showing no mercy.
My thoughts on who this killer could be changed throughout the course of the novel. It wasn’t until I nearly reached the end of the book that I realised who it was. I’d been led down another path very cleverly by the author.
This is, I believe, the first in a new series of Lucy Harwin novels, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where the character goes next. Helen Phifer is a gifted storyteller, and I’m half dreading what poor Lucy will have to cope with next. Loved the Stephen King character, by the way! Lovely touch. 5/5

You can buy The Lost Children here.