The Cutting Season (Washington Poe #4.5), by M.W. Craven

Seven stars

A long-time fan of M.W. Craven and all that he has written, I was drawn to this novella that serves as a series teaser before the next full-length book arrives. Craven’s Washington Poe series is addictive and alluring, which makes reading anything with this cast of characters just as great. This short piece does not have the same pizzazz as the rest of the series, but does well to remind readers of the two main protagonists and how well they work together; those being Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw. One, a DS in the National Crime Agency; the other, a quirky, tech-savvy woman who appears able to help in the oddest ways.

DS Washington Poe enjoys his team within the National Crime Agency, particularly when they can help chase down some of England’s worst serial killers. Working alongside Poe is a civilian who has been contracted to help, one Tilly Bradshaw. Tilly is very… unique, yet her skills are some of the best in the world. Her factoid knowledge is amazing and she always seems to have different ways to squeeze answers out of people, which makes Poe’s job a lot smoother.

When they body of a man is found tied to a chair, with only superficial injuries, it baffles Poe and his team, However, the ‘pound of flesh’ is soon revealed to have been part of a piece of retribution related to another crime. An apparent suicide by train may be more than it first seems, leading Poe and Bradshaw to dig a little deeper.

In doing so, Poe puts himself out there to get answers and winds up in the hands of a criminal enterprise, trying to convince them to reveal the truth behind the murder and apparent suicide. What follows is a quirky (yet to be expected) roll out of events at the hands of M.W. Craven’s brilliant mind.

While I usually go on for a few paragraphs about a book, I wanted to be brief, as Craven was with this story. The premise is great and I enjoyed a little teaser when it comes to waiting for a full novel. The short chapters had me reading this in one evening and I do not regret it. I did feel, however, as though Craven did not put the full effort into the depth and delivery of this piece. It seemed almost rushed and superficial, as though it was penned by a middle schooler who wanted to tell a lot without giving too much detail. While I enjoyed it, for sure, I hoped for more in the same number of pages. Great writing, wonderful characters, and a lot going on… but give me the depth Craven does in full novels (not length, but grip me by the collar and chill me to the bone)!

Kudos, Mr. Craven, on reminding me why Poe and Bradshaw make such a great pair!

Dead Ground (Washington Poe #4), by M.W. Craven

Eight stars

It’s always such a pleasure when sitting down to read a crime thriller by M.W. Craven. His work is so detailed and fast-paced that the reader cannot help but be swept away. Back with another book in his primary series, Craven offers fans another crime thriller set in the north of England. Detective Sergeant Washington Poe wants nothing but the quiet life, but that’s been turned on its head and he faces eviction by the county. In the midst of the trial, Poe is called away to a local brothel, where a man has been bludgeoned with a baseball bat. Poe works with his partner, computer programmer Tilly Bradshaw, and they try to decipher what’s going on and why senior intelligenc officers care so much about the case. The deeper they dig, the less it makes sense, particularly a small trinket left at the murder scene, which can be traced back to a mysterious bank heist years before. Another great story that will keep readers hooked until the final reveal.

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe might love the fast pace work of police investigations, but he’s also a fan of the quiet solitude that a cottage in the country can provide. When Poe is brought to count and faces eviction, he calls on his partner, the socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw to defend him. While they appear to be making headway, Poe and Bradshaw are soon called away on a case in Carlisle.

When Poe and Bradshaw arrive, they discover it’s a brothel and the victim’s been bludgeoned with a baseball bat. While this has certainly been a murder, it does not reach the caliber of what Poe is used to working. It’s only when Poe and Bradshaw are whisked away to meet with British Intelligence that things begin making sense, though only slightly.

Discovering that the victim was former British military and had been hired to transport VIPs to a trade summit, the case takes on a new interest for Poe and Bradshaw. While nothing seems to make sense, a small ceramic rat that was left at the scene of the crime seems highly out of place. After some deep searching, Bradshaw traces it back to an old bank heist with an odd twist.

As Poe and Bradshaw dig even deeper, they learn of an old military group whose ‘mascot’ of sorts was a rat. It’s soon discovered that there’s so much more at play here, with the FBI and MI5 having their own interest in getting the case solved. That said, Poe and Bradshaw will stop at nothing until they reveal it all and bring justice to the man who was killed.

Who’s been targeting old military personnel and for what reason? Can Poe and Bradshaw catch the killer before it’s too late and more bodies pile up? Are there secrets that the Americans and British do not want revealed and has Poe inched his way a little too close to the truth for their liking? All this and much more in revealed in this whirlwind thriller that is sure to keep the reader guessing.

I’ve come to really enjoy the work of M.W. Craven over the past few years, as his writing is both quick and highly detailed. The stories never fail to impress, even if they can get a little complex as the web is woven. All that being said, fans never leave bored or with a case that is simple to solve. Rather, it’s a ride like no other, which will surely keep me coming back for more.

Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw do well as joint protagonists throughout this piece. There is much going on and it keeps the reader on their toes throughout, forcing them to experience the intense banter between the two. While Poe is slightly sarcastic and cold, Bradshaw is too literal for her own good and naive to the intricacies of nuance. Still, they work together masterfully to solve crimes and leave no stone unturned throughout the process.

Craven has added some wonderful supporting characters in the novel, some of whom are friendly faces, while others are new to the action. While many of these complement the protagonists well, it is the banter that they all have that helps enrich the reading experience. Poe is determined to get to the answer and will move anyone in his way, while Bradshaw is highly inquisitive and seeks the synthesise data completely. With pressures from all sides, there is no way to find a happy medium.

The story may not have been my favourite in the collection, but it certainly packed a punch. I was happy to get well into the novel and see what twists arose to steer the story in many directions. I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of the narrative, which gained momentum where needed. The characters worked well to push the story along, travelling through the plot effectively. Craven mixes things up with chapter lengths, leaving the reader unsure what is to come and how things will progress throughout. Things did get a little chaotic with plot lines and tangential pasts that seek to connect to a larger puzzle. Still, I could not stop reading this piece and am pleased I took the time to devour this book in short order.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for series fans in the months to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Cut Short (Washington Poe #3.5), by M.W. Craven

Eight stars

Always one for more Washington Poe, I turned to this collection of three short stories. Poe and his friend, Tilly Bradshaw , find themselves in three short adventures, each with their own forensic element. Poe is keen to dole out what knowledge he has, though Tilly is no wilting violet. A perfect collection to be paired with a hot drink or to read while out in the sun. Recommended to those who have an affinity for this crime duo, who are always bantering in Cumbria.

The Killing Field

While Poe and Tilly prepare to spend the day at a local exhibition, they are called away from their time off to help inspect a local issue. When they arrive, it is not only two bodies that await them, but a large pit filled with animals from the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak. Someone’s sewn the victims up into two cow carcasses. After listening to what little information there is, Poe can tell who the two men are and what brought them them. Shocking, but he lays it all out for everyone without needing to get sullied at all.

Why Don’t Sheep Shrink?

It all started with a cough, leading to a scandalous means by which Poe has his temperature taken. As Poe needs to self-isolate for a week because of this pesky virus, he will need to find something to do. Tilly, too, is stuck with him, having been around when the symptoms emerged. Little to do other than go for walks—perhaps, a stroll?—and tidy up, Poe and Tilly find themselves searching for ways to pass the time. When Poe comes across an old case that stumped him, they take up the challenge.

A man was found drowned in his bathtub, apparently having suffered an epileptic seizure. While no one could find anything sinister, the victim’s sister was sure there was some foul play. All eyes turned to the man’s partner, though there was nothing tying her to the crime. Given an hour, Tilly uses her know-how and some keen observations and cracks the case wide open.

Dead Man’s Fingers

In line with the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, and having just come off their isolation, Poe and Tilly are out in the fields. Poe remembers a case from back in 2001, where two star-crossed teenagers could not get enough of one another, one bringing infection back from the other’s farm. With all the livestock to be culled, the teens disappear. Could have left for the continent, or did someone have a more macabre idea? Poe and Tilly work together, with the help of a rabbit-chasing dog, to stumble upon a clue or two that solves the case.

I have enjoyed the Washington Poe series since first I discovered the work by M.W. Craven. The pieces are not only full of wonderful character development and dialogue, but the cases are quite detailed. These are much shorter stories, but they pull the reader in just as effectively. Poe and Tilly work to pool their talents to solve three cases quite effectively. The reader will notice how each differs from the other, though the writing could be part of an almost continuous string of days that the two spent together. There’s little time for development or secondary characters, but those who have come to enjoy this duo will find a great deal to make them smile. I’m glad to have found this collection, as I wait for the next full-length novel.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for reminding me just how great a shorter piece can be.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Curator (Washington Poe #3), by M.W. Craven

Eight stars

After a decent wait, M.W. Craven is back with his sensational Washington Poe series and a mystery that will leave chills up the reader’s spine. It’s Christmas and everyone seems to be in a giving mood, though some are doing more than others. At three separate gatherings over the holidays, severed fingers are found with no trace of their owners. Enter DS Washington Poe of the National Crime Agency and his expertise in serial crimes. Alongside his civilian partner, Matilda ‘Tilly’ Bradshaw, they liaise with the Cumbrian authorities to determine what’s been going on. After a slow process, the fingers are identified, though the people to whom they belong are found murdered. Poe and Bradshaw work to find ties between the victims, but come up short. However, one of the clues leads to a man who breaks down soon after being taken in for questioning. He has been participating in a Black Swan Challenge, an activity run on the dark web by a secret administrator, where challengers are given daily tasks with increased risk to themselves and others. These victims could be tools of a larger and more ominous game, with an administrator who remains highly elusive. When Poe receives a call from an ostracised federal agent in the United States, he learns of The Curator, a mysterious entity who is able to convince victims to rise up and take back control by exacting murderous revenge on those who wronged them. Scoffed at even by those in Cumbria, Poe cannot take The Curator seriously. It is at this point that a similarity between the three victims falls into place and Poe must wonder if he should have accepted the aid given to him with open arms. Might The Curator be running a puppet show of sorts, using a scorned individual to exact a violent act to balance the scales? Poe and Bradshaw work with the locals to hone in on any other victims, as well as who could be a killer in waiting. It will take patience and perseverance, something that Poe usually has in spades. A wonderful instalment in the Washington Poe series that will keep readers devouring this book in short order. Recommended for those who enjoy a chilling thriller, as well as the reader who has come to love all things Washington Poe.

I arrived a little late for the Washington Poe game, but caught up quickly and found that M.W. Craven writes just the sort of book I love when I want some dark thriller writing. Mixing some psychological mind games with a dash of humour, Craven knows how to pen a sensational novel that will keep people talking. Washington Poe is back, fresh from two of his most exhilarating cases, and ready to tackle another. His work is paced and his attention to detail makes sure he rarely misses anything. Balancing his police work with the ever-looming news about his past, Poe is able to keep himself busy, even when he is not actively processing case details. Poe’s characteristics are balanced by Tilly Bradshaw, whose personality is textbook literal, which makes their interactions all the most interesting. Bradshaw is work and only work, though her inability to understand nuance and sarcasm makes for some wonderfully lighter moments in the middle of the case. Tech savvy and always ready with a theory, Bradshaw is the perfect yin to Poe’s yang. A handful of others keep the reader on their toes as they meander through the case, adding flavour to an already rich narrative. The story, like the previous two novels, is top notch and keeps the reader wanting to know more. Mixing great banter with a narrative that pushes along, Craven has created a story that readers will want to keep reading. This is aided by short chapters that lure the reader to ‘read just a few more’ until the experience is one that cannot be stopped until all is known. Craven’s passion for writing appears on every page and this is another one of those crime thrillers that many will be talking about well after they finish the novel, as they pine for the next book and what Poe will discover then!

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for a great addition to the series. You won me over and I hope others will find their way to your Washington Poe (and other) series in the months to come!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Puppet Show (Washington Poe #1), by M.W. Craven

Nine stars

Seeking a high-impact thriller, I was told to explore M.W. Craven’s new series, involving a rogue police detective with a penchant for finding the truth in all crimes. I am pleased that I did, for this series debut left me astounded and wanting to learn a little more about DS Washington Poe. The burning of a number of bodies would have been enough to alert the National Crime Agency (NCA) to a problem, but when one victim had the name of former Detective Inspector Washington Poe etched into the torso, the higher-ups knew they’d have to seek some assistance. Poe, on suspension for a major gaffe, is hesitant to assist, though his help with this serial killer is essential. Reinstated with a number of limitations, including a demotion to Detective Sergeant, Poe is put on the case and makes his way back up to Cumbria, where he cut his teeth on police work. Not only has the killer—dubbed Immolation Man—set fire to his male victims, but he has also castrated them and left them to burn in stone circles. Utilising a socially inept analyst, Poe and the rest of the team travel to the region and try tracing any connection between the victims. It is slow going, but certain clues point to events decades in the past. Might the Immolation Man have been plotting for all this time, seeking certain men who are pillars of the community? As Poe pushes, he irks many of those in the chain of command, earning him repeated scoldings, though he is more focussed on the case than any social niceties. When a connection does emerge, it opens a new and equally sadistic narrative that could turn the case on its head. How does Washington Poe play into all of this and will the killer strike again, before the authorities can intercept him and stop the burnings? Craven stuns readers with this compact thriller that refuses to slow down until the final page turn. Recommended for those who enjoy a detailed thriller and readers who need more than light and airy when reading a police procedural.

While I had not read anything by M.W. Craven before, I will certainly change that in the coming months. Craven not only presents a wonderful story, but puts the reader in the middle of things, enveloping them in the darker sides of procedurals and making the narrative seem all the more detailed. Washington Poe is by no means a lighthearted character, though his grit and determination is offset by a desire to be sociable. He knows what needs doing and, at times and can extract all the information he needs by currying favour with those around him, though he is not against ignoring direct orders when it suits him. Poe may not have a significant backstory outside of work, but his dedication to the job and compassion for victims and their families is noted throughout the book. Craven does add an interesting explanation about the source of Poe’s name, which the attentive reader will discover. The other members of the National Crime Agency prove able to complement Poe and contrast nicely with all he does. The various personalities work well to keep the reader involved, without feeling that all work in unison in crime fighting. I can only hope at least a few characters return for Craven’s sequel in this series, as I do want to learn more about them and how they function as a ragtag group. The story was stellar, with strong plot lines and well-established characters to keep the reader interested. Layering criminal acts and retribution throughout the novel allows the reader to see a slow release of information that keeps the story from going stale at any point. I lost myself in the detail and found in all-encompassing at times, which left me wanting more. Thankfully, there is another novel in the series to keep me company, as I want nothing more than to dive right in and see what else Washington Poe has in store for the reader.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for this strong debut. I will be rushing to get my hands on the second book and eagerly awaiting the third, due in 2020.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Black Summer (Washington Poe #2), by M.W. Craven

Nine stars

After devouring M.W. Craven’s series debut, I was quick to get my hands on a copy of this sequel, which packs just as much punch with its sensational storytelling and strong plot. Washington Poe is still reeling from the fallout of the Immolation Man case and he carries the burns on his hands to prove it. When he is called back up to Cumbria, he cannot be sure if there is more he will have to remember. However, it is another of his past cases that comes to the forefront. Six years ago, Poe helped to put Jared Keaton behind bars for the murder of his daughter. While working in the front of house of her father’s restaurant, Elizabeth Keaton was apparently attacked, spilling enough blood in the kitchen to ensure she could not have survived. However, with no body, it was all circumstantial evidence, which Poe used to ensure the Michelin-star chef did not see the light of day. When a woman claiming to be Elizabeth Keaton stumbles up to a police officer, all bets are off. Poe is sure that Elizabeth is dead, citing the forensics found at the scene, though the blood of this woman matches the victim perfectly. Elizabeth claims that she was abducted, but cannot remember much of anything else. Poe must work fast to see what is going on, calling upon his analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, whose book smarts and social awkwardness may help forge ahead. They explore all the evidence once again and thrust themselves into the cutthroat world of the culinary arts, trying to piece the crime together, while Jared Keaton prepares to be exonerated and Poe’s future hangs in the balance. How can the blood lie, twice, and what happened six years ago to turn things completely upside down? ‘Elizabeth’ disappears again, adding depth to an already confusing set of facts. Poe and Bradshaw will have to work quickly, though with the help of their National Crime Agency colleagues to find answers. There may be something embedded in Keaton’s gastronomical gifts that tells the tale, but time is limited. Another stunning novel that Craven uses to captivate the reader throughout. Not to be missed by fans of the first book, and highly recommended to those who want a stunning read to pass the time.

M.W. Craven takes the reader down one rabbit hole and up another in this stunning sequel that carries on not long after the debut piece. It is not only a wonderful story, but the reader can find themselves in the middle of relentless action while discovering the darker sides of police procedurals. Washington Poe is again front and centre in this piece, with grit and determination to solve the crime offset by a desire to be sociable wherever possible. Poe’s desire to see things through to their completion adds a thread to the story, as he forges ahead to ensure that he truth prevails, even if it could cost him everything. Poe refuses to back down and will work outside the chain of command if he feels that he is in the right, though he understands the need for deference during certain situations, usually of his choosing. The other members of the National Crime Agency prove able to complement Poe and contrast nicely with all he does, particularly Tilly Bradshaw. Her social cluelessness is balanced with extensive knowledge and dedication to working no matter the hour. When not adding levity to the story, Bradshaw is extracting needed results to help Poe prove his point, no matter the location of facts and information. Others work well to keep Poe in line (or defying them) and there is no shortage of clashes throughout this piece. The story was stellar, pulling on both past and present, with excellent detail embedded in a narrative that flows freely. The smallest of facts can prove to be the most important, given enough time and effort, forcing the reader not to discount anything that Craven puts to page. Those looking for something deeper, but not wanting to lug around a thick novel ought to locate M.W. Craven’s work, as he packs a punch like no other in a compact writing style. And now we wait for the next book, to help replicate this awesome feeling of excitement I’ve come to know this week!

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for another strong novel. You surely have a way with words and can captivate me like no other when you put your ideas to paper (or on screen).

This book fulfils Topic #6: Current Equinox in the Equinox #8 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: