The Charlie Woodend Mysteries (1st-10th)
The 1st novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
The Salton Killings
"She didn't ask why she was being murdered, she had seen her killer's face and that was enough."
When the strangled body of teenager Diane Thorburn is found buried in the salt store, Chief Inspector Woodend is drafted in from London to investigate.
An outspoken Northerner, he does his policing the old-fashioned way: local knowledge and a healthy pinch of intuition. And he is convinced that Margie Poole, daughter of the local landlady, and Diane's best friend, knows more about Diane's last movements than she is prepared to tell.
Then Woodend's inquiry turns up the death of another young girl a generation before. The similarities in the two cases begin to look more sinister than mere coincidence.
Is there a serial killer on the loose, and if so, where and at whom will he strike next?
Kirkus Reviews said: "Spencer's US debut provides sturdy mystery-mongering, reliably quaint suspects, and an unusually detailed list of clues."
Booklist said: "This fine mystery succeeds both as a nuts-and-procedural and as a portrayal of an English village moving from the quiet rhythms of rural life to the more contemporary beat of rock 'n roll. Spencer conjures up a great sense of menace in the troubled village, and her epilogue is a real stunner, promising more from a very talented writer."
Felicity Newson in the Lincolnshire Daily Press: "If you are a devourer of murder mysteries, here is a superior example. Serial killing, an authoritative detective and a great sense of menace all in one package."
The 2nd novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
Murder at Swann's Lake
With its funfair, caravan sites and social clubs, Swann's Lake seems the ideal weekend retreat for Manchester's sprawling workforce.
But it is also the setting for brutal murder when Robbie Peterson, ex-con turned nightclub owner, is found dead in his office; a six-inch nail driven deep into his skull.
With the local force baffled, Scotland Yard drafts Chief Inspector Woodend and Sergeant Rutter up from London, and as the questions and suspects multiply, it soon becomes clear that it is a far from straightforward case.
Why was the victim's office broken into twice on the day of the funeral? Why did Robbie's son-in-law attack his own brother on the night of the murder?
And why, later, does Robbie's daughter try to claw her sister's eyes out?
Added to his problems with the case, Woodend is also having trouble with his sergeant.
Bob Rutter's fiancée, María, is a Spanish political activist and when she is badly hurt at a demonstration, Rutter blames the police, threatening resignation.
Woodend thinks it would be a tragic waste, but what neither realises is that in María's injury lies the key to the mystery.
Kirkus Reviews said: "Sorting through the red herrings that create as many subplots as a vintage Agatha Christie, Woodend and Rutter match the felony to the suspect until the cheese stands alone. Quietly reliable, retro puzzling."
The 3rd novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
Death of a Cave Dweller
When Eddie Barnes is electrocuted on the stage of the Cellar Club, in front of three hundred adoring fans, the Liverpool Police immediately call in Scotland Yard, which - in effect - means calling in the Yard's resident expert on 'Up North', Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend.
But for once, Woodend feels out of his depth.
For a start, he doesn't understand what makes young musicians tick. He can't see why Eddie's mother says that Eddie had a girlfriend, while his best mate, Steve Walker, insists that he didn't.
And who has been playing nasty tricks on Eddie's group, the Seagulls, culminating in Eddie finding a dead rat - with a noose round its neck - in his guitar case?Was Eddie murdered because he was Eddie, or because he was one of the Seagulls.
As Woodend battles with the complexities of the case - and with the less-than-affable local police - he is more than aware that if he does not find the murderer soon, there could well be another death.
Booklist said: "Although Spencer is relatively unheralded among authors of British police procedurals, she deserves a much wider audience. Her characters are diverse, intriguing, and believable; her plots never fail to surprise; and the procedural details are grittily realistic. Spencer's gift for incorporating historic detail in her crime dramas - in this case, Liverpool and English urban life before the Beatles - is reminiscent of the way Max Allan Collins uses Chicago in his Nate Heller mysteries.
Recommend Spencer confidently to anyone who enjoys the British procedural. "
John Rowen. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.
The 4th novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
The Dark Lady
The night after the mysterious appearance of the legendary Dark Lady on the road outside Westbury Park, a German efficiency expert, Gerhard Schultz, is found battered to death in the woods, and Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend is faced with his most puzzling case yet.
Why did Schultz seem so frightened when one of his colleagues mentioned the legend of the Dark Lady?
Did the workers at the BCI chemical factory - many of whom are known to hate the Germans - have anything to do with his death? How could Fred Foley, the tramp whose bloodstained overcoat was found close to the scene of the crime, have completely disappeared?
And is this murder connected with one that occurred in Liverpool nearly twenty years earlier?
Booklist said: "Spencer's gift for bringing remote corners of 1960s England to vivid life is on a par with the best historical mystery writers, as is her ability to construct a multifaceted plot. This time Woodend and Rutter follow the case to its tangled World War II roots, which will remind many of Jack Higgins or Frederick Forsythe. Excellent work from a too-little-known author.
From The Library Journal, January 2001: "A very successful British procedural, nicely complicated by leftovers from both local lore and the war."
The 5th novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
The Golden Mile to Murder
The Return of the Native!
The top brass at Scotland Yard have finally had as much as they can take of Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend's quirky approach to police procedure, and this time his exile to the wilds of his native Lancashire is permanent.
But it is no joyful homecoming. Even on the first day of his new investigation into the brutal murder of Detective Inspector 'Punch' Davies, Woodend realises he is not exactly being welcomed with open arms.
Not only is his new bagman far less sociable than the trusty Bob Rutter, but he soon gets the distinct impression there are aspects of the case that the Blackpool police would much rather he didn't probe too deeply.
Still, it would take more than official disapproval and bureaucratic interference to keep 'Cloggin'-it' Charlie from following his instincts, and he is soon immersed in the world of the Golden Mile, with its bingo halls, sleazy shows and dubious fortunetellers. Woodend comes to realise that solving this crime will require all his wit, bravado and imagination - aided perhaps by the occasional puff on a Capstan Full Strength and a few pints of best bitter.
Review by Publishers Weekly: "Spencer's murders have a genuine catlike creepiness about them and her bloodcurdling finale leaves one with a maniacal grin.
Her fifth Charlie Woodend procedural is a walk on the wild side of Blackpool, Britain's R-rated Disneyland for the working classes...An accomplished craftsman who serves up a good puzzle and deftly solves it with intelligence and insight."
Booklist said: "Spencer continues to display a lively pace, a strong central character, a satisfying plot, and vivid, realistic views of 1960s England. The bonus in this book is a fascinating description of life at English resort. Highly recommended for fans of English mysteries or police procedurals in any setting."
The 6th novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
Dead on Cue
When Valerie Farnsworth, star of the highly successful soap opera Maddox Row, is found murdered in her dressing room, the question is not so much who would to see her dead as who wouldn't.
The powers that be consider the case a political hot potato, and so, of course, it lands firmly in the lap of Chief Inspector 'Cloggin'-it Charlie' Woodend, who once more finds his shaky career on the line.
The more Woodend learns about the world of television, the more he comes to appreciate the fact that he will never understand the people who live in it, though it soon becomes plain to him that unless he unmasks the murderer soon, there is a grave danger that there will be a second killing.
As Sergeant Monika Paniatowski goes under cover, posing as a personal assistant and Bob Rutter wonders whether he will ever make it as an inspector, Woodend struggles to untie the knots of jelousy, betrayal and revenge, which seem to be all that is holding the television studio together.
Review by Publishers Weekly: "Fast-paced, often humorous puzzler ... Spencer melds her characters' spoken words and inner thoughts seamlessly, and nimbly makes scene changes to places as far away as the California coastline.
Descriptions of melancholy English moorlands are reminiscent of Conan Doyle, as is the inspector';s sudden revelation of the culprit in a tense final scene."
Booklist said: "The latest Charlie Woodend novel again boasts a difficult mystery and evocative early '60s atmosphere. There is much here to please Woodend fans, as well as those who like mysteries with a television setting."
The 7th novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
The Red Herring
Why, this time, are the waters being muddied for DCI Woodend?
The discovery of the body of a young schoolmistress lying in a pigsty is the beginning of a new investigation for Charlie Woodend.
But he is soon to be ordered to abandon the investigation when Helen Dunn, the daughter of Wing Commander Dunn - and a pupil at the school where the dead woman taught - suddenly vanishes into thin air.
While Woodend and Rutter race against time in the desperate home of finding the girl alive, Woodend's bagman, Monika Poniatowski, continues to work on the murder, under the supervision of the mysterious Chief Inspector Horrocks, a Scotland Yard man who seems to have only a mild interest in finding the killer.
Woodend begins to wonder whether the two cases are connected. And if they are, who is it who seems to be blocking both investigations at every turn?.
Kirkus Reviews: "Spencer's finest hour: a tightly plotted puzzler with surprises at every turn."
The Red Herring has been awarded the coveted Star by Kirkus Reviews.
Booklist: "This latest Woodend and Rutter mystery offers a fast, unsettling pace, strong dialogue and dark humor.
Along with a sure sense of police procedure are vivid descriptions of life during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the atmosphere at an exclusive school, along with Le Carré-like sense of the folly of espionage.
Spencer broadens her appeal here from procedural fans to devotees of military and spy thrillers."
The 8th novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
Death of an Innocent
A man and a young woman are found blasted away by a rifle in a remote farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors.
But where is the farmer, why did he have such swanky furniture in his living room, and who on earth are the victims?
Charlie Woodend isn't amused by the people who are getting under his feet as he starts to grapple with these questions, but his steps are abruptly halted when the Deputy Chief Constable decides that, this time, Woodend's high-handedness has gone too far.
Woodend may have been suspended but his sense of justice can't let go. And it won't let go however much resistance he encounters and from whom.
But as Woodend is depressed to discover, when the people who are determined to keep you down are all-powerful, sheer will-power just isn't enough.
Review by Publishers Weekly: "Chief Inspector Woodend tackles a classic "locked-room""double-murder case in Death of an Innocent, by Sally Spencer ....
How did the killer manage to get away when the crime scene, an isolated farmhouse, was surrounded by fresh snow?"
Kirkus Review: "Title notwithstanding, there’s more than enough guilt to go around in Spencer’s chilling ninth."
The 9th novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
A Death Left Hanging
Though it is thirty years since Margaret Dodds was tried and executed for the brutal murder of her second husband, many troubling questions raised during the trial are still left unanswered.
Why would she choose to commit the crime in such a way that the finger of suspicion would almost inevitably point at her?
Why did she insist, even when all hope of reprieve had gone, that she was not guilty?
Her daughter, an influential lawyer, wants her name cleared.
The investigating officer, now a powerful politician with a seat in the House of Lords, is determined to ensure that the verdict stands.
And Charlie Woodend, charged with stripping away three decades of lies and deceit, finds that - once again - his superiors have presented him with a poisoned chalice.
Kirkus Reviews: "Once again, Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend's superiors hand him a real career-buster ... Jane Hartley has never believed her mother guilty of her stepfather's murder ...
Spencer's latest is her best: an ingenious puzzle that goes straight to the heart.."
A Death Left Hanging has been awarded the coveted Star by Kirkus Reviews.
Booklist: "A richly layered plot, complex and engaging characters, and a shocking conclusion make this police procedural a gripping and engaging read."
Emily Melton Copyright © American Library Association
The 10th novel in the Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend Series:
The Enemy Within
There had never been a murder in Whitebridge like this one.
What kind of man would slash the throat of a an inoffensive middle-aged widow who was already terminally ill?
Why did he decide to place her lifeless body in the middle of a children's bonfire?
It is the most difficult and complex case in Woodend's career, but the two people he most relies on - DI Rutter and DS Paniatowski - are being torn apart by their personal problems.
As he struggles on, almost single-handedly, Woodend comes to the reluctant conclusion that he is being forced to participate in the killer's game without even knowing the rules.
Yet one thing, at least, is plain from the beginning. For the game to continue, there must be more deaths...
Kirkus Reviews: "Spencer’s careful balance of menace from without and within makes her latest a standout among her reliably entertaining procedurals."
The Enemy Within has been awarded the coveted Star by Kirkus Reviews.
Booklist: "Although Spencer treats her readers to an engaging cast of characters and plenty of fascinating procedural detail, the solution to the case seems to come out of left field--even given the fact that the story is set in the paranoid 1960s.
But, all in all, this is an entertaining procedural from a veteran hand."
Emily Melton Copyright © American Library Association