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Reviews

April 2016

Andrew Taylor - The Ashes of London

"...another triumph from the very able pen of Andrew Taylor."

Synopsis:
September 1666 and the Great Fire is still burning after 3 days. St Paul's Cathedral, thought to be impregnable, is burning and James Marwood watches in horror. He saves a young person who is desperate to find someone in the fire but is rewarded only with the loss of his cloak and a bleeding wound to his hand.

Marwood works for the government, providing information to those in power. His situation is somewhat precarious as his father is an outspoken opponent of the new King and is only tolerated if he does not speak out too loudly in public.

When a body is found in the ashes of the cathedral, obviously murdered, Marwood tries to investigate. He is drawn into deception and treachery that strikes deep into the heart of the rich and powerful. A young woman is also deeply embroiled in this mess and her determination to survive and retain her independence is entwined with Marwood's investigation. She wants revenge for the appalling wrongs she has suffered.

London at this time is a dangerous place as various factions strive for power and the threat of the Catholics in Europe is constant.

Review:
The vivid description of St Paul's as it burns is the most thrilling start to a novel I have read in a very long time. Taylor perfectly placed me right at the scene with the sights, sounds and smells of 1666 and I was immediately engrossed in the story.

Two strands intertwine: the reluctant informer, doing his best to protect his father and yet make a living in this precarious world where suspicion is everywhere and religious factions who do not trust each other. Add to this the wilful and cruelly treated girl who has been brought up to be an independent thinker when that was then deemed unseemly or even immoral, and you have a strong mix that carried me through Taylor's exquisite prose.

The execution of the old King cuts deep into many memories and the edgy, distrustful atmosphere is beautifully described. The balance between old loyalties and present danger affects everyone.

Andrew Taylor is an excellent writer who presents a gripping and intricate story. Add to that his obvious historical expertise and his facility in engendering atmosphere and you have a stunning book. 'The Ashes of London' comes highly recommended from me and is another triumph from the very able pen of Andrew Taylor.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barry Forshaw - Brit Noir

"...one of those marvellous ‘dip in and out’ books. "

Synopsis:
Following on from Forshaw's previous bestsellers, 'Nordic Noir' and 'Euro Noir', comes 'Brit Noir' – everything you need to know about writers in the UK who are currently practising the art of crime… fiction, that is. Included here are Minette Walters to Ian Rankin to new kids on the block including Sarah Hilary, Sabine Durrant and many others. Plus, Forshaw maps each writer under the region their book is set. Forshaw also celebrates crime fiction on the small screen by seguing in to the phenomenon that is 'Broadchurch'.

Review:
Forshaw again displays his crime fiction chops by delivering a comprehensive list of writers currently writing under the crime genre. I say currently as you have to be alive to appear in this book. So, if you are expecting long pieces about the Baronesses of Crime - James and Rendell, then move along and look elsewhere. If you truly want to know more about these purveyors of crime and find a new author who writes in your favoured style, then this is a brilliant place to start. I very much liked the fact that Forshaw has gone the extra mile to catalogue each author according to district. As with his previous two books, this is one of those marvellous 'dip in and out' books. You can flick through these packed pages and see what part of the UK Barry Forshaw takes you. Enjoy the journey!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Wilbur Smith and Tom Cain - Predator

"...a barnstorming thriller from a pair of authors who really complement one another."

Synopsis:
One of the most formidable fighters in the world, ex-SAS warrior and former private security consultant Major Hector Cross has survived explosive tangles with depraved enemies warlords, pirates, and arms dealers from the Middle East to the heart of Africa.

Now Cross must take the law into his own hands once again to stop a vengeful old enemy who has resurfaced and hunt down a deadly new nemesis in pursuit of global domination.

Review:
I have been looking forward to this book since I first heard Tom Cain was to co-write with Wilbur Smith. Cain's novel 'Dictator' paid homage to Smith's novels so it is clearly a union which has its roots in shared taste and style.

The question which haunted me was whether two of my favourite authors writing together would work out or be a complete disaster.

Let me just say that it is a marvellous collaboration which marries Smith's grand adventure with Cain's modern fast-paced thrillers. Being the uber-fan that I am of both authors, I could make educated guesses at which author introduced certain elements. I'm not going to give any spoilers, but I loved the way Cain added a more modern edge to the story.

Hector Cross has it all, but when it is stripped away from him, his true character shows and there is enough high-octane action to satisfy even the most ardent thriller fan as the plot wends and weaves its way to the inevitable standoff. The lead characters are all larger than life as you'd expect from this style of novel, but I was drawn to all the minor characters which were all created with an artist's eye.

'Predator' is a barnstorming thriller from a pair of authors who really complement one another. I look forward to their next collaboration.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Claire McGowan - A Savage Hunger

"‘A Savage Hunger’ is a very clever, very compelling novel..."

Synopsis:
Paula Maguire is a forensic psychologist working as part of the Missing Persons Response Unit (MPRU). Her latest case is investigating the disappearance of a young woman called Alice Morgan. Alice was last seen at a remote religious shrine outside Ballyterrin.

The plot centres on the investigation into Alice's disappearance, and how this may – or may not – be linked to the earlier disappearance of another young woman in 1981, Yvonne O'Neill. Little by little, Paula learns more about Alice's life and the harrowing events leading up to her abduction.

Review:
I have been meaning to read Claire McGowan for some time now. Over the last few years, there's been a real buzz growing about her Paula MacGuire novels set in Northern Ireland. So when I was asked if I'd like to review her latest novel, I jumped at the chance. 'A Savage Hunger' is the fourth novel and McGowan has set the bar high.

And let me tell you, on the basis of this novel, all the praise is absolutely justified. I really loved 'A Savage Hunger'. I love the Northern Irish setting. I love Paula Maguire. I love the cracking, page-turning plot. I love the way McGowan skilfully – and movingly – weaves the troubled history of Northern Ireland into her story, reminding us that long shadows of the Troubles still hangs over many parts of that lovely country. I love the clever references to Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and the way McGowan makes these work with her narrative. There's a hell of a lot more that I love too, but let me take a step back and talk about the plot.

Most of the novel is told from Paula's viewpoint, with occasional – and very effective – sections from Alice's point of view. There are also occasional flashbacks to 1981 and the hunger strike protests when 10 republican prisoners died.

Hunger is clearly a central theme throughout the book. It's there in the title, it's there in the flashback scenes to the protestors starving themselves to death, and it's an integral part of Alice and how she has chosen to deal with her troubled, lonely childhood. There is also the hunger of those seeking revenge for past wrongs and McGowan cleverly interweaves these different strands.

There is a secondary, but equally compelling, storyline around Paula's impending wedding to her childhood sweetheart. Like all the best protagonists in crime fiction, Paula's personal life is messy. Much of her back story clearly relates to events that took place in the earlier novels in the series. Through Paula's life, McGowan shows the strong hold the past has on the present, and how none of us – no matter how hard we try – can ever really escape from it. This strand didn't distract in any way from what happens in the book. If anything, it makes me more desperate to get my hands on the rest of the series.

'A Savage Hunger' is a very clever, very compelling novel that uses its contemporary setting to portray a society still coming to terms with its tragic, troubled history.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Harlan Coben - Fool Me Once

"Coben really IS the master of the psychological thriller - and ‘Fool Me Once’ is no exception. "

Synopsis:
Former special ops pilot Maya, home from the war, sees an unthinkable image captured by her nanny cam while she is at work: her two-year-old daughter playing with Maya's husband, Joe - who had been brutally murdered two weeks earlier. The provocative question at the heart of the mystery: Can you believe everything you see with your own eyes, even when you desperately want to? To find the answer, Maya must finally come to terms with deep secrets and deceit in her own past before she can face the unbelievable truth about her husband—and herself.

Review:
Maya has left the Army and is now raising her daughter as a single parent following the death of her husband. Her last army posting was traumatic and she is now suffering from PTSD. This is why she is so unsure of what she sees on the nanny cam. Is he really dead or is her mind is playing tricks on her? With the murder of her sister, Maya questions her own sanity. As Coben is the master at deception, not all is as it seems.

Coben spins his story perfectly to keep the reader on the edge of their seat and like the protagonist of the book, unsure as to who can be trusted. Coben really IS the master of the psychological thriller - and 'Fool Me Once' is no exception. This is a book that needs to be read in one go as I could not put it down, and like many from this author, the ending was not easy to guess. An easy to read book with a plot that runs at neck-breaking speed.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Burrows - A Siege of Bitterns

"I look forward to Jejeune’s next case!"

Synopsis:
This is an esoteric look at the world of birding as seen through the eyes of Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune. As can be guessed from his name he doesn't hail from Norfolk where he has recently been posted, but is originally from Canada where he has left behind the reputation of his erring brother. After a successful and high profile case in London he has moved to Norfolk, partly to be able to indulge in his passion for all things bird. With him comes his partner, Lindy who throws a dash of common sense into the wild enthusiasm of the birders.

Almost as soon as he arrives, a murder of a local ecological activist, well-known both in the area and farther afield, becomes his immediate priority. His new colleagues know of his reputation for solving the unsolvable, but are a little wary of him and his methods. Jejeune's knowledge of people and above all his vast knowledge of birds and those who follow them contribute to solving the crime. He is beginning to win over some of his staff, but it will take a little more time until they are all convinced.

Review:
This is an original and engrossing book, playing on the strengths of the author. For those not au fait with the obsession and passion that is involved in the birding world this is an eye-opener from an expert and gives holidays on the North Norfolk coast a new edge. The specific knowledge of birds is intrinsic to the plot but Burrows leads the uninformed so skilfully that this never becomes a problem. You might even learn something.

For those who are of the birding fraternity I imagine that this will be a delight, as they can pick up on the technical clues that have to be explained to us lesser mortals. Chief Inspector Jejeune and his partner, Lindy, are engaging characters, and I think they will develop into a popular and entertaining duo. All in all, an excellent debut which I thoroughly enjoyed. I look forward to Jejeune's next case!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Harper - Black River

"...anyone who likes mystery, adventure and exotic settings will thoroughly enjoy this magnificent tale of derring-do."

Synopsis:
When Kel MacDonald joins an expedition looking for a legendary lost city in the Peruvian Amazon, he's expecting the adventure of a lifetime, but things are not what they seem. Paramilitaries, drug cartels, and wildcat prospectors all want what the jungle has to offer - while untamed local tribes will fight desperately to protect their way of life. Maps of the region have been doctored. And what exactly happened to the previous expedition, a government vaccination program that went upriver and never returned?

Soon finding the lost city is the least of their troubles. The jungle hides deadly secrets that must be hidden at all costs. And someone in the group wants to make sure they never get out.

Review:
'Black River' is something of a throwback novel, part examination of mid-life crisis and part mystery it reminded me very much of the novels which turned Alistair MacLean, Desmond Baggley and Hammond Innes into household names.

Kel is a man of a certain age with the usual set of responsibilities and concerns. Yet he embarks on a glorified treasure hunt with a collection of misfits. Somehow Harper manages to pull this off in a believable way. From the moment Kel arrives in South America, the reader is swept along by a wave of action, duplicity and barnstorming adventure as Kel and his colleagues battle the terrain and each other.

Kel is marvellously drawn as are Drew and Anton, but for me – being a man of a certain age – Kel's justifications for leaving a comfortable life in England to head into the Amazon were utterly entrancing and brought his character alive.

'Black River' may not be for everyone, but anyone who likes mystery, adventure and exotic settings will thoroughly enjoy this magnificent tale of derring-do.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - The Darkest Goodbye

"‘The Darkest Goodbye’ continues the high standard I have come to expect from this brilliant author."

Synopsis:
Kirsty Wilson is a young woman on the threshold of a career as a detective in Glasgow. She has moved on from the uniform branch and it is her first day on the job in a department headed up by old family friend, Detective Superintendent William Lorimer, and containing for the last few weeks of his career before retirement, her father, Detective Inspector Alistair Wilson. Sergeant Len Murdoch is assigned to her as a mentor and her first day on the job proves to be eventful. She is called to the scene of a big jewellery robbery, then on to the murder of a known drug dealer. Murdoch's behaviour is questionable and leaves Kirsty with a dilemma.

A couple of suspicious deaths of seriously ill patients occur throughout the city, prompting investigation into previous convenient deaths. This links in with the personal circumstances both of Lorimer and Murdoch. Unusually, Lorimer takes a very 'hands on' position on these investigations. Kirsty has to face difficult situations and awkward decisions, but she uses her own common sense, her father's good advice and Lorimer's guidance to make her contribution to solving the crimes.

Review:
This book continues the series in which William Lorimer heads up investigations into the crime of his beloved Glasgow. The vibrant, gritty and exciting place where he works is beautifully described and intrinsic to the development of the story. William Lorimer and his wife Maggie, his friends and sometime colleagues, Sol and Rosie, provide a solid background for the nasty world of death that is the meat of the story. New DC Kirsty Wilson and her family are set to join them.

Gray provides a cracking good story with a thought provoking theme, characters that are carefully drawn and represent life as it is a stunning description of Glasgow in all its facets and a lead character that is sympathetic and endearing. I love Alex Gray's books and always await eagerly the next in the series. 'The Darkest Goodbye' continues the high standard I have come to expect from this brilliant author.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.J. Arlidge - Little Boy Blue

"I did not want this book to end."

Synopsis:
Detective Inspector Helen Grace is no stranger to tragedy, but when a body is found in a Southampton nightclub, the death cuts too close to the bone.

Hiding her personal connection with the victim - and a double life that must remain secret at all costs - Helen becomes a woman possessed, working her team around the clock to chase down every lead.

As the killer strikes again, the investigation takes its toll not only on Helen but on her senior officers. Tempers flare, friendships fray and Helen faces an impossible choice: confess her sins and lose control of the case? Or does she keep living a lie, protecting her darkest secrets, and risk getting trapped in this tangled web?

But whatever she does, this killer will not stop until the truth is revealed: there are some fates worse than death.

Review:
I'm reminded of the advert for Pringles when I read a novel by M J Arlidge - once you pop you can't stop! The same applies here. Once you've opened his books you can't stop reading until you've devoured every page. 'Little Boy Blue' is a one sitting read and I defy anyone to stop reading before they reach the end. So, before you start, cancel your entire day as this book will consume you.

Helen Grace is a wonderfully broken protagonist. She's a brilliant and dedicated detective but her personal life and past are a car crash. However, it is here the two worlds collide and Helen's world may be obliterated. It's as if the previous four books have been leading up to this very moment. We've grown to love Helen and now her secret life is about to be made public we can scream our support just a tad louder. The subordinate characters are also lovingly created and rounded - Charlie Brooks particularly stands out with her self-doubts and loyalty to Helen.

The story is thoroughly well-researched and pitch dark - something we have come to expect from Arlidge. He doesn't shy away from context or dilute his story with unnecessary filler. This is a raw and stark book with amazing set pieces so vivid you almost feel you're there.

Arlidge writes with tremendous pace. His foot is pressed firmly on the accelerator as the plot speeds to an ending so shocking and alarming that you wish an extra fifty pages would suddenly appear. I did not want this book to end.

We have six months before book six, 'Hide and Seek', appears so we have to wait until then to discover the fallout from Helen Grace's most personal case yet. Six months? I don't think I can wait that long!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Samuel Bjork - I'm Travelling Alone

"...a brilliantly written, compelling thriller."

Synopsis:
When a six year-old girl Is found dead, hanging from a tree, the only clue the Oslo Police have to work with is an airline tag around her neck. It reads, 'I'm travelling alone.'

Veteran police detective Holger Munch is brought back to Oslo to lead the investigation. He reassembles his old team, including the brilliant – but troubled – Mia Krüger. After examining all the evidence, Mia is convinced there will be more victims. When a second girl's body is found, it soon becomes clear that she's right, and the investigation becomes a race to find a serial killer before more young girls are murdered.

Review:
This is a cracking thriller and worthy of all the praise heaped on it since it was first published in Norway in 2013. I was gripped from the outset and found it increasingly difficult to put the book down as the story progressed.

Bjork introduces a host of great characters alongside a compelling plot that maintains the tension right up until the final page. Munch and Krüger are a fine addition to the long line detective duos in crime fiction. Bjork cleverly drip feeds us plenty of their backstory, showing the reasons why this odd couple work so well together and are so fond of each other.

Although Munch and Krüger are the central characters, there are a whole host of secondary characters who add to the colour and depth of the story. These include Gabriel, the IT geek and latest recruit to Munch's team and a young boy called Tobias Iversen who becomes increasingly central to the plot as the story unfolds.

Samuel Bjork is the pen name of Norwegian novelist and playwright Frode Sander Øien and it's clear that this is a hugely talented writer. The story is told from multiple view points and the author handles all the different voices with ease. The plot is tight and the narrative races along to a genuinely heart-stopping finale.

Apart from the occasional clumsy plot device, this is as good as any recent crime novel I've read (and I read a lot of crime fiction). I don't know if Samuel Bjork plans this as a stand-alone novel or the first in a series. I sincerely hope it's the latter. It seems too cruel to introduce such great characters without giving us a chance to get to know them better in the future! 'I'm Travelling Alone' is a brilliantly written, compelling thriller.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Clare Donoghue - Trust No One

"...an easy book to read..."

Synopsis:
Marriage is complicated. It doesn't always work out. Sometimes there are things you discover about yourself and each other which mean the marriage has to end. Sad, particularly when kids are involved - but all pretty normal. Normal that is, until there's a murder.

DS Jane Bennett and DI Mike Lockyer are called in to investigate one of South London's most difficult and distressing cases yet - where family and friends come under scrutiny in the hardest of circumstances.

Review:
In previous novels, DI Lockyer and DS Bennett have sparred against each other with Lockyer verging on the misogynistic. 'Trust No One' sees him with a much more caring and compassionate side. Personally, I'm not as keen on the new and improved Lockyer as it was the relationship between these two characters that I enjoyed most in these books. I can only hope that Lockyer is having a mid-life crisis and normal service will shortly resume. There are some references to the previous books, however this can still be read without the need to read the previous two from Donoghue.

The story itself was sufficient enough to keep my interest, but didn't necessarily keep me enthralled. Richard Taylor had been found dead by his children and his death soon becomes a murder investigation. With plenty of suspects, the police have their work cut out. I was kept guessing until the end and the killer was revealed, and looking back I'm not sure there were any clues that would have enabled me to guess correctly. Each of the characters was well thought out and believable (even if very few were particularly likeable).

Donoghue manages to get a good mix of plot together with some background story of the main characters, giving them more depth and dimension. Donoghue is a very good writer and 'Trust No One' is an easy book to read, but for me it was missing that 'hook' which had me gripped during her two previous novels.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - On The Bone

"...the thoroughly good and delicious read that Barbara Nadel always serves up!"

Synopsis:
It is Istanbul, a vibrant cosmopolitan city that is coming to terms with the different regime in power. There are elements within the city requiring more adherence to other stricter Muslim traditions and they can come into conflict with the non-religious rule of previous years. Inspector Cetin Ikmen is strictly of the latter persuasion and keeps a low profile when in conflict with the other camp.

A young man drops dead in one of the fashionable districts of Istanbul. It proves to be a death from natural causes, but the devastating findings of the post mortem is that his last meal was of human flesh. This is taboo in all major cultures and it is difficult to work out how a pleasant law abiding liberal man could have come to consume such a grisly feast.

Ikmen and his fellow Inspector, Mehmet Suleyman, delve into the world of exotic high end cuisine, a squat of liberal thinking people and outsiders from the accepted community, the old guard from the secular days and the army. They are all linked but it takes a great deal of skill and knowledge of people to tease out the solution to this mystery.

Review:
What I love most about Barbara Nadel's writing is that it is always up to date and addresses the issues that concern the inhabitants of her world.

In 'On The Bone', Nadel faces up to the changing world of Turkey where fundamentalist thinking is more accepted, but comes into conflict with the old secular elite. She looks at how people adjust to the new regime and the way in which long held beliefs are concealed from public view. This must be true in even more vivid and compelling situations throughout the Islamic world. Inspector Ikmen is the rational non-believer; his wife is a kind and caring follower of Islam. Both are good people and Ikmen can't see why both views cannot co-exist peacefully. Not everyone holds that view.

This new book is certainly thought-provoking, as well as being the thoroughly good and delicious read that Barbara Nadel always serves up!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffery Deaver - The Steel Kiss

"Another winner from Deaver that will have you burning the midnight oil!"

Synopsis:
Amelia Sachs is hot on the trail of a killer. She's chasing him through a department store in Brooklyn when an escalator malfunctions. The stairs give way, with one man horribly mangled by the gears. Sachs is forced to let her quarry escape as she jumps in to try to help save the victim. She and famed forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme soon learn, however, that the incident may not be an accident at all, but the first in a series of intentional attacks. They find themselves up against one of their most formidable opponents ever: a brilliant killer who turns common products into murder weapons.

As the body count threatens to grow, Sachs and Rhyme must race against the clock to unmask his identity - and discover his mission - before more people die.

Review:
Deaver is back with his best character, Lincoln Ryhme. Lincoln has left the field of forensic investigations and is working in teaching, but a case sees him and his partner, Amelia Sachs, working together again.

Like many authors, Deaver has involved technology in his murders. I won't spoil the plot and say what technology, but you may wonder if this is something that could well actually happen. This author always manages to make the plot feel plausible. Whether this is down to his strong, believable characters or good explanation with regards to evidence, I'm not sure, but it works. Despite having no forensic knowledge, I'm either fascinated at the amount of information that can be gathered from such tiny traces, or trying myself to guess where the trace could be from.

Rhyme himself is probably one of my favourite protagonists. Despite losing his mobility and being confined to a wheelchair, he is still larger than life. He rarely leaves his town house in which he lives, yet this character doesn't stagnate. Ever precise, blunt and (more so here), showing a rather wonderful dry sense of humour.

'The Steel Kiss' has the old team of Rhyme, Sachs, Pulaski, Cooper and Sellitto not only on the hunt for a killer, but also working on other cases and stories that run parallel to the main plot. A new character has been introduced who fits into the team well and I wouldn't be disappointed if the regular team increased in size in future novels.
Deaver always manages to present a well finished and thought out book. Great characters, fascinating plot. This is an author that puts time and effort into his books and the research that goes into them, and it shows. Another winner from Deaver that will have you burning the midnight oil!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: