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Reviews

February 2017

Koethi Zan - The Follower

"...Zan is an exceptional thriller writer who knows how to build tension. "

Synopsis:
Julie has the perfect life: a kind boyfriend, loving parents and good grades. She has everything ahead of her.

Cora's life is a nightmare: a psychopath for a husband, a violent father and a terrible secret. There's no way out.

One night, their worlds collide

Julie has been abducted by Cora and James, and her once privileged life has become a nightmare. She has become a prisoner in their home and it is now a battle to stay alive. Locked in an isolated house together, they must work out what has happened – and who they can trust to set them free.

Review:
Although Zan portrays Cora's eventful childhood, for me she somehow misses the mark, leaving me with no empathy for her current circumstances. I also found myself getting slightly frustrated with Julie. I'd have liked to know more about James and why he was as he was - and don't get me started on Adam! I did get the impression that Zan herself had despaired of her characters and it unfortunately tells through the writing, making me also not care too much about them. Zan needs to work on her characters so her readers care what happens to them.

Having said that, the plot itself worked well and compelled me to continue turning the pages of her latest till the end. I loved Zan's debut and pushed 'The Never List' on to many fellow readers. However, 'The Follower' doesn't quite match its predecessor. Did Zan have the demon second book wobbles? Who knows.

Zan delivers a melodramatic conclusion, which does not explain everything within the story. This may irk some, but I am not a great fan of absolutely everything being tied up in a nice, dainty bow. Zan is definitely a big talent to watch, but this was not quite on par with her debut. This review may sound negative to some and constructive to others, but 'The Follower' still merits a four rating as Zan is an exceptional thriller writer who knows how to build tension.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Fiona Cummins - Rattle

"...just go out and buy this book today!"

Synopsis:
Erdman Frith's life is falling apart. His beloved son, Jakey is suffering from a singularly cruel progressive disease, his wife is threatening divorce, and he's in a dead end job. What Erdman doesn't know is that someone is watching him and his son and they won't stop at anything to get hold of what they want. Jakey Frith suffers from Stone Man Syndrome, his bones are fusing together and he is slowly becoming imprisoned by his own skeleton. The shadowy, threatening character of the Bone Collector has inherited a macabre and gruesome museum of medical oddities. He knows about Jakey's condition and longs to possess his skeleton for his collection.

When five year old Clara Foyle, who also suffers from an unusual medical condition goes missing the police, headed up by feisty Detective Sergeant Etta Fitzroy, embark on a hunt for what seems to be a sinister figure who has access to medical records. As the lives and the fates of all the characters become more desperately entangled, Erdman helps Fitzroy to track down the Bone Collector and restore his family.

Review:
Cummins writes 'Rattle' over the period of one week from the day when Clara first goes missing. She manages to convey the genuine emotions of all of the characters; the worry and despair of the parents, the excitement of the abductor, the fear of the children.

'Rattle' flits between each of the main characters so the reader knows what is happening from each of their perspectives, and keeping the book real as it is full of emotions and feelings.

The climax of the book is built up and takes a while to play out, and without ruining the ending for those reading 'Rattle', (and I would recommend that you do) it looks as though the author has left some questions to be answered in a possible sequel.

'Rattle' is a brilliant debut from Cummins with some interesting and dark characters. Dare I say it… this is a 'rattling' good yarn. Forget my bad joke, just go out and buy this book today!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Simms - Death Games

"...crime fiction of the highest standard. "

Synopsis:
Manchester: an injured survivor from a motorway pile-up flees the scene, leaving behind evidence that a terror attack is being planned.

Jon Spicer, newly trained as a Specialist Firearms Officer, has joined Manchester police's Counter Terrorism Unit. Thrown out of his previous department and demoted to Detective Constable, he is being kept in the force only because he'll take on the most dangerous jobs.

Iona Khan is struggling to find respect and recognition in the male-dominated Counter Terrorism Unit. Her mind might be sharp, but many of her colleagues value physical strength above anything else.

As the investigation quickly snowballs, Spicer and Khan are thrown together. The two officers must learn to trust each other - and fast. Because in this chase, any wrong move could be your last.

Review:
Chris Simms is one of my favourite crime writers. His writing is so smooth and seems so effortless. The plots flow and quickly ensnare you. I'm often hooked well before the end of the first chapter.

'Death Games' is the eighth in the Jon Spicer series. At the end of book seven, 'Sleeping Dogs', his future seemed in doubt and I was worried that would be the end for DI Spicer. In a way, it was. 'Death Games' could act as a reboot as DI Spicer has been demoted and is no longer in the Major Incident Team. He's retrained and is now in the Counter Terrorism Unit. This brings together Jon Spicer with Simms' other series character, DC Iona Khan.

Spicer and Khan are complete opposites. One is incredibly tall, confident, and accepted. The other is short and doing everything she can to gain the trust of her fellow officers.

Bringing Spicer and Khan together is a brilliant trick from Simms. They're both incredibly likeable characters and they work well together. They bounce off each other and I hope this is the first in many novels where they're paired up.

The plot, involving a potential terrorist attack in Manchester, is thoroughly researched and fast-paced. Simms is perfect at not allowing technical information to get in the way of the story. As the investigation gathers pace, so does the plot and the tension mounts to a gripping and thrilling finale.

An appearance by a member of the royal family could have been cheesy in lesser hands. Fortunately, Simms is a consummate professional. This is crime fiction of the highest standard.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Harper - The Dry

"...a most assured and successful first novel."

Synopsis:
Aaron Falk is a policeman in Melbourne investigating financial fraud. He returns to his home town of Kiewarra, five hours drive from Melbourne, for the funerals of an old school friend, his wife and son. The three had been shot at their farmhouse and the apparent view was that Luke Hadler had run amok and killed his wife and son, then turned the gun on himself.

Falk had left the town under a cloud and was intending to stay for as short as time as possible. However, Luke's father persuades him to stay a few days to help the local police.

As Falk reacquaints himself with the people and places he knew as a boy, he begins to feel that the deaths of the family were not necessarily caused by Luke. There are memories of his childhood which are unresolved and he thinks that maybe the lies that were told then have something to do with the murders. Resentment against him and his family still exists, making the investigation more difficult.

Review:
This is as much a story about relationships in a small town and harboured resentments as it is a murder mystery. When the crime is resolved it is almost a straightforward happening, but Aaron's return to his old home and his resolution of past misunderstandings and petty jealousies is equally as fascinating. The stress of folk living on the edge in a community ravaged by a long dry spell, when livelihoods and the way of life are on the line, is beautifully described.

I loved this book and found it a most assured and successful first novel. There is a light touch which describes the background to the events with a deft touch. Relationships are complicated but so true to life. I heartily recommend this fascinating debut from Jane Harper.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Les Wood - Dark Side of the Moon

"...reminiscent of Christopher Brookmyre and Irvine Welsh..."

Synopsis:
Boddice is a crime lord in Glasgow whose empire appears to be crumbling around his ears as the Albanians and Russians move into town and attempt to take over. They are nonchalant, unruffled and have the drugs and contacts to muscle in on his territory and Boddice finds his patch shrinking and his circle of fear pulling away from him.

However he as a plan, a very tempting plan. One that would leave him very rich and if he pulled it off. The Albanians and Russians would be eclipsed by the enormity of the job. He just has one problem; are his band of molls up to the job?

Review:
'Dark Side of the Moon' is a dark comic romp through the Glasgow underworld. I felt it needed a little more pace at the start of the novel, as it set the scene for a heist in a prestigious department store in the centre of the City. However, you are soon introduced to all kinds of hilarious characters, from the Wilson twins, lovable rogues with half a brain cell each, to the foul mouthed crazy old bag lady wielding her 'lucky charm', and you find yourself rooting for this bunch of bumbling bandits in their attempt to steal the dark side of the moon, the world's most expensive diamond and hope that it will give them a way out of the downwood spiral that their lives are taking.

It is definitely reminiscent of Christopher Brookmyre and Irvine Welsh, with a harsh look at life, albeit in a humorous way. 'Dark Side of the Moon' might lack a little energy at the start, but it soon makes up for that as the story unfolds, culminating in an almighty bang!

Reviewed by: S.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Granger - The Dead Woman of Deptford

"...intriguing and extremely atmospheric."

Synopsis:
Victorian detective Inspector Ben Ross is sent to Deptford on a cold night in November to investigate the death of a well-dressed woman. The woman in question turns out to be a money lender and by coincidence has been calling in the debts of one Edgar Wellings, a family friend of Ben's wife, Lizzie. The shame of his gambling debts, together with the effects on family and profession if the details get out, cause Lizzie to travel to Deptford to confront the woman. There she meets her husband.

Edgar is in trouble, as he visited the moneylender on the night of her death, and was observed having a heated argument with her. The higher echelons of Scotland Yard are anxious for a result and so are pressing for Edgar to be arrested but Inspector Ross is reluctant as he feels there is more to the murder than is immediately apparent.

Review:
This is one of those books that draw you in and demand that any spare moment you have needs to be taken up by this book in order to find out what happens next. It is a perfect book to read when lounging in the sun on some exotic beach whilst reading of the gloomy delights of a 'London particular' in Victorian Deptford.

The story is gripping and moves along at a fair pace, the two main characters are interesting and sympathetic. Granger is marvellous at setting the scene and the in-depth details of Victorian London are intriguing and extremely atmospheric.

Ann Granger is an accomplished writer with a host of books to her name. In this latest novel she does a thoroughly professional job and I found her latest entrancing and engaging. In every sense a real page-turner!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Phillips - Red Ribbons

"Rich in atmosphere with a complex plot that really does keep you turning the pages..."

Synopsis:
When a missing school girl is found buried in the Dublin mountains, criminal psychologist Kate Pearson is brought in to help the investigation.

The dead girl has been murdered, her body arranged in a very particular way – hands clasped together in prayer, two red ribbons in her hair. Twenty-four hours later, a second school girl is found, her body identically arranged.

As the pressure to find the killer intensifies, there's one vital connection to be made – Ellie Brady, a woman institutionalised fifteen years earlier for the murder of her daughter Amy. Ellie stopped talking when everybody stopped listening.

But what connects the death of Amy Brady to the murdered school girls? As Kate Pearson beings to unravel the truth, danger is closer than she knows…

Review:
Louise Phillips is one of the most prominent voices in contemporary Irish crime fiction, and with good reason. Her series of crime novels featuring Dr Kate Pearson have been widely acclaimed. 'Red Ribbons' is the first novel in this series and an excellent introduction to a complex, compelling protagonist.

I first read this novel two years ago. As someone who reads a huge amount of crime fiction, I sometimes lose track of what I've read. Not so with 'Red Ribbons'. The novel haunted me in the weeks after I read it and I loved it enough to read it again recently. This time, to coincide with the novel's US publication, I'm delighted to say it's every bit as good the second time around.

The story is told from the view point of three characters: the killer who is murdering the school girls, Kate herself, and Ellie Brady. Ellie is in a secure psychiatric unit, where she has been ever since she was charged with murdering her twelve year-old daughter. With great skill, Phillips brings together the different strands of the three characters' stories, drawing us deeper into the dark heart of a serial killer while, at the same time, slowly revealing the tragic story behind the death of Ellie's daughter.

All three characters are compelling. Phillips is particularly skilful in portraying the psychology of a killer. Her serial killer is the opposite of the one-dimensional psychopaths we see too often in some crime fiction. This is a complex, deeply troubled human with his own darkly tragic backstory. It is impossible not to feel sympathy while, at the same time, feeling true horror for the crimes being committed. There is a haunting element to the killer's story that make parts of his narrative seem almost dreamlike, most particularly in the sections when he's remembering his childhood.

Kate is a great central character. A working mother, clearly talented and dedicated to her job, she is struggling to balance the demands of home life and working life. Her marriage is clearly in trouble, which gives an edge to the obvious chemistry between Kate and DI Adam O'Connor. I'm keen to see how that relationship plays out in future novels.

Above all, I loved Ellie. It's clear, from the very beginning, that this is a deeply damaged, deeply traumatised character. Again, Phillips does a cracking job of – layer by layer – revealing what happened for Ellie to end up in an institution accused of killing her own child. Phillips really conveys the terror of what it feels like to be locked up and powerless.

It's clear that there must be a connection between Ellie's story and the police investigation but Phillips maintains the tension for as long as she can, which compelled me to keep reading as I was desperate to work out what was going on.

'Red Ribbons' is a deeply satisfying crime debut. Rich in atmosphere with a complex plot that really does keep you turning the pages, and a list of compelling characters. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Eva Dolan - Watch Her Disappear

"Eva Dolan has created a highly original series..."

Synopsis:
The body is found by the river, near a spot popular with runners.

With a serial rapist at work in the area, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are initially confused when the Hate Crimes Unit is summoned to the scene. Until they discover that the victim, Corinne Sawyer, was born Colin Sawyer.

Police records reveal there have been violent attacks on transwomen in the local area. Was Corinne a victim of mistaken identity? Or has the person who has been targeting transwomen stepped up their campaign of violence? With tensions running high, and the force coming under national scrutiny, this is a complex case and any mistake made could be fatal.

Review:
Eva Dolan has created a highly original series set in the Hate Crimes Unit of Peterborough police. At a time when hate crimes are on the increase, and in the news on an almost daily basis, Dolan's fiction is topical and very much in the here and now.

'Watch Her Disappear' is the fourth Zigic and Ferreira novel and features the murder of a transgender woman while out jogging. It is a social commentary on how transgender people are accepted and depicts the aftermath when a dramatic change occurs in a family.

The fallout from the murder has wide-ranging consequences not only on the family but on the LGBTQ community at large. There is a serial rapist at large in Peterborough and attacks on other transgenders which muddy the waters for the leading detectives.

As Zigic and Ferreira battle their personal lives with the increasingly difficult murder investigation, it is refreshing to see detectives rely on interviews rather than forensic evidence.

Dolan doesn't shy away from sensitive issues and she handles them with confidence and finesse. 'Watch Her Disappear' is a pacy, thought-provoking, and intelligent thriller. Her writing flows smoothly and expertly as she deftly draws us to an unexpected and satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - The Bone Field

"The pace was as fast as every Kernick novel before this..."

Synopsis:
When the bones of a 21-year old woman who went missing without trace in Thailand in 1990, are discovered in the grounds of an old Catholic school in Buckinghamshire, an enduring mystery takes on a whole new twist. Her boyfriend at the time, and the man who reported her missing, Henry Forbes, now a middle-aged university lecturer, comes forward with his lawyer and tells DI Ray Mason of the Met's Homicide Command that he knows what happened to Kitty, and who killed her.

So begins a hunt for the truth that will focus on a ruthless crime gang, a rich, dysfunctional family with a terrible past, and a highly ambitious man so cruel and ruthless that he must be brought down at any cost.

Review:
Kernick always delivers a book that will grab your interest from start to finish, and 'The Bone Field' is no exception. This story sees both of Kernick's main characters, Mason, and former detective Tina Boyd, meeting up on this case. With their history of trouble, it was inevitable that it isn't going to be plain sailing.

Kernick manages to pit one man against the world in most of his books in a David and Goliath situation. However, this Goliath is an organised crime gang with a ruthless leader who will also stop at nothing.

The pace was as fast as every Kernick novel before this, but somehow the plot just wasn't of the same flawless quality. Whilst it was still a very easy read, rushing me to the end so that I could find out what had happened, I just didn't warm to this book as much as I have all his others.

Despite that niggle, I shall be eagerly awaiting the next Mason/Boyd instalment from Kernick. Now these two characters are acquainted, anything can happen, and I want to read about it!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tana French - The Trespasser

"...one of our greatest living crime writers. "

Synopsis:
Being on the Dublin Murder Squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she's there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she's getting close to breaking point. It's taken a lot of hard graft but Antoinette is finally where she's always wanted to be – the Murder Squad. Except it's not working out quite as she'd hoped. Her colleagues (with the exception of Stephen) are misogynistic, bullying and unwelcoming. The cases she's given are mindless and boring. She wants more and doesn't know how much longer she can stick it if nothing changes.

Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers' quarrel gone bad. Uniforms call it in as a slam-dunk domestic. All Antoinette and Stephen have to do is track down Lover Boy and bring him in. Except when Antoinette takes a good look at the victim's face, she realises she's seen her somewhere before. And suddenly the conviction that there's a different answer takes her breath away.

This is the case she imagined, after all - but you can beat one killer. Beating your own squad is a whole other thing.

Review:
I am a huge Tana French fan. In my own writing career, no single crime writer has had as big an influence on me. Her writing is close to perfect - words and phrase and characters leap off the page as if they've been written to a secret music only French can hear. Her characters are spikey, complex, compelling and credible. She perfectly captures the voices, sights and sounds of Dublin, the city where all her novels to date are set.

'The Trespasser' is set around the detectives working in Dublin's Murder Squad. In each of French's novels, a different detective takes centre stage. This time, it's the turn of Antoinette Conway, who we first met as one of the detectives investigating the murder of a teenage boy in 'The Secret Place'.

In 'The Secret Place', the central character is Antoinette's partner, Stephen Moran. So, if you've read that, then you'll start this book feeling as if you already know Antoinette. If you haven't, it doesn't matter a jot. She's a great character - a complex and driven detective who is fighting her own demons while also trying to make a name for herself in the male-dominated Murder Squad.

What follows really is a gripping crime novel. Fuelled by a growing paranoia, Antoinette doesn't know who she can trust. As a result, neither does the reader. Layer by layer, and with great skill, French reveals how nothing about Aislinn Murray's life is as it first seemed. The more we learn about the victim, the more we like her. There are far more similarities between Aislinn and Antoinette than reader or detective could ever have guessed.

'The Trespasser' is a worthy addition to an outstanding body of work by one of our greatest living crime writers.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tony Black - Summoning the Dead

"...a gritty dark thriller that keeps the reader gripped tighter than an industrial vice."

Synopsis:
A young child lies mummified in a barrel. His hands, cable-tied, appear to be locked in prayer. As forensic officers remove the boy they are in for an even bigger shock – he is not alone.

With his near-fatal stabbing almost a memory, DI Bob Valentine is settling back into life on the force but he knows nothing will ever be the same. Haunted by unearthly visions that appear like waking dreams, he soon understands he is being inducted into one of Scotland's darkest secrets.

When the boy in the barrel is identified as a missing child from the 1980s, it re-opens a cold case that was previously thought unsolvable. When further remains are unearthed, the facts point to a paedophile ring and a political conspiracy that leads all the way to the most hallowed corridors of power.

Review:
There is always a sense of expectation in the Smith household when a new Tony Black novel arrives. This latest instalment of the DI Bob Valentine series didn't just meet those expectations, it exceeded them.

Our erstwhile hero is more of the lugubrious, morose type but his dogged determination to find out who put those boys in the barrels is a joy to witness. The support characters are all well created although I feel that Black has saved his best work for Valentine himself with the possible exception of Sylvia and Valentine's father.

The plotting is first class throughout and kudos must be given to the author for the delicate handling of a most emotive subject. As expected with an author of Black's standing and experience, the prose is an absolute delight in a gritty dark thriller that keeps the reader gripped tighter than an industrial vice.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Amy Stewart - Girl Waits With Gun

"...a fast-moving, joyful tale that lifts the spirits... "

Synopsis:
It is the summer of 1914 in the USA. Constance Kopp and her two sisters are living in the countryside in an old farmhouse. Their mother moved them and their brother, Francis, from the city 15 years before. Since their mother's death the girls have been living alone in the farmhouse, much to the consternation of their brother who has his own family in a nearby town.

Their problems start when, on a visit to the town, their buggy is overturned by a bully named Kaufman, member of a notable and influential local family. Constance's refusal to take things lying down and her pursuit of a claim for damages against Kaufman lead the whole family into a whole load of trouble.

Review:
The starting point for this whirlwind of a novel is a real life report in the New York Times concerning a formidable lady named Miss Constance Kopp. 'I got a revolver to protect us and I soon had a use for it!'
From this, Amy Stewart goes on to create three feisty and original characters who seize the opportunity of living alone at a time when young ladies were not meant to be independent and carving out their own lives. Constance is the oldest and the lynchpin of the family. She defends them against all comers and in doing so discovers a talent for dealing with criminals. This is a fast-moving, joyful tale that lifts the spirits and causes many a smile. Very enjoyable stuff.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: