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August 2018

Aidan Truhen - The Price You Pay

"...the sharpest, cleverest and most audaciously brilliant novel I have read in a long time. "

Didi's dead. That's sad. Jack Price isn't sad, because Jack didn't care about Didi. Jack is just angry, because if anyone was going to brutally murder his bad-tempered old neighbour, it was him.

But when Jack takes matters into his own hands, he gets a contract taken out on him. Which frankly seems overkill. Jack's just your average high-class coke dealer, after all. On a level playing field against a team of professional killers, he wouldn't stand a chance.

But Jack Price doesn't play fair. Jack Price is the Ho Chi Minh of avenging psychopaths. And Jack Price is going to make these guys pay.

Describing a novel as 'American Psycho meets Kill Bill' and 'for fans of John Niven, Christopher Brookmyre and Carl Hiassan' is setting a high bar. Generally, these sorts of comparisons set my teeth on edge. I hate being told by marketing people what I should think about a book before I've read it.

As a huge fan of all the writers named above, I genuinely wasn't sure Aidan Truhen's novel would live up to the hype. Boy, was I wrong. 'The Price You Pay' is the sharpest, cleverest and most audaciously brilliant novel I have read in a long time. It is the sort of book you want to thrust into people's hands, demanding they stop everything else and read this immediately. I have no idea how any review can do justice to the sheer brilliance of Truhen's writing, but I'll give it a shot.

Let's start with the plot. Fast-paced, complicated, outlandishly crazy, and absolutely brilliant. When Jack Price's elderly neighbour Desdemona (Didi) Fraser is murdered, Jack sets about finding out who killed her. Not because he particularly cared about Didi, but the murder took place in his apartment block, and he wants to know why.

But investigating Didi's murder turns out to be a big mistake. Someone doesn't like that Jack's asking question. Before he knows it, there's a contract out on him. Not just any contract, either. Jack knows the sensible thing to do is disappear. But Jack's not about to back down that easily.

What follows is violent, high energy, rollercoaster ride of pure exhilaration. The body count builds up and the pace increases from fast to frenzied, Jack goes to increasingly inventive lengths to stay alive.

The plot alone is enough to keep you turning the pages. However, what really makes this book so special is Jack himself. An amoral and violent anti-hero who doesn't think twice about killing those closest to him, if it helps him get what he wants. You may not believe me, but you'll be rooting for him all the way.

For fans of John Niven, Christopher Brookmyre and Carl Hiassan? Maybe. Maybe not. Once you've read this book you won't give a damn, either way. The only thing you'll want to know is how long you'll have to wait before Aidan Truhen sends another work of genius into the world.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

L.J. Morris - Desperate Ground

"...a taut, tense thriller..."

When the secrecy of a nuclear weapon agreement is thrown into doubt, a disgraced intelligence operative is recruited to find out if the deal is still safe…

Ali Sinclair, wrongly convicted and on the run from a Mexican prison, is enlisted to infiltrate her old friend's inner circle and find the evidence.

The only people on her side are an ex-Cold War spook and the former Royal Marine that was sent to find her. Together they discover that the stakes are much higher than anyone knew, and the fate of the world is at risk…

But when you live in the shadows who can you trust?

Before I get into the review, I'm going to hold my hands up and admit that I'm friends with LJ Morris. With 'Desperate Ground', Morris has written a taut, tense thriller that dragged me out of my reading slump the further I got into the story. The plotting is clever without being overly intricate and there is a great cast of characters lead by the sublime Ali Sinclair.

It would be easy (and lazy) to draw comparisons between Sinclair and Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox, but Sinclair is very much her own woman. Resolute, determined and honourable, she is a star in the making so I'd recommend you grab this book so you can say you first encountered Ali Sinclair right after the big bang.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kate Rhodes - Hell Bay

"...a series that will become a must-read. "

DI Ben Kitto, a native of Bryher, returns home after a tragedy has brought his career in the Metropolitan Police to an abrupt halt. Guilt and grief over the death of his partner, Clare, in the course of an investigation that was led by Ben, makes him reassess his life. Though no official blame is attached to him, he blames himself, and has come to Bryher to recuperate and to consider his future.

He arrives in the middle of a panic about a missing teenage girl, Laura Trescothick. Shortly after his arrival, Laura's body is washed up on the shore, a victim of a fatal stabbing. Ben, experienced in the investigation of murder, offers his assistance to the local senior officer, DCI Alan Madron. Madron accepts, and Ben finds himself leading another murder investigation, this time with a team of one detective, in a situation where the killer must almost certainly be someone he has known (and possibly liked) all his life.

The case is complex involving the vagaries of an island such as Bryher where smugglers still ply their trade, small communities are split by rivalries and alliances and people have their own reasons for telling, or for concealing, what they know. As Ben struggles to find the truth of Laura's death, he is hampered by the victim's own secrecy, the hostility between Laura's grieving family and the family of her boyfriend, Daniel Curnow. Any of these people, and many others could be the killer . Ben cannot decide if it is guilt or fear that is keeping people silent.

Ben finds out that Bryher, though apparently crime free, in fact has a drug problem, serious concerns about smugglers and the intimidation of residents to persuade them to sell their properties. The killer can move freely around the island, leaving threats that are fulfilled when a second murder takes place. Ben has to disentangle the crime he is investigating from the complex world his investigation reveals.

Fans of Kate Rhodes' Alice Quentin series will miss the forensic psychologist, but will be pleased to see Rhodes return with the first book of a new series Rhodes has moved to a location not much explored in crime and mystery fiction, the isolated communities of the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall, and specifically to one of the smaller inhabited islands, Bryher, which has a small year-round community, and a larger summer community of tourists and other visitors.

Rhodes develops her mystery well. The island setting allows her to explore some of the tropes of a long-discredited genre, the locked-room mystery. 'Hell Bay ' does not require contrived McGuffins such as secret rooms and bullets made of ice. The island does the job, and a storm at the time of Laura's disappearance locks the door of Rhodes' setting with elegance and conviction.

The island itself is a central character. Its geography and geology are integral to the plot, as are its dark and often bleak settings, a beautiful tourist location where the rocks hidden by the tides can smash boats to pieces, isolated communities and dark tracts of land hide secrets very effectively. It provides a brooding and atmospheric background to a narrative that is satisfyingly complex, if sometimes a bit slow-moving. Ben Kitto, his dog, Shadow and the island of Bryher promise a series that will become a must-read. If you enjoy tense, complex thrillers, then 'Hell Bay' is a treat in store.

Reviewed by: D.R.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Catherine Steadman - Something in the Water

"...a hugely enjoyable book from this new author. "

Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough; Mark a handsome investment banker with a bright future. They seem to have it all, until Mark loses his job and cracks start to appear in their perfect life.

But they're determined to make it work. They book their dream honeymoon and trust that things will work out – after all, they have each other.

On the tropical island of Bora Bora Mark takes Erin scuba diving. Mark is with her – she knows he'll keep her safe. Everything will be fine. Until they find something in the water.

Erin and Mark decide to keep their discovery a secret -- after all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events... which will endanger everything they hold dear.

'Something in the Water' is Steadman's debut novel. I was expecting a plot similar to that of Smith's 'A Simple Plan' (with just one more thing needing to be done to protect what has been found following a plane crash). But 'Something in the Water' doesn't have such a simple plot.

The story has a dramatic opening, which hooked me from the start. Then for the next 100 pages the author gives lots of background explaining motivation for the characters. For the most part I found this interesting, but eventually my interest waned and I felt that I was just 'reading' rather than reading a story. And then, quite suddenly, the book is moving at 100 miles an hour again… and the book I was happy to put down to go to sleep, I then struggled to put down until I had finished it. A real change of tempo.

Erin and Mark (especially Mark) weren't the easiest of characters to like. Erin felt flimsy, while Mark was quite arrogant. They also make decisions that will have you cursing at the pages hoping they will change teir minds before disaster strikes! Steadman also throws in the moral question of just what will you do and how far will you go to get what you want and to protect what you have.

By the end of it I felt quite exhausted! 'Something in the Water' is a hugely enjoyable book from this new author. My advice is to persevere through the slower parts, but the pay-off will be well worth it!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jackie Baldwin - Perfect Dead

"‘Perfect Dead’ is a wonderful story, beautifully told."

Ex-priest DI Farrell is called on to investigate a gruesome death in rural Scotland. All evidence points to suicide, except for one loose end: every light in the cottage was switched off. Why would he kill himself in the dark?

The question sparks a murder investigation that leads to the mysterious Ivy House, home of 'The Collective', a sinister commune of artists who will do anything to keep their twisted secrets hidden.

And when the remains of a young girl are uncovered on a barren stretch of coastline, Farrell realises that there is something rotten in this tight-knit community. Now he must track down a ruthless killer before another person dies, this time much closer to home…

The second outing for DI Farrell sees Baldwin go from strength to strength in a multi-layered thriller which kept me turning pages from start to finish.

I found the lead character of DI Frank Farrell to be thoroughly engaging, as was his erstwhile sidekick, Mhairi MacLeod. All of the other characters were drawn with an artisan's attention to detail.

The plot was convoluted without being unnecessarily intricate, and while I did guess some elements, there were times when Baldwin blindsided me with her excellent plotting. All in all, 'Perfect Dead' is a wonderful story, beautifully told.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Claire Askew - All the Hidden Truths

"...a very original and entertaining novel from this debut author. "

Horribly apposite, this deals with the aftermath of a college shooting, not in gun toting America, but in leafy genteel Edinburgh. Fourteen people die in a College of Further Education, victims of one of the students who entered the building with murder on his mind. This book investigates the effects on all concerned but in detail on the mother of the first victim, the mother of the murderer and Inspector Helen Birch who is responsible for investigating the crime.

There is never any doubt as to who has committed the crime, but the why and wherefore is unclear. And how did this young man get hold of the weaponry to commit the atrocity? Details of the conflicting motives and secrets emerge slowly through the book until by the end we understand the protagonists a little more.

This is a complex study of relationships within families and between young people on the verge of adulthood. The root of the crime lies within these parameters. Claire Askew produces finely honed portraits of the main characters and shows a deep and sympathetic understanding of human nature.

It is perhaps revealing that the murderer is not an evil person but a young man struggling with loss and insecurity. It is prescient of recent events in Florida.

This is a very original and entertaining novel from this debut author. If this is the sort of book she can produce on her first outing, then I predict many great novels from Askew.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Linwood Barclay - A Noise Downstairs

"Barclay always manages to write books full of suspense that are impossible to put down."

College professor Paul Davis is a normal guy with a normal life. Until, driving along a deserted road late one night, he surprises a murderer disposing of a couple of bodies. That's when Paul's "normal" existence is turned upside down. After nearly losing his own life in that encounter, he finds himself battling PTSD, depression, and severe problems at work. His wife, Charlotte, desperate to cheer him up, brings home a vintage typewriter—complete with ink ribbons and heavy round keys—to encourage him to get started on that novel he's always intended to write.

However, the typewriter itself is a problem. Paul swears it's possessed and types by itself at night. But only Paul can hear the noise coming from downstairs; Charlotte doesn't hear a thing. And she worries he's going off the rails.

Paul believes the typewriter is somehow connected to the murderer he discovered nearly a year ago. The killer had made his victims type apologies to him before ending their lives. Has another sick twist of fate entwined his life with the killer—could this be the same machine? Increasingly tormented but determined to discover the truth and confront his nightmare, Paul begins investigating the deaths himself.

But that may not be the best thing to do. Maybe Paul should just take the typewriter back to where his wife found it. Maybe he should stop asking questions and simply walk away while he can.

Paul still hasn't fully recovered after nearly losing his life some months ago. But some good has come from his attempted murder and that is him and his wife Charlotte are giving their marriage another go and she is there to support him through his recovery.

I was pretty sure that I had the plot, motive and killer guessed a quarter of the way through. And whilst I was partly correct Barclay is never one to make it easy for his readers and always manages to keep a few surprises up his sleeve. And just when you are feeling smug thinking you know what's going on, Barclay manages to prove you wrong yet again.

Barclay always manages to write books full of suspense that are impossible to put down. A book that will be a perfect summer read, but make sure you have plenty of other books to read as you won't be able to put this one down and will have read it in a day.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sabine Durrant - Take Me In

"...a clever, complex novel from an author clearly at the top of her game."

A hot beach. A young family on holiday. A fatal moment of inattention... and now Dave Jepsom is in their lives. Dave Jepsom, with his muscles, his pale eyes, his expressionless face. He saved their child. How can they ever repay him? Especially as what he seems to want in return is everything.

He's in the streets they walk down. He's at the office where they work. He's at their front door, leaning on the bell...

If only they could go back. Back to when the lies were still hidden. Before the holiday, before the beach, before the moment that changed everything. Before Dave.

But it's never how it starts that matters. It's always how it ends.

In 2016, I reviewed Durrant's last book, 'Lie With Me', for Crimesquad. It was a rave review because I absolutely loved the book. When I was given a copy of 'Take Me In', I couldn't wait to get stuck in.

Like 'Lie with Me', the central moment in 'Take Me In' happens on a Greek island where Tessa and Marcus are on holiday. It's their first time abroad with toddler son, Josh. Tension between the couple is palpable from the beginning, although it's not immediately clear what's wrong with their marriage.

As tension between Tessa and Marcus increases, their carefully built life starts to fall apart. And all the time, Tessa can't help thinking Dave is somehow behind everything that's happening.

But what if Tessa's got it all wrong? Durrant cleverly leaves this suggestion hanging as she ratchets up the tension page by page.

Like Durrant's previous novels, 'Take Me In' is an expertly plotted psychological thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you racing towards the end. While lacking the edginess of 'Lie With Me', it's still a cracking novel. And although I saw the final twist before it was revealed, this didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book. This is a clever, complex novel from an author clearly at the top of her game.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Harvey - Body and Soul

"...a fantastic offering from an author at the top of his game."

When his estranged daughter Katherine appears on his doorstep, ex-Detective Frank Elder knows that something is wrong.

Katherine has long been troubled, and Elder has always felt powerless to help her. But now Katherine has begun to self-destruct.

The breakdown of her affair with a controversial artist has sent her into a tailspin which culminates in murder. As Elder struggles to protect his daughter and prove her innocence, the terrors of the past threaten them both once more...

I've long been a fan of John Harvey's writing and must confess that I've always preferred Frank Elder over Charlie Resnick as the first novel I read by Harvey featured Elder.

With 'Body and Soul', Harvey has written a searing examination of family politics and the dysfunctional relationships that exist in so many families.

As you would expect from such a paean of the genre, each character is created with an understated flair that shows their personality yet still holds a little intrigue. After Elder, Katherine was the strongest character although none of the supporting cast were weak in any way.

'Body and Soul' is a fantastic offering from an iconic author.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke - Girl's Night Out

"Not quite enough suspense or intrigue for me to make it what I would call a classy thriller."

For estranged friends Ashley, Natalie, and Lauren, it's time to heal the old wounds between them. Where better to repair those severed ties than on a girls' getaway to the beautiful paradise of Tulum, Mexico? But even after they're reunited, no one is being completely honest about the past or the secrets they're hiding. When Ashley disappears on their girls' night out, Natalie and Lauren have to try to piece together their hazy memories to figure out what could have happened to her, while also reconciling their feelings of guilt over their last moments together.

Was Ashley with the man she'd met only days before? Did she pack up and leave? Was she kidnapped? Or worse—could Natalie or Lauren have snapped under the weight of her own lies?

As the clock ticks, hour by hour, Natalie and Lauren's search rushes headlong into growing suspicion and dread. Maybe their secrets run deeper and more dangerous than one of them is willing—or too afraid—to admit.

'Girls's Night Out' started really well. Natalie wakes up on a beach with no memory of the night before, all she knows is her best friend Ashley is missing. The story goes back in time a few days leading up to when Ashley went missing, to the morning of her disappearance. In theory it's a really good story line, but I really struggled with the three main characters - I was unable to warm to any of them. Natalie is weak and unable to stand up for herself, Lauren sulks and Ashley walks over everyone to get what she wants.

As the story went on there was more dialogue than actual plot and it felt as though I was reading a play rather than a novel. Conversations will often add to a story or plot when used in moderation but I felt they were over used and would have preferred the story to be built up in the background. It also felt as though the arguments were being replayed and kept going over old ground which meant I lost interest and really only kept reading to find out what happened to Ashley and the night she went missing. Even the police investigation was done by dialogue which to me really watered down the suspense and effect. Not quite enough suspense or intrigue for me to make it what I would call a classy thriller.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Reluctant Witness

"An excellent read, which kept me enthralled."

The Lachaume family were once wealthy, thanks to their biscuit factory. It still functions, but their wealth has largely gone and their biscuits are no longer popular. The family now live in a gloomy mansion on the Quai de la Gare in Ivry, a suburb southeast of Paris. A call comes through to Maigret at the Quai des Orfèvres. There has been a murder in the Lachaume mansion, and the victim is Léonard Lachaume, a widower. Also living in the house is his brother Armand, his wife Paulette, the brother's parents, Léonard's twelve year-old son, and a main called Catherine. There is also a sister called Veronique, who is estranged from the family. The murder, Maigret concludes, was committed by one of the family, though there has been an amateurish attempt to make it look like a break-in and robbery.

However, the Lachaumes seems determined to be as unhelpful as possible with the investigation, and Maigret finds it difficult to come up with a motive and an opportunity, never mind a suspect. Did Léonard have affairs? Did Armand, or his wife, have affairs? Is the fact that Paulette is the daughter of a wealthy merchant - so much wealthier than the Lachaumes? How does the estranged sister, and her lover, Jacques Sainyal, fit in?

Compounding Maigret's problems is a new, young, enthusiastic examining magistrate called Angelot, who seems intent on taking over the investigation.

Maigret is acutely aware that in two year's time he will retire and in young Angelot, he sees his own creeping years and the future of detective work in Paris. So the story doesn't just dissect the relationships within an out-of-date, declining family which refuses to acknowledge change, it also dissects Maigret's own approach to his job. Are his methods still relevant? Should he give way gracefully to the future? Or does he still have plenty of experience and expertise to pass on?

The characterisation is spell-binding, as usual. The plot springs from the characters, who are not shoe-horned into a pre-determined plot, but are allowed to develop and evolve as the story unfolds. The Lachaume family guards its secrets well, though each member is meticulously drawn. Plus, Maigret himself, and his growing doubts and weariness is an integral part of the plot. An excellent read, which kept me enthralled.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

J.P. Delaney - Believe Me

"There's plenty of twists and good writing to keep you guessing who is really guilty. "

Claire Wright likes to play other people. A struggling British actress, in New York without a green card, Claire needs work. She takes the only part she's offered: as a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers, hired to entrap straying husbands, catching them on tape with their seductive propositions.

The rules? Never hit on them directly. Make it clear you're available, but they have to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not entrapment. The innocent should have nothing to hide. Then the game changes.

When the police start investigating one of Claire's targets for murdering his wife - and potentially others too - they ask her to help lure their suspect into a confession. Claire can do this. She assumes a voice and an attitude, something from an old film noir. A masterclass in deception. But who's deceiving who? And that's when Claire realises she's playing the deadliest role of her life.

Claire Wright is a struggling actress. With no green card she is unable to work in her chosen field and has to earn a living trying to lead errant husbands astray. But then the wife of a husband she has tried to seduce is found murdered.

So far so good, the plot appears feasible. The writing is easy to read and enjoyable. Yet there is just something I didn't warm to. It could have been that the main character was for me, impossible to really like. She seemed somewhat arrogant and self-absorbed and whilst I wanted to know what happened, I didn't really care.

The plot is also a rehash of a book published in 2001 by the same author under the name Tony Strong which I am guessing needed a new name and tweaked plot for it to be given such a fanfare this time.

The story is written from Claire's perspective. It is hard to know what is happened with Claire and her own thoughts, and what is happening in the mind of the character she is playing. There's plenty of twists and good writing to keep you guessing who is really guilty. Nevertheless, this is a re-write of an old book… easy to read, will keep you interested, but isn't a book you will remember in time to come.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Megan Abbott - Give Me Your Hand

"...a remarkable novel by an author at the absolute top of her game. Wonderful, thought-provoking and deeply moving."

Kit Owen has risen to the top of her profession and is on the brink of achieving everything she wants. She hasn't let anything stop her.
But now someone else is standing in her way – Diane Fleming. Best friends at seventeen, their shared ambition made them inseparable. Until the day Diane told Kit her secret – the worst thing she'd ever done, the worst thing Kit could imagine – and it blew their friendship apart.

Kit is still the only person who knows what Diane did. And now Diane knows something about Kit that could destroy everything she's worked so hard for.

How far would Kit go to make the hard work, the sacrifice, worth it in the end?

Reading this novel was a stomach punch of emotion. For many years I have been a huge fan of Megan Abbott. She writes about women like no other crime writer. She writes about the secrets we keep, the lies we tell and the compromises we make in order to survive. She writes about female sexuality and the intense, complicated nature of female friendship.

'Give Me Your Hand' is an unflinching exploration of the female condition. What sets this apart is that Abbott deliberately chooses to focus the one aspect of womanhood so often ignored in literature – the female menstrual cycle.

The theme of blood – in all its gory glory – runs through the book as thick and fast as the blood that flows through our veins. Shades of red are everywhere: the flash of red on the undersole of a pair of expensive boots; the gush of red blood from a sliced-open neck; the leaking red mess of a pile of dead lab mice.

'Give Me Your Hand' is narrated by Kit Owen, an ambitious scientist on the cusp of her biggest break yet: the job she's always wanted. Kit has been part of a small team working for esteemed research scientist, Dr Severin. Severin is everything Kit wants to be – successful, respected and impossibly glamorous. She is also the leading name in cutting edge research into PMDD – premenstrual dysmorphic disorder – a very severe form of premenstrual syndrome., a condition that – by its nature – only affects women. It's like PMS 'only much, much worse'. Symptoms include debilitating mood swings and uncontrollable rage.

Severin now has funding for two of the team to continue working with her. As the only woman on the team, Kit seems the obvious choice for one of these roles. Until, out of the blue, a new scientist joins the team. Hand-picked by Dr Severin herself, the new appointee is rising star Diane Fleming. Kit and Diane have history – bad history. It's not a spoiler to say you know things won't end well. Abbott does such a brilliant job of building the tension that turning the pages becomes both a compelling and painful experience for the reader.

This entire novel is a joy. Perfectly paced, thick with tension and deep with compassion for the complicated, beautiful and terrible nature of the human condition.

There's a moment in the penultimate chapter that moved me to tears, when Kit attempts to define what it means to be human. How can we know about ourselves, she asks, when we know so little about how our minds really work? Despite years of research, science doesn't yet understand the different ways we make sense of ourselves and the world around us.

'Give Me Your Hand' is a remarkable novel by an author at the absolute top of her game. Wonderful, thought-provoking and deeply moving.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating: