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Reviews

November 2017

Syd Moore - Strange Sight

"...Moore pulls off the trick of combining incisive wit and spellbinding atmosphere..."

Synopsis:
Things are not going well for Mary Boundersby as manageress of her father's restaurant La Fleur, a trendy new eaterie set in an ancient quarter of the City of London. Over the past few weeks, going to work has been like turning up on the set of a horror movie, with cases of mass food poisoning, plagues of rats and worse still, blood gushing from the chandeliers, dire prophecies being scrawled on the walls by unseen hands – and a malevolent, ghostly presence. So when she realises she has left something important behind just as she's about to take the last tube home, it is with a sense of trepidation bordering on terror that she makes the journey back through the warren of streets around Fetter Lane, now swathed in a sickly, midnight mist. Worse is to come as she enters… the sound of clanks and groans coming from the basement lure her into a scene of utter carnage – the chef, Seth, gutted like an animal, hanging from the ceiling – and his supernatural assailant making her spectral way up the stairs. With Mary in pieces – and under suspicion by the police – there is only one thing her father, Ray can do – and that's call in the help of the Essex Witch Museum.

Review:
The second of Moore's Essex Witch Museum Mysteries is possibly even more engrossing than series opener 'Strange Magic', which introduced Rosie Strange and her bizarre bequest, an institution dedicated to the Old Ways set in the wilds of Adder's Fork that was set up by her late, estranged grandfather Septimus and is now overseen by PHD student Sam Stone, who casts his own glamour over his impetuous boss. Initially sceptical, Rosie bonded with Sam and the cause of the Museum through their previous adventure, recovering the remains of local witch Ursula Cadence. Though there is still a frisson of misunderstanding that heightens the atmosphere between the two, and helps sparks the story along at a pace.

Alerted to Ray and Mary's plight by mutual friend, Rosie's Auntie Babs – an Essex Girl who runs a salon and knows all about Ray's less-than-kosher past – the duo descend on one of London's most intriguing settings, the ancient tangle of streets that separate the former home of the Fourth Estate, Fleet Street, and the Inns of Court that provide so much print fodder. Quite apart from the vision Mary saw, La Fleur has shades aplenty in its past, from Sweeny Todd to Ripper victim Mary Ann Nichols, and Sam is quick to discover a centuries-old demon trap carved into the ceiling above where the unfortunate Seth was found dangling. But was the chef's murder really the work of an unquiet spirit – or, as Rosie begins to suspect, another clamorous, yet corporeal presence from among the restaurant's staff?

Once again, Moore pulls off the trick of combining incisive wit and spellbinding atmosphere with multiple layers of history and contemporary issues into one potent draft. Her writing is always entertaining but at the same time, thought-provoking and, dare I say it, educational – in the same way that Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May engage the reader with Fortean facts and a wider, psycho-geographic sense that, if we are not careful, the same crimes are doomed to be committed in the same cursed places over and over again.

Anyone would think Moore had strange powers of her own!

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ruth Rendell - A Spot of Folly

"...a brilliant and eclectic collection of stories by a mistress of the art of deception."

Synopsis:
Ruth Rendell was an acknowledged mistress of psychological suspense: these are ten (and a quarter) of her most chillingly compelling short stories, collected here together for the first time.

Included in these tales, a businessman boasts about cheating on his wife, only to find the tables turned. A beautiful country rectory reverberates to the echo of a historical murder. A compulsive liar acts on impulse, only to be lead inexorably to disaster. And a wealthy man finds there is more to his wife's kidnapping than meets the eye.

Review:
Ruth Rendell to me is the best crime writer of recent times. Alongside P.D. James, these two fascinating women changed crime fiction. It was a great sadness we lost both of them within six months of each other. Now we have Rendell's farewell gift… those short stories that have not been included in previous collections. There are some here that are from her early days, 'The Irony of Hate' and 'A Drop Too Much' (which I think is brilliant and definitely shows the dry humour Rendell is known for). Rendell was always versatile. 'The Haunting of Shawley Rectory' and 'The Long Corridor of Time' could be classed as supernatural (Rendell was a great lover of M.R. James) and 'Trebuchet' is a harrowing tale of nuclear war. Also included are 'The Thief' which was part of the Quick Reads series and 'In His Time of Prosperity' which is the only story she wrote under the name of Barbara Vine.

It is interesting to see how Rendell developed over the decades. It would have been nice for the publisher to note the year each story saw publication. It is sad that this will be the last Rendell book fresh off the printing line and the last review I will write of a new Rendell book. Even for an old fan like myself, there were some stories here I hadn't encountered and so it was like reading a new Rendell in miniature. It is worth noting that James' last collection of stories, 'Sleep No More' was also released on the same day as Rendell's. It is quite endearing that these two important women of crime fiction should take their final bow on the same day. Both these collections will make any crime fiction fan's day! 'A Spot of Folly' is a brilliant and eclectic collection of stories by a mistress of the art of deception.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Zoe Sharp - Fox Hunter

"‘Fox Hunter’ has been a long time coming and Sharp has made damned sure her fans aren’t disappointed."

Synopsis:
Charlie Fox will never forget the men who put a brutal end to her military career, but she vowed a long time ago she would not go looking for them.

Now she doesn't have a choice.

Her boss and former lover, Sean Meyer, is missing in Iraq where one of those men was working as a private security contractor. When the man's butchered body is discovered, Charlie fears that Sean may be pursuing a twisted vendetta on her behalf.

Sean's partner in their exclusive New York close-protection agency needs this dealt with - fast and quiet - before everything they've worked for is in ruins. He sends Charlie to the Middle East with very specific instructions: 'Find Sean Meyer and stop him. By whatever means necessary.'

At one time Charlie thought she knew Sean better than she knew herself, but it seems he's turned into a violent stranger. As the trail grows bloodier, Charlie realises that unless she can get to Sean first, the hunter may soon become the hunted.

Review:
Regular visitors to Crimesquad will know of my love for Zoe Sharp's writing and are probably expecting another rave review. Well, they're not wrong. 'Fox Hunter' has been a long time coming and Sharp has made damned sure her fans aren't disappointed.

The plotting is as sumptuous as ever and in this novel Sharp excels herself with a fast-paced thriller which drags the reader along like a spell-bound prisoner.

Where the novel really shines is in its characterisation. Charlie Fox is as mean and moody as ever, but there are chinks of compassion from her as Sharp puts Fox through every emotional wringer possible. The support characters are all well drawn and play their parts admirably, but none of them are allowed to steal Fox's thunder.

In what I'm sure will be viewed as a transitional novel, Sharp leaves no box unticked and sets the scene for future character development. If you like a kick-ass heroine with more demons than Lucifer himself, this is the book for you.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Curran - Her Deadly Secret

"I loved this book and can’t wait to see what this very talented author does next."

Synopsis:
A young girl has been taken. Abducted, never to be seen again.

Joe and Hannah, her traumatized parents, are consumed by grief. But all is not as it seems behind the curtains of their suburban home.

Loretta, the Family Liaison Officer, is sure Hannah is hiding something – a dark and twisted secret from deep in her past.

This terrible memory could be the key to the murder of another girl fifteen years ago. And as links between the two victims emerge, Joe and Hannah learn that in a family built on lies, the truth can destroy everything…

Review:
I'm going to kick off this review with a confession: I was already a huge fan of Chris Curran before reading this book. Having read – and loved – her previous two novels I was dying to get my hands on 'Her Deadly Secret'. Of course, there's always a worry when a much-loved author has a new book out but I'm delighted to say that any worries I had were quickly alleviated.

'Her Deadly Secret' is a cracking read. Like her previous novels, Curran has once again produced an intelligent psychological thriller with a host of complex characters and a brilliantly twisty plot.

The police investigation is narrated through the eyes of Family Liaison Officer, Loretta Peterson. Struggling with her own problems, Loretta is determined to solve this case before any of her colleagues. She's a really great character and I'm hoping Curran might be considering a series based on her (fingers crossed!).

As well as Loretta and Joe's stories, we are also introduced to married mum Rosie Weatherall, doing her best to deal with the uncomfortable memories stirred up by news coverage of Lily's murder. Like Lily, Rosie's sister was murdered as a teenager. Rosie's father was convicted of the murder and has recently been released from prison after serving his sentence.

At first, there's no clear connection between Rosie's story and Lily's murder. Gradually, and with great skill, Curran brings these two narrative threads together and there's a genuine 'wow' moment when you realise what's going on. And even then, Curran has a few more twists for you, just when you think you've got it all worked out…

I loved this book and can't wait to see what this very talented author does next.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Felicia Yap - Yesterday

"Yap has created a fantastic alternative reality and storyline that demands your attention..."

Synopsis:
A world where classes are divided in memory status, Mono, who remember one day's worth of memory and Duo, who can remember two. In this restictive society, Claire and Mark are a rare mixed marriage. Clare, a devoted Mono housewife and Mark, a confident duo novelist-cum-hopeful politician. They are a future vision of equality and the changing acceptance of mono and duo's, aren't they?

This is all until a woman is found dead, dumped in the river close to their house. A woman who it transpires is no stranger to Mark, so much so that he becomes the prime suspect in the investigation. Secrets are hidden but they are always revealed, but how can you learn the truth when in a matter of a day or two your memory is gone?

Review:
'Yesterday' is written from four perspectives, Claire, Mark, Sophia and Hans, a mixture of characters with varying memory storing abilities. Each characters' perspectives offer up an alternative viewpoint to the world they live in. By being able to read from the all of these characters viewpoints, we gain somewhat an understanding of the reality of this world and what the different memory classes have to endure, as well as a clearer picture of the events that take place in this novel.

I enjoyed Yap's representation of the characters, she built up their profiles and expressed what being in these separate classes means for them and their lives, as well as what society says they are capable of. She also shows these characters need to break out of convention and stereotype, but with these the need for secrets as well.

There are many secrets within this novel, kept by all characters in order to survive; we witness the characters ability to get round the rigid structure of their memory and what society has put in place for them.

The storyline draws up a lot of unanswered questions and assumptions made, as the characters try to piece together aspects of their lives. We, as the reader, are made to feel exactly what the characters have to go through with only having the ability to remember so much.

The story unveils secret memories on the path to solve the murder mystery; you get a sense of the urgency to work on this case with the looming deadline of your memory and the witness's memory dissolving.

Yap has created a fantastic alternative reality and storyline that demands your attention, what with limiting time on memory. I very much enjoyed the extra dimension to this crime novel and rushed through to finish it, to find out 'whodunit'.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lindsey Davis - The Third Nero

"...I would love to take this book to Rome and wander round the remains of the old city."

Synopsis:
Flavia, daughter of the much loved Marcus Didius Falco, has developed a feisty character of her own. Although just married, Flavia has to cope on her own with the machinations of the bureaucrats surrounding the unstable Emperor, Domitian, since her husband is recovering from a lightning strike on their wedding day. There is also the small matter of making their new home acceptable to live in.

When rumours of appearances by the dead Nero become rife, officials at the top hire Flavia to investigate, particularly as it involves talking to the widows of two prominent Roman citizens. This is a dangerous game as the Emperor is notoriously quick to suspect perfidy. There is also a traitor at the palace who would love to see Flavia fail.

Review:
I love the characters, I love the period, and I love the laconic style. What more can I say?

Lindsey Davis has successfully moved her series on Falco to highlight his daughter as the central character of the Roman series. Flavia has all the dry wit and acumen of her father, together with a distinctly feminine twist. Falco is referred to, but the main character is definitely Flavia. She appeals to the modern woman, as she is very much her own person, dependent on no-one. Like Falco and Helena Justina, she and Manlius Faustus have an equal relationship (although limited in the present book).

The sights and smells of the ancient city are vividly portrayed and I would love to take this book to Rome and wander round the remains of the old city.

There is a clever plot that dovetails into the known history of the day. Lindsey Davis' expertise means that this is never intrusive but constantly entertaining.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - The Hanged Man

"...starts off at break neck speed and never really seems to slow down."

Synopsis:
A house deep in the countryside where the remains of seven unidentified women have just been discovered.

A cop ready to risk everything in the hunt for their killers.

A man who has seen the murders and is now on the run in fear of his life.

So begins the race to track down this witness before the killers do.

For Ray Mason and PI Tina Boyd, the road ahead is a dangerous one, with bodies and betrayal at every turn.

Review:
'The Hanged Man' starts off at break neck speed and never really seems to slow down.

Ray Mason has been taken back on at the National Crime Agency to help bring down a gang. Tina Boyd, once a successful detective is now working as a private investigator, with the case she was working on also having links with organised crime. Mason continues to get results but with his own unorthodox methods, which aren't favoured by his bosses. Mason, together with Boyd are really great characters.

However, the plot of 'The Hanged Man' did seem to me to get more and more twisted and almost tried to be too clever. Bodies are popping up everywhere, all seemingly with links to an organised crime gang. The links started to get a little tenuous, the investigation overly lucky when finding information. The saving grace of 'The Hanged Man' is Mason and Boyd. This is a disappointment to me as Kernick is usually an author I can always be guaranteed a 5* read from, until now. Having said that, Kernick still manages to deliver a great read, but I would have preferred a simplified plot.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Harlan Coben - Don't Let Go

"...an enjoyable read by one of my favourite authors."

Synopsis:
Suburban New Jersey Detective Napoleon “Nap” Dumas hasn't been the same since senior year of high school, when his twin brother Leo and Leo's girlfriend Diana were found dead on the railroad tracks - and Maura, the girl Nap considered the love of his life, broke up with him and disappeared without explanation. For fifteen years, Nap has been searching, both for Maura and for the real reason behind his brother's death. And now, it looks as though he may finally find what he's been looking for.

When Maura's fingerprints turn up in the rental car of a suspected murderer, Nap embarks on a quest for answers that only leads to more questions about the woman he loved, about the childhood friends he thought he knew, about the abandoned military base near where he grew up, and mostly about Leo and Diana, whose deaths are darker and far more sinister than Nap ever dared imagine.

Review:
Coben is an author who is always able to write a thriller that will hook you from the first page. 'Don't Let Go' is no exception. However, whilst I was intrigued to find out what would happen, this book just didn't have the edge that some of his other standalone books have.

Nap is convinced that the deaths were linked to an old military base outside of the town they grew up in… and herein lies the problem for me. I had very little interest in the military base or any tenuous links it may have to the earlier deaths as I found it somewhat unbelievable. Coben usually delivers an outstanding thriller but 'Don't Let Go' wasn't on the same par. I also found myself rushing through the dialogue of Nap's imaginary conversations with his dead brother. It slowed the read down and was I felt unnecessary.

Despite the negatives, Coben still manages to deliver a story that packs a punch and will leave you wondering how you managed to miss the clues and not guess what really happened. As a main character Nap was a good choice - flawed but not broken, which gave him a feeling of being believable. This is an enjoyable read by one of my favourite authors.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Child - The Midnight Line

"...a worthy and thought-provoking addition... "

Synopsis:
Jack Reacher takes an aimless stroll past a pawn shop in a small Midwestern town. In the window he sees a West Point class ring from 2005. It's tiny. It's a woman cadet's graduation present to herself. Why would she give it up? Reacher's a West Pointer too, and he knows what she went through to get it.

Reacher tracks the ring back to its owner, step by step, down a criminal trail leading west. Like Big Foot come out of the forest, he arrives in the deserted wilds of Wyoming. All he wants is to find the woman. If she's OK, he'll walk away. If she's not … he'll stop at nothing.

He's still shaken by recent horrors, and now these new events see him set on a raw and elemental quest for simple justice. Best advice: don't get in his way.

Review:
As a reviewer, I tend to look for something different in books than some other readers might expect. When reading a favourite author such as Lee Child, I also take into account the conundrum he faces with every new novel. Namely, they have to be a little different to the ones which have preceded it without being so different they don't give fans what they want.

With 'The Midnight Line', Child has given us a standard Reacher novel, with a difference. Our erstwhile hero has never changed much from the first book to the last, but what changes there have been, are to do with his understanding of other peoples' motives and their fears and concerns.

Of all the Reacher novels, this one probably shows his softer side the most and it was with eager anticipation that I turned the pages. His quest is a personal one, derived from a sense of brotherhood and fuelled by his natural curiosity.

The plot was intricate without being over-elaborate and while I enjoyed the less violent plot, I'm sure some readers will be aching for Reacher to crack more heads.

All in all, it's a worthy and thought-provoking addition to Child's oeuvre.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: