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Reviews

November 2014

Priscilla Masters - Winding Up The Serpent

"For any who have yet to discover Masters' Piercy novels, this is a series well-worth investing time in."

Synopsis:
It is another ordinary day at the surgery, but complaints are coming in to reception that Nurse Marilyn Smith hasn't buzzed anyone in and a queue is starting to build up. Checking in her room, the receptionists find she is not at work. But she is always so reliable. A quick call to her home gets no response. Later that day the surgery receives two odd phone calls about Marilyn and her dog, Ben who keeps barking. After the second call the surgery contacts the police.

At Marilyn Smith's home they find her body lying on the bed: but she has not died in her sleep. Dressed in a black basque and sexy underwear Marilyn Smith was ready for a night of passion, not death. Who is the lover Marilyn was waiting for and how did they bypass the dog when he guarded the house so ferociously? Without any sign of foul play, newly promoted Inspector Joanna Piercy has her work cut out for her. Marilyn Smith was not a nice person and people are not that sad to hear of her death. In fact, some are pleased to hear of her demise. As she scratches away at the surface, Joanna finds Marilyn was a bully, a liar and a blackmailer. But without any clear sign that Marilyn was murdered, Joanna has only her instinct to keep her going until she gets that lucky break.

Review:
I have always enjoyed Masters' novels and remember reading this, her first book back when it originally came out in 1995. So, does it stand the test of time? To be honest it is just under twenty years, so not much has changed. This is a marvellous twisted little case. Masters has always done characterisation very well and even evokes a little sympathy for someone like Marilyn Smith who was not a particularly pleasant human being when alive. By the end of the book she is a little bit of a sad creature who couldn't control her manipulative streak.

Having read all in the Piercy series so far it was strange to go back and be reminded of how it all started. I do remember that Joanna is not a particularly attractive main character and does tend to feel a little 'standoffish' as she tries to assert her authority as a new and only female Inspector. The working relationship between Piercy and Korpanski is prickly to say the least here and is a total contrast to how the relationship between the two officers has developed over the twelve books.

As always, Masters uses her medical knowledge as a nurse to bring authority about medicines to give the method of murder credence. This is a sad tale of deception, obsession and a terribly sad event borne from a mental health issue. Masters is great at plotting a police procedural that gets under the skin of her characters, none are merely plot devices. Re-reading this first in the series made me realise why I have kept reading this author. This is a new re-issue from Telos who have produced a lovely book of high quality with a stunning cover. For any who have yet to discover Masters' Piercy novels, this is a series well-worth investing time in.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sheila Radley - Who Saw Him Die?

"Radley is fast becoming one of the most charismatic writers I have ever read. "

Synopsis:
The people of Breckham Market knew it was bound to happen one day. Clanger Bell was the village drunk who, when he'd enjoyed a couple or more drinks, would go out of the pub and play 'chicken' with the cars as he wended his way back home. Then one day he is knocked over and killed. The inquest announces Clanger Bell's death as an accident, hit by a new resident of the village, Jack Goodrum who had no idea about Clanger and his little 'game'. After the inquest a call comes to the police department and on his day off Chief Inspector Douglas Quantrill is sent to interview Clanger's sister, Eunice as to why she suddenly believes, after initially accepting her brother's demise as an accident, that he has been murdered.

A subsequent burglary and then a murder shock the quiet village. Quantrill who is suffering from his own personal dilemmas at home, heads the case. But it is DS Lloyd who discovers that a disappearance thirty-five years ago is connected to the present deaths and realises that in the genteel village of Breckham Market evil lurks in plain sight and under different guises.

Review:
Radley is fast becoming one of the most charismatic writers I have ever read. Her books cannot merely be classed as crime fiction as you have to take in her pure enjoyment of the English language. Radley wonderfully describes village life in the Suffolk County; the people who populate her story as well as giving their back story and emotions before arriving at the real crux of the investigation. Although this book comes in at just over 200 pages, it is crammed full of jealousies, desires and unloved childhoods. Eunice Bell's strict upbringing is slowly peeled away right up to the end and is simply fascinating. If anything, I would have enjoyed reading more of her disciplinarian upbringing that sounded positively horrific. In the old Bell household called Tower House, Radley has created a Gothic pile that exudes misery and despair. I felt quite sorry that Clanger Bell and his sister really didn't stand a chance from the start. Another, Austin Napier QC is quite deluded by his recent history and is another standout character.

Quantrill has his own demons. A fancy for his subordinate, Sergeant Lloyd, an unhappy marriage with his wife, Molly who he has fallen out of love with and his monosyllabic son who frustrates him. Three quarters of the way in there is a family tragedy that takes Quantrill away from the main story, allowing Radley to bring in Martin Tait who was Quantrill's old sergeant before he was fast-tracked to Chief Inspector (the same rank as Quantrill which doesn't impress him at all!) at the young age of twenty-six. It is DS Lloyd who solves the murder and that is what I like about Radley's books. Quantrill may have top billing but the glory is shared amongst his team. Radley shows Quantrill as another jobbing policeman with a sense of justice, not some superhuman who solves all the crime committed within his patch. It is a team effort. I am always spellbound by Radley's prose and greatly enjoyed this title of hers. It is a shame that she only wrote nine Quantrill's (this being the sixth) and I only have three more of her books to go. A sublime writer with a clever little mystery entwined amongst the personalities of this tiny village. Who would have thought there could be so many secrets in such a small place! Truly enjoyable.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.C. Beaton - Agatha Raisin and the Blood of an Englishman

"The Agatha Raisin books are light and fluffy like a Mary Berry sponge..."

Synopsis:
Persuaded by Mrs Bloxby, the vicar's wife, Agatha Raisin once again finds herself dragged in to doing something 'worthwhile'. This time it is the local pantomime which appears to be an excruciating mish-mash of every pantomime ever written. Finally the curtain goes down but Bert the baker who played the ogre doesn't take the curtain call. It soon comes to light that when Bert made his exit down the stage trapdoor he met with a very grisly end indeed. As per usual Agatha is soon on the case and sniffing suspects like a bloodhound.

However, results are slow to obtain and it is many months and a number of deaths later that Agatha finds herself (as usual) in the firing line and the object of a mass murderer's rage. Has she found her match and will this be the time she finally gets the chop?

Review:
With an Agatha Raisin book it does what it says on the tin. There is no way you can take Beaton's books sensibly and I am sure that is how the author expects them to be approached. The Agatha Raisin books are light and fluffy like a Mary Berry sponge (no soggy bottom here, thankfully!). You get the feeling that Beaton has her tongue firmly wedged in her cheek when writing Agatha's new adventure. We are sent down a tried and tested route. Someone gets killed and Agatha soon after bumbles about asking people outright if they are the killer and simply by being a nuisance becomes a target herself.

Agatha always has a penchant for a good looking man and here appears to fall in love at an alarming rate. James makes a couple of brief appearances but for the main he is abroad. Thankfully everyone's favourite cad, Sir Charles Fraith takes centre stage and supplies the majority of the laughs. Despite the pantomime setting I did not get a single whiff of Christmas spirit and soon we are many months down the line with Agatha in peril. You can't help rolling your eyes at Agatha's escapades, the woman is a nightmare but for all her brusqueness, you can't stop worrying about her. She is a bit like a mad maiden aunt (although Agatha would hate such a horrific label). This is an improvement on the last book; much more entertaining and light-hearted. A return to form for Beaton and a treat for her legion of fans.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Wilkins - The Informant

"...the tightly written plot of a classic La Plante, and the edgy dialogue and dangerous cast of Cole."

Synopsis:
As a drug-fuelled teenage tearaway, Kaz Phelps took the rap for her little brother, Joey, over a bungled armed robbery and went to jail.

Six years later she is released on licence. Clean and sober, and driven by a secret passion for her lawyer, Helen, Kaz wants to escape the violence and abuse of her Essex gangster family.

Joey is a charming and calculating psychopath. He worships the ground his sister walks on and he is desperate to get her back in the family business. All Kaz wants is a fresh start and to put the past behind her.

When Joey murders an undercover cop, DS Nicci Armstrong is determined to put him behind bars. What she doesn't realise is that their efforts are being sabotaged by one of their own.

The final test for Kaz comes when her cousin, Sean, gets out of jail. A vicious, old-school thug, he wants to put the girl back in her place. But can Kaz face him down and get her life back?

Review:
The debut novel from an experienced script writer is a fast-paced thriller and a master-class in drama and characterisation.

Susan Wilkins has created a stylish cast of characters from the dangerously psychotic and murderous Joey to the highly intelligent yet vulnerable Helen. The main character of Kaz lies somewhere in the middle, and thanks to the dramatic tension Wilkins fills each chapter with you never quite know who is playing who. You'll be guessing and second-guessing until the very end.

If Martina Cole and Lynda La Plante collaborated they would come up with something similar to 'The Informant'; it has the tightly written plot of a classic La Plante, and the edgy dialogue and dangerous cast of Cole.

The story twists and turns and leads the reader blindly through a maze of dead ends, and with corrupt police officers and a ruthless gangster family with no boundaries, it's impossible to work out whom to trust.

'The Informant' is a terrific page turner of a novel. The sequel, 'The Mourner', is out in May 2015, and with plenty of unanswered questions I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes Omnibus

"...a lovely omnibus encompassing these three novels. "

Synopsis:
This omnibus includes Conan Doyle's famous Holmes novels, 'The Hound of the Baskervilles', 'A Study in Scarlet' and 'The Sign of Four'.

'A Study in Scarlet' signalled the beginning of a whole new era in crime fiction. Sherlock Holmes and his trusty assistant, Dr. John Watson are about to embark on their first case together.

Most famous is the story of the Baskerville curse and the hound on the moors that haunts any of those with that particular family name. Holmes is called in when the old baronet meets a grisly end and the attacker appears to have been a huge glowing hound out on the moors who is out for revenge.

Review:
Anybody who loves crime fiction is bound to love if not the books, then at least the many adaptations of Holmes on the TV screen. When Conan Doyle killed off Holmes in 1892 there was an outcry, insomuch that many felt he had actually bumped off a living person! That is how much Holmes had inveigled his way in to the homes, hearts and minds of the general public. Holmes' crime? He had grown bigger than his own creator which has never been replicated since. Thankfully, Conan Doyle brought him back in 1901 with 'The Hounds of the Baskervilles' which is regarded by many as Holmes' final hour. This story is the most adapted novel with over 20 different incarnations.

Here the Everyman Library, who are renowned for producing glorious books have release a lovely omnibus encompassing these three novels. The cover is in keeping with others in the series which is always important for those collectors who like a 'set' to remain with the same design throughout. The paper is of very good quality although my only minor grumble is that the print could have been slightly bigger for my old pair of eyes. Besides that, this offering comes with a marvellous chronology of Conan Doyle's life and books which I found totally fascinating in itself. As for the stories, who am I to knock a trio of classic Holmes cases. This is one of those perfect editions that is tailor-made for any book lover as the perfect present for Christmas. Time with Holmes and Watson is always time well spent!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Casey - The Kill

"A series that is getting better and better with every book."

Synopsis:
The tabloid headlines are lurid but accurate. A killer is terrorising London but this time the police are the targets. Urgently re-assigned to investigate a series of brutal attacks on fellow officers, Maeve Kerrigan and her boss Josh Derwent have little idea what motivates the killer's fury against the force.

But it will only be a matter of time before the murderer selects his next victim.

Their job is to investigate crime - not become the victims.

Review:
As a woman, I am not often a fan of female protagonists as (without generalising too much) they are often over emotional, sometimes weak, and also too sensitive. Thankfully, Kerrigan is the complete opposite.

Wanting a career in the Met, she is ambitious without being ruthless, strong, without being agressive, and loyal without being a doormat. Partnered by the ever chauvinistic, Derwent, her DI, Kerrigan is on the path of a suspect who is killing her colleagues.

Casey manages to involve characters from previous books in the series without the relationships becoming stale. Despite Derwent being an arrogant misogynist, Casey still manages to portray a softer, more personable side to him, whilst not quite endearing him to the reader, certainly smoothing down his edges and making him more real. Casey successfully entwines a realistic and interesting plot seamlessly with the relationships of the characters. This gives real depth and humanises her characters. The author has managed to put together a great cast and only enhances them with her strong plots.

Reference is made to previous storylines, such as Kerrigan's stalker, and whilst reading these books isn't a must to understand what is going on, it's a good excuse to read everything by Casey.

The end of 'The Kill' leads nicely to the next book, which I will be eagerly awaiting to find out how Kerrigan gets on. A series that is getting better and better with every book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.J. Sansom - Lamentation

"...Sansom has produced another magnificent book that is as rich as a Tudor tapestry."

Synopsis:
It is nearing the end of Henry VIII's reign. The King is physically weak but still strong in his mind. He is dallying with both the traditionalists and the reformers in religion and fortunes flow one way and then the other in the struggle for power. What is at stake (in more ways than one) is the control of the future King Edward VI.

Shardlake has returned from his harrowing time in Portsmouth when he saw many friends and colleagues die as the Mary Rose sank. He still suffers flashbacks to that awful time. When he is called to see Queen Catherine Parr he has many misgivings. He harbours fond feelings for the Queen, whom he has known from the time when she was simple Lady Catherine Latimer, but their previous meetings involved danger both then both and it was resolved that she would not involve him in any more dangerous meetings. Something very important must have occurred for the Queen to summon Shardlake to her private apartments in Whitehall Palace.

What he finds is that the Queen fears for her life. She has written a book confessing her personal Protestant faith and it has gone missing. In this time of plotting and intrigue this could lead to her being accused of treachery against the King and to her execution. She wishes Shardlake to employ his investigative skills to retrieve the manuscript.

The dangerous search on which he embarks takes him around the poorest parts of London, the equally dangerous Palace of Whitehall and the terrifying Tower of London. He puts himself and friends in danger whilst encountering desperate men from both Catholic and Protestant factions. There are also those who swing from one side to the other for their own personal gain.

Review:
Shardlake is a brilliant character who continues to enthral and intrigue as he develops throughout the tempestuous reign of Henry VIII. As Henry grows from a heroic and golden youth to a troubled physical wreck, Shardlake also matures and learns to live with contradictions and confusions, trusting only in the loyalty and goodness of his friends. The book is full of wonderful pen pictures of characters, good and bad who come alive, even though the force of religious conviction which drives them to action may not be one generally familiar to us in a Christian context.

The historical background is unfailingly interesting and compelling; the architectural and social detail absolutely fascinating. I was with Shardlake as he rode from Chancery Lane to the magnificence of Whitehall Palace. I was intrigued to find that the magnificent portrait of Henry and his family with the two fools (now in Hampton Court) was originally at Whitehall.

This is a magnificent series and Sansom has produced another magnificent book that is as rich as a Tudor tapestry. I look forward to Shardlake's struggles with the later Tudors. 'Lamentation' is that amazing, if I could give this more than five spyglasses then I would! Outstanding.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elly Griffiths - The Zig-Zag Girl

"I was so entranced by this book that whilst reading it on the bus I actually missed my stop!"

Synopsis:
Brighton, 1950.

When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens finds himself thinking of a magic trick he saw as a boy: the Zig-Zag Girl.

The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar's. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Gang. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, but Max is reluctant to leave his world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.

Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another 'trick', the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger...

Review:
If an author is going to write something different to their original series, then 'different' needs to be the operative word to avoid comparisons. Elly Griffiths, creator of the excellent Ruth Galloway series, has written a breath-taking new novel set in the 1950s featuring a brilliantly flawed detective and a sinister setting in the world of theatre and illusion.

'The Zig-Zag Girl' is inspired by real-life events from the author's own family history. Descriptions of magic, post-war Britain and life in the theatre are entertaining and give a great sense of place. The pace is fast and gripping. I love the world of magic and was hooked from the opening page. The murders are deliciously dark, and the underlying sense of evil is the perfect atmosphere as the cold winter nights draw in.

I was so entranced by this book that whilst reading it on the bus I actually missed my stop! An excellent novel is a good enough excuse to be late in my opinion.

Detective Inspector Stephens is sensitive, intelligent, and personable. Elly Griffiths has created yet another terrific character that can carry a gripping story without stealing the limelight and allowing the story, and subordinate characters, to develop naturally. It's this talent that shows Elly to be a leading voice in British crime writing.

I hope we see DI Stephens again. I'm sure Ms Griffiths is capable of juggling Galloway and Stephens. No pressure.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Douglas Skelton - Crow Bait

"...the strength in the author's writing is in his ability to create believable characters."

Synopsis:
Jail was hell for Davie McCall. Ten years down the line, freedom is no picnic either. It's 1990, there are new kings in the West of Scotland underworld, and Glasgow is awash with drugs.

Davie can handle himself. What he can't handle is the memory of his mother's death at the hand of his sadistic father. Or the darkness his father implanted deep in his own psyche. Or the nightmares...

Now his father is back in town and after blood, ready to waste anyone who stops him hacking out a piece of the action. There are people in his way.

And Davie is one of them.

Review:
After I enjoyed Skelton's debut, 'Blood City' so much, I was eagerly anticipating the follow-up. But what if he suffered from Second Book Syndrome? What if Davie McCall 2 just didn't do it for me the way the first one had? I needn't have worried. From the first sentence I was slammed back into that world as if Skelton had just had a coffee and cig break after typing The End in 'Blood City', before driving straight on.

Davie McCall remains a fascinating creation. He never really had a chance of achieving any other kind of life than the one he inhabits in the Glasgow underworld. The men around him saw to that. From his friends, to his mentor, Joe Klein and worse of all, his father, there is only one way his life could have turned out. And yet, Skelton is savvy enough as an author, to give Davie a vulnerability that pulls you onside. Yeah, you definitely wouldn't want to cross him, but you still feel for his plight.

Indeed, the strength in the author's writing is in his ability to create believable characters. Every one of them earns their space between the covers of this book and every one of them 'acts' on the stage of your imagination, propelling you through the story.

This is a fast read and at times, an uncomfortable read such is the world the cast inhabits. There's no doubt that the author's earlier work in the true crime world has given him plenty of detail to make all of that utterly believable.

This is crime fiction of the strongest quality, with all the elements I look for in a crime novel. People you are pulling for and a cracking story all served up with a healthy slice of gallows humour and the occasional turn of phrase that would have William McIlvanney purring.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Marr - Head of State

"...this deliciously wicked debut novel is a twisted journey through the corrupted corridors of power..."

Synopsis:
Two corpses. A country on the edge of a political precipice. A conspiracy so bold it would make Machiavelli wince.

When a young investigative reporter is found dead on the streets of London, few people notice. But when another body - minus its head and hands - is washed up on the banks of the Thames, its grisly condition arouses a little more interest.

There appears to be no connection between the two dead men. But, unsuspected by the electorate, there is a shocking and dangerous secret at the very heart of government.

While the United Kingdom approaches a crucial and delicately balanced referendum on Europe, a group of ruthlessly determined individuals will stop at nothing - including murder - to prevent the truth from getting out.

Review:
Marr's 'Head of State' is a timely novel about the machinations of a referendum. A cast of disparate characters, all of them gloriously unlikeable, stagger through a moment in history in 2017 when Britain must decide whether to stay in Europe or go it alone.

In lesser experienced hands 'Head of State' could have been embarrassingly over the top. With Andrew Marr's wealth of knowledge of all things political this deliciously wicked debut novel is a twisted journey through the corrupted corridors of power the public never sees.

The first hundred pages or so are a bit of a hard slog as we are narratively introduced to the main players and their roles within the story. When the action begins (and there will be no spoilers from me) the pace increases, the tension and drama mount and the rollercoaster ride begins.

I've always been a fan of Andrew Marr, and I imagine him to be highly intelligent and wickedly funny. His debut novel has certainly delivered on that assumption. There are some brilliant throwaway remarks; Nick Robinson is now a Sir, the President of the USA is female and Britain is ruled by a King. Even Marr himself is mentioned in his capacity as a political commentator. There's a wonderful chapter where Rory Bremner imitates the Prime Minister in a radio interview with Dermot Murnaghan which had me in tears of laughter. I don't think I've ever laughed at a thriller before.

Politics is never boring and makes an excellent backdrop for a thriller. Marr delivers and I hope this isn't his only novel.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.C. Humphreys - Plague

"...a chilling novel that oozes dramatic tension from the very first page to the final word."

Synopsis:
On a dark road outside London, a simple robbery goes horribly wrong when the gentlemanly highwayman, William Coke, discovers his intended victims have been brutally slaughtered. Suspected of the murders, Coke is forced into an uneasy alliance with the man who pursues him - the relentless thief-taker, Pitman.

Together they seek the killer - and uncover a conspiracy that reaches from the glittering, debauched court of King Charles to the worst slum in the city, St Giles in the Fields.

But there's another murderer moving through the slums, the taverns and the palaces, slipping under the doorways of the rich. A mass murderer: the plague.

Review:
There are certain periods in Britain's history that scream out to be the setting of a crime fiction novel; the plague is definitely one of them. A deadly illness with no cure tearing through the streets of London, feeding on the fear of its inhabitants and leaving a trail of bodies in its wake. Add to the mix a serial killer and you have a chilling novel that oozes dramatic tension from the very first page to the final word.

'Plague' is a well-researched story. C.C. Humphreys has captured the era perfectly. You can almost smell the open sewers in the slums and feel the dark, debilitating atmosphere. This is a real slow burner. Humphreys uses the setting, the fear, the gruesome murders, the well-drawn characterisations to build into a terrifying crescendo.

The central character of Captain Coke is refreshingly original; a highway man with a social conscience. Armed with a pistol without bullets and the way he takes a simple boy under his wing and teaches him to read is a joy to read in contrast to the violence of the murder scenes.

Humphreys has a brilliant use of words and there are some excellent descriptive lines here. With a back catalogue of historical novels, and his next one, 'Fire' (released in 2015), I hope we have a thriller with the Great Fire of London as the backdrop. My fingers are firmly crossed.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Val McDermid - Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime

"This book is a must for anyone who enjoys crime fiction."

Synopsis:
Chapter by chapter, Val McDermid takes you through the fascinating disciplines of forensic science. She delves into the history of forensics, interviews the forensic scientists themselves, highlights cases both here and abroad where innovative techniques were used for the first time, and shows us how the expert witness presents his or her evidence in court.

But this is not an uncritical book. Val also highlights the shortcomings of forensic science. She tells of a famous Scottish murder case in 1997 which threw into doubt the infallibility of that mainstay of detective work - the fingerprint. She tells of evidence being cross-contaminated because of mistakes made during analysis in a laboratory. Most importantly, for those of us who enjoy reading or writing crime fiction, she shows that forensic scientists do not offer facts about guilt or innocence in a court case, they offer opinions. She also explains that forensic evidence alone is not enough to gain a conviction. It is merely one of many tools brought to court to convict a guilty person or acquit an innocent one.

Review:
This book is a must for anyone who enjoys crime fiction. It is well-written, the necessarily complicated scientific side of forensics is explained in a logical and understandable way without over-simplifying, and very importantly, it is highly entertaining. The gruesome side of forensics is presented fairly and openly, but without playing on the more unpleasant aspects.

There are twelve chapters, and each one deals with a specific discipline, from entomology to toxicology, from digital forensics to blood splatter and DNA, and from fingerprinting to fire scene investigation. The last chapter, about how forensic evidence is presented in court, was for me the most interesting. Barristers, it seems, will go to great lengths to discredit the evidence presented by expert witnesses, sometimes to great effect. More than one forensic scientist, it seems, has left the witness box with his or her reputation in tatters.

Val has gone to the best practitioners in each field and interviewed them, not just about what is involved in their disciplines, but also about their experiences along the way. This is a wonderful and insightful book that any discerning crime reader should not miss!

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jean Harrod - Deadly Diplomacy

"...a very good story that gripped me and made me want to carry on reading until all was revealed."

Synopsis:
Jess Turner is the British Consul in Canberra. As such, she has responsibility for British citizens in trouble in Australia. When high flying businesswoman Ellen Chambers is murdered and her sister comes out from Britain to deal with the aftermath, Jess naturally becomes involved. Then things get more complicated as the dead woman's diary becomes the focus of a desperate hunt. Ellen's sister, Susan, is a journalist who has doubts about the investigation led by the police and has hidden the diary.

Hints of possible corruption in the victim's business dealings, involving both Australian and Chinese are rife, and the size of the deal with the Chinese government means that the Federal Government wants all to go ahead as quickly as possible.

Enter DI Tom Sangster, who wants to discover the truth. When a Federal minister is murdered, the hunt to find the murderer becomes more complicated and intense. Jess and Tom work together to fit the pieces of the jigsaw.

Review:
'Deadly Conspiracy' gripped me from page one and made me want to carry on reading until all was revealed. On top of that, the insider knowledge that provides the backdrop for the storyline means that a genuine insight into the world of international diplomacy suffuses the whole book.

Jess Turner is a believable character with her own troubles and secrets that are slowly revealed as the story moves on. She is a tough independent woman, with a warmth and sensitivity that makes her both engaging and likeable. I look forward to her next encounter with the law. DI Sangster is also his own man with a thirst for the truth, and Harrod definitely made this partnership work very well.

I started this book with a critical eye, looking for points to comment on, but the compelling nature of the story meant I soon forgot that and became completely absorbed in Harrod's story. What else do you want from a good detective novel? Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Walter Mosley - Rose Gold

"...when it's a new Easy Rawlins book, its time to stop the clocks, turn off the Wi-Fi and ignore the world until the book is finished."

Synopsis:
When four armed policemen turn up at Easy Rawlins' door, he thinks he's in trouble. He is. They want him to find Rosemary Goldsmith, the daughter of a millionaire arms dealer and Easy can't afford to say no. They think she's with Bob Mantle, a boxer turned radical activist. As a black man in post-war LA, Easy has access to Mantle's world. The LAPD does not.

But Mantle's world is a dangerous one. When Easy is almost gunned down on his first day on the case, he realises he'll need more than his wits to find Rose Gold. Has she been kidnapped? Is she colluding? And what does her father really want?

Review:
A new Walter Mosley is an event in my house, and when it's a new Easy Rawlins book, it's time to stop the clocks, turn off the Wi-Fi and ignore the world until the book is finished.

This time, Easy's work is set firmly in the sixties with references to hippies, drugs and an awakening society that is much less likely to obey the man. In fact, so strong is the sense of place conjured by Mosley, if you want to get a handle on what life was like in America during this decade, this book is required reading.

'Rose Gold' is a fascinating read that has Easy, as well as chasing down Rosemary, helping disgraced cop Melvin Suggs, locating a stolen mixed-race child, and solving a marital problem for his buddy, Jackson Blue.

My feeling is that where the diversions into other cases made for a reading good time, it diverted from and diluted the tensions set up in the investigation into the whereabouts of Rosemary Goldsmith. It seems cheeky to offer criticism on the writing of such a master of the form as Walter Mosley, but to be fair, a slightly below par offering from him remains a step above many of the books you'll read this year.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lars Kepler - The Sandman

"'The Sandman'... in my opinion, is undoubtedly the best of the bunch so far."

Synopsis:
During a cold winter night in Stockholm a young man is found walking alongside a railway bridge. The hospital declares he is suffering from hypothermia and legionella. They also discover a death certificate stating the man has been dead for over seven years.

Mikael knows him as 'The Sandman'. Thirteen years ago, he was taken from his bed along with his sister, victims of Jurek Walter, Sweden's most prolific serial killer. Walter is currently serving a life sentence, kept in solitary confinement, and still considered extremely dangerous by psychiatric staff.

Following Mikael's discovery, the hunt is on to find his sister, and to get to the truth Detective Inspector Joona Linna will need to get closer than ever to the man who stripped him of his family. The man who wants Linna dead.

Review:
'The Sandman' is the fourth book in Lars Keppler's series about Inspector Joona Linna and in my opinion, is undoubtedly the best of the bunch so far. For existing readers it's a great next step and because the first part of the book overlaps somewhat with the end of the previous novel, 'The Fire Witness', it provides just enough detail to leave the previous novels a mystery, but allows new readers to have enough knowledge of Joona to enjoy 'The Sandman' as a great standalone novel.

Thanks to a story being set over a small period of time, due mainly to the time-limited race to locate Mikael's sister, 'The Sandman' is a real page turner, and very difficult to put down. With its short sharp chapters that move the story on quickly it is also very easy to find time to read even on the busiest of days.

What I enjoyed the most about this book is that it felt a far more character driven tale than previous outings, with much more being uncovered about both Joona Linna and Saga Bauer, along with the evil Jurek Walter. This does not however come at the cost of the plot, which is dark, twisted and will keep you engaged in the chase from beginning to end. You will not be able to put this book down, and with an explosive and emotional ending I guarantee you'll be keen for the next in the series.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Richard Godwin - Noir City

"...as ever with an author of Godwin's pedigree, the prose was faultless."

Synopsis:
Dangerous, blonde Gigolo, Paris Tongue, uses his looks to seduce beautiful and wealthy women and introduce them to the Secret Hour, that hidden time when they can escape their lives. Using his inheritance to travel, he penetrates the erotic essence of different cities, from London, to Paris, Rome, Madrid and Dusseldorf. But his sexual escapades begin to catch up with him.

When he sleeps with the wife of a Mafia Boss he is hunted across Europe by hit men. He manages to evade his assassins, until they find him in Spain. But by then he has understood the deeper philosophy of Eros at the villa owned by the illegitimate grand-daughter of Georges Bataille, and he sees them off. He is, after all, the bastard child of a killer, who knows how to survive. In Germany he meets Anja from Croatia, the first woman he wants to settle down with, and he realises he inhabits the Noir.

Review:
Richard Godwin has never shied away from controversial writing and with 'Noir City' he has taken a bold step into the world of erotic thrillers. While I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, I'd be neglecting my duty as a reviewer if I didn't point out that the graphic content and industrial language may not suit every reader.

'Noir City' is more about the causes of crime rather than the detection or aftermath. Instead of pursuing these traits, Godwin focuses on the obsessive nature of desire-filled people making terrible choices to feed their lustful addictions.

The lead character Paris Tongue is a charlatan of the first order, yet there is a strange vulnerability to him which made him less despicable, if not entirely likeable. The support characters were all expertly drawn and as ever with an author of Godwin's pedigree, the prose was faultless.

To sum up, I'd have to say that 'Noir City' is a fantastic read for the open-minded reader.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Richard Montanari - The Doll Maker

"The story kept me engrossed..."

Synopsis:
Mr Marseille is polite, elegant, and erudite. He would do anything for his genteel true love Anabelle. He is also a psychopath.

A quiet Philadelphia suburb. A woman cycles past a train depot with her young daughter. There she finds a murdered girl posed on a newly painted bench. Beside her is a formal invite to a tea dance in a week's time.

Seven days later, two more young victims are discovered in a disused house, posed on painted swings. At the scene is an identical invite. This time, though, there is something extra waiting for Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano: a delicate porcelain doll.

With Marseille and Anabelle stalking the city, Byrne and Balzano have just seven days to find the link between the murders before another innocent child is snatched from its streets.

Review:
As with Montanari's previous novels, 'The Doll Maker' is very dark, albeit a little less gruesome than his other books. The book is written from different perspectives; in the first person of the killer and third person following Byrne and Balzano.

The killer's victims appear to be random, with the motive not being revealed until later on. Whilst the motive and reasoning behinds the killings felt a little stretched and not totally convincing, as with all Montonari's books, it is very well-written. The story kept me engrossed and being an avid fan of Montanari it is interesting to have watched the characters develop and grow over time, especially Bontrager who first appeared as a very green and inexperienced detective.

'The Doll Maker' toys with the idea of Balzano leaving the police to work in the District Attorney's office. If this character does leave it will be interesting to see whether Montanari pairs Byrne with another character, or if the books will be based around Balzano's new job and become legal thrillers. Either way, I shall be eagerly awaiting his next book to find out.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Patricia Highsmith - The Talented Mr. Ripley

"a tour de force"

Synopsis:
Tom Ripley lives in New York, and is a charming, amoral and self-centred young man who is interested in only one thing - himself. Ripley is trying to keep, not only his creditors, but the law, at bay as he cruises through life from one confidence trick to another. Salvation comes in the form of Herbert Greenleaf, a millionaire, who asks Tom to go to Mongibello in Italy and persuade his son Richard (Dickie) to come home to the States.

Tom, who knows Dickie slightly (though he exaggerates this friendship) agrees, mainly for the money he is being offered. Tom arrives in Italy and ingratiates himself with Dickie, though Marge, Dickie's girlfriend, is suspicious of him. Tom eventually dispatches Dickie and assumes his identity. Another murder takes place, and Tom finds himself being sucked into a life of carefully-planned subterfuge to keep up the pretence that he is not Tom Ripley. All this time, he shows no remorse of guilt for anything he has done.

Review:
This famous book was first published in 1955, and in 1956 was nominated for the 'best novel' prize by the Mystery Writers of America. But there is no mystery here. Everything is laid bare as the novel progresses, and the reader is left in no doubt as to what is happening. In this respect it is a tour de force, as up until then the mystery element was what sold crime novels. It is not even a thriller in the accepted sense, as there are no thrills to speak of.

To say that it changed the face of crime fiction is an exaggeration, yet it did have an influence on novelists who came later. It concentrates on character, and how character can drive a story forward, rather than on plot alone (though it is carefully plotted). At certain points the reader will even be cheering on Tom Ripley as he wends his selfish, hedonistic, murderous way through Italy, with no regard for others. How Patricia Highsmith managed to achieve this is still argued over to this day by crime enthusiasts and because the book has a high literary content, students of mainstream literature.

Eventually Highsmith wrote four further Tom Ripley books, and the five volumes are now called the Ripliad. Read them, they are all excellent.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Robotham - Watching You

"I was hooked from page one and was kept interested right until the last."

Synopsis:
MARNIE LOGAN OFTEN FEELS LIKE SHE'S BEING WATCHED.

Nothing she can quite put her finger on - a whisper of breath on the back of her neck, or a shadow in the corner of her eye - and now her life is frozen. Her husband Daniel has been missing for more than a year. Depressed and increasingly desperate, she seeks the help of clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin. Joe is concerned by Marnie's reluctance to talk about the past, but then she discovers a book packed with pictures, interviews with friends, former teachers, old flames and workmates Daniel was preparing for her birthday. It was supposed to be a celebration of her life. But it's not the story anyone was expecting.

Review:
Marnie is portrayed as a normal, easy going mother, but the more the plot unravels, the darker her past appears to be. People that have encountered Marnie previously tell a different story that depicts a person who is hell bent on revenge. Yet Marnie has no recollection of anything these people accuse of her. The plot will keep the reader guessing as to whether Marnie is actually consciously taking revenge on these people, whether she has an alter ego or if there is someone looking out for her. 'Watching You' does make you wonder if there is someone that is following you, righting any wrongs they perceive have been done, without the knowledge of the person they are watching.

'Watching You' is written from an interesting perspective that will not only be enjoyed by the reader, but also make them think about what happens when people move on in their lives to those that are left behind. As with all Robotham's books, it is well written, despite this one being written in the present tense (which I usually struggle to enjoy). I was hooked from page one and was kept interested right until the last. The characters worked well together and all felt plausible.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anthony Horowitz - Moriarty

"'Moriarty' is skilfully crafted and the plot gallops at an exciting pace."

Synopsis:
Days after Sherlock Holmes and his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty fall to their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls, Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase arrives in Europe from New York. The death of Moriarty has created a poisonous vacuum which has been swiftly filled by a fiendish new criminal mastermind who has risen to take his place.

Ably assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard, a devoted student of Holmes's methods of investigation and deduction, Chase must forge a path through the darkest corners of the capital to shine a light on this shadowy figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, a man determined to engulf London in a tide of murder and menace.

Review:
If an iconic character in fiction is going to continue long after the creator's death, who better to take up responsibility than a life-long fan of the original work. Anthony Horowitz is that fan and his love of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's masterly creation is etched on every page.

You don't need to have read the original stories to enjoy 'Moriarty' as it is littered with references to all the previous cases the great detective solved which have proved to be as memorable as the man himself; 'A Study in Scarlet', 'The Red-headed League', and 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' are all mentioned to elevate our hero into an idol.

'Moriarty' is skilfully crafted and the plot gallops at an exciting pace. Horowitz's detail for Victorian London is accurate and entertaining. This is a lucid page-turner that will satisfy any life-long Sherlock Holmes fan, as well as add new ones.

The twists and turns of the story are richly entwined and the denouement is wonderfully chilling. There is a brilliant aside in the final few pages revealing the true genius of Sherlock's deductive skills that will leave a wee smile on your face.

Conan Doyle need not worry about his famous creation; in the capably murderous grasp of Anthony Horowitz, the legacy of Sherlock Holmes is in safe hands.

Reviewed by: M.W.

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