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Reviews

August 2017

J. D. Barker - The Fourth Monkey

"Definitely not a book to miss."

Synopsis:
For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago. When the killer's body is found, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive.

As the lead investigator on the 4MK task force, Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unravelling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own.

With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer's identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave.

Review:
The story starts with the death of a man that has been identified as the Fourth Monkey Killer. Found on the body were a number of clues leading to the real identity of the Fourth Monkey Killer. One of these was a diary written by the killer.

The story flits between the present time, with the police force looking into the killings, and the past which is done by reading through the diary. I am not sure what is more gruesome and exhilarating; the present with the hunt for the missing girl and her situation, or the past giving insight into why the child turned into a killer. Barker managed to give a full explanation of how a child turned into a vicious killer. By doing this through a diary in alternating chapters, I didn't feel this was rushed or an afterthought. Indeed, it added to the story.

Although one part of the plot is in my opinion transparent, I feel the author wrote it this way and didn't expect his readers to follow this particular red herring. However, there are more than plenty of other twists throughout the book which are so well devised that I was mis-led time and time again.

'The Fourth Monkey' is a great book - one of those that you rush to read to the end because you really want to know what happens. And then be disappointed when you are finished as you didn't want it to end. Barker is one of my 'finds' for 2017 and I will be adding him to my author list. Definitely not a book to miss.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Booth - Dead in the Dark

"As usual, Booth delivers a first rate crime novel..."

Synopsis:
Ten years ago, Reece Bower was accused of killing his wife, a crime he always denied. Extensive police searches near his home in Bakewell found no trace of Annette Bower's remains and the case against him collapsed.

But now memories of the original investigation have been resurrected for Detective Inspector Ben Cooper - because Reece Bower himself has disappeared, and his new wife wants answers.

Cooper can't call on the Major Crime Unit and DS Diane Fry for help unless he can prove a murder took place - impossible without a body. As his search moves into the caves and abandoned mines in the isolated depths of Lathkilldale, the question is: who would want revenge for the death of Annette Bower?

Review:
There are not many authors I stop what I'm doing to read their latest work. However, when Stephen Booth has a new book out the world can wait. A new Cooper and Fry novel is like a visit from family members you actually like.

Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are an odd pair. Their relationship is fragile and they spend little time together but when they meet there is an electricity that jumps out of the page. Ben becomes less confident and assured around Diane and she is straight on the defensive and raises the wall to protect herself. They reluctantly help, and need, each other. Yet they need to have a great distance between them.

'Dead in the Dark' is a very modern story with the fallout from the Brexit vote a feature of a disturbing story of racism and volatility in a small community that has seen an influx of east European migrants. It's very relevant and Stephen Booth has broached both sides of the Brexit argument with considered realism.

The main plot of a missing man with a deceptive past is a complete contrast and could be from the golden age of crime fiction. Betrayal, secrets, affairs, all the ingredients are here and everyone is a suspect with plenty of misdirection.

Booth deftly intertwines both plots neatly and delivers a satisfying and unexpected conclusion. As usual, Booth delivers a first rate crime novel, and with seventeen Cooper and Fry novels under his belt already, the series shows no sign of tiredness. In fact, they seem to go from strength to strength.

Stephen Booth is a modern master of the genre and I defy anyone not to fall in love with the Derbyshire he paints so beautifully, yet so darkly.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lucy Atkins - The Night Visitor

"...an outstanding psychological thriller. I loved it."

Synopsis:
Professor Olivia Sweetman, glamorous TV presenter and respected historian, has just published what she hopes will be a best seller based on the life and career of Annabel, a Victorian woman who emerges from a difficult life at home to create a professional life as a doctor at a time when this is extremely rare. She bases the story on a diary presented to her by Vivian, housekeeper to the elderly Lady Burley who is in a nursing home.

Olivia apparently has it all: career, husband, family and looks. Vivian is the opposite with a mundane job, ordinary looks and few relationships apart from with her beloved dog.

But Vivian holds a secret which could topple Olivia from her perch and destroy her reputation. The reasons for this and the workings of her mind are half of the fascination of the book. The other half is the effect that this secret has on Olivia and the way in which her comfortable values are tested when all is at stake.

Review:
This is a fascinating study of the way in which human minds work. Revenge is a powerful motive and a twisted intellect can produce a frightening result. The development of the relationship between the two women is cleverly handled from the smug well-meaning attitude of Olivia to the cold blooded obsessively planned retaliation of Vivian. As the truth emerges it appears that revenge is truly a dish best served cold. Both women are victims in different ways.

The atmosphere generated by the power of the unknown and the suitably Gothic surroundings make this an outstanding psychological thriller. I loved it.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Robotham - The Secrets She Keeps

"...a well-timed and perfectly paced psychological thriller... "

Synopsis:
Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls.

When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever.

Review:
'The Secrets She Keeps' sees Agatha envy Meghan's seemingly perfect life, With her two children, another on the way, a good looking, successful husband, a lovely home, it's no wonder Agatha wants what Meghan has.

Slowly the story builds, and with it the characters. Without giving too much of the story away, Robotham has sufficiently given reason for their individual choices, making me empathise rather than criticise their actions. In fact, on some level I even wanted them to get away with it, such was the depth of the empathy Robotham had built.

'The Secrets She Keeps' isn't an adrenaline filled page-turner. What Robotham delivers is a well-timed and perfectly paced psychological thriller with a depth of emotion. Once reading, you soon get a feel for the characters, that something is off and that something is going to happen - but Robotham directs the story really well.

Well written with plenty of depth, 'The Secrets She Keeps' is definitely worth a read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

S.G. Maclean - The Black Friar

"If, like me, you are a fan of historical fiction, this book is one of the best."

Synopsis:
In this second book of the series featuring The Seeker, a body dressed as a friar is found bricked up in the walls of the former Blackfriars Monastery. When Captain Damien Seeker is called to investigate, he quickly realises this is no miraculously preserved relic from Henry VIII's time, but a recently deceased member of Oliver Cromwell's spy network.

London is full of discontent: there are the Royalist sympathisers, disaffected former supporters of Cromwell and various other fanatical and subversive religious sects. Seeker's job is to keep an eye on all causes of unrest and deal with them promptly. His cool efficiency and ruthless determination mean that he is a feared and respected member of society. He has a softer side but it is very well hidden.

In the course of his investigations he realises that children are disappearing without explanation all around the city. He battles against all the odds to find out what has happened to them. What he finds is a strange link to plans for insurrection against the Protector.

Review:
Damien Seeker has a jaundiced view of society and his belief that “the brute will always rise to the surface without greater power to curb it” is his justification for the strong arm of the law he imposes. He also believes that “man is not capable of the liberty you so loudly demand for him”. I do so hope he is wrong!

He is, however, a man of his time and there are innumerable factions threatening the stability of the government he is there to protect. He has the talents and intelligence to overcome the plotters and I think that is his appeal. Like many heroes, such as Bond and Superman, he can achieve what we ordinary mortals cannot and that is infinitely enticing.

I also enjoy the insight this series brings to the time of The Protectorate. Tudor history is becoming familiar but Oliver Cromwell and his rule is new to me and all the more fascinating for that. The writer's historian's eye means that I have confidence in the historical detail and love every minute of it.

If, like me, you are a fan of historical fiction, this book is one of the best. I heartily recommend it.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - Marked for Death

"...a barn-storming tale which left me more breathless than a gut-punched asthmatic."

Synopsis:
It should be a routine job. Joe Hunter and his associates are hired to provide security for an elite event in Miami. Wear a tux, stay professional, job done.

But things go wrong.

Hunter is drawn into what appears to be a domestic altercation. When he crosses the mysterious Mikhail however, he soon finds something altogether more sinister…

Before long this chance encounter has serious repercussions for Hunter and his friends. Good people are being killed. On the run, in the line of fire, the clock is ticking.

Review:
Just when you thought Matt Hilton couldn't surprise you any more, he goes and pulls the rug from under your feet with a fantastic opening sequence that sets the tone and scene for a brilliant novel.

'Marked for Death' is fast-paced to the point of being frenetic, but Hilton's steadying hand on the reins is evident throughout as he catapults his characters through a series of dramatic events that never feel contrived.

Hunter is as brooding and masculine as ever and Rink does his usual job of bringing humour to the story and support to Hunter, but it is with Trey that Hilton really gets busy with characterisation. I found her fascinating and beautifully created with many layers that Hilton uncovered at key moments.

The plotting is sublime and very topical while the prose is faultless, whether used for characterisation or tense moment so of derring-do

Overall this is a barn-storming tale which left me more breathless than a gut-punched asthmatic.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Haylen Beck - Here and Gone

"A relentless, rollercoaster of a novel..."

Synopsis:
Audra has finally left her abusive husband. She's taken the family car and her young children are buckled up in the back. This is their chance for a fresh start.

Audra keeps to the country roads to avoid attention and finds herself on an empty road in Arizona, far from home. She's looking for a safe place to stay for the night when she spots something in the rear-view mirror. A police car is following her and the lights are flickering. Blue and red.

As Audra pulls over she is intensely aware of how isolated they are. Her perfect escape is about to turn into a nightmare beyond her imagining...

Review:
'Here and Gone' is a fast paced thriller by Stuart Neville writing as Haylen Beck as he takes his crime fiction in a completely new direction.

Set in America the story begins at breakneck speed as we meet Audra, travelling with her two children to escape her violent husband in New York. This journey is Audra's descent into a nightmare.

This isn't a whodunnit rather a whydunnit as we see the disturbing events unfold from Audra's point of view. This is an exhilarating and thrilling read. A genuine page turner that will leave you breathless as you race through the chapters.

If I didn't know Beck was a pseudonym beforehand I would have thought this was written by a stateside author as the Americanisms scream out of the page. I am already a huge fan of Stuart Neville, but 'Here and Gone' allows him to spread his wings and prove he is capable of more than police procedural novels.

A relentless, rollercoaster of a novel with characters you will be thinking about long after the final page. This is suspense fiction at its best.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - The House of Four

"Nadel always has a sharp-eyed commentary on life in Istanbul..."

Synopsis:
In this twentieth book in the Inspector Ikmen series, Nadel looks into the mysterious world of the occult that lies beneath the surface in modern day Istanbul.

The focus of the book is a dilapidated former Ottoman house in the Moda district of Istanbul. The house was latterly the home of four siblings, living completely separate lives in four different apartments in the house. They are the children of an ex-patriate German from the First World War and his Turkish wife. Their father was called the devil by some and had an abiding interest in magic and the occult. At least one of the children was involved in alchemy. When all four siblings are discovered dead, stabbed through the heart, Inspector Ikmen is called in to investigate. All he has to go on is a treasure trove of papers and letters, all written in the old Ottoman script. Luckily he has to hand a young keen police constable with language skills who is called on to translate. What they discover is a deadly secret.

Alongside this investigation is a series of apparently random murders in the streets of Istanbul and the young couple arrested on suspicion of committing these crimes also has a link to the Devil's House. Cetin Ikmen is tasked with unravelling the mystery.

Review:
Barbara Nadel manages to combine a cracking good story with a sympathetic description of her characters. Nadel always has a sharp-eyed commentary on life in Istanbul as it changes as the rise of the religious leaders increase their influence in day to day life.

Inspector Ikmen is the voice of the old guard, strictly secular and slightly bemused by the rise of religious political correctness throughout society. His colleague, Inspector Suleyman is a passionate good looking man who attracts attention wherever he goes. A scion of the old Ottoman regime, he appears arrogant but, with Ikmen, is part of a powerful investigating team. There are other intriguing members of the team, all of whom contribute to the exciting pattern of characters that Nadel introduces to us.

I feel that in future books Inspector Ikmen and Inspector Suleyman may cross swords with the powers that be. I look forward to seeing what happens. Nadel is the expert at bringing issues of the day to her novels and in describing Turkey she is bringing a wealth of knowledge and sympathetic experience to the case.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tess Gerritsen - I Know A Secret

"A great twist at the end when the killer is revealed..."

Synopsis:
Two separate homicides, at different locations, with unrelated victims, have more in common than just being investigated by Boston PD detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. In both cases, the bodies bear startling wounds, yet the actual cause of death is unknown. It's a doubly challenging case for the cop and the coroner to be taking on, at an inconvenient time for both of them. As Jane struggles to save her mother from the crumbling marriage that threatens to bury her, Maura grapples with the imminent death of her own mother - infamous serial killer Amalthea Lank.

While Jane tends to her mother, there's nothing Maura can do for Amalthea, except endure one final battle of wills with the woman whose shadow has haunted her all her life. Though succumbing to cancer, Amalthea hasn't lost her taste for manipulating her estranged daughter by dangling a cryptic clue about the two bizarre murders Maura and Jane are desperately trying to solve.

But whatever the dying convict knows is only a piece of the puzzle. Soon the investigation leads to a secretive young woman who survived a shocking abuse scandal; an independent horror film that may be rooted in reality; and a slew of martyred saints who died cruel and unusual deaths. And just when Rizzoli and Isles think they've cornered a devilish predator, the long-buried past rears its head and threatens to engulf more innocent lives, including their own.

Review:
Rizzoli and Isles are on the case to find the killer of a young girl who has been found murdered and left with her eyes removed. Alongside the investigation Gerritson updates with the goings on in the personal lives of the main characters. Isles has a complex family history with her serial killer mom, while Isles has her on/off relationship with Daniel, a priest, which still hasn't been resolved.

Back on the case, I was convinced I had worked out who the killer was and exactly what had happened. However, after a few lukewarm books, Gerritson is back on form with 'I Know a Secret' and managed to prove me completely wrong. A great twist at the end when the killer is revealed but not quite a tidy ending.

Gerritson fans will enjoy this latest instalment of Rizzoli and Isles. This is a great read with some favourite characters and an ingenious plot.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stuart MacBride - A Dark So Deadly

"By turns the book is macabre, twisted and humorous..."

Synopsis:
Welcome to the Misfit Mob…

It's where Police Scotland dumps the officers it can't get rid of, but wants to: the outcasts, the troublemakers, the compromised. Officers like DC Callum MacGregor, lumbered with all the boring go-nowhere cases. So when an ancient mummy turns up at the Oldcastle tip, it's his job to find out which museum it's been stolen from.

But then Callum uncovers links between his ancient corpse and three missing young men, and life starts to get a lot more interesting. O Division's Major Investigation Teams already have more cases than they can cope with, so, against everyone's better judgement, the Misfit Mob are just going to have to manage this one on their own.

No one expects them to succeed, but right now they're the only thing standing between the killer's victims and a slow, lingering death. The question is, can they prove everyone wrong before he strikes again?

Review:
Regular readers will know Stuart MacBride is a favourite author for me, so naturally I have been looking forward to reading this standalone since I first heard about it at Bloody Scotland last year.

Featuring, neither Logan MacRae nor Ash Henderson, this book centres around a young DC called Callum MacGregor and the team of misfits he has found himself working with. There's a DI nicknamed 'Mother', the wheelchair bound Dotty, DC Watt and DS McAdams. As you would expect from a writer of MacBride's calibre, each character is perfectly drawn to give the reader an insight into their motivations and personalities.

The plotting is intricate and kept me guessing right until a few pages before the author did the grand reveal. (This is the perfect situation for me, enough info to make the connection, but only just before it's revealed.)

By turns the book is macabre, twisted and humorous, yet just when you think things can't get any worse for the erstwhile hero, MacBride takes another swing at him in this deliciously noir tale.

I loved this book and look forward to hopefully enjoying MacGregor's company again in the future.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis - Playing with Death

"I absolutely loved it."

Synopsis:
FBI agent Rose Blake is back at work after a horrendous encounter with a vicious serial killer when she fails to end his killing spree. Although he has been lying low since his escape, Rose knows he is still out there and looking for her.

Her husband is working hard to return a Democratic Senator to power in the face of strong opposition and her son is struggling with his teenage years and being enticed with the social temptations of gaming and the Internet.

As a little light relief from her problems Rose is called in to a case of arson and murder. This would not normally be a FBI case but there are some strange circumstances and the department of Defence is taking an interest. As she finds out more about the case and as more deaths occur that appear to be linked, Rose is drawn into some very strange territory indeed.

Review:
My normal comfort zone is more in Scarrow's field of historical fiction, but I am very glad indeed to have been introduced to this co-operative effort from Scarrow and Francis.

It has such an original plot set in a world that terrifies me to think about. What is particularly scary is that technology is advancing so rapidly and the writers write so convincingly that I can believe this world is just around the corner.

The research that has been done is so impressive and I suspect that it might have been a little frightening too. The Dark Web is a thing of nightmares.

The story grips you from the beginning and races to a most exciting and enigmatic ending. It was one of those books that call you back every time you are dragged away. I absolutely loved it.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georgette Heyer - They Found Him Dead

"...there is a certain old-world charm about Heyer’s books... "

Synopsis:
The 60th Birthday party of Silas Kane is marred by argument and dissension amongst his family. The morning after the strained celebrations, Silas is found to be missing, his bed not slept in. He was in the habit of taking an evening walk before bedtime. It is not long before Silas' body is found at the bottom of a cliff. The theory is that Silas lost his way in the fog and fell off the cliff by accident. A verdict of death by misadventure is returned.

Kane's nephew and heir is soon after murdered, and this time it is no accident. This now throws a sinister light on Silas' death. Was he pushed rather than fell in dense fog? Then there are a number of incidents involving the next in line for the Kane inheritance. Is someone making their way through the Kane line until it becomes their turn to receive the fortune? Hannasyde must wade through the in-fighting to get to the truth.

Review:
As with Heyer's other books, this one also centres on a family at war, bitter words and sniping commonplace. Heyer delivers a plethora of characters you wouldn't normally give house room! Her novels, this one dated 1937 in particular, can sound quite dated. Also, I found there were a lot of people in this novel with extended family and it took me a while to figure out who fitted in where. Plus the Kane's were even more hideous than the warring families in her previous books, leading me to wish all the Kane's of having committed some crime or other so Hannasyde had a good excuse to lock them all up and throw away the key!

I felt the killer was telegraphed quite early on in the novel and I was proved right. Despite not having enjoyed this Hannasyde case as much as his previous ones, there is a certain old-world charm about Heyer's books which involve rich families with their army of servants, who are mainly now long gone in the mists of time. If you like a touch of Downton Abbey with murder, then this is definitely your cup of tea!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: