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Reviews

June 2016

Howard Linskey - Behind Dead Eyes

"Linskey has the possibility to grow as the next Reginald Hill."

Synopsis:
DS Ian Bradshaw is part of the team trying to track down the identity of a Jane Doe who was found in a junkyard, her face burned off with acid. The team has now been scaled down and some wonder if they will ever find out her real name.

Helen Norton is investigating a local councillor who has been keeping bad company. After publication, Helen finds herself the target of violence and intimidation, but her journalist breeding won't let anyone keep her from finding the truth.

Tom Carney receives letters from a convicted murderer pleading his innocence and requesting Tom investigate his case. Reluctantly Tom sees the man but little does he realise the can of worms he is about to open up.

Review:
I am always worried when I pick up a book that is over 500 pages, but Linskey's second novel in this series gathered pace from the very beginning. Quickly I was storming my way through this title. As there are three main protagonists here, it did take me a little while to fathom out who was who and their relationship with each other, but when everyone was in their place, the plot flowed smoothly.

Linskey is adept at giving just the right amount of information and always managed to keep something back to entice this reader on. The three main characters of Ian, Tom and Helen are well portrayed and were vivid in my mind. Each has their own case although they come together as a team and soon two of the individual strands start to merge. You can also feel Linskey's love for Newcastle and is not afraid to show the light and shade of this up and coming city. Linskey has the possibility to grow as the next Reginald Hill. You can smell the North through his prose just like Hill's books, the humour is there and the juggling of multiple cases. Linskey is not quite on Hill's level yet, but with a few more books under his belt I think Linskey could well stake his claim to the Northern Noir throne.

Click here to check out the Penguin microsite..

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

William Shaw - The Birdwatcher

"...a very intriguing read and is worth checking out. "

Synopsis:
Sergeant William South has a secret – he is a murderer himself.

A neighbour of South's is murdered in his own home. He was the only person he would call a friend, but as the investigation progresses, South realises that this man he knew as a fellow ornithologist, a man he spent hours in silence upon the marshes and beaches of Dungeness, was an enigma to him. He knew nothing about him and the little he did know; was false.

As the investigation progresses, South finds his own past catching up with him. With added complications to his personal life, South wonders if he can keep the past at bay.

Review:
This is a new departure from Shaw's previous trilogy. 'The Birdwatcher' is a more laid back affair with ornithologist, William South taking centre stage. Shaw's narrative swings from present Dungeness to past Ireland during The Troubles. With a father involved with the IRA, it is amazing South ever became a policeman. He so easily could have been led down a darker path.

South enjoys an easy existence with his petty crimes and love of birdwatching, and has kept himself very insular. The new arrivals of DS Alex Cupidi and her daughter, Zoe cause eruptions in his gentle lifestyle. I felt no empathy for Cupidi who was portrayed as a user for her own ends and selfish. Cupidi's troublesome daughter had more redeeming factors. South is an unusual character and although this is classed as a standalone, I wouldn't mind reading the next instalment of South, wherever that may take him. I really wanted to like this book, but sometimes I felt as though Shaw was stretching the plot to its maximum capacity. For me, South's Irish past was a lot more enthralling than the current investigation, although Shaw manages to pull a blinder when unveiling the perpetrator of the crime. This was very cleverly done. While I felt there were pluses and minuses about this book, it was a very intriguing read and is worth checking out.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Guy Cullingford - My Unfair Lady

"...pleased these are now available to the reading public..."

Synopsis:
A man is enjoying the sunshine in a wooded area when a young girl walks up to him and shatters his peaceful tranquillity. She takes him to a body, a woman who has been stabbed to death. He notifies the police, but the girl has vanished. She is finally tracked down, but denies finding the body or telling the man where it was. Why has she denied his story? What is in it for her to lie?

Review:
I have enjoyed Cullingford's novels for some years now and pleased these are now available to the reading public at a reasonable price (just a shame they are only available as e-books - but better than nothing). Cullingford's books (a pseudonym for Constance Lindsay Taylor) deal with the personal dramas and traumas rather than being a simple 'whodunit'. The crime in her books can sometimes get a little forgotten, but her characterisation and their interaction is very impressive. The reason I have given this only a three is simply because this is a short story and people should be aware of this before buying. I have this story in my old copy of Alfred Hitchcock's 'My Favourites in Suspense' (Pan Books 1963) which I got for a pound! The short story is of a very good quality but is only ten pages long and should be priced accordingly and not the same price as Cullingford's full-length novels. My advice would be to search for a paperback copy of this book to read 'My Unfair Lady' as you will get more for your money and/or buy a Cullingford novel which is at exactly the same price as this short story. Her early novels are quite expensive, so it would be worth getting those while available. Having said that, this is a very intriguing story that has a bitter ending and a skewed view on the innocence of youth.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Brynzda - The Girl in the Ice

"...one of the best debut thrillers I have read in a very long time"

Synopsis:
When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investigation.

The victim, a beautiful young socialite, appeared to have the perfect life. Yet when Erika begins to dig deeper, she starts to connect the dots between the murder and the killings of three prostitutes, all found strangled, hands bound and dumped in water around London. What dark secrets is the girl in the ice holding?

As Erika inches closer to uncovering the truth, the killer is closing in on Erika. But will she get to him before he strikes again?

Review:
Remember the name Erika Foster. You're going to be hearing a lot from her. She's the new DCI in the crime fiction world and she is a determined, broken and incredibly likeable protagonist.

Remember the name Robert Bryndza. He's the author of one of the best debut thrillers I have read in a very long time. With writing and storytelling like this, he's going to be a dangerous name in crime fiction.

The setting of London isn't new and neither is the leading character with issues. However, there is something refreshing in Bryndza's writing that makes this novel fresh and exciting. 'The Girl in the Ice' is a gripping page-turner that will grab you by the throat from the very first page and will not release you until you reach the end. Just remember to pause to take a breath between pages.

The second novel in the Erika Foster novels, The Night Stalker, is available from 2nd June. I defy anyone who reads 'The Girl in the Ice' not to immediately read Bryndza's second straight away. Based on the first we are all in for a treat.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Cavanagh - The Plea

"‘The Plea’ has it all."

Synopsis:
For years, major New York law firm Harland & Sinton has operated a massive global fraud. The FBI is on to them, but they need witnesses to secure their case. When a major client of the firm, David Child, is arrested for murder, the FBI ask con-artist-turned-lawyer Eddie Flynn to secure Child as his client and force him to testify against the firm.

Eddie's not a man to be forced into representing a guilty client, but the FBI has incriminating files on Eddie's wife, Christine, and if Eddie won't play ball, she'll pay the price.

When Eddie meets David Child he knows Child is innocent, despite the overwhelming evidence against him. With the FBI putting pressure on him to secure the plea, Eddie must find a way to prove Child's innocence while keeping his wife out of danger - not just from the FBI, but from the firm itself.

Review:
One of my favourite protagonists, Eddie Flynn, features in Cavanagh's second legal thriller, 'The Plea'.

Flynn has a failed marriage behind him, a business that is not exactly thriving, and a previous career as a hustler and con man to help him in his current career as a lawyer. Cavanagh expertly weaves Flynn's past and present careers, making the law and legal system feel little more than a confidence trick; an art of making people see what they want and need to see.

'The Plea' shows the less honourable side of the legal system; corruptible police officers, biased judges, egotistical lawyers. Yet among all of these, and despite his obvious flaws, Flynn manages to maintain his principles towards those that deserve them (but is happy to con, lie and cheat to get what he wants). Eddie still knows many less than savoury characters from his previous life, a number of which appear in 'The Plea', and all willing to help and support their former friend.

However, 'The Plea' isn't just a courtroom drama. It will also leave you trying to work out what's going on, who is guilty, who is going to benefit. And even if you manage to work it all out, you will still enjoy this book. Cavanagh is a brilliant author. His timing is perfect. There is just enough technical information to inform yet not bore the reader. There is a good mix of courtroom, police and confidence tricks to appeal to a wide audience. In fact, 'The Plea' has it all.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Camilla Lackberg - The Ice Child

"...did give me more than a few shudders of the spine. "

Synopsis:
January, Fjällbacka. A semi-naked girl wanders through the woods in freezing cold weather. When she finally reaches the road, a car comes out of nowhere. It doesn't stop.

By the time Detective Patrik Hedström receives word of the accident, the girl has already been identified. Four months ago she disappeared on her way home from the local riding school, and no one has seen her since. It quickly becomes clear that she has been subjected to unimaginably brutal treatment and it's likely she's not the only one.

Meanwhile, Patrik's wife, crime writer Erica Falck, is looking into an old case – a family tragedy that led to a man's death. His wife was convicted of murder, but Erica senses that something isn't right. What is the woman hiding? As Erica digs deeper, the past starts to cast a shadow over the present and Patrik is forced to see his investigation in a whole new light.

Review:
'The Ice Child' is the ninth book in Lackberg's series featuring Patrik Hedstrom & Ericka Falck. As such it immediately brings to mind the question can I read it as a standalone? The answer is yes, one of the great things about these novels is that whilst there is a definite storyline that flows throughout the series, it focuses more on a family/social level, so it does not impact the tale being woven in any way, ensuring you can pick up the books in any order and enjoy them individually. That said, for those that do enjoy this contrasting backdrop to the mysteries, there are some great developments in this one.

Following her tried and tested method, 'The Ice Child' once more has simultaneous yet linked storylines, in both the past and present, and yet the style feels as fresh as if it were the first Hedstrom/Falck story. I found that whilst I was more certain of 'whodunit' than I would normally be in this series, I was far less certain of why, and found it much more difficult to link up the old and new, keeping me on my toes, and guaranteeing my continued enjoyment of this series.

I also have to say that it's not often I experience a physical reaction to the evil acts in a piece of crime fiction, but 'The Ice Child' did give me more than a few shudders of the spine. Lackberg's hypnotic prose propelled me onwards; all the way through to the highly intriguing ending that already has me wondering what will happen next.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Crais - The Promise

"...the perfect holiday read. "

Synopsis:
Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are joined by SUSPECT heroes, Scott James and his K-9 partner, Maggie, in this story where Elvis is hired to locate a woman who may have disappeared with a stranger she met online. It seems like an ordinary case - until Elvis learns the missing woman worked for a defence contractor and was being blackmailed to supply explosives components for a person or persons unknown.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, LAPD officer, Scott James and his patrol dog, Maggie, enter an abandoned building to locate an armed and dangerous thief, only to discover far more than they expected. The fugitive is dead, the building is filled with explosives, and Scott and Maggie are assaulted by a hidden man who escapes in the chaos, all as a bloodied Joe Pike watches from the shadows.

Soon, Scott and Maggie find themselves targeted by that man and, as their case intertwines with Elvis and Joe's, join forces to follow the trail of the missing woman as well. From inner-city drug traffickers to a shadowy group of Afghan war veterans with ties to a terrorist cell, the people they encounter on that trail add up to ever-increasing odds, and soon the four of them are fighting to find the woman not only before she is killed ... but before the same fate happens to one of them.

Review:
This guy is so good he should be available on the NHS. 'Here's your Robert Crais prescription, sir/madam!'

Those readers who love the dynamic that Crais has formulated over the years with Cole and Pike, might be a tad disappointed that Scott James and Maggie take up much of the narrative in this novel. Setting that aside, pick up one of this guy's books and you know exactly what you are in for: tight prose, snappy dialogue and action all the way.

I for one enjoyed the scenes with Maggie in them and felt a real sense of concern that something might happen to the mutt. 'The Promise' is the perfect holiday read. Crais takes you to the edge of your seat and keeps you there till the satisfying and thrilling end.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Lutz - The Passenger

"...I really enjoyed my journey with Tanya/Amelia/Debra. "

Synopsis:
'In case you were wondering, I didn't do it. I didn't have anything to do with Frank's death. I don't have an alibi, so you'll have to take my word for it...'

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband's body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It's not the first time.

She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive's eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy and dangerous alliance is born.

It's almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Tanya-now-Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret, but can she outrun her past?

Review:
'The Passenger' opens with Tanya Dubois going on the run in fear she will be suspected in the death of her husband. I didn't really feel as though I got to know Tanya, but this may have been intentional as the main character didn't really know herself, having been so many different people for so long. After such an enjoyable read with lots happening I was expecting a really exceptional ending, but I was left with a luke-warm finale. Hints were made as to what the big secret was, but I felt slightly let down. A few surprises were thrown in, but again I felt I was being tossed a bone to make up for the unbelievable reasons the wheels were set in motion in the first place. Likewise, some events that happened throughout the book were not fully explained at the end leaving many unanswered questions.

However, and this is a big 'however', despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed my journey with Tanya/Amelia/Debra. I liked her character and was routing for her to stay one step ahead of the law and any others that were after her. Tanya more than makes up for any shortfalls in plot, and I would still recommend any reader getting on board with 'The Passenger' and taking a ride with Tanya!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lindsey Davis - The Graveyard of the Hesperides

"...Davis has yet again hit the bullseye... "

Synopsis:
This is the fourth book in the new series of the Falco family featuring Flavia Alba, adopted daughter of Falco. She is betrothed to Manlius Faustus, who is an aedile, but also embarking on a new career renovating bars.The latest project involves a bar called The Garden of the Hesperides. He is progressing very efficiently when all is halted by the discovery of not just one set of bones but a veritable crowd.

Flavia Alba takes on the task of tracing the identities of the victims, using her local knowledge, but to begin with hampered by the fact that only one person appears to be missing and everyone denies any knowledge of anyone else who has disappeared. She and Manlius move close to the scene of the crime whilst Manlius continues to renovate their future home.The impending marriage is causing Flavia a few worries as the celebration is in charge of her two young and enthusiastic sisters.

Living close to the bar, Flavia becomes very intimate with the life of the local area which is cosmopolitan, lively, full of criminals and those just eking out a living. Fascinating characters abound. Finally, all comes to a steaming conclusion as the victims are identified, perpetrators are confronted and the marriage day of Flavia Alba and Manlius Faustus arrives.

Review:
Having read all of Davis' books and reviewed quite a number for Crimesquad.com, I am rapidly running out of superlatives to describe this author's wonderful novels! Needless to say, Davis has yet again hit the bullseye with this latest.

Flavia Alba is a worthy successor to Marcus Didius Falco. She continues with his realism, understanding of human character and above all with the dry sardonic wit which was his trademark. Added to that, a touch of feisty feminism, and we have another famous hero. Lindsey Davis has a wonderful knowledge of Ancient Rome and the nitty-gritty of everyday life brings home how alike people are then and now. Some of the habits though are less than civilised.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Melanie Raabe - The Trap

"...one of those books you will continue to mull over long after the last page has been turned."

Synopsis:
The famous novelist Linda Conrads is an enigma neither her fans nor the press can make out. She lives a life of complete seclusion and hasn't set foot outside her villa for years.

In spite of her troubles, Linda is highly successful. Every year she publishes a new book, and every year it's a bestseller. Only very few people know that she is haunted by a dreadful memory from her past. Many years ago, Linda found her sister Anna in a bloodbath and saw the murderer escape. The perpetrator was never identified.
It comes as an immense shock to her when she sees just this face flicker across her television set one day. It belongs to the journalist, Victor Lenzen, who is reporting live on a politics programme. Once she has recovered from the shock, she makes up her mind to ensure the murderer gets his due punishment. She sets Lenzen a trap using the only means at her disposal, and her only existing link to the outside world – literature.

For the first time in her life, Linda writes a thriller. It is based on the true story of her sister's murder – just another book, as far as Linda's fans are concerned, but nothing short of an indictment for the killer. Finally, to everyone's surprise, Linda offers to give an exclusive home interview to just one journalist when the book comes out – Victor Lenzen. On the day of the interview, a game of cat and mouse ensues, whose outcome appears wide open, but is Lenzen really a killer or is Linda fooling herself after years of self-imposed solitary confinement?

Review:
'The Trap' was originally written in German and is set in Berlin. Not being a fan of European novels, I didn't have any expectations and was expecting (as usual) to have to stop reading shortly after starting. However, for me, 'The Trap' has translated well into English and the names are easy enough to pronounce and remember.

The book is very cleverly written. The present tense is written from the perspective of Linda, which gives her great depth and the reader much understanding as to why she behaves as she does. All the events from the past are written as excerpts from Linda's novels, so names have charged from the actual characters, but the events are mostly as she remembered them.

At times I felt the author spent a little too much time on the protagonist's internal thoughts, but this is my only criticism of the book. It was well-written and just as I was led to believe that something was happening, I was dragged along a different train of thought so I couldn't become complacent.

The interview itself seemed to take up a lot of the book, yet the ending felt as though it was wrapped up in just a few pages, leaving me feeling as though Raabe's enthralling tale came to a condensed and rushed conclusion. I'm not sure if the translation could have diluted this. Overall though, I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Trap' which is one of those books you will continue to mull over long after the last page has been turned.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

S.D. Sykes - The Butcher Bird

"...suffused with the sounds and smells of medieval times. "

Synopsis:
It is 1351 and England is recovering from the effects of the Plague on her inhabitants. Those few that have survived find themselves with a huge amount of work to be done with far fewer people. For the first time, the value of labour is becoming recognised and landowners find themselves forced to pay wages to ensure that their crops are tended and harvested. The King, however, has forbidden this.

Oswald de Lacy is a young man who unexpectedly finds himself as Lord of Somershill Manor, with all the worries and responsibilities that entails. The villagers are a superstitious lot and believe the rumour that their problems are caused by the Butcher Bird, a huge creature that impales its victims on a thorn bush as a sort of larder. Someone is held to be responsible and Oswald is fighting public opinion, his mother and ambitious sister to get things on an even keel. He travels to London where he encounters the riff raff of society and is enamoured of a beautiful lady who has devious plans for him.

Review:
Oswald is a refreshing hero as he does not always get things right, and we learn along with him. He is a young man, not trained to leadership and he finds out the hard way what he can and can't do. The atmosphere and historical background reveal a country that is struggling, and this is no idyllic picture of simpler times. I for one would not want to have lived then. It does however, present an honest picture that we can imagine to be close to reality and that is well-worth the read.

The characters are varied and well-drawn, again not always likeable, but contributing to the mosaic that is life in medieval England. 'The Butcher Bird' is the second book in the series and is suffused with the sounds and smells of medieval times. I look forward to reading the next one to see how Oswald matures and develops.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lauren A. Forry - Abigale Hall

"...an engaging and entertaining book..."

Synopsis:
1947 and the City of London is still licking its wounds after a long, drawn-out war. Food is scarce and jobs are scarcer to earn money to buy the food that isn't available. Eliza and her sister, Rebecca have lost everything – even their parents, to the dreadful war. Now they live in lodgings with their Aunt Bess, a spinster who doesn't have time for a seventeen year-old who is always late and Rebecca at twelve who is not socially adept and can't be left alone.

Then one wet and cold night in February, a one-armed man comes to the door of their tiny flat with Aunt Bess who delivers Eliza the news that she and her sister are to move to a dilapidated manor in the Welsh countryside… immediately. With all they can carry packed in minutes, Eliza and Rebecca are thrown in to world of servitude where they are treated no better than a dog. As the days pass, strange things start to happen. Is Eliza really seeing the ghost of Victoria who vanished days before her wedding to Brownawell, the lord of the manor? What of the other maids before her who have also disappeared without trace? Does the vile housekeeper, Miss Pollard have her own plan for Eliza and Rebecca? As the days become weeks, Eliza learns more and more about the huge, ram-shackled house called Thornecroft and everything makes her more frightened with every tiny truth. Eliza feels she is trapped, but her beau, Peter Lamb is determined to track down Eliza and bring her back to London.

Review:
This novel is placed during 1947 and Forry superbly describes London on its knees: the poverty, the starvation, the joblessness. She marvellously conveys the daily struggle to survive day by day. In a world of excess where we can buy clothes on a daily basis, it is good to be reminded of a time when people had to 'make do', bringing down hems and sewing up threadbare clothes as clothing coupons were so precious.

I really enjoyed the beginning of this book, but then it felt as though I had entered another book when the girls are taken to Wales. The feel of the book changed and many times, due to the style of writing and what was going on, I had to continually remind myself that this was supposed to be 1947, and not 1847, or even 1747! The premise of the novel intrigued me and I do enjoy a good Gothic novel (try Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Uncle Silas'), and this felt a little like that, although as the story progressed I felt as though the author had let slip her grip on the plot that she had at the very beginning during the London scenes. There was serious editing needed here and I was getting a little tired of the repetitive remarks about breathing in black gunge in to the lungs. Obviously, Ms. Forry has a thing about lungs and fresh air – or rather lack of it in this instance.

Also, there are many dreams/nightmares that litter this book. One or two I feel is permissible, but after a while I felt that Eliza's dreams were beginning to feel like padding. My comments may sound negative, but when a publisher equates a debut such as 'Abigale Hall' to du Maurier's 'Rebecca' of which this is obviously a form of homage to, then you can't help comparing the two, which is unfair to Forry and puts her at a disadvantage.

Where Forry does excel is characterisation. Despite wishing to shake some sense in to Eliza, who despite escaping her prison on several occasions, only to come back again due to her lack of backbone, is still endearing. The hideous Miss Pollard is formidable and memorable and is surely the lovechild of Mrs Danvers and Nurse Ratchett, two of the coldest women known in fiction. Aunt Bess had potential but was sadly underused. After reading over three hundred pages, the ending was a little sudden. Ms Forry needs to have a better hold of her plot and not be tempted to throw everything but the kitchen sink at it. Despite my criticisms, 'Abigale Hall' is an engaging and entertaining book and I do think that Forry's vivid imagination will see her create new worlds and even better stories. A diamond in the rough, who with some fine polishing, could very well shine.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: