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Reviews

July 2017

Louise Welsh - No Dominion

"...a heart-breaking, thrilling, frightening page-turner of a chiller."

Synopsis:
It is seven years since the Sweats wiped out most of the world's population. But for those who survived the outbreak life has gone on. Stevie Flint and Magnus McFall are now part of a small community on the Orkney Islands, without mobile phones or TV, without antibiotics or fuel, but who are trying to rebuild the rudiments of democratic civilisation.

When three strangers arrive on the islands, however, they upset the fragile community, bringing long-buried tensions to the surface. Realising that a number of the islands' young are missing, Stevie and Magnus set off on a journey to the mainland to get them back - a mainland swarming with outlaw gangs, and where self-appointed autocrats and religious fanatics hold sway...

Review:
'No Dominion' marks the final book in Louise Welsh's 'Plague Times' trilogy. This can be read as a standalone if you haven't read the previous two.

I always approach the final part of a trilogy with caution as you can often be left down, but Welsh has delivered a heart-breaking, thrilling, frightening page-turner of a chiller. As I read the final page I was sad the series was over. I'm greedy. I want more from these characters.

The main character of Stevie is a richly drawn figure who has changed dramatically from book one and is a strong and dominant person who leads a mission to save children who have been abducted. The events that unfold show people's survival instincts against all odds in a bleak world where law and order no longer exist.

'No Dominion', like Welsh's other novels, is tensely written and character led. At times, it is unsettling, but at its heart, it is a story of hope and survival. Welsh taps into the fear of what a world is chaos would be like and that fear bursts out of every page. Please turn this trilogy into a series, Louise. I want more!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael J. Malone - Dog Fight

"...‘Dog Fight’ will grab you by throat... "

Synopsis:
Kenny O'Neill, a villain with a conscience, returns in a hard-hitting thriller of exploitation, corruption and criminal gangs. When Kenny s cousin, Ian comes to the aid of a fellow ex-squaddie in a heap of trouble, he gets caught up in the vicious underground fight scene, where callous criminals prey on the vulnerable, damaged and homeless.

With Ian in too deep to escape, Kenny has no option other than to infiltrate the gang for the sake of his family. Kenny is an experienced MMA fighter, as tough as they come, but has he found himself in the one fight he can never win?

Review:
Some books hold your attention, others pique your interest, well, let me tell you, from the very first page, 'Dog Fight' will grab you by throat and make sure that it has your complete focus.

The action is intense, the prose faultless, the plotting remarkable and the overall feel, and subtle message held in this book are things of beauty to be savoured and respected.

Kenny O'Neill is the ultimate man's man. He's hard, uncompromising and more than a little handy with his fists. He is also loyal, protective and lives by his own set of admittedly twisted principles. Let's just say that you'd want him in your corner, and if he popped up in the opposite corner, you'd be wise to throw in the towel.

All in all, 'Dog Fight' was a fine read which kept my page turning finger 'match fit', as well as finding a way to highlight the plight of some fallen heroes. I can't recommend this book enough.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

H.D. Lyle - The Irregular

"...a fantastic read and is guaranteed to tick all the right boxes."

Synopsis:
It is 1909. Britain feels invulnerable. The Empire is strong and no threat to the stability of the country is perceived. But underneath the apparent confidence some people believe there are threats from all sides. Revolution in Russia is imminent, Germany is re-arming and London hosts an army of terrorists and revolutionaries.

Captain Vernon Kell has been appointed head of counter intelligence at the War Office and he sees insurrection abroad but so far his secret agents are unsuccessful and end up dead. His bosses do not support him.

He consults his old friend, Sherlock Holmes, who points him in the direction of one Wiggins, in a previous life head of Holmes' group of 'irregulars', a group of street urchins and vagabonds who are able to pass unnoticed in the underworld and provide valuable information.

Kell, an undeniable toff, and Wiggins, a scruffy and war hardened veteran, are not obvious companions. Indeed, to begin with neither want to co-operate but circumstances conspire to throw them together. Together with Kell's remarkable suffragist wife, the three work together to confound the plots against the state that they uncover.

Review:
In the light of the popularity of Sherlock Holmes and the numerous twists on presenting the story, this novel approach involving Sherlock Holmes (peripherally), his trusty irregular Wiggins, and the spy thriller involving anarchists and terrorists has all the makings of a huge success. Indeed, the prospect of it becoming a major new TV series almost guarantees it.

Having said that, this book is an exciting read and brings us some entertaining characters. I await with interest the future careers of Kell, Wiggins and Constance.

It is set at the time when the Secret Service was set up and many of the characters are real people. Even 'C' of James Bond fame makes an appearance. 'The Irregular' is a fantastic read and is guaranteed to tick all the right boxes.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cora Harrison - The Cardinal's Court

"...Harrison succeeds in bringing the flavour of life at that time dramatically in her writing."

Synopsis:
It is 1522 at Hampton Court, the magnificent Palace belonging to Cardinal Wolsey, right hand man to King Henry VIII. The narrator of the tale is Hugh MacEgan, lawyer to the Earl of Ormonde in Ireland. His task is to draw up the marriage contract between his employer's son, James Butler, and Anne Boleyn. This marriage would settle a dispute concerning which family held the rights to the Earldom of Ormonde and would be welcomed by the Court. But not so by Anne Boleyn herself who has fallen in love with the dashing Henry Percy, heir to the earldom of Northumberland. This alliance would not be welcomed by the powers that be.

More confusion reigns when James is suspected of killing Cardinal Wolsey's instructor of the wards. Henry Percy claims to have seen him with the fatal arrow.

Hugh then has to work hard to determine who the murderer is and hopefully free the son of his employer from any suspicion. Not an easy task when Hugh is trained in the Irish system of justice. This is more lenient than the harsh code in England where accusation often is synonymous with guilt.

Review:
For those of us who enjoy a good mystery set in Tudor times this is a fine treat. If you are familiar with Hampton Court, the action and plotting is vividly brought to life. I think that, even without specialist knowledge of the place, Cora Harrison succeeds in bringing the flavour of life at that time dramatically in her writing.

It is interesting to have the slant of the Brehon laws of Ireland in Hugh's approach. In many ways they seem much more sensible. If Hugh stays to pursue his studies in English law there might be some conflicts ahead. I do hope the series will continue as I like the character of Hugh MacEgan, and I enjoy the way in which Cora Harrison looks at historical fact and incorporates it into a cracking good yarn. Author's notes at the back allow truth and fiction to be determined. A marvellous Tudor mystery.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Marrs - The One

"Taking online dating to the next level..."

Synopsis:
One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you're genetically made for.

A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others.

Review:
Taking online dating to the next level, 'The One' matches each couple by their DNA. The match takes no account of country, gender, or if a person is already married. If a person is a Match, then they are a Match. It's an interesting concept, and in these times, something not so unbelievable.

Following quite a few main characters, 'The One' sees how they deal with meeting their Match. But not all is as it seems; one is a killer, one is not who they say they are and so it goes on until the final reveal. The book is split into mini chapters set around each character and each has a story worth listening to. All are diverse and interesting making it a good read.

'The One' manages to mix murder, romance and mystery together with science fiction that doesn't feel like science fiction. It's a compelling read that I found hard to put down. A well-written and interesting read which was a little different for me, but one of those times when I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was. Try it.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Barbaree - Deposed

"‘Deposed’ is a detailed and complex book..."

Synopsis:
AD 68. Ancient Rome. The last of the Julio-Claudian Emperors, Nero, has been deposed and has apparently committed suicide.
This book takes us on an alternative route: Nero is not dead but has been imprisoned and tortured; his eyes have been gouged out and he is living in the dark, supplied with the bare necessities by a small slave boy, who is terrified.

The story is split into two parts which interlink throughout the book. The earliest story is about what happens to the deposed Emperor; the later tale is of the family that has taken power ten years later, the Flavians. Slowly, the complete narrative linking the two parts emerges, with a satisfying denouement at the end.

The character of the slave boy, Marcus, is the constant thread throughout the two parts and it is his story that is at the heart of the book.

Review:
This is a wonderfully original and gripping tale of Ancient Rome. Starting with the hypothesis that history is written by the victors and that Nero has had a really bad press, Barbaree explores the myths that have arisen about Nero and his death and proposes an alternative story. He agrees with Mary Beard's view that we will never know what happened under Nero or Vespasian, and proceeds from there to proposing another scenario.

I really enjoyed the detail of ancient Rome and the flavour of life then. There are some graphic scenes of the violence meted out. Life was certainly not easy in those days.

You are plunged immediately into the atmosphere of the times and quickly engaged with the mystery of what exactly is happening and why. The author cleverly releases the truth in bite sized pieces, just enough to keep you interested.

It took me a little while to adjust to the constant swinging from one time to the next, involving a lot of checking up on the Chapter headings, but once accustomed to the device, I enjoyed the way this helped to reveal the story.

'Deposed' is a detailed and complex book, a stunning first novel from David Barbaree. I look forward to reading more of his work.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Oscar De Muriel - A Mask of Shadows

"...a very clever story using actual events and real people to create a fictional tale of intrigue and mayhem. "

Synopsis:
This case for Inspector Frey and Detective 'Nine Tails' McGray is centred around 'The Scottish Play' and the acclaimed production with Henry Irving and Ellen Terry that comes north of Edinburgh. Whilst in London the play is visited by a so called banshee, writing a message in blood foretelling someone's death. Another threat is received once they all arrive in Edinburgh.

Inspector Frey, cool and sceptical as always, believes it is all a publicity stunt. McGrey on the other hand believes it is an evil omen. He is not alone in thinking that, as various members of the cast are also worried.

When the pair begin to investigate, it appears that Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Terry's assistant, Bram Stoker are hiding secrets that could put them in danger or even drive them to murder; and there are other members of the cast harbouring resentment and anger.

Review:
This is a very clever story using actual events and real people to create a fictional tale of intrigue and mayhem. Many of the facts are true, just tweaked to fit times and places. The play itself is sinister, as are the events that happen around it. De Muriel manages to create a truly scary atmosphere in which his two detectives are set to search for the truth. They are a comical pair, at opposite ends of normal: one so particular and restrained, the other uncouth and forceful, with scant regard for the niceties of behaviour. Their interaction is wonderfully funny.

I was intrigued by the background that emerged on the stories of Terry, Irving and Stoker, and by the scientific facts that contributed to the development of the story that were interesting in themselves. Oscar de Muriel has a broad knowledge supported by careful research. This is a very original book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Well worth a read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Lenahan - Ice Lake

"...readers are in for a treat with ‘Ice Lake’. "

Synopsis:
Deep in the woods of North Eastern Pennsylvania, the body of a man is found – shot three times, dumped under the trees where the local kids will find him.

Psychologist Harry Cull, tormented by his past, arrives in the picturesque town of Ice Lake to help with the murder investigation. There he unravels a web of lies and deceit that leads to the dark heart of a community torn apart by fracking, drugs and murder.

It's not long before the second corpse turns up, this time a lawyer left for dead in the forest, and Harry finds himself on the trail of a twisted killer – who will do anything to keep the town's darkest secrets buried.

Review:
Lenahan has a unique style of storytelling that makes this debut stand out. It reads not like a debut, but as if written by a seasoned pro at the height of their success with genuine characters, a twisting plot, and a surprise ending you will not see coming.

Harry Cull is instantly likeable. He has a painful past that he cannot escape from but he is not letting it dictate his life like so many crime fiction protagonists. He's an everyman, a regular bloke down the pub. He's intelligent, funny, and charming - everything you want from a leading character.

The multi-layered story is well researched. Lenahan knows his target audience and doesn't dumb down his language which flows at a cracking pace. What stood out for me was the dialogue, the interaction between characters. It was natural and conversational. There were no unnecessary scenes for the sake of plot development; each chapter, each paragraph had a purpose.

For fans of James Carol's Jefferson Winter series, readers are in for a treat with 'Ice Lake'. This is an assured and confident debut from a writer who means business.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jo Nesbo - The Thirst

"Jo Nesbo writes a powerful story."

Synopsis:
Harry Hole is a reformed character. He has stopped the excessive drinking and is happily ensconced with Rakel and enjoying it. Rakel's son, Oleg is studying to join the police and has emerged from some difficult times. Harry, as a respected and experienced police officer, is lecturing at the police college. All is calm… but not for long.

Harry's expertise is called on by the powers that be to solve the macabre murder of a young Norwegian woman. International pressure demands quick results. Harry is reluctant to agree but is persuaded by the echoes of a murderer whom he was unable to catch. If this is the same man he must be caught and put away. It is personal. The murderer uses the dating site, Tinder to find his victims and as the death toll grows Harry is on his trail.

Review:
Jo Nesbo writes a powerful story. Harry Hole is a brilliant character. The action is fast, furious and not a little bloody. Attitudes, lifestyles and modern technology are all bang up to date. Put all these things together with the ingenious plotting and you have the reason why Nesbo's books are so popular.

What more can I say? This latest book is in the excellent tradition of the previous ones and will be just as popular. There is an exciting unmasking of the criminal mind behind the murders before all is resolved. A little taster of what might be to come rounds off the story nicely. An excellent read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joe Thomas - Paradise City

"...as much a novel about grief as it is a crime novel. "

Synopsis:
Mario Leme is a low-ranking detective in the São Paulo civil police. Every day, he drives through the favela known as Paraisópolis – Paradise City. It's a pilgrimage: a year ago, his wife Renata was the victim of a stray bullet here in a conflict between drug dealers and the military police.

One morning, parked near the place where Renata died, he sees an SUV careen out of control. By the time the fire crew arrive on the scene to cut the driver loose, he's dead. Leme catches a glimpse of the body before the military police cover it up. He's sure he sees bullet wounds. But if the driver was murdered, why is the coroner saying the death was an accident?

Leme soon has evidence that the driver's death was murder. When the driver's girlfriend turns up dead soon afterwards, Leme starts to wonder if he's really been told the truth about Renata's death.

Review:
Joe Thomas lived in São Paulo for ten years, and it shows. The novel is steeped in the rich atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere's most populous city. Set a few years before the 2014 World Cup, with São Paulo preparing to be one of the host cities, the plot centres around the clean-up work being done by the city's powerful as they prepare for the event.

A sense of place is an important part of any crime novel and few writers do is as well as Joe Thomas has done with 'Paradise City'. The city of São Paulo lives and breathes on every page. Thomas doesn't flinch from the negative aspects of the city – the terrible poverty and corruption, the crime and the ever-increasing traffic – but he makes it clear too how much there is to see and do and enjoy in this vast, vibrant city.

'Paradise City' is as much a novel about grief as it is a crime novel. Leme's journey, through the streets of the city he's lived in all his life, as he comes to terms with his loss is deeply moving. As a beginner's guide to one of South America's most complex, complicated and energetic cities, you won't find a better book.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich - The Fact of a Body

"...a fascinating, yet uncomfortable read..."

Synopsis:
This book is two stories in one - both of them true. One concerns Rick Langley, who molested and murdered a six year-old boy called Jeremy Guillory in Louisiana, and the other is the author of the book, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. She worked for a law firm in New Orleans which was handling the retrial of Rick Langley, a young man who had already been tried and found guilty of the first degree murder of Jeremy. For all her abhorrence of the death penalty, when she studied the graphic evidence of what Rick had done, she felt a hatred for him.

This was compounded by her own life-experiences, for as a child, she had been sexually molested by her grandfather, something which continued over several years. As her hatred for Langley increased, so she found herself re-examining her own experiences of abuse, and its aftermath.

Review:
This book is a fascinating, yet uncomfortable read, combining as it does, two different but linked stories. Marzano-Lesnevich's original hatred of Langley is understandable, and so too is her subsequent feelings of guilt about this. The beginning of the book is extremely well-written, and tells the stories in a terse manner. This adds to the horror of Marzano-Lesnevich's molestation and Langley's deed.

However, I felt, as the book progressed, that the writing adopted an almost 'poetic' quality that did no justice to the subject matter. I also felt that Langley's story was, at the end of the day, not very interesting, notwithstanding the fact that he was a murderer. The only interest it had was in how it impinged on Marzaon-Lesnevich's own experiences. It was most as if it acted as a release mechanism so that she could tell her own story. Despite this, I found it a thought-provoking book which I would recommend.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Celia Fremlin - The Hours Before Dawn

"The opening line of this book is sublime and immediately sets the flavour for the rest of the book."

Synopsis:
Louise Henderson needs to sleep. Her infant son, Michael never sleeps in the night and with two older children and her husband, Mark to look after, Louise is absolutely exhausted, her body and mind tired from sleep deprivation.

Now they have rented out the spare bedroom to their new tenant, Miss Vera Brandon who doesn't look the sort to rent out such a room in a busy household. Nor was she perturbed that the room was still littered with the family's many boxes and detritus and asked to move in immediately.

When she does, strange things start to happen. Are they really strange things or is it Louise's confused and tired mind playing tricks on her? Is Miss Brandon really such the fine, upstanding schoolmistress she professes to be? Louise has the strangest sensation she has met Miss Brandon before and is it just her imagination that her new tenant is making a play for her husband? Louise cannot be sure if her heightened sensitivity is due to her body crying out for sleep or if she really is being usurped in her own home. And then the worst thing happens. Baby Michael goes missing.

Review:
This was Fremlin's first work of fiction and her most famous mainly due to it winning the Edgar for Best Crime Novel in 1960. The opening of this book is sublime and immediately sets the flavour for the rest of the book. Louise's exhaustion is presented on the very first line and you can feel the agonising urge for the poor woman to simply curl up and sleep for a fortnight. As Fremlin has written herself, the idea for this book was born from first-hand experience and you can feel the tiredness, desperation and fear ooze from every word. I say 'fear' as this was a time when motherhood was believed to be a woman's 'highest calling'. Thankfully, times have moved on but it is nonetheless a good history lesson in how not to allow a mother to get so deep in the mire of despair over a child that won't sleep.

Vera Brandon is quietly sinister, her intentions hidden behind a veil of uncertainty. However, I feel it is poor Louise's husband, Mark who should have been marched outside and shot for being so insensitive. It makes me shudder to think that any husband/father could be so remote from his own wife and children. Mark appears to have no interaction with any of his children and so that he has some 'quiet time', (something Louise herself lacks in abundance), Louise makes sure the children don't bother him by entertaining them in another part of the house! Again, it is good to see Dad's these days taking a much bigger role in the handling of their offspring than Mark does in the 1950's!

Fremlin has always been spot on with her characters. The horrendous Mrs. Hooper is a hideous opportunist who dumps her children on any victim she can find to bully in to having her unruly brats. The solution is one tinged with sadness and lost and I can see why it won her an award. This is a very painful and powerful study in motherhood and the strong connection between mother and child.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Fred Vargas - A Climate of Fear

"I loved this book... a mile away from a humdrum police procedural."

Synopsis:
A woman delivers an important letter to the mailbox and shortly after she is found with her wrists slit in her bath. An apparent suicide, were it not for a mysterious sign found near the body.

This mysterious sign encourages the local police to contact Commandant Adrien Danglard as the fountain of all arcane knowledge, and from him to Commissaire Adamsberg.

The letter takes him to a stud farm and from there to a group of people who had all been on an ill- fated holiday to Iceland ten years previously.

The farm also leads to a strange and secretive society for the Study of the Writings of Maximilian Robespierre. This is a collection of eccentric individuals with various reasons for an obsession with the revolutionary leader.

More murders, all with the accompanying strange symbol, are identified.

Review:
I loved this book. Fred Vargas has a truly original mind and produces a compelling story from such obscure facts. The holiday in Iceland which is the source of the trouble is described in a disturbing and frightening way, whilst not giving away the true facts of the tale.

The characters in the learned society are infinitely sinister and there is a very French twist to their fascination with the complex character of 'the green eyed incorruptible'.

The characters of the police are beautifully described. They are also an eccentric bunch. I'm not sure I would want to work with any of them, but the interaction between them is always interesting and funny.

All these strands intertwine and are finally unravelled is the stuff from which a fascinating and intricate plot is constructed. This is an entertaining read that keeps you completely involved and is a mile away from a humdrum police procedural.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georgette Heyer - Behold, Here's Poison

"The sort of book to read on a lazy summer’s afternoon..."

Synopsis:
When Gregory Matthews, patriarch of the Poplars is found dead one morning, imperious Aunt Harriet blames it on the roast duck he ate for supper. After all, she had warned him about his blood pressure. But a post-mortem determines that the cause of death is much more sinister. Murder… by poison.

Suspicion falls immediately amongst his bitter, quarrelsome family. Each had a motive and opportunity. It falls to Superintendent Hannasyde to sift through all the secrets and lies and discover just who killed Gregory Matthews, before the killer strikes again.

Review:
Lately I have been revisiting Georgette Heyer's crime novels. I read 'Behold, Here's Poison' some years ago and although I knew I had really enjoyed it and could remember the method of murder, I couldn't for the life of me remember 'whodunit'! Even though this was my second time, Heyer yet again wrong-footed me with the murderer.

As with her other novels, Hannasyde is very much 'off-stage' for most of the proceedings, with the spotlight mainly on the Matthews family who are upper class and not a particularly delightful bunch! What Heyer is so good at is painting a picture, or even taking a snapshot of that time, (this was published in 1936), and the attitudes of the wealthier classes. As with many of Heyer's mysteries, it all comes down to money and greed, the latter shown by the residents of Poplars who are all crying poverty, (if only they knew what poverty really was)! This is my favourite Heyer, 'Envious Casca' coming a close second. Although the language may sound a little dated at times, this quirky mystery stands up to the test of time. The sort of book to read on a lazy summer's afternoon – perfect with a Pimms. Enjoy.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: