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Reviews

May 2016

Amanda Jennings - In Her Wake

"Amanda Jennings has written a novel that is as close to perfection as I've ever read. "

Synopsis:
A perfect life… until she discovered it wasn't her own.

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella Campbell's comfortable existence.

Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a twenty-five-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but also her life.

Review:
Once in a while a book comes along that completely takes over your life while you read it. It consumes you with its powerful story and forces you to put everything else on hold. This is one of those books.

'In Her Wake' is a hypnotic, haunting, and beautifully written story. It's a psychological drama and a coming-of-age story as we see Bella Campbell, trapped in a loveless marriage with a domineering husband; take control of her life when her world starts to crumble around her.

Bella is a wonderful creation. As her story unfolds you'll find yourself screaming at the pages, willing her to survive and take life by the horns. The stronger she becomes, the faster you'll read. I wanted this book to end so I knew what happened to her, whilst at the same time I didn't want it to end as I wanted to stay with Bella and her family. I want to read it again even though I've just finished it.

Amanda Jennings has written a novel that is as close to perfection as I've ever read. It is a gripping and moving story, intelligently and lovingly written. The pace and prose are spot on and the twists are clever and very real. There is no sense of melodrama. This could be a true life tale and it is told with great passion.

I could spend all day talking about this book and never run out of things to there. There aren't enough adjectives in the world to describe how much I love it. So, take my advice, buy this book right now. Then close yourself off from the outside world until you've read it. Once you've finished you'll look up and see the world in a whole new light.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Annemarie Neary - Siren

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Synopsis:
Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies. When a figure from her Belfast past flashes up on a TV screen one night, Róisín realises she's not the only one who's reinvented themselves. Her old nemesis, Brian Lonergan, is now a rising politician in a sharp suit.

Róisín has some evidence that could ruin Lonergan and she travels back across the Atlantic to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives in Ireland, someone else is waiting for her…

Review:
Annemarie Neary is a talented writer and this is a very good novel. Like other crime novels to come out of Northern Ireland, the plot centres on the consequences of the terrible things done during The Troubles.

Neary has created a complex, compelling and utterly believable character in Róisín Burns, a woman who has travelled half way across the world to escape her past. I was drawn to Róisín from the beginning and intrigued to find out what her secret was. What had happened to make her flee her home and family and the only life she'd ever known? Gradually, Neary reveals all of this, showing us how easy it is for a young woman to get caught up in something terrible without realising the consequences of her actions until it's far too late.

Brian Lonergan is a one-time freedom fighter and rising politician tipped for the top job. He is also the real reason Róisín has been in hiding for the last twenty years. Rather than return to her native Belfast, Róisín confronts Lonergan on Lamb Island, a remote location off the west coast of Ireland, where Lonergan has a holiday home. It's a clever move by Neary. After she arrives on the island, Róisín grows increasingly isolated from the other islanders, unsure who she can trust.

Neary keeps the pace up throughout and I found myself sitting up late into the night to finish 'Siren'. As Róisín's isolation increases, so too does her obsession with Lonergan until, towards the end, the atmosphere is so tense and heavy it is unbearable. And yet, I couldn't put it down because I had to know how it would all end.

'Siren' is a great read – thrilling and frightening with something important to say about the damage done to people on both sides of the political divide during Northern Ireland's troubled past. I really loved this book and highly recommend it.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Quentin Bates - Thin Ice

"...I slammed his book shut with a deliciously satisfied thud at the end of a magnificent read."

Synopsis:
Snowed in with a couple of psychopaths for the winter...

When two small-time crooks rob Reykjavik's premier drugs dealer, hoping for a quick escape to the sun, their plans start to unravel after their getaway driver fails to show. Tensions mount between the pair and the two women they have grabbed as hostages when they find themselves holed upcountry in an isolated hotel that has been mothballed for the season.

Back in the capital, Gunnhildur, Eiríkur and Helgi find themselves at a dead end investigating what appear to be the unrelated disappearance of a mother, her daughter and their car during a day's shopping, and the death of a thief in a house fire.

Gunna and her team are faced with a set of riddles but as more people are quizzed it begins to emerge that all these unrelated incidents are in fact linked. At the same time, two increasingly desperate lowlifes have no choice but to make some big decisions on how to get rid of their accidental hostages...

Review:
'Thin Ice' is the fifth in Quentin Bates series featuring Officer Gunnhildur of the Reykjavik police force, but don't need to be put off if you haven't read any of the previous books, as it works well as a standalone novel as it does in the series. In fact, I'd probably go so far as to say that 'Thin Ice' is a great introduction if you haven't tried any before.

The enclosed space of the hotel along with its frozen and isolated location provide a brilliant backdrop to the boiling pot of emotions and personalities as tensions mount, food supplies run low and it becomes clear risks must be taken in order for anyone to survive.

Not all the problems are saved for the crooks though. Gunnhildur has her own issues, aside from tracking down a missing mother and her daughter, she must deal with the continued issues of her son's actions, and the reappearance of an old flame she hoped never to see return. Whilst her personal life is a stressful as her professional one, it works well to make her one of the most rounded characters you will read about in any police procedural.

'Thin Ice' showcases Bates' writing brilliantly, his dark humour, his incredible plotting, and throws in a fiendish sting in the tale ensuring I slammed his book shut with a deliciously satisfied thud at the end of a magnificent read.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Douglas Skelton - Open Wounds

"This is writing of the highest calibre."

Synopsis:
Davie McCall is tired. Tired of violence, tired of 'The Life'. He's always managed to stay detached from the brutal nature of his line of work, but recently he has caught himself enjoying it. In the final instalment in the Davie McCall series old friends clash and long buried secrets are unearthed as McCall investigates a brutal five-year-old crime. Davie wants out, but the underbelly of Glasgow is all he has ever known. Will what he learns about his old ally Big Rab McClymont be enough to get him out of the Life? And could the mysterious woman who just moved in upstairs be just what he needs?

Review:
With 'Open Wounds', Skelton brings the Davie McCall series to an earth-shattering conclusion. I for one will miss this series – an excellent addition to the pantheon of books that make up Northern European Noir.

Davie has come to the end of his tether and Skelton demonstrates the growth and development of his character with such skill that you are fully on his side and pray that he gets – despite the bad things he has done – everything that he wants from life.

Characterisation is one of Skelton's strengths and if you happen to be in one of the areas of Glasgow where his characters live and work, you will fully expect to bump into them. Just don't imagine that meeting will be one that goes your way, mind, for these are people who live in the margins - people who do what it takes to get by or to get even.

In Davie McCall's world bad people do good things and good people do bad things – a moral mixture that creates compelling reading. This is writing of the highest calibre. Do yourself a favour and go buy already!

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Emma Kavanagh - The Missing Hours

"I knew I was reading something special from the very first page."

Synopsis:
A woman disappears. One moment, Selena Cole is in the playground with her children and the next, she has vanished without a trace.

A woman returns. Twenty hours later, Selena is found safe and well, but with no memory of where she has been. What took place in those missing hours?

DS Finn Hale and DC Leah MacKay are investigating the murder of a solicitor. A solicitor who was killed during Selena's missing twenty hours...

Review:
I knew I was reading something special from the very first page. This is an exemplary crime novel and is possibly the best psychological thriller I have ever read. Kavanagh is an exceptional writer. She creates leading characters you can sympathise with and thoroughly researches her plots making them feel very real and terrifying.

'The Missing Hours' is a highly original novel. DS Finn Hale and DC Leah MacKay are two hard working detectives trying to make sense of a brutal murder and the strange disappearance and reappearance of Selena Cole. One original aspect of this novel is the detectives are brother and sister. Their interaction is spot on and their conversations will be recognised by anyone close to their siblings.

Kavanagh shows us the murky world of kidnap and ransom through case studies of a hostage negotiating company which adds a dark realism to the fiction. The addition of a real and very frightening drug makes this a nail biting and scary thriller.

I really cannot recommend 'The Missing Hours' enough. I read over a hundred books a year and it has been a long time since I've had one I've not wanted to end because the prose and plot have been pitch perfect.

Emma Kavanagh is going to have an amazing career ahead of her. Only three books in and I predict her to become one of Britain's leading psychological thriller writers.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Connolly - A Torment of Time

"This is a book you cannot afford to miss."

Synopsis:
Jerome Burnel was once a hero. He intervened to prevent multiple killings and in doing so damned himself. His life was torn apart. He was imprisoned, brutalized, but in his final days, with the hunters circling, he tells his story to private detective Charlie Parker. He speaks of the girl who was marked for death but was saved, of the ones who tormented him, and an entity that hides in a ruined stockade.

Parker is not like other men. He died, and was reborn. He is ready to wage war. Now he will descend upon a strange, isolated community called the Cut, and face down a force of men who rule by terror, intimidation, and murder.

All in the name of the being they serve - The Dead King.

Review:
For me, Connolly is one of those authors – the ones who go straight to the top of your To Be Read list and then the world is put on hold until the book is finished.

'A Time of Torment' is a cracking read and a demonstration that this guy's powers as an author haven't lessened one iota since 'Every Dead Thing' appeared in 1999. Any number of writers can deliver up a serviceable thriller, but Connolly takes that – time and time again – and adds atmosphere, dashes of poetry and a cast of characters that you just love spending time with. He also cooks up a convincing sense of place that grounds you in the story, allows you to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself fully in his world.

And it's a fictional world like no other. If you are new to this author be aware that alongside the dregs of society are demons, and other supernatural beings who defy categorisation. I'm loving how the series is developing and how Parker's daughters are growing into their roles in the series – despite one of them being very much dead.
With 'A Time of Torment', Connolly continues to demonstrate that he is one of the leaders of the pack. This is a book you cannot afford to miss.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Leigh Russell - Journey to Death

"...I doubt very much you’ll put this one down until you’re done. "

Synopsis:
A deadly secret lurks in an island's history, buried deep but not forgotten. And it is about to come to light.

Lucy Hall arrives in the Seychelles determined to leave her worries behind. The tropical paradise looks sun-soaked and picture-perfect, but as Lucy soon discovers, appearances can be very deceptive.

As dark clouds begin to gather over what promised to be a relaxing family break, Lucy realises her father stands in the eye of the coming storm. A shadow from his past is threatening to destroy all he holds dear—including the lives of his loved ones. A dark truth is about to explode into their lives, and that truth is going to hit them right between the eyes.

Review:
I've enjoyed the books of Leigh Russell for some time now, but must admit to picking up my copy of Journey to Death, with a certain amount of trepidation, not just because this was the first in a new series featuring protagonist Lucy Hall, but also because it was a distinct break away from her usual police procedural.

I really need not have worried. Russell has delivered another cracking read. At the beginning of her holiday, Lucy is recovering from a broken engagement, and struggling to find her feet has travelled to The Seychelles with her parents to relax and recover. It seems idyllic, a charming hotel, beautiful beaches, and friendly staff make it appear the perfect place to recuperate, until tragedy strikes. In a fascinating tale, we see Lucy change from a nervous young woman who believes someone is trying to cause her harm, into one who is tough, determined and through tireless effort gets to the bottom of an age old mystery, as well as exposing the current threat to her family.

Set against the beautifully depicted landscape and culture of these tropical islands, and with a suitably despicable plot afoot, Lucy is a brilliant new character and I doubt very much you'll put this one down until you're done. I certainly couldn't.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

I J Parker - The Island of the Gods

"The sights, sounds and smells of medieval Japan are all there."

Synopsis:
It is 1033, in the last years of the Heian period of Japanese history, and Sugawara Akitada is the governor of Mikawa Province. He is a troubled man, because the Imperial Court in Kyoto is sending an official from the Censor's Bureau to investigate a claim that he improperly performs his duties. Not only that, his marriage is in trouble and his second wife, Yukiko, has left him to take up a position in the court in Kyoto.

Then a corpse is discovered on the beach, and on its arm is a tattoo that links it to the powerful Matsudaira family. If this isn't enough, the body of a young woman is also discovered, lying in a rice field. She is Lady Hiroki, daughter of the head of another powerful family, the Imagawas. Akitawa and his faithful retainer and friend Tora, investigate the murders, and are drawn into the murky world of powerful overlords, haughty families and murky brothels. Along the way there are intriguing questions that must be answered. How is the island known as the Island of the Gods involved in all of this? Is it a pirates' lair? Where is Lady Hiroki's maidservant Otoki? She was with Horiko on the night of the murder, and now she has disappeared. And what part does Tojo, who runs a gang of highwaymen, play in all of this?

Review:
This is the sixteenth book in the Sugawara Akitada series, and Ingrid J. Parker, through careful research, has brought 11th century Japan alive on its pages. The sights, sounds and smells of medieval Japan are all there. So too is a panoply of characters, from arrogant high-born lords ('the good') to merchants, government officials and lowly peasants.

The story is deceptively simple, though the interlacing of plot, sub plot and character is done in a satisfying way. Akitada himself is well-drawn. He is a fair, honest man trying to do his best in a country where class and patronage get you further than intelligence or integrity. Tora is not only Akitada's retainer, he is also his friend. He is loyal and fearless, and though he is married, he still has an eye for a pretty girl, which brings some humour into the story.

The various strands of sub plot intertwine beautifully with the story's main thrust, producing many red herrings. One sub plot however, remains glaringly unresolved at the end of the book. Could this be a signal that Ingrid Parker is working on the 17th book, wherein all will be revealed? I do hope so, and if she is, I'll be first in the queue, anxious to get my hands on it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Vaseem Khan - The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

"...recommend it wholeheartedly."

Synopsis:
This is the second book in the series about the Baby Ganesh Detective agency. Inspector Chopra is well and truly retired from the police and is adjusting to the less rigorous methods employed by private detectives. His wife Poppy is working in a school and they
have taken in a young lad off the streets.The orphaned elephant, Baby Ganesh, is well settled in the compound but inclined to take the huff when things do not go his way.

The British Crown Jewels are on display in India for the first time ever. Despite ultra high security Queen Victoria's crown is stolen from an apparently impregnable room and then the wonderful Koh-i-noor diamond is removed. Nationalist agitators are suspected but it
takes Inspector Chopra's insight and determination (with a little help from Baby Ganesh) to track down the unexpected guilty party.

Review:
This delightful, quirky story amuses and instructs as it plots the adventures of the wonderful Inspector Chopra. Mumbai is described in all its glory, good and bad, by someone who knows the place very well. The people are amazing and the insider slant on their character and life adds to the enjoyment of the book. The plot is ingenious and poses a puzzle for the reader to work out. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it wholeheartedly.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Hart - Redemption Road

"...an author who knows how to write a gripping thriller."

Synopsis:
Elizabeth Black is a hero. She is a cop who single-handedly rescued a young girl from a locked cellar and shot two brutal kidnappers dead. She's also a cop with a history, a woman with a secret - and she's not the only one.

Adrian Wall is finally free after thirteen years of torture and abuse. In the very first room he walks into, a boy with a gun is waiting to avenge the death of his mother. But that is the least of Adrian's problems. Deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, a body cools in pale linen. It is not the first to be found. This is a town on the brink.

This is Redemption Road.

Review:
'Redemption Road' sees Detective Elizabeth Black being investigated by her own colleagues following the death of two men. She has been charged with killing them during the rescue of an abducted teenage girl. However, nothing in this novel is that simple. Running parallel yet intertwined with this thread is the release of Adrian Wall, an ex-policeman and convicted murderer and no sooner has he been released then the murders start again. The town believe Adrian is guilty, with only Elizabeth and an old lawyer, Faircloth 'Crybaby' believing him innocent. 'Crybaby' was my favourite character here and I do hope he isn't too old and infirm not to appear in any future books.

Hart successfully manages to spin a great thriller with an intricate plot without forgetting the emotions that drive these characters. At times I did wonder how some of the events could happen, and found some slightly unbelievable. The killer was a little obvious to me, but Hart still kept me hooked, wanting to know what was going to happen, how the perpetrator was going to be revealed or if they were going to get away with the crime?

Despite these small niggles, this book was well worth the wait from an author who knows how to write a gripping thriller.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: