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Reviews

June 2018

Syd Moore - Strange Fascination

"...keeps up an unerring balancing act between the realms of the fantastical and believable that is her own, very potent form of magic."

Synopsis:
The Essex Witch Museum is having a party. Signaling dedication to her remarkable inheritance with a revamp and relaunch, Rosie Strange's generosity levels are set to the max as she welcomes all-comers through her doors and straight to the prosecco tent. The joint is jumping at Adder's Fork's most controversial tourist attraction – until the figure of a famer with pitchfork raised is silhouetted against the setting sun, a dire omen dropping from his lips: “They're trying to roll the Blackly Be!” Rosie is left suddenly alone as the villagers stampede to the site of an ancient boulder, said to mark the burial site of a witch, that is now being set about by property developers. Legend has it that if this marker is disturbed, all hell will be let loose – and sure enough, within hours of diggers revealing not one but two graves, birds are dropping from the sky, ancient vendettas have reignited and murder most bizarre has commenced at the cursed site…

Review:
The third in Moore's engrossing series builds on the strong characters and intriguing backstory begun with 'Strange Magic', when Benefit Fraud officer Rosie Strange was left her bequest by mysterious Uncle Septimus. Intending to sell up and return to her metropolitan lifestyle, Rosie has instead become increasingly attached to both the Museum and it's curator, Sam Stone, the source of her own strange fascination. Through this and the following 'Strange Sight' she discovered much about the persecution of witches in her native county and the secrets of her own unconventional family. Though far from being fully accepted, she now finds herself part of the eccentric rural community of Adder's Fork.

Part of the addictive quality of this series is how effectively Moore weaves in true history to each tale. 'Strange Fascination' is based on the story of Ann Hughes, tried in Chelmsford in 1621 for witchcraft and supposedly burned at the stake then buried beneath a boulder at Great Leighs, near Chelmsford. In the middle of World War II, self-styled Ghost Hunter and founder of the Institute For Psychical Research Harry Price was called in to investigate poltergeist activity when the US Army attempted to move the megalith to get their tanks past it. There are further links to Elizabeth I's alchemist Dr John Dee, and Helen Duncan, the last woman to be tried for witchcraft in Britain in 1943, for whom Price was a formidable foe.

Moore brings these glimmers of the supernatural to a plot rich in aristocratic roués, campaigning eco warriors, superstitious locals, unfriendly police officers and a Goth forensic scientist who both help and hinder Rosie and Sam in their investigation of just who is actually buried beneath the Blackly Be – along with what seems to be a haul of ancient treasure pivotal to another local folk tale. The results of their digging also unearths fresh revelations about the Strange family that shift all certain ground from beneath Rosie's feet, leading her into peril…

As usual, and with her characteristic wit and flair for the atmospheric, Moore uses her source material to illuminate contemporary concerns about how little has actually changed when it comes to society's attitudes towards those, especially women, who appear outside society's definition of 'normal'. Not only does the 'Strange' series continue to entertain and inform in perfect measure, Moore also keeps up an unerring balancing act between the realms of the fantastical and believable that is her own, very potent form of magic.

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Oscar de Muriel - Loch of the Dead

"‘Loch of the Dead’ is the best one of the series yet."

Synopsis:
Inspector “Nine Nails” McGrey, Scottish to the core, and Inspector Ian Frey, as English as they come, are the unlikely partners in solving crimes with a hint of the supernatural involved. McGrey has a deep interest, as he is hoping for a cure for his sister who has been locked up in an asylum for many years, whilst Frey is ever cynical and looking for rational explanations at all times.

They are lured away from their home base of Edinburgh to the remote and beautiful Loch Maree, where the unacknowledged bastard son of the housekeeper in the big house may be in danger. McGrey is particularly keen to go as the waters of Loch Maree are reputed to have healing powers that might help his sister.

Once in the highlands, they meet with a powerful family that seems to control the local area. The family are strange, highly educated and extremely hospitable, but all is not as it seems on the outside. Mysterious death follows them, some of it close to home.

As they find out more about the secrets of the place they are put into more and more danger and up till the very last minute anything could happen.

Review:
I think 'Loch of the Dead' is the best one of the series yet.

Oscar de Muriel is an extremely talented man. He uses his skill as a chemist, as a gifted linguist with an ear for the sound of speech even in the vernacular and as an imaginative writer who can conjure up the fears of us all, to produce a wonderful novel, full of Gothic horror, set in the most atmospheric and awe-inspiring landscape.

His knowledge of the science underlying the plot provides a solid foundation for the story as the full facts slowly emerge. His keen ear can reproduce the dialogue between McGrey and Frey in a most convincing manner and the tension and excitement of the story is beautifully built up to a nail biting finale. 'Loch of the Dead' is a wonderful book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Candlish - Our House

"Needless to say I loved this book..."

Synopsis:
It was just like any other day. A bright January morning in a London suburban town where a new family is moving in down the street. Except it's not quite right because they're moving into your house. The one you live in.

Fiona Lawson returns home one morning to find strangers moving into her house, that can't be right, there has to be a mistake. Why are these people in her house? How are they in the house, and why are they saying that they live here now? With her estranged husband, Bram, not responding and her children missing the situation starts spiralling out of control. The life that Fiona has been trying so desperately to protect seems to be crumbling at her feet. Did she ever know the life she was living, or the husband she was sharing it with?

Review:
I was introduced to 'Our House' at the Simon and Schuster Crime night. A friend who knew what type of books I liked recommended that I read this and I was not disappointed. This book is so cleverly written, the structure and strategy behind the plot so well thought out where it all links and comes together, making it impossible to know where and what the next turn may be.

There are twists and turns right up to the very end of the book, the last page alone will have you screaming that surely this cannot be it?! The novel presents two points of view, Fi and Bram (husband and wife) they are both taking us through the same series of events but how they witnessed them. It is superbly done, you never feel like you are rehashing over what you have already read – you know it's the same scenario but how that character has seen it or the actions they have undertaken are completely different and for very different reasons.

Within Fi and Bram's chapters there is an overlapping of characters without the other realising from one or the others perspective. Again we are let into this nugget of information but it is withheld from those who probably need to know most, there are several secrets and crucial pieces of information fed to the reader throughout the text which is not revealed to the protagonists till much later. There are also hints dropped that even though the details weren't stated I figured out the mystery, it was just a case of waiting for concrete confirmation.

The importance of one theme in this novel is communication and how there were such gaps of it between husband and wife. This alone was a massive contributor to the breakdown of their marriage. Novels like this play on the question of 'do you really know that person at all?' The biggest fear of any couple when you place your life and trust in someone's hands and it all crumbles in front of you.

Once I'd reached the climax of the story or the present day I wondered where the novel was leading next, where could Candlish possibly lead the novel to top what has happened? Well I won't tell you, but even I didn't foresee the next couple of chapters happening, I was completely shocked but don't worry it was most definitely in a good way. So often the climax of novels are reached and the storyline struggles afterwards but I can 100% say that this was not the case for this book, it just kept going at an amazing pace and continued those twists and turns. I really wanted this novel to have a strong ending as it did with the beginning, and I couldn't have been happier that it did! From the very off there is this inset fear and confusion of watching someone else move into your house when you haven't sold it. You struggle through the realisation with Fi but I can't even imagine the mixture of emotions that would put someone through, and Candlish achieved topping this with her ending.

'Our House' is so cleverly played out, I thoroughly enjoyed her storytelling of this novel and the characters lives and you watch them unfold and crumble. It's so funny how storytelling of the same series of events can be shown in such contrasting lights just from altering the point of view and how she has played on human nature at its most vulnerable. Needless to say I loved this book; I thought it was the perfect crime novel to play on such a realistic event. Candlish wrote so perfectly of a failing marriage that contains secrets, lies, big plot twists but equally big plot reveals.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Vaseem Khan - Murder at the Grand Raj Palace

"...another enjoyable read in this enchanting series."

Synopsis:
The Baby Ganesh Detective Agency, with ex-Inspector Chopra at the helm, is once more enmeshed in the world of the rich and famous as the Inspector tries to unravel the mysterious death of an American billionaire in the surrounds of The Grand Raj Palace Hotel. Second home to the world's elite and a place where scandal and unpleasant deaths are unwelcome, The Grand Raj Palace must retain its air of luxury and calm, unsullied by any suspicion of scandal. Accordingly management are encouraging the idea of suicide. Chopra's old colleague, who is in charge of the investigation, is not happy with this solution. He privately calls in Chopra to make more inquiries. What Chopra discovers leads to many possible suspects for murder.

Whilst all this is going on, Mrs Chopra is worrying about the celebration of their special wedding anniversary: to be precise her husband's lack of appreciation of the importance the event is to her. As she takes things into her own hands, she manages to uncover at least part of the mysteries that her husband needs to resolve.

And all the time the delightful Baby Ganesh accompanies his owner, winning friends wherever he goes.

Review:
The Baby Ganesh Detective Agency is now well established, and the characters of Inspector Chopra, his wife, Poppy, the boy Irfan and the baby elephant, Ganesh, are firm favourites with me. I am amazed at the acceptance of a baby elephant trotting along behind his owner into the most unlikely of places but am willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. Khan always sprinkles a hint of the mysterious east in his books and it all adds to the atmosphere of the vibrant and colourful India that Khan evokes. And I always learn something new about the habits and places of the sub-continent when I read one of these books.

The plot is clever and leaves you in suspense to the last minute. Altogether, another enjoyable read in this enchanting series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Belinda Bauer - Snap

"‘Snap’ is a gripping thriller from cover to cover."

Synopsis:
On a stifling summer's day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack's in charge, she'd said. I won't be long.

But she doesn't come back. She never comes back. And life, as the children know it, is changed for ever.

Three years later, mum-to-be Catherine wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note that says: I could have killed you.

Meanwhile, Jack is still in charge - of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they're alone in the house, and - quite suddenly - of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother.

But the truth can be a dangerous thing.

Review:
A new novel by one of the leading names in British crime fiction is always something to cherish. Belinda Bauer is a writer of exceptional talent. Her craft for characterisation is sublime. She creates genuine people the reader can sympathise with and live the story alongside them. No other writer has that ability to make you feel as if you are a part of the story.

Bauer's writing is unique. She writes with real emotion, with heart, humility and a sense of dark humour that is an essence of real life. She understands people which is why her novels are hugely respected, highly entertaining and multi award winning.

The aftermath of the cruel death of a pregnant mother of three children is explored in 'Snap' as we follow eldest child Jack as he is forced to grow up quickly to look after his two siblings when his world his destroyed. How do we react when we lose someone we love and depend on? How do we cope when a family member is murdered? How do we go on living in the aftermath of horror? These are the themes Bauer explores and does so with seemingly effortless clarity.

'Snap' is a gripping thriller from cover to cover. Bauer has cemented her position as one of the most talented and constantly enjoyable psychological thriller writers.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ali Carter - A Brush with Death

"...an entertaining read, and one that had me up to the wee small hours."

Synopsis:
Alexander, Earl of Greengrass, feels a call of nature while in church, where his wife, Lady Diana, is the organist. He leaves the building, intending to relieve himself in the churchyard. However, after the service, he is found dead among the gravestones with his trousers down.

Meanwhile Susie Mahl, a painter who specialises in animal portraits, has been commissioned by the Codringtons, who live nearby, to paint a portrait of their dog. It is very quickly established that the earl was murdered, and Susie, who fancies herself as a modern-day Miss Marple, decides to do some sleuthing. Who killed the earl? Why? And when? And with what? Was it snobbish Lady Diana? The son and heir Arthur, Viscount Cornfield? His wife Asquintha, whom Lady Diana considers not to be 'one of us'? Or maybe it was handsome Henry Dunstan-Sherbet, to whom Susie is immediately attracted? Or even Ronnie, the landlord of the local pub, the Dorset Horn?

There are suspects galore, but, to begin with, very few clues. Most of the suspects were in the church when the earl was killed, to begin with. Susie (aided by Toby, another handsome man to whom Susie is attracted) eventually succeeds by patient detective work and perseverance.

Review:
'A Brush with Death' (not to be confused with the Quintin Jardine book of the same name) is a classic English whodunit, set in the south of England, and with characters drawn from the aristocracy and the upper middle classes. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, and the book supplies a satisfying puzzle, with lots of red herrings and, as Susie eventually discovers, lots of motives.

Some judicious editing would not have gone amiss however, as one sometimes feels that Ms Carter throws in the results of some cherished research which, while interesting, added very little to the overall plot. All in all 'A Brush with Death' is an entertaining read, and one that had me up to the wee small hours.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Jackson - Don't Make a Sound

"...had a quick pace and interesting plot and a great twist at the end..."

Synopsis:
You can't choose your family. Or can you?

Meet the Bensons. They're an ordinary couple. They wash their car, mow their lawn and pass the time of day with their neighbours. And they have a beautiful little girl called Daisy.

There's just one problem: SHE'S NOT THEIRS.

D. S. Nathan Cody is about to face his darkest and most terrifying case yet.

Review:
This is the third book in the DS Nathan Cody series yet is the first one I have read. There is plenty of reference to previous books - not so much so as to confuse me, but enough to intrigue me.

I really enjoyed the story of 'Don't Make a Sound'. The Bensons seem like any other family. They are quiet, don't bother anyone, and their daughter Daisy is very well behaved. But Daisy isn't theirs. She was abducted some years ago and lives as a prisoner. And now Malcolm and Harriet Benson want to add to their family.

'Don't Make a Sound' was easy to read and hard to put down. The plot was good, although my only criticism was that I didn't get any feeling or emotion from the characters.

I also felt that Daisy, who was only 10, had somehow managed to mature and work out reason and human behaviour despite being locked in a room with very little interaction with other people. Whilst it fit with the plot, it didn't really ring true.

Malcolm and Harriet are completely deranged. Although the reasons for Malcolm being so unbalanced are explained, I would liked to have known why Harriet behaved the way she did.

But! Don't be put off by these observations. 'Don't Make a Sound' was a really good read that has made me want to read other books by this author. It had a quick pace and interesting plot and a great twist at the end which made you rethink how you saw all the characters involved.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Araminta Hall - Our Kind of Cruelty

"...a very well written book with characters you can really get your teeth into."

Synopsis:
This is a love story. Mike's love story.

Mike Hayes fought his way out of a brutal childhood and into a quiet, if lonely life, before he met Verity Metcalf. V taught him about love, and in return, Mike has dedicated his life to making her happy. He's found the perfect home, the perfect job, he's sculpted himself into the physical ideal V has always wanted. He knows they'll be blissfully happy together.

It doesn't matter that she hasn't been returning his emails or phone calls.

It doesn't matter that she says she's marrying Angus.

It's all just part of the secret game they used to play. If Mike watches V closely, he'll see the signs. If he keeps track of her every move he'll know just when to come to her rescue…

Review:
Mike and V have split up, but Mike knows that they are meant to be together and that V is only marrying Angus to teach him a lesson. Written from the perspective of Mike allows us insight into how he feels for V and what drives him.

I knew as soon as I started this book that I would enjoy the story. I wasn't wrong. Not dissimilar to another favourite of mine, Jason Starr, many of the characters appeared to be flawed and difficult to like. However, I am not sure if this is because they are actually not particularly nice people, or because it is written from Mike's perspective which is somewhat biased.

The story follows Mike's attempts to win back V. Throughout the book I was unsure as to whether Mike was a man desperately in love, with reciprocal feelings from V. Or whether he was actually completely deluded and his attention was unwanted. Either way, it gave to an interesting read that kept me guessing.

I felt somewhat cheated by the ending which jarred as the book left me with lots of unanswered questions. Despite this, 'Our Kind of Cruelty' it's a very well written book with characters you can really get your teeth into.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffery Deaver - The Cutting Edge

"...as with all Deaver novels it is the plot that keeps changing with every page. "

Synopsis:
The happiest time of their lives - will be their last.

William and Anna went to collect her engagement ring. One and a half carats, almost flawless… but the Promisor had other ideas for their future.... their murder - and that of the diamond cutter they were visiting - is only the first of a series of macabre attacks. Someone is targeting couples just as they start their lives together.

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, newly married themselves, are on the hunt, but the killer is hunting down any witnesses who can help them. He has promised one thing: to destroy. Rhyme and Sachs will have to use all their own skills and determination to break his vow.

Review:
Rhyme and Sachs are back with their team to find the killer targeting engaged couples. Using the latest laboratory machines and Rhyme's intelligence and cunning, few crimes get past him.

After struggling with Deaver's last book, I was hopeful that 'The Cutting Edge' would draw me back in… and it did. Rhyme is still solving the crimes from his lab in his home. Rhyme and Sachs are still together, now married. The usual group of regulars still appear in the story and Sachs still walks the scene to gather evidence. Whilst the plot is clever, and as always Deaver's writing is of a very high standard, I had a feeling of deja vu. Change the name of the villains, swap the collected evidence to suit the new location, and this felt similar to other Deaver novels. That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading the book (although it wasn't until the second half that the investigation really gets going), but more I feel the stories would benefit from changes being made to keep it fresh.

Despite this, as with all Deaver novels it is the plot that keeps changing with every page. Just when you think you have solved part of the puzzle, something else is thrown at you to change your way of thinking. The Promisor who is targeting couples is only the tip of the iceberg. Deaver delivers an easy, yet exciting read with a plot that kept me guessing to the end.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret's Doubts

"...a deeply satisfying read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys, not just crime writing, but literature in general."

Synopsis:
It is January, and there is very little serious crime being committed. Maigret is in a bad mood. Is he coming down with the flu? Is he merely bored? Or is he worried about Madame Maigret, who has been to the doctor about her breathlessness?

His reverie is interrupted by a visit from a M. Xavier Marton, who is a first salesman in a shop on the Rue de Rivoli, looking after the train sets in the toy department. He tells Maigret that his wife Giséle is trying to poison him, and shows him some powder he has discovered. Before they can continue the discussion, Maigret is called away, and when he gets back to the office the man has gone.

How can Maigret help this man? No crime has been committed, so there is nothing to investigate. He tries to put it out of his mind. Then two things happen -Xavier's wife visits him and asks about her husband's visit, and an analysis of the powder shows it to be zinc phosphide, a rat poison. Maigret takes an interest, and is drawn into a domestic situation that has many questions, but seemingly few answers. What is the exact relationship between husband and wife? Is Giséle having an affair with the boss of the shop where she works? Is Xavier having an affair with Giséle's sister, who lives with them? And how will the whole thing play out? Will there be a poisoning?

Review:
This is yet another book in the Penguin Classics reissue of all Simenon's novels, and is, in many ways, unlike most of the other books. There is no crime to be investigated, yet the low January crime rate means that he has inspectors at his disposal. And if no crime has been committed, does he have the right to have them investigate the Martons in the first place?

This seemingly simple tale, told, as usual, with clarity and as few words as possible, turns out not to be simple after all, thanks to Simenon's handling of plot and dialogue. In fact, he is undoubtedly the supreme master of dialogue as a plot device. And this new translation by Shaun Whiteside only adds to the satisfaction of reading the book. The ending is unexpected and yet consistent with the whole tone of the novel.

This is a deeply satisfying read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys, not just crime writing, but literature in general.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating: