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Reviews

August 2014

Barry Forshaw - Euro Noir

"...a fabulous little book that is like a roadmap of Europe crime fiction. "

Synopsis:
Barry Forshaw collects and brings together novels and film from across Europe giving a short précis about the author and their work. There is a large section regarding the Scandinavian authors who have been carried on a huge wave of popularity in recent years. Alongside, Forshaw takes us across Spain, France, and Italy amongst many other countries to bring together an informed and accessible travelogue of Euro crime books and films.

Review:
This marvellous little book is literally a ‘Noir’ travel guide across Europe. The wonderful Mr. Forshaw (who has the ear of many an author), has compiled this wonderful ‘Who’s Who’ of European crime. For many of those who are still searching for a European author they haven’t found, they should do no more than reach for this book. Forshaw, with the authority of a tour guide of the macabre, takes us on a journey, with this great guide in hand and shows us the seedier side of Europe via the crime fiction genre. I thought I was well informed, but there were plenty of names I had never heard of and who I will be exploring in greater detail.

As with most travel guides, this book is one of those gorgeous things that is set out in bite-size pieces, so you can pick it up as and when you have a few minutes. There is also plenty for the films buffs out there as Barry also encompasses this side of the dark genre as well. All in all, this is a fabulous little book that is like a roadmap of Europe crime fiction. For those of you who love their crime fiction to either be entrenched in the snow of a Swedish winter or with a backdrop simmering with a Mediterranean sun, this book is most definitely for you.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

A.D. Garrett - Believe No One

"...a true tour de force from page one. "

Synopsis:
Forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore has engineered lectures in Chicago and St Louis - a ploy to get to Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms. She's in the United States on sabbatical with St Louis PD, and he's keen to see her again. Simms is working with a 'method swap' team, reviewing cold cases, sharing expertise. But Simms came to the US to escape the fallout from their previous case - the last thing she needs is Fennimore complicating her life.

A call for help from a sheriff's deputy in Oklahoma seems like a welcome distraction for the professor - until he hears the details: a mother dead, her child gone - echoes of Fennimore's own tragedy.

Nine-year-old Red, adventuring in Oklahoma's backwoods, has no clue that he and his mum are in the killer's sights. Back in St Louis, investigators discover a pattern: victims - all of them young mothers - dumped along a 600 mile stretch of I-44. The Oklahoma and St Louis investigations converge, uncovering serial murders across two continents and two decades. Under pressure, the killer begins to unravel, and when a fresh body surfaces, the race is on to catch the I-44 killer and save the boy.

Review:
The second novel featuring tortured, yet brilliant, forensic professor, Nick Fennimore and DCI Kate Simms seeking redemption is a true tour de force from page one. This is an electric, intelligent and thoroughly researched thriller that will leave you gripping the book like a vice until you've reached the final page.

The ambitious plot is intricately detailed, tightly written, and the level of forensic research is so clever and accurate you have to keep reminding yourself this is a work of fiction as there are times it reads like a chilling account of a true crime. The descriptive prose of the killings is frighteningly realistic, and every misfit misleading character is written with flesh-crawling accuracy.

A. D. Garrett has created a wonderful double act in Fennimore and Simms. Their partnership is original, taut with frustration and crackling with an underlying sexual tension.

British crime writing has been screaming for a complex and utterly compelling thriller – ‘Believe No One’ is that thriller.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Child - Personal

"Child’s army of fans will march in to a high street book store to get their latest ‘hit’ of Reacher."

Synopsis:
Jack Reacher walks alone. Once a ‘go-to’ hard man in the US military police, he is now a drifter of no fixed abode. But the army tracks him down because someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president.

Only one man could have done it. And Reacher is the one man who can find him.

Review:
Jack Reacher returns to his 19th adventure, helping to right the wrongs he cannot leave be. In ‘Personal’, Reacher is back helping his old colleagues from his army days after there has been an assassination attempt on the French President. Instead of being set in a small backwater American town, ‘Personal’ takes Reacher from Paris to London where he is hunting the sniper responsible for the attempted assassination.

Reacher, as ever, is travelling light with just his toothbrush, buying replacement clothes rather than laundering them. Whilst most things about Reacher don’t change, he does manage to spend the whole book with a 28 year-old woman and do no more with her than give her a chaste hug. Is this the new Reacher or has he just lost his touch?

With Child's novels, the plot is always secondary. ‘Personal’ isn’t the most gripping plot in this series, but as Reacher remains unchanged, this can be forgiven. ‘Personal’ is extremely easy to read, without it being Child's best, but it is a worthy part of the Reacher series. Regardless what I think I know that Child’s army of fans will march in to a high street book store to get their latest ‘hit’ of Reacher. ‘Personal’ adheres to the winning formula Child has found and is a definite must for any ardent Reacher fans.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Donna Leon - By Its Cover

"Donna Leon’s books are beautifully written..."

Synopsis:
Commissario Guido Brunetti, stalwart of the Venetian police, is called to the Biblioteca Merula, a well established library with a valuable collection of historical literature. Some of the ancient books are missing. The chief suspect is an American research student who has spent recent weeks working on some of the library’s most prestigious works and then disappeared.

When Brunetti begins to investigate he finds that all is not straightforward and there are other individuals using the library with unusual backgrounds. Chief of those is a former priest and schoolteacher, Franchini, who has a consuming interest in the writings of some of the early fathers of the church.
When Franchini is found murdered in his home, Brunetti begins to discover more about the highly lucrative world of antiquarian books and the fearful lengths that some people will go to for money.

As always, he is supported at work by Ispettore Vianello and Signorina Elettra, exasperated by his boss, Patta and colleague Scarpa and constantly loved by his wife, Paula, and their two children, Raffi and Chiara.

Review:
Donna Leon’s books are beautifully written about a city she obviously loves, although seen from a realistic and pragmatic point of view. It is fascinating and a little scary to see how much Guido Brunetti and his friends recognise and accept the corruption at the heart of the establishment and do what they can to fight it where possible but simply shrug their shoulders and ignore that which they can do nothing about. Brunetti is a thoroughly worthy hero as he displays his learning and love of literature in passing as he dedicates himself to finding the criminals. His love of all food Venetian gives us a touch of the exotic as we immerse ourselves in Venice life.

Brunetti is moving on in the new world as he accustoms himself to modern technology, but Signorina Elettra is queen in this department. Brunetti manages to ignore her undoubtedly shady means of gaining information simply because it is too useful to him. I wonder if this will continue or whether there will be an unhappy end to it all. I always look forward to every new Brunetti novel as I know I have hours of delight before me as I follow his adventures through the lovely city of Venice. ‘By Its Cover’ was no exception.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrea Maria Schenkel - The Dark Meadow

"Schenkel is marvellous at painting a picture of anxiety..."

Synopsis:
After many years away, Afra Zauner returns to her parents shack towards the end of the Second World War. Her relationship with her parents is not the easiest, but because of her circumstances she has no other option but to return to her childhood home which translates as ‘Dark Meadow’. Soon it becomes apparent why she had nowhere else to go – she is pregnant outside of wedlock, and by a Frenchman which adds extra shame to her sin. Her father is a God fearing man and it was due to his religious fervour that Afra fled her strict childhood. But now she has no choice but to bring up her young son in a home full of resentment and shame. It is an atmosphere that leads to murder.

Nearly twenty years later, the ramblings of a drunk in a bar alert some who were involved in the unsolved case to re-open and re-examine it and soon a killer is in sight.

Review:
I have read all this authors’ translated works and have enjoyed them all. They are not your usual fare but are extremely well constructed as Schenkel doesn’t deliver purely dialogue, but written police reports and witness accounts that slowly peel away the lies to reveal the truth. Using this method, Schenkel manages to give many different perspectives in a very short amount of pages. The same method is applied here but the story, although bleak and dark is not as gripping and felt the solution was slightly flat.

Schenkel is marvellous at painting a picture of anxiety and impropriety during the 1940’s when having a child out of wedlock was a huge cardinal sin. Schenkel delivers a very gripping portrait of the hard times people suffered back then. I was fascinated by all the palaver Efra went through to wash the bed sheets. How we are spoiled by washing machines today! I loved Schenkel's debut, ‘The Murder Farm’ and believe this author is definitely one to be explored, but I wouldn’t recommend this to an new reader. Enjoyable, but may leave you a little unsatisfied.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tim Weaver - Fall From Grace

"...leaves him dangling on a nice cliff hanger that leaves me panting for Raker's next case."

Synopsis:
When Leonard Franks and his wife Ellie leave London for their dream retirement on the seclusion of Dartmoor, everything seems perfect. But, two years in, their new life is shattered when Leonard leaves the house to fetch firewood – and never returns. Nine months later, he's still missing.

With the police investigation at a dead end, Leonard’s family turn to David Raker – a missing persons investigator with a gift for finding the lost. But nothing can prepare Raker for what he's about to uncover.

Because behind this disappearance lies a deadly secret. And, by the time Raker starts to unravel the truth, it's not just him in danger, it's everyone he cares about.

Review:
David Raker looks for missing people and ‘Fall From Grace’ sees him helping his old nemesis, Melanie Craw, to look for her father after he vanished from his house. Raker finds himself unravelling an old murder, with people that appear to be seemingly unconnected.

Since discovering he had a daughter, Raker is now an easier target as he protects those that he cares for. Raker, although somewhat mysterious, is an easier character to connect with. Lacking any arrogance or malice, he still appears quite commanding.

‘Fall From Grace’ is a mystery that not only has him looking for Craw's father, but also investigating an old murder and another disappearance. The way he is able to solve the mysteries feels sometimes very lucky and a little unlikely, but the book is still well -written and highly entertaining. Whilst I wanted to know what happened, I did find my attention wandering at times as it felt there was just a little too much information to digest. The solution was satisfying and once revealed, the culprit seemed obvious although the motive less so.

This new addition to the Raker series is a very good read, if not as strong as its predecessors. It is intriguing to see how Raker is developing over the books and this one leaves him dangling on a nice cliff hanger that leaves me panting for Raker's next case. My only gripe is I will have to wait another year before learning his fate!

Check out Tim's books on the Penguin Microsite.

Penguin Microsite

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Baldacci - Face Off

"I can thoroughly recommend this anthology to any fan of crime action thrillers."

Synopsis:
In this unprecedented collaboration, twenty-three of the world's favourite crime writers bring you original, co-written short stories featuring their much-loved series characters.

'FACE OFF' includes the first meeting of Ian Rankin's Rebus and Peter James' Roy Grace; a case for Dennis Lehane's Patrick Kenzie and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, as well as a page-turning mystery starring Lee Child's Jack Reacher and Joseph Finder's Nick Heller.

Review:
I have never heard of a venture such as ‘Face Off’ where authors from all different publishers join forces and have their lead characters meet each other. A huge amount of credit must go to the International Thriller Writers and David Baldacci for making this happen.

The tales are disparate and it was great to catch up with old friends such as Harry Bosch, Reacher, Nick Heller, Lincoln Rhyme, Roy Grace and many others. As well as the old friends, I particularly enjoyed meeting new characters such as Repairman Jack, Alexandra Cooper and to my eternal shame as a Scotsman, John Rebus.

The strongest stories came from Child + Finder, Deaver + Sandford and of course, Lehane + Connelly. Only one of the stories didn’t quite work for me and that was more to do with my tastes than the quality of the writing.

I can thoroughly recommend this anthology to any fan of crime action thrillers.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graeme Macrae Burnet - The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau

"...Burnet has completely nailed the tone, colour and sly wit... "

Synopsis:
Manfred Baumann is a loner. Socially awkward and perpetually ill at ease, he spends his evenings quietly drinking and surreptitiously observing Adele Bedeau, the sullen but alluring waitress at a drab bistro in the unremarkable small French town of Saint-Louis. But one day, she simply vanishes into thin air.

When Georges Gorski, a detective haunted by his failure to solve one of his first murder cases, is called in to investigate the girl's disappearance, Manfred's repressed world is shaken to its core and he is forced to confront the dark secrets of his past.

Review:
The central conceit of this novel is that the ‘book’ is a found manuscript, translated from the French by the author, Burnet. I am not an expert on modern literature coming from the other side of the channel, but I have read a few of their crime novels and I found that Burnet has completely nailed the tone, colour and sly wit that I enjoyed so much from the ‘real’ French authors.

It's a novel that takes its time to tell its story, so not one for the plot hungry among you, but certainly one for those who enjoy a more measured and cultured read.

The main character, Manfred Baumann is beautifully and convincingly drawn and the quiet battle of wits between him and the investigating detective is a joy to watch as it unfolds. But it is Manfred you are drawn back to time and again as a terrible event in his past weighs down on him. With a hat tip to the author's skill, I realised that I was hugely engaged in his character's internal struggle and found myself praying that he would find some peace and not disintegrate before my eyes. To discover if he manages to do that, you'll need to buy the book. This is a perfect little tale that is as smooth as a fine wine.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Paul Carson - Inquest

"This is the first Paul Carson novel I've read but it definitely won’t be my last. Brilliant!"

Synopsis:
Dr Mike Wilson is a pathologist with a troubled past and a naturally suspicious mind. As the new Dublin city coroner, he is used to investigating violent, unusual or unexplained deaths. But one case worries Mike… a lot.

Patrick Dowling was found hanging in woodland late the previous year. The investigation ended the moment the autopsy result was announced: suicide. Dowling had been a drug addict with poor life expectancy. Case closed.

Then Mike discovers that Dowling's file was on his predecessor's desk; a man who was shot dead by an unknown gunman. Coincidence? Mike doesn't think so. As Mike digs deeper, his life comes under threat. Then, he and his family are attacked. Just how far is he prepared to go to uncover the truth?

Review:
I'm not usually a fan of first person narrative; I find it restricting in terms of story, scope, and pace. However in this case the plot benefits, and adds a claustrophobic edge to the drama.

Paul Carson has created a story of corruption, intrigue, and danger with his foot firmly on the accelerator. He delivers shock and plot development at break-neck speed, never letting up the pace for a single moment.

We're given an insight into the inquest process at the most personal level, and Wilson's raw emotional battles are felt by the reader too. Paul Carson is a terrific writer of real human characterisation, pace and drama. His use of the first person narrative is a brilliant tool if done correctly and Carson has done just that. He writes with pure clarity and has a hint of John Grisham about him.

‘Inquest’ is a gripping and edgy thriller from cover to cover. This is the first Paul Carson novel I've read but it definitely won’t be my last. Brilliant!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Lance - The Shadow Spy

"...this revelation makes sense, even though I never saw it coming."

Synopsis:
It is the late 1980s/early 1990s, the Soviet Union is about to implode, and the USA wants to build a ‘money tunnel’ to fund the reform movements inside the country. Meanwhile, Doug Findlay is working as a senior analyst for Soviet affairs with the US State Department. However, he has a secret – he is, in fact, a CIA sleeper who is awaiting a call to action.

And the call comes. He will join a group of bankers from the World Bank who are flying out, firstly to Stockholm, and then to Leningrad, as adviser and translator. However, nothing is as it seems on the mission. His colleagues seem to be working to their own agenda. Who can he trust? Oscar Blenhem, his handler? Alexey Lubanov, a Russian mobster who latches on to him? Who, indeed, is behind the whole operation? To further complicate matters, Helen, Doug’s wife, flies out to Leningrad to sort out the domestic side of his life, and finds herself in the line of fire.

The denouement, after many plot twists, dead-ends and false clues, finally reveals the brains behind the whole American mission.

Review:
Lance studied history, with an emphasis on Soviet Studies, at university, and his in-depth knowledge of what made the Soviet Union tick is evident on every page of this book. The plot is dense and, in some cases, overly-complicated. But though I didn’t pretend to understand all of the tricks and shenanigans of international finance, espionage and subterfuge that Robert Lance describes, it never got in the way of my enjoyment. I didn’t even know where accuracy ended and imagination began some of the time. All I know is that they ‘sounded’ accurate, and that is surely the mark of a good writer. Certainly, at the beginning of the book he acknowledges that the events he wrote about have a ‘slight’ ring of truth. However, he also says that his sources cannot be named, so he must have done some in-depth research.

The book starts quietly enough, setting up the reason for Doug’s involvement, and introducing us to the main characters. On the plane to Stockholm, has a minor, but to me very satisfactory victory over a supercilious banker who imagines that he is a hick from Missouri. But when the setting shifts to Leningrad, the action really begins, and Doug soon realises that his life is in danger.

It is not until the third to last page that the mastermind is revealed, and this revelation makes sense, even though I never saw it coming.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael A. Kahn - Face Value

"‘Face Value’ is a marvellous mystery which I thoroughly enjoyed."

Synopsis:
When young associate attorney at Warner & Olsen, Sari Bashir plunges to her death from the 8th floor of the downtown garage where she parks her car, the police rule it a suicide. It's understood that the gruelling hours and demands of big law take their toll on young lawyers, some turn to drugs, some quit the law and some just quit altogether.

Stanley Plotkin, rules it a homicide. Stanley, the quirky mailroom clerk at Sari's law firm is also a true genius. He is obsessed with the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) a massive compilation that correlates hundreds of facial muscle actions with specific emotions and mental states. For Stanley, who suffers with Aspergers Syndrome and is incapable of recognising emotions from facial expressions, FACS is crucial.

Stanley turns to attorney Rachel Gold, a friend of Sari's, for help and whilst reluctant to get involved, an impassioned plea from her father changes her mind and her investigations lead her to uncover a vast criminal enterprise rife with collateral damage.

Review:
More of a cosy mystery than a legal thriller, there is still plenty of courtroom action in here to ensure ‘Face Value’ is fun, and helps make it the addictive read it is. It's well drawn, with a delightful cast of characters, and seems to have a superb natural dialogue that simply flows along carrying you with it as the story unravels. It also is good to know that whilst this is the ninth Rachel Gold novel from Kahn, and I haven't read the previous eight, no knowledge of those books was required in order to enjoy this one. That said I am fairly certain that anyone who reads this and who hasn't read any of the others will be seeking out Kahn’s back catalogue very quickly!

I'm also glad to say that my only doubts when I initially picked up the book, as to how Stanley's Aspergers Syndrome would be dealt with, were firmly kicked into touch once I began reading. I felt that Kahn tackled the subject well, and must have put in a great deal of research in order to make Stanley's condition realistic Consequently, Kahn has created a truly believable and highly likeable character. ‘Face Value’ is a marvellous mystery which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Christopher Galt - Biblical

"...‘Biblical’ is the most compelling and intelligent thriller I have read for years."

Synopsis:
All around the world, people start to see things that aren't there, that cannot be: visions, ghosts and events from the past playing out in the present. To start with, the visions are unremarkable: things misplaced in time and caught out of the corner of the eye; glimpses of long-dead family or friends. But, as time goes on, the visions become more sustained, more vivid, more widespread… and more terrifying. As the visions become truly apocalyptic, some turn to religion, others to science.

Only one man, driven by personal as well as professional reasons, is capable of finding the real truth. But the truth that psychiatrist John Macbeth uncovers is much, much bigger than either religion or science. A truth so big it could cost him his sanity and his life.

Review:
Once in a while a different kind of novel comes along and changes your entire perspective. ‘Biblical’ is one of those novels. It has a wonderful narrative interspersed with stunningly beautiful flashbacks. Part time-slip, part high-concept and part human-discovery it is a fast paced thriller which demands your full attention.

The level of research which must have gone into this novel is mind-numbing, yet Galt handles the information with a sublime skill and never once did I feel he was dumping info onto the reader. With a pulsating plot, ‘Biblical’ sweeps you back and forth while expanding your mind and levels of comprehension.

The lead character John Macbeth carries the novel very well and I thoroughly enjoyed his company. The lesser characters are all fine creations but for me it was the flashbacks to Viking invasions and German concentration camps which were the standout moments. Galt’s recounting of these events were so wonderfully done that I was right there experiencing everything the characters did.

All in all, I would have to say that ‘Biblical’ is the most compelling and intelligent thriller I have read for years.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sheila Quigley - Lady In Red

"...an engrossing read which kept my attention from first page until last."

Synopsis:
One night; two senseless murders. DI Lorraine Hunt and her team are used to serious cases, but the evidence seems to point at someone too close for comfort.

Who is the stranger in the Seahills estate and can they catch him before he kills again?

Review:
Sheila Quigley is one of those writers whose books always magically clamber their way to the summit of Mount To-Be-Read ahead of their time. I’ll admit she’s a friend of mine, but when the pages turn, friendship must be set aside in favour of professionalism and I know she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The characters inhabiting the Seahills estate are all engaging as they combat life’s challenges and the extra dose of torment dealt out by Quigley. The most attention drawing of the characters for me were Lorraine Hunt and the malicious Dev who is sure to return to ruin more lives.

The narrative is earthy and punches land more than once rather than being pulled as Quigley depicts a world of strife and hardship, which is altogether too familiar for many in these strident times.

To sum up ‘Lady in Red’, I would have to say it is an engrossing read which kept my attention from first page until last.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Judith Flanders - Writer's Block

"...raised more than one or two wry smiles."

Synopsis:
Samantha Clair is an editor in a publishing house and her speciality is chick lit. She has a long standing friendship with Kit Lovell, a fashion journalist and author of a manuscript about the death of a well- known fashion designer. When Sam decides to publish it, she steps into a world of ambition, greed and a ruthless desire to win that takes her away from her comfortable life. A motor cyclist courier is attacked and all his parcels have disappeared; Sam's flat is searched; Kit cannot be contacted. Thoroughly rattled, Sam decides to take matters into her own hands and investigate some of the allegations. Sam calls in her formidable lawyer mother to help, and Inspector Field of the Met tries to protect her and reign in some of her dangerous plans.

Review:
Written with an insider's view of publishing, the sardonic comments on the people and practices of the industry are a delight in themselves and raised more than one or two wry smiles.

The story itself is straightforward. There are high stakes if the money laundering using high fashion as a front is exposed, and the truth behind the death of fashion designer Rodrigo Aleman will do just that. So Kit Lovell's book must be suppressed by whatever means it takes. Samantha Clair is an innocent abroad but she has friends and family who are much savvier and together they unravel the strands that lead to the orchestrator of the plot. This all leads to a very satisfying result.

The characters are interesting, and in many cases, amusing. It is easy to engage with Sam and her mother and the romantic interest adds to the enjoyment. I liked this book a lot and look forward to the next instalment from Flanders.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Mark - Sorrow Bound

"...Mark is a confident writer with an eye for detail..."

Synopsis:
Fifteen years ago on the seafront at Bridlington, two women save the life of a desperate man. However, their good actions have attracted the attention of a sadistic killer, bent on revenge.

In the City of Hull people are dying in the most horrific of ways. Yet each of these people has one thing in common; they all helped to save the life of a dying man, a man who shouldn't have been saved.

DS Aector McAvoy is trying to piece the clues together as the connection seems too wild for his colleagues to contemplate. Meanwhile his wife has been witness to an attack in her friend's shop, and she finds herself the target for her split second actions.

Review:
‘Sorrow Bound’ is more than a police procedural. It's a dark psychological thriller with the subject of revenge at its black heart.

David Mark has created a hard working family man as his protagonist in DS Aector McAvoy, and although he is dedicated to his career and those he loves I have found him to be quite cold and distant in the first two books in this series. However, McAvoy has a dark past and maybe Mark has deliberately made him this way. In this third outing, McAvoy steps up a gear and although he's not as fun as his colleague Trish Pharaoh (who has some great one-liners) he is an everyman you can cheer for.

Mark's writing is almost poetic. He used the theme of a stifling heat wave in Hull to portray the tense undercurrents as the main characters find themselves in unimaginable situations and not being able to reach out for help. When a storm finally breaks, so does the atmosphere and all hell breaks loose. This is handled magnificently and David Mark is a confident writer with an eye for detail and a rich abundance of metaphors.

Mark's attention to characterisation gives his minor characters heart and soul and you really sympathise with his victims. DC Helen Tremberg is possibly my favourite character; she's lovelorn and vulnerable and used to great effect here.

You won't see the ending coming as you make your way through this labyrinthine plot and by the final page you'll be cursing David Mark for leaving us with a cliff hanger. I hoping he's banging away at his computer right now to bring us book four. He'd better be.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Harvey - Darkness, Darkness

"...the plotting is tighter than a Thelonius Monk solo."

Synopsis:
Thirty years ago, the Miners' Strike threatened to tear the country apart, turning neighbour against neighbour, husband against wife, father against son - enmities which smoulder still.

Resnick, recently made up to inspector, and ambivalent at best about some of the police tactics, had run an information gathering unit at the heart of the dispute.

Now, the discovery of the body of a young woman who disappeared during the Strike brings Resnick out of virtual retirement and back into the front line to assist in the investigation into her murder - forcing him to confront his past in what will assuredly be his last case.

Review:
It is always a sad day when an author decides to finish a series as well loved as Charlie Resnick, yet ‘Darkness, Darkness’ is written in such a way as to make us grateful for having known Resnick. Moved to the periphery of the investigation, he battles against history, memories and a sense of loss for former days. Throughout ‘Darkness, Darkness’ I found an inimitable sadness for the way things had turned out.

Resnick is as resolute and unflinching as ever, if a little slower on his feet. However his brain is sharp and the way he worked out who the killer was can only be described as first class. Catherine Njoroge carries the story very well and I for one will be interested to see what happens in the next stage of her life.

The pared-down prose is utterly faultless as you would expect from such an accomplished author, and the plotting is tighter than a Thelonius Monk solo. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Marwood - The Killer Next Door

"She is a crime writer to keep an eye on - she's going to be scaring us for years to come."

Synopsis:
Number 23 has a secret.

In this gloomy, bedsit-riddled South London wreck, a horrifying collection quietly waits to be discovered. All six residents have something to hide.

Collette is on the run from her ex-boss; Cher is a children's home escapee; lonely Thomas tries to make friends with his neighbours; and a gorgeous Iranian asylum seeker and a 'quiet man' nobody sees try to keep themselves hidden. There for them all is Vesta, a woman who knows everything that goes on in the house - or thought she did.

But one of them is a killer, expertly hiding their pastime, all the while closing in on their next victim.

Review:
When master of horror Stephen King calls a book 'scary as hell' you're advised to take precautions before beginning; make sure your doors and windows are locked, check under the bed, and sleep with the light on: this is a dark, nasty, and compelling tale.

Alex Marwood is a natural storyteller. She hooks you in from the very first page and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the final line. She takes you on a rollercoaster of a ride of emotions; disturbing and frightening in one chapter, and reducing you to tears with the next. The plot is pitch black dark, deeply sinister, yet richly written, and highly original. This is only Marwood's second novel but reads as if written by a seasoned professional who has been creating thrillers her whole life.

This disparate bunch of characters are all beautifully drawn and flawed people. They are all wrapped up in their own shaky lives and their vulnerabilities force them to change their role within the group, keeping the pace alive and crackling with dramatic tension. Marwood's attention to gruesome detail and tightly written prose gives a rawness and claustrophobic edge to the plot, which is reminiscent to several real life cases of the recent past.

I defy anyone not to love this book and be chilled to their very core. Alex Marwood's first two novels have been utterly amazing. She is a crime writer to keep an eye on - she's going to be scaring us for years to come.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jo Nesbo - The Son

"As always, Jo Nesbo delivers an exciting story..."

Synopsis:
Sonny is in prison for killing two men. He is a model prisoner whom the other inmates believe has healing hands. After his father died admitting to be a corrupt police officer, Sonny became a drug addict and in prison he is kept supplied by prison officers in return for favours, the latest of which is to take the blame for a murder committed whilst he was out on day release.

Simon Kefas is a police officer nearing retirement but still active and determined to seek out criminals. He was a friend of Sonny's father and mother. Their history together is the beginning of the trail of disaster that led Sonny to prison. Now Kefas is happily together with Else, but he is distraught by the fact she is slowly losing her sight.

When Sonny discovers some of the truth about his past he carefully engineers his escape from prison to hunt down the mole who betrayed his father. He has to hide from those both official and unofficial, whilst drying himself out and adjusting to the outside world which has moved on since his incarceration. Bit by bit the truth emerges - and it is devastating.

Review:
This may not be part of the Harry Hole series, but this dark stand-alone features another cop haunted by his addiction. Sonny is a tortured young man who uses his considerable intelligence to fight the system. The power of Sonny to overcome seemingly impossible odds is part of his attraction. The fact that conventional morality does not restrict him only adds to the enjoyment.

As always, Jo Nesbo delivers an exciting story laced with a big dollop of extreme violence. He reveals the underbelly of Norway's seemingly ideal society. I understand that this novel is heading for the big screen and I'm sure it will be a great success. There is something about Nesbo’s novels that are so accessible and at the same time, so gripping. He really does have the knack for digging in deep and getting under your flesh without letting go until the final page. I have run out of superlatives for this man’s books – so just read it!

Reviewed by: S.D.

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Charlaine Harris - Midnight Crossroad

"‘Midnight Crossroad’ unfolds slowly and carefully."

Synopsis:
Midnight, Texas looks like a pretty standard dried-up western town. There are lots of vacant buildings and few full-time inhabitants. The people who do live there, as new resident, psychic Manfred Bernardo soon discovers, are a bit unusual, although most are friendly. His landlord, Bobo Winthrop is a character as is Fiji Cavanaugh, the self-proclaimed witch who runs The Inquiring Mind in a cottage left to her by her Great Aunt along with her unusual cat, Mr Snuggles. The reclusive Reverend Emilio Sheehan looks after the Pet Cemetery and many more strange but wonderful residents are introduced throughout.

Not long after Manfred’s arrival, the body of Bobo’s missing girlfriend is discovered, and suspicion initially falls on Bobo. A pair of strangers also threatens the peace of the town, and Midnight’s residents take steps to protect their own. A diligent sheriff from nearby Davy, Arthur Smith is determined to flush out the killer.

Review:
Supernatural murder is a speciality of Harris, who recently completed the successful series involving Sookie Stackhouse.

‘Midnight Crossroad’ unfolds slowly and carefully. It involves six main characters with Harris teasing out both their strengths and weaknesses. Introducing these characters is an important step to not only understanding this novel, but also framing them for the trilogy. The newest member of the town, Manfred is the catalyst around whom a series of events lead to the discovery of Bobo’s murdered lover. Understanding the interplay between the characters is integral to the murder and subsequent investigations, which lead to a surprising denouement.

The novel moves at a steady pace but picks up following the discovery of the victim, moving to a satisfactory conclusion, despite qualms at the morality of the ending.

Harris writes clearly and her intention to draw you back to the town, Midnight, is fully accomplished. However for this series to really take off and show the difference between it and Stackhouse, we must wait a little longer and read book two. I look forward to that and using that volume to make a more valid judgement.

Reviewed by: P.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Janet Evanovich - Top Secret Twenty-One

"Evanovich is a great storyteller..."

Synopsis:
New Jersey’s finest used-car dealer, Jimmy Poletti, was caught selling a lot more than used cars out of his dealerships. Now he’s out on bail and has missed his date in court, and bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is looking to bring him in. Leads are quickly turning into dead ends, and all too frequently into dead bodies. These are desperate times, and they call for desperate measures, so Stephanie is going to have to do something she really doesn’t want to do: protect former hospital security guard, Randy Briggs. Briggs was picking up quick cash as Poletti’s bookkeeper and knows all his boss’s dirty secrets.

To top things off, Ranger—resident security expert and Stephanie’s greatest temptation—has been the target of an assassination plot. He’s dodged the bullet this time, but if Ranger wants to survive the next attempt on his life, he’ll have to enlist Stephanie’s help and reveal a bit more of his mysterious past.

Death threats, highly trained assassins, highly untrained assassins, and Stark Street being overrun by a pack of feral Chihuahuas are all in a day’s work for Stephanie Plum. The real challenge is dealing with her Grandma Mazur’s wild bucket list. A boob job and getting revenge on Joe Morelli’s Grandma Bella barely holds a candle to what’s number one on the list - but that’s ‘top secret’.

Review:
As an avid fan of Evanovich, I eagerly await the latest exploits of Stephanie Plum and her entourage. However, by ‘Twenty One’, I find that I am going round in circles. Although the books are still entertaining, the plots feel rehashed and very little new material is being used. Stephanie is still with Morelli. Ranger is still interested but not making a move. Grandma Mazur is still shocking people. Stephanie’s parents are still being shocked. Morelli's Aunt Bella is still casting her evil eye on people. Lula is still getting upset at being called fat. Stephanie's car and apartment are still being blown up. Rex is still going strong. And Cluck in a Bucket is still the popular eating place.

Whilst all of this was entertaining to begin with, by book number 21, the novelty is beginning to wear thin as nothing has changed since the beginning. I really enjoy the characters and the light heartedness of the plots, but I do feel that something needs to change if this series is going to continue to work. Evanovich is a great storyteller and manages to inject humour and originality into each book, but as in life, some major changes need to happen to keep this marvellous series fresh.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Celia Fremlin - Uncle Paul

"‘Uncle Paul’ is one of her finest novels."

Synopsis:
Paul was Mildred’s husband for a very short time before being arrested for the murder of his first wife. Now, fifteen years later, Mildred has escaped to the small seaside cottage where they honeymooned and the scene where Paul was arrested. She has not seen him since being sentenced and with good behaviour, Mildred believes that Paul could be released any time now. As Mildred seeks refuge from humankind, she believes she hears footsteps outside on the gravel path. Is it Paul? Has he come for her, to kill her for abandoning him all those years ago?

Mildred’s half-sisters, Meg and Isabel were very young when Uncle Paul briefly entered their lives. Now Isabel has asked for Meg’s help in rescuing Mildred from herself. Isabel and her family are holidaying at a caravan resort just down the coast from Mildred’s cottage. She begs Meg to come down and help her sort Mildred. But Mildred’s paranoia is infectious and soon all the sisters are ‘seeing’ Uncle Paul in all the men they know.

Review:
People always credit Fremlin’s first novel, ‘The Hours Before Dawn’, mainly because it won the Edgar for Best Crime Novel in 1960. However, her second novel has always been slightly overshadowed, which is a shame, as I feel it just as strong as its predecessor.

Here, Fremlin shows wonderfully her talent for creating menace and claustrophobia regardless of the setting. By day, Fremlin gives us frolicking children running and playing in the rolling sea, the sun beating down and ice-cream’s eaten by the truck load. But by night she delivers a whole new landscape, one of horror, of dark imaginings, potential evil and malevolence. I have described her other works as ‘light and shade’, but here Fremlin shows us the two definite sides of the coin with panache. Fremlin’s brilliance is in recording the minutiae of daily routine and turning them into small spiteful acts. She can turn a tiny gesture into a threat.

The power of self-suggested hysteria rings like a warning bell, vibrated by every carefully chosen word. ‘Uncle Paul’ is one of her finest novels. I am chuffed that finally, after many years, Fremlin’s work is back in print and available to all. Start with this one and I guarantee you will be hooked on this author’s small, yet powerful body of work.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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