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Reviews

August 2016

Elizabeth Wilson - She Died Young

"...as sharp, stylish and deadly as its cover suggests."

Synopsis:
London 1956: Fleet Street journalist Gerry Blackstone comes face-to-face with a former date, Valerie – in a drawer at the morgue. She had tripped down the stairs in a seedy King's Cross hotel, her life's end written off as an accident –but Gerry thinks otherwise. Valerie moved in some shady circles, places where the high and mighty might mingle with the down and dirty. He talks DCI Jack McGovern into rousing the Met to take an interest.

Though McGovern has his own troubles – a new Chief Superintendent is intent on exposing corruption and orders to go to Oxford to seek out Soviet spies hiding within the mass of Hungarian refugees fleeing their failed revolution, a case that will bring McGovern back to a dark former chapter of his life. Both men begin to dig through the rapidly changing landscape, wherein West Indian immigrants in Ladbroke Grove, budding porn barons in Soho and sinister Classics professors in Oxford all somehow played their part in Valerie's untimely demise…

Review:
Since her debut novel, 2005's 'The Twilight Hour', Elizabeth Wilson has been taking us on a journey through the clandestine history of our times, from the aftermath of War in 1947 and now into the mid-Fifties. Subsequent, interlinking titles, 'War Damage' and 'The Girl In Berlin' continued to explore great shifts within our social and political landscape through brilliantly drawn characters, most of whom are present here –beautiful, scheming publisher's wife Regine Milner; her waspish confidante, now Oxford student, Charles Hallam; the battered but beguiling Gerry Blackstone and outsider DCI Jack McGovern.

Wilson uses her academic skill to bring personalities to life with attention to the details of clothing, architecture and habit, vividly conjuring the milieus of bohemian salon salaciousness, espionage, politics and policing between which her players swim. 'She Died Young' is ripe with the ferment of scandal: the atmosphere that led to the Profumo scandal; the Whitechapel of the Krays and the Ladbroke Grove of Peter Rachman and Michael de Freitas; the Soho of Paul Raymond and DS Tanky Challenor. She is just as elegant with her plotting, bringing all the threads of this captivating story, and those that preceded it, together in a denouement that snaps the ground from under the reader as effectively as a garrote. This book is every bit as sharp, stylish and deadly as its cover suggests. I just can't wait to see what Wilson does next.

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ian Ayris - April Skies

"...a dark, atmospheric novel that packs a knockout punch."

Synopsis:
Sometimes, you don't know what sort of man you are until you are called upon to protect your family.

Bethnal Green, East London. Nineteen-ninety-one. John Sissons is out of work, out of friends, and out of luck. Fortune soon smiles upon him though, and he gets a job in a door factory. It's not much, but it's something. But as the days go by in the factory, and the layers are peeled away, John realises he didn't get this job by accident.

His past is exploding in front of his eyes and when you have a past like the one John has, he knows he'll be lucky if he makes it out alive. Every fibre in his body is telling him to run. But John's had a lifetime of running. Running is no longer an option. When his sister goes missing, John knows it's only a matter of time before they come for him - but he won't be going down without a fight. Not this time.

Review:
Ian Ayris has one of the most distinctive voices in crime fiction and in 'April Skies' he uses it to tell a magnificent tale where the past comes back on a character to interfere with the present. Told in the first person, Ayris depicts Sissons' struggle to establish a new life with verve and heart.

Sissons is a fine lead and his travails to find both work and love make for entertaining reading, but it is the Damoclean sword of his past which elevates the story from being very good to excellent. The other central characters are beautifully created although none are allowed to eclipse Sissons.

The plot is expertly crafted and the prose crackles with crisp earthiness which engenders a strong sense of place. 'April Skies' is a dark, atmospheric novel that packs a knockout punch.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ragnar Jónasson - Blackout

"‘Blackout’ is a story as dark as an Icelandic winter..."

Synopsis:
On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer's night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykjavik to investigate on her own, unaware that the life of an innocent person hangs in the balance.

Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjördur struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets did the dead man harbour and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it is a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies...

Review:
Whenever a new book by Ragnar Jónasson is released I drop everything to read it. I know I'm going to get a gripping and atmospheric novel written with such style and grace that I will feel as if I am in Iceland living through the story myself. Jónasson's powerful narrative transports you into his rich and dangerous world.

Set in 2010 against the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, the Icelandic summer of 24 hour daylight is plunged into darkness by the ash cloud. Again, Jónasson uses his setting to great effect - the unforgiving landscape and the harshness of Mother Nature.

Jónasson's characters are thoroughly well-drawn and intriguing. They all have their flaws, secrets, and dark pasts which unravel throughout the book, adding an extra level to an already deep and disturbing story. Ari Thór is a wonderful protagonist. I particularly like his sharp retorts. He's a complex character who lives for being a detective at the sacrifice of a personal life, something he is beginning to regret at the loss of the love of his life. However, he is not a cliché, and is wonderfully readable.

Nordic Noir is incredibly popular in Britain. Now, a new name can be added to that list: Ragnar Jónasson. In three novels he has shown himself to be a confident and intelligent storyteller. 'Blackout' is a story as dark as an Icelandic winter but as beautifully written as its landscape.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jean Harrod - Deadly Deceit

"...Harrod engages the reader with her fast paced narrative. "

Synopsis:
This is the second book in the series about diplomat Jess Turner and Australian Detective Inspector Tom Sangster. The first was set in Australia: this one is set in the beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies. As Jess is a diplomat it is quite likely that she could move from one hemisphere to the other.

Jess is on special unpaid leave based in Washington where her partner is working. She is called into Grand Turk to assist when the Head of the Governor's office is called away. It gets more complicated when the Governor has a serious car accident. Jess ends up stepping into the breach. She finds herself dealing with those close to the Governor as well as a small community of Haitian incomers who cause unease and distrust with the locals as they have brought some of their Voodoo practices with them.

Stolen pets, passionate love affairs and strange appearances combine to make things difficult and even dangerous for Jessica. She is unsure whom she can trust until a chance meeting with her old friend, Tom Sangster helps her clarify her thoughts. He confirms that the UK police need to be called in to investigate the Governor's accident. As they get closer to finding out what is really happening on the island and how the Governor was involved, they are pursued and face extreme danger from the ruthless gang behind it all.

Review:
This is an excellent story, beautifully written. It is one of those books that is difficult to put down and easy to pick up at any possible moment. Jess is a very sympathetic character who has her own particular problem with her partner in Washington who is concealing something from her. Why becomes clear as the story progresses. The progression that Jess makes as she carefully works out step by step what is happening is carefully drafted and we can go along with her as she discovers the truth.

Obviously Jean Harrod's familiarity with the diplomatic world gives a feel of authenticity to the book. Grand Turk is a beautiful setting with an exotic touch. The various characters, ex-pats, diplomatic servants and the native islanders all play their part. The story is gripping and Harrod engages the reader with her fast paced narrative. I very much enjoyed 'Deadly Deceit'. Long may Jess continue!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Booth - Secrets of Death

"...an original and intriguing novel. "

Synopsis:
Residents of the Peak District are used to tourists descending on its soaring hills and brooding valleys. However, this summer brings a different kind of visitor to the idyllic landscape, leaving behind bodies and secrets.

A series of suicides throughout the Peaks throws Detective Inspector Ben Cooper and his team in Derbyshire's E Division into a race against time to find a connection to these seemingly random acts. Meanwhile, in Nottingham Detective Sergeant Diane Fry finds a key witness has vanished...

But what are the mysterious Secrets of Death? And is there one victim whose fate wasn't suicide at all?

Review:
I have read all fifteen novels in Stephen Booth's Cooper and Fry series and have thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. When a new one is released it's like receiving a visit from a long lost friend or a favourite relative - you know instantly what you're going to get a superbly written novel, expertly researched and engaging from beginning to end.

Stephen Booth is a master storyteller and has crafted his most ambitious novel to date as DI Ben Cooper and his team of E Division investigate why people are flocking to the various Derbyshire beauty spots to end their lives. The beauty of the Derbyshire countryside is used wonderfully to explore this dark subject.

Booth intelligently weaves the entertainment we get from a crime fiction novel with the stark reality of the implications of suicide - this is a novel to get you thinking and questioning your own beliefs on who has the final say over life and death.

Cooper's fractious relationship with DS Diane Fry is further explored here. I enjoy how Cooper's character changes when she arrives on the scene. He doesn't quite feel comfortable around her on a personal and professional level. This is a wonderfully drawn and awkward relationship.

'Secrets of Death' is an original and intriguing novel. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it will stay with me for a long time. I get the feeling we are going to have Cooper and Fry around for a long time to come. I really hope so.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Curran - Her Turn To Cry

"...an atmospheric, gripping and moving tale... "

Synopsis:
London, 1965. Top model Joycie Todd lives a glittering life with photographer Marcus Blake. But her childhood tells a different story…

When she was eleven, Joycie's mother disappeared. 'Ran away with another man', so everyone says, leaving little Joycie to be brought up by her father, Charlie Todd, an entertainer by trade; a song and dance man who spent his summers performing in seaside resorts with his partner, Sid. It was an unconventional childhood but not an unhappy one. Despite her mother's disappearance, Joycie was well-loved and well-cared for, but then something bad happens and, soon after that, her beloved father is arrested and imprisoned.

In adult life, Joycie can't forget the thumps she heard in the night, or the bloodstained rug hidden under the bed. A rug that was gone the next day.

Twelve years later, when an old friend dies, Joycie is left a letter beseeching her to find out the truth. Unable to keep the door locked any longer, the truth leads Joycie back to the shabby seaside resorts of her childhood. It also brings her back in contact with the shady characters from her past, some of whom will do anything they can to stop Joycie uncovering the secrets they've worked so hard to conceal.

Review:
Last year, I read Chris Curran's impressive debut, 'Mindsight'. It was an excellent psychological thriller and I was very excited to see what this author would do next. Having just finished 'Her Turn to Cry', I am delighted to tell you that Curran has more than delivered on the promise of her first novel.

Set in the fifties and sixties, the novel is rooted in its sense of time and place. With immense skill Curran recreates the post-war feeling of Britain in the fifties and contrasts this with the glamour and freedom of the decade that came after. She does all of this while delivering a plot that is gripping and brilliantly executed.

I really loved 'Her Turn to Cry' and urge you to read it. It's clever, thoughtful and perfectly evokes the era in which it is set. If you enjoyed 'The Zig-Zag Girl' by Elly Griffiths, you'll love this.

Chris Curran is an immensely talented writer and I cannot wait to see what she does next. 'Her Turn to Cry' is an atmospheric, gripping and moving tale of a young woman's quest to learn the truth about the mother who abandoned her as a young child. Sublime.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Robinson - When the Music's Over

"...one of Robinson’s best."

Synopsis:
Two strands to this latest Alan Banks' investigation have a common theme: that of the sexual exploitation of children. DI Annie Abbot is heading up the search for the killer of a 14 year old girl found beaten to death after being abused by several men and thrown out of a moving van. Newly promoted Detective Superintendent Banks finds himself investigating a fifty year old case of child abuse by a well-known celebrity. The witness is credible but the passing of years makes the investigation difficult and the high profile of the alleged perpetrator means the powers above are anxious for a swift and watertight resolution. More allegations of historic abuse come to light and Detective Superintendent Banks needs to evaluate and find the truth.

Review:
There are obvious parallels in real life. Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and Cyril Smith have been unmasked as serial sex offenders. Groups of Pakistani men have been jailed for grooming and abusing young vulnerable girls in Rotherham. Peter Robinson explores the attitudes and reactions of police and public to the initial accusations in this fictional account. The kowtowing to celebrity, the feeling that somehow the girls were to blame and the reluctance of the police to intrude into Asian neighbourhoods for fear of being called fascist are delicately and sympathetically explored in this book.

But, as always, Peter Robinson provides us with a cracking good story with wonderful characters. Banks and Abbot continue their close but now platonic relationship. Music underscores the story and enhances the action. Yorkshire moors and cityscapes are intrinsic to the atmosphere. I always look forward to the latest book by the master of his craft and this is one of Robinson's best.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - No Safe Place

"I cannot recommend this book strongly enough..."

Synopsis:
Who does Andrew Clayton turn to for help when his wife has been murdered, his child is in danger and the police think he is responsible?

Despite his mistrust of Clayton, Joe Hunter accepts the job of protecting young Cole. But who is he protecting the boy from? And why?

It is clear Clayton knows more about his wife's killer, but he isn't saying. And when his silence places Cole in the killer's sights there's...No Safe Place.

Review:
Hands up, I'm a fan of Hilton's writing and have read all the Joe Hunter books. Where other authors may stick to a rigid format with series characters, Hilton isn't afraid to try something a little different to show other aspects to his character's talents.

In 'No Safe Place' he's settled Hunter into the bodyguard/investigator type role, Alistair MacLean used so effectively. This gives us readers a treat as we see him entangled in a twisted web of deceit and lies. Hilton proves he can rocket a story along with a crackling narrative which doesn't rely on gunfights or car chases to provide tension and suspense.

Hunter is his usual self at first, but I really enjoyed the way he engaged with Cole as it was great to see him out of his comfort zone. Clayton, VanMeter and other characters are all drawn with skill, but as always, Joe Hunter stole the show.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough and I'm already counting the days until I can get my next fix of Joe Hunter as 'No Safe Place' is a marvellously tense and dramatic novel which challenges both reader and character.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mason Cross - The Time to Kill

"...a fast paced book with an energetic plot. "

Synopsis:
It's been five years since Carter Blake parted ways with top-secret government operation Winterlong. They brokered a deal at the time: he'd keep quiet about what they were doing, and in return he'd be left alone. But news that one of Blake's old allies, a man who agreed the same deal, is dead means only one thing – something has changed and Winterlong is coming for him.

Emma Faraday, newly appointed head of the secret unit, is determined to tie up loose ends - and Blake is a very loose end. He's been evading them for years, but finally they've picked up his trace. Blake may be the best there is at tracking down people who don't want to be found, but Winterlong taught him everything he knows. If there's anyone who can find him – and kill him – it's them. It's time for Carter Blake to up his game.

Review:
Carter Blake has earned a living finding people since leaving a top-secret government organisation, but, 'The Time to Kill' sees Blake as the hunted, rather than the hunter. Although the plot has Blake using all his skills and ingenuity to keep one step ahead, somehow this book didn't pull it off as well as Cross's previous two novels.

Blake is comparable to Child's Reacher, a killer with a heart and conscience - a one man band trying to put the world to rights. Not much is given away about Blake's past, but enough is shared about his character to ensure the reader connects and cares sufficiently to want to carry on reading and find out what happens.

'The Time to Kill' is based in two time settings; the present, and five years ago, giving insight into his current situation. This is a fast paced book with an energetic plot. It's a typical good versus evil, and there are a few surprises or twists to the plot. However, it is the excellent writing of the author and quick thinking from the protagonist which saves this book from being average.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Carol - Broken Dolls

"...a page-tuner with cracking dialogue and action... "

Synopsis:
Jefferson Winter is ex-FBI operator who specialises in profiling criminals. He's the son of a Californian serial killer, whose last words to him before his execution were 'We're the same'. These words haunt him.

He has the IQ of a genius, and now he's in a cold London helping DI Hacker of the Metropolitan police help catch, not a serial killer, but someone who kidnaps women, tortures them without murdering them. Instead he lobotomises them, using an instrument which he passes into the eye socket and through bone into the brain, and then dumps them. So far there have been three victims, and Winters and Hacker are getting nowhere. Then a fourth victim - Patricia Maynard turns up, this time dumped in a park in St Albans. Meanwhile Rachel Morris, thirty years old and married, is getting ready to meet a man whom she 'met' via a dating website. The man of course, turns out to be the abductor. She is kidnapped and finds herself in a basement.

The book then divides into two threads. We have one thread with Winter, Hacker and his sidekick Templeton trying to nail down the identity and whereabouts of the abductor, while another thread follows Rachel as she is ritually humiliated and tortured by the abductor, who calls himself 'Adam'.

Review:
This is the first book in the series featuring Jefferson Winter. In a way, the relationship between Winter and Hacker is in the mould of Poirot/Japp and Holmes/Watson, with Winters taking the lead and Hacker always one step behind. Winter is portrayed as a genius, though sometimes I wished he would make a mistake, however small, in the investigation to show that he was also human, just like us.

It is a page-tuner with cracking dialogue and action enough to satisfy anyone. The whole thing ends in a crescendo of spine-tingling tension and surprises. However, the plot, to my mind, sagged slightly in the middle, though it didn't spoil my enjoyment. One or two of the Rachel scenes in the basement seemed to repeat themselves, though this was redeemed when she tried to make a break for freedom - a scene I found very satisfying, as it showed that she had not been completely cowed by Adam. Despite these criticisms, it won't stop me looking out for the other books in this series.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating: