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Reviews

December 2014

Various - Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years

"...this was a wonderful trip down memory lane... "

Synopsis:
It is hard to believe that the great 'dark detective' is now seventy-five! Batman's first appearance was in Detective Comics no. 27 in 1939 and was created by Bob Kane. To celebrate the amazing longevity of this iconic character here is a collection of highlights during his illustrious career as a crime fighter. Showcasing the very first adventure through to modern day.

Review:
This is a marvellous collection of stories that feature our favourite caped crusader. Set in three sections, there are small notes about the evolution of Batman. It is amazing to see how the artwork has developed throughout the decades. The artwork looks very 'cartoon-like' compared to the intense definition of modern times.

Some of my all-time favourite stories are included here. I remember as a kid reading 'The Batman of Tomorrow' and loving it. I remembered the Batman from the 31st Century using his rocket jets whilst riding a horse! Some things just don't fade from memory. You will also find the original team-up of Batman and Superman (with Robin in tow) in World's Finest Comics from 1958. Included are the stories that introduced Batgirl and Poison Ivy. As with the comics from this era, the stories were usually resolved within the one issue. It is later, with the advent of story arcs that you don't tend to get the full story. It is just that huge storylines like 'The Court of Owls' and 'Knightfall' are included but they are edited highlights as it would be too much to include the whole thing, so this may upset those hardcore comic fans out there.

However, for me this was a wonderful trip down memory lane and this edition is worth it just for the early stories. And my favourite Batman story is also included here. 'The Secret of the Waiting Graves' has to be one of the most macabre cases to involve Batman. It was wonderful to re-read this classic and to have it produced on such polished paper so the colours really stood out for me. It was also good to be reacquainted with characters like Dr. Leslie Thompkins who bring a sense of humanity to the proceedings. As with all collections this will not please everyone who has their own personal favourite story which may not have been included here, but this is a brilliant book to dip in and out of and shows the extraordinary adventures Batman has been on these past 75 years. A worthy volume of highlights to thrill any fan.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Various - The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years

"...a few hours well spent in the insane company of this iconic clown."

Synopsis:
Showcasing some his most nefarious schemes, this collection of the best of the stories features the arch-nemesis of Batman: The Joker. In all his mad elegance, we are taken from his very first appearance right through the decades to the present day. Selected from the DC archives, this shows the birth of The Joker right up to his 'rebirth' in 'Death of the Family'.

Review:
This collection may be a little previous to celebrate The Joker's 75th anniversary as that won't be until next year as he didn't make his debut until Batman no.1 in 1940. However, it makes sense to bring out this luxury book alongside the one celebrating Batman's own 75th anniversary. I felt The Joker's 'memoir' was more rounded with many of his great stories collected here starting from the very beginning. This is filled with many interesting facts about the Clown Prince of Crime, especially about the Comic Code Authority who felt back in the fifties that The Joker was not a good influence on kids. The Joker was phased out for some time, leading many of Batman's capers to have a Sci-Fi angle rather than concentrating on a crime. What those guys at the CCA back then would think of today's Joker most probably wouldn't be worth printing!

There are concentrated highlights of 'Death in the Family' and 'Death of the Family' here and not the whole story. However, there are two issues here which are in my Top Ten: the great story from Detective Comics called 'The Laughing Fish' from 1978, wonderfully pencilled by Marshall Rogers. This issue has the image of The Joker in purple raincoat and fedora which has since become iconic. Superman also puts in an appearance and there is a plethora of DC talent including a couple of my favourite artists, Jim Aparo and Joe Staton. There is much to feast the eyes on here and would make a perfect gift – for someone you love or even for yourself. It will be a few hours well spent in the insane company of this iconic clown.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matthew Pritchard - Werewolf

"‘Werewolf’ is so rich in atmosphere that you can feel the sense of fear, uncertainty, and destruction crackle on every page. "

Synopsis:
Germany. August 1945. The Allies have won the war. Now they have to win the peace.

Detective Inspector Silas Payne is a Scotland Yard officer seconded to Germany to help implement the Allied policy of 'denazification'. When a former Waffen SS soldier is found murdered in the cellar of a requisitioned house, Payne begins an investigation that leads him on a tortuous path of discovery through the chaos of post-war Germany and pits him against a depraved killer who will stop at nothing to protect his secret.

Review:
When setting a novel in a well-documented period of history you need to do your research and have respect for the time in question. Matthew Pritchard certainly knows his post-war Germany. 'Werewolf' is so rich in atmosphere that you can feel the sense of fear, uncertainty, and destruction crackle on every page.

The aftermath of the Second World War is not an easy topic to write (or even read) about. Pritchard has carefully recreated the deflated feeling of a future and hope within the pages of this highly intellectual and thought-provoking thriller.

The brutal and harrowing crime of a soulless and chilling killer almost takes second place to the mixed-up lives of the characters that have survived the war and are worried for the future of their country and their lives. However, that is no bad thing as Pritchard has filled his second novel with a mixed cast of well-rounded characters; each of them haunted and tormented in some way.

The main protagonist, a British detective named Silas Payne, is the most detached of them all. We don't learn much about him but tantalising snippets are gently released throughout the book. Payne is a complex character, and if this is to be a series, I think we're going to be in for a treat as we get to know the history of Silas Payne (great name too).

The story gains pace with every chapter, most of them ending in a way to keep you turning the pages long into the night. However, as you can expect, some details of war are not easy to read but this adds to the realism of the time and characters.

Matthew Pritchard is a writer with class; he knows how to hook the reader and he does so slowly and with precision. In lesser hands the plot could have been voyeuristic and crass. Once you start reading you're going to find it difficult to put this book down; harm may come to those who try to stop you.

This may only be Pritchard's second novel but it reads like he's been writing professionally for years. He is definitely a writer to watch; I feel he's going to have a long and successful career ahead of him.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - Poisoned Ground

"...another masterpiece from Barbara Nadel. "

Synopsis:
Another case for the unusual couple of Hakim and Arnold, private detectives in London's East End. Mumtaz Hakim is a clever, educated Muslim woman struggling with a debt incurred by her dead husband and trying to protect her teenage daughter from the nasty gang to whom the debt is owed. Lee Arnold is an experienced ex-cop, with an unsatisfactory love life, a few good contacts both with the law and the underworld, and the proverbial heart of gold. Together they provide a user-friendly service for the multicultural inhabitants of the East End.

Mumtaz is contacted by the Egyptian wife of a criminal convicted of storing materials for a bomb. Salwa is convinced that her husband Hatem is not guilty and wants Mumtaz to prove it. To do this Mumtaz has to infiltrate the mental hospital where Hatem worked and puts herself at risk. What she discovers there is much more complicated and sinister than she expected. Lee's background knowledge and contacts come in handy in protecting Mumtaz. Along with the main story, Mumtaz is haunted by the ghosts of her husband's past and that threat is as bad as the immediate one she faces.

Review:
Grounded in the East End, which Barbara Nadel knows very well, this series is completely believable and timely, as terrorist threats are always in the news. Her two main characters are engaging and involve you in their lives to the extent that you want to shout encouragement and advice from the sidelines - “Don't do it Mumtaz!”. The warmth and care as well as the criminal underground suffusing the area are beautifully described.

The plot is intricate and keeps you guessing until the very last minute, with even a threat hanging over to a later book. Nadel's personal knowledge and her contacts in the mental health service provide a chilling picture of what could happen. I say 'could' as I am hoping Nadel is using some literacy licence as the situation is extremely scary. This series has brilliantly established itself and this latest is another masterpiece from Barbara Nadel. Long may it continue!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Pinborough - Murder

"...the most chilling story I've read since ‘Silence of the Lambs’."

Synopsis:
Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, thinks he has finally recovered from the terrible events of years before. He no longer has nightmares about Jack the Ripper - or the other monster, an enemy even more malign who hid in Jack's shadow and haunted the streets of London at the end of the 1880s. He has made his peace with his part in bringing calm back to the East End.

His fame as a profiler of criminals is increasing, his practice is steady, and Dr Bond is beginning to dream or marriage, and children. Life is good.

But when a woman's body is found brutally beaten to death in a railway carriage and a letter written years before is discovered by the police, the past he has fought so hard to put behind him begins to taint the present, and he can no longer fight his new suspicions.

Just when he thought life had returned to normal, Dr Bond is about to discover that something will not remain buried: once again his uncanny enemy is loose on the streets of London...and this time Dr Bond is alone.

Review:
If I was asked to list the ingredients of my ideal crime novel they would read Victorian London, gruesome murders, a haunted protagonist, and a chilling finale. Sarah Pinborough has obviously read my mind; in fact I checked the dedication page just to see if 'Murder' was written specifically for me! (It's not).

Pinborough has ticked all the boxes on my wish list and then some in a gripping thriller that grabs you by the throat from the first page and refuses to release you from its grasp until the final sentence.

'Murder' is the second book to feature eminent Dr Thomas Bond. The first, 'Mayhem', is just as chilling and effective. If you've yet to read it I suggest you read them one after the other; they're addictive and a real tour de force.

Sarah Pinborough has written a prose so deliciously descriptive and atmospheric you expect to look out of the window and see gas lamps, Hansom cabs and smog rolling in from the work houses of Victorian London. Her protagonist, Dr Thomas Bond, is a wonderfully created character; he's tortured and his brilliant mind works against him as he descends into an old age of loneliness. You feel a great deal of sympathy for him and it's Pinborough's excellent story-telling prowess that gives such a haunted man an air of tragic humanity.

Murder is genuinely frightening, and the most chilling story I've read since 'Silence of the Lambs'. This kept me awake at night and I know I'll long be thinking of Dr Thomas Bond now I've finished. The ending is touching and just as eerily horrific as the rest of the book. I sincerely hope Sarah Pinborough has more like this up her sleeve.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

L.C. Tyler - Crooked Herring

"This is a delightfully witty read that will pull you in with its charm, keep you hooked with its humour, and insist you don't put it down until you are done."

Synopsis:
Ethelred Tressider, mid-list crime writer, is surprised when fellow author Henry Holiday unexpectedly turns up on his doorstep. He's even more surprised when Henry confesses that he may have committed murder while drunk on New Year's Eve. Though he has little recollection of the night, Henry fears he may have killed drinking companion and fellow crime writer, Crispin Vynall, and asks Ethelred to discreetly make enquiries in order to discover the truth. As Ethelred and his trusty agent, Elsie begin to investigate, they discover that Henry has been set up, and now all that remains is for them to find out why and, more importantly... whodunit?

Review:
'Crooked Herring' is one of those books that I have been looking forward to for some time, as it has been three years since the last outing for Ethelred and Elsie and I'm delighted to say it was well worth the wait. If you're a fan of humourous crime fiction you'll love it, you don't need to have read any of the previous novels to enjoy it and if you haven't, after reading this I promise you'll be looking for them all.

As an added bonus if you're someone who has ever attended CrimeFest or Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate you'll love it even more, as both are namechecked several times throughout the course of the book. Each are mentioned in such a way that anyone who's enjoyed the festivals will know what Tyler is referring.

So just what is the collective noun for a group of crime writers? Who knows, here we have three, like witches round the cauldron in a certain Scottish play, one is missing, another believes he has killed him and he asks a third to help. The plotting is as brilliant as the previous novels and the titular 'herrings' will ensure you keep second guessing yourself as to what really happened to whom. This is a delightfully witty read that will pull you in with its charm, keep you hooked with its humour, and insist you don't put it down until you are done.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chevy Stevens - That Night

"...an enthralling and well-written read..."

Synopsis:
They said she was a murderer. They said she killed her sister. But they lied.

As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn't relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren't easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night. Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she's doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy - not with Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night. But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

Review:
This story is set both in the present and past tense, telling of Toni's time in prison, and the events that led to her incarceration. As always, Stevens writes well about the emotions of her characters, expressing Toni's anger and disappointment with the system that let her down, and also her teenage emotions that she has for her parents and boyfriend.

Although the emotions and the background were interesting and did add to the book, I felt that at times, especially during the first half of the book, they were overdone and I began to lose interest. Knowing that Toni was going to be convicted of the crime, I just wanted to get to the main event. I guessed who the killer was and the motive behind the crime but still wanted to read the book as I wanted to see if they would be getting away with their crime or if Toni was going to carry the blame.

As often with Stevens, the loose ends were not all tied at the end and didn't bring a 'happy ever after' for everyone. Over all, 'That Night' was an enthralling and well-written read, just let down slightly by the predictable ending.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Douglas Lindsay - The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson

"To call the humour in this belly-laugh book ‘dark’ is like calling Macbeth mildly dramatic."

Synopsis:
Barney Thomson is a none-too-talented barber who leads a life of mediocrity in a dreary, always-raining Glasgow. His wife Agnes constantly watches TV soaps, and his mother Cemolina is addicted to TV game shows such as 'Name That Stain', where contestants have to guess which celebrity owns a pair of used underpants or knickers. At the same time, a crazed serial killer is on the loose, killing men and mailing various body parts to their relatives. In charge of the investigation is Detective Chief Inspector Robert Holdall, a morose, disillusioned copper who eschews optimism, and wonders why he ever joined the force in the first place.

Inevitably, Barney and Robert's worlds collide, and Barney is sucked into a maelstrom of blood, corpses, external body parts and viscera. The police are getting nowhere with the investigation, while Barney discovers who the serial killer is. But, for a very good reason, he cannot go to the police and reveal all.

The denouement is mad, bad, bloody, yet laugh-out-loud funny. Scores are settled, and Barney emerges from it all with a new-found reputation for his artistry in haircuts.

Review:
This book has become a cult classic. First published in 1999, it was reissued in 2003 and 2008. Now Robert Carlyle is turning it into a film, so this book deserves to be revisited. To call the humour in this belly-laugh book 'dark' is like calling Macbeth mildly dramatic. It is darker than dark. It is pitch black, and all the more enjoyable for it. Both Barney and DCI Holdall are men to whom things happen. They have no control over their lives. When Barney tries to extricate himself from a situation, he becomes more embroiled, and the more DCI Holdall investigates the killings, the more mired he becomes in the mystery.

I read this book in two late-night sessions, chortling to myself and on occasion laughing out loud. The prose is simple and direct while at the same time being surreal, and the plotting is precise and satisfying. It is undoubtedly a tour-de-force of midnight-black comedy, and I look forward to reading the other Barney Thomson books in the series.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Caroline Kepnes - You

"‘You’ is one of those books that you read quickly as you want to know what happens, and then regret reading it so quickly as you want to continue reading it."

Synopsis:
When aspiring writer Guinevere Beck strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe works, he's instantly smitten. Beck is everything Joe has ever wanted: she's gorgeous, tough, razor-smart, and as sexy as his wildest dreams.

Beck doesn't know it yet, but she's perfect for him, and soon she can't resist her feelings for a guy who seems custom made for her. But there's more to Joe than Beck realizes, and much more to Beck than her oh-so-perfect façade. Their mutual obsession quickly spirals into a whirlwind of deadly consequences.

Review:
'You' is written from Joe's perspective, almost as a letter to Beck. His comments and thoughts are directed or based around Beck and his relationship/obsession with her. He is a cold, calculating character who sees no wrong with any of his actions and only sees fault in the actions of others.

At first I found the repetitive use of the word 'you' to be a little grating. However, as the story progressed I was hooked and this small annoyance was quickly forgotten.

At times I found the plot a little far-fetched, and that Joe was able to get away with his crimes with maybe a little too much luck and some poetic licence. But because his crimes were against some rather unsavoury characters, there was also a part of me that wanted him to get away with them! In fact, none of the main characters were particularly nice and towards the end I wasn't really rooting for anyone in particular and wouldn't have been too disappointed to see the demise of all of them.

'You' is one of those books that you read quickly as you want to know what happens, and then regret reading it so quickly as you want to continue reading it. This is a very cleverly written book that took some effort to get started but was definitely worth persevering.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stella Rimington - Close Call

"A brilliant and enthralling read for any lover of the well-written espionage novel."

Synopsis:
In 2012 in a Middle Eastern souk, a young American CIA agent is badly injured after being targeted by an assassin with a knife. Miles Brookhaven has been investigating rebel groups in the area and there may be a connection.
Some time later, Liz Carlyle and her Counter espionage group in London are asked to take a watching brief on possible gun running to al-Qaeda groups from a Western source. Originally low key, this brief suddenly escalates into a desperate manhunt, involving Liz's boyfriend in French security, Martin Seurat, and several nasty characters from both their pasts. Liz is linked up again with Miles Brookhaven who is now on the trail of arms deals in Yemen, whilst trying to recruit the Yemeni Minister of Trade. Money and power are the driving forces for the fast and merciless action that then ensues, culminating in a bitter struggle.

Review:
The success of these novels is bound up in three things: a fast, furious and exciting plot, characters who are interesting, amusing and catch the imagination, and the genuine knowledge of the author and the insight into the ways of the Secret Service and its relationships with other services.
The plot ranges from London to the Midlands to Paris and to the hotbed of terrorism that is the Middle East. The hi-jacking of the Arab Spring by al-Qaeda groups is foreseen in this novel and the relationship to seedy crime is beautifully described.

Liz Carlyle is a feisty modern woman and holds her own with the men in a very macho world. Her emotional life is complicated and adds to the desperation of the plot. Above all, there is a voyeurism in looking at the workings of the Secret Service as described by an ex-member that has proved entrancing in the works of Stella Rimington. They make you feel like an insider without any of the danger and that is very beguiling. A brilliant and enthralling read for any lover of the well-written espionage novel.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - Gray Mountain

"...people from a small town with their everyday problems made Grisham’s tale feel very realistic."

Synopsis:
One week ago, Samantha Kofer was a third-year associate at New York City's largest law firm. Now she is an unpaid intern in a legal aid clinic deep in small-town Appalachia.
When Lehman Brothers collapsed, she lost her job, her security, her future.

As she confronts real clients with real problems, she finds herself a world away from her past life of corporate fat cats and fatter bonuses. But this is coal country, meth country and the law is different here.

Review:
Samantha Kofer is a lawyer working in a big law firm in New York. With the global recession her job is in jeopardy and to keep her health benefits, she is working for free at a legal clinic until the economy recovers. The clinic is based in the Appalachians, where the coal companies and money can dictate the law. Samantha is there to help the local residents who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.

The plot had a personal touch to it, people from a small town with their everyday problems made Grisham's tale feel very realistic. The battles with the big coal companies gave it the legal and courtroom excitement that Grisham is renowned for. And the more I read, the more I waited for the legal and courtroom excitement… and I waited and waited. And then the book was finished and I felt slightly cheated. I wanted to know what would happen when the coal companies were taken to court. I wanted to know if they would be made to pay. I am only hoping that there is a sequel that continues Samantha's journey.

The other small cases dealt with by Samantha at the clinic felt more like page fillers and I would have enjoyed the book more by being given a proper conclusion to the open cases or for the story to have concentrated on the big legal battle with the coal company. Very little felt finished about this book and I was left in the lurch, feeling somewhat disappointed. What could have been another great legal thriller from Grisham unfortunately missed the mark.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - Thin Air

"This is another quality offering in this very engaging series."

Synopsis:
Three university friends plus other halves are in Shetland for the 'hamefarin' of local lad Lowrie, recently married to Caroline, one of the friends. After the party, the other two girls and their partners retire to the cottage they are renting for a few days. The next morning they discover that Eleanor, last seen sitting on the veranda when the others retired to bed, has disappeared. Polly gets an email from Eleanor suggesting that she may not be alive any more. Then Eleanor's body is discovered.

Local detective Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves from the mainland are in charge of the investigation. Underlying the story is the legend of the ghost of a young girl who appears on the shore and is only seen to the childless. The interest that Eleanor and Polly have in the tale runs parallel to the investigation. Both of them had apparently seen a young girl in a white dress who fitted the description of Peerie Lizzie.

Undercover emotions are rife. Jealousy, loss and greed influence the characters. Perez uses his local knowledge and intuition with people to track down the killer.

Review:
The skill that Ann Cleeves has par excellence is the ability to contrive characters that are entirely believable, utterly engaging and whose strengths and weaknesses drive the plot. Eleanor's murder results from her own particular character and the fatal flaw in the character of the murderer. Eleanor used her knowledge of her companions' character to manipulate events for her own interest. As always, Jimmy Perez is a complex and likeable man, and his struggles with his recent past continue to absorb.
Willow Reeves is another solid well-rounded individual, and Sandy is developing into maturity.

The background of Shetland life continues to fascinate, so far away from the great metropolis and almost a foreign land to the incomers from the south. The strength of the community and its weaknesses are beautifully portrayed.

I'm glad that there is Shetland life after the original quartet. It would have been a shame to lose touch with Jimmy. This is another quality offering in this very engaging series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ben Aaronovitch - Foxglove Summer

"...highly original and engaging with memorable characters and intricate plots. I cannot recommend them enough."

Synopsis:
When two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It is purely routine and Nightingale thinks he will be done in less than a day. But Peter's never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing overtly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

However, because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets underlay the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain's most junior wizard after all.

Soon he is in a vicious race against time in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear.

Review:
'Foxglove Summer' marks a change in the Peter Grant series. As a fan of Ben Aaronovich's magical crime novels I've considered London to be a main character in itself. However, the fifth novel has dumped the capital for rural Herefordshire, and taken our protagonist out of his comfort zone.

As fans of the crime genre know, moving an established character away from their home ground does not always work (remember Cracker in Australia?). Here, Peter Grant seems to flourish away from under the microscope of his superiors.

I've described the Peter Grant series to many people, to pass on a literary triumph, but many are put off by the mention of magic and wizards. At the hands of a lesser writer these books could be over-the-top and almost unreadable, but Aaronovich has created a wonderful and real main character, so that when confronted by a unicorn, his reader doesn't even raise an eyebrow!

The first person narrative works well. Peter Grant is an everyman; likeable, with a cynical mind and a dry sense of humour. He almost fits the bill for the target reader. The previous book, 'Broken Homes', ended on a cliffhanger, and we lost a main character. Here the mystery continues and sets up book six very nicely.

Ben Aaronovich's series is highly original and engaging with memorable characters and intricate plots. I cannot recommend them enough. Buy the collection and devour. Enjoy!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: