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Reviews

January 2017

Jack Jordan - My Girl

"Unpredictable, unsettling, unnerving and totally compelling."

Synopsis:
Paige Dawson: the mother of a murdered child and wife to a dead man. She has nothing left to live for until she finds her husband's handgun hidden in their house. Why did Ryan need a gun? What did he know of their daughter's death?

Desperate for the truth, Paige begins to unearth her husband's secrets. However, she has no idea who she is up against, or that her life isn't hers to gamble.

Review:
The debut novel from Jack Jordan tackles a subject so difficult and so dark you'd only expect a seasoned professional to do it justice. Jack has written with all the confidence and style of a man born to write.

There are many themes in 'My Girl' - grief, depression, addiction, abuse - all of which are hard to write and convince the reader to believe in your characters and the story. Jack Jordan has done that perfectly.

We meet Paige as she is living through every woman's nightmare - her daughter has been murdered and her husband took his own life, unable to cope with the loss of their only child. Paige is alone and existing only how she knows how - through drinking and her addiction to prescription drugs. This first part of the story where we get to understand Paige's life is expertly written with heart and soul. You feel for Paige immediately and will her to beat her demons.

However, a plot twist comes out of nowhere to throw you off your guard and you find yourself in the middle of a claustrophobic psychological horror that will stay with you long after the final page.

Unpredictable, unsettling, unnerving and totally compelling. Jack Jordan is a thriller writer to watch out for.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Liz Nugent - Lying in Wait

"If you’re a fan of Barbara Vine, I guarantee you will love ‘Lying in Wait’."

Synopsis:
Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons, a respected judge and his reclusive wife, find themselves in a most unfortunate situation – they have had to murder a young woman and bury her in their exquisite garden. Together, the family lives in Avalon, a beautiful period property that has been in Lydia's family for years. On the surface, their life in 1980's Dublin couldn't be more perfect. But something dark lurks at the heart of this damaged family. Not least the fact that Andrew has just killed someone.

While Lydia does all she can to protect their innocent son, Laurence and their social standing, her husband begins to falls apart, but Laurence is not as naïve as Lydia thinks - and his obsession with the dead girl's family may be the undoing of his own.

Review:
Liz Nugent's debut, 'Unravelling Oliver', was one of my favourite reads of 2015. So I was very excited to get my hands on her latest novel. And what a treat it is. From its brilliant opening line: 'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it', we are introduced to the twisted world of Lydia Fitzsimons, Nugent's wonderfully unreliable narrator.

The reasons for the murder aren't made clear immediately. Lydia tells us the meeting between her husband and the prostitute had been arranged to see if Annie was 'genuine and, if not, to get our money back'. She doesn't tell us what money Annie owes them or how she got that money in the first place.

All this action takes place in the first few pages. It's a cracking opening section and what follows is a gripping psychological thriller told through the eyes of three narrators: Lydia, her son, Laurence, and the dead woman's sister, Karen.

In their own way, each character is a victim. What's interesting is the different ways they deal with the hand fate has dealt them. Laurence and Karen both strive to turn their separate tragedies into something positive. Lydia, on the other hand, grows increasingly twisted and manipulative as the novel progresses – a woman desperate to shape the world to suit her own needs, regardless of the consequences on those around her.

She is truly, shockingly awful… and great fun. Her supreme self-obsession, her utter disdain for other people, and her absolute certainty that her husband and son's only purpose in life is to bend to her will all make her a most compelling character.

The novel raises interesting questions about the role of nature and nurture, and whether people can really escape the damage foisted on them by their parents. Reading it, I was reminded again and again of Larkin's classic poem, 'This Be the Verse': 'no wiser words ever written about how damage gets passed down through generations'.

All that aside, it's not really why I loved this book. I loved it because Lydia Fitzsimons is one of the vilest, entertaining and utterly compelling fictional characters I have encountered in some time. I adored her! If you're a fan of Barbara Vine, I guarantee you will love 'Lying in Wait'.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kate Saunders - The Secrets of Wishtide

"...one of the best."

Synopsis:
Laetitia Rodd is a widow of an Archdeacon, lives modestly in Hampstead with her landlady/friend, Mrs Bentley. She has now limited means and supplements her meagre income with the unlikely rewards from a spot of private investigation put her way by her barrister brother. This time she has been asked to investigate the background of a young woman who is the choice of wife for a young man, heir to a considerable fortune. Sir James Calderstone, father of the young man, believes her to be completely unsuitable. In order to pursue her enquiries discreetly, Mrs Rodd moves up to the family home in Lincolnshire, ostensibly as governess to the two daughters of the house.

This is the start of a run of killings, culminating in the gruesome murder of a young woman. Charles Calderstone is arrested for the crime. Mrs Rodd uses her connections to find out more about the murder victim and discovers a sad tale of poverty and exploitation. These discoveries lead Mrs Rudd into extreme danger.

Review:
The publishers recommend this book to devotees of M.C. Beaton, James Runcie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. On this occasion I think they have got it absolutely spot on. This is a delightful gentle story (despite some gruesome murders) with a heroine who has the charm and guile of Miss Marple, with the humanity and knowledge of church affairs of Runcie's Sidney Chambers.

I have recently read several stories involving lady detectives in Victorian times and I think this is one of the best. It was extremely gripping, keeping my interest page by page. Mrs Rodd is a feisty independent woman and fights against preconceptions and invisibility to prove her worth. Her relationship with Inspector Bluebeard develops nicely from frosty beginnings. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Del Quentin Wilber - A Good Month for Murder

"...a fascinating read..."

Synopsis:
Award-winning journalist Del Quentin Wilber was given permission to shadow a county homicide squad for one month in February 2013. The county is Prince George's County, and abuts the US capital - Washington DC. Twelve homicides were investigated over the four weeks, and Wilber followed the important ones, either in person or through interviewing the detectives that were on the case. Some were ongoing cases, such as the murder of seventeen-year-old Amber Stanley, who was shot dead in her bed in August the previous year. Who did it? What was the motive? Had the murderer shot the wrong person? Homicide officer Sean Deere has a suspect, but can pin nothing on him. So is he, in fact, innocent? And what of Geraldine McIntyre, a seventy-one year-old woman who was stabbed to death during a robbery on her home on February 9?

Wilber didn't feature all homicides, though the ones he did feature gives an insight into the sometimes quirky lives of the homicide detectives, as well as an insight into the lives of many people living in a county of over 900,000 people.

Review:
The book is written in a sort of right-on, hip, American style, where detectives smoke Camels, have crew cuts and drive Impalas. It's a fascinating read, though in places, as Wilber himself admits, he has had to recreate certain events and conversations after interviewing the detectives involved, as he could never 'be everywhere at once'.

This is a book about people, and not about forensics. Twenty five homicide detectives worked for the Prince George's County Homicide Unit during the time Wilber researched this book, and though he didn't include every one, he certainly manages to give colourful accounts of the lives of some of them. Their principle food, for instance, seemed to be hamburgers (at least when they were on duty) and they were forever exiting the police building to light up a cigarette.

The most intriguing aspect of the book, for me was the suspect interviews and the methods used to extract information, or even an admission of guilt. I had always assumed that the 'good cop/bad cop' routine was invented by crime writers, for instance, but it was certainly a method used in Prince George's County.

If you want to get behind the professional mask of a US homicide detective, then read this book. Occasionally the mask slips, and that's when things get interesting.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robyn Young - Sons of the Blood

"Young’s novel is an enthralling epic..."

Synopsis:
It is England in the fifteenth century. The country has been torn apart by the bitter conflict between York and Lancaster. Ten years of peace under the victor Edward is under threat when the King dies and the throne is to pass to his twelve-year old son, Edward. The tensions still exist and Richard, Duke of Gloucester has ambitions for himself. The young heir apparent, Edward, is under the protection of Sir Thomas Vaughan, his chamberlain, when Gloucester takes him into his custody and Vaughan is arrested.

Before his arrest, Vaughan manages to get a message to his illegitimate son, Jack in Seville with instructions to search for a secret and also to hang on to the locked chest which he had been guarding with his life.

Two further young heirs to the throne are imprisoned in The Tower of London. Their fate is in the balance. Jack returns to England where he finds all is changed and he must fight to achieve his father's wishes.

Review:
Young's novel is an enthralling epic about a time when England was in great turmoil. Leading up to the ever popular Tudor history, this book will entertain and instruct in equal measure. Robyn Young has used her imagination and research to put bones on historical facts and elaborate with possibilities where facts are not set in stone. History is written by the victors, and Richard Duke of Gloucester, whilst inordinately ambitious, may not have been the villain portrayed by some.

The story of Jack Wynter, illegitimate son, trying to survive under difficult circumstances whilst endeavouring to fulfil his father's last wish, is engaging and exciting. Life was hard and he encounters vicious men trying to stop him.

This is the start of a new series that promises to be a great success. I certainly enjoyed it and look forward to many more hours of exciting reading with subsequent stories from this author.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: