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Reviews

March 2015

James Oswald - Prayer for the Dead

"‘Prayer For The Dead’ is a highly charged and deliciously gruesome thriller..."

Synopsis:
The search for a missing journalist is called off as a body is found at the scene of a carefully staged murder.

In a sealed chamber, deep in the heart of Gilmerton Cove, a mysterious network of caves and passages sprawling beneath Edinburgh, the victim has undergone a macabre ritual of purification.

Detective Inspector Tony McLean knew the dead man, and cannot shake off the suspicion that there is far more to this case than meets the eye. The baffling lack of forensics at the crime scene seems impossible. However, it is not the only thing about this case that McLean will find beyond belief.

Teamed with the most unlikely and unwelcome of allies, he must track down a killer driven by the darkest compulsions, who will answer only to a higher power.

Review:
I don't like comparing writers; I find it unfair. Unfortunately, if you're writing a Scottish set crime thriller you're going to get measured against some of the great authors in the genre. In my opinion Ian Rankin is the king of tartan noir. However, with every book he writes James Oswald gets ever closer to stealing that crown.

The fifth novel in the DI Tony McLean series is a real treat from start to finish. McLean is a genuine and honest creation. He cares for his team and the crimes he's investigating. That's what makes him a likeable character.

James Oswald writes with intelligence. He knows his readers and respects their ability to follow a multi-layered story. The cases in question are complex yet entertaining and original. Oswald has a knack of releasing tit-bits of information in the right places to keep you hooked. This is a book you'll definitely be reading long into the night.

'Prayer For The Dead' is a highly charged and deliciously gruesome thriller and an excellent addition to the series. With books like this I think we will be seeing a lot more from Oswald and McLean. Clear plenty of space on your book shelves. Oswald's thrillers are compulsive; terrifyingly dark, edgy, and written with deft storytelling and great attention to detail.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sara Bain - The Sleeping Warrior

"I never imagined that crime and fantasy could be combined in one book, but here Sara Bain does just that. "

Synopsis:
The life of London solicitor Libby Butler is in a mess. She lives with her partner Tony, she's having an affair with her boss Carl, and her job, for all her ambitiousness, is going nowhere. She gets a phone call in the middle of the night from East Dulwich police station. Could she come to the station right away, as they have 'a foreign man' in custody who needs a solicitor? The man turns out to be the mysterious, leather-clad, Gabriel Radley, who had already escaped, six days before, from another police station. He says he is in search of a stone which will bring an evil man to justice.

When Libby agrees to help him, her life is changed forever. She becomes embroiled in a murder enquiry led by DCI Prendergast, into a serial killer who is stalking South London (and she nearly becomes a victim herself), as well as Red Rose, a Russian assassin, a mysterious cult called 'The Awakened', and a ruthless gangland boss. The question is - are they connected? Who is this 'evil man' that Gabriel talks about? Why was Libby targeted by the serial killer? The action moves between London, the island of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, and the Western Highlands.

Review:
I never imagined that crime and fantasy could be combined in one book, but here Sara Bain does just that. However, the fantasy element, enjoyable though it is, never impinges on the criminal investigation side of the plot.

We have two mysteries here. We have a whodunit - who is the serial killer and what motivates him? - and a fantasy element surrounding Gabriel Radley and his quest for the fabulous stone. Who is Gabriel? Where does he come from? What exactly is this stone and what power does it have? The two elements are intertwined, though the problems with the criminal investigation side of things are not resolved by 'magic'. The uncovering of the identity of the serial killer is particularly satisfying, and it's all down to Libby herself. There is a 'closing of the circle' (I will say no more than that) in her uncovering of the killer. The clues are all there, yet I was taken by surprise when all was revealed.

Dig deep into the plot, and you'll see that the author deals with the concepts of identity, what motivates us, and (the title of the book is a clue here) the sleeping warrior that lies within us all. And maybe she's discovered a new fiction genre - fantasy and crime in the one book. It certainly works for me. It's a great read, with a satisfying ending that deliberately leaves one thing unresolved - maybe for a further book?

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - The Final Minute

"‘The Final Minute’ is so fast it doesn’t even give you a minute to catch your breath! "

Synopsis:
'The lights are on, and I'm standing outside a half-open door. Feeling a terrible sense of foreboding, I walk slowly inside. And then I see her. A woman lying sprawled across a huge double bed. She's dead. There's blood everywhere. And the most terrifying thing of all is that I think her killer might be me …'

When the past comes calling in the most terrifying way imaginable, Matt Barron is forced to turn to the one person who can help. Ex Met cop turned private detective, Tina Boyd. Soon they are both on the run.

Review:
'The Final Minute' finds Matt Barron trying to recovering from a car accident and suffering from amnesia. But all is not as it appears. Despite there being characters from previous books such as Boyd and Bolt which means regular readers will enjoy meeting these regulars again, new readers will be able to enjoy this book as a standalone novel as it has been written in such a way that you need not have read any previous books to understand the dynamics or relationships between the characters.

The structure of the plot is a personal favourite of mine; one person having to survive by their wits whilst being hunted by person or persons unknown. I wasn't really concerned about who was behind the chase or why. What interested me was the chase itself and the ingenuity of the person being chased.

The pace moves, as with all of Kernick's novels, at breakneck speed, and once started it is impossible to put the book down. In fact, 'The Final Minute' is so fast it doesn't even give you a minute to catch your breath! Kernick goes from strength to strength with each book he writes. My only criticism is that he doesn't write quickly enough and I have to wait too long for his next book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter May - Runaway

"This is an extraordinary book..."

Synopsis:
Glasgow 1965 and with the enthusiasm and confidence of youth, Jack MacKay decides to abandon school and convinces his fellow band mates that the place to go is London where they will undoubtedly make their fortunes and find fame. It is after all the swinging sixties.

Fifty years on, Jack is reviewing his life and feels a failure as none of his dreams have come true. Even his family is not a consolation. When he visits one of his old friends from the band who is dying from cancer, he finds that his old mate is determined, despite the odds, to visit London and put right some of the wrongs that happened at that time. This has been provoked by the recent brutal murder of someone they knew all that time ago. Crazily, Jack agrees to round up the remaining members of the group and they embark on a completely ridiculous quest in the very different London of 2015. Also dragged along is Jack's embittered and alienated grandson. The two strands of the story interweave and the modern day tale explains the earlier one.

Review:
Peter May is an excellent story teller who writes fluently and compellingly about fascinating characters involved in intriguing plots. 'Runaway' is no exception. The descriptions of Glasgow and London in the sixties and the present day ring particularly true to me and I felt I was back there during those heady times!

The reflection of the old men on their lives is very poignant yet the feistiness and determination that they still show is very reassuring. I'm with grandson Ricky who experiences something of a conversion as he realises that the old men have had interesting lives and are still up for a challenge.

This is an extraordinary book and well up to the standard of the popular Lewis Trilogy. This book certainly sucked me in and I was enthralled until the final page.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Carol - Prey

"...you'll be on the edge of your seat as you hurtle towards a thrilling finale. "

Synopsis:
Has Jefferson Winter finally met his match?

Six years ago a young married couple were found brutally stabbed to death in their home in Upstate New York. Local police arrested a suspect who later committed suicide. But what if the police got it wrong?

Ex-FBI profiler Jefferson Winter is drawn into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious female psychopath as she sets him a unique challenge: find out what really happened six years ago.

The clock is ticking and, as Winter is about to find out, the endgame is everything.

Review:
So confident is James Carol in his writing that he is asking his protagonist to do the unthinkable: solve a case that has already been solved.

This may be only the third Jefferson Winter novel but it could be the twenty-third. Carol is a natural storyteller with a firm grasp on the make-up of a fast-paced psychological thriller.

As with Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Jefferson Winter is a bit of a nomad; he goes wherever he's needed. The whole world is his home; making each novel fresh and exciting with (apart from the lead) a new cast of characters every time.

The story is dark, horrifyingly evil, and utterly absorbing. Jefferson is a highly conflicted profiler who is one wrong move away from becoming a psychopathic killer himself. His inner psycho is screaming to get out and he's constantly reminded of his disturbing past in the face of every criminal he meets. This is why he's an expert at tracking killers. Jefferson is an original creation; intelligent, haunted, and bordering on dangerous. Yet he's also an everyman. He's likeable and vulnerable.

The story crackles with a foreboding tension and the pace never lets up. From the shocking first chapter to the last page you'll be on the edge of your seat as you hurtle towards a thrilling finale.

James Carol is an exciting new British crime writer who has mastered the US set thriller better than a born and bred American. Carol is definitely a favourite new writer of mine and an author to watch in the future.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Hurley - Sins of the Father

"I love Graham Hurley’s books."

Synopsis:
Rupert Moncrieff is a rich old man, living in a large house with his grown up son and daughter. He is very unpleasant to them and lives his life purely for his own convenience. When he is found brutally murdered, his family would have their own motives for doing away with him, but is it that simple? Moncrieff had a great love for Africa, where he lived for many years and another son still lives. Visits from African connections suggest that there is no simple solution.

DS Jimmy Suttle is back from leave after the abduction and death of his young daughter, Grace. Since then he and his wife Lizzie have separated and she has returned home to her mother. Lizzie starts to research more about the killer of her daughter with a view to writing a book and as a means to exorcising the ghosts surrounding the tragedy.

Cruelty from one human being to another is at the heart of the murder. This ranges from the domestic front where Rupert inflicts it on his family, to the African bush.

Review:
I love Graham Hurley's books. This book is full of ghosts and demons which haunt the protagonists and it is in fact in these ghosts that the answer to the question “Who killed Rupert Moncrieff?” is found. Rupert's bullying and self-centredness over many years has inflicted its toll on everyone around him. This all comes back to haunt him.

Graham Hurley is expert at understanding the motivations of his characters and this makes these stories a cut above most. The characters are so real and convincing that you end up caring what happens. Also, the way in which they act when adversity strikes is convincing and definitely does not necessarily provide a happy ending.

In previous books Hurley has been the master of the police procedural in respect of accuracy and detail. In this one, whilst everything is still accurate, the framework of policing is not paramount. The story line with Lizzie is independent of Suttle's police work and the focus is more on the development of the characters. Whilst I was sad to see the end of Latimer, Jimmy Suttle is a more than satisfactory replacement and there are still links to the old days. This is another brilliant and gripping addition to a series that should sate the appetite of any ardent crime reader.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.J. Arlidge - The Doll's House

"The book flits from the perspective of different characters, keeping this reader interested and wanting to get back to find out what has happened."

Synopsis:
A woman wakes. Immediately she knows she's not in the bed she slept in. It's just the beginning of her nightmare.

Across town, a child discovers a woman's body buried beneath the beach. Then another victim is found. Neither friends nor family had even reported either woman missing. How could their killer be getting away with murder?

It is chillingly evident that Detective Inspector Helen Grace is hunting a monster that is not just twisted, but clever and careful and as Helen struggles to understand the killer's motivation she realizes that time might be running out for someone still alive.

Review:
Helen Grace is again hunting a serial killer, whilst still facing her nemesis and boss, Ceri Harwood. Young girls are being abducted and killed and Grace has seen a connection that has been missed by the other detectives. Grace seems to be hailed and revered by all bar her boss, yet the reasons her being held in such high esteem have not been made clear.

I enjoy the way Arlidge manages to throw into the mix a good plot, characters that develop, but also the internal politics and bureaucracy, which gave the book a realistic feel. The book flits from the perspective of different characters, keeping this reader interested and wanting to get back to find out what has happened. I would have preferred to have had more clues so that I could have guessed who the killer was as I felt the crux of the solution was 'dropped' on me right at the end of the book.

Arlidge is a great writer, but I did feel that 'The Dolls House' wasn't quite on par with his previous two books which were gripping and sublime. The name of the book itself felt irrelevant and only had a mention towards the end.

However, despite these small niggles I was unable to put the book down, thoroughly enjoyed reading it and am look forward to seeing where Arlidge takes DI Grace in her next outing.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Keith Nixon - Russian Roulette

"...a Russian equivalent of the mighty Jack Reacher. "

Synopsis:
Meet Konstantin Boryakov, the enigmatic ex-KGB agent and tramp from the best-selling debut novel, 'The Fix'. He's a man with a dark history and darker future.

Trouble has a habit of seeking out Konstantin, whether he wants it or not. Starting with small time drug dealer Dave the Rave from the moment he arrives in the seedy seaside town of Margate where he's supposed to hide, to Nikos the loan shark and Fat Gary, all-round idiot.

Then there's the so-called good guys, the councillors and lawyers who are worse than the criminals. But Konstantin isn't alone, despite his wishes. Fidelity Brown, aka Plastic Fantastic, a dildo wielding dominatrix who has her own mélange of secrets and lies, and nightclub owner Ken who's connected to all the wrong people, help the Russian with the heap of problems delivered to his doorstep.

Review:
This is a first rate collection of short novellas depicting the failed attempts of Konstantin to lie low after a life in the KGB. Nixon's hero carries enough menace and brawn to be a Russian equivalent of the mighty Jack Reacher. Unlike Reacher, he tries to avoid trouble only reluctantly getting involved in the lives of others.

Fidelity is a great foil for him and their scenes together stick longest in my mind. Other characters dip in and out of the story but Konstantin carries the tales like a sodden kitbag shouldered against the wind as he batters his way to successful resolutions.

The plotting is neat and tidy and there is a distinct voice to Nixon's writing. The only flaw I could find was that I was left wanting to know more of Konstantin's early life. Otherwise this is a fantastic introduction to a character and author whose company I hope to spend a lot more time in.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Walker - Children of War

"...cleverly woven together and absolutely up to the minute. "

Synopsis:
Chief of Police, Bruno Courreges is called to a gruesome murder scene in the woods near his home town of St Denis. Signs of torture and the expert way of killing point to a professional involvement. When the victim turns out to be an undercover cop and the Brigadier, Bruno's old boss and overseer of security matters, changes the case for Bruno.

At the same time he is contacted by an old army friend in Afghanistan who has in custody a mujahidin fighter, badly traumatised and claiming to belong to St Denis and to know Bruno. Arrangements are put in place to get him out of the country and back to St Denis before official channels take over. Both these happenings turn out to be interlinked and have international repercussions. America wants the mujahidin fighter extradited to face serious charges whilst Bruno feels for the boy whom he feels has been exploited and seriously damaged.

Review:
This is a well-established series and this latest episode lives up well to its predecessors. Bruno is a warm loveable man who above all loves his home environment and the characters who inhabit it. He understands them and their motivations and uses this knowledge to solve crimes, but always with a human face.

The local characters develop which for me is always interesting and makes them full bodied like a good wine. Bruno's private life also intrigues. He is looking for perfect domestic bliss but so far hasn't quite found it yet. In the meantime the people of Bruno's town (and Walker's reader) enjoy some mouth-wateringly delicious repasts. One of these days I will try to reproduce them. The story is cleverly woven together and absolutely up to the minute. Bruno does seem to get away with some unconventional ploys but after all this is rural France. 'Children of War' is another great book and long may Martin Walker continue with Bruno's adventures.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tony Lee Moral - Playing Mrs Kingston

"...an entertaining romp."

Synopsis:
New York and actress, Catriona Benedict is struggling to make her name in the crowded acting world. Happily living with Mario, a musician in a jazz club, money is very tight and it looks as if things will get worse when Catriona's play folds early. Out of the blue, a lucrative offer comes up. Would she play the wife of Miles Kingston, a wealthy New York playboy, who needs to convince the family trust that he has settled down and acquired an unlikely wife? Mario is not impressed but goes along with it for the money.

Catriona then finds herself in a completely different world - one of high society, extreme wealth and art galleries. When Miles is murdered, life gets even more complicated for her and she becomes implicated. She suspects that Miles' sister is pursuing her own agenda and that definitely excludes Miles' supposed wife. All Catriona's efforts to acquire the money owed to her whilst extricating herself from the mess seem to implicate her more.

Review:
This is an original and intriguing story line. Tony Lee Moral explores the possible traps and difficulties that would arise in such a scenario and I enjoyed the imaginative way that he approaches this. Could it happen? Probably not but 'Playing Mrs Kingston' is certainly an entertaining romp.

I enjoyed reading about Catriona's escapades and although this isn't high-brow stuff, Moral definitely made me want to find out how Catriona extricated herself from this mess. There is a touch of high society and a dash of the criminal underworld which all come together to provide an enjoyable few hours of escapism.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: