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Reviews

July 2018

Steve Cavanagh - Th1rt3en

"Eddie Flynn has to be one of my favourite characters."

Synopsis:
They were Hollywood's hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife.

This is the celebrity murder trial of the century and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn.

All the evidence points to Robert's guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the court room start to raise doubts in Eddie's mind.

What if there's more than one actor in the courtroom?

What if the killer isn't on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?

Review:
Eddie Flynn has to be one of my favourite characters. He's now living a good life but he's not so far away from his previous life that he has forgotten the tricks of the trade, nor is he unwilling to use them. He's a perfect mix of a character with good morals but happy to bend to rules to make sure justice is done.

'Thirteen' sees Eddie back in the courtroom where he is up against a really successful lawyer and with the evidence making his client look guilty, it's one of those books that will keep you turning the pages waiting for sucker punch after sucker punch that you think must be in there, and which will bring down the opposition.

Cavanagh manages really well to mix an 'edge of the seat' legal thriller that also has a mix of police investigation, gruesome murders and a balance of the characters personal lives.

As ever, Cavanagh manages to deliver a pretty much faultless book (OK, so the plot may be a little far-fetched), but it is written so well, has lots of surprises and left me guessing and second guessing right up to the end. Eddie Flynn is one of those creations that stay with you and still remains original and an absolute one-off. Another stunning and exciting read from Cavanagh!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Simms - Loose Tongues

"...the stories and character stay with you, long after the final page. "

Synopsis:
A series of chilling murders has left Manchester in a state of terror. Women are being found dead in their homes, their bodies arranged in the same macabre pose. Each has been strangled, her mobile phone forced down her throat.

How is the killer getting in to each victim's house? What have they done to become a target? Why have none put up a fight?

Fresh-faced and full of enthusiasm, newly-qualified Detective Constable Sean Blake has just landed a position on the investigating team. Desperate to prove himself, Sean realises that, if he is to trap the killer, he's going to have to think outside the box. But is he prepared for the vengeful wrath of a truly twisted mind?

Review:
'Loose Tongues' is the first in a new series from Chris Simms, writer of the DI Jon Spicer series, which is one of my favourites in modern British crime fiction. If you haven't read 'Killing the Beasts', you're missing out on a powerful novel. Here, we are introduced to a newly promoted DC in Sean Blake, as he begins his career within the Serious Crime Squad.

Sean is an original and fresh creation. He doesn't have the strained family life of most protagonists however, he isn't like other detectives. From the age of ten he acted as a carer to his mother, a detective who was seriously injured in the line of duty. The scenes where Sean recounts his lack of a childhood and the stresses of a child having to care for a parent are beautifully written, and add a layer of empathy to a detective who feels the need to prove himself to his superiors.

DC Sean Blake is a character crime fiction has been crying out for. Chris Simms' work is very visual and realistic. He fits in just enough police procedure for his books to feel genuine but not lose pace and drama. It will be interesting to watch Sean's career flourish.

The crime is an original and frightening one. After reading 'Loose Tongues', you'll certainly check your surroundings while talking on your mobile on public transport, and I doubt I'll look at a delivery man on my doorstep in the same way again. That is the power of Simms' writing; the stories and character stay with you, long after the final page.

The relationship between Sean and his mother, Janet, is strained, as parental roles are reversed. They're touching, full of heart, and act as an emotional buffer against the darkness of the murders.

This is a series that could run and run. I'm an instant fan. Bring on book two!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elisabeth Carpenter - 99 Red Balloons

"...a fantastic crime read which drums up more mysteries that need to be solved..."

Synopsis:
Eight-year-old Grace goes missing on her way home from school, the clock to finding her starts ticking. Her family all come together to help find her but as the investigation continues it delves further into their family history.

The tale of Grace's abduction echoes too familiar for another family who reunite to ask some questions of their own family's past, when another girl disappeared in exactly the same manner...

Are the two cases connected? And if so what has drawn them together?

Reading about the family as they sit and wait was by far much harder than following a police investigation, more often than not there is no news (which in this case is not good news), the waiting is agonising and in those moments, you can really feel for the family who is suffering.

The novel has a tangled web of lies and family history, the tale goes far deeper than the current kidnapping, and like those involved you are also kept in the dark till a stunner of an announcement is made that will rock the family and the current investigation.

Review:
The story is told really well, in certain chapters you make the assumption about what you're reading but Carpenter is tricking her readers into making these, as you later find out it was a completely different scenario you are reading about. And I just love those moments where a book makes you pause to think back on what you thought you read and now see in a different light.

There is a mixture of viewpoints and voices in this narrative, but I loved reading about Steph and Emma, their sisterly bond remains strong throughout the novel even with a few revelations along the way. They are great representations of pillars for their family and holding themselves and their remaining family together.

'99 Red Balloons' is an intense read, as you sit, much like the family does, waiting for the novel to unfold - you wonder where is Grace? And what secrets do her family hold? This is a fantastic crime read which drums up more mysteries that need to be solved, the only way of cracking them is to keep reading!

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.J. Ford - Hold My Hand

"...a gripping read that got me involved right to the very last page. "

Synopsis:
Josie will never forget that day or that red football shirt from all those years ago, because that was the last time anyone saw Dylan Jones. And Josie was the very last person to see him, being led away from the carnival by a clown before he disappeared forever.

Thirty years later Josie has become a police officer. A body has been uncovered of a young child dressed in a torn red football shirt. This revelation brings back haunting memories for Josie as she is taken back to that day and wonders, has Dylan finally been found?

When another child gets taken in similar circumstances, Josie's not sure what to believe.

Review:
I had seen a lot on Twitter about 'Hold my Hand' and how it was a big upcoming read and I'm really pleased that I had the pleasure to read such a fantastic crime novel.

I loved the protagonist Josie, she has real strength and dedication for a character, especially towards her job. She has a soft spot when it comes to this crime because of her involvement in the past on a practically identical case, it fuels her desire to solve this case. What I enjoyed most about Josie was that she was real, like everyone she has a back story and personal issues but this makes her a realistic character you can relate to. Even as her erratic relationship with Ben entwines itself with the story it never overtook what was important to this novel. Josie also didn't let this slow or stop her which after reading so many novels in which the female lead feels she needs love and a connection, this was an air punch moment.

As I was reading I made a few guesses to what I thought was coming up but the storyline didn't go as I imagined it might, there was a complete twist and an involvement of characters I never expected, as I suspect happened with quite a few readers.

I loved following the police investigation reading each part to see where the trail may lead. Watching how the officers followed the clues and worked their way to solve the case was great, the more the investigation went on and the stakes were raised the more I tried to put the pieces together, coming out with a very different conclusion. I always enjoy a police investigation novel and what was so special about this novel was the way Ford told the story, you couldn't guess the ending or the people who were to blame. What also made this story were the characters, Josie in particular. 'Hold My Hand' is a gripping read that got me involved right to the very last page.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Wendy Walker - Emma in the Night

"I loved it and have been raving about 'Emma in the Night' to anyone who’ll listen. "

Synopsis:
One night, teenage sisters Cass and Emma disappear from their affluent, suburban home. Three years later, with just the clothes on her back and no evidence of where she's been, Cass returns – without her sister.

She talks of kidnapping and isolation, and a mysterious island where the girls were held. Soon after Cass arrives home, Dr Abby Winter and Special Agent Leo Strauss of the FBI are called to visit the girl and try to find out what happened to her. Abby and Leo worked the case first time around, and Abby has always been haunted by her suspicions about the role Cass's mother, Judy, might have played in the girls' disappearance. Abby believes Judy suffers from Narcisstic Personality Disorder (NPD), a condition which causes an inflated sense of self-importance and an inability to empathise with others.

The more Abby learns about the girls' lives leading up to the night they disappeared, the more she fears discovering the truth. Because Abby knows that what went on in Cass and Emma's house is closely linked to events in her own troubled childhood. She knows too that no one can survive an experience like that; not without something inside you changing forever.

Review:
Last year, I gave a rave review of Wendy Walker's debut novel, 'All is Not Forgotten'. There's always a question over whether an author's second novel can live up to the hype of their first. So, it was with some trepidation that I started reading 'Emma in the Night'.

I'm delighted to say I wasn't disappointed. 'Emma in the Night' is a clever, complex and utterly brilliant novel. I loved it and have been raving about 'Emma in the Night' to anyone who'll listen.

It's unclear what parts of Cass's story are real and what are fabrications. It's also unclear how much of her flashbacks to the time before she disappeared, might have played into what finally happened.
As twist follows twist, the reader – along with Leo and Abby – is left wondering what really happened to Cass and Emma.

Clearly, I cannot reveal much more without ruining the book for anyone who hasn't read it. What I can tell you is this: to plot a novel with so many twists and turns, while managing to make your story seem plausible, is a real talent. I literally raced through this novel, desperate to find out what really happened.

Naturally, there's a final, horrifying twist when the reader eventually learns the truth. Again, this was completely unexpected, yet utterly believable.

Once again, Walker has written a pacy crime thriller that gives you plenty to think about. This is a dark tale of family relationships and the damage inflicted by parents who put their own needs before those of their children.

Wendy Walker is making quite a name for herself as the writer of clever, complex psychological thrillers. I look forward with great interest to see what she will do next. Superb.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Grecian - The Wolf

" ‘The Wolf’ is a very strong introduction to a writer who definitely appears to be on the rise."

Synopsis:
A mysterious newcomer arrives on a freezing highway with information that one of the most deadly World War Two criminals is hiding in plain sight, with a new life every bit as sinister as his terrible past.

When State Trooper Skottie Foster moves back home to rural Kansas, she's hoping for a new start. But then a chance encounter on a snowy highway changes everything.

Travis Roan is a Nazi hunter, and he needs her help. Roan suspects this isolated region is home to infamous World War Two villain Rudolph Bormann.

As they encounter immediate resistance from the deeply suspicious community, it soon becomes clear that Bormann's new life in America is every bit as sinister as his violent and depraved past.

But neither Roan nor Foster imagines how dangerous - and how personal - their task will become...

Review:
The start of this new series hooked me in from page one. Grecian literally starts from the beginning in 1951 with the arrival of Rudolph Bormann to the U.S. Cleverly, Grecian flips from present day to the past, charting Bormann's progress in his adopted country, but has the man really become such a saviour to his flock, or is he simply a wolf in sheep's clothing? Grecian's narrative fleshed out Bormann, gave him a history and therefore, made him much more than a cliché.

Roan and Foster are also given back stories, although Travis Roan's is obscure which I hope will be slowly revealed in future books, although I am not sure who out of the two was supposed to be taking centre stage. Both are poles apart and it will be interesting to see if both appear in the next book and how Grecian plans to bring Roan and Foster back together. For me, Travis Roan was the most enigmatic of the two with his unfathomable accent and whisper, due to a scar across his throat. Special mention also has to go to his monster dog, Bear who really does steal the show.

Despite most of the novel feeling meticulously planned and tight, I did feel the ending was slightly chaotic, as if Grecian wasn't too sure how to wrap things up and/or felt he needed a big explosive ending. To me, a subtler conclusion would have tied in better. However, this book has stuck in my memory and even some weeks later it has stayed with me, and I certainly look forward to the next book to see if either or both Roan and Foster return. I hope so as this feels like a series that will get better and better with each book. 'The Wolf' is a very strong introduction to a writer who definitely appears to be on the rise.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Pinborough - Cross Her Heart

"You’ll be hooked from the first chapter."

Synopsis:
Haunted by a tragic past, all Lisa wants is a quiet life with her daughter, Ava. And when she meets a new man, things seem to be falling into place. But Lisa is hiding a secret so momentous it could shatter her entire world.

When sixteen-year-old Ava saves a young boy's life, she becomes a local hero. But never in a million years could she have anticipated the fallout of her actions.

Marilyn has the perfect life. Her husband, her job, her house - she seems to have it all. But she could never admit to her best friend Lisa the lies she tells herself to get through the day.

One moment will change these three women's lives forever… and the secrets they've been keeping could destroy them all.

Review:
Sarah Pinborough is a writer of many talents; from young adult fiction to historical crime thrillers. Last year, she blew everyone away with the chilling and original 'Behind Her Eyes' which lauded her as a major new voice in the contemporary psychological thriller market. 'Cross Her Heart' cements her reputation as a storyteller of immense power.

Chapters are told from the view points of the three women at the centre of the novel: Lisa, her teenage daughter, Ava, and her best friend, Marilyn. The voices are fresh, exciting and the use of language is spot on. Pinborough doesn't just create characters, she becomes them; using modern teenage vernacular and rapidly changing to the vocabulary of the middle class.

As the plot unfolds, twists and shocks jump out unexpectedly, making this a page turning thriller difficult to put down.

The flashback chapters make for uncomfortable reading. They're stark and powerful and add weight to the fragility of the characters relationships. In a lesser writer's hands, this story could have been crass and sensationalist. Sarah Pinborough writes with heart and humility.

'Cross Her Heart' is an addictive read. You'll be hooked from the first chapter.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Patricia Highsmith - Strangers on a Train

"A gorgeous Folio edition that will sit proud on your bookshelf."

Synopsis:
The psychologists would call it folie a deux...

'Bruno slammed his palms together. 'Hey! Cheeses, what an idea! I kill your wife and you kill my father! We meet on a train, see, and nobody knows we know each other! Perfect alibis! Catch?''

From this moment, almost against his conscious will, Guy Haines is trapped in a nightmare of shared guilt and an insidious merging of personalities.

Review:
Your average crime fiction reader will have read 'Strangers on a Train' very early on in their reading 'career' and many authors have listed this book in one of their top three time and again. Highsmith burst on to the scene with her debut in 1950 and still remains a classic, never going out of print. Alongside her other classic, 'The Talented Mr Ripley', 'Strangers' is her best-known novel being associated with the amazing Hitchcock film of the same name. In both film and novel, there is a darkness, a growing hysteria as what Guy had thought as harmless banter, becomes a reality, especially when it comes to keeping his side of the bargain. Highsmith, besides Ripley, was never able to reproduce the quality of 'Strangers'. The plot was original and has been copied in various ways since its publication.

Recently released is the new Folio Society edition of this phenomenal novel in the Folio's classic style. Illustrations by Geoff Grandfield perfectly reflect the mood of Highsmith's novel with shades of fifties 'Noir'. It wasn't until I was reading this book I realised it had been twenty years since I had last read it, and how much more I appreciated it with a mature eye. When Highsmith got it right she was dead on the money. Nothing proves that more than with 'Strangers on a Train'. A gorgeous Folio edition that will sit proud on your bookshelf.

Click on the link to go through to the Folio Society website to view this title. Patricia Highsmith – Strangers on a Train

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret Travels

"...the ending to this book is immaculate. "

Synopsis:
A waiter is summoned to Room 332 at the Hôtel George-V at 3 am, and discovers Countess Palmieri, the 'Little Countess', in distress. She has taken an overdose, and is now saying she doesn't want to die. She is taken to hospital, and the police are informed. When Lucas reports for duty in the morning, he sees a report about the attempted suicide, and decides that he need not bother Maigret about it.

However, at 10 am, the body of billionaire David Ward is discovered in the bath in his room in the hotel. He has obviously been murdered. Maigret takes command, and discovers that Ward and the Countess had been having a 'relationship'. So had the Countess murdered him? If she didn't do it, then who did? Before Maigret's investigations can get fully under way, the Countess quits the hospital. Maigret follows her, and this takes him to the Riviera and Switzerland. He uncovers more suspects.

Could the murderer have been Countess Palmieri's first husband, Count Marco Palmieri? Or could it be John T. Arnold, Ward's business associate and friend? Or perhaps Van Meulen, another rich businessman? Maigret soon identifies the murderer, but does he have enough evidence? What he needs is a confession, and he hatches a cunning plan to extract one from the perpetrator....

Review:
In this book, Maigret finds himself in unfamiliar territory - the territory of the fabulously wealthy, and we read his thoughts as he moves through it. He isn't impressed, though he has to keep his opinions to himself and act professionally.

Simenon's plots always seem simple, when in fact they throw up so many questions that have to be answered. As usual, his characterisation is impeccable, and his mastery of life behind the scenes of a smart hotel ring true. So too does his neat dissection of the characters who inhabit this world of fabulous wealth and privilege.

And the ending to this book is immaculate. The cunning plan is unexpected, daring, and yet believable. It is a fitting ending to another Simenon tour de force.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen King - The Outsider

"Looking back after reading, I felt I had read two halves of different books."

Synopsis:
When an eleven-year-old boy is found murdered in a town park, reliable eyewitnesses undeniably point to the town's popular Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the culprit. DNA evidence and fingerprints confirm the crime was committed by this well-loved family man.

Horrified by the brutal killing, Detective Ralph Anderson, whose own son was once coached by Maitland, orders the suspect to be arrested in a public spectacle. But Maitland has an alibi. And further research confirms he was indeed out of town that day.

As Anderson and the District Attorney trade the clues, the investigation expands from Ohio to Texas.

Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy but there is one rock-hard fact, as unassailable as gravity: a man cannot be in two places at the same time. Can he?

Review:
The first half of 'The Outsider' is almost pitch-perfect. A brutal crime is committed and through witness statements, police reports and forensic investigations, the killer is soon identified and arrested. However, the accused has a cast iron alibi. Is it possible this man can be in two places at once?

In a lesser writer, I would have had my doubts that a satisfying solution could be reached. However, 'The Outsider' is written by Stephen King. If he can't answer the unanswerable, who can?

Billed as a straight thriller, a breath-taking novel of suspense, it was disappointing to see King descend into the supernatural to solve the unsolvable. The second half of the novel is devoid of realism and this could well have been the fourth book in the Mr Mercedes series, with the return of Holly Gibney. Looking back after reading, I felt I had read two halves of different books.

I initially had high hopes for 'The Outsider'. What could have been the best thriller of the year, a modern-day classic soon descended to the melodramatic and unfortunately ended up being unrewarding.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: