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Reviews

September 2017

Ed. by Gordon Brown - Bloody Scotland

"...a cracking collection of vignettes from a highly talented group of authors and not be missed!"

Synopsis:
In 'Bloody Scotland' a selection of Scotland's best crime writers use the sinister side of the country's built heritage in stories that are by turns gripping, chilling and redemptive.

Stellar contributors Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Louise Welsh, Lin Anderson, Doug Johnstone, Gordon Brown, Craig Robertson, E S Thomson, Sara Sheridan and Stuart MacBride explore the thrilling potential of Scotland's iconic sites and structures. From murder in an Iron Age broch and a macabre tale of revenge among the furious clamour of an eighteenth century mill, to a dark psychological thriller set within the tourist throng of Edinburgh Castle and a rivalry turning fatal in the concrete galleries of an abandoned modernist ruin, this collection uncovers the intimate - and deadly - connections between people and places.

Prepare for a dangerous journey into the dark shadows of our nation's buildings - where passion, fury, desire and death collide.

Review:
Being a fan of several of the authors included in this anthology I was keen to read it and let me say right from the start that it is a cracking foray into a dozen dark minds.

Each story is worthy of its place in the book although my favourites include those by Chris Brookmyre, Stuart MacBride, Craig Robertson and the recent winner of the Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2017 winner, Denise Mina.

There are tales of revenge, justice and approbation aplenty, yet all the stories educated me about locations I have yet to visit, as well as entertaining me with macabre thoughts and characters who pulled my heartstrings many different ways.

This is a cracking collection of vignettes from a highly talented group of authors and not be missed!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Lagercrantz - The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye

"...I am sure Larsson would be pleased to see his creations in the very respectful and safe hands of David Lagercrantz."

Synopsis:
Sentenced to two months in Flodberga women's prison for saving a young boy's life by any means necessary, Lisbeth Salander refuses to say anything in her own defence. She has more important things on her mind.

Mikael Blomkvist makes the long trip to visit every week - and receives a lead to follow for his pains. For him, it looks to be an important expose for Millennium. For her, it could unlock the facts of her childhood.

Even from a corrupt prison system run largely by the inmates, Salander will stand up for what she believes in, whatever the cost. And she will seek the truth that is somehow connected with her childhood memory, of a woman with a blazing birthmark on her neck - that looked as if it had been burned by a dragon's fire…

Review:
I take my hat off to Lagercrantz for taking on this mammoth task of continuing such a publishing phenomenon of recent time. The good thing is that although he has kept faithful to Larsson's original creations, Lagercrantz has taken both Salander and Blomkvist on to the next level, developing each with every book.

Here, Lagercrantz goes deeper into Salander's convoluted and emotional childhood. With Salander in prison and Blomkvist on the outside, each take a step towards the truth in their own way, individually as well as jointly. Salander comes up against a wonderfully vile adversary inside prison!

What Lagercrantz delivers is a calculating, cold-hearted killer who will do whatever it takes to keep their misdemeanours from years past being uncovered. Lagercrantz really has created a villain worthy of Salander here. Lagercrantz slowly peels back the layers of the years and delivers a plot that doesn't flag and gains even more momentum towards the end.

My only small niggle is that sometimes Lagercrantz describes the scene a little too much, instead of delivering information to his reader via dialogue. I guess this is due to his heritage of previously writing biographies. If he can show more through dialogue then Lagercrantz will have completely nailed this series. Another is in the pipeline and I am sure Larsson would be pleased to see his creations in the very respectful and safe hands of David Lagercrantz.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Ward - A Patient Fury

"...a gripping page-turner that will leave you breathless. "

Synopsis:
Three bodies discovered; a family obliterated. The evidence all seems to point to one conclusion; one murderer - one mother.

When Detective Constable Connie Childs is dragged from her bed to the fire-wrecked property on Cross Farm Lane, she knows as she steps from the car that this house contains death. But DC Childs, determined as ever to discover the truth behind the tragedy, realises that a fourth body - one they cannot find - must hold the key to the mystery at Cross Farm Lane.

What Connie fails to spot is that her determination to unmask the real murderer might cost her more than her health - this time she could lose the thing she cares about most: her career.

Review:
'A Patient Fury' is a tense thriller of secrets and lies that run through one family spanning almost forty years. It's a gripping page-turner that will leave you breathless.

The opening chapters are pitch dark, exciting, and set the scene for a twisted story that never lets up its exhilarating pace until you've finished the final jaw-dropping page.

Ward's novels are rich with place and atmosphere. The beauty of the Derbyshire countryside is off-set against the disturbed and depraved minds of the people who live there. Inside the country cottages and the converted warehouse apartments lie deep characters created by Ward. Trust no-one and take everything they say with a pinch of salt - like the characters in the novels of Agatha Christie - everyone is a suspect.

DC Connie Childs is a wonderful creation. She's full of doubt and feels as if she doesn't fit in where she works yet she doesn't let that bother her. She's there to do a job, a job she would risk everything for.

I see a long future for Ward and Childs. With books like 'A Patient Fury', British crime fiction is thankfully in very dangerous hands.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Bonnie MacBird - Unquiet Spirits

"You can almost smell London 1889 coming off the pages."

Synopsis:
Fresh from debunking a 'ghostly' hound in Dartmoor, Sherlock Holmes has returned to London, only to find himself the target of a deadly vendetta. He is distracted when beautiful Scotswoman Isla McLaren arrives with a tale of kidnapping, ghosts, and dynamite in the Highlands; but to Watson's surprise, he walks away in favour of a political mission for Mycroft in the South of France.

On the Riviera, Holmes and Watson have a dangerous encounter with rival French detective Jean Vidocq ... and make a horrific discovery which draws them up to the haunted McLaren castle in Scotland after all. There in the frozen Highlands, among ghosts, family secrets and the copper behemoths of a great distillery, Holmes discovers that all three cases have blended into a single, deadly conundrum.

In order to solve the mystery, the ultimate rational thinker must finally confront a ghost from his own past. But Sherlock Holmes does not believe in ghosts - or does he?

Review:
There are many authors who have written novels starring Holmes and Watson. The majority are embarrassingly poor. Bonnie MacBird is an obvious fan of the original stories by Conan Doyle as she has captured the essence of the relationship between the detective and the Doctor perfectly.

When reading a Sherlock Holmes novel, the crime sometimes takes second place for me as I have found the interplay between Holmes and Watson to be more rewarding. If Conan Doyle had written about the duo doing a crossword and nothing else I would have been enraptured. This is the reason why many Holmes and Watson books have failed. MacBird has succeeded and taken it to the next level by creating a unique story of intrigue that, at times, even the good detective may not be able to solve.

'Unquiet Spirits' is a dark and detailed story. There is a gruesome reveal about a third of the way through that will be giving me bad dreams for weeks to come. However, the description, the sense of place is all accurate. You can almost smell London 1889 coming off the pages.

What MacBird has done best, which is what makes her take on the series work, is that she understands the narrative. John Watson is telling the story and he's telling it like he's always done. MacBird could possibly be Conan Doyle reincarnated. I hope this is a lengthy series. A perfect read as the nights draw in.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mary Kubica - Every Last Lie

"...‘Every Last Lie’ did keep me engrossed. "

Synopsis:
Clara Solberg's world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick's death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.

Review:
Written from the perspective of Clara in the present tense and Nick in the past, both stories continue until towards the end everything has been revealed. This gives Kubica time to slowly build the characters and the sub plots that run alongside the main story. Hints and clues as to what was happening were dropped throughout the book leaving me thinking I had solved the mystery. But no sooner were these clues visible to me, one of the main characters mentioned them, blowing any theory I may have had.

This would have had 5, but I was a little disappointed with the ending and felt that Kubica didn't quite take that extra step to make it superb. Having said that, 'Every Last Lie' did keep me engrossed. This is an easy to read, well-written book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.J. Tjia - She Be Damned

"...an original and fascinating story... "

Synopsis:
Set in Victorian London, this book introduces Heloise Chancey, courtesan and professional detective. This is an unusual combination and the intriguing start is followed up as the heroine is called to investigate the horrific murders of prostitutes who have suffered the further violation of having their reproductive organs removed.
To find out more about the victims, Heloise leaves her comfortable apartment in Mayfair to return to her former haunts with the working girls of Waterloo. We gradually learn more of her life, past and present, as the story unfolds and her experiences as she has dragged herself up in the world help her to navigate the rough dangers that she encounters.

Her maid and confidante, Amah Li Leen, also has secrets in her past but she is always fiercely loyal to Heloise and tries to protect her at all times.

As Heloise gets closer to the truth and prevent another death, she finds herself in danger.

Review:
This is an original and fascinating story with insights into the horrors of Victorian London. Heloise Chancey has the freedom to behave as she wishes and that makes the story exciting and gripping. Heloise is a strong woman, using her beauty to overcome her difficult beginnings. There is a little bit of escapism for the rest of us as we watch her manipulate her adversaries and charm her friends.

The story is intriguing. The suspense gradually builds up. The ending is exciting and satisfying. This is a very enjoyable book and a very strong start to what I hope will be a series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robin Jarossi - The Hunt for the 60's Ripper

"...this book is meticulously researched. "

Synopsis:
In 1888 the East End of London was stalked by a man who mutilated and murdered five prostitutes. Such was his notoriety that he soon earned the nickname of 'Jack the Ripper'. But in the 1960s another serial killer stalked the streets of London - this time in Bayswater, Notting Hill and Shepherd's Bush. Though he became known as the 'Nude Killer' he has not garnered the notoriety of the Ripper, though he murdered, not five, but seven (possibly eight) prostitutes that operated in that area. And just like Jack the Ripper, he was never caught.

This is the story of the investigation into the murders, led by Detective Chief Superintendent John du Rose. It remains the largest murder investigation ever carried out in the UK, and is a harrowing story which mixes dogged police work, determination, unanswered questions, gross mistakes, missed opportunities and, at the end of the day, failure.

The first victim (though she was not initially connected with the serial killer), was 21 year-old Elizabeth Figg, whose body was discovered on June 17 1959 at Duke's Meadow in Chiswick. The last victim, Brigit O'Hara, was discovered in Acton on February 16 1965. And that's where, inexplicably, the killing spree ended.

Review:
The author, Robin Jarossi, is a journalist, and as befits a journalist, this book is meticulously researched. He visited every crime scene, and examined every document he could find that was connected to the case. In addition, he sought the advice and experience of modern-day detectives to gain an insight into how the murders were investigated in the 1960s compared to how it would be investigated today.

So who was the Nude Killer? Robin Jarossi offers tentative clues as to who it might have been, though he admits that we will probably never know. He also examines John du Rose's dubious statement that he knew all along who the culprit was.

No one knows why the murders stopped. Possibly the killer died, or he may have moved away. Possibly even he overcame his bloodthirsty urges. Whatever the reason, Jarossi offers the intriguing possibility - that the Nude Killer might even be alive today.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chevy Stevens - Never Let You Go

"...Stevens is such a strong writer."

Synopsis:
Eleven years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped into the night with her young daughter and left an abusive relationship. Her ex-husband was sent to jail and she started over with a new life. Now, Lindsey is older and wiser, with a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When her ex-husband is finally released, Lindsey believes she's cut all ties. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded, and her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it's her ex-husband, even though he claims he's a different person. But can he really change? Is the one who wants her dead closer to home than she thought?

Review:
Stevens has built each of the main characters around Lindsay as slightly shady, giving the reader doubt as to what each of their intentions are. The author has a great writing style which is easy to read. It's easy to get absorbed in her books. Her first book, 'Still Missing', is one of my favourite books of all time, and whilst in my opinion 'Never Let You Go' is not quite on par, I still enjoyed the book and couldn't put it down.

There is a curve ball thrown at the end, but this I felt was slightly predictable, even down to motives. Despite it being easy to work out, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of this book as Stevens is such a strong writer.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Robinson - Sleeping in the Ground

"Opening a new Peter Robinson book is like meeting up with old friends."

Synopsis:
A wedding in a picturesque country church with happy family and friends is shattered by a rain of bullets kills and injures many. The groom is a war hero and the bride a well-known model. There is no apparent reason for this terrible attack.

Detective Superintendent Banks is called in to oversee the investigation. He has been attending the funeral of an old flame and is feeling reflective about his life and lost loves.

The police investigation kicks in quickly and the discovery of an apparent suicide with means and opportunity to have done the deed means the case is quickly solved.

But Banks is uneasy about the reasons for the killing and worries about the views of many of the friends of the perpetrator that cannot believe he could do such a thing. When Banks looks into the circumstances he finds more to concern him and the past provides him with some surprising answers.

Review:
Opening a new Peter Robinson book is like meeting up with old friends. You know you are in for hours of pleasure and entertainment with a soupçon of regret and nostalgia.

This one is no exception. We have Detective Superintendent Banks, still looking for a meaningful relationship but now more aware of passing years. Annie Cabbot is still the same; forceful, dedicated and a little bolshie with those she feels are more privileged than her. The rest of the team are maturing and moving on with their lives.

As well as the determination to find the truth and his dedication to the job, Banks is in reflective mode and the reappearance in his life of profiler Jenny Fuller only adds to the regrets of the past he feels when contemplating the death of his first girlfriend.

Altogether, this latest Banks novel is another completely satisfying and enjoyable gripping story from the master storyteller.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah J Naughton - Tattletale

"...I was pleasantly surprised."

Synopsis:
One day changes Jody's life forever. She has shut herself down, haunted by her memories and unable to trust anyone. But then she meets Abe, the perfect stranger next door and suddenly life seems full of possibility and hope.

One day changes Mags's life forever. After years of estrangement from her family, Mags receives a shocking phone call. Her brother, Abe is in hospital and no-one knows what happened to him. She meets his fiancé Jody, and gradually pieces together the ruins of the life she left behind. But the pieces don't quite seem to fit.

Review:
Jody is devastated when an accident leaves her fiancé, Abe in a coma. Abe's sister, Mags flies in from the States to visit her estranged brother in hospital. This line forms the main part of the book; Mags getting to know her brother through Jody, together with flashbacks to her childhood, explaining why the siblings became estranged.

Jody herself has also had a traumatic childhood which has had a huge impact on her current life and relationships.

Whilst reading, some parts of the plot were to me quite obvious, I am not sure if this was actually meant to be the case as there are quite a few surprises. At times I felt pretty sure I knew what was going to happen - only to be proven wrong.

I did find myself getting rather impatient with the character Jody; she came across as weak and dithering. I also struggled to get into the book - although I enjoyed it, I didn't feel compelled to read it. I am unable to easily pinpoint the reason for this - characters I was unable to identify with, maybe the way the author writes. But conversely when I did actually continue reading, I once again enjoyed it. There's a nice little twist at the end, and I think because the ending wasn't quite as I expected it to be, I was pleasantly surprised.

This was quite a slow burn psychological thriller that snowballed and improved as the pages turned. Well worth sticking with.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Child - No Middle Name

"...a fascinating insight in Reacher’s early years... "

Synopsis:
Jack 'No Middle Name' Reacher, lone wolf, knight errant, ex-military cop, lover of women, scourge of the wicked and righter of wrongs, is the most iconic hero for our age. This is the first time all Lee Child's shorter fiction featuring Jack Reacher has been collected into one volume.

Review:
I found 'No Middle Name' to be a fascinating insight in Reacher's early years and his development into the guy we all love reading about.

Each story is a wonderful vignette and I loved the way that Child enjoyed the freedom to experiment with different styles when free of the constraints that come with writing a whole novel.

The mix of viewpoints and perspectives was very refreshing but for me, I found too many of the stories that little bit shorter than I preferred.

Therefore it's only fair to explain that while I'm not giving 'No Middle Name' five stars, the lost star is more to do with my reading preferences than anything the author has done wrong.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Christopher Bollen - The Destroyers

"...Patmos is a wonderful setting for this dark, clever and very literary novel... "

Synopsis:
Arriving on the Greek island of Patmos broke and humiliated, Ian Bledsoe is fleeing the emotional and financial fallout from his father's death. His childhood friend Charlie—rich, exuberant, and basking in the success of his new venture on the island—could be his last hope.

At first Patmos appears to be a dream—long sun-soaked days on Charlie's yacht and the reappearance of a girlfriend from Ian's past—and Charlie readily offers Ian the lifeline he so desperately needs. But, like Charlie himself, this beautiful island conceals a darkness beneath, and it isn't long before the dream begins to fragment. When Charlie suddenly vanishes, Ian finds himself caught up in deception after deception. As he grapples with the turmoil left in his friend's wake, he is reminded of an imaginary game called Destroyers they played as children—a game, he now realizes, they may have never stopped playing.

Review:
The central character of this novel is Ian Bledsoe, a down-on-his-luck New Yorker running away from the mess he's made of his life so far. Ian's father, a baby-food magnate, has recently died, leaving everything he has to Ian's step-family.

Bereft and penniless, Ian steals money from his dead father's bank account and uses it to visit his old school friend, Charlie, on the Greek island of Patmos.

The island of Patmos is a wonderful setting for this dark, clever and very literary novel about greed, privilege and wasted youth. I did feel that while I enjoyed this book, it could have done with some serious editing to quicken the pace.

If you're planning a trip to the Greek islands anytime soon, this novel would be the perfect companion.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - The Seagull

"I love these books."

Synopsis:
Former Detective Superintendent and now prison inmate, John Brace, wants to talk to Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope. As Vera was instrumental in putting him into prison for his involvement with the death of a gamekeeper, she is intrigued and a little suspicious when she goes to see him. He wants a trade-off; he will tell her what happened to Robbie Marshall who disappeared twenty years ago with a host of suspicious deals attributed to him, if Vera will keep an eye on his daughter and grandchildren. Brace's corrupt dealings have enabled him to support them financially.

When Vera follows up his lead she finds two bodies. These take her back in time to when her father was alive and very much one of the buddies of John Brace, Robbie Marshall and the mysterious “Prof”: the Gang of Four. All clues lead back to The Seagull, an upmarket nightclub that functioned in the nineties.

Vera resists believing that her father, Hector, is somehow involved but is too honest a cop not to consider the possibility. She has always known that he flirted with illegality, particularly if it relates to his precious birds' eggs.

Review:
Another wonderful instalment of the life of DI Vera Stanhope! Ann Cleeves has an enviable talent that produces wonderful characters who step out from the page and involve us in their lives. A new book on Vera is always welcome as an update on her and her colleagues. But the main attraction of these books is the outstanding stories that they tell, together with the psychological insight into how people work.

There is a brilliant evocation of a small seaside town, faded from its previous glory, but with a spark of life just beginning to evolve. The setting for the Vera books is wonderful as it includes gritty industrial towns, breath-taking scenery and now ordinary seaside towns emerging from their earlier heyday. I love these books.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Penny - The Murder Stone

"...an enjoyable mystery. "

Synopsis:
It's the height of summer, and the wealthy Finney family have gathered at the Manoir Bellechasse to pay tribute to their late father. But as the temperature rises, old secrets and bitter rivalries begin to surface. When the heat wave boils over into a mighty storm, a dead body is left in its wake.
Chief Inspector Gamache, a guest at the Bellechasse, finds himself with a building full of suspects. With the hotel locked down, the murderer is trapped. But a cornered predator is always the most dangerous of all...

Review:
Gamache and his wife book in to the Manoir Bellechasse every year for their wedding anniversary. This year it will be a memorable occasion but for different reasons. I am currently re-reading Penny's series and this is the fourth one. It wasn't my particular favourite. Although it does involve the folk at Three Pines, they are on the periphery of the story and only make a cameo appearance. Much of the story is at the Manoir with the Finney family who are complex and not in the slightest an agreeable one. They are the sort of family you avoid and yet appear to take over wherever they go. It was interesting to see how Penny dealt with their different personas, although at some points in the book I did feel it getting a little repetitious and laboured. The solution when it is delivered is acceptable, although I feel as though the method of murder does not quite stand up to much scrutiny. However, this is only her fourth novel and Penny was still growing as a writer, so some forgiveness is allowed as the series does get stronger. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable mystery.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: