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Reviews

September 2018

Flynn Berry - A Double Life

"...Berry does a fine job of exploring the seedy underbelly of the privileged aristocracy."

Synopsis:
Claire's father is a privileged man: handsome, brilliant, the product of an aristocratic lineage and an expensive education. He leads a charmed life, surrounded by a group of devoted friends who would do anything for him.

But when he becomes the prime suspect in a horrific crime, a scandal erupts. Someone has murdered Claire's nanny and brutally attacked her mother. The next morning, Claire's father disappears. His car is found abandoned near the English Channel, with bloodstains on the front seat.

Claire's mother insists she saw him in the house that night, but his powerful, privileged friends maintain his innocence.

Thirty years later, Claire is obsessed with uncovering the truth. She knows the answers lie with the same friends who all those years before had answered the call to protect one of their own.

Because they know where Claire's father is. They helped him escape, and Claire's going to do whatever it takes to bring them all to justice.

Review:
Flynn Berry's latest novel is described as being 'loosely inspired' by one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the 20th century – the Lord Lucan case'. It's a great mystery on which to hook a crime novel.

As most people know, Lord Lucan was famously accused of murdering his children's nanny and brutally attacking his wife before disappearing without trace. Berry uses this premise to build an absolutely cracking thriller.

The story is narrated by Claire Aldin, a GP living and working in London. Unknown to her colleagues and friends, Claire is hiding a secret. Thirty years ago, following a horrific attack on her mother, Claire's father disappears. Following the attack, Claire, her mother and her younger brother rebuild their lives.

The story alternates between the present day, and Claire's increasingly desperate attempts to discover the truth, and the events leading up to the murder. Berry interweaves these two separate strands with great skill. The more you read, the angrier you become at the way Claire and her family were treated by her father and his friends.

Eventually, Claire has enough information to go on. She thinks she knows where her father's been hiding out all these years. Now, all she has to do is track him down and confront him. But what if she's right? What if her father really is a killer? Will he be happy to see her, or will he want to finish what he started almost thirty years earlier?

I read – and adored – Berry's first novel, 'Under the Harrow'. I loved 'A Double Life' every bit as much. Claire Aldin is a clever, complex character and Berry does a fine job of exploring the seedy underbelly of the privileged aristocracy.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Neil Broadfoot - No Man's Land

"‘No Man’s Land’ is a dark, intelligent thriller..."

Synopsis:
War is coming to No-Man's Land, and Connor Fraser will be ready.

A mutilated body is found dumped at Cowane's Hospital in the heart of historic Stirling. For DCI Malcolm Ford it's like nothing he's ever seen before, the savagery of the crime makes him want to catch the murderer before he strikes again. For reporter Donna Blake it's a shot at the big time, a chance to get her career back on track and prove all the doubters wrong. But for close protection specialist Connor Fraser it's merely a grisly distraction from the day job.

But then another bloodied and broken corpse is found, this time in the shadow of the Wallace Monument - and with it, a message. One Connor has received before, during his time as a police officer in Belfast.

With Ford facing mounting political and public pressure to make an arrest and quell fears the murders are somehow connected to heightened post-Brexit tensions, Connor is drawn into a race against time to stop another murder. But to do so, he must question old loyalties, confront his past and unravel a mystery that some would sacrifice anything - and anyone - to protect.

Review:
Neil Broadfoot begins a new series set in and around Stirling and he hits the ground running with 'No Man's Land'. It's a well-conceived multi-layered story mixing historical political unrest in Northern Ireland with present day issues.

I am a big fan of Broadfoot's style of writing. He has a unique skill that draws you into the action from the first page. His sense of place and atmosphere is second to none. If you've never visited Stirling, you'll feel like it's your second home as his smooth narrative comes to life.

'No Man's Land' is a dark, intelligent thriller, with heart-pounding scares and peopled with genuine characters. Lead character, Connor Fraser, is a former police officer in Northern Ireland, now working in security in Stirling. He is richly written with a dark past making him dangerously likeable. This is the kind of protagonist who, in a few books time, will be talked about in the same breath as Jack Reacher.

If you didn't read Neil Brodfoot's Doug McGregor series (you're in for a real treat), then discover Broadfoot here. His flair for dialogue and expert prose make him one of the classic Scottish novelists in the making. If there was ever a writer to steal Ian Rankin's crown as King of Scottish crime fiction, Neil Broadfoot is it.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.J. Tjia - A Necessary Murder

"...I was totally immersed in the sounds and smells of the time."

Synopsis:
A brutal murder of a young child, an equally bloody death of a man on the doorstep of Heloise Chancey have things in common. Heloise, famed courtesan and sometime private detective, tries to discover if they are linked. At the same time her maid, Amah, is concerned about the disappearance of a close friend based in the Chinese quarter of town.

Heloise is engaged by her mentor in the police force to go undercover as a nursemaid in the household of the murdered child to see what she can discover.

How she links her own world of parties and beautiful things to the murky world of revenge and murder is the backdrop for this exciting tale of Victorian London and beyond. The dramatic is never far away when living with Heloise Chancey.

Review:
This book provides a startling different view of the proper Victorian life we all imagine. Heloise is an exotic creature, dedicated to her life as courtesan to the rich men of London town, and thoroughly enjoying the comforts and freedom this life provides. Her maid, Amah, hints of a harder and more dangerous background. Heloise is even more unconventional in her pursuit of a detective career. She is altogether an unusual and fascinating heroine.

The historical details of nineteenth century London ring true and I was totally immersed in the sounds and smells of the time. It is easy to deplore the conditions of life in twenty first century Britain but compared with the Victorians we have it easy! I loved this book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret Three Volume Set

"The Folio Society has done Simenon proud."

Synopsis:
Maigret and the Calame Report: Maigret gets a call from Auguste Point, the Minister of Public Works. The only remaining copy of a report on a disaster in which one hundred and twenty eight children died was subsequently researched and written by a professor of civil engineering. Now it has mysteriously disappeared. In it, blame was apportioned. Point had this copy, and took it home for safe keeping. But it was stolen. Who had stolen it, and why? To protect the guilty? To use as a form of blackmail? Maigret investigates, and is drawn into the murky world of politics. There is no murder in this book, but mystery is nevertheless intriguing.

Maigret and the Wine Merchant: Madame Blanche owns a 'house of assignation' in the Rue Fortuny. This is an establishment where men and women could meet regularly for casual sex, and it is well patronised. A rich wine merchant, Oscar Chabut is shot dead on the street after he and his secretary Anne-Marie Boutin, nicknamed 'the Grasshopper' had an assignation. Maigret takes on the case, even though he has a heavy cold and is feeling miserable. He discovers that Chabot was a nasty, arrogant, sexual predator. There was therefore no shortage of suspects. Was it his wife? But it turns out that Chabot's regular infidelities didn't worry Madame Chabot in the least. Was it one of Chabot's employees, who were treated abominably? Was it a cuckolded husband? As the investigations continue, Maigret receives anonymous phone calls from a man who akways calls Chabot as 'swine'. Is he one of the cuckolded husbands?

Maigret and the Saturday Caller: It is Saturday evening, and Maigret, just back from work, is about to settle down to dinner. But he has a caller - Léonard Planchon, who tells Maigret that he wants to kill his wife Rénee. Maigret is puzzled. No crime has been committed, and no threats made. However, he is intrigued. and discovers that Rénee has taken a lover, Roger Prou, who now lives in the Planchon house. He sleeps with Renee while Planchon himself sleeps on a camp bed. The lover has even taken over the running of Planchon's decorating business. Maigret tell Planchon to phone him every day. However, on Monday there is no phone call. Planchon has disappeared. What has happened to him? Has he had enough and moved away? Is he dead? Maigret gets permission to investigate, and eventually uncovers the truth.

Review:
What can anyone say about Simenon? He is recognised as one of the finest writers of the 20th century. His prose is as compelling and economical as ever, and the plots, while not fiendishly convoluted, still have the ability to surprise. His use of dialogue as action is excellent, while his ability, with as few words as possible, to capture someone's character is astonishing.

This Folio Society edition of three Maigret novels is in a cloth-bound slipcase, and each book is handsome and beautifully illustrated. It would make a welcome addition to the library of anyone who collects Simenon novels, or indeed, finely printed and bound books. The Folio Society has done Simenon proud.

Click on this link to purchase from the Folio Society

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Lelic - The Liar's Room

"Possibly one of the greatest psychological thrillers of 2018..."

Synopsis:
Susanna Fenton has a secret. Fourteen years ago she left her identity behind, reinventing herself as a counsellor and starting a new life. It was the only way to keep her daughter safe.

But everything changes when Adam Geraghty walks into her office. She's never met this young man before - so why does she feel like she knows him?

Then Adam starts to tell her about a girl. A girl he wants to hurt.

And Susanna realises she was wrong. She doesn't know him. But he knows her. And the girl he plans to hurt, is her daughter.

Review:
Possibly one of the greatest psychological thrillers of 2018, 'The Liar's Room' will take you on an emotional journey as you read the story of two people's shocking, tragic, upsetting, terrifying life story.

Simon Lelic is a wonderful writer of psychological drama. He creates real, genuine characters and gets under their skin like no other writer I know. Even the most dangerous of characters (and there are several in this book) you find yourself sympathising with. Adam is richly drawn and beautifully complex. Jake is troubled and confused. Emily is innocent and lost. Susanna is afraid and hiding, yet each of them will tug at your heart strings and have you rapidly turning the pages until you reach the devastating conclusion.

Simon Lelic is an author of incredible talent. I have enjoyed all of his novels but 'The Liar's Room' is his best yet. The psychological thriller genre is in dangerous hands and I cannot wait to find out where he goes next.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Walker - A Taste for Vengeance

"Excitement there is aplenty here."

Synopsis:
Benoit Courreges, more commonly known as Bruno, has been promoted to Chief of Police for the whole Vezere valley in the Perigord region of France. His style of policing has always involved his intimate relationship with the people and countryside of his patch and his new responsibilities mean he has to adjust to a different set of inhabitants. More urgently, he also has to establish where the line of command lies. The eternal tension between different branches of law enforcement in France has to be resolved in his individual case.

His good friend Pamela is concerned that one of the students on her cookery course has failed to turn up and she asks Bruno to find out what he can. What he does find are two bodies, both with complicated histories that lead back to international cause celebres. There is also the strong possibility that others in the district may be at risk.

As always, the culinary delights of South West France entice the taste buds. Who can resist the descriptions of the mouth-watering dishes that Bruno and his friends prepare and consume.

Review:
This is just the book to relax with on holiday, preferably in the South West of France where you can investigate the delicious food and wine that Bruno finds so delicious.

Bruno is a delightful character: generous, warm hearted, extremely efficient, brave and eminently sensible. It is good to have a hero who can be admired and trusted to do the right thing. Even his mistakes are very human and understandable. Surrounded by a cast of fascinating friends, colleagues and fellow residents of the area, Bruno tracks down the killers using his policing skills and, always, the many skills of those around him. Excitement there is aplenty here.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - Darke

"...Hilton is a consummate storyteller..."

Synopsis:
The ghosts of the past and the present haunt Detective Inspector Kerry Darke.

As a child she witnessed the abduction of her sister Sally, the final victim of the terrifying serial killer known as The Fell Man. Sally has never been found and The Fell Man never identified.

When another girl is murdered in a gang-related drive-by shooting, a ghost from DI Kerry Darke's past returns, but the mysterious wraith known only as 'Girl' is not the most frightening thing to be resurrected.

Tortured by the vengeful spirit of a notorious gang leader, Kerry struggles to maintain a grasp on her case and her sanity, but she is more determined than ever to lay all her ghosts to rest. To do so she must agree to a pact with her personal devil. In return he promises to lead her to The Fell Man ... but what he demands is unthinkable.

That is until The Fell Man returns and more girls are snatched.

Review:
The author of the hugely popular and successful Joe Hunter series has stepped out of his comfort zone and delivered a supernatural crime thriller so deftly written, so twisted and chilling that would leave Stephen King jealous.

Meet DI Kerry Darke; an excellent detective on the Gang and Organised Crime Taskforce seeking the killer of a horrific drive-by shooting in which two innocent by-standers were killed. However, the trouble for Kerry is just beginning as, in pursuit of the man she believes is the killer, a terrifying turn of events play out in a drama filled chapter that will leave you breathless. Following this, Kerry is plagued by a ghost. Or is she going mad?

In a mediocre writer's hands, a supernatural thriller in which a detective converses with ghosts could have been melodramatic bordering on the pathetic. Matt Hilton is a consummate storyteller and he explores Kerry's sanity, her own view of her mental state to such depths that even the hard-hearted cynic (like me) could start to believe in ghosts. But this isn't a one-character novel, and the supporting players are richly drawn too; Danny Korba being my stand-out favourite.

'Darke' is an exceptional thriller tautly written with deliciously descriptive prose. Hilton is a novelist at the height of his powers and this book is testament to his creativity. I hope this isn't a standalone book and we see more of Kerry Darke. She's a complex, likeable, gutsy character with unfinished business and, like her, I'm ready for more ghostly cases.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Riley Sager - Last Time I Lied

"...an ending I wasn’t expecting which is always a great ending to a book."

Synopsis:
Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. But the games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin into the darkness. The last she - or anyone - saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings--massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. When the paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, she implores Emma to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor. Seeing an opportunity to find out what really happened to her friends all those years ago, Emma agrees.

Familiar faces, unchanged cabins, and the same dark lake haunt Nightingale, even though the camp is opening its doors for the first time since the disappearances. Emma is even assigned to the same cabin she slept in as a teenager, but soon discovers a security camera--the only one on the property--pointed directly at its door. Then cryptic clues that Vivian left behind about the camp's twisted origins begin surfacing. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing mysterious threats in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale and what really happened to those girls, the more she realizes that closure could come at a deadly price.

Review:
'Last Time I Lied' started off really, really slowly. The first half of the book contains little movement or action. There is a lot of detail that doesn't need to be there, and at times I was tempted to give up… but I am so pleased I didn't. The second half of the book more than makes up for the first.

Giving an insight into summer camp (which I still can't understand why someone would want their child, or why the child themselves would want to live away from home for the whole summer), there is the story of how Camp Nightingale came to be, a map, plenty of suspects, and lots more lies. Not to mention one of Emma's friends coming back to haunt her. And lastly an ending that I wasn't expecting which is always a great ending to a book.

If you do decide to read this (and I certainly recommend you do), persevere through the first half as the second half is definitely worth it. 'Last Time I Lied' is very well-written, has a great plot with some really interesting characters.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Booth - Fall Down Dead

"Stephen Booth is an author of immense talent."

Synopsis:
The mountain of Kinder Scout offers the most incredibly views of the Peak District, but when thick fog descends on a walking party led by enigmatic Darius Roth, this spectacular landscape is turned into a death trap that claims a life.

For DI Ben Cooper, however, something about the way Faith Matthew fell to her death suggests it was no accident, and he quickly discovers more than one of the hikers may have had reason to murder their companion.

The make things worse, his old colleague DS Diane Fry finds herself at the centre of an internal investigation storm that threatens to drag Cooper down with her.

Review:
'Fall Down Dead' is the eighteenth Cooper and Fry novel and it is just as fresh as book one, 'Black Dog'.

Stephen Booth is an author of immense talent. He has a bewitching way of drawing you into the world of Cooper and Fry as he wonderfully describes the beautiful Derbyshire landscape. When characters are standing atop a mountain surrounded by fog, stranded, isolated and alone, you shiver as if you were there yourself. That is the power of Booth's writing.

One of my favourite authors is the late great Reginald Hill (creator of the Dalziel and Pascoe series). He was a master of the crime fiction genre. In my opinion, Stephen Booth has taken up the baton and continued his legacy of writing dark, rich thrillers set in Britain's most stunning and dangerous parts of the country.

Cooper and Fry are opposites yet Fry always needs to call on Cooper when she needs help and, once again, he answers her call. Diane Fry is not well liked but the strong facade she puts on is only revealed as a fake to the reader. She's incredibly vulnerable, and that's what makes her so likeable. I'd like to see Cooper and Fry on a more equal footing and working together in future novels.

One aspect of Booth's writing that I don't get with other authors is the history he includes in his books. I often check Wikipedia to learn more about what Booth conveys in his work, and it makes the story linger in the mind long after the final page.

'Fall Down Dead' is a first rate mystery thriller and Stephen Booth's effortless writing is a force to be reckoned with.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Luke Delaney - A Killing Mind

"You may need to sleep with the light on, though."

Synopsis:
A serial killer stalks the streets. In the darkest corners of London, a killer is on the hunt. His murders are brutal; teeth pulled out, nails pulled out, bodies abandoned.

A detective follows his every move. DI Sean Corrigan of the Special Investigations Unit desperately tries to use his ability to understand the minds of killers before another victim is ruthlessly murdered.

A clash of dangerous minds. Corrigan is all too willing to take deadly risks to track down his quarry, but this time the killer has set a trap, just for him. Will Corrigan stop the murderer in time, or is he about to become a victim himself?

Review:
I am a huge fan of the novels of Luke Delaney. So when a new one is released, I stop everything until it's read from cover to cover. His DI Sean Corrigan series is of incredibly high quality and this fifth book in the series is no exception. 'A Killing Mind' is the very definition of a page turner.

Delaney is a former detective with the Metropolitan Police so you know the procedure part of his novels is going to be authentic. In his career, he's met many disturbing criminals and you can't help but think some of them have made it into the pages of his fiction. His novels have a frightening sense of authenticity about them which adds to the level of tension.

Sean Corrigan is a wonderfully complex creation. He's a detective with an unusual insight into the criminal mind. When he visits a crime scene, he senses what the killer was feeling during the act, he almost becomes the killer. Corrigan uses this insight to get his man, but surely it's only a matter of time before Sean snaps. That's what I love about this series - a protagonist who has the capacity to commit murder. Sean is living on a knife edge and Delaney is obviously having fun teasing his audience while we wonder which way he'll turn next.

'A Killing Mind' is a highly disturbing thriller with an original killer at its hearts. This is possibly Delaney's finest novel to date. The finale is worthy of any action film and the epilogue sets us up nicely for book six.

If you haven't met Sean Corrigan yet; now is your chance. You won't regret it. You may need to sleep with the light on, though.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Shelley Smith - An Afternoon To Kill

"Entertaining with a clever twist."

Synopsis:
Stranded in the middle of the desert... Lancelot Jones was on his way to his first job — as tutor to an Indian Rajah's son, but the Rajah's ancient plane and incompetent pilot have decanted him in the middle of a desert. The wrong desert at that.

Seeking shade, Lancelot Jones finds the only dwelling of any size within miles and its curious owner, an old Englishwoman called Alva Hine. Taking him into her home, Alva begins to tell Lancelot Jones an incredible tale, a strange story of a summer fifty years ago, of love and hate and murder in a respectable middle-class Victorian household…

As the afternoon wears on, Alva's story begins to take on an increasingly sinister note for the weary Mr Jones. Soon, he has more than one reason to want to hear the end of the story...

Review:
First published in 1953, Smith has been out-of-print for some years now and it is great that Endeavour Press have re-issued her small catalogue. 'An Afternoon to Kill' is a strange little tale told by an old woman to a young man stranded in a desert. The tragic tale of fifty years ago appears to the ears to be one she has heard, but as the story evolves it strikes Lancelot that it is a tale where this woman had a personal part in the drama. This is very much a slow burn story and although I have enjoyed many of Smith's novels, she is one for, at times, writing with a little too much flourish and description leading Smith to lose a little of the tension she has achieved with her story. However, that is a small niggle of mine as Smith does deliver a clever little tale on the whole. The end makes you wonder if what has been told is fact or fiction, or fact as fiction or vice versa. Also, it is good to see that this book holds up despite its age. Entertaining with a clever twist.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.C. Beaton - Agatha Raisin and the Witches' Tree

"...Beaton’s books always remind me of the great Gladys Mitchell..."

Synopsis:
Cotswolds inhabitants are used to bad weather, but the night sky is especially foggy as Rory and Molly Harris, the new vicar and his wife, drive slowly home from a dinner party in their village of Sumpton Harcourt. They struggle to see the road ahead - but then screech to a halt. Right in front of them, aglow in the headlights of their car, a body hangs from a lightning-blasted tree at the edge of town. But it's not suicide; Margaret Darby, an elderly spinster of the parish, has been murdered - and the villagers are bewildered as to who would commit such a crime, and why.

Agatha Raisin rises to the occasion, delighted to have some excitement back in her life as if truth be told, she was getting bored of the long run of lost cats and divorces on the books. But Sumpton Harcourt is an isolated and unfriendly village, she finds a place that poses more questions than answers. And when two more murders follow the first, Agatha begins to fear for her reputation - and her life. That the village has its own coven of witches certainly doesn't make her feel any better...

Review:
I have enjoyed all the Raisin books over the years, however something jarred with me while reading this latest. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It wasn't that the plot didn't make sense, as normally none of the plots make much sense with Agatha blithering about accusing all and sundry of committing the crime, so it wasn't that. The scenes came to an abrupt end as always, so it wasn't that. Even though I have finished the book, I still can't quite get clear in my head why I didn't enjoy this latest outing for Agatha. Maybe it is due to a feeling of repetition with her relationship with Sir Charles which was fun to begin with, but now feels a bit long in the tooth. I know men are her Achilles' heel, but Agatha is an intelligent woman so it amazes me she hasn't given Charles his marching orders!

The plot sounded quite exciting, but didn't quite deliver. Beaton's books always remind me of the great Gladys Mitchell, who also never really had a plot and went off in all different directions in her books (whilst keeping them wildly entertaining). However, Mitchell's great Mrs Bradley mysteries were always different and never repeated themselves (if they did I have never noticed)! This didn't hit the mark for me, but I will most likely still pick up the next Raisin in the hope that the bar has once again been raised.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: