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Reviews

May 2015

Steve Cavanagh - The Defence

"...I challenge any reader to be able to put this book down. "

Synopsis:
Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren't that different.

It's been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again, but now he doesn't have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie's back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy. Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial - and win - if he wants to save his daughter.

Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his 'client' and ensure Amy's safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.

Review:
Eddie Flynn is a defence lawyer that makes Grisham's look tame, and one so maverick he makes Connolly's look conservative.

Very cleverly written, 'The Defence' is a mix of a legal thriller, David and Goliath, and a battle of wits on every page. There is not a dull moment and I challenge any reader to be able to put this book down.

Flynn, like many successful protagonists is flawed; a broken marriage and a recovering alcoholic. Added to this he is also a con artist, spending much of his younger years fleecing insurance companies for large personal injury pay outs. Yet despite all these flaws he is immensely likable and I was instantly rooting for him. Paradoxically, even though he was a con artist and a defence lawyer, he was still fundamentally a good person, wanting to do the right thing.

Cavanagh will keep you on your toes with 'The Defence'. It's not just a page turning legal thriller, but also plenty of double crossing between the characters involved. I am sure Eddie Flynn will return, and I along with many others will be eagerly awaiting his next case.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mike Ripley - Mr Campion's Fox

"...‘felt’ more like an original Campion."

Synopsis:
As a favour to the Danish ambassador, Campion engages his son, Rupert to follow a Soho photographer, Frank Tate to see what he gets up to. The man has been linked with the ambassador's daughter, Viebeke who is employed as an au pair in a small seaside Suffolk village called Gapton. Tate makes regular trips to see the girl, but are his intentions honest?

Then a murder occurs in the sleepy village where nothing very remarkable ever happens. First Rupert and his actress wife, Perdita arrive to find out more about the murder. It is then proceedings start getting progressively nasty. With spies and smugglers and old deserted W.W.II M.O.D. buildings amongst the dunes still off limits to the locals it is all getting very peculiar, indeed.

That is the moment when Campion and his feisty wife, Lady Amanda literally descend from the heavens and that is when the hornet's nest really is disturbed and starts getting dangerous.

Review:
Here is Mr. Ripley's effort at bringing Campion back for another adventure – although, this time one of his own construction. 'Mr. Campion's Farewell' was grown from a very scant plot outline left by Allingham's husband, Pip Youngman Carter. However, even if the plot is not from the 'Allingham vault', I felt 'Mr Campion's Fox' was a far better romp and if I may be so bold as to say 'felt' more like an original Campion.

Due to his age, Campion is more to the side of the stage in this one, handing the main of the story over to his son, Rupert and daughter-in-law, Perdita. Lugg appears more than the last book, but although only a cameo role he is still on hand to dust down Campion when he gets in to a few scrapes.

Ripley is superb at characterisation and here introduces the sisters Mister (Marigold and Hyacinth Mister) who are an absolute delight and I hope in some way that we will be reacquainted with them both again. I think I also may be in love with Lady Amanda who adds panache to the proceedings and takes no prisoners. Ripley's portrait of the senior Campions is touching and endearing.

At points in the book I did feel as though I was being bombarded with one too many humorous asides, but it didn't detract too much from the story. The conclusion of Ripley's plot could have come straight out of an Allingham book lending it another touch of authenticity. There have been many books carrying on the adventures of a lead detective (the ones featuring Sherlock Holmes are too numerous to count!) and whilst some have been passable, the main have been dire. However, Ripley seems to be channelling Allingham herself and I am sure the great lady would be very pleased her creation has been passed on into such capable hands. I have a feeling that we haven't heard of the last of Albert Campion and company which would be cause for celebration.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Emma Kavanagh - Hidden

"Kavanagh is an exciting author to watch; she is going to be massive."

Synopsis:
A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He's unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently.

Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman - before it's too late.

To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety - both for her, and for her young niece who's recently been admitted. She's heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?

As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman's next target will be. But he's there; hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks...

Review:
Former police psychologist, Emma Kavanagh, burst onto the crime fiction scene last year with her brilliant debut, 'Falling'. This second novel is a nerve shredding, nail biting, claustrophobic thriller that will grab you by the throat with the first page and refuse to let go until the shocking and breath-taking finale.

'Hidden' is the story of a man whose world is slowly falling apart and how his actions affect not just himself but those around him. It's about the psychology of a person and how everything that happens shapes our reactions to events and how we cope and deal with them.

When a novel features a journalist as a main character I always read with my eyes peeled. As a journalist myself, I'm often disappointed by the clichés often found in novels. Emma Kavanagh has succeeded in writing a real newspaper reporter, and not a tired hack with an alcohol problem.

'Hidden' is told from the perspective of different characters; all of whom are well developed, though my favourite is the journalist, Charlie. These could be real people and you genuinely feel real emotions for those caught up in the terror.

As the plot gathers pace, and the day of the shooting grows ever closer, so does the tension. Smoke may very well have been coming from the book as I read on with speed. I was genuinely caught up in this novel; almost to the point where physical violence was considered when someone tried to tear me away from it.

Emma Kavanagh knows her stuff and she has expertly plotted this novel. It's addictive, highly engrossing, and utterly emotive. Kavanagh is an exciting author to watch; she is going to be massive.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jill Leovy - Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic

"Though a non-fiction book, ‘Ghettoside’ reads like a murder mystery and thriller rolled into one."

Synopsis:
This tells the story of those areas of Los Angeles - especially Watts - that are policed by the Seventy-seventh station, the Southwest station and the South-east station of the Los Angeles Police Department. Homicides - mostly shootings of young blacks by young blacks - were rife. Gangs waged constant war on each other, and the decent people of the area had long ago lost confidence in the cops to do anything about it. Then two homicide detectives - John Skaggs and later Nathan Kouri - came on the scene, and decided that the police would have to reclaim the area through dogged detective work and solid courtroom convictions - something the black community had been demanding for ages.

Coupled with this is the random shooting of a young black man called Bryant Tennelle. This shocked the whole area, as he was the son of a policeman, and had no connection whatsoever with street warfare or gangs.

Review:
Though a non-fiction book, 'Ghettoside' reads like a murder mystery and thriller rolled into one. Jill Leovy lives and works in Los Angeles, and knows the city very well. She was a reporter specialising in homicide with the Los Angeles Times, and for some time had a desk in the squad room of the covering the Seventy-seventh Street Division of the LAPD.

She interviewed the family of victims, the detectives on the street and the criminals themselves. What shines through is not that the people of the ghetto areas resent a police presence, but that there are not enough police patrolling or taking their crime seriously. Watts had more or less been given up on, so the people took the law into their own hands. Shootings are repaid by revenge shootings, and the violence escalated. Both Skaggs and Kouri realised that the heavy-handed approach favoured by the police in the past was ineffective. The people of the area were demanding that every homicide be investigated thoroughly and a conviction obtained in court, followed by a long jail sentence. And as Skaggs and Kouri pursed this course of action, it became obvious that it was working. Leovy's research for this book is meticulous, making this book one that will stay with me for a long time.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ted Lewis - GBH

"‘GBH’ is nothing short of a masterpiece..."

Synopsis:
George Fowler is on the lam, holed up in the secure seaside retreat he had built specifically in the event that things suddenly went pear-shaped. In the pornography business there was always going to be that possibility – but careful, meticulous George had no idea how bloody or how shocking. Passing each night in the company of a handgun and a bottle of Scotch, he attempts to blend in with the residents of off-season Mablethorpe as just another loser at the end of ambition's hard road.

In the bar of The South Hotel, one of the few places to stay open after summer, he is just plain Mr Carson to barman Jackie and local Elvis, Eddie Jacklin, who runs the entertainment with his Country & Western band. Eddie has just made a find – a girl singer named Lesley. By Mablethorpe standards, Lesley is blindingly good. But it's not her singing that makes George take note of her. It's the feeling he has met Lesley before, back in his other life, and that she somehow knows exactly what it is he is trying to bury beneath the bleak Lincolnshire shoreline. An impression not helped by her turning up on his doorstep late at night to ask strange questions. Nor by her subsequent ability to seemingly come back from the dead…

Review:
'GBH' is a story that unfolds during short, sharp chapters that alternate between Fowler's exile in Mablethorpe (The Sea) and the events in London that have led to his current predicament (The Smoke). The former are haunting, luminous evocations of a dead-end resort out of season and the overpowering feelings of inadequacy and loss engendered by this landscape of sea and sky on a man who has seen everything he loved destroyed. The latter are some of the most realistically brutal depictions of gangsterism, rendered through the eyes of a psychopath, you will ever read. Behind which is a chilling philosophy you could call consumerism. Fowler's business was in supplying the upper echelons of society – the rich, the famous, the powerful – with the commodities they demanded.

'GBH' illuminates the entire legacy of the dirty Seventies that is only now seeping back at us from under the rocks and gravestones of its juvenile care homes and detention centres, in its red-light glow. Ted Lewis was, as many great writers who owe him the debt of inspiration have said many times before, one of British literature's most unjustly neglected heroes in his own lifetime. We know him now as the author of 'Jack's Return Home', which subsequently became Mike Hodges' 1971 movie 'Get Carter', thanks more to its revival in the Lad's Mag Nineties than to any attention it got back then. 'GBH', his last novel, exceeds even that benchmark. 'GBH' is nothing short of a masterpiece, the plot unfurling with devastating timing and precision to an ending that will linger for a lifetime.

Ted Lewis drank himself to death at the all-too-early age of 42. In his afterword, Derek Raymond, who knew a bit about these things himself, describes encountering him when they were both young authors in the early Sixties and witnessing Ted's dedication to this task. This book goes a long way to explaining why. As Raymond infers, Ted knew too much of which he wrote about, had too much compassion for the people who were treated in real life as callously as those who flash so vividly through his writing. This is noir as dark, bitter and scalding as it gets. And in reappearing now – via a US publisher rather than anyone in his homeland – it reads like a warning from history that went unheeded to terrible consequence.

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Saul Black - The Killing Lessons

"...doesn't slow down from page one. "

Synopsis:
When two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper's isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it's the end of everything. For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it's just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done.

For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of corpses - women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them - has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she's losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens.

But the slaughter at the Cooper farmhouse didn't quite go according to plan. There was a survivor, Rowena's ten-year-old daughter Nell, who now holds the key to the killings. Injured, half-frozen, terrified, Nell has only one place to go. And that place could be even more terrifying than what she's running from.

Review:
'The Killing Game' starts quickly and doesn't slow down from page one. There is no build up or slow introduction to the characters and the author throws you in at the deep end. The book follows several threads at the same time, starting with Nell, her escape from the farmhouse and her attempts to stay alive; Valerie Hart, the heavy drinking, yet still very sharp detective; and the killers who are looking for their next victims.

Black manages to portray both the thoughts of the killer, what is going through his mind, why he wants to kill, and what made him kill, together with the fear and terror felt by the victim, but also the frustration and excitement of the police chasing the killers.

With so much going on the book flits from scene to scene and from one character to another without taking pause for breath. All of Black's characters have ample depth and realism without the author having to spend copious time doing so and has done this subtly as part of the story. This was a good, solid read from start to finish. Bring on the next book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael O'Byrne - Crime Writers Guide to Police Practice/Procedure

"...should be on the shelves of every established and wannabe crime writer."

Synopsis:
When writing a police procedural, the crime writer must know what this procedure is. What is involved in a real-life murder investigation, for instance? Who is usually the first officer on the scene? How is the crime scene made secure? What rank would the SIO (Senior Investigating Officer) normally be? How are fingerprints and DNA evidence collected? How are other serious crimes, such as rape, robbery and kidnap, investigated?

The author deals with forensics (including fingerprints and DNA), profiling, the role of the lawyer, informants, the use of force, extradition, national databases (such as the Police National Computer) and so much more. A criminal investigation, in real life, is totally different from the fictionalised, speeded-up versions in books and TV series. It is methodical and, in some cases, boring, and the book doesn't shirk from this side of criminal investigation either.

Review:
This book explains the nuts and bolts of criminal investigation. It's the second, updated edition of a book I already had on my shelves, and which I consult constantly.

Michael O'Byrne is a former chief constable of Bedfordshire who has worked for the Met and the Royal Hong Kong Police. Here he lucidly presents the nuts and bolts of criminal investigation in such a manner that the book can be read from cover to cover or used as a textbook.

The chapters are clear and unambiguous, and there is an index, a glossary of abbreviations (which are used a lot in police work) and a list of useful websites. O'Byrne also points out various areas which a writer can use to heighten tension or create a sub-plot, such as police station politics. He also gives his views on various crime writers and their work, which clearly shows that he is a fan of the genre. This book is one that should be on the shelves of every established and wannabe crime writer.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth Haynes - Behind Closed Doors

"...if you haven’t read Haynes' books yet, now is a good time to start."

Synopsis:
Ten years ago, 15-year-old Scarlett Rainsford vanished while on a family holiday in Greece. Was she abducted, or did she run away from her severely dysfunctional family? Lou Smith worked the case as a police constable, and failing to find Scarlett has been one of the biggest regrets of her career. No one is more shocked than Lou to learn that Scarlett has unexpectedly been found during a Special Branch raid of a brothel in Briarstone.

Lou and her Major Crime team are already stretched working two troubling cases: nineteen-year-old Ian Palmer was found badly beaten; and soon after, bar owner Carl McVey was found half-buried in the woods, his Rolex and money gone. While Lou tries to establish the links between the two cases, DS Sam Hollands works with Special Branch to question Scarlett. What happened to her? Where has she been until now? How did she end up back here? And why is her family—with the exception of her emotionally fragile older sister, Juliette—less than enthusiastic about her return?

When another brutal assault and homicide are linked to the McVey murder, Lou's cases collide, and the clues all point in one terrifying direction. As the pressure and the danger mount, it becomes clear that the silent, secretive Scarlett holds the key to everything.

Review:
This is another book from Haynes I could not put down. However, the whole time I was reading it, due to the nature of the story, I knew there could be no happy ending. The large part of the story, based around where Scarlett has been for the past ten years, is sadly all too believable, and really struck a chord. Whatever the ending of the book, however the characters end up, with all that has happened, nothing could help Scarlett recover the ten years she had lost of her life.

Lou Smith and her team are working on the reappearance of Scarlett, together with another murder case. Although I was much more interested in Scarlett than the organised crime Lou investigated. There was also a lot of 'intel reports' and emails contained within the book which I found hard to follow and would have preferred the information to be contained within the dialogue.
Lou is an easy character to like; enthusiastic at her job without being overly consumed, strong headed without being belligerent and flawed with personality faults like everyone else. As the series continues, as does Lou and we get to know and learn more about her and her life. However, it's just enough to give her depth without distracting from the book and plot.

'Behind Closed Doors' was a great, if disturbing read. Haynes, like her characters, goes from strength to strength and if you haven't read Haynes' books yet, now is a good time to start.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rory Clements - Holy Spy

"...a rollicking good story with plenty of excitement and adventure. "

Synopsis:
Sir Francis Walsingham has guided John Shakespeare to infiltrate the ranks of a group of young Catholic sympathisers known as the Pope's White Sons led by Anthony Babington. Walsingham's plan is to implicate the prisoner Mary, Queen of Scots, in a plot to depose Elizabeth, giving him the excuse to try and execute Mary for treason. Babington and his supporters are to be the instrument that leads Mary into this plot. For Walsingham, this is of utmost importance as it will protect England from the threat of invasion by the Spanish.

In his private life, Shakespeare has been asked to save a woman with whom he was once very close and is now on the run, suspected of murdering her very wealthy husband. She is still a very attractive woman and Shakespeare struggles with his emotions. He is not the only one and many men are willing to put themselves in danger to save her life. As he investigates the death of her husband he begins to realise that there is a connection between some of the characters in the two strands of the story.

Review:
As always with Clements, there is a rollicking good story with plenty of excitement and adventure. To the mix is added the vivid description of the sights, sounds and smells of Elizabethan London set around the old city with names of streets that are still there today. Real people are particularly involved in this story and Rory Clements gives a delicious description of the master plotter and spymaster who was Francis Walsingham.

He also gave me a more realistic insight into Anthony Babington and his fellow plotters. I had previously held a rather romantic notion of the young men willing to give up their lives for the Scottish Queen.

The depth of passion for the nuances of religion prevalent at that time is vividly portrayed. The horrific violence it engenders has echoes in today's conflicts in the Middle East. I found this an entrancing read as well as an exceptionally gripping story.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Sennen - Tell Tale

"...I've certainly been converted into a full-time fan, keen to read what's next for DI Savage..."

Synopsis:
D.I. Charlotte Savage knows who killed her daughter. As Charlotte struggles with an overwhelming need for revenge, a series of terrifying events start to unfold in the moors...

First, a bag containing clothes and a passport is found floating in a reservoir, but the girl is nowhere to be found. Then a man's body is discovered entombed in a pagan grave.

Amidst a web of corruption and lies, Charlotte must figure out who she can trust before the killer strikes again. Or before she, herself, becomes a killer.

Review:
'Tell Tale' is the fourth novel by Mark Sennen featuring DI Charlotte Savage, but you certainly don't need to have read any of the previous books in order to enjoy this one. It works well as a standalone, giving you more than enough information to understand Savage's dilemma without revealing too much of the previous novels. I'd actually recommend 'Tell Tale' as the best place to start with Sennen's books as in this one he has really upped his game.

I was somewhat nonplussed with his previous book 'Cut Dead', but was still keen enough on the character to want to see how Savage was going to deal with the knowledge of who killed her daughter and I'm pleased to say that I was quickly able to put any doubts I had about 'Tell Tale' behind me once I began reading.

When those who conspired to hide the hit and run driver years before learn that Savage has uncovered the truth, the only option is to keep her quiet, and once again strings are pulled and favours called in to remove her from a position of danger to the culprit and his family. Intervening in her investigations into a series of bizarre murders that will challenge the limits of Savage's imagination, and require all of her tenacity to solve, the corruption goes further than you realise, the actions are more ruthless than you would expect and the consequences long lasting.

I really enjoyed all the twists, turns and pieces of misdirection involved in 'Tell Tale', and I've certainly been converted into a full-time fan, keen to read what's next for DI Savage, as the ending neatly sets everything up for some very interesting times to come.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating: