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July 2015

Matt Hilton - The Devil's Anvil

"...a fantastic novel which is a welcome addition to an excellent series."

Accepting the task of protecting Billie Womack is a no-brainer for ex-counterterrorist soldier Joe Hunter, but it comes with its own set of complications.

Billie's husband, Richard, stole thirty million dollars from some violent people. He apparently died in a car crash with Billie's daughter, Nicola, during a desperate attempt to elude his pursuers. But his enemies don't believe him dead. They think he escaped the plunge into the icy river that killed Nicola and has now decided to come back for the money. If he's alive, they believe he'll contact Billie.

It doesn't take long for the bad guys to arrive at her remote farmhouse. Soon she and Joe are fugitives. Dead or alive, Richard's fate means nothing to Hunter, but he promises to do everything in his power to protect the grieving mother. If it means taking a bullet for her, it's a price he'll pay.

It's a pledge he will come to regret, as he learns that killers are forged on the Devil's anvil.

Sometimes when an author reaches the tenth book in a series, a certain amount of 'punching the clock' can creep into their work as they try to maintain a previously successful formula with a series character. Thankfully Hilton is not one of these authors. Instead he breathes fresh life into his characters and their narratives with his tight plotting and top-notch characterisation.

Some of the twists caught me cold while the story progressed at an ever-increasing pace. The way the author manages to weave action and intrigue so tightly together is nothing short of sublime.

While there is nothing new for me to say about Joe Hunter, I loved Hilton's portrayal of Billie Womack and the Jaeger brothers. To sum up, I'd have to say 'The Devil's Anvil' is a fantastic novel which is a welcome addition to an excellent series.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sharon Bolton - Little Black Lies

"...definitely a contender for my best novel of 2015"

In such a small community as the Falkland Islands, a missing child is unheard of. In such a dangerous landscape it can only be a terrible tragedy, surely...

When another child goes missing, and then a third, it's no longer possible to believe that their deaths were accidental, and even the villagers must admit there is a murderer among them. Even Catrin Quinn, a damaged woman living a reclusive life after the accidental deaths of her two sons, gets involved in the searches and the speculation. In this wild and beautiful place that generations have called home, no one feels safe and the hysteria begins to rise.

But three islanders - Catrin, her childhood best friend, Rachel, and her ex-lover Callum - are hiding terrible secrets - and they have two things in common: all three of them are grieving, and none of them trust anyone, not even themselves.

I am a big fan of Sharon Bolton's Lacey Flint series but I have to confess that I've read none of her standalone psychological thrillers. 'Little Black Lies' is my first; it won't be my last. In fact I'm about to place an order for her previous three standalone books. If they are half as good as this one I'm in for a treat.

'Little Black Lies' is an original concept. In three parts it tells the story of missing children from the perspective of three main characters; Catrin, Callum, and Rachel. We experience the raw emotions of their past and how it has an effect on their involvement with the missing children, and each part reaches a shocking crescendo. Bolton has researched the Falkland Islands and uses the barren landscape and its war torn history perfectly to mirror the stark storyline of child abduction and grief.

As with her Lacey Flint series Sharon Bolton has created well-rounded characters, who could be your next door neighbours, and throws them into a nightmare situation. It's watching ordinary people dealing with the horrors of grief, abduction, murder, and revenge that Bolton excels at, making her a unique voice in British crime fiction.

I loved the individual voices of the three main characters and how their lives crashed together. As the story unfolded and we reached the shocking scenes in the police station towards the end, I found myself holding my breath as confessions were revealed. The final page is definitely a shocker and will stay in the memory for a long time to come.

I hope we get more Lacey Flint stories in the future but based on 'Little Black Lies' I want more standalone thrillers, too. This is a must read and definitely a contender for my best novel of 2015.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Duane Swierczynski - Canary

"...lean, whip-smart funny, hugely engaging and has a narrative drive that demands you turn the next page..."

Sarie Holland is a good kid - an Honors student who doesn't even drink. So when a narcotics cop busts her while she's doing a favour for a friend, she has a lot to lose.

Desperate to avoid destroying her future, Sarie agrees to become a CI - a confidential informant. Armed only with a notebook, she turns out to be as good at catching criminals as she is at passing tests. But it's going to take more than one nineteen-year-old to clean up Philadelphia. Soon Sarie is caught in the middle of a power struggle between corrupt cops and warring gangs, with nothing on her side but stubbornness and smarts.

This is bad news for both the police and the underworld because when it comes to payback, CI #137 turns out to be a very fast learner.

Are you a fan of modern thrillers? Read this guy? If you haven't – have a word with yourself, cos this guy is as good as they come. The writing is lean, whip-smart funny, hugely engaging and has a narrative drive that demands you turn the next page, and the next page and the … need I go on?

The main character is a gem. We know that she's smart from the off. She's an Honors student, right? But what we learn very quickly is that she's also street smart. Put her in a difficult situation and she'll quickly work out a way to come out of it on top and intact. But Swiercynski, being the talented writer that he is, tests this resilience to the maximum, pulling you, the reader along breathlessly as you pray that Sarie continues to triumph in some pretty impossible situations.

I don't know why this author isn't better known this side of the pond. He's as good as any big-name thriller writer out there – indeed, better than most. If there's any justice, 'Canary' will be his break out book in the UK market. Go buy it already!

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Caro Ramsay - The Tears of Angels

"...a taut thriller which has a series of twists Chubby Checker would be proud of."

A few days before the summer solstice a 92-year-old woman is found burned to death in her home. On the same day, a man's mutilated corpse is discovered in a field, his arms ripped from their sockets, a Tarot card depicting The Fool inserted in his mouth.

When the victim is identified as someone for whom the police have been looking for almost a year, detectives Anderson and Costello find themselves caught up in a case where nothing is as it seems. Was the dead man really responsible for three child murders? And what is the connection with the death of the elderly woman?

The investigation leads to the tranquil shores of Loch Lomond where Anderson and Costello will finally uncover the shocking truth.

With 'The Tears of Angels', Caro Ramsay has penned a taut thriller which has a series of twists Chubby Checker would be proud of. From first page to last, I was kept guessing as to the identity of the killer. For the record, I guessed one twist, suspected another and was blindsided by a third which dispelled any feelings of smugness. Throughout the book, the plotting was sublime with lots of development and more than enough pace to keep the pages turning.

Ramsay's writing is thoroughly dark, yet there are lighter moments where she shows a keen sense of humour to alleviate the bleaker, more horrific moments. Costello is her favourite mouthpiece for these asides and comments and as such I was drawn more to her than to Anderson. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with him as a character, it's just that for my taste, Costello's star shines brightest. The other characters were all ably drawn, but from the supporting cast it was Daisy who most appealed.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tod Goldberg - Gangsterland

"...well-written, lucid and a real page-turner..."

Sal Cupertine is the man The Family hires in Chicago if they want someone disposed of. He is a professional - he kills quickly and without pain, and leaves no clues. But eventually he makes one mistake, when he takes out three FBI agents in a Chicago hotel. The FBI won't stand for this, of course, but The Family takes care of its own, and Sal finds himself in Las Vegas with a new face and a new identity - Rabbi David Cohen.

Sal, however, has a wife and child back in Chicago. And he has discovered a racket in human body parts in which his synagogue is involved. Not only that, a rogue FBI agent called Jeff Hopper is closing in on him. Will he get to him? And if so, who will kill whom?

Sal Cupertine is an amoral, cold bloodied killer, yet for most of this book, we are rooting for him. It is a dark romp more than a cold-hearted take on violence and death, though people are routinely bumped off throughout the story. Goldberg, at the end of the book, acknowledges the help he has received in his researches, but there is so much more than research involved in the telling of this tale. Are his descriptions of the workings of the Mafia and the FBI accurate? Or has he delved deep into his imagination at certain points?

And the thing is - it doesn't matter. It seems realistic, and you are driven along by the sheer plausibility of the plot. There is humour here as well - though not of the laugh out loud variety. 'Gangsterland' is well-written, lucid and a real page-turner, which I greatly enjoyed.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gunnar Staalesen - We Shall Inherit the Wind

"This Norwegian private investigator is a welcome addition to crime fiction."

1998. Private investigator Varg Veum sits by the hospital bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin, whose life-threatening injuries provide a deeply painful reminder of the mistakes he has made.

Investigating the seemingly innocent disappearance of a wind-farm inspector, Varg Veum is thrust into one of the most challenging cases of his career, riddled with conflicts, environmental terrorism, religious fanaticism, unsolved mysteries, and dubious business ethics. Then, in one of the most heart-stopping scenes in crime fiction, the first body appears.

If there is one thing missing from the world of crime fiction it's a well written private detective. For some reason they don't seem to be written any more. Thanks to Gunnar Staalesen we now have a very human and very likeable detective in Varg Veum. Staalesen seems to have channelled his inner Raymond Chandler to deliver a tightly wound plot with plenty of misdirection and a prose that reads with elegance and crackles with dramatic tension.

The opening is subtle yet memorable. The rest of the book is the events leading up to the opening. This gives an underlying dark edge to the already tense story. Staalesen knows how to ensnare the reader, and the first murder will linger in the memory long after the final page.

The finale is unexpected, shocking, and incredibly sad. I hope the rest of the books in the Varg Veum series are soon translated into English. This Norwegian private investigator is a welcome addition to crime fiction.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Neil White - The Death Collector

"...a fantastically paced thriller which had me engrossed from the first line."

Joe Parker is Manchester's top criminal defence lawyer and Sam Parker - his brother - is a brilliant detective with the Greater Manchester Police force. Together they must solve a puzzling case that is chilling Manchester to the bone.

Danger sometimes comes in the most unexpected guises. The Death Collector is charming, sophisticated and intelligent, but he likes to dominate women, to make them give themselves to him completely; to surrender their dignity and their lives. He's a collector of beautiful things, so once he traps them he'll never let them go.

Joe is drawn into the Death Collector's world when he becomes involved in a supposed miscarriage of justice. When the case begins to get dangerous, Sam is the first person he turns to.

Sometimes we all need to stop the world and climb off for a while. Whenever I get like that, I scour Mount To-Be-Read in search of a book to soothe my tired brain while holding enough of my attention to keep me entertained while I retreat into myself until I feel human again. Having read Neil White's previous books, I knew I'd be in good hands.

Boy, did he deliver just what I needed. 'The Death Collector' is a fantastically paced thriller which had me engrossed from the first line. The plot weaves its way through a minefield of legal jiggery-pokery and was so wonderfully crafted that not only did I fail to guess the killer, but my guess was a long, long way away from being correct in any fashion.

Joe & Sam Parker are a fine pair of leads although for some reason I prefer Joe to Sam. This implies no fault on the part of author or character, it's merely a reflection of my own tastes. The supporting cast is beautifully assembled, with Carl Jex being the best of a very good bunch.

As you'd expect from a lawyer who writes, every word is chosen with care to progress the story while leaving a memory of characters or the scent of a well depicted scene.

If you are a fan of fast paced police thrillers you'd be a fool not to add this to your reading pile. It certainly brightened my day.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mari Jungstedt - The Dangerous Game

"Her books are amazing reads."

Jenny Levin is a beautiful young girl who has just set out on a whirlwind career as the latest new face in the modelling world. She is working on an important and luxurious shoot in a remote part of Gotland when the fashion photographer with whom she is romantically involved is the victim of a brutal assault.

Another native of the island caught up in the modelling world is Agnes, now suffering from Anorexia and in hospital. There are connections between the two, and others involved in the high profile modelling industry also come under attack.

Detective Inspector Anders Knutas has to tease out the relationships and find the motive for the attacks and ultimately the person responsible.

When I pick up one of Mari Jungstedt's books I know I am in for a treat. She is a writer who creates an exciting, beautifully plotted story with a cast of characters that develop from book to book. Jungstedt always creates a chilling and tense atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The description of the Swedish landscape emphasises the threatening gloom.

I have loved and reviewed many of Jungstedt's books, so I feel I have said it all, really. All I can advise any reader of the crime fiction genre is to seek out this book and buy it. There are a host of good Scandinavian writers out there, but Mari Jungstedt is one of the best and I thoroughly recommend her. Her books are amazing reads.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Welsh - Death is a Welcome Guest

"...a thrilling read on an epic scale."

Magnus McFall was a comic on the brink of his big break when the world came to an end. Now, he is a man on the run and there is nothing to laugh about.

Thrown into an unwilling partnership with an escaped convict, Magnus flees the desolation of London to make the long journey north, clinging to his hope that the sickness has not reached his family on their remote Scottish island.

He finds himself in a landscape fraught with danger. This is a world with its own justice, and new rules - where people, guns and food are currency. Where survival is everything.

'Death is a Welcome Guest' is the second volume in Louise Welsh's Plague Times Trilogy. Her first, 'A Lovely Way to Burn', was an original tour de force as an illness known as 'the sweats' took hold and claimed lives in a chilling dystopian thriller. This second part shows the virus in full effect and the feral behaviour some people are reduced to in such difficult times.

While reading this I was reminded of the 1984 BBC drama 'Threads' about a nuclear attack on Sheffield. Watching that was shocking and frightening as you knew it could easily happen. Louise Welsh has tapped into the same sense of fear and written a gripping page turner. As the threat of nuclear attack was prevalent in the 1980s, with recent news stories about Ebola, SARS and Bird Flu, a mutated virus is our current fear. The story may be fictional but the threat, the fear, the horror is very real.

With a setting of such magnitude the crime almost plays second fiddle but it's an engrossing and exciting story with a conclusion you'll not see coming. In a lesser writer's hands a book about a deadly virus could have been over the top and ridiculous but Welsh has a natural ability for characterisation and story-telling. Welsh is a genre-defining writer to take an interest in; she smashes through the boundaries and creates her own rules.

Louise Welsh's trilogy is, so far, a thrilling read on an epic scale. The raw emotion as society crumbles and restlessness takes over is palpable on every page. It's very easy to lose yourself in this book and it almost makes you believe you're reading a true account. You'll definitely be keeping a close eye on the person sitting next to you on the bus when they sneeze.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mason Cross - The Samaritan

" and easy to read with lots happening on each page. "

When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered in the Santa Monica Mountains, LAPD Detective Jessica Allen knows she's seen this MO before - two and a half years ago on the other side of the country.

A sadistic serial killer has been operating undetected for a decade, preying on lone female drivers who have broken down. The press dub the killer 'the Samaritan', but with no leads and a killer who leaves no traces, the police investigation quickly grinds to a halt.

That's when Carter Blake shows up to volunteer his services. He's a skilled manhunter with an uncanny ability to predict the Samaritan's next moves. At first, Allen and her colleagues are suspicious. After all, their new ally shares some uncomfortable similarities to the man they're tracking. But as the Samaritan takes his slaughter to the next level, Blake must find a way to stop him even if it means bringing his own past crashing down on top of him.

Carter remains as elusive as he did in 'The Killing Season', Cross' debut novel. We still know little about Carter apart from him being ex-military, and that Carter Blake is not his real name.

Blake believes the killer is someone he knows from his past. However, Cross gives so little away about Blake's 'previous life' that I would have preferred to either been given more information Blake or for the killer to be a complete stranger and therefore not have anything to do with Blake's past. For me, it just didn't work as it wasn't one way or the other.

That said I still like the way Blake manages to get out of every corner he is backed into, can think on his feet, stays one step ahead of everyone and can disappear into thin air. Blake is both the hunter and the hunted in 'The Samaritan' which for a thriller is heavy going at over 500 pages, but it's fast-paced and easy to read with lots happening on each page. Not quite on par with his debut, but certainly no disappointment.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: