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Reviews

June 2017

Barry Forshaw - American Noir

"...filled with fascinating facts to get your reading juices going! "

Synopsis:
Here is a concise book listing every crime writer writing today. All the big hitters are here from James Patterson to Michael Connelly to Patricia Cornwell to James Lee Burke to Joseph Wambaugh and Don Winslow. Also included here is a list of the best Noir films and TV series and interviews including one with a certain Mr James Ellroy!

Review:
After the great success of Forshaw's last book in the series, 'Brit Noir', our intrepid collector of facts travels across the pond to list all those writing crime fiction in the U.S. Everyone who is currently alive and well and still thrilling their fans is here – including my personal favourite, Thomas H Cook (and if you haven't tried him then get to it!). As with the others in this series, this is a wonderful book to pick up and flick through and start reading the page it opens on. It is filled with fascinating facts to get your reading juices going! I am sure you will also find more authors you never heard of, but want to try. As all us book fanatics can never have enough books!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Howard Linskey - The Search

"Linskey is always adept at telling a gripping story."

Synopsis:
Little Susan Verity went missing during the heatwave of 1976. An unprecedented amount of police resource went into finding her, but to no avail.

Convicted serial killer Adrian Wicklow was always the prime suspect. In the past, he's repeatedly lied to the police about where Susan's body is buried - playing a sick game from behind bars.

But this time, he says, he'll tell the truth… because Adrian Wicklow is dying.

Detective Ian Bradshaw works with investigative journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney to find the body. However, this is Wicklow's life's work. Would a murderer on death's door give up his last secret so easily...?

Review:
Linskey is always adept at telling a gripping story. This is the third in the Bradshaw/Norton/Carney series involving the police officer and two reporters. Linskey has placed this series in the 1990's, allowing him to go back to cold cases in the seventies much easier than setting it in the present when most of the main players would have likely died.

This writer is very good at menacing characters and he has played a blinder with Adrian Wicklow. Even though I wasn't face to face with Wicklow, he gave me the creeps. He was certainly not the sort of person you want to meet down a dark alley! The search for Susan Verity kept me guessing throughout the book, even though there is only a small cast to choose from. This part of the book kept me in suspense.

My only small niggle is the story running alongside it, the search for the sister of Tom's new conquest did not engage me. It felt a little rushed to me. Thankfully, this part of the book is very much in the background, so did not step on the toes of the thrust of the Verity case.

Linskey has long been classed as one of the rising stars of crime fiction and I cannot deny that it is justified. As with his last book, I feel that Linskey is Reginald Hill's apprentice. Not as good as the great man, but certainly getting there in leaps and bounds!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M C Beaton - Pushing Up Daisies

"Another case solved by Agatha Raisin… in her heavy hobnail boots!"

Synopsis:
Agatha Raisin is feeling unloved… again. She always seems to plump for the wrong man and so dives in to a case she should leave well alone. Lord Bellington owns the land where the local allotments are located – and Bellington wants to sell off the land to developers for a big wad of cash. The locals are outraged. Agatha decides she is the voice of reason and so visits the large, hairy Lord Bellington whose manners match is physique. That night someone despatches the Lord by poisoning his very sweet wine. Agatha is employed by Bellington's crazy family to catch the culprit. Then something else is discovered buried on the allotments… and it isn't Harry Perry's stolen gargantuan marrow!

Review:
As always, Agatha blunders from one disaster to another without any compass, moral or otherwise, rubbing people up the wrong way and being downright rude! I don't know what it is about Beaton's books that make me pick them up. It could be the political incorrectness of Agatha herself, saying things we'd love to voice out loud. Or the fact that Agatha is living the life we secretly wish we had with lots of danger and excitement. Whatever 'it' is, they always leave a smile on my face. Here, as always Agatha is feeling lonely, but I get the sense that Agatha would feel alone in a crowded room. It is clever of Beaton to give Agatha who is forthright and dominant such an Achilles heel when it comes to men and that Agatha likes the idea of deferring to the man of her dreams… well, maybe for a while anyway!

I am pleased that James has stepped in to the background, making way for one of my favourite characters in this series, Sir Chales Fraith. Here, Beaton seems to be promising more between this couple – it's just that they don't know it themselves, yet! Beaton's structure, (if there is one), lies more in the chaotic plotting of Gladys Mitchell whose books could also be classed as 'bonkers'… but wonderfully so. There were a few too many descriptions of autumnal leaves falling and dancing about, but apart from that this is a jolly fun read for a summer afternoon. Another case solved by Agatha Raisin… in her heavy hobnail boots!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Janet Neel - Death on Site

"...a very enjoyable crime novel, extremely well written. "

Synopsis:
Chief Inspector John McLeish is on holiday in the Scottish Highlands with Francesca Wilson. High on the mountain track they see a figure fall off the cliff. The climber is Alan Fraser and he is lucky to still be alive after such a fall. Also in the same village are the Vernon clan, a dynasty with their own building empire. Emotions amongst the family are strained, and the news of Alan Fraser's accident doesn't help matters.

Back in London, Alan has travelled down with his friend, Mickey Hamilton and are working on the building site of an underpass managed by the Vernon's. Evidence comes to McLeish's ears that Alan's accident may not have been so accidental after all. On his way to warn the man someone may be out for him, McLeish witnesses Alan's fall from an eighty feet scaffolding. It appears the second attempt on his life was a success. Sifting through a family at war amongst themselves, McLeish with the help of Francesca is desperate to find the culprit before there are any more 'accidents'.

Review:
This is Neel's second novel after her John Creasey Dagger winning debut and was originally published in 1989 and re-issued here by Ostara. I have before credited Neel with the same rhythm as P.D. James. Neel has a wonderful way of breathing life in to her characters, showing their good and bad sides, even with her main character, Francesca. The 'pas de deux' between Francesca and McLeish is very interesting. He wants stability and she is quite happy to float through her love affairs.

The first casualty of Neel's novel doesn't happen until nearly half way through, however that doesn't mean it isn't interesting. As James was so adept herself, Neel also shows the interaction of her players in this particular drama, highlighting the tensions and their shared history to perfection. Despite being nearly thirty years old, Neel's novel doesn't feel dated at all. It is quite refreshing to remember that even in the late eighties not everyone owned a mobile and CCTV was in its infancy and not on every corner like today. This is a very enjoyable crime novel, extremely well written. I hope that with these re-issues Neel will find herself new fans.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Malin Persson Giolito - Quicksand

"...a great novel that had my heart in my throat. "

Synopsis:
Innocent till proven guilty ... right?

Maja Norbeg has been in prison for nine month, awaiting trial for a mass shooting in her school, which resulted in the deaths of her best friend and her boyfriend – terrible coincidence or a cold blooded killer? Maja is about to enter the courtroom but who do you believe when the only other suspect is dead.

Review:
'Quicksand' is a slow burner of a novel; it lays down a lot of the story's foundation before drawing the reader in to its palm. The back story really encourages the flow of the novel, as we open with the court case, the core of the storyline, so from the start we know where Maja is in the present and so are eager to find out how she got there. I was unsure of my feelings towards Maja, as, like the situation, she shuts her feelings off which makes her hard to reach and empathise with as the reader.

Giolito portrays a realistic version of teenage love or in this case, lust. There were real dramatic moments and scenes of experimenting – signs of any young first love. I felt this was linked to how important families are and how adults in our lives help mould and influence us at a young age. Sebastian's story shows an unloved, abandoned boy, we as readers are kept at arm's length from him but as the novel goes on we can begin to understand what drove him to his actions. He is always seeking more, to the point that he drags Maja in to a destructive place but it is in a place where he can no longer be saved. I really felt the struggle for Maja between deciding what is best for her and wanting so desperately to help the person she loved.

There is a huge twist with one of the characters storylines (don't worry I won't spoilt it for you) during the investigation, which for me showed the power of writing - how you can make assumptions from what you have read. The reveal was a shocker which put a really interesting and unexpected edge on the story and the trial.

When the decision of the court is revealed my heart was pounding, I hadn't realised how invested I was in the outcome until that point, Giolito placed us in her protagonist's shoes, I felt the confusion of the situation, not quite believing the decision and Maja's desire to understand the reasoning behind it.

'Quicksand' is a great novel that had my heart in my throat. I invested myself in the trial and as I read on my need to help save Maja grew. If you love a court room drama storyline then this is definitely one to read.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

William Shaw - Sympathy for the Devil

"Shaw’s research is immaculate, and brings to life the mores and attitudes of the 1960s..."

Synopsis:
It is the summer of 1969, and the Swinging Sixties will soon be over. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones is found dead in his swimming pool on July 3, and Neil Armstrong will be walking on the moon on July 20. In addition, the Harold Wilson's government is about to exchange spies with the Soviet Union, the spies being Gerald Brooke and the Krogers. This is causing great resentment, as Britain seems to be exchanging dangerous Soviet spies - the Krogers - for a powerless man who wasn't a spy at all.

It's against this background that Cathal Breen investigates the murder of a prostitute who called herself Julie Teenager. But as his investigations proceed, he realises that this is no ordinary murder. Her real name is Lena Bobienski, she's Polish, and she has a client list that brims with people of influence. He also finds that he is being hampered by people who, for reasons of national security, would like the murder to remain unsolved. At the same time, Breen's partner, ex-cop Helen Tozer, is heavily pregnant, and fascinated by the death of Brian Jones. Was it an accident, or was it murder? Soon she herself gets drawn into Breen's investigations. He eventually uncovers the murderer, only to find that there will be no court case, due to national security.

Breen is outraged that the culprit will not be charged. So will the murderer get away with it? Or will justice prevail?

Review:
I am a fan of William Shaw's Breen and Tozer books, and this latest tale reinforces my opinion. It has a twisting storyline, but unlike some other books with torturous plots, Shaw still manages to make it sound so simple - which is no mean feat. Shaw's research is immaculate, and brings to life the mores and attitudes of the 1960s, a time when the Cold War raged, youth was discovering the power it had, and casual racism and sexism was rife. The real events of the summer of 1969 are interwoven into the plot, and some of the places mentioned in the book (including one nightspot) actually did exist.

The writing itself is clear and precise, and Breen is a real character, with the strengths, doubts and weaknesses most of us possess. He is, however, a man who believes in justice, and as the concept of justice begins to slip through his hands as far as this case is concerned, we see a new Breen emerge - someone who can see that justice is not just the prerogative of the state. And there's one final point which I found satisfying. The title of the book, 'Sympathy for the Devil', is the title of a song in the Rolling Stones album 'Beggar's Banquet', brought out the year before Brian Jones died.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Smith - Watching the Bodies

"‘Watching The Bodies’ is a cracking read..."

Synopsis:
When Jake Boulder is asked by his PI friend to help investigate the vicious murder of Kira Niemeyer, he soon finds himself tracking a serial killer who selects his next victim in a most unusual manner.

As the body count rises, Boulder has to work with the police to identify the heinous killer before more lives are taken. What ensues is a twisted game of cat and mouse, that only Boulder or the Watcher can survive.

Review:
In his latest novel, Graham Smith demonstrates his knowledge of and fondness for the US set thriller. But this is no pastiche, this is a solid, original take on the genre with twists aplenty to satisfy even the most jaded reader.

First to Boulder himself. He's not your usual investigator. He's a Scotsman abroad who likes a scrap – no surprises there – loves his mother and works in a local bar when he's asked to help out in this case. A deliberate set of choices by the author that separates Boulder from the legion of characters we usually meet in this type of novel.

The sense of place is strong, there's a nice line in humour and the killer's method of choosing his victims is truly original – offering a twisted little thrill to those who enjoy a good serial killer story.

'Watching The Bodies' is a cracking read, feels ripe for a movie adaptation, and will hook you in like a literary version of crack. Word of warning: don't take this book to bed with you. You will be up ALL night.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Edwards - The Lucky Ones

"There is something very bewitching about Mark Edwards' novels."

Synopsis:
It was the happiest day of her life. Little did she know it was also her last.

When a woman's body is found in the grounds of a ruined priory, Detective Imogen Evans realises she is dealing with a serial killer - a killer whose victims appear to die in a state of bliss, eyes open, smiles forever frozen on their faces.

A few miles away, single dad Ben Hofland believes his fortunes are changing at last. Forced to move back to the sleepy village where he grew up following the breakdown of his marriage, Ben finally finds work. What's more, the bullies who have been terrorising his son, Ollie, disappear. For the first time in months, Ben feels lucky.

But he is unaware that someone is watching him and Ollie. Someone who wants nothing but happiness for Ben. Happiness ... and death.

Review:
There is something very bewitching about Mark Edwards' novels. Within the first chapter you're sucked in and can concentrate on very little else until you've read that final page. Last year, it was 'The Devil's Work', this time, 'The Lucky Ones' has been occupying my mind over the past few days.

Throughout the novel we follow the story of Ben Hofland and his son who are adapting to life in a Shropshire village from London. Ben is not happy. However, things are beginning to look up. Ben is a very likeable and relatable character. This is where Edwards' power lies, in creating believable character we can champion.

Detective Imogen Evans, leading the investigation into the killer isn't without charm. She could so easily have been two-dimensional and a mere story arch, but Mark Edwards gives all of his players a rich history the reader can get involved in.

Edwards is a superior psychological thriller writer. He knows how to entertain his audience and throw us red herrings to keep us hooked. The structure of 'The Lucky Ones' is spot on. As for the plot, it's highly original and ingenious - a killer making people happy before they die. It's chilling and frightening, yet utterly gripping.

With novels as brilliant as this, we readers are indeed the lucky ones.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - Still Dark

"...another beautifully written story of crime and detection in the vibrant and earthy city of Glasgow. "

Synopsis:
Detective Inspector William Lorimer is a shadow of his former self, causing concern to his wife and friends as well as his colleagues. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress after witnessing a horrific crime involving the murder of children. He is on sick leave and scheduled to attend a course for police officers wounded physically or mentally in the line of duty. But he is full of lethargy and unable to summon up any enthusiasm for anything.

Slowly his recovery begins, and as it does, he is drawn into an investigation into a rash of deaths from accidental doses of high-quality morphine. He begins to suspect that there is a connection to a previous case where ill and vulnerable patients were helped to die by someone who benefited financially from the relatives of the ill patients. The main perpetrator was never caught although his accomplice was.

Lorimer's long experience and expertise are needed in the case and as he finds that he can make a valuable contribution, his feelings of guilt begin to dissipate.

Review:
This is another beautifully written story of crime and detection in the vibrant and earthy city of Glasgow. Alex Gray depicts the grittiness, the humour and the humanity of the city and it is evident that she loves the place.

The previously confident Lorimer has shown his Achilles Heel. Not everyone is perfect and an accumulation of the sordid crimes he has dealt with, culminating in a particularly heart-rending murder of children by their father, brings Lorimer to confront his vulnerability. Gray treats this sensitively and it is cleverly wound round Lorimer and his wife's regrets over their childlessness. It is typical of Alex Gray's ability to depict fully rounded and believable characters who elicit the readers' sympathy. Other familiar characters develop as they mature and life moves on.

The plot revisits a previous book but this time the connection to the underworld is more obvious and the hidden network of corruption is revealed. Fascinating stuff.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anne Randall - Torn

"...Randall is going to keep us all gripped for many more books to come. "

Synopsis:
2004: The court case had been harrowing. The fifteen jurors sat in silence while the prosecution produced evidence of how a man with obsessive sado-masochistic fantastically had turned into a killer. Fourteen of the jurors were repulsed. One was secretly enthralled. A new world of possibility had opened up.

2014: When an actress is found dead, the ligature marks suggest that she had been involved in extreme sex games. When DIs Wheeler and Ross begin to investigate, they uncover not only an industry with varying degrees of regulation but also a sinister private club where some of Glasgow's elite pay handsomely to indulge their darkest fantasies. As Wheeler and Ross uncover the secrets surrounding the club, they realise that their investigation is being blocked by some of Glasgow's most influential citizens.

Meanwhile, Skye Cooper, Scotland's latest indie-rock sensation, is playing the final gig of his sell-out tour but his dreams of stardom are on a collision course with the obsession threatening to consume him...

Review:
What stands out the most in Anne Randall's fiction is the glorious attention to detail she installs in every single character. The protagonists are deliciously drawn, but then so are the background ones, the one pagers, the characters who have just a few lines of dialogue are so richly drawn you're often wrong-footed into thinking they must surely have a larger part to play in the story. Anne Randall is a fiend for these wonderful red herrings.

'Torn' is Randall's third novel in the Wheeler and Ross series. Set in Glasgow, and using the city to maximum potential, Randall paints a murky and dangerous picture as she takes us into the uncomfortable world of private sex clubs, sado-masochism, and pornography.

The story is well researched and the characters working in these industries are carefully created so they don't fall into cliché. This is a multi-layered story with many characters. However, everything is linked together and this large cast of characters feel like genuine, real people. Their emotions and feelings climb out of the pages making us sympathise with the victims and hate those who exploit.

The double act of Wheeler and Ross is developing well. The interplay between the two is fun and natural. I get the feeling Randall is toying with us. There is a rich history between them, or a complicated future (I'm struggling to decide which), and Randall is going to keep us all gripped for many more books to come. If they're all as good as 'Torn', she is going to be a major player in the Scottish crime fiction scene.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Cavanagh - The Liar

"If Cavanagh isn’t on your list of authors to read, he should be."

Synopsis:
A MISSING CHILD: When wealthy businessman Leonard Howell's daughter is kidnapped, the police jump on it straight away. But Howell knows this won't be straightforward - he needs someone willing to break the rules.

A CRIMINAL LAWYER: Once a con artist, now a hotshot lawyer, Eddie Flynn's learnt that fast talk and sleight of hand are just as important in the courtroom are they are on the street. Knowing what it's like to lose a daughter, he'll stop at nothing to save Howell's.

A CORRUPT CASE: With a client on trial for his life, and the body count rising, Eddie Flynn is starting to fear that the whole thing was a set-up from the very beginning.

The only question is who is deadlier - the man who knows the truth, or the one who believes a lie?

Review:
Eddie Flynn has to be one of my favourite characters. He is a lawyer that doesn't follow the rules. As an ex con-man, he still uses the skills he learned in his previous job in his current one.

Often when authors go back in time to show the relevance of an event now taking place, I'm hurrying through, wanting to get back to the present day action. However, Cavanagh's forays back in time are generally of some con or hustle that has taken place that is usually as interesting as the main plot.

Although Flynn is a lawyer, 'The Liar' is an action-packed legal whodunit thriller, a real mix of genres which surprisingly works. Flynn is not only doing the legal work for Lenny Howell, but also is helping the FBI (and at times working against them), looking for Lenny's daughter who has been kidnapped.

'The Liar' has a strong plot, with a great lead character, plenty of action with a nice twist at the end. If Cavanagh isn't on your list of authors to read, he should be.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Paul Hardisty - Reconciliation For the Dead

"...will also give you the literary ride of your life. "

Synopsis:
Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu's newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier.

It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make. Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed.

Review:
As a fan of Hardisty's work, when I discovered this book was an exploration of what made Claymore Straker the man he became, it moved straight to the top of my huge to be read pile. Although this is part of a series featuring Claymore Straker, it feels very much like a standalone.

Clay is a wonderful literary invention – along with the conflict he is very much involved in, there's an internal conflict, where Clay questions his deeds and finds himself wanting, indeed he judges himself more harshly than any official authority could ever do. And it is to the author's credit that all of this pulls you deeper into the story without hampering the breakneck narrative energy.

Hardisty is equally at home writing the more thought provoking themes as he is the action scenes – indeed, he does this as well as anyone out there. You will feel the air shift on your skin as the bullets whiz past Clay's face, such is the power of his prose.

Be warned, 'Reconciliation for the Dead' will poke and prod at your social conscience as it details the evils of a government and its representatives, intent on self-preservation, but it will also give you the literary ride of your life. I simply can't praise this book highly enough.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Vaseem Khan - The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star

"This is a delightful and funny look at the India of today."

Synopsis:
This time, ex-Inspector Chopra and his trusty and unusual helper, Ganesh the baby elephant, venture into the fantastical and powerful world of Bollywood. Here powerful stars and producers mix daily with eye-watering sums of money. Personalities rule the roost and almost anything can happen. This time Vikram Verna, a rising star in the industry, disappears right in the middle of an extravagant performance. His mother, herself a significant member of the acting elite, hires Inspector Chopra's detective agency to find her son before he loses all credibility with the powers that be.

As he delves into the investigation, Inspector Chopra begins to uncover various motives that would cause the disappearance of Vikram. Vikram's own life comes under scrutiny and he definitely behaves as a spoiled only child. Renowned directors have secrets to hide.

Meanwhile, Chopra's assisitant, Rangwalla, pursues his own investigation involving the third sex - the Eunuchs of Mumbai. These people are isolated from the rest of the population and suffer discrimination and abuse. It is said that they run a lot of the crime in the area. The Queen of the eunuchs has a problem and she calls in the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency to solve it. The investigation leads Rangwalla into some curious and sometimes hilarious situations.

Review:
This is a delightful and funny look at the India of today. Inspector Chopra and his family and friends are charming original characters who pursue a virtuous course through the corruption they find. The story is full of quirky twists and turns that could only be written by somebody who knows India well. I learnt a great deal about society in that bustling city of Mumbai. I went straight to Google to find out more about the Eunuchs and was amazed at what I discovered.

Khan conveys a sense of the throbbing, vibrant collection of humanity that is Mumbai whilst providing an exciting plot that all fits satisfyingly together. I also found it laugh out loud funny in places. A most enjoyable book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Carol - The Quiet Man

"Lee Child should watch his back; Carol is gaining speed."

Synopsis:
Three years ago in Vancouver, the wife of a millionaire died following an explosion in her home. Everyone thought her husband was responsible, but former FBI profiler Jefferson Winter isn't so sure. The method was too perfect, the lack of mistakes uncanny.

Each year since, on exactly the same day, a woman has died in this exact same way. That date is fast approaching and another victim has already been selected. Can Winter identify the quiet man before he strikes again?

Review:
James Carol has created a likeable and relatable hero in ex-FBI profiler Jefferson Winter. 'The Quiet Man' is the fourth book in the series, and each one has been original, daring, and utterly enjoyable.

Hints of Lee Child's Jack Reacher and the recent TV adaptation of Hannibal are evident as Winter travels the world to help track down psychopathic serial killers. Jefferson Winter is unique as he can close his eyes and become the killer. His knowledge of past killers is invaluable but frightening.

Jefferson is a loner. His father was a serial killer and to atone for those crimes, Winter has dedicated his life to tracking killers and savings lives. It's an obsession.

In each novel, Carol creates a partner for Winter to work alongside. Although they only stay around for one book, they're usually as rounded and deep as the protagonist. In this case it is retired detective Laura Anderton.

Carol's novels are rich with psychological insight into why the killer is doing what they do. This is a series that has potential to run and run. Lee Child should watch his back; Carol is gaining speed.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: