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Reviews

July 2016

Ahmet Altan - Endgame

"Endgame...goes deeper than a simple mystery to be solved. "

Synopsis:
An un-named novelist comes to a small un-named town on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. It is a close-knit community, though the writer soon realises that the place seethes with hatred, feuds, passion and corruption. Not only that, on a hill overlooking the town is a ruined church where a great treasure is supposed to be hidden, and where one of the Apostles is alleged to be buried. We first meet the writer as he sits on a bench in the dead of night, a gun in hand. He has just murdered someone.

This is where Ahmet Altan stands the mystery novel on its head. We know who did it, and how it was done - but who was the victim? What was the motive? The writer, as he sits there, takes us on a journey through time up until the shooting. Was the victim Mustafa Gürz, the town mayor? Or was it Zuhal, who was in love with Mustafa, but was having an affair with the writer? Raci Bey, a corrupt businessman? His son, the hot-headed Rahmi? Kamil Hanim, Rahmi's mother, with whom the writer was also having an affair? Was it Oleander, a gang boss who wants to sell the beach? His nephew Sultan? Or Muhacir, another gang boss?

Review:
Though 'Endgame' is a satisfying crime novel, it is one that goes deeper than a simple mystery to be solved. Sometimes it is a dense, philosophical treatise on creativity, as when the writer, alone after he has killed, addresses God as the ultimate novelist, and sometimes it is a thriller, with action scenes that wouldn't disgrace a Hollywood movie.

Suhal emails the novelist constantly, exposing her innermost thoughts and fears. All he can do is interject questions now and again, though these don't interrupt Zuhal's flow. From this we see that the writer is not someone who causes things to happen - things happen to him. He is not a catalyst, not even with the two women he is sleeping with, or even the prostitute he sometimes uses. They make the seductive moves, and he reacts.

To call it noir is to miss the point. It has stock characters - the prostitute with a heart of gold, the wise old man (in this case a cradle maker) who dispenses wise words and platitudes at the drop of a hat, corrupt politicians, and a hot-headed, spoiled son. But it is more than the sum of its plot devices. Within the plot the machinations of small town politics are laid bare, even though small town politics that are closer to home never seem to involve shootings, vendettas and corruption on a scale encountered here.

Read this book as a classy thriller with a mystery at its source, or read it as a commentary on the corruption that political and unquestioned power brings. Better still, read it as both - you won't be disappointed.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hollie Overton - Baby Doll

"...hugely involving..."

Synopsis:
You've been held captive in one room, mentally and physically abused every day, since you were sixteen years old. Then, one night, you realize your captor has left the door to your cell unlocked. For the first time in eight years, you're free. This is about what happens next ...

Lily knows that she must bring the man who nearly ruined her life - her good-looking high-school teacher - to justice. But she never imagined that reconnecting with her family would be just as difficult. Reclaiming her relationship with her twin sister, her mother and her high school sweetheart who is in love with her sister may be Lily's greatest challenge. After all they've been through, can Lily and her family find their way back after this life-altering trauma?

Review:
The story starts, rather than ends, with Lily escaping from her abductor after 8 years in captivity. At this point, the identity of her captor is known, and so is the fact that Lily has survived and managed to escape. So where is the story?

Lily is struggling to come to terms with her new found freedom, and how life has moved on in the past eight years. Lily isn't the only one who is struggling. Abby, Lily's twin sister, blames herself for Lily's disappearance, and guilt that she is now with Wes, Lily's high school sweet heart.

'Baby Doll' deals with the aftermath of Lily's escape, the problems she faces trying to fit back into family life and society. Together with the emotional struggles faced by Lily and her family, Overton also manages to maintain some suspense. Despite the identity of the abductor being known, there's still some surprises that will make you want to keep reading and reading until the end.

Whilst I really enjoyed the book and the idea of the story, any criticism was with the characters. For some reason I struggled to connect with the majority of them. That said, the book was written from a very interesting view point. With so many thrillers having a 'happy ending' when someone has managed to escape, 'Baby Doll' serves as a reminder that the story isn't over, and that this impact is far-reaching.

'Baby Doll' was hugely involving and I was unable to put this book down.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gunnar Staalesen - Where Roses Never Die

"Staalesen knows how to enthral his readers."

Synopsis:
September 1977. Mette Misvær, a three-year-old girl, disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close, middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordås is devastated, but their enquirers and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found.

Almost 25 years later, as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette's mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge...

Review:
Gunnar Staalesen's novels are beautifully written with a delicately flowing prose and speed against a backdrop of a stark and frightening plot. The contrast is effective and chilling making the Varg Veum series compelling and unmissable.

As Veum investigates the cold case of a missing girl he sets out to interview the key players in the case. Not all want the past brought back to the surface and as Veum digs deeper he uncovers the various intricate layers of secrets and lies which could lead to the core mystery - the disappearance of a three-year-old girl.

Staalesen knows how to enthral his readers. He tantalises us with nuggets of information of the past with each interview Veum conducts, yet keeps his cards very close to his chest before he is ready to reveal them. He's playing with his audience but we accept this as the story is very well-written and the characters are neatly drawn. We have no option but to continue reading long into the night.

The Varg Veum series has an original bite to it. Veum is a cold fish of a character and Staalesen is choosy with information he reveals about his protagonist. Again this makes for interesting reading and cements Staalesen's reputation as being one of the finest Nordic thriller writers around. A must read for fans of chilling crime fiction.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.J. Box - Off the Grid

"...heart-pumping stuff... "

Synopsis:
Falconer Nate Romanowski, friend of Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden, is 'off the grid' - he's recovering from gunshot wounds and lying low while the FBI search for him because of his past crimes. However, he is tracked down and confronted by two mysterious agents who want him to assess a possible terrorist threat which is hatching in the Red Desert in south/central Wyoming. They promise that his criminal record will disappear if he agrees to cooperate, and though Nate doesn't trust them, he feels he has no option but to acquiesce.

Joe, meanwhile, has been contacted by Wyoming's State Governor, Spenser Rulon, who wants him to investigate what appears to be unusual criminal and FBI activity within the Red Desert. Joe and Nate inevitably meet, and discover they are investigating the same activities.

What they discover is both frightening and perplexing, with nothing as it seems. Certainly, there is a terrorist cell operating which has one goal in mind, and which goes in for casual murder, bloodshed and lying as legitimate weapons. But how is Mohammed Ibraheem ('Ibby') and Suzy Gudenkauf, plus their acolytes, mixed up in it? Are they goodies or a baddies? What about Ghazi Saeed and his henchmen?

And how will Joe handle the situation, knowing that his daughter Sheridan is one of Ibby's acolytes?

Review:
This is C. J. Box's sixteenth Joe Pickett novel, and it's as slick and page-turning as all the others. Box is a superb writer, and knows how to put together a roller coaster ride of a story that puts you on the edge of your seat. Joe Pickett is believable, as he is not a super-hero, but a family man with a job to do, which he does to the best of his ability. Nate, for all his faults, is the perfect foil, and the two gel.

Not a word is wasted in this book, though Box does go in for describing in great detail the firearms he uses in his job - something which may not appeal to UK readers who know nothing about guns. But to me, this adds to the authenticity of the story, even if I too have no great interest in firearms and what they can do.

Box knows how to tell a story - holding back when he has to and going full-pelt in the action scenes. It is heart-pumping stuff at times, and the denouement is spell-binding.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Burrows - A Pitying of Doves

"A strong second novel to a very intriguing series."

Synopsis:
Another intensely bird orientated story from Steve Burrows. Chief Inspector Dominic Lejeune has to determine who has murdered an official from the Mexican Embassy and a director of a local bird sanctuary. As the only thing removed from the scene is a pair of turtle doves, Lejeune's interest is immediately engaged. Chief Inspector Lejeune's passion is birds, hence his move to North Norfolk, but he is naturally talented at his job and this prevents him from dropping everything to engage full time in ornithological research. Add to that his strong commitment to his partner, Lindy, who is definitely not dedicated to all things bird.

The investigation draws Lejeune into the world of diplomatic intrigue and political machinations. He has to draw a fine line between discovering the truth and not upsetting the diplomatic apple cart. When the case is apparently solved he travels to St Lucia with Lindy to have some time together, but even there he meets up with an old friend who reveals a bit more of Lejeune's history in Canada and helps him determine his future. Danger threatens him personally but on returning to England he manages to resolve his immediate problems.

Review:
Dominic Lejeune is an intriguing hero: immensely competent and intuitive in his job but appearing quite cold, distant and unreadable in his work context. Many of his colleagues are beginning to trust his judgement and analytical skill, but others are scathing and not a little jealous of his success. The partnership with Sergeant Danny Maik is increasingly productive as the two men learn to trust each other. The relationships between those who work together are explored, as a former military commander of Maik is advisor to the Mexican Embassy. The loyalty between two military colleagues has a special strength.

I enjoyed this book as it does not present simply a puzzle to be solved but a development in relationships and a study in character. As in the first of the series, the author's knowledge and love of the birding fraternity shines through. Who would have known the complexity of the turtle dove family for instance. And I am reminding myself of once learned collective nouns such as a pitying of doves. This learning never intrudes on the story, but simply provides a little light education. A strong second novel to a very intriguing series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Shannon Kirk - The Method

"‘The Method’ kept me hooked..."

Synopsis:
Imagine a helpless, pregnant 16-year-old who is just been yanked from the serenity of her home and shoved into a dirty van. Kidnapped - Alone - Terrified. Now forget her. Picture instead a pregnant, 16-year-old, manipulative prodigy. She is shoved into a dirty van and, from the first moment of her kidnapping, feels a calm desire for two things: to save her unborn son and to exact merciless revenge. She is methodical -- calculating -- scientific in her plotting. A clinical sociopath? Leaving nothing to chance, secure in her timing and practice, she waits for the perfect moment to strike. Method 15/33 is what happens when the victim is just as cold as the captors. The agents trying to find a kidnapped girl have their own frustrations and desires wrapped into this chilling drama. In the twists of intersecting stories, one is left to ponder. Who is the victim? Who is the aggressor?

Review:
FBI Agents Lui and Lola are on the hunt for missing pregnant teenage girls that they believe have been abducted, in particular Dorothy M Salucci.

The story is written mainly from the perspective of a teenager, detailing her abduction and time in captivity - but this is no ordinary teenager. She is cold, calculating and able to keep calm in even the most stressful of situations. Throughout the time of her captivity she is not only planning her escape, but also her revenge on those responsible.

She struggles to have feelings towards people (positive ones at any point), and throughout the book, all items she comes into contact with whilst she has been captured are classed as 'assets'. Yet despite her lack of warmth and empathy, I still had the want to see her succeed, and to know what happened to her.

Kirk's first thriller successfully manages to put forward some unusual (but likeable) characters, with a new twist on a tried and tested plot. The majority of the book covered the capture, captivity and escape. However, there was an interesting chapter at the end of the book that followed on from the main story, nicely tying any loose ends.

I really enjoyed this book, but there was something (and I'm not sure what it was) missing. 'The Method' kept me hooked, there were plenty of surprises, but I wanted more. Still, a great read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Paula Daly - The Mistake I Made

"...a plot that seems loosely based on ‘Indecent Proposal’..."

Synopsis:
We all think we know who we are. What we're capable of.

Roz is a single mother, a physiotherapist, a sister, a friend. She's also desperate. Her business has gone under, she's crippled by debt and she's just had to explain to her son why someone's taken all their furniture away.

But now a stranger has made her an offer. For one night with her, he'll pay enough to bring her back from the edge.

Roz has a choice to make.

Review:
With a plot that seems loosely based on 'Indecent Proposal', Roz is offered a solution to her problems. But her actions will have consequences and its's obvious that things won't be as straightforward as Roz is hoping.

As the protagonist, Roz confused me. Whilst on one hand she was obviously quite strong, looking after her son by herself, fighting to keep her head above water. Yet on the other, when things went wrong, she just accepted it without question leaving me struggling to know the real Roz. Also, some of the events that happened to Roz that pushed her into making the decisions she made just wouldn't have happened, and at times she frustrated me.

The concept of the plot was a good one, however I felt Daly didn't quite pull it off. I still enjoyed the book and it was well written, but the plot had some flaws which could have done with some tweaking.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ruth Ware - The Woman in Cabin 10

"...fast-paced and very well written..."

Synopsis:
This was meant to be the perfect trip. The Northern Lights… a luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship… a chance for travel journalist Lo Blacklock to recover from a traumatic event that has left her on the verge of collapse, and to work out what she wants from her relationship.

Except things don't go as planned. Woken in the night by screams, Lo rushes to her window to see a body thrown overboard from the next door cabin. But the records show that no-one ever checked into cabin 10, and no passengers are missing from the boat.

Exhausted, emotional and increasingly desperate, Lo has to face the fact that she may have made a terrible mistake. Or she is trapped on a boat with a murderer – and she is the sole witness.

Review:
Set on a boat, the number of suspects is limited. Ware gives each of them opportunity or suspicion. Ware tries to lead the reader subtly by dropping possible clues as to why a person could be responsible for the crime, which I felt very 'Christie-esque'. When finally the killer and their motive were revealed, I felt it fell a little flat due to being somewhat unbelievable. Whilst I believed in the motive, the plot itself didn't work for me.

After finishing the book and going back over the plot in my mind, some of the links were tenuous at best. Please don't think I am entirely negative about this book. I am quite conflicted about this title, which can be a good thing. I enjoyed reading it, found it fast-paced and very well written, but conversely many things irritated me. Lo herself wasn't the easiest protagonist to warm to. She struck me as indecisive, flaky, weak and needy. I almost started shouting at her as the story progressed. Despite some of my comments, I still think this is worth a recommendation.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen King - End of Watch

"...can be read as a standalone novel or as part of the trilogy. "

Synopsis:
Retired Detective Bill Hodges now runs a two-person firm called Finders Keepers with his partner Holly Gibney. They met in the wake of the 'Mercedes Massacre' when a queue of people at a jobs fair were run down by the diabolical killer, Brady Hartsfield.

Brady is now confined to Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, in an unresponsive state. But all is not what it seems: the evidence suggests that Brady is somehow awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.

When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk, as well as those of Bill's heroic young friend, Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara.

Brady Hartsfield is back and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city.

The clock is ticking in unexpected ways.

Review:
'End of Watch' is the final part of the Mr Mercedes trilogy of novels by legendary horror writer Stephen King. The first, 'Mr Mercedes', was King's first straight thriller and was, in my opinion, one of his finest novels in many years. It was up there with 'Misery', 'Dolores Claiborne' and 'The Shining'. The second, 'Finders Keepers', was equally brilliant as the story and tension was turned up. My hopes were high as I got my hands on 'End of Watch'. I was almost salivating as I turned to the first page.

With trilogies we all know that come the final part all bets are off. Anything can happen, and anyone, including the main character, can die. The last part in a trilogy should be a thrilling roller coaster ride of a novel, an epic, page-turning journey. Unfortunately, 'End of Watch' was none of these things for me.

The three main characters of Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson are all back. They're fully drawn and memorable characters, and that is where Stephen King's powers of storytelling lie. He can convey a character's backstory in one paragraph whereas most novelists would need an entire page.

While the previous books were brilliant psychological thrillers, 'End of Watch' relies on the paranormal and I'm sad to say I didn't follow it at all. The explanation was clunky and repetitive and the final showdown felt lacklustre.

'End of Watch' can be read as a standalone novel or as part of the trilogy. However, if you read 'Mr Mercedes' and 'Finders Keepers' and loved them as much as I did, don't bother with 'End of Watch' and keep the first two in the high regard they deserve.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Charles Cumming - A Divided Spy

"...a page-turner of a thriller..."

Synopsis:
Thomas Kell thought he was done with spying. A former MI6 officer, he devoted his life to the Service, but all it has left him with is grief and a simmering anger against the Kremlin. Then Kell is offered an unexpected chance at revenge. Taking the law into his own hands, he embarks on a mission to recruit the Russian spy he blames for the murder of his girlfriend.

Kell tracks his nemesis from Kiev to London, but soon finds himself in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse in which it becomes increasingly difficult to know who is playing whom. As the mission reaches boiling point, the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack looms over Britain. Kell is faced with an impossible choice - loyalty to MI6 - or to his own conscience?

Review:
There are few novelists where, for me, a new novel is an event. Once I know they have a new book due, I'm counting down the days until I can have it in my hands. One such writer is Charles Cumming. Why? He is an author of exceptional talent who thoroughly researches his plots and knows his genre inside out. While most people think of John Le Carré when the spy genre is mentioned, I think of Charles Cumming.

'A Divided Spy' is pure class from the opening page to the final word. Once again Cumming has tapped into the current fear we all have of being caught up in a potential terrorist attack.

Throughout the novel we are introduced to Shahid Khan - a radicalised British Muslim who is tasked with launching such an attack on British soil. What Cumming has done is create a character we are supposed to despise but who we actually sympathise with. We see the idealised Islamic living in a frivolous western town and how the two cultures clash. Neither is perfect but then neither are we as people. Once you take away our politics and our faith we are the same with the same desires. This is what Cumming has tapped into and what he has done brilliantly well.

This is Cumming's third novel featuring former MI6 operative Thomas Kell and while the ending could be the perfect ending for Kell I hope we see him again in a fourth. He's not a born spy as he's flawed with a conscience but he's human and easy to like. 'A Divided Spy' is a page-turner of a thriller and once you've turned the final page you'll want to go straight back to the beginning and start it again.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: