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Reviews

January 2015

Stuart MacBride - The Missing and the Dead

"...a fantastic read."

Synopsis:
When you catch a twisted killer there should be a reward, right? What Acting Detective Inspector Logan McRae gets instead is a 'development opportunity' out in the depths of rural Aberdeenshire. Welcome to divisional policing – catching drug dealers, shop lifters, vandals and the odd escaped farm animal.

Then a little girl's body washes up just outside the sleepy town of Banff, kicking off a massive manhunt. The Major Investigation Team is up from Aberdeen, wanting answers, and they don't care who they trample over to get them.

Logan's got enough on his plate keeping B Division together, but DCI Steel wants him back on her team. As his old colleagues stomp around the countryside, burning bridges, Logan gets dragged deeper and deeper into the investigation.

Review:
Regular readers of Crimesquad.com will be familiar with my enthusiasm for MacBride's Logan McRae series. However with favoured authors and characters, I find myself being more critical as my expectation levels are raised. Thankfully 'The Missing and the Dead' didn't just meet my expectations it exceeded them.

Logan McRae is dealing with his “development opportunity” with a stoic resolution although he can't help himself from getting involved in cases which aren't his to deal with. MacBride is as unkind as ever to him, and when DCI Roberta Steel shows up things go from bad to worse.

The plotting is sublime but for me the highlight of the book is the interaction between McRae and Steel. To all intents and purposes their behaviour is that of an unhappily married couple. They may be co-dependent but there is a constant squabbling between the two as each vies for supremacy.

With this novel, the author has raised a bar already set at the highest level. 'The Missing and the Dead' is a fantastic read.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Casey Kelleher - Bad Blood

"‘Bad Blood’ is very much in the style of Martina Cole."

Synopsis:
Harry Wood is a famous and admired boxer, known for his bloody determination and tough demeanour. Now retired, he has developed a family apparently glued together by an empire of drugs and prostitution. But things are changing. His beloved wife has died, his oldest son is trying to remove himself from the criminal world and his youngest daughter is unaware of the nature of the family business. His older daughter has left the family home and is separated from the good life by living with her useless husband and two children. The remaining son is a violent out of control bully. Happy families, then.

Slowly things begin to unwind and Harry, who is suffering from a terminal illness, finds it harder to keep everything under control. Extreme violence, unbearable cruelty and a few disclosed secrets keep the story racing along. There is love but also twisted hate. In the end there is resolution but not till after several bloody deaths.

Review:
'Bad Blood' is very much in the style of Martina Cole. This book relates the story of an East End family, tied by the bonds of love and money, but not averse to violence and law-breaking to further their ends. There are some graphic descriptions of fights and murderous behaviour which Kelleher handles well, although some descriptions can be quite stomach churning for the most bloodthirsty amongst us. The overall plot is gripping and I definitely engaged with all the characters.

My one problem with the book is that it is a bit episodic. There are good scenes but they did not always link together smoothly. There were one or two loose ends that I would have liked tied up. 'Bad Blood' certainly has the blood and guts of a Cole novel and should appeal to those who like her books. Definitely worth reading.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sam Millar - Black Creek

"This is an uncomfortable book to read, and is all the better for it."

Synopsis:
Fourteen-year-old Tom is the son of the local sheriff in Black Creek, in upstate New York. Together with his friends Brent Fleming and Charlie 'Horseshoe' Cooper, they go skinny-dipping in Jackson Lake. While there they see twelve-year-old Joey Maxwell throw himself into the water in a suicide attempt. They know why – he has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Norman Armstrong, an outcast detested by the people of the town. Tom vainly tries to save his life. They then hatch an ultimately unsuccessful plot to kill Armstrong.

Tom meets up with Devlin, a girl who keeps turning up at Jackson Lake while he is there, but who mysteriously tells him not to become too involved with her. Then a body is discovered – one which has been raped and abused. Armstrong is arrested for the murder, but is acquitted, much to Tom's father's disgust, though he is powerless to do anything about it.

Eventually, Joey Maxwell's father takes the law into his own hands, with dire consequences that will be felt many years later.

Review:
This is an uncomfortable book to read, and is all the better for it. It deals with guilt, innocence, growing up, justice, revenge and retribution. Though set in America, it was written by Northern Ireland playwright and novelist Sam Millar, once called 'Ireland's most controversial writer.' He is possibly better remembered as a former IRA activist and author of the memoir 'On the Brinks'.

The writing in this novel is taut and spare, and the well-plotted twists really do surprise. This being small-town America, there are no heart-stopping, fast-action sequences. However, this didn't stop me being caught up in the action, and deliciously unsure of where it would take me next.

One character that fascinated me was Brent Fleming, the 'leader' of the gang of three. I would like to find out more about him, and if Sam Millar ever feels compelled to write a novel that explores his later life, I'll be first in the queue to buy it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mari Hannah - Deadly Deceit

"...the last few pages took my breath away."

Synopsis:
A man and a young child are killed in a horrific house fire in Newcastle. On the A1 north of the city, a pile up - the worst in Northumberland's history - leaves a scene of bloodshed and carnage. DCI Kate Daniels and DS Hank Gormley are on the case, and quickly discover that the fire was deliberate, and that one of the accident victims – an elderly woman – didn't die as a result of the injuries she sustained in the accident.

Meanwhile, a beautiful, cold-as-ice, red-headed woman flits in and out of the story. What does she have to do with the fire or the accident? What is a mysterious Greek Cypriot's involvement in all of this? As Daniels and Gormley probe deeper, it soon becomes obvious that they have two seemingly unsolvable crimes on their hands. Meanwhile, Daniels' investigations are hampered by her love life. She and Jo Soulsby have split up, leaving her vulnerable. However, Fiona Fielding seems to fill the gap. Then Jo gets back in touch....

Review:
Mari Hannah certainly knows Newcastle and the surrounding area, and it shows through her writing. Real place and street names flash past the reader as her detectives weave their way through the city, usually at great speed. It all adds interest and authenticity to a plot which is fast-paced and gripping.

Kate Daniels is a complex, believable character who, like all of us, is sometimes distracted by her personal problems while at the same time being dedicated and diligent. The police procedure appears to be accurate (no doubt because Hannah's partner is a former detective), though it is obviously heightened to add excitement to the story. Various strands weave in and out of the plot, leaving the reader to wonder if, or how, these strands are connected. Hannah deliberately teases and intrigues us all the way with this, as the plotting, and unfolding of events, is impeccable.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book with a few uncomfortable, but necessary, moments in it. And the last few pages took my breath away.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sheila Bugler - The Waiting Game

"The cliffhanging denouement suggests that there is sure to be another book in the DI Kelly series, and I for one will be reading it."

Synopsis:
Chloe Dunbar's claims that someone keeps breaking into her house while she sleeps, and that the police don't take her claims seriously. Then someone not only breaks in, but attacks her. In a news story compiled by an unscrupulous reporter, she blames her ex, Ricky. And in the subsequent report, the reporter implies that the team led by DI Ellen Kelly isn't doing its job properly. But Ricky has a cast iron alibi for the night of the attack, and the police have no leads. Kelly has her own problems to deal with. Her husband, Vinnie, was murdered five years ago, and Kelly took the law into her own hands in retaliation (see the first book in the series, 'Hunting Shadows'). Now she's back on the job, but still working under a cloud. Not only that, she realises that she has feelings for a man called Jim O'Dwyer, and is confused, especially as her two children seem to want the two of them to get together.

A woman called Monica complicates matters further, when she too claims that someone has been breaking into her house while she sleeps. Kelly surmises that these are copycat claims, based on the newspaper report, but when Monica mentions some things about the break-ins that were not in the report, Kelly has to take notice. Then people start getting murdered, and things get complicated. Do O'Dwyer and Monica know each other? Did Monica know Chloe? And who is Annie?

Review:
Lewisham and Greenwich are not areas of London I know well. But I could get around fairly easily using this book as a guide, as Bugler has obviously done her research well.

DI Ellen Kelly is a complicated character. Like most of us, she is a mix of thoughtfulness and caution who sometimes resorts to knee-jerk reactions. Occasionally she puts revenge above justice, which has got her into trouble in the past, and she holds grudges. But mostly she puts people first, and is dedicated to her job and to her children. The story sometimes takes us into Kent, and her descriptions of the coastline and its ambience near Whitstable are convincing and plausible. The plot is complicated, but always understandable. However, some of the printed news stories that are reproduced in the book would never, in real life, get past a newspaper's lawyer. But that's a small point, and doesn't detract from the enjoyment of reading the book. The main 'villain' in this book has all the makings of becoming Kelly's 'Moriarty'. The cliffhanging denouement suggests that there is sure to be another book in the DI Kelly series, and I for one will be reading it. Brilliant.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Pearson - The Killing Season

"...you will not be disappointed..."

Synopsis:
DI Jack Delaney is trying to make a clean break. Tormented by his troubled past, he has taken his young family out of London, swapping the mayhem of the city for the tranquil calm of the North Norfolk coast. Except it's not so tranquil.

After a terrible storm hits Sheringham, a body is discovered beneath a collapsed cliff. Natural disaster? No, this looks like murder, and Jack is the only local resident qualified to investigate.

But when more disappearances follow and the local police step in, Jack finds himself plunged dangerously deep into the investigation - and in the sights of the killer on the loose.

Review:
If you haven't met Detective Inspector Jack Delaney yet then this is the perfect place to start. 'The Killing Season' is the fifth in the series but it's the best one yet. It's also a starting point for the central character as the setting changes from the gritty underworld of London to the rural idyll of Norfolk.

Jack Delaney is a brilliant detective, and although he has a tortured past, he does not wear it on his sleeve. He's a loveable rogue; tall, handsome, an everyman who all the ladies love. Mark Pearson has created a wonderful protagonist for us all to like. He'd be the kind of guy you'd want on your side. He's loyal and suffers no nonsense.

Pearson uses the setting of a close-knit community where everybody has a past and secrets are kept hidden for generations. This is very effective in keeping the reader gripped as you really don't know who Jack should be trusting in his hunt for a killer who has a gruesome knack of dispatching his/her victims.

If this is your first Jack Delaney novel you will not be disappointed and I advise you to buy the first four straight after. For existing fans this is a chillingly brilliant addition to the series. Pearson has raised his own high standard and relocating his protagonist has ignited new fire into the series. Book six should be an absolute cracker.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.J. Box - Shots Fired

"C.J Box can always be relied upon to provide exciting, character-based books..."

Synopsis:
A volume of short stories makes a welcome break from full-length crime novels. In this collection, C.J. (Charles James) Box gives us ten carefully-crafted tales, four of them featuring his Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett, who features in his full-length novels. They range from historical yarns such as 'The End of Jim and Ezra', set in what was Wyoming Territory in 1835, to a cautionary tale set in modern-day Disneyland Paris, where a Lakota native American – the 'Sauvage Noble' of its title – confronts sophisticated but real savagery. Along the way we also meet a wealthy Saudi who wants to buy falcons, revenge on the river, and a car beneath the ice of a frozen reservoir.

Joe firstly finds himself facing the wrong end of a lever-action carbine, wielded by a seriously deranged man, then faces a young woman pointing a cocked Colt .45 at him as her hand tightens on the trigger.

Review:
C.J Box can always be relied upon to provide exciting, character-based books that pitch inherent good against inherent badness, and this is no exception. The tales are told in a straightforward, lean prose that is more difficult to write than one would imagine. No word is wasted, and Box's love of Wyoming shines through in every one of these words. In fact, the Wyoming landscape is one of the main 'characters' in many of the tales.

The plotting is immaculate, and each tale is enhanced by the fact that it presents us with a moral dilemma – and in the four Pickett tales, presents Joe – a man with a fine sense of what is right and what is wrong - with a moral dilemma as well. The last tale, whose title is the title of the book, is especially satisfying.

Readers sometimes wonder why a writer wrote a particular story or book, and Box supplies a fascinating introduction that tells us what inspired each tale. The most unusual one, which you think must have come from an over-active imagination, turns out to have been the result of an amazing photograph Box saw – and the photograph is reproduced in the book. This is a sterling collection of short stories.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gordon Ferris - Money Tree

"...Ferris writes with his finger on the pulse and executes a complex plot with dexterity and pure class."

Synopsis:
New Delhi: Anila Jhabvala, a destitute village-woman, plunges into the teeming streets of her capital on a mad mission to escape the daily embrace of usury.

New York: Ted Saddler, a top American journalist, savages the explosively growing People's Bank for ripping off the poor.

Erin Wishart, an obstinate Scot with a late-developing conscience, accuses Ted of lies and distortions. The search for the truth uncovers a sordid tale of ruthless ambition, global crime, and murder.

The three lives collide in a tangle of emotion and fast-paced action among the treacherous alleyways of Kolkata and the vice-filled towers of corporate Manhattan.

Review:
Gordon Ferris, creator of the Douglas Brodie and Danny McRae novels has left behind the post-WW2 years of a battered, bruised, and corrupt Glasgow, and written a contemporary thriller set in the mysterious world of banking.

The corrupt nature of the financial world is known to all of us since the economic downturn, and has been the subject of many second-rate thrillers in the last few years. In the capable hands of Ferris, with his deft handling of characterisation and setting, he has delivered a highly intelligent story with a social conscience.

The plot splits between the corporate world in America to the backwaters of India where women are second-class citizens and life is very basic. The contrast is vast, eye-opening, and bravely written. What could have been a preachy story of greed is actually an original and engrossing novel.

Ferris is a talented and evocative writer. As with Douglas Brodie, he has created a flawed and likeable protagonist without descending into melodrama. Ted Saddler is an everyman. In contrast, the villains are also well developed. It would be easy to make the financial fat-cats two-dimensional cartoon baddies, but Ferris writes with his finger on the pulse and executes a complex plot with dexterity and pure class.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ben Solomon - The Hard-Boiled Detective

"Grab a copy and enjoy eleven great shots without the risk of a hangover."

Synopsis:
For the first time, the original 11 yarns from Solomon's ongoing, throw-back crime series are available in one volume. His nameless detective faces murderers, blackmailers, adulterers and racketeers—and that's only the first story in this collection. Ten more tales cover a never-ending parade of lowlifes, misfits and suckers, all narrated by the hard-luck gumshoe in his statements to the cops.

Review:
I'm a bit of a sucker when it comes to Private Eye short stories and when Ben Solomon contacted me to ask if I'd like to read this collection, I practically snapped his hand off.

His decision to tell these shorts as police statements is a brilliant one as it allows him to relive each case one by one drawing the reader into the story alongside his nameless detective.

Each story has its individual merits, but together they create a wonderfully Marlowesque world in which setting, dialogue and local patois are used to enrich the already strong tales.

Grab a copy and enjoy eleven great shots without the risk of a hangover.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kathy Reichs - Bones Never Lie

"There is no one who can surpass the expert knowledge of Kathy Reichs..."

Synopsis:
A young girl murdered in Vermont is linked to another case years later in Carolina. Tempe Brennan is called in as DNA points to the perpetrator being one Anique Pomerlau, a very unpleasant reminder from the past of one of Brennan's cases that was never satisfactorily concluded. When another young girl goes missing, Tempe has to find her erstwhile colleague and lover, Andrew Ryan who has taken leave of absence to recover from the tragic death of his daughter.

Together, as they tentatively renew their working relationship, they track down what has happened to Pomerlau, who seems to be taunting Brennan with her inability to close in on her. But it is not as simple as finding Pomerlau. The evil acts she committed cast long shadows and it is only dedicated policing and inspired research that finally stops the trail of devastation she began.

Review:
Kathy Reichs has perfected the crime novel that uses the expertise of a medical professional to solve the crime. This latest book exemplifies all that is good in the genre. There is no one who can surpass the expert knowledge of Kathy Reichs and her experience must provide her with a wealth of ideas for a story.

The style is fast and no punches are pulled. Brennan is a 'no nonsense' professional with a softer side which is well-hidden. As always, the plot is complex and intriguing, the characters engaging and the relationship between Tempe and Ryan constantly surprising. Fans of Reichs will be very happy with her latest book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Patricia Highsmith - A Suspension of Mercy

"A marvellous tour-de-force from one of the most understated authors of the 20th Century."

Synopsis:
Sydney Bartleby lives in the Suffolk countryside with his wife, Alicia. They live a monastic lifestyle – not through choice but through necessity. Sydney is a thriller writer which is a tortuous but necessary occupation. His head is full of ideas and plots, but the act of writing does not come easy. He had two books published in the States years ago, but nothing since. But they keep their head above water and Sydney stays at home plotting and plotting…
Then Alicia disappears and everyone is suspicious of this young man with his head full of ideas on how to get rid of people without any trace. Sydney is his own worst enemy, telling fib after fib as he digs himself in to a deeper hole as he tries to discover where exactly Alicia has gone.

Review:
It is always a cause for celebration when Highsmith's novels are re-issued. I read 'A Suspension of Mercy' many years ago and loved it. Highsmith is not everyone's cup of tea and even I, a staunch lover of her amazing ability to plumb the depths of despair and the darkness of mental instability, also find myself loving or loathing her from book to book. People loved 'The Two Faces of January', I couldn't stand it and just about managed to limp over the finish line months after starting it. However, 'The Suspension of Mercy' I read in a gulp.

As this book is based in Suffolk, I presume it was written during Highsmith's stay in the UK during the 1960's. The drama shifts from Suffolk to Brighton as Sydney tries to find Alicia. What Highsmith delivers in the end is a kind of modern Greek tragedy. Highsmith was a great one for irony and here you get an abundance of it. How she must have crowed writing about a writer who felt undervalued whilst ideas rampaged across his brain! The parallels between Sydney and his creator are endless!

As always, nothing is as it seems and Highsmith draws a cynical line under the ending and I can imagine a faint grin touching her lips as the final full-stop was typed on the page. As with Ripley, Sydney pushes the moral code further and further, until reality and imagination are inextricably blended together. A marvellous tour-de-force from one of the most understated authors of the 20th Century. Sublime.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Huxley - A Woman Named Coral

"Huxley can write..."

Synopsis:
In 2014 a journalist ventures out to Peru to discover if a woman who has a pale complexion and blue eyes, in contrast to the olive skinned natives, is really the daughter of his parents' friends who perished in a mudslide twenty years before. Whilst out there, Stefan finds Coral as she is now called and they begin a love affair despite her marriage to the elderly Aurelio. Despite their affection for one another, Coral does not want to end her marriage to her husband as she does not wish to upset him. On the other side of the coin is his violent son, Silvio who is not against the idea of taking whatever he wants from a woman – whether she wants to give it him or not.

Review:
I really enjoyed Huxley's previous novel, 'Summer Night, Winter Moon' which does involve a crime. Here, although Huxley does touch on the subject of rape as at the very beginning Coral's maid has been raped by Silvio and Coral promises to protect her. This is all well and good but then Huxley doesn't carry through with it. If you are going to tackle a serious subject like rape, then it needs to be handled with confidence and respect any readers who may have been a victim of this terrible crime. There is another incident towards the end of the novel which felt rushed and left unresolved, making this particular reader feeling uncomfortable. Huxley should have made this much more of a novel and explored properly the serious subject matter she had decided upon.

What did save this story was Huxley's obvious love for the Peruvian landscape which she tells with great love and respect. She describes the culture, the food, the different customs in detail although Coral and Stefan's visit to her adopted parents felt slightly rushed. This book is more a novella than a novel. With many blank pages amongst the story I calculated that this story came in at just under one hundred pages. I wish Huxley had taken more time to enlarge and expand on her story and the interesting characters (the vicious Pandora was screaming for her own back story) and delivered a fully-fledged novel. Huxley can write and I wish she had put this on the back burner to mature before putting this in to print.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joakim Zander - The Swimmer

"...‘The Swimmer’ is very definitely a book for the conspiracy theorists amongst us."

Synopsis:
Klara Walldeen was raised by her grandparents on a remote island off the cost of Sweden and is now making a name as a political aide in Brussels. She has just seen something she shouldn't: something people will kill to keep hidden.

On the other side of the world, a retired spy hides from his past. Once he was a man of action: so dedicated to the cause that he abandoned his baby daughter to keep his cover. Now the only thing he lives for is swimming in the local pool.

On Christmas Eve, he's drawn back into his old life to save the daughter he never knew, as Klara finds herself in a terrifying chase across Europe. Only the Swimmer can save her. But time is running out.

Review:
With its themes of secret government and corporate interventions into the political goings on of both home and foreign countries, 'The Swimmer' is very definitely a book for the conspiracy theorists amongst us.

We meet The Swimmer in Damascus, when the tragedy that separates him from his daughter occurs, from then on the narrative becomes a little hard to follow, as not only does it switch back and forth between the stories of Klara and The Swimmer, but also back and forth in time too.

'The Swimmer' also seems to have too many smaller characters whirling around the periphery of the main tale, all carrying out their own little piece of subterfuge, or manipulation of others which added, to me, an unnecessary layer of confusion.

'The Swimmer' is a decent political thriller, but don't expect a rapid race against time chase across Europe as you may feel disappointed.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Hill - Printer’s Devil Court

"I swear I could feel the fog of old London curling round my feet as I read this short offering."

Synopsis:
Hugh Meredith is a medical student living and working in London. He boards with three other students at St. Luke's Hospital but it is whilst gathered by the fire at their lodgings that Hugh becomes embroiled in an experiment thought up by two of the other students, Walter and Rafe. What Hugh witnesses he believes to be no more than a sick conjuring trick and wants no more to do with this 'experiment'.

Years later, having fled London to open his own practice deep in the country, Hugh finds himself back in London and in the same neighbourhood from his student life. Much has changed due to the bombing of the war, but what he does see on a cold night brings the present plunging back in to the past. Despite believing he has made amends, Hugh is not to be released from his obligation lightly.

Review:
Susan Hill releases another short but tightly written novella that chills the bone. There isn't much in the way of ghostly sightings until the last third of the book, but Hill is second to none at setting the atmosphere of what is to come in the third and final act of this sad tale. Hugh is a pleasant chap taken under the wing of two shady characters. In fact, Hill does mention Burke and Hare, the infamous grave robbers and this tale is in a way, very slightly related to their infamy.

Any ghost story by Hill is always going to be compared to her most famous work (see, I haven't even bothered mentioning the title!) which is a little harsh, although it is the more accomplished of her Gothic work. I didn't exactly feel the hairs bristling on the back of my neck, but I did feel I had been entertained and chilled in equal measure. As I said at the beginning of this review, not one of her spookiest, but Hill has that enviable knack of transporting you back in time. I swear I could feel the fog of old London curling round my feet as I read this short offering. This would make a pleasant present for any reader who loves a short, sharp chiller.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: