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Reviews

April 2017

Dorothy L. Sayers - Lord Peter Views the Body

"Simply topping!"

Synopsis:
Lord Peter Winsey is renowned as a raconteur and collector of rare books. He is also known throughout the crime world as a great detective. Here, Wimsey takes us through twelve of his cases involving a missing will with only a cryptic clue as to its whereabouts, a jealous artist who takes his art a bit too far, missing diamonds, murder of a man on a secluded beach and only his footprints in the sand, buried treasure, a ghostly apparition haunting the lanes of a small village and a crime syndicate. All are solved with Winsey's usual cunning and aplomb aiding here and there by his manservant, Bunter and his fiend from Scotland Yard, Inspector Parker.

Review:
Sayers' stories are not 'whodunits', in the sense that you have to guess the culprit. More often than not, the culprit is recognised from the start. It is how Wimsey either thwarts the imminent crime or how he re-balances the scales of justice that is the point to these small gems. Wimsey has always been classed as a trickster, a fop. As with Allingham's adventurer, Albert Campion, criminals disregard them at their peril.

Despite Wimsey's 'foppishness', when he has a criminal in his sights, he is like a Rottweiler. His methods may be bizarre and extreme, but somehow, they feel right for the tone of the stories encased in this collection. Some greatly reminded me of the short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Here there is a voluminous cast of strange characters, definitely in the first involving the artist! The last tale involves a crime syndicate with people in cloth hoods with numbers on them, which is reminiscent of Christie's, 'The Seven Dials Mystery'. I do wonder if such organisations were about those days, as during the twenties, there seems to have been a craving for secret societies back then! Sayers had a great eye for personalities and here they shine in these twelve macabre tales. As has always been documented, Sayers' writing had a habit of becoming a bit florid, but that is easy to deal with and doesn't upset the flow of these stories.

I am surprised that these short stories haven't been televised like the Poirot's were. They are smart little conundrums and with some minor tweaking would certainly pass an hour of entertainment. This shows a world long gone, savaged by two World Wars. Sayers' longevity continues without any sign of waning which is why The Folio Society has brought out this luscious volume. The 48 illustrations by Paul Cox perfectly reflect the rhythm of the stories with a marvellous one involving 'The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head' which involves Wimsey getting a brief insight to parenting by looking after his nephew, Gerald aka Pickled Gherkins (Gherkins for short). This is a splendid addition to Folio's growing classic crime list and would make a perfect gift for anyone who loves and appreciates Sayers' writing and the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. Simply topping!

Click on the title to go through to the Folio Society website to view this title. Lord Peter Views the Body.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georgette Heyer - Death in the Stocks

"Heyer has a wonderful eye for dialogue and characterisation..."

Synopsis:
Arnold Vereker is found locked in the stocks on the village green, murdered. He had a cottage locally he would visit at weekends and not much was known of him, except that he enjoyed entertaining a number of different women. He was not a pleasant man.

His remaining family are as eccentric as Arnold and as unpleasant. All hated Arnold who had money, something none of them can lay claim to, so all had a motive for getting rid of their rich relative. So it is left to Hannasyde to sift through the complex relationships of this awkward and uncaring family to find Arnold's killer. Then another meets an unexpected death and Hannasyde is determined to bring this murderer to justice.

Review:
This is the first of Heyer's books to feature Inspector Hannasyde, who later becomes Superintendent. Heyer has a wonderful eye for dialogue and characterisation, and her novel is based on what she knows: people. There isn't much in the way of an investigation, but mainly conversations between the Vereker family members, none of whom are particularly pleasant. I did reach a point in the book where I hoped Heyer would perform a 'Murder on the Orient Express' trick where they had all done it, as none have any redeeming factors. Saying that, Heyer perfectly evokes the time and attitudes of the 1930's.

Hannasyde plays a small part in the proceedings, doing most of his detective work off stage. I did guess the murderer near the end of the book, but not the motive. If you can get past your dislike for the entire Vereker family, then this is a very fine example of the classic crime novel, but with the added dash of characterisation from Heyer who is better known for her romantic fiction. Although not the best Heyer was to produce in this genre, it is still a very enjoyable conundrum.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Margery Allingham - The Crime at Black Dudley

"...they certainly broke the mould after Campion was born!"

Synopsis:
George Abbershaw and others are invited down to the country to Black Dudley Manor for a weekend by his friend, Wyatt Petrie. He owns the house after the death of his aunt, but allows his uncle by marriage, the wheelchair-bound, Colonel Coombe's to stay in the house he shared with his dead wife. Several times a year, young things like Abbershaw are invited down as it entertains the old Colonel.

On the first night, the legend of the Black Dudley dagger is told which leads to the lights being turned out and the dagger passed about. However, this leads to disastrous consequences as when the lights go up, Colonel Coombe's is found dead. His doctor in residence says the old man died of a heart attack, but did he? Soon the group, including one Albert Campion, are prisoners in Black Dudley by a gang of rogues looking for some mysterious papers. Soon the tables are turned and the group begin to fight back to survive.

Review:
This book had been out of print for many years, but now some clever-clogs in marketing has decided this title can be classed as the first Campion novel. However, I feel I need to disagree with this. Yes, it does feature Albert Campion, but here he has more of a supporting role than a starring one. The main role is given to Dr. George Abbershaw. He is a personable young man who is in love with Meggie Oliphant (Allingham did enjoy a love interest), but besides that, there isn't much to say about the man.

I have no idea if Allingham was going to produce a series character and if he was going to be Abbershaw, (how different things would have been if she had gone in that direction), or if each book was going to be a standalone. Thankfully, between the publication of this book in 1929 and the subsequent one, 'Mystery Mile' featuring Campion, Allingham must have either thought Campion had more possibilities, or was told to ditch Abbershaw by her agent or even had an in-depth conversation with her husband and co-writer, Philip Youngman Carter. Whatever happened to bring Campion out into the spotlight, it worked. Here, Campion is the typical Harlequin when faced with danger, who disappears to forge his own adventures, while leaving us with Abbershaw. 'The Crime at Black Dudley' follows the usual pattern of Allingham's books – adventure tales for adults. There isn't really a denouement as such, but plenty of criminal gangs to keep the fires burning until the last page. This is not her best, but it will interest many to see Campion's origins. It is quite amazing that Allingham did alight on Campion out of such a large group of characters. Whatever is was, we are thankful she did as they certainly broke the mould after Campion was born!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Hilary - Quieter Than Killing

"Her writing is of the highest calibre, and her novels are always thought provoking."

Synopsis:
Marnie and Noah are investigating a series of assaults. The attacks appear to be random, the targets young and old, men and women, but all were convicted of violent crimes and recently released. They are on the perpetrator's trail when outside events come to the force.

Marnie's parents' house has been targeted by a gang of youths, her tenants attacked in an apparent robbery and Marnie can't help but feel there's a connection to Stephen, her foster brother. Noah's brother Sol is about to fall foul of the gang he pretends not to be involved in.

As they investigate, they begin to question whether all three cases are linked ... after all, some crimes are quieter and more insidious than killing.

Review:
There is an underlying sadness to 'Quieter Than Killing'. Yes, it is a work of fiction, but I cannot help thinking about the amount of children who are the forgotten generation - lost to gangs and crime at such a young age. This is all too real in 21st century Britain, and Sarah Hilary has brilliantly tapped into that sense of lost innocence and youth, to deliver a powerful and chilling thriller.

I like Marnie Rome. She's a tough detective, yet she has heart. She thinks and sees the case from various angles and uses logic rather than intuition. However, so heavily scarred by her past, she has a vulnerability that Hilary allows to escape, subtly, from time to time, and that is where Marnie Rome shines as one of the top detectives of modern crime fiction.

Her sidekick, DS Noah Jake, is a total contrast to Marnie. He's younger, stable, happy, yet he too has family issues that return to haunt him. The love for his brother is touching yet is severely tested. I often wondered about how much you should help family members in trouble before you have to let them go while reading Noah's story.

It is not difficult to understand why Sarah Hilary won a top award with her debut novel. Her writing is of the highest calibre, and her novels are always thought provoking. They will stay with you long after you've finished.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Casey - Let the Dead Speak

"A truly suspenseful and multi layered book."

Synopsis:
A murder without a body.

Eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home one day to find the house covered in blood and Kate, her mother, gone. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder.

Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she is up to her new role as detective sergeant. She suspects Chloe is holding something back, but best friend Bethany Norris won't let Maeve get close. What exactly is Bethany protecting Chloe from.

As the team dig deeper into the residents of Valerian Road, no one is above suspicion. All Maeve needs is one person to talk, but that's not going to happen because even in a case of murder, some secrets are too terrible to share.

Review:
Casey's new novel sees the newly promoted detective sergeant tackle a bizarre and disturbing case. Jane Casey has created a wonderful protagonist in Maeve Kerrigan. A strong, wilful, determined detective who cares for the victims and those left behind. It is refreshing to read about a career orientated lead character without the usual, clichéd hang-ups.

'Let The Dead Speak' is an emotionally charged, and gripping thriller from the outset, with a misleading opening chapter and plenty of misdirection to keep you reading into the small hours of the morning.

The interplay between Kerrigan and her colleagues is both accurate and entertaining. The conversations Maeve has with Derwent are natural. Such is the power of Casey's writing, you can visualise every scene playing out on the page in front of you. New recruit, Georgia is difficult to like, but her nerves and eagerness to impress is spot on.

Jane Casey is a writer of immense talent. Her books are well researched and authentic without taking any of the drama away for the drudgery of real life police work.

'Let The Dead Speak' is a compulsive read and even when you think everything is nicely wrapped up, Casey hits you between the eyes with one final twist. A truly suspenseful and multi layered book.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mick Finlay - Arrowood

"A very strong start to an original and intriguing premise."

Synopsis:
It is London 1895. Sherlock Holmes is the favoured sleuth of the rich and powerful when the conventional police force cannot provide answers. Others turn to Arrowood, a private investigator without the contacts of Holmes, but one who believes himself to be superior and more thorough than his illustrious competitor.

Arrowood has studied psychology, lives in straitened circumstances and occasionally indulges in an over-enthusiastic bout of drinking. He is kept on the right path by his assistant, Barnett, and then by his sister, Ettie.

He is called in to help a young French woman searching for her brother who has disappeared whilst working for the one man that neither Arrowood nor Barnett want to entangle themselves with again. As they investigate further it is clear that many people in the case are lying.

Prostitution, trafficking, Irish nationalism and American Fenians are all mixed up in the search for Thierry and both Arrowood and Barnett suffer in the process.

Review:
Sherlock Holmes is the flavour of the month and there seem to be several books out now with a twist on the great man. This one has an original slant and does not really involve Holmes except when Arrowood reacts forcefully to any mention of the famous sleuth. The underbelly of Victorian London is explored - not a lot different from now, only different protagonists.

The story is complex and is carefully crafted together, culminating in an exciting end, but with sufficient strands left to encourage the reader to follow up in the next book. A very strong start to an original and intriguing premise.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

T P Fielden - The Riviera Express

"The whole book has a slightly tongue in cheek feel, and parts are laugh out loud funny."

Synopsis:
It is 1958 in the sleepy Devon town of Temple Regis. Nothing much happens here and what does is reported by the local newspaper, The Riviera Express, that shares its name with the train that delivers visitors to the town from Paddington. One of the reporters on the paper is Miss Judy Dimont. To outward appearance she is a middle aged, slightly dowdy spinster who is assigned to the mainly dull local events. Her editor is an opinionated and tetchy man with whom Miss Dimont does not always agree.

But excitement is coming to Temple Regis: first of all, much loved film star, Gerald Hennessey, is found murdered on the 4.30 from Paddington. Then another body, apparently a suicide, is found at the bottom of a cliff. Miss Dimont is on the case, rushing to the scene of the crime on her trusty moped (possibly the first clue that she is less than conventional).

More famous faces arrive in town, and Miss Dimont has her suspicions as to what secrets might have led to the deaths. As the book progresses, we learn a little more about Judy Dimont and there are hints of an exciting and important past.

Review:
Cosy Crime this definitely is and none the worse for that. Judy Dimont evolves from a long history of exceptional unexpected women who are adept at solving crimes missed by the professionals, Miss Marple, Agatha Raisin and Catriona McPherson's Dandy Gilver for example. It is not a ground breaking scenario but Miss Dimont has sufficient of a mystery around her to catch the imagination and intrigued this reader.

The atmosphere of post war Britain in the 1950s is beautifully portrayed. As one who can (just about) remember it, it is very evocative. There are some lovely characters. I particularly liked Athene Madrigale, an other-worldly persona who floats around dispensing tea and sympathy.

The whole book has a slightly tongue in cheek feel, and parts are laugh out loud funny. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it as a relaxing read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Oswald - Written in Bones

"The opening to the seventh DI Tony McLean novel is one of the most powerful and memorable I have ever read."

Synopsis:
A body is found in a tree in the Meadows, Edinburgh's beautiful public park. The forensics suggests that the corpse has fallen from a height - but was it an accident or a shocking message?

The dead man had led quite a life - a disgraced ex-cop turned criminal kingpin and, most recently, the head of a celebrated charity.

As McLean investigates, his search takes him from the city's underworld - crossing paths with some of the most dangerous and the most vulnerable people in society - before taking him to the heart of a shadowy conspiracy stretching back years.

Review:
The opening to the seventh DI Tony McLean novel is one of the most powerful and memorable I have ever read. A gruesome murder told in James Oswald's trademark technicolour detail will stay with me for a long time to come. Never again will I look at a bare tree in the same way again.

What follows is a dark and deftly written story as our protagonist DI McLean takes on his most challenging case that nobody seems to want him to solve.

Oswald is a terrific writer. He is able to include all the drudgery of every police work - the paperwork, the office politics - with the excitement of a disturbing murder investigation. If you didn't know the author, you'd think this was written by an ex-detective, the attention to detail is so great.

I am a huge fan of the McLean series and Oswald in general. He has created a wonderful main character and each book is as thrilling and deep as the previous one - if not more so.

The Edinburgh setting may be familiar (if you're a fan of crime fiction you must know Rebus), but Oswald has added an extra dimension to the city by introducing a cast of wonderfully diverse characters.

The ending to 'Written in Bones' is a hint of the future and a turning point for Tony McLean. This can only be a good thing. Bring on book eight, and nine, and ten...

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

JJ Marsh - Human Rites

"If you haven’t already discovered JJ Marsh, I urge you to do so."

Synopsis:
Adrian Harvey, London wine merchant, has lost the Christmas spirit. Someone is stalking him, stealing his post and vandalising his shop. When the police question him after an anonymous tip-off, he's more than anxious. He's scared. And who is that nun?

When long time neighbour and friend, DI Beatrice Stubbs is dispatched to Germany to investigate a series of apparently related art thefts, Adrian seizes the chance to flee the city. He follows her to Hamburg to do some Christmas shopping and visit his ex. Yet that stalker is still on his heels.

While Beatrice is on the trail of a violent gang of mercenary thieves, Adrian runs from danger to the remote island of Sylt. But when danger catches up, he has run too far. From the icy streets of Hamburg, to the canals of Amsterdam, and the snow swept beaches of Sylt, Beatrice and Adrian discover how a virtue taken to extremes can lead to deadly sin.

Review:
I am a huge fan of JJ Marsh's crime series. 'Human Rites', the fifth in the series, certainly lives up to its predecessors.

This is a truly international crime series, with each novel set in a different European location, this latest taking place in Germany – on the wintery streets of Hamburg and the snow swept beaches of Sylt, an island off Germany's north coast.

Over the course of the five novels, Marsh has introduced us to a series of fascinating and entertaining characters. Adrian Harvey, the central character for much of this novel, has been with us since the first book. Like all fans of this series, I'm sure, I have grown to love Adrian and it's great to see him getting centre stage this time.

What follows is a stomping romp of a crime novel. Caught up in her investigation, Beatrice at first fails to notice that all is not well with her friend. In fact, Adrian is falling apart. His trip abroad hasn't helped. If anything, his troubles seem to have followed him to Germany. Someone has been leaving odd notes for him at the hotel where he's staying and the nun he kept seeing outside his shop in London appears to be in Hamburg as well.

Fearing her dear friend is having a breakdown, Beatrice is relieved when Adrian takes up the offer of a holiday escape on the north German island of Sylt. But even Sylt isn't far enough away from danger, as Adrian soon discovers…

Many years ago, I was lucky to spend some time on another island off the coast of northern Germany. Marsh's descriptions of Sylt are so vivid, so rich in colour and texture that it conjured up long-forgotten memories for this reader. The isolated setting is the perfect location for a man running away from life.

With great skill, Marsh keeps the dual plots running throughout the novel so the reader is equally interested in the police investigation and Adrian's increasingly bizarre behaviour. Is he really being stalked or is he gradually losing his grip on reality?

A combination of really great characters and wonderful descriptions of location all combine to keep you turning the pages. Marsh's writing is funny, clever and – above all – filled with warmth for her wonderful array of characters.

If you haven't already discovered JJ Marsh, I urge you to do so. If you're already a fan, then a word of warning. This one is a real tear jerker. I wept buckets at the end. Of course, I can't tell you why – you'll just have to read it yourself to find out.

DI Beatrice Stubbs is a wonderful creation. I've heard there's another book in the pipeline and really hope this is the case. If it's true, I'll be first in line to read it!

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

J S Monroe - Find Me

"...an original and thought provoking book."

Synopsis:
This is the story of Rosa and Jar, both students at Cambridge in 2012. Rosa is mourning her late father and Jar is an aspiring writer. They meet, fall in love and are happy together. But Rosa has an agenda that Jar knows nothing about. He is devastated when Rosa is reported dead after apparently committing suicide and leaving a note for Jar. The Coroner emphasised her depression after the death of her father.

Jar, too, is now suffering from mental problems as a result of his bereavement and keeps having visions of Rosa, alive and well. But five years after Rosa's funeral Jar is convinced he has seen the real live Rosa at a tube station in London.

He starts to follow up on Rosa's past and with the help of techy friends manages to decipher Rosa's diary on the hard drive of her computer. Rosa's cousin, Amy, was close to her and helps Jar. She was staying with Amy and her husband, Martin, when she disappeared. Jar uncovers a mysterious arrangement that implicates Rosa in the secret service and strange investigators are also following up on the diary.

Jar is convinced that Rosa is alive, others are trying to persuade him otherwise and destroy any evidence to the contrary. The answer, when it comes is surprising, but completely believable.

Review:
There is a device half way through the book which asks readers to guess what they think has happened to Rosa. I admit to being half right but the final ending came as a real twist.

Throughout the book the mental states of both Jar and Rosa muddy the waters between reality and fantasy. This makes it difficult to know the truth but engages the reader in testing many scenarios. This is definitely an original and thought provoking book. I felt out of my comfort zone in understanding the technical aspects but just took them at face value. More savvy readers might enjoy the intricacies. An enjoyable read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Gardner - Right Behind You

"...easy to read style, and her ability to develop realistic characters."

Synopsis:
Is he a hero? Eight years ago, Sharlah May Nash's older brother beat their drunken father to death with a baseball bat in order to save both their lives. Now thirteen years old, Sharlah has finally moved on. About to be adopted by retired FBI profiler Pierce Quincy, and his partner, Rainie Conner, Sharlah loves one thing best about her new family: they are all experts on monsters.

Is he a killer? Then the call comes in. A double-murder at a local gas station, followed by reports of an armed suspect shooting his way through the wilds of Oregon. As Quincy and Rainie race to assist, they are forced to confront mounting evidence: the shooter may very well be Sharlah's older brother, Telly Ray Nash, and it appears his killing spree has only just begun.

All she knows for sure: he's back. As the clock winds down on a massive hunt for Telly, Quincy and Rainie must answer two critical questions: Why after eight years has this young man started killing again? And what does this mean for Sharlah? Once upon a time, Sharlah's big brother saved her life. Now, she has two questions of her own: is her brother a hero, or a killer? How much will it cost her new family before they learn the final, shattering truth? As Sharlah knows all too well, the biggest danger is the one standing right behind you.

Review:
Gardner is generally known for writing dark, often gruesome thrillers, so 'Right Behind You' had a completely different feel to it as it centred a lot more on emotion and family, rather than the crimes themselves. Whilst Gardner is an excellent storyteller, I did feel a little robbed as I was expecting a nail biting, edge-of-the-seat thriller. Instead I was given a heart-warming, feel good book with the crime plot added as an after-thought. The majority of the book dealt with family relationships and happy ever afters - and this isn't why I read Lisa Gardner's books. Even the plot was predictable, with the outcome being guessed very early on.

Definitely not one of Gardner's bests if fast-paced, violent crime thrillers is your genre of choice. However, the book was saved by Gardner's easy to read style, and her ability to develop realistic characters.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Margery Allingham - Police at the Funeral

"‘Police at the Funeral’ is a jolly good romp..."

Synopsis:
Great-Aunt Caroline lives in her rambling mansion house in Cambridge which has not changed in decades and appears to be in a Victorian time warp. Several of her children left but ultimately returned to the homestead, wounded by life. Others just didn't leave at all. None of them are particularly pleasant and none of them get on with one another, bickering each and every day. Every Sunday they all go to church. Not because they are religious, but because their mother demands it. She is the lynchpin and she who must be obeyed. Then there is a hideous murder and Campion is asked to investigate. Then there is another murder and it appears that someone is stalking the old corridors of that house with murder in mind.

Review:
Allingham is one of those authors you read alongside Christie, Sayers and Marsh as the quartet of crime queens. However, in my case I have only been reading Allingham in recent years. I had watched and enjoyed the Campion series with the wonderful Peter Davison who was sublime as Campion – as well as Julian Glover who was perfect as Lugg. However, it didn't move me to read Allingham's books, until only a few years ago when I read Mike Ripley's, 'Campion's Farewell', which pushed me in Allingham's direction. Now is a great time to discover these authors, especially with the recent resurgence of the Golden Era of crime fiction. I do remember 'Police at the Funeral' being one of the novels they adapted for T.V., but I obviously didn't remember the killer as I got it entirely wrong!

Allingham writes her books with her tongue very much pushed in her cheek. They are not convoluted puzzles like Christie's, although saying that, this one is more of a Christie than other Campion novels. Most are more adventure stories for adults. As always, Campion is an amiable character and not very annoying to be in his presence, and as always there is not enough of Lugg. You have to remember that some of the language used and some of the sayings were accepted back then, whilst today they are frowned upon. These were the days when politically correctness hadn't even been born! 'Police at the Funeral' is a jolly good romp with a pleasing conclusion and one for her fans to re-visit and a good one to embark on if dipping your toe in the Allingham/Campion pond for the first time.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: