Click a logo below for more information...
 
 
 

Reviews

July 2014

James Oswald - Dead Men's Bones

"...cements his status as a future heir to Rankin's throne."

Synopsis:
A family lies slaughtered in an isolated house in North East Fife.

Morag Weatherly and her two young daughters have been shot by husband Andrew, an influential member of the Scottish Parliament, before he turned the gun on himself.

But what would cause a rich, successful man to snap so suddenly?

For inspector Tony McLean, this apparently simple but high-profile case leads him into a world of power and privilege. And the deeper he digs, the more he realises he's being manipulated by shadowy factions.

Under pressure to wrap up the case, McLean seeks to uncover layers of truth - putting the lives of everyone he cares about at risk.

Review:
I always feel a modicum of sympathy for Scottish writers of crime fiction; they're always compared to Ian Rankin. In my opinion, Rankin is the King of crime and it would take a real talent to get close to the Rebus creator.

Enter stage left, James Oswald. ‘Dead Men's Bones’ may only be his fourth novel but he already has Rankin in his sights. Oswald is a natural storyteller, and this outing for his protagonist Tony McLean, cements his status as a future heir to Rankin's throne.

The main plot of a politician killing his family before himself is well handled, and this being a crime novel, the solution should not be taken at face value. I often thought I knew where the story was heading but I was wrong footed at every guess. Oswald knows how to draw you in to a blind alley and throw a plot curve when you least expect it.

Tony McLean is rapidly becoming an iconic fictional detective. He's a seeker of truth, flawed, and grieving. He's also an everyman; I'd definitely want him fighting in my corner.

The plot bubbles along at a steady pace and all the signs are there for the final epic showdown, but they are so subtle you'll not see them coming. James Oswald is a cunningly clever writer and leaves you screaming for a fifth book.

Penguin Microsite

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth Flynn - Game, Set and Murder

"...a delightful mystery, perfect for a summer’s day with a punnet of strawberries to hand."

Synopsis:
It is the first day of Wimbledon fortnight and the famous tennis tournament is buzzing with anticipation. However, on Court 19 events take a dark turn when the body of Petar Belic, champion-turned-coach is found dead, his body splayed out across the lawn tennis court. So begins the first case for newly promoted, DI Angela Costello, an avid tennis fan herself.

Belic adorned Costello’s bedroom wall during the height of his tennis career and she is particularly shocked and saddened by his sudden demise. There is no obvious sign as to the cause of death until the post-mortem highlights a small anomaly. Soon, Belic’s death is confirmed as murder – but who would want to kill the man everyone seemed to love and respect? It appears there was one person who didn’t feel quite the same way as everyone else.

Review:
For those of you tennis fans who are already pining for the green lawns of Wimbledon, this book is a nifty way to get a small tennis fix. The tournament is wrapped around a murder investigation and Flynn is obviously an avid tennis fan and you can feel the love she has for the sport. The crime is played out on the eve of the Wimbledon tournament and I warn you now that you will have to suspend belief here. Flynn has her professional tennis players eating meals late in the evening and still out and about at 1am, when we all know that such focused athletes would have been in bed hours before to be fresh for the first day of a Grand Slam tournament. However, that is my only small niggle.

I wouldn’t call this book a ‘cosy’, although like the cream that covers those Wimbledon strawberries, Flynn’s book is light and fluffy. Angela Costello is a charming detective and despite a few wobbles of confidence, is quite a sane and sorted police officer. There is a nod to Christie as Flynn, like a butterfly, flits from suspect to suspect, scattering suspicion throughout. Each character – the jealous girlfriend, the dodgy business partner, the arrogant tennis player are your usual fare in suspects and not explored in-depth, but that would seem out of place. The mystery is the central point of the book, here. The one element that rings true is the Wimbledon tennis tournament where Flynn excels at bringing to life the hot days, the smell of grass and how the fervent love of tennis brings together a whole nation to enjoy this sport that is steeped in tradition. This is a delightful mystery, perfect for a summer’s day with a punnet of strawberries to hand.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Christopher Simmons - Seven

"...each story grabs you by the throat and demands your attention. "

Synopsis:
A collection of seven psychological stories each with a sting in the tail.

A woman superbly plays the role of the grieving widow, but are her tears as real as the mourners believe? An elderly woman chats amicably with her sister in a darkened room and another believes she has found the one true love of her life.

From war-torn London to a modern village filled with malicious gossip, here are seven short stories that will surprise and satisfy any crime fiction reader!

Review:
I drew the short straw and had to review the boss. A tricky concept as he expects impartial reviews with no external bias, yet he is also the author in this case so I had to make sure my comments would massage his ego as well as adhering to his guidelines.

Thankfully his collection of short stories is an excellent foray into the short story world. (Whew! I’m off the hook) Told with a distinctive voice, each story grabs you by the throat and demands your attention.

Whether depicting domestic situations, village life or personal relationships his stories do not let you go. Written with an eye for detail and an understanding of human emotions and psychology, Simmons paints familiar pictures with his words. Love, loss, rumour and domesticity are all portrayed with a skill honed by years of absorbing the genre. While there isn’t a weak story in the collection, the best by far is ‘These Widows Weeds’.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Danuta Reah - The Last Room

"...a richly plotted, multi-layered drama with raw emotions and boundless grief at its heart."

Synopsis:
When Ania Milosz falls to her death in a Polish city, her father, Will Gillen, accepts the verdict of suicide. Ania, an expert witness, was about to be exposed as a perjurer and a liar. Will knows his daughter was neither, but he also knows the terrible burden she carried from her past when her sister was abducted and murdered.

Will realises there is one thing that may have made her fabricate evidence in a harrowing murder case: after all these years, has she found her sister's killer, and has the prospect of his release driven her to the point of suicide?

Ania's lover, Dariusz, won't accept this. He knows Ania did not kill herself. Does Will really know his daughter, or is there an even darker story behind Ania's death? Will is haunted by images of his dead daughter. Is she trying to tell him something? Is she trying to warn him, or is his grief driving him mad?

Review:
‘The Last Room’ is a richly plotted, multi-layered drama with raw emotions and boundless grief at its heart.

Danuta Reah has a solid understanding of the effects of grief as a father comes to terms with losing his last remaining relative. His breakdown is touching and dealt with sensitively while still retaining the high drama needed to drive an acute and intelligent story.

It is refreshing to have a crime fiction story not centred on the police and their investigation, but instead uses the victim's family and friends as the main players. This gives the story added realism and the emotions of grieving relatives are always at the forefront, waiting to bubble over.

The story is highly original and the reader learns a great deal about voice recognition and the role it has in crime solving. Reah is an intelligent writer and has thoroughly researched her plot and locations to lend added intensity to the drama.

If you're looking for a thought provoking character led story then this is the book for you. Keep the tissues to hand though; Will Gillen's story is an incredibly sad one.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ben Cheetham - Angel of Death

"Once in a while you stumble across a crime novel that you love so much you want to hand out copies to everyone you meet. This is one of those books."

Synopsis:
In the quiet outskirts of Sheffield, the blackened bodies of a man and his wife are retrieved from a house fire. Their son and daughter are found, barely alive, outside the burning home. In the charred remains, the police find evidence of a sickening crime.

In another city a woman smears make up over her bruises. The man responsible for them lies on the bed beside her, but he will never hurt anyone again. Now she has only one thing on her mind: revenge.

Detective Inspector Jim Monahan believes he has found a lead in an old case of a missing teenager. The courts might not agree, but for Jim this is all he needs to bring down a gang of vicious criminals.

Review:
Once in a while you stumble across a crime novel that you love so much you want to hand out copies to everyone you meet. This is one of those books.

The opening three chapters are an incredible tour de force that will grip you like a vice and keep you in its tight hold until the very last page. The pace is electric and the shocks and surprises come thick and fast.

What Ben Cheetham has achieved in only his second novel is a story of such rich magnitude that even a seasoned professional couldn't have handled it better. His characters are human and engaging and his prose is effective and taut.

The setting of Sheffield is an original one. Being born and bred in Sheffield I know the city like the back of my hand and I have always felt it truly cried out to be featured in a series of crime novels. Thankfully, Cheetham saw the potential too and uses the steel city like a character in its own right.

Where Cheetham goes with book three is anyone's guess, but on the basis of this novel (and his first, ‘Blood Guilt’), he will have a rich and lengthy career. He deserves the widest audience possible, so when you've finished this book tell your friends.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Camilla Lackberg - Buried Angels

"I'd have to say for me, ‘Buried Angels’ is her best yet."

Synopsis:
1974. In the middle of Easter celebrations, a family vanishes from their home on an idyllic island off the Swedish coast, leaving everything behind, even their one-year-old daughter, Ebba. Years later, Ebba has returned to the island. As she and her husband try and make a fresh start following the loss of their only child, their home becomes the target of an arson attack.

It's up to Detective Patrik Hedstrom to investigate and when dried blood is found under the floorboards of the old house, it seems that the cold case involving the missing family is about to be brought back to life. His wife, crime writer Erica Falck is fascinated by the mystery of Ebba’s abandonment and the family’s tragic history, ensuring that both she and Patrik soon become consumed by the hunt for a killer who will stop at nothing to keep the past buried.

Review:
As a long-time fan of Camilla Lackberg I had been looking forward to reading this next instalment in the Patrick Hedstrom/Ericka Falck series for quite some time and I'm glad to say that my anticipation was worth the wait. ‘Buried Angels’ sees a pleasant lift in the domestic side of life in Fjellbacka for Ericka and Anna who have both had quite a rough ride in the last few novels, this contrasted well with the increasingly dark and more tragic tale of Ebba and her history that formed the main story.

I found this a much easier novel to read than her previous books, for me there was a marked change in style that improved it tremendously. I have in the past struggled to read the book versions of her tales preferring to listen to them in unabridged audiobook format. I found no such issues with ‘Buried Angels’, and indeed had ploughed through the first hundred or so pages is just a couple of hours. I'm unsure if this is a change in her writing, the way it was translated or some combination of both, but it was certainly all the better for it.

With the interwoven stories, that are her signature style, as complex and intriguing as ever, I'd have to say for me, ‘Buried Angels’ is her best yet.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matthew Quirk - The Directive

"...as Quirk's first novel and is a one sitting read. "

Synopsis:
Two brothers, millions of dollars - and the heist of a lifetime.

After escaping the corrupt back rooms of Washington DC, Mike Ford is again playing a dangerous game--this time the stakes are even higher.

Mike's brother is in over his head in a powerful conspiracy to steal a secret worth billions of dollars from the little-known but unbelievably influential trading desk at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In an effort to help, Mike soon finds himself trapped by the dangerous men in charge and forced to call on all the skills of his criminal past in order to escape.

Review:
Quirk's first novel had Ford bringing down his corrupt ex-boss whilst working in the world of Washington politics. He has now branched out on his own and life is settling down with his fledgling business and an upcoming marriage to his girlfriend, Annie. But life seems to bring trouble to Ford's door and ‘The Directive’ sees him trying to keep himself and his family safe. In order to do so he needs to commit further crimes and break into the Federal Reserve Bank.

Whilst the crime does seem a little implausible, this is still a book that is totally gripping. Ford, with a lot of luck often on his side, keeps one step ahead of those after him. Quirk has built a character that is impossible not to like. Despite knowing that Ford is on the wrong side of the law, he still has good intentions, which means you want him to succeed. If only so he will survive to feature in the next book.

The mastermind behind the plot is not revealed until the very end, but I found that all I wanted to do was to keep reading to find out if Ford manages to pull off the crime and get back to his life.

‘The Directive’ is as exciting as Quirk's first novel and is a one sitting read. If you are willing to suspend belief a little, then ‘The Directive’ is the book for you.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - Body Count

"’Body Count’ is extremely atmospheric and I loved it."

Synopsis:
The body of an old man is found with his head partially decapitated in a neglected district of Istanbul. Inspector Mehmet Suleyman goes to investigate but no culprit is found. Months later the body of a dead woman is found in a health club. Soon after a visiting English academic is also found dead and the deaths continue. What, if anything, do they all have in common?

Inspector Cetin Ikmen joins Inspector Suleyman in the search for a possible serial killer. It appears that there might be a Roma connection and this leads Suleyman to meet up again with his old lover. He is also connected to the other possible lead, the intricate web of a family that has connections to the old Ottoman rulers. Inspector Ikmen keeps a cool head and a more detached view as they slowly piece together this intricate case.

Review:
It is good to return to Inspector Cetin Ikmen as he involves himself in a murder investigation and fends off the imminent approach of retirement. He is a good man who is passionate about bringing the perpetrators of crime to account, but shows a great deal of compassion for the underdog. He works well with his colleague, Suleyman but has a jaundiced view of his amatory adventures and of his aristocratic heritage.

I love the characters that Barbara Nadel has created and have since the beginning followed their progress with interest. Even the lesser characters are lovingly described and their weaknesses and strengths bring a rounded feel to the book. As always the changing face of Turkey and in particular Istanbul is revealed by an eye that obviously loves the place and cares what happens to it. The crime is, of course, the centre of the novel and here one has plenty of clues and mysteries to unravel. ’Body Count’ is extremely atmospheric and I loved it.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mo Hayder - Wolf

"...the usual unsettling fare from the queen of macabre."

Synopsis:
Fourteen years ago two teenage lovers were brutally murdered in a patch of remote woodland. The prime suspect confessed to the crimes and was imprisoned.

Now, one family is still trying to put the memory of the killings behind them. But at their isolated hilltop house the nightmare is about to return.

Review:
I found this offering from Hayder to be quite different from her usual fare. The action centres mostly on the Anchor-Ferrers’ home and is depicted from varying viewpoints which I found cumbersome until I settled into the flow of the novel.

With the main emphasis on the Anchor-Ferrers, Jack Caffery’s presence is limited by comparison to earlier novels. However in some cases less is more and this is most definitely one of those cases as Caffery and the Walking Man band together in their usual dysfunctional way to solve the case.

The Anchor-Ferrer family all have secrets and their resilience in the face of their torment is a joy to behold as they battle for their lives. Summing up ‘Wolf’, I would have to say it is the usual unsettling fare from the queen of macabre.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Emily Winslow - The Start of Everything

"...I'll certainly be on the lookout for the next instalment in the life of DI Frohman."

Synopsis:
When the badly decomposed body of a teenage girl is washed up on the flooded fens outside Cambridge, it's up to DI Chloe Frohman and her partner Morris Keene to discover her identify before the press can pounce on the case.

Mathilde Oliver, the autistic daughter of a Cambridge don is trying to discover the writer of mysterious letters to a student at Corpus Christ College who doesn't seem to exist.

As Frohman and Keene link together the sparse clues from the body and the letters, their investigations lead them to an imposing country manor where secrets, lies, long buried crimes and fresh new horrors await them.

Review:
Written in an unusual style, from the various points of view of each of its main characters, ‘The Start of Everything’ is sharp, well observed, and totally engrossing. I was not expecting to be caught up as quickly or completely in the mystery as I was and found this a more than welcome surprise.

This novel has the most life-like and genuine cast I have come across for a long time. Morris Keene has recently returned to work and is struggling to come to terms with the consequences of his injuries in the line of duty. His partner, newly promoted DI Chloe Frohman, feels guilty over the circumstances surrounding Keene's injuries and suspects she is being held accountable for it by her peers, making her future uncertain. The truths behind how each saw their own actions, how they perceived others, and how they thought others thought of them is excellently captured here.

With a clever mystery that slowly unravels at its heart and will keep you guessing until the end, ‘The Start of Everything’ is an excellent read and I'll certainly be on the lookout for the next instalment in the life of DI Frohman.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sophie Loubiere - The Stone Boy

"...kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. "

Synopsis:
Madame Preau is an elderly lady who lives alone in the family home. She has been away for some time convalescing from an unnamed illness which involves her visiting the doctor on a regular basis. She spends much of her time observing the family next door and becomes concerned about one of the children who appears to be isolated and lethargic. When she reports her concerns to Social Services they cannot find any trace of the boy. Madame Preau connects this boy to her grandson with whom she has lost contact some years before. She is determined to find out the truth but this causes concern for her friends and family.

Review:
This is a slow-burning, and yet very clever psychological thriller. As the story progresses you learn more and more about Madame Preau and her family. The author carefully allows you come to believe that there is something of concern in her past that is influencing the present. There is great love and also great pain in all her relationships. As each development unfolds the author manipulates your thinking so that first you believe ill of Madame Preau, then admiration, then pity. This continues to the very conclusion where Loubiere delivers a final and surprising twist.

I really loved this book and it kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. ‘The Stone Boy’ is very original and shows a great insight into the minds and motivations of all the characters. Definitely one I would highly recommend and I hope to see more of this author’s work translated from her native French. Excellent.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rachel Howzell Hall - Land of Shadows

"...a good plot and a strong lead."

Synopsis:
Along the ever-changing border of gentrifying Los Angeles, seventeen-year-old Monique Darson is found dead at a condominium construction site, hanging in the closet of an unfinished unit. Homicide detective Elouise ‘Lou’ Norton’s new partner, Colin Taggert, fresh from the comparatively bucolic Colorado Springs police department, assumes it’s a teenage suicide. Lou isn’t buying the easy explanation.

For one thing, the condo site is owned by Napoleon Crase, a self-made millionaire and the man who may have murdered Lou's missing sister, Tori, thirty years ago. As Lou investigates the death of Monique Darson, she uncovers undeniable links between the two cases. Lou is convinced that when she solves Monique’s case she will finally bring her lost sister home. But as she gets closer to the truth, she also gets closer to a violent killer. After all this time, can he be brought to justice? Can Lou do it before she becomes his next victim?

Review:
Norton and her sidekick Colin work well together, and Howzell Hall introduces enough of a personal life for the characters to give the story a good balance between work and play. The one part of the book I did struggle with was the use of colloquial language which to me did not travel well as I found it really hard going and disrupted the flow of the book.

The author introduces plenty of suspects and keeps the guessing going until much later into the book. However, there were some mistakes in the proof copy I was given, meaning the killer was revealed long before they should have been which did take away a little of the enjoyment for me. This is an easy book to read with a good plot and a strong lead.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Billingham - The Bones Beneath

"...a thoroughly entertaining read."

Synopsis:
Tom Thorne is back in charge - but there's a terrifying price to pay. Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous psychopath he has ever put behind bars, promises to reveal the whereabouts of a body he buried twenty-five years before - but only if Thorne agrees to escort him.

Unable to refuse, Thorne gathers a team and travels to a remote Welsh island, at the mercy of the weather and cut off from the mainland. Thorne is determined to get the job done and return home before Nicklin can outwit them.

However, Nicklin knows this island well and has had time to plan ahead. Soon, new bodies are added to the old, and Thorne finds himself facing the toughest decision he has ever had to make.

Review:
I’m a long time fan of Tom Thorne and I was very interested to see how he would fare when taken out of the city and placed in a remote location. Billingham has essentially stripped away all the familiar facets of Thorne’s life and upped his never-ending game of finding new ways to make Thorne’s life hell.

The novel is quite linear in its plotting and while I could make general predictions of what would happen, it was always good to see how the author would interpret the situation. One thread however blindsided me to the point where a muttered swear word escaped my lips!

The pacing of the novel is progressive throughout and with Nicklin’s expertly created character, you always feel something big is about to happen. And you wouldn’t be wrong! Thorne is his usual self and as ever his personal life plays an important part in the story.

While not scaling the heights reached by ‘Sleepyhead’ or ‘Lazy Bones’, I found ‘The Bones Beneath’ to be a thoroughly entertaining read.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffery Deaver - The Skin Collector

"‘The Skin Collector’ is amphetamine in paper form – and the rush will keep you reading well past your bedtime!"

Synopsis:
A new type of serial killer is stalking the streets of New York – one more devious and disturbing than ever before.

They call this butcher ‘The Skin Collector’: a tattooist with a chamber of torture hidden deep underground. But instead of using ink to create each masterpiece, the artist uses a lethal poison which will render targets dead before they can even entertain the prospect of escape.

Drafted in to investigate, NYPD detective Lincoln Rhyme and his associate Amelia Sachs have little to go on but a series of cryptic messages left etched into the skin of the deceased. As the pair struggle to discover the meaning behind the designs, they are led down a treacherous and twisting path where nothing is as it seems. And with the clock rapidly ticking before the killer strikes again, they must untangle the twisted web of clues before more victims – or they themselves – are next.

Review:
Lincoln Rhyme is brought back by Deaver for another chance to show off his forensic expertise. Rhyme is helped as always by his dependable entourage. With the Lincoln Rhyme series, Deaver always gives the reader enough information to chance a guess as to where the evidence is leading them, but never enough to be correct as there is always a slight twist.

Rhyme continues to be caustic and belligerent as ever, but keeping a softer and more approachable side for those close to him. Despite Rhyme being so ill-tempered, Deaver still manages to endear this character to his readers.

‘The Skin Collector’ is yet another of Deaver's books that hooks you from the first page. Just as you think you are beginning to understand what is happening and where the plot is going, another event happens proving your original ideas to be completely off the mark. And far from being frustrating, this just adds to the suspense and intrigue that Deaver is able to put into every Rhyme story. Knowing the way this author works, you know the shocks aren’t truly over until the last page has been turned. This is yet another blinding thriller of sheer brilliance from this ‘master of the dark arts’. ‘The Skin Collector’ is amphetamine in paper form – and the rush will keep you reading well past your bedtime!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: