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Reviews

February 2016

Tony Black - Taste of Ashes

"If you haven’t yet read Tony Black, you’re missing out."

Synopsis:
When DI Bob Valentine returns to duty after a narrow escape with death, he is faced with the discovery of a corpse on a kitchen table with a horrific neck wound and a mystery surrounding the victim's missing partner and her daughter. It's all too close to his own near-fatal stabbing.

When the murder investigation begins to reveal a tragic family drama, Bob Valentine struggles to deal with the rapidly unfolding events and the terrifying visions that haunt him. As he starts to uncover the illicit secrets of the family's past, can he keep a grip on the case and on his own sanity before the body count starts to rise?

Review:
Tony Black writes with one of the most distinctive voices I've ever encountered. I'll be honest and admit it took me more than a couple of pages to get into the rhythm of his prose despite having read his work before. Trust me, it was well worth the effort as 'A Taste of Ashes' is a first class novel whose prose crackles off the page.

The plot winds and twists as secrets are uncovered and new evidence is uncovered but never once does Black lose either the reader or himself.

Valentine is a compelling lead whose travails show the depth of his character. DS McCormack provides able support as do other minor characters but it is firmly the Bob Valentine show. If you haven't yet read Tony Black, you're missing out.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matthew Pritchard - Broken Arrow

"...runs along at a great pace..."

Synopsis:
There has been a discovery of a skeletal corpse, still clothed and tied to a wagon wheel, at one of Andalusia's Spaghetti Western theme parks. But why is the manager, Sixto Escobar behaving so strangely? And why won't he give the press the truth about the body?

Danny Sanchez is at the scene, ahead of the pack as always, sniffing out clues with which to begin an investigation...an investigation which will lead him into a world of grisly murder, greed, and corruption in Southern Spain.

At first, Danny thinks he's got the measure of the murderer's brutal psychology - but as the plot unfolds, he begins to understand the real motives behind the killer's actions and to question whether the man he is tracking is the true villain.

As Danny's quest to uncover the truth grows increasingly obsessive, he finds not only his own life at risk, but also those of Marsha, his girlfriend, and his photographer friend, Paco Pino.

Review:
Based on a real life incident, Matthew Pritchard's third novel (second to feature freelance reporter Danny Sanchez), is a dark, intelligent and slick thriller.

The Danny Sanchez series is a highly original one and Danny is an engaging character. As a former journalist I'm a huge fan of Danny Sanchez. He's a very real character and I see a long future for him. He is a dedicated and hard-working journalist with a passion for getting to the heart of the story. Unfortunately, like most protagonists in crime fiction, this is often in conflict with his personal life.

It would have been easy for Matthew Pritchard to set the story in an idyllic part of Spain and go for the tourist market. However, Pritchard isn't that kind of writer. He has included the economic crisis, the pressures of a freelance reporter, and the side of a popular holiday destination the estate agents don't want you to see.

'Broken Arrow' has an intelligent and complex plot which runs along at a great pace that refuses to let up. The finale is ingenious and fitting with such a complex character. More please, Mr Pritchard.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Granger - Dead in the Water

"Granger can always be relied upon to provide an exciting story..."

Synopsis:
Courtney Higson, a barmaid at a country pub near Oxford, is found drowned in the river, first by the local vet and then by a handyman at a house further down the river. She is known to the members of the local Writers Club who often meet in the pub where she works. She is also the daughter of a notorious criminal who has been responsible for some violent and threatening behaviour in the area and is about to be released from prison. Superintendent Ian Carter and Inspector Jess Campbell need to find out who has killed Courtney before her father uses his muscle on whoever he believes is responsible.

Review:
When you open an Ann Granger novel you know that you will find a host of beautifully drawn characters whose foibles and idiosyncrasies ring true. This is the case here and it is easy to become immersed in the lives of the inhabitants of this Oxfordshire village. Campbell and Carter work well together as the police protagonists and the plot combines smoothly to give a satisfying read. Granger can always be relied upon to provide an exciting story that will keep any reader engrossed with every page.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Douglas Watt - Pilgrim of Slaughter

"Edinburgh is one of the book's main characters, and Douglas Watt has caught the rhythms of the great city..."

Synopsis:
Edinburgh, 1688, and a city in turmoil. James II and VII is on the point of fleeing to France (he did so in real life the following year), with William and Mary set to cross from Holland and claim the throne. Violence is rife, with Catholic set against Protestant. To cloud matters, even Protestants are divided into Presbyterians and Episcopalians, each vying to control Scotland's Protestant church.

In the midst of all this the Duke of Kingsfield is assassinated. There is no doubt as to the perpetrator - a Catholic zealot called Alexander Stuart, son of the Laird of Mordington. However, this heralds a series of religiously-motivated murders in the city, and John MacKenzie, advocate, and his assistant Davie Scougall, is asked by Sir George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh, Lord Advocate to investigate. The murders are particularly gruesome, and clues are hard to find. Before each killing, the murderer sends a rambling, incoherent letter to Rosehaugh, and MacKenzie is sure there are clues in them, though it takes him some time to discover what these clues are. The tensions rise throughout the book, until Davie discovers that he himself is to be the next victim. Can he escape his fate? And if so, how?

Review:
From the start, we are taken on a tour of late 17th century Edinburgh coffee houses, wig shops, inns, taverns, lawyers' and businessmen's offices, whorehouses and teeming streets where religious violence is never far from the surface. This is the third John MacKenzie book, and though it is he who is charged with solving the murders, this is more the story of his assistant, Davie Scougall, a young man eager to make his way in life, yet who combines innocence with what he considers to be sound Presbyterian belief. However, he tries to reconcile his Presbyterian principles with those of John MacKenzie, who is an Episcopalian, and in doing so learns something of tolerance.

Edinburgh is one of the book's main characters, and Douglas Watt has caught the rhythms of the great city - it's pulsating politics, its strict religious codes tempered by bawdiness, and its grasping love of commerce and money. There may be too large a cast of characters for my liking, but that is only a personal preference, and there is a list of characters at the beginning of the book if you lose track.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Martin - The Yellow Diamond

"I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to more..."

Synopsis:
A new police unit is set up to investigate the crimes of the super rich living and working in the exclusive London neighbourhood of Mayfair. Some of these people feel above the law and use their fantastic wealth to smooth paths and avoid prosecution. When the suave head of this unit is shot, it falls to Detective Inspector Blake Reynolds to inherit his mantle and, more significantly, his personal assistant who is determined to raise Reynold's sartorial interest to enable him to mix with the super rich he is dealing with. One of those glamorous Russians is Anna, whom he knows from an incident in his past. She is at the heart of some intrigue that starts with a daring jewel robbery.

Review:
This is a complete departure for Andrew Martin, as his hero in the railway stories, Jim
Stringer was a very down to earth man of the people, albeit sometimes mixing with the elite. Blake Reynolds is similar in that he has been catapulted into a different world, but this time the emphasis is all on the excesses and extravagances of the very wealthy and powerful. I feel that sometimes this is a little tongue in cheek but Andrew Martin is having a ball describing the must-have clothes and possessions that gain you entree to this different world that many of us can only dream about. As always, the writing is amusing and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. There are plots and prevarications, power struggles and hidden secrets from the past, all combining into a rollicking good story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to more insights into the pleasure domes of Mayfair.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Roberto Saviano - ZeroZeroZero

"...a dense, compelling and enthralling book... "

Synopsis:
'ZeroZeroZero' examines the world-wide trade in cocaine. The drug cartels of Mexico, Columbia, Russia and Italy are minutely examined and laid bare, with names being named and methods explained. He also examines the supposedly squeaky-clean bankers and banking institutions which knowingly launder the drug money. It's a fascinating story, which shows that drug production and smuggling is an international, multi-billion pound business that uses all the tools of legitimate global commerce -production, meticulous accounting and marketing and world-wide distribution via aircraft and ships.

Review:
Robert Saviano is an Italian writer who, in his 2008 book 'Gomorrah', laid bare the criminal activities of what he called 'Italy's other Mafia' - the Camorra. He received death threats after its publication, and because of this, he is under permanent police protection.

This is a dense, compelling and enthralling book that combines an almost poetic quality with solid, detailed research. Savioni interviewed people connected with drug production and law enforcement agencies; he delved deep into his own experience of criminal activity, and he studied court cases, transcripts of wire taps, to come up with a fascinating story that exposes what is probably the world's biggest and most profitable industry - drug production and distribution.

A small criticism may be that the names of drug bosses and cartel members come at you thick and fast as you read, which can be off-putting. I had to turn back the pages on several occasions to have the names - and how they fitted into the story - explained to me all over again. But this doesn't distract from the thrust of the book. It is a fascinating read, and shows that we are all - to some extent - touched by the drugs industry. Even freedom-fighting organisations in South America were funded largely on drug money it seems, and the banks we deal with, even here in the UK, regularly handle drug money without realising it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

June Wright - Duck Season Death

"...will appeal to those who enjoy a good old-fashioned murder mystery. "

Synopsis:
Owner of a literary magazine and literary critic, Athol Sefton takes his nephew, Charles (himself a critic) to the Duck and Dog hunting inn at Dunbavin for the annual duck shoot. Athol, being one to make his own rules is out the day before the season starts, but becomes the target and is quickly killed by a gunshot to the chest. All the guests at the remote inn which is full due to the duck season appear to have no relation to the critic who was world-renowned for his scathing reviews. Was it one of the guests staying at the inn under the pretence of shooting ducks, or were they staying for a more sinister reason? To begin with, the authorities take the view it was all a dreadful accident, but Charles is determined to get to the truth of it all – even if nobody else believes him.

Review:
June Wright was an Australian crime writer who published 'Murder in the Telephone Exchange' in 1948.'Duck Season Death' was first written during the 1950's and rejected by Wright's publisher. Maybe they felt the violent death of a book critic was a bit too close for comfort! It certainly appears that Wright was not fond of critics and wonder how she would have felt with today's technology when everyone can have their say! While reading this I did wonder if Wright had received a lacklustre review about one of her previous books. We will never know. So, 'Duck Season Death' languished in Wright's bottom drawer for sixty-odd years, until now. So, was it worth the wait?

Wright is very good at dialogue however, it did take me a while to get myself in to her rhythm of writing. Her characters are very well-drawn and by the end of the book they are well-rounded. My only criticism (if I dare say that here) is Charles' 'gung-ho' behaviour at the inn did not quite ring true and he did go about his enquiry in what seemed to be a large pair of hob-nailed boots. There is no subtlety here however, Wright does have a very smart little puzzle leading to the unveiling of Athol's murderer. Rather than a re-print of a novel that simply fell out of fashion, it is intriguing to read one that was written over half a century ago and never been in print. I feel it was a bit harsh of Wright's publishers never to have accepted this novel in another form rather than dismiss it entirely out of hand, but I also feel that here Wright had a personal axe to grind. In all this is a fairly engaging mystery that will appeal to those who enjoy a good old-fashioned murder mystery.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jason Starr - Nothing Personal

"Starr’s books are ones I can pick up at any time without reading the synopsis and know I will enjoy reading it."

Synopsis:
The DePinos are miserable, living in a rundown apartment above a deli on Tenth Avenue. The Sussmans live in a posh building on the Upper East Side. When Joey DePino loses his job and is threatened by his bookies and loan shark, he involves the Sussmans in a sick, desperate plan to pay off his gambling debts. But ad exec, David Sussman has his own problems trying to stop his suddenly psychopathic mistress from ruining him, and he won't go down without a fight. As the lives of the DePinos and the Sussmans become increasingly intertwined, Joey and David plunge their families into an amoral world where anything is possible and nothing is personal.

Review:
As with all of Starr's books, you will be hard pressed to find a character to like. Even Maureen, who at first appears to have redeeming features soon shows her true self and is as weak and self-serving as all of Starr's other characters.

As ever, all the main characters are self-obsessed and self-serving. They have little concern of the effect of their actions on others. So when Joey comes up with a money making scheme, you just know it's going to firstly hurt others and secondly, not go to plan.

Starr's books never end well. There is no happy ending, no good winning over evil. This author uses a tried and tested method for the format of his books. Whilst the plot changes, the books are similar but, it's a method that works and one which I enjoy time and again. Starr's books are ones I can pick up at any time without reading the synopsis and know I will enjoy reading it.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Karin Fossum - Broken

"Fossum again demonstrates her skills as a writer..."

Synopsis:
A writer wakes one night to find a strange man in her bedroom. He is a character she has invented, but not yet used, and so desperate is he to have his story told that he has resorted to breaking into her house.

She creates him for Alvar Eide, a quiet, middle-aged man whose life is carefully designed to avoid surprise. Alvar is a lonely almost miserly man, working in a local art gallery, the wages from which he continually squirrels away for 'a rainy day, until the day the painting of The Bridge appears for sale. It is a painting he wants, he even knows exactly where he will hang it, but to buy it will cost all of his carefully accrued savings, and the decision torments him. As he struggles to decide, his life is turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of a young drug addict into the gallery where he works. Alvar's life is changed forever and his inventor realises that she cannot control the character she has created.

Review:
Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, 'Broken' is the story of the writer and the story of Alvar. His relationship with the girl is one he cannot understand or change despite all his efforts, including turning to the author for advice on what he should do next.

With its intriguing style, telling the story from the point of view of Alvar himself, and the author who is penning his tale, 'Broken' brings to life the 'writers process', giving form to the characters, or voices in a writers mind as they create, and in doing so Fossum again demonstrates her skills as a writer, switching with ease between perspectives and showing how one man's tragic tale of obsession and weakness, can ultimately be his road to redemption.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating: