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Reviews

November 2006

Ian Rankin - The Naming of the Dead

"Rankin and Rebus go together like a gloved hand."

Synopsis:
Rebus is approaching retirement and finds himself being sidelined. Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke is put in charge of the investigation when clothing from an unsolved murder turns up at “The Clootie Well” where superstition means that items of clothing are left to propitiate the sprites that live there. This well is uncomfortably close to the scene of the G8 meeting in Gleneagles - and there is an inevitable clash with the security services.

An up and coming, well respected Scottish MP dies in mysterious circumstances when he falls from the battlements of Edinburgh Castle. Did he fall, was he pushed or did he decide to end his own life? Rebus tries to find out - although both he and Siobhan have been suspended from duty.

Alongside these investigations run the events of that historic week in Edinburgh when thousands invaded the city to support the “Make Poverty History” march - as well as a significant number intent on protesting against globalisation and those simply intent on causing chaos.

Many people are looking to Siobhan as a possible replacement for Rebus when he goes - the establishment, Cafferty (the local Mr Big) and even Rebus himself. But Siobhan is her own woman and, after being tempted by the attraction of power and influence, comes out the other end as a stronger person.

Review:
Rankin and Rebus go together like a gloved hand. This is another gripping story set in an Edinburgh engulfed in world politics as the G8 summit takes place nearby.

Rebus continues to upset the establishment and appears to care less and less as his retirement date comes near. As always the city of Edinburgh plays an important part in the story and the juxtaposition of the ceremonial and historical Edinburgh with the seamy and workaday city enhances the plot. I enjoy the descriptions of Rebus as a cynical but still caring man who has committed his life to the solving of crime and, sadly, can hardly contemplate a life without the need to meet the next challenge.

Rankin's characters develop from book to book and Siobhan in particular is making a welcome niche for herself. I wait with interest to see what will happen when Rebus finally retires!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Herbert - The Secret of Crickley Hall

"Crickley Hall brings Herbert back to what he does best…"

Synopsis:
Gabe Caleigh and his family have moved out to Harbour Bay to get away for the first anniversary since their son went missing. Gabe's wife, Eve, has not been herself since Cam went missing in a children's playground whilst under her supervision. With their two daughters in tow, Gabe hopes that Crickley Hall will help to bring them back together again as a family and put the past behind them. Immediately after their arrival, strange things start to happen. Screams and thumping come from a cupboard on the main landing. What can only be described as white shadows appears to been seen and the cellar door always swings open, no matter how many times Gabe locks it.

The Caleigh family find out that during the Second World War, Crickley Hall had been used to house and educate orphans evacuated down from London. They were ruled with an iron fist by their strict tutors. All the orphans and their carer were killed during the great flood of 1943. Is it these lost souls who still haunt Crickley Hall? Or is it something darker, more sinister? Soon, the disturbances take a nasty turn as the Caleighs begin to be physically threatened. Then one night everything reaches a thundering climax that could threaten the whole Caleigh family.

Review:
The Secret of Crickley Hall is territory that Herbert is always comfortable in and always excels at. His last couple of novels have not held the promise that Herbert is capable of delivering. However, Crickley Hall brings Herbert back to what he does best which is building a haunting atmosphere of unease and suspense. It is with relish that we prepare to be treated to a ghoulish, scary story.

Crickley Hall is populated with many memorable characters. Cribben, in particular, the evil, sadistic housemaster, is a marvellous creation and he lingered on in my mind long after I closed the covers of this book. For me, Crickley Hall is a wonderful, old-fashioned ghost story. With Halloween just out of the way, and the winter nights drawing in, this is a perfect book to get those hairs on the back of your neck well and truly standing. However, I don't recommend you read this on your own. I certainly didn't. You have been warned…

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Cox - The Meaning of Night

"Anybody who can kill a totally innocent man for practice is automatically evil, isn’t he?"

Synopsis:
This book starts with a killer opening line - “After killing the red-haired man I took myself off to Quinns for an oyster supper.” Add to this the fact that the murder was of an innocent man chosen, more or less, at random, and you have the beginnings of an intriguing and intricate tale.

Edward Glyver, the murderer and also narrator, has suffered a series of calculated and life changing blows at the hands of Phoebus Daunt, a fellow student at Eton whose life intertwines with that of Glyver. Edward slowly discovers the various ways in which Daunt has damaged him and slowly determines what he is going to do about it.

The story is set both in Victorian London, with its polite society and seamy underworld of opium dens and brothels and in Evenwood, a beautiful country house in rural England. The plot develops steadily to the inevitable ending when a satisfying if morally doubtful conclusion is reached.

Review:
I started off by immediately disliking the narrator. Anybody who can kill a totally innocent man for practice is automatically evil, isn't he? However, the skill of the author is in developing the plot and the character so that, by the end of the story, Edward is a completely understandable, if morally flawed, individual.

This is an extraordinarily well plotted novel. The detailed description of the perfidies of Phoebus Rainsford Daunt are so well set out that the intense frustration of Glyver is deeply felt and understood by the reader. The descriptions of the life and times of the underworld of Victorian London are fascinating and make the events seem very real. This is a long book but I enjoyed it more and more as I became gripped by the events unfolding in its pages. By the end I was thoroughly absorbed and, as all the different strands came together, I was extremely satisfied with the ending.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stella Rimington - Secret Asset

"… the apparent ring of complete authenticity…"

Synopsis:
MI5 Intelligence Officer Liz Carlisle is meeting “Marzipan”, a young Asian man who is working in an Islamic bookshop in London. He reports meetings between a Pakistani Imam and three young Asian men. Liz is suspicious, and reports back to her boss. A surveillance team is put in place, but strangely things do not turn out as expected.

Meanwhile Liz has been moved off this case to investigate a possible mole within the branches of British Intelligence. Left alone, this mole could cause untold damage to Britain's security. The two stories apparently proceed independently until the climactic ending, when the link between them is revealed.

Review:
As the former head of MI5, the background knowledge of the security services that Stella Rimington has is obviously impeccable and this gives the story the apparent ring of complete authenticity - although how would we know…?

Surely this is part of the fascination, as the reader is drawn to feel that a little of what happens in this secret world has been revealed.

The story is an exciting thriller, featuring several well-drawn characters and very clever plotting, which moves along quickly and rapidly engages the reader completely.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Brian Freeman - Stripped

"Freeman’s characters are strongly drawn…"

Synopsis:
They looked like isolated cases. A hit-and-run and a celebrity murdered during a fling with a prostitute. No one could ever imagine they'd be linked to a brutal crime in Las Vegas's steamy past - or that the race against the clock to corner a determined serial killer would stir up secrets long thought buried with the dead.

As detectives Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial are called separately to investigate, they have no idea what they're stepping into. They enter a world where desperate ambition rules and loyalties know no bounds, and where their own uncharted emotions and sexual desires will reach an explosive conclusion.

Review:
Initially, I found this book quite difficult to get into as there were a number of crimes being investigated by difference detectives - although all linked - which made the book feel rather disjointed. However, I was pleased that I persevered as soon I was unable to put this book down and it became a real thriller that I just had to finish. Once all the players and characters were established and the plots more defined the book certainly came into its own.

Freeman's characters are strongly drawn, although I did find that perhaps he did have a few too many in the book. This didn't detract from my enjoyment and I would certainly recommend this book and look forward to reading any of his next novels.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Laura Lippman - No Good Deeds

"A very good read from a writer who is clearly in her stride."

Synopsis:
Tess Monaghan's boyfriend brings Lloyd Jupiter home one evening, a homeless teenager that he suspects of slashing his car's tyres. When Tess makes reference to the recent murder of US Attorney Gregory Youssef, Lloyd reacts strongly and later flees into the night.

Tess and her boyfriend are soon being interviewed by suspicious law enforcement agents who are keen to track Lloyd down. However, when a friend of Lloyd's is murdered it is clear that the teenager has key information relating to Youssef's murder - and that Tess must find him before the killers do.

Review:
This is Laura Lippman's ninth novel featuring Tess Monaghan and it is excellently plotted, particularly in relation to the hunt for Lloyd by menacing law enforcement officers. The story has a gritty realism to it, far removed from the usual portrayal of Baltimore within the novels of Anne Tyler. However, Lippman is at pains to emphasise that there is a seedy underbelly to the city, away from the middle-class suburbs, where black youths are murdered without ever making the local press.

Tess Monaghan is convincingly portrayed in this book. She can be both vulnerable and tough and the reader is constantly aware that she is both a woman and a detective. Her relationship with her boyfriend is particularly convincing here and it is clear that the two have a number of unresolved 'issues' to take forward into future novels. A very good read from a writer who is clearly in her stride.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Henning Mankell - Depths

"This book represents a big departure for Henning Mankell…"

Synopsis:
In 1914, Lars Tobiasson-Svartman, a naval engineer from Stockholm, is employed by the Swedish navy to measure the depths in the Swedish waters to find a navigable channel for vessels. As war breaks out Lars finds himself increasingly drawn to the bleak landscape and, in particular, to Sara Fredrika, a mysterious young women living alone on a bleak island. The trip begins an obsession with both the landscape and the mysterious woman which ends in tragedy.

Review:
This book represents a big departure for Henning Mankell from his Kurt Wallander series, but it is certainly written to his usual high standard.

Lars is not a particularly likeable protagonist and, as a result of a dramatic prologue to the book, it is clear from early in the novel that the book will not have a happy ending. Instead, Mankell relies on the quality of his writing to seduce the reader into his world. Each chapter is short, some no longer than a few sentences, which reflects the sparse landscape of the Swedish waters and the repressive lives which Lars, his wife and Sara Fredrika live.

The novel has a dramatic ending featuring a betrayal of devastating proportions and one really must admire Mankell for his ability to move from his 'standard' detective series to this sparse and bleak novel with such aplomb.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Janet Evanovich - Motor Mouth

"Everything you always wanted to know about righteous indignation, stealing an eight wheeler, stashing a dead body and sex in the fast lane."

Synopsis:
It's the last race of the season: The wheels are smoking and the temperature is rising at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Alexandra 'Barney' Barnaby is NASCAR driver Sam Hooker's race day spotter, his 'eye in the sky', telling Hooker when to pass and when to get off the gas.

But, from her vantage point high above the grandstand, she's also seeing things going on in the field that will change her life. Things that will lead to a stolen race car hauler, a kidnapped Saint Bernard, a bizarre murder, some restless nights under the covers with Hooker, a reunion with super cigar roller Rosa Florez and the queen of wholesale fruit Felicia Ibarra.

From Miami, Florida to Concord, North Carolina and back to Miami, this is an action packed multi-car crash of shady dealings, stolen technology, drives through windows and destruction of personal property. Everything you always wanted to know about righteous indignation, stealing an eight wheeler, stashing a dead body and sex in the fast lane.

Review:
Barney is very similar to Stephanie Plum. A slightly inept, but very likeable lead character who continually finds herself in humorous and improbable situations. Not only does Barney find herself in continual danger, but those around her seem to as well. Fortunately, as with all of Evanovich's heroines, the bad guys seem to be even more incompetent than they do.

Evanovich has the perhaps unique talent of being able to write seemingly implausible plots which are packed with characters who all have realistic traits that make them larger than life. The storylines and dialogue are always humorous, and never fail to make me smile or laugh.

Evanovich has developed a great skill for comedy crime writing. Whilst I am still rather biased towards the Plum novels, I still thoroughly enjoyed Motor Mouth and would happily read other books in this series, simply because they are written by Evanovich.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathon King - Eye of Vengeance

"...a really enjoyable and interesting read."

Synopsis:
When a convicted murderer is dramatically gunned down with a single bullet to the head, crime reporter Nick Mullins covers the story. Nick is no stranger to scenes of violence and loss, but a coincidence immediately draws him to the investigation - the victim was a featured subject in one of his own news stories.

Nick is still struggling with the aftermath of another crime; a car accident caused by a drunk driver that had killed his wife and one of their two daughters. Now, with a nine year old to raise alone, Nick is trying to balance single-fatherhood with a career that puts him daily into the darkest corners of death and justice.

Soon this new shooting leads to another discovery. Researching his past stories, Nick finds that, months earlier, a man he exposed as a murderer was killed in his car. The MO, a single gun shot to the head. And when a third man Nick has written about is murdered, it becomes clear that a serial sniper is on the loose - and Nick is the one leading the killer to his targets.

Review:
Eye of Vengeance was an easy introduction to Jonathan King. The book lacked any real pace as the identity of the sniper is revealed early on, but this does not detract from the quality of the story - or the writing.

I found it surprising and unusual for the main character to be a newspaper reporter that I could actually empathise with, rather than being someone who is totally focussed on 'hitting the deadline and getting the story'.

Eye of Vengeance is a powerful story about loss, revenge and forgiveness, and is a really enjoyable and interesting read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Otto Penzler (Ed) - Pulp Fiction: The Crimefighters

"A really good, thoroughly comprehensive introduction to the genre."

Synopsis:
This substantial book is a collection of stories taken from the 1930s and 1940s which, as aficionados will be aware, was the golden age of detective pulp fiction. The book features established writers from the period such as Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler along with less well known writers who were nevertheless prolific within the genre.

Review:
This is a strong collection of short stories, edited by Otto Penzler who consistently chooses the best of whichever genre that he is editing.

For those new to pulp fiction there is a useful biographical introduction to each story. What is most illuminating about these introductions is the sheer output from most of these writers throughout their careers, most is which is now not widely read. The stories vary in length but common themes include the presence of hard-boiled detectives, cynical cops and - very often - a femme fatale. A really good, thoroughly comprehensive introduction to the genre.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: