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Reviews

May 2006

Thomas H. Cook - Red Leaves

"Here is a writer who is surely due his time in the bestseller list in the UK"

Synopsis:
Eric Moore believes he lives the life many people would pay good money for. He has everything: a loving wife, a son, a big house and his own business. What more could he ask for? It isn't until a young girl goes missing that everything suddenly turns on its head. His son, Keith, was baby-sitting Amy Giordano when she allegedly went missing. Is Eric's 15 year-old son a kidnapper, a paedophile, a murderer - or all three?

As suspicion descends on the household, Eric begins to see that for many years he has been deluding himself about the state of his marriage, his non-communicative son and other family members. Eric begins to look back at his tragic family past and wonders what enactments were being played out whilst he decided to turn a blind eye. He believes that by discovering the past he will discover resonances into the present day.

Review:
I have greatly enjoyed a number of Thomas H. Cook's novels, my favourite being The Interrogation, which I believe is one of the best crime novels I have ever read. Red Leaves easily matches his previous books. Red Leaves, which is currently short listed for the Edgar Award 2006, is a novel of suspense. It describes the Moore family being slowly dismantled - as accusations are either thrown or quietly insinuated during the disappearance of a young girl.

I simply couldn't stop reading this novel as the powerful writing forced me to continue until I knew what was going on - and what was going to happen to this desperate family. The ending is very potent and very sad at the same time. Again, Cook delivers a blinder of a solution. There are no car chases or bloodied crime scenes within the covers of Red Leaves. What you do have is a very well written, suspenseful, humane story of a dysfunctional family seen through the eyes of the father. I hope that, with this novel, Cook, who is a great talent in America, is finally appreciated in the UK. Here is a writer who is surely due his time in the bestseller list in the UK.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth Rigby - The Hunting Season

"…by the first few chapters I was hooked."

Synopsis:
Doctor Matt Seleckis has been accused of killing an elderly cancer patient with an overdose to help relieve his suffering. This event reawakens a long forgotten incident in his childhood when a neighbour was found dead in a car, seemingly the victim of an accident. Meanwhile his domestic contentment is disturbed by his wife's preoccupation with the death of her first husband, the victim of a hit and run accident.

To escape work and home pressures Matt travels to see his beloved elderly father in the mountains of Utah, the scene of the childhood accident. However, he soon begins to question the accuracy of his memories and some of his long-held assumptions about his parents. When father and son agree to go on an autumnal hunting trip, the past and present come together with dramatic results.

Review:
This is an engrossing book by Elizabeth Rigby. At 500 pages long, its length initially daunted me, but by the first few chapters I was hooked. The book's strength is that the writer gets to the heart of family relationships and cleverly draws a picture of the effects of the past which, when viewed through the eyes of an adult, can bear little relationship to the events at the time. There are a number of different sub-plots in the book, but all are interrelated and it is never confusing.

The story is set in Salt Lake City and Utah State and I found this setting, with a glimpse into the lives of the Latter Day Saints, absolutely fascinating. This is an excellent novel and thoroughly recommended to Crimesquad readers.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Miller - A Game of Soldiers

"This is an exciting thriller with some fascinating details on pre-revolutionary Russia."

Synopsis:
The story is centred in St Petersburg in the years before the First World War. The complete isolation of the nobility and royal family from the life of the ordinary people is clearly depicted. The banal and superficial life of the elite is shown against the horrific conditions of those who set out to entertain them.
Pyotr Ryzhkov is a government agent who is charged with keeping the mad monk Rasputin out of trouble as much as possible. In the course of this work he witnesses the death of a child prostitute. The immediate cover-up and protection of the perpetrator leads him into an investigation, which a number of influential people want to stop.

As Ryzhkov finds out more and more about the circumstances of the murder, he uncovers a large and complicated plot to remove the Csar and widen the financial interests of a number of influential and manipulative businessmen. The final strands of the plot involve the Black Hand gang and the murder of the Arch Duke Ferdinand at Sarajevo.

Review:
This is an exciting thriller with some fascinating detail on conditions in pre-revolutionary Russia. Well researched and cleverly written. The extent of Russia's involvement with the Sarajevo plot is unclear from historical research and this scenario is one possible and interesting solution. The central character, Pyotr, is a likeable individual who tries to remain honest and do the right thing. He survives a number of dangerous situations and I look forward to his return - after the revolution.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Bernard Knight - The Elixir of Death

"The details of twelfth century life as portrayed in the text are very interesting."

Synopsis:
The story is set in 1195 amidst the background of the Crusades and Prince John's attempts to take the throne from his absent brother, Richard. The Coroner (or Crowner) is sent for to investigate the deaths of three fishermen in a wreck. There are several suspicious circumstances to these deaths, and there are more to follow with several details in common. There are mysterious Middle Eastern men involved in the search for the secret of turning base metals into gold. The Crowner, Sir John De Wolfe, pieces together the various facts and eventually comes up with the solution. In the meantime he has a precarious time balancing the interests of the women in his life, two of whom have a significant involvement in the development of the plot.

Review:
This is the tenth in a series where Crowner John is the central character. The plot runs smoothly, while the main characters are well established and convincing. The details of twelfth century life as portrayed in the text are very interesting. I found the historical notes about the strife between the Sunni and Shi'a Muslims particularly interesting in today's context, as were the details of the assassins or hashishin who carried out murderous acts on the promise that they would be rewarded with eternal life in paradise.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lindsay Ashford - Strange Blood

"…with Strange Blood… you won't be disappointed."

Synopsis:
Dr Megan Rhys, consulting forensic pathologist, is called in to advise the police when the body of a respectable married woman is discovered at her home in an ordinary estate full of ordinary families. She has been stabbed to death and a pentagram cut into her forehead. The supervisory policeman is keen to involve the media and to make his name on television, but Megan thinks he is following the wrong leads.

At the same time Megan's personal life does not run smooth and brings her into conflict with the university authorities. More bodies are found and soon Megan's sister is threatened by the killer.

Review:
This second book about Megan Rhys fulfils the promise of the first. This was an enjoyable read, with thoroughly modern characters dealing with up to date situations. The story really grips you from the start.

I can guarantee that with Strange Blood, which has just been long-listed for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2006, you won't be disappointed!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Katherine John - By Any Name

"The main story runs along at an exciting pace… totally riveting."

Synopsis:
Elizabeth Santer works as a psychiatrist at a major hospital. One night a man is brought in who was caught running along a motorway. He is semi-naked and heavily blood stained. The blood isn't his and he can't remember a thing about himself. As Elizabeth tries to knock down the barriers that stop him from remembering, the Army is drafted in to take this man away for surveillance.

Suddenly, two armed guards outside the mystery man's room are shot and 'John' escapes. He takes Dr. Santer as a hostage and then it is a race for survival as the military goes all out to capture this mystery man. 'John' shows he is also a military man and is a master at avoiding his hunters. Who is this man? What happened that was so traumatic he has forgotten his own identity? Why are certain individuals determined to capture and kill this man? As the body count rises, the two fugitives race against time to save their lives.

Review:
This is a paperback reprint from Accent Press of a novel written by the author in the mid-nineties. This novel has been updated so that it incorporates pertinent aspects of the world we live in today, especially about the threat of terrorism. Ms. John certainly knows her stuff about the security services and firearms. All the details are slotted into the story without the reader feeling they are being given gratuitous information.

The main story runs along at an exciting pace and you can really feel the cold of the Brecon Beacons as the two runaways fight against the cold. My only concern was how much sleep Dr. Santer needed whilst on the run. Despite being tracked by professional soldiers, she seemed to manage hours of sleep at the drop of a hat wherever she was…! But that is a small point. I really enjoyed this book and found it totally riveting. Accent Press are publishing another three of Ms. John's previous novels alongside a new novella for the new Quick Reads series. We hope that Ms. John is, at this very moment, writing a brand new crime novel for our enjoyment. It is far overdue.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ake Edwardson - Never End

"“There is a sadness about Edwardson’s novels""

Synopsis:
A serial rapist and murderer is stalking young girls in Gothenburg and the chief witness is a survivor, Janette, who is understandably reluctant to discuss her ordeal. Chief Inspector Erik Winter is convinced that the case is related to a murder he investigated five years previously but is also equally sure that Janette's family holds some clue to the murders. In the sweltering summer the investigation continues...

Review:
This is the second book by Ake Edwardson published in the UK. He writes reflective and slow moving prose, which takes the reader through the plot at a gentle pace. To be honest, I found the plot a little too slow-paced in parts but, equally, I loved the character of detective Erik Winter and his special approach to solving crimes. There is a sadness about Edwardson's novels that is very apt for the crime fiction genre and, like all the best writers; he makes you want to visit the places he writes about.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anne Perry - Dark Assassin

"Perry succeeds in bringing home the awareness of the very different social mores in Victorian times…"

Synopsis:
William Monk is an Inspector in the River Police in Victorian London and is trying to gain the respect of the body of men now working for him. He is still feeling his way in the new job and getting to know his colleagues. Whilst on patrol on the river he witnesses two people falling to their death from Waterloo Bridge. He has to discover the cause of these deaths and how they relate to an earlier presumed suicide of a well-respected engineer. All this is connected to the building of the new sewer system for London and the dangers inherent in rushing to be the first to complete.
William's wife, Hester, continues to work with women from the underclass of London and helps William to solve the secrets of the mysterious deaths after some exciting and dangerous exploits.

Review:
William Monk is an intelligent and sympathetic hero who battles against the prejudices of the day to find the truth. His wife Hester is a very modern woman who helps him as well as following her own conscience. Perry succeeds in bringing home the awareness of the very different social mores in Victorian times, and the detail of the life of those times is vivid. I was particularly interested in the background to the building of the London Sewer system, which had such a beneficial effect on the health of the capital, particularly in these days when major repairs are needed. This is a well written and enjoyable read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Richard Kunzmann - Salamander Cotton

"Richard Kunzmann has developed an intricate plot…"

Synopsis:
When a former mining boss is set alight in his housing in Johannesburg, police look to his estranged wife for clues to the murderer's identity. But his former wife is more concerned in finding her daughter who went missing 29 years earlier and hires ex-policeman Harry Mason to investigate the case. This takes him to the northern Cape, the scene of past misdemeanours, which holds the key not only to the daughter's disappearance but also to the recent murder of her father.

Review:
Richard Kunzmann has developed an intricate plot, which moves between the 1960s and present day with ease. The description of asbestos mining in the 1960s is fascinating and the complicity of the mine bosses, as evidence of the effects of asbestos emerges, is beyond doubt. The book deals with racial tension without becoming polemical and it is a credit to the writer that it is not always clear what colour the main protagonists are. I would recommend this to anyone interested in South Africa and to those who like a fast-paced crime novel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Symmons Roberts - Patrick's Alphabet

"This is a novel about obsession rather than finding out who did what crime."

Synopsis:
Perry Scholes is a photographer who is an ambulance chaser. He loves to be on the scene of a major crime or road accident before any of the emergency services have arrived. One night he takes photos of a young murdered couple who were shot in their car. People suspect it was a local man called Adam Sligo. On that same night, at the murder scene, the letter 'A' appears on the wall. As time goes on, Perry comes across many more letters of the alphabet, and soon it is his personal crusade to find what has become known as Adam Sligo's Alphabet.

At the same time, a new tenant has taken up residence in the flat across the hall. He is a very possessed man who feels he is on a mission. He believes that the evil that is engulfing this small town must be stamped out using any means available, whether they are violent or not.

Review:
This is the first novel by a writer who is better known for his poetry. You can see the poetic side of this author in his writing, as there are some marvellous pieces of prose within the book. Symmons Roberts quietly invokes the passion of Perry to get the best photograph from any road crash and very nicely parallels this need alongside his childhood memories of driving in an abandoned car in the woods, even after his frightful grandmother sets fire to it. You wonder if he is attracted to the smell of burning metal?!

As the book progresses his urge to race to the scene of a road accident repulses him and his fixation focuses on to the alphabet that begins to pop up around and about the town in the most bizarre locations. Also, other factions of the town are proving to be very violent. This is a novel about obsession rather than finding out who did what crime. The ending isn't a huge surprise, but it is a very well written novel with some powerful scenes. To me, the novel was about Perry regaining some of his humanity and reaching the end of his mission, which was always going to end with the letter 'Z'.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: