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Reviews

September 2006

Jo Nesbo - The Redbreast

"Harry Hole is a flawed but likeable hero."

Synopsis:
Harry Hole and his police partner, Ellen Gjelten, are assigned to security duties when the President of the United States visits Norway. Because of poor communication between the security forces Harry ends up accidentally shooting a US Secret Service Agent. For political reasons Harry is promoted to Inspector and moved to a different job out of the limelight.

Harry becomes involved with investigating the doings of a group of neo Nazis and their actions against immigrants. He comes across racist attitudes even within his own force but is unaware of the extent of the new right connections.

Parallel to the present day happenings in Norway there is a sub plot which involves a group of Norwegian soldiers who fought for the Reich in the Second World War. We gradually learn what happened to these soldiers in Russia on the front line, in Vienna towards the end of the war and, finally, in modern Norway.

The brutal murder of Harry Hole's friend and former colleague Ellen devastates him and he comes off the wagon and slides into a drunken state. Slowly, he pulls himself together again as he investigates the murder.

Finally, the various strands come together as the events of over fifty years ago reach out into the present day…

Review:
Here is the second novel by an author we reviewed on our Fresh Blood page in 2005. This is a major and complex story, which addresses some important issues in today's world as well as in Norway's history.

Harry Hole is a flawed but likeable hero. He is a good detective who achieves results but pays little attention to the politics of the workplace. He is a good friend who is devastated by the brutal murder of his colleague. The description of the attitudes and behaviour of some Norwegians during and after the war in relation to National Socialism was enlightening and reminiscent of one of Henning Mankel's novels about Sweden.

I enjoyed the way in which the reader is left guessing about how the old and the new relate and it is only at the very end that all is made clear.

A very good read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Qui Xialong - A Loyal Character Dancer

"The insight into life in China - past and present - is wonderful."

Synopsis:
Inspector Chen is a rising star in the Shanghai police. He has connections in high places and is tipped to do well. He is unusual in that not only does he speak English but he also writes and enjoys poetry.

When former dancer Wen Liping vanishes just before she is due to leave China for the USA as part of a deal to catch a ring smuggling illegal immigrants, Chen is assigned to the job of escorting Inspector Catherine Rohn of the US Marshall Service. Catherine has been sent to China to escort Wen Liping to the USA.

At the same time Chen is investigating the brutal murder of a man in Bund Park, apparently a Triad killing. Not only does Chen have to find Wen Liping and the killer of the unknown body, he has to tread a tightrope of political intrigue where it is difficult to know who can be trusted. His trusty assistant Yu Guangmin is sent to Fujian where Wen Liping disappeared.

The two investigations turn out to be linked. In the end Wen Liping is found and the murderers identified, but there are many unresolved issues which stem from the system.

Review:
This is another outstanding story from Qui Xialong. On the level of the straight murder investigation, the plot is good and fast moving, the characters fascinating and engaging.

But it is much more than this. The insight into life in China - past and present - is wonderful. The character of Chen himself is complex and likeable. He is immersed in poetry, in Chinese and in English. He is sensitive to others and kind. He is aware of the political implication of his actions but still tries to do the right thing.

The descriptions of the food are vivid; most appear absolutely delicious, but some are definitely better read about than tasted!

After reading this book I would love to go to Shanghai, but I'd really like to have Inspector Chen as a guide.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Erskine - Daughters of Fire

"Erskine has the ability to bring 2000-year-old characters to life and make them seem extraordinarily real."

Synopsis:
Two thousand years ago, as the Romans invade Britannia, the princess who will eventually become the powerful queen of the great tribe of the Brigantes watches the enemies of her people come ever closer. Cartimandua's world is, from the start, a maelstrom of love, conflict, revenge and retribution.

In the present day, an Edinburgh-based historian, Viv Lloyd Rees, has immersed herself in the legends surrounding the Celtic queen. She has written a book and is working on a dramatisation of the young queen's life with the help of actress, Pat Hebden.

Cartimandua's life takes one unexpected turn after another as tragedy changes the course of her future. But the young queen has formidable enemies - among them Venutios, her childhood sparring partner, and Medb, a woman whose jealousy threatens not only her happiness - but also her life.

Viv's Head of Department, Hugh Graham, hounds her as she struggles to hide her visions of Cartimandua and her conviction that they are real. Her obsession grows ever more persistent and threatening as she takes possession of an ancient brooch that carries a curse. Both Pat and Hugh are drawn into this dual existence of bitter rivalry and overwhelming love as the past envelopes the present and the trio find themselves facing the greatest danger of their lives.

Review:
Whilst not strictly a classic murder mystery, Daughters of Fire contains all the suspense and mystery one comes to expect with Erskine's novels. Whilst I find the present day characters a little ill defined and somewhat bland, it is her historical storylines and characters in which she excels. The modern day setting is merely a diving board Erskine uses to travel back in time, and it is these unique and innovative stories that keep me returning.

Daughters of Fire is set partly in present day, partly in the time of the Roman occupation of Britain and, whilst one doesn't have to be a keen historian, it is a fascinating and interesting way to learn a little of times gone by.

This books is a real page-turner and impossible to put down. Erskine has the ability to bring 2000-year-old characters to life and make them seem

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson - Judge and Jury

"Patterson loses none of his ability to keep up the fast-paced trademark style of all his books."

Synopsis:
Senior FBI agent Nick Pellisante is closing in on the notorious mob boss "The Electrician", when the scheduled sting goes spectacularly wrong. Two FBI agents are dead, the boss is wounded, and Pellisante vows the Electrician's next move will be from a jail cell.

Andie Echeverra, a part-time actress and a single, full-time mother, is assigned her next role as Juror #11 in the landmark trial against Mafia Don, Dominic Cavello. Everybody is on edge. No one has ever crossed the man whose orders have made entire families disappear.

Though Cavello's influence extends across blue uniforms and black robes, the case should be open-and-shut. But the legal system fails with devastating results, and Nick and Andie are the only ones left to seek justice. To stop the Electrician, they must take matters into their own hands. They are the judge and jury now…

Review:
With a slight shift from serial killers and murders to the world of Mafia and terrorism, Patterson loses none of his ability to keep up the fast-paced trademark style of all his books. Judge and Jury see Andie and Nick looking for retribution when the legal system fails them.

My only gripe about the book is Andie's reaction to loosing her son. I found it unrealistic, as there was no real anger or grief shown at the loss of her child. All she seemed to want to do was to get into bed with Nick. As a mother, this annoyed me and felt totally unbelievable. However, the grand twist at the end appeased me of this slight annoyance.

Patterson quickly builds his characters and makes them very easy to identify with. As usually, there is also a clear definition between 'good' and 'bad'. Whilst not on a par with Patterson's earlier offerings such as Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, Judge and Jury is still a gripping, enjoyable read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louis Bayard - The Pale Blue Eye

"The author has created a drama with many memorable characters…"

Synopsis:
There has been a killing at the West Point military academy. One of the cadets has been found hanged in a wood on the campsite. When his body has been cut down he is taken to the local hospital to await burial. Within hours of his death, the young man's body goes missing and is soon found again but, this time, with his heart cut out. Is this the bizarre murder of some fanatical religious cult? Or is there a madman stalking among the cadets, posing as one of their own?

Colonel Thayer brings in a retired New York policeman in the form of Gus Landor. Soon he is immersed in some of the strange rituals at the academy and experiences the small pockets of malevolence amongst the cadets. Landor is given a sidekick in the form of Cadet Fourth Classman Poe – better known as Edgar Allan Poe. Soon both are being pulled apart by their loyalties to certain parties involved - and suspicion is rife.

Review:
This is a marvellously written novel. It is a slow burning story that slowly peels away the layers of the academy, the men who run the academy, the cadets, the families affiliated with the academy, Cadet Poe and even the main detective, Gus Landor. No one seems to escape scrutiny from Mr. Bayard's pen. The author has created a drama with many memorable characters, the most important one, obviously, being Edgar Allan Poe himself. The real life author actually helps with the investigation at the academy and the plot does bring in some known facts about his life and time at the academy. The murder itself is obviously fiction, but with Poe's appearance you could well believe it has some foundation in fact.

I greatly enjoyed the detective, Gus Landor and felt that he and Poe did have some chemistry during the investigation. Throughout the novel, amongst Landor's experiences, Bayard weaves some missives from Poe. These are written in the vein of Poe himself. So, just like the great master, the narrative can be a bit wordy and over descriptive. Some may wish to skim these parts but they do also play an integral part in setting the mood for the end section. This isn't a belter of a mystery, but a languishing slow burner of a novel. The denouement is a masterly piece of sleigh of hand and well worth staying with the 413 pages.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Scott Frost - Never Fear

"…full of twists and turns - and certainly has an unpredictable ending!"

Synopsis:
Seventeen years ago, three women were killed, their bodies dumped in the wasteland of the L.A. River. The serial killer was never found, and the case was mysteriously closed. Now, all these years later, Detective Alex Delillo reopens the River Killer case to help solve her brother's murder.

Alex never knew she had a brother until she went to identify his body. He was found next to the river near Griffith Park, a single gunshot wound in his head. LAPD are calling it suicide, but when Alex reconstructs her brother's final hours she stumbles across his research on an old LAPD case - the River Killings. The prime suspect was none other than their own father.

As Alex gets closer to the truth, her father's past comes into focus and alarming flashbacks from her childhood start to plague her. A journeyman actor who disappeared when she was child, he had a history of violence against women. But was he capable of murder? Meanwhile, the schizophrenic son of the killer's third victim is out for his own revenge and someone in the shadows is stalking Alex's every move and leaving a body count. In a chilling turn, Alex finds that the truth is as murky and as empty as the L.A. River itself…

Review:
This was my first introduction to Frost, and whilst I found the book to be very easy to read, with a strong plot and story line, I thought that there were too many characters, leaving the author little enough time to fully build, define or give relevance to those characters he introduced.

The plot is full of twists and turns - and certainly has an unpredictable ending! The main character was easy to like, with some good supporting sub-characters. I would certainly recommend reading the previous book in the series as there are quite a few references to previous cases and events. Doubtless this would make it easier for the reader to understand character relationships/histories, although this in itself did not distract from my enjoyment of the book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Rayne - Spider Light

"The story really does grip you like an ancient vice…"

Synopsis:
Antonia Weston has just been released after five years in prison. She wants to get away in order to get her life back together again. A cottage, set in the grounds of Quire House, deep in the country of Amberwood, is offered which Antonia grabs with both hands. The peace and tranquillity allows Antonia to return to some semblance of normality after her horrendous time in prison. However, this peace doesn't last long when menacing incidents inside the cottage begin to make Antonia think that what happened over five years ago in her life isn't over - and is still threatening to consume her new life.

Not far away stands the old mill, Twygrist, which has a horrible history and contains secrets yet to be revealed. Along with the now demolished asylum called Latchkill, this area could be quite creepy. To help out at Quire House, Antonia begins to sort out some letters and papers from over a hundred years ago. Soon she is discovering a story about both these dark places, which involves rape, deception, murder and madness. At the same time, a menace far more lifelike is stalking the grounds of Quire House and is ready to pounce on Antonia at any minute…

Review:
I have wanted to read this author for a while now as I love the supernatural, even gothic feel to her titles. So it was with some delight that I started Spider Light. I have to say that Spider Light is one of the most bizarre books I have ever read. Thankfully, that is 'bizarre' in a good way. The story is a strange one that combines two different strands of the story from two totally different time frames. One is set in the present day, with the newly released Antonia. The other is a hundred years in the past with the unfortunate tale of Maud Lincoln who had been told by her unstable mother that when dusk fell, the 'spider light' could hide many evil things.

The story really does grip you like an ancient vice and within the first 100 pages you have already been subjected to lesbianism, rape, incest and murder. Not bad going! The big question is can the author sustain the suspense for another 300 pages? The answer is - yes, she does. There are a few niggles, though. I found some of the dialogue between the people in the past sometimes sounded a bit modern. Also, for all the build up of the suspense, the way the murderer despatches Antonia is a bit of an anticlimax. Apart from that you do have a strong story, which is told in a genuinely compelling way. I will certainly be reading the rest of Ms. Rayne's work and believe you should give Spider Light a go, too.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Pierre Magnan - Death in the Truffle Wood

"…there is an other-worldliness to this book"

Synopsis:
Roseline, the beloved pig of truffle farmer, Alyre, can sense that all is not well in the woods surrounding the small Provencal town of Banon. Members of a local hippie community have disappeared and Commissaire Laviolette has been called in to investigate.

When members of the sect are found murdered in a long-forgotten vault, Laviolette must break the rule of secrecy amongst the truffle farmers to find the person responsible for the gruesome killings.

Review:
Fans of the French detective novel will enjoy this offering from Pierre Magnon. It was originally published in 1978 and there is an other-worldliness to this book, the mystery being set in a France which has now all but disappeared.

This is a classic tale of greed and lust where the reader is taken through a series of twists and turns until the culprit is finally revealed. An excellent and unusual crime novel and I will definitely be reading more of Pierre Magnan.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Otto Penzler (ed) - Dangerous Women

"… a highly recommended collection of crime short stories with a female focus."

Synopsis:
This is a collection of short stories based around the theme of 'dangerous women' which largely refers to the presence of 'femme fatales' in detective fiction.

Contributors include well-known crime writers such as Ian Rankin, Walter Mosley and Elmore Leonard in addition to those famous in other genres, for example Anne Rice and Jay McInerney.

Review:
This is a high quality collection of short stories. 'Femme fatales' feature regularly in crime fiction so it is no surprise that there was a wealth of authors to choose from.

Most of the stories have common themes, and there is a predominance of stories portraying the women as sexual predators, usually entrapping unsuspecting males. However there are a few surprises, including an excellent mystery from Nelson DeMille based around an unknown female sniper in Vietnam. This is a highly recommended collection of crime short stories with a female focus.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: