Click a logo below for more information...
 
 

Reviews

January 2007

Fred Vargas - Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand

"Fred Vargas is an unusual and highly individual writer, with a style and tone all her own."

Synopsis:
Commissaire Adamsberg is worried about a series of panic attacks that he has experienced in recent days, triggered by subconscious memories that he cannot comprehend. By piecing together what he was doing when the attacks took place, Adamsberg realises what is triggering his memories. He becomes convinced that a serial killer, along with his trademark weapon, a trident fork, who has been killing since 1943, may have reappeared. A woman in Schiltigheim has been murdered in a similar manner, and as with the other cases, a man has confessed to the crime but has no recollection of the attack.

The Commissaire is convinced that the murders are the responsibility of Judge Fulgence, a character in his childhood who also tried to frame Adamsberg's brother for one of the murders. However, when a murder takes place in Quebec, where Adamsberg is on a temporary assignment, it is the policeman who now comes under suspicion for murder. In order to prove his innocence and find the supposedly deceased Judge Fulgence, Adamsberg must go on the run and use all of his wit to solve the cases.

Review:
Fred Vargas is an unusual and highly individual writer, with a style and tone all her own. This novel, featuring the enigmatic Adamsberg, once more achieves her usual high standard. Adamsberg is a highly individual detective who inspires both awe and loathing amongst his fellow detectives. For the reader he is a highly attractive character, not least because of his apparent flaws, including his chronic inability to remain faithful to his girlfriend, Camille.

There are some brilliant character touches in the book. From Inspector Danglard's fear of flying to the female detective Retancourt's huge bulk which is instrumental in helping Adamsberg escape. But the characters are always believable because they are only very slightly out of the ordinary – people that you would love to meet and have as your colleagues.

The plot is, as usual, intricate and fascinating. Any crime fans that have yet to read Fred Vargas should start here!

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Dean Koontz - Brother Odd

"… has all the originality, naivety and altruistic nature embodied by its eponymous central character to make this book very appealing."

Synopsis:
St. Bartholomew's Abbey sits in majestic solitude amid the wild peaks of California's high Sierra, a haven for children otherwise abandoned, and a sanctuary for those seeking insight. Odd Thomas has come here to learn to live fully again. Among the eccentric monks, their other guests and the nuns and young students of the attached convent school he has begun to find his way. The silent spirits of the dead who visited him in his earlier life are mercifully absent, save for the bell-ringing Brother Constantine and Odd's steady companion, the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

But trouble has a way of finding Odd Thomas, and it slinks back onto his path in the form of the sinister bodachs he has met previously, the black shades who herald death and disaster, who come late one December night to hover above the abbey's most precious charges. Odd is about to face an enemy who eclipses any he has yet encountered as he embarks on a journey of mystery, wonder and sheer suspense that surpasses all that has come before…

Review:
My favourite Koontz character returns in his third novel, Brother Odd. Again, Koontz has mixed the supernatural with an element of crime and suspicion and has written yet another book which I was unable to put down.

Whilst, in my opinion, the actual storyline for Brother Odd was not quite on a par with the original Odd Thomas, it has all the originality, naivety and altruistic nature embodied by its eponymous central character to make this book very appealing.

A definite must for all Odd followers, but I would definitely recommend reading the previous books in the series before reading this one to fully appreciate the main character.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Linda Fairstein - Bad Blood

"Fairstein has lost none of her flair and originality for her stories or characters and fans will not be disappointed with this latest offering."

Synopsis:
Alexandra Cooper has a tough case to prosecute. Brendan Quillian, a wealthy businessman from the Upper East Side, has been charged with hiring an assassin to kill his wife, but the evidence is flimsy and the defendant has one of the most successful defence lawyers on his side.

Then an explosion in one of the tunnels being built to secure Manhattan's water supply kills Quillan's brother, one of the construction workers. The blast isn't terrorism, it isn't an accident and it looks as though Duke Quillian was the target.

None of the team investigating the murder had come across any hint that Brendan had a brother, never mind one so far on the other side of the tracks. With another case to solve, Alex, together with Detectives Chapman and Mercer, discover that Quillan's upbringing is very different from what they'd assumed, and within the cupboard of his estranged family there are many skeletons, not all of them metaphorical.

In a cliff-hanging whodunnit, Linda Fairstein takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through New York and deep beneath its streets, to a conclusion which is as surprising as it is frightening

Review:
Fairstein returns with Alex Cooper in the role of DA, with her trusty side-kicks, Mercer and Chapman, who are Detectives in the Police Force but work closely with Cooper on all of her cases. The dynamic of this trio works extremely well and the characters bond very well together, both in their professional and personal lives. Mercer and Chapman are almost mothering in the way they look after Alex Cooper.

The storyline contained within Bad Blood is very complex, and parts of the explanations and history regarding the tunnelling below New York, whilst in part interesting, was in my view superfluous.

Considering this is the ninth book in the series, Fairstein has lost none of her flair and originality for her stories or characters and fans will not be disappointed with this latest offering.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Thomas Harris - Hannibal Rising

"This is the highly anticipated prequel novel from the chronicler of Hannibal Lecter, a character who has made his way into the crime/thriller hall of fame."

Synopsis:
Hannibal Lecter is a child from a privileged background - next in a long line of Counts Lecter. However, with the onset of World War II, his circumstances are about to change. Fleeing from Lecter Castle to a lodge hidden deep within the woods, the small band of family, servants and tutors hide from the atrocities happening around them. As the Germans are surrendering disaster strikes and the adults are wiped out, leaving Hannibal and his younger sister, Mischa to fend for themselves. Soon after, a crew of local scavengers discover the lodge and take the two children as captives. After being snowed in, Mischa is snatched from her brother's arms and never seen again. Later, Hannibal remembers nothing until he is found on the edge of the wood by passing soldiers.

Some time afterwards Hannibal is collected by his Uncle and taken back to France where he meets his Aunt, the mysterious Lady Murasaki. It is through her that he finds love and the appreciation of art. However, Hannibal is plagued by dark demons and turns his thoughts to seeking revenge against the men who took Mischa from him. One by one he avenges his tiny sister's disappearance, and so begins what is destined to be a long and bloody history of the world's most notorious cannibal…

Review:
This is the highly anticipated prequel novel from the chronicler of Hannibal Lecter, a character who has made his way into the crime/thriller hall of fame. Harris' past works featuring Lecter have been in-depth, highly charged pieces that have gripped millions of readers across the world. So, does it come up to the standard set by the previous three? Sadly, probably not. The story is interesting, although I did find it difficult to start with. Numerous characters are thrown at you in rapid succession and I had to keep flicking back pages to remind myself who was who!

Hannibal Rising is a highly competent thriller but doesn't have the depth of its highly accomplished predecessors. I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that Mr. Harris wrote this book more under pressure from fans and/or the publisher than through personal choice to show us another facet of Hannibal Lecter. Also, with the imminent arrival of the movie in Feb 2007, this could possibly be viewed as a novelisation of the film script.

Even Hannibal's arch nemesis, Popil, comes out of this novel as two-dimensional. There are plenty of promises about Popil, which are never fully delivered. Hannibal Rising is a gripping thriller but it feels as though the writer didn't really have his heart in the whole piece. I hope that when we are treated to Mr. Harris' next work that he will offer us his heart and soul again because, on form, nobody can touch him. If this appears negative, it is only because we have come to expect so much from this great author. By any standards this is a thrilling tale, but it somehow lacks the magic Harris touch.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tess Gerritsen - The Mephisto Club

"… The Mephisto Club is an exciting read, with plenty of gruesome murders and enough suspects to keep the reader guessing until the end."

Synopsis:
Christmas Eve in Boston is no holy night for medical examiner Dr Maura Isles.
In a rundown house, a woman has been dismembered in an act of carnage that leaves even veteran cops in shock. Drawn on the wall, in blood, are ancient symbols and a mirror image word in Latin, that, translated, says, ' I have sinned'.

Then a second woman is found butchered on Beacon Hill, just outside of the leader of the Mephisto Club, a secret society dedicated to the study of evil and to confronting it in its purest form. On the door have been scrawled yet more ancient symbols. Are they clues? Or threats?

This is a new form of evil that Boston PD has never encountered before. And the only way Maura and detective Jane Rizzoli can defeat it is by turning to the people who understand the devil himself…

Review:
Although I found the storyline not quite as entertaining as her previous books, they are so well written that it is easy to forgive her if one is not a major fan of the occult.

With each book in the series, the main characters continue to build and develop. In The Mephisto Club, Gerrittsen also widens her character base by bringing in peripheral family members, adding a dash of humour to the story.

Despite my slight disappointment with the storyline, Gerritsen remains a firm favourite of mine and The Mephisto Club is an exciting read, with plenty of gruesome murders and enough suspects to keep the reader guessing until the end.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alexander McGregor - Lawless

"This is an engrossing, exciting and thoroughly entertaining read."

Synopsis:
Campbell McBride has written a true crime best seller about the murders committed in his home town of Dundee. He returns there to promote his book and whilst signing copies in a local bookstore, is confronted by an angry man claiming that he has not given a true account of one of these murders.

McBride had been planning to return to London but something about this case intrigues him and he stays on. Then he starts to receive messages taunting him and making fun of his progress. Gradually he becomes more involved with his past life and friends in Dundee and slowly begins to see a pattern emerging in the murders. Finally, he rushes to try to rescue a young Detective Inspector, Petra Novak with whom he has a definite interest…

Review:
Mirroring the story, this book was written as a follow up to a true crime best seller produced by the author. Although this is a fictional account it obviously draws on the extensive experience of Alexander McGregor and therefore provides a realistic and totally believable tale.

The hero is sympathetic and involves the reader; the action is fast and the characters well observed. This is an engrossing, exciting and thoroughly entertaining read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mari Jungstedt - Unseen

"… comparisons with Henning Mankell are inevitable. However, this book, the first by Mari Jungstedt, definitely holds its own."

Synopsis:
When a woman and her dog are found murdered on the island of Gotland, her boyfriend - with whom she has just had a violent argument - naturally comes under suspicion. However, after a second young woman is murdered in a killing that closely resembles the first, police are forced to consider the possibility that a serial killer is at large who may be out to seek revenge for past humiliations.

Review:
There is now much new detective fiction coming out of Scandinavia and for these novels, particularly set those set in Sweden, comparisons with Henning Mankell are inevitable. However, this book, the first by Mari Jungstedt, definitely holds its own. The story is strong and there is an interesting sub-plot in relation to the work of a journalist on a national newspaper who falls for one of the friends of the victims.

The setting of Gotland is fascinating and Jungstedt paints an evocative picture of this small island. A good first novel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lynda La Plante - The Red Dahlia

"This is a fast moving, gripping tale, which keeps its reader engrossed to the last."

Synopsis:
The body of a young girl is found murdered and mutilated on the bank of the Thames in Richmond. It seems to be a copy of “The Black Dahlia” case in 1940s Los Angeles.

Detective Inspector Anna Travis is immediately involved in the case and is shortly joined by her former boss, Detective Chief Inspector James Langton. There is a history of attraction between the two and the tension remains throughout the story.

When a second girl is found dead in circumstances still mirroring the Black Dahlia, the pressure to unravel the relationships around their chief suspect is increased. The sexual perversion and sadistic practices of his family, past and present, unveiled as the story proceeds affect many individuals.

Review:
Being published at the same time as the new version of the film of “The Black Dahlia” means that there is added interest in the story.

This is a fast moving, gripping tale, which keeps its reader engrossed to the last. The characters are interesting and the denouement highly satisfying. This counts as a good holiday read and, naturally, it has the potential to move to television!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Carol Anne Davis - Shrouded

"There is a satisfying twist at the end that involves the stuff of nightmares."

Synopsis:
This is not so much a whodunit as a “how-and-why-he-done-it”. Douglas, the central character, has been badly abused as a boy. He finds relationships difficult and noise hard to take. Working in a mortuary means that he has a quiet life and the women never speak.

Douglas makes friends with Marjorie, who is desperate for a relationship, and has a common interest in keeping fish. He has sexual relations with a few women who for one reason or another remain silent, but he is looking for a way of keeping his special woman silent all the time. By studying his books he thinks he has found that way.

Review:
This book is not for the fainthearted! Some of the details of the storyline are quite difficult to take, but if you enjoy a dark, realistic account of the ways in which childhood abuse can lead to perversion and madness, this is for you.

There is a satisfying twist at the end that involves the stuff of nightmares. I enjoyed it - I think!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathan Santlofer - The Death Artist

"This is a fast moving story set against a novel and unusual background."

Synopsis:
Set in New York's art community this is about a series of murders mimicking famous paintings - using the victims as tableaux. Caught up in this is ex NYPD cop Kate McKinnon who is devastated by the discovery of the body of her protégé.

Kate has moved on in life and is now a well-known art historian who is married to a wealthy lawyer and patron of the arts. Her knowledge of art history and her closeness to some of the victims gradually reveal that Kate is intrinsically important to the murderer and soon she is drawn back to taking an active part in the hunt for the killer.

Review:
This is a fast moving story set against a novel and unusual background. The writer has a great knowledge of both the art and the community in which the tale is set. This makes for a convincing and enjoyable read.

The insight into both the talent and the pseudo talent of the art world is intriguing. The murders are particularly gruesome and - if that is your scene - it is certainly well done. Where the writer is telling the tale I enjoyed this book. Some of the descriptions of the wealth and lifestyles of the rich I found less entertaining…

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jason Goodwin - The Janissary Tree

"The exotic atmosphere of a place where a harem and eunuchs are accepted as commonplace is beautifully and sensitively evoked in this book."

Synopsis:
This story is set in the Istanbul of the mid 19th century where the Ottoman Empire is moving to modernise. A concubine in the Sultan's harem is found murdered, then a young soldier is found brutally killed in the streets of the city.

The person who is asked to investigate these events is certainly in a position to move in and out of the harem without suspicion. He is Yashim Togula, a eunuch in the Sultan's court. Yashim is a learned and wise man with friends throughout Istanbul society, but he is troubled by thoughts of what has been done to him and his own feelings,

Yashim's investigations involve the once powerful Janissaries attempts to reclaim power - as well as an individual's search for wealth.

Review:
The exotic atmosphere of a place where a harem and eunuchs are accepted as commonplace is beautifully and sensitively evoked in this book.

The historical background and detailed knowledge of the author is evident and contributes to the total enjoyment of the story. The plot is detailed and moves along at a good pace. The hero, Yashim, is a complex man and I would love to hear more about him. Well deserving of a place on the short list for the Ellis Peters Award for historical crime fiction.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: