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Reviews

November 2007

John Hart - Down River

"...highly recommended."

Synopsis:
Adam Chase has spent the last five years in New York trying to wipe out the memory of his family's rejection. Until a phone call from his best friend summons him back to Red Water Farm.

When he left North Carolina, Adam left for good. Now he has no choice but to return - and being remembered as a murderer doesn't help. Within hours of arriving, Adam is beaten up, accosted and has to face the hostility of those closest to him, including Grade, the young woman he cannot forget. Nothing has changed.

Then people start turning up dead.

For a man only just acquitted of murder, Adam's homecoming does not go well. And he has a dark streak, a history of violence. Everyone doubts, and no one trusts him. And as the past threatens to overshadow the present, Adam becomes the prime suspect for the new murders. He alone can clear his name.

Review:
This is another book from Hart that is very easy to read, although apart from the books being set in the Deep South, I can find little similarity between this author and Grisham. A comparison that many people seem to be making.

Despite there being a host of characters, Hart takes time building each one and bringing them to life. The descriptions he gives of surroundings were so well written that it was very easy to imagine each scene.

Paradoxically, the story itself continues to become more complicated the more it unravels, and, despite the easy-going feel of this book, there is a lot going on with plenty of twists and guessing.

Certainly, another Hart book that comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joan Smith - What Will Survive

"Joan Smith excels in her characterisation..."

Synopsis:
Aisha, a glamorous black fashion model, has become more recently known for her work championing human rights causes. Her latest anti-landmine work takes her to the Middle East where she is thrown into an unfamiliar and unsettling environment. Both her husband in Cornwall and her lover in London worry about her safety, fears that are realised when Aisha is killed in a landmine accident.

Amanda, a reporter who recently interviewed Aisha for her newspaper is sent to the Middle East to cover the story. What at first seems to be a tragic accident takes on sinister overtones when Amanda tries to find out why Aisha was staying in a remote settlement in the first place. Meanwhile Aisha's lover, the Tory MP Stephen Massinger, has to cope with both his grief and his deteriorating marriage. Can either Amanda's investigative skills or Stephen, with his political connections, find out the true cause of Aisha's death?

Review:
This is a complex thriller from journalist Joan Smith. The plot initially seems relatively straightforward; a run-of-the-mill whodunit with the addition of glamour provided by the elegant Aisha. But Joan Smith excels in her characterisation and each has a hidden side that is gradually revealed…

The beautiful and sophisticated Aisha is not only a compassionate advocate for the poor. She is no longer in love with her husband - and is pursuing an affair with ruthless determination. Meanwhile, her hapless husband also has his secrets and may also have been unfaithful in the past. The lives of Aisha's circle of family and friends all seem to have a degree of fragility about them, which makes the book vastly more complex than it first appears.

The conclusion of the novel is left deliberately ambiguous. While Amanda is able to unravel the series of events that led to the Aisha's death, many questions remain unanswered. The reader, however, is left with a sense of deep sorrow for a rich and vibrant a life cut short.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Priscilla Masters - Slipknot

"...a very strong, emotional novel that will keep readers highly entertained... "

Synopsis:
Callum is a young boy who has been constantly bullied at school. He eventually snaps and threatens his tormentor with a knife. The incident turns nasty when the bully is stabbed by his victim and the roles are suddenly reversed. Soon Callum has been charged with attempted murder and is taken to a Young Offenders Centre after being denied bail by the magistrate. By the next morning, Callum is dead, supposedly killing himself with a noose around his neck.

Within a few days the stabbed boy, Roger, is also dead due to complications. This seems to Martha Gunn a terrible waste of two young lives. Martha is also not satisfied with the insinuations that Callum is a 'psycho' who should have been locked up years ago. As Martha grapples with her feelings over the separation of her son at a Football Academy, she finds that she is surrounded by the tormented emotions of two other mothers. Then the stakes become higher - and Martha feels she needs to put an end to this mayhem before more people are hurt.

Review:
Slipknot is Martha Gunn's second outing, the first being River Deep. Slipknot could not really be classed as a 'whodunit' but more a 'whydunit'. Masters' new novel really explores the bonds between mother and son. And also about how these children are perceived by other people's families. It makes a powerful statement on the effects of bullying in our schools. This could have been a predictable novel but for two things. First, Masters writes extremely well and second, you have Martha as the main protagonist. It is her job as a Coroner that is pivotal in this novel

Once again, Martha tries to get to the truth of the matter whilst being systematically tormented by a stalker who sends her roses and leaves dead mice on her doorstep. As in River Deep, this matter is still not resolved by the end of Slipknot, but it is obvious that Martha and her team - plus stalker - will be back for another instalment chronicling the troubles and strife of Shrewsbury. This is a very good book and one that kept me reading. I do prefer the Joanna Piercy series, but Slipknot is a very strong, emotional novel that will keep readers highly entertained and may even make you somewhat thoughtful over its subject matter.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joseph Finder - Power Play

"This book is action packed…"

Synopsis:
It was the perfect retreat for a troubled company. No cell phones. No Blackberrys. No cars. Just a luxurious, remote lodge surrounded by thousands of miles of wilderness…

All the top officers of the Hammond Aerospace Corporation are there.
And one last-minute substitute - a junior executive named Jake Landry.
He's a steady, modest, and taciturn guy with a gift for keeping his head down and a turbulent past he's trying to put behind him.

Jake's uncomfortable with all the power players he's surrounded by, especially with all their swaggering and posturing. The only person there he knows is the female CEO's assistant - his ex-girlfriend, Ali.

When a band of backwoods hunters crash the opening-night dinner, the executives suddenly find themselves held hostage by armed men who will do anything, to anyone, to get their hands on the largest ransom in history. Now, terrified, desperate and cut off from the rest of the world, the captives are at the mercy of hard men with guns who may not be what they seem.

The corporate big shots hadn't wanted Jake there. But now he's the only one who can save them.

Review:
As with Finder's previous novel, Paranoia, Power Play has an unlikely hero who tries to save the day. Jake, the lead character, is a slightly maverick non-conformist, but likeable, man who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. But due to his 'high moral standards' is unable to sit by and just watch things happen.

The way the story pans out is possibly a little predictable… although the initial kidnap situation and the excellent writing more than makes up for this. There are also some clues along the way for the reader to try and pick up on and work out why the kidnap has taken place, and who is really behind it

This book is action packed and the pace doesn't drop, although I did find the build-up to the main event a little drawn out. Nonetheless, it was a highly enjoyable book and comes recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Miyuki Miyabe - The Devil’s Whisper

"… the tension is maintained to the end."

Synopsis:
Sixteen year old Mamoru Kusaka is living in Tokyo with his aunt and uncle and their daughter. He has moved from Hirakawa on the death of his mother, his father having disappeared in dubious circumstances twelve years earlier. At the beginning of the story, Mamuro's uncle is arrested for killing a young girl in a traffic accident. Trying to help his uncle, Mamuro begins to link this death with the apparent suicides of two other young girls.

He soon discovers that they were all involved, along with another young girl, in a scam to extort money from rich and vulnerable businessmen. Mamuro's uncle is cleared by the evidence of a powerful businessman who seems to know a great deal about Mamuro and his family. Mamuro finds out what has happened to his father and also aims to save the remaining girl in the scam who is in grave danger from the real killer…

Review:
The detective in this case is not a hard-bitten cop or private eye but a young inexperienced boy who is anxious to protect his remaining family and to discover the truth about his father.

There is a personal and human element to solving the crime. Mamoru and his family are a very sympathetic group and the struggles of Mamuro to adjust to his new life add interest to the story. The deaths of the three girls appear to involve some strange superhuman force and it is only at the end that we discover that there is a rational explanation.

Throughout the story the reader is involved in working out various alternative scenarios and the tension is maintained to the end. The writing is clear and straightforward, moving the plot along quickly. The Japan of the story is a very modern and developed society.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Faye Kellerman - The Burnt House

"… hard to put down…"

Synopsis:
A West Air plane on its way to San Jose, California develops engine problems and plummets into the ground. As the search for bodies gets underway, one couple are convinced that their daughter, Roseanne, who has been included on the official 'missing' list, was not on the plane. Instead they are certain that their son-in-law has deliberately added her name to the list of casualties to hide the fact that he has murdered Roseanne himself. Roseanne had been threatening to divorce her philandering husband. Something that would have left him destitute.

Detective Pete Decker's attempts to help the parents unravel the mystery of their daughter's disappearance is hampered by the discovery of a female's body amongst the wreckage which is definitely not Roseanne's. He now has to investigate a thirty-year-old mystery with the only clue to the girl's identity - a piece of fabric with the name of a 1970's group stitched onto it. As the two cases progress, a common link is eventually found to connect them.

Review:
Moving away from the setting of her last novel, Straight into Darkness, a thriller set in Nazi Germany, this new book from Faye Kellerman sees her return to familiar territory. Modern day Los Angeles is a rich source of material for Kellerman and she once more unites LA detectives Peter Decker and Marge Dunn to investigate the alleged crimes.

The book is billed as a Pete Decker/Rina Lazarus mystery but in fact I prefer the character of Marge Dunn whose personal life is finally settling down. Her paramour was introduced in Faye Kellerman's last collaboration with her husband Jonathan, Capital Crimes, which was a useful bridge between previous novels featuring Pete Decker and this current book.

The plotting is very well done and the pace of the novel moves well. The link between the two cases stretches the imagination somewhat but this doesn't detract from the book. Instead, the reader is drawn to both contemporary Los Angeles and 1970s California, with its free love and maverick cult leaders. By the end I found the book hard to put down and I am sure that other Kellerman fans will find it equally enjoyable.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Didbin - End Games

"… an excellent finale."

Synopsis:
Aurelio Zen is temporarily heading the policy force in Calabria, Southern Italy but has yet to investigate anything of substance. This all changes when an American is found murdered in a deserted hilltop village. Supposedly acting as a reconnaissance scout for a film company, Zen soon discovers that the man is originally from the region and the reasons for his murder are likely connected to the deep, distant past.

Meanwhile, an American cyber millionaire with time on his hands has decided to look for lost treasure off the Calabrian coast. The teams supposedly looking for locations for the film shoot are, in fact, looking for potential sites of this lost treasure. The son of the murdered American is helping them out, but soon realises that he is part of a conspiracy that probably killed his father. As the two plots converge Aurelio Zen, aware that he soon has to return to his home police force, fights to break the southern Italian wall of silence.

Review:
Following the death of Michael Didbin, this is sadly the last outing for Aurelio Zen. But it is an excellent finale.

Three or four different plots are interwoven into the book and the action shifts from the US to Austria and Italy. Despite the different plots, however, the reader never loses sight of the centre of the book that revolves around the investigation of Aurelio Zen. Zen is not entirely happy in the close-knit atmosphere of southern Italy and the reader accompanies him on this journey of discovery which revels in the strangeness of the surroundings. There is an air of menace throughout the novel, without there being any overt violence. This is a credit to Didbin's erudite writing. Very few detective novels have me reaching for the dictionary but I confess to doing so in the first couple of chapters.

The plot is quite complicated - which I enjoyed - but I did need to concentrate towards the end of the book to understand the exact nature of the motive for the initial murder. Aurelio Zen's character shines through the book and he will be sorely missed.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Qiu Xiaolong - When Red is Black

"I love these books..."

Synopsis:
In this, the third book of the Inspector Chen Cao mysteries, Inspector Chen is on leave carrying out a lucrative translation job for a triad connected businessman when the body of a woman is found murdered in a small room in a converted multi occupancy house.

As this translation job appears above board with no strings attached and provides him with everything he needs including medical care for his mother, Chen is reluctant to end his holiday to investigate the murder, particularly as he feels Sergeant Yu is quite capable. He does, however, keep in touch with Yu and points him in useful directions.

When Chen finally returns to work he helps Yu to finalise the solution whilst also keeping a valuable piece of writing from destruction by the authorities.

Review:
I love these books for the delicate descriptions of life in the China of the nineties when the old order is changing and the people (particularly the older ones) have to adjust to a dramatically different world.

There is great insight into the attitudes of those who have lived through the Cultural Revolution and whose lives have been shaped by it, only to find that the values of their world are changing. The intimate descriptions of everyday life in a city where multi family occupancy of the old houses is common are so revealing.

Inspector Chen enjoys his food and the descriptions of Chinese delicacies are sometimes mouth watering, sometimes a little off putting and sometimes just plain puzzling. The quotes from Chinese poetry are a delight and give a feeling for the sensitivity of Chen. Throughout the story Inspector Chen remains an honourable man steering a difficult course in a society where political influence is paramount. There is just a hint that maybe in the future he will be asked to return favours beyond his comfort limit and I look forward to the next book to find out.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Ellis - City of Fire

"… very enjoyable and easy to read…"

Synopsis:
When a businessman arrives home to find his wife in bed, carved open from stomach to neck by a very sharp knife, the elite Robbery Homicide Division of the LAPD responds in full force and Detective Lena Gamble prepares for her first major case.

At first all fingers point towards the victim's husband but case scenarios only happen in films, and it soon transpires that this murder is one of a series of brutal crimes against women and the work of a killer dubbed 'Romeo' by the Ravenous Hollywood media.

Lena is all too aware of the peril of the public eye - she has found herself in it before, on the night of her rock star bother's unsolved murder five years ago. And now she risks a far more dangerous fame - as a cloud of conspiracy descends on her investigation and she edges into Romeo's deadly line of sight…

Whilst a massive forest fire blankets the city, the murderous trail moves far too close to him and past and present horrors seem to be colliding in a single nightmare. Lena must catch this psychopath before she becomes his next victim.

Review:
Robert Ellis introduces a new character in his first series of novels, Lena Gamble. Plenty of background has been given on Gamble, with no gaps in her history, leaving the reader feeling they know this character very well.

All the characters featured in the story have been well drawn and, even though you are aware of the killer well before the end of the book, there is plenty of information given which may also throw you off the scent.

I found this book very enjoyable and easy to read, and while some of the outcomes may have been a little expected, there were still a few surprises along the way to compensate for this.

It will be interested in reading the next novel in this series to see where the character of Gamble will be heading.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ake Edwardson - Frozen Tracks

"… a highly individual book…"

Synopsis:
In Gothenburg, Sweden police receive a number of disturbing reports of young children being invited into a man's car, after which they are returned unhurt. When a young boy is found dazed and wandering in the local woods, the investigation escalates under the supervision of Chief Inspector Erik Winter.

Having recently returned from six months of paternity leave, the case is particularly close to his heart and he is keen to find the person responsible before a child is hurt. However, he is also preoccupied by a recent spate of attacks on university students who appear to have been assaulted using a branding iron. As the investigation develops Winter is forced to choose between family commitments and giving up his Christmas to solve the cases, which are beginning to show signs of being interlinked.

Review:
This is the third book by Edwardson featuring Chief Inspector Winter and once again the writer has produced an absorbing mystery. As with his previous books the writing can be quite slow paced, but, once you get used to his style, the story carries you along.

The book's main strength, once again, is the character of Winter. Although he has a happy family life there is an air of discontentment about his situation that is not strongly articulated but manifests itself in his absorption with his cases. The reader strongly identifies with the investigation rather than the crimes and victims, something that is unusual in a crime novel.

The descriptions of Sweden, from urban Gothenburg to the desolation of the outlying countryside, are well portrayed, as are the oppressive winter nights where sunshine is desperately craved. This is a highly individual book and not to be missed by those who have enjoyed the writer's previous novels.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rosemary Rowe - A Coin for the Ferryman

"… a truly exciting story"

Synopsis:
This is set in Roman Britain AD 189. In Glevum (modern day Gloucester ), Libertus, ex slave and master of the mosaic pavement, is preparing to free his young slave, Junio, and make him his heir. Junio's engagement to Cilla is also to be announced. They are to set up home in a new roundhouse close to Libertus and his wife, Gwellia.

As work begins on the new home, an unknown body is discovered on the site. This does not auger well for the young couple and there is pressure for the murderer to be found and the body disposed of before the beginning of the feast of the dead.

Libertus' patron and confidant, Marcus Septimus, is about to set off for Rome, but before he goes he puts on an impressive feast to impress an important visitor. The entertainment is provided by a troupe of travelling dancers. Libertus and Junio work together to track down the murderer and to reveal the plot.

Review:
This is a satisfying book with a background of Romano Britain that is accurately and informatively described. The characters are sympathetic and interesting and the plot cleverly put together.

I particularly liked the insight into the life of the Celtic inhabitants of Britain and the way in which they interacted with the Roman masters. The complicated process for the manumission of a slave was carefully explained.

However, the book is not a history lesson but a truly exciting story, and the humanity and understanding of Libertus still remains a good reason to read the tale.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Granger - Rattling the Bones

"…a light and highly entertaining story."

Synopsis:
Fran Varady, resting actor and amateur detective, has moved on from a squat in Rotherhithe to a relatively comfortable small flat. She meets up with Edna, the bag lady who had been a neighbour in Fran's former life. Fran is concerned for Edna, as she seems to be afraid of someone who is following her. Fran still remains friends with Ganesh, who continues to worry about Fran and look out for her welfare.

In the course of investigating a little more about Edna, Fran comes across the dead body of a private detective called Duane Gardner in the office of her friend and sometime employer, Susie Duke. Digging into the past provides Fran with details of an old love story and some selfish dealings within Edna's family. The self-interest remains and has been brought up to date. This is at the heart of the threats to Edna's life. The unravelling of the various strands provides the clue to those with murderous intent.

Review:
This is a light and highly entertaining story. Fran is a thoroughly modern and entertaining heroine who takes ridiculous risks, to the horror of her friends, and gets away with it. She is quick, amusing and doesn't take herself too seriously. Ganesh remains the voice of reason that expresses the fears we all have. Fran carries on regardless.

The plot is original and is understanding of the fierce independence of the homeless Edna, whose story represents some of those that bring people to the life of the streets, is a well-drawn and sympathetic character. I think part of the appeal is that the reader admires the courage and boldness of Fran Varady, whilst not in the least wishing to emulate her.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: