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Reviews

April 2007

Chris Kuzneski - Sign of the Cross

"For those with the stamina this is definitely a one-sitting read!"

Synopsis:
Is 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' simply that – just a story? Worse still, is it a coldly calculated confidence trick, created in secret over 2000 years ago by an evil Roman Emperor to capture the minds and empty the purses of countless generations? Who knows, and who stands to benefit…?

It starts spectacularly. A Vatican priest is murdered at the castle of Elsinore in Denmark – crucified in a macabre, ritual style. He is the first victim, but surely will not be the last. Nick Dial, brought in by Interpol to investigate, finds himself drawn into an extraordinary adventure. As he tries to unravel the killing spree, he uncovers an archetypal pattern – or is it a sign?

Meanwhile, in a hidden room carved underneath the Roman Catacombs of Orvieto, an archaeologist uncovers a perfectly preserved scroll dating back to the time of Christ. Does the scroll contain the key to unlock a sinister plot that will rock the faith and foundations of the Church? The truth will out… but at what cost?

Review:
Oh no, I hear you groan, not another Biblical thriller complete with ancient codes and hidden secrets set to rock the world… Don't panic!

In Sign of the Cross, Chris Kuzneski has created an entirely original world-view and tells us an extraordinary tale with one hell of a sting to it. He writes like a dream and (aside from the slightly annoying and rather obvious habit of handing cliff-hangers to us on a plate in the last couple of sentences of some chapters) his thriller style is nigh on flawless. Indeed, the author has created a page-turning style that older thriller pros would give up serious appendages to perfect.

For those with the stamina this is definitely a one-sitting read! We won't spoil too many of the countless twists and turns, but suffice to say that the reader will travel through centuries and continents to encounter breathtaking adventure and excitement – and unravel a mysterious quest that may make them question the very core of our spiritual foundations. Needless to say, I strongly advise you to take the journey!

Reviewed by: A.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Asa Larsson - The Savage Altar

"‘Rebecka Larsson is a gutsy, if troubled, protagonist…’"

Synopsis:
The mutilated body of a young man is discovered on the floor of a church in northern Sweden. The ritualistic nature of his injuries suggests that his murder might be connected to his involvement in a local cult.

Stockholm lawyer Rebecka Martinsson receives a call from the man's sister, a childhood friend who pleads for her to return to Kiruna, the town that Rebecka left in disgrace years earlier. Rebecka, despite her misgivings returns to help her friend Sanna, who has now been implicated in the murder, and tries to unravel the extent of the local cult's involvement in the killing.

Review:
Savage Altar is an excellently well-written book that has also been translated with skill to produce a highly individual novel. The murder plot is well constructed, with Larsson writing with insight into the atmosphere that develops around a religious community. Although the portrayal of the cult's charismatic leader could fall into stereotype, it is a credit to Larsson's skill that this is not the case. Instead she portrays a close religious community where suspicion and piety go hand in hand.

The characterisation is excellent. Rebecka Larsson is a gutsy, if troubled, protagonist, although the novel isn't helped by the blurb on the back of the book inaccurately comparing her with Clarice Starling. The supporting characters are equally well written, particularly the pregnant police inspector Anna-Maria Mella. Both characters would be welcome in any further books by Larsson.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graeme Roe - Dangerous Outsider

"A really good read…"

Synopsis:
Jay Jessop is a successful National Hunt trainer based in the Cotswolds. There are several large investors in his training business, including Jay and his wife Eva.

Several incidents that are potentially damaging to Jay start to occur, particularly the poaching of some of his best horses by a new trainer who has recently arrived from Ireland, extensively backed by a mysterious financier. The attacks on Jay increase in number and severity, including an attack on the life of Jay's Head Man, and worse. Jay's many contacts in business and the police help him to determine that there is a great deal of money and one mastermind behind all these events.

It is not until the very end that finally we know who is behind all the skulduggery.

Review:
This is a good, fast moving tale of intrigue, plot and counter plot in the world of National Hunt racing, told by an expert who has run the races and knows exactly what he is talking about. This makes the exciting descriptions of the interactions taking place during a race particularly vivid.

The equally dangerous world of business is also no stranger to Graeme Roe, who was once in advertising and now runs his own business. He is, therefore, well placed to describe the worldwide web of business interests linked with this story.

It felt like being the proverbial fly on the wall as I read the description of the action – and I felt that I had privileged access to a secret world. A really good read, particularly if you are looking for a bit of escapism.

Reviewed by: S.D.

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 here 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 commonplace are also 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:

Richard Montanari - Broken Angels

"‘… an impressive and gripping read.’"

Synopsis:
When the first body is found, mutilated and strangled on the riverbank, homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano suspect yet another case of random urban violence. Until it happens again, and then again…

One by one, women are lured to the old Schuylkill River, their violent and increasingly staged deaths the only clues to the killer's twisted imagination. All are wearing oddly old-fashioned dresses, holding a prop of some kind, and each one seems to have a story to tell, speaking of nightmares that are not just the stuff of fairy tales...

Desperately, Byrne and Balzano try to uncover the fragile link between the murders, until they realise they are up against two different kinds of evil. A ruthless killer is preying upon the citizens of Philadelphia. And someone else is killing the suspects.

Review:
Returning with Detectives Byrne and Balzno, Montanari's Broken Angels is a thriller with two killers and two seemingly unconnected plots, although you are fully expecting the two to be intertwined at some point.

After reading the Rosary Girls, I found Montanari's writing style to have much improved in Broken Angels and, far from just reading this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I do find that the lead characters, especially Balzano, are slightly flawless, and there is also little humour in any of the dialogue. This is an impressive and gripping read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Wishart - In At The Death

"… told in the style of a racy Stateside detective story, but set in ancient Rome."

Synopsis:
This is the latest episode in the Roman detective series featuring Marcus Corvinius and his wife Perilla. Set at the end of Tiberius' reign as Emperor, this story involves the mysterious death, apparently a suicide, of a young man with no obvious reason to end his own life.

Marcus is asked to investigate the death by the family and is offered a very large fee to do so. As he investigates the friends and family of the young man, he becomes convinced that it is a murder and not a suicide. All the evidence points to the involvement of some of the most powerful men in Rome who use their resources to “discourage” Marcus from finding out too much. At the same time, Marcus has been persuaded by his wife to care for a large and fairly anti social dog with the highly unsuitable name of Placida.

Review:
This is a fast moving tale told in the style of a racy Stateside detective story. but set in ancient Rome. Marcus is a fast-talking, wise-cracking character with a fairly cynical outlook on life. The juxtaposition of gritty dialogue with a senatorial class citizen is rather strange but on the whole I think it works. It represents the non conformist attitude that Corvinius possesses. His long-suffering wife helps and guides him, whilst trying to keep him under control.

David Wishart combines accurate historical facts with a touch of informed invention to give a good believable story of Ancient Rome. It is also very funny!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Rickards - The Darkness Inside

"‘…brilliantly written…’"

Synopsis:
Seven years ago Cody Williams was the FBI's prime suspect in a series of horrific New England abductions. Seven years ago Alex Rourke put Cody Williams behind bars. Now Cody Williams is dying. He wants to set the record straight. And he'll talk only to Alex . . .

Former FBI agent Rourke has successfully re-invented himself as a private detective, but he's still haunted by the Williams case. Facing the monster again will mean squaring up to some demons from the past. For Cody has nothing left to lose – and a big final hand to play. When it appears that one of Cody's victims, Holly Tynon, might still be alive, Alex is left to make a terrible choice that, either way, will mean the end of at least one life.

Review:
The book opens with Alex Rourke, a Private Investigator, being asked to speak to a serial killer he put in prison some years ago. Wondering how this could lead to a mystery when I already knew the killer, and that he had been arrested, this doubt had soon been forgotten as I was lost in the first few pages.

Rickards was able to make a mystery out of a crime that had already been solved, and still managed to add yet more intrigue. The Darkness Inside was a book that contained suspense, the hunter and hunted, twists and turns, and was brilliantly written.

The characters were so spot on that the author almost had me feeling empathy for a serial killer! This is a book that is so good you will continue to read it in your mind even after you have finished turning the pages.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Mosby - The 50/50 Killer

"…a fabulous read…"

Synopsis:
Mark Nelson is a young police officer who has been newly assigned to the team of John Mercer - a highly decorated and successful detective. Mercer is a legend in the force and it's a huge opportunity for Mark, who has dedicated his life to the job ever since the death of his girlfriend.

When a man is found burned to death in his own home, Mercer's team is thrown into an investigation that grows darker and more complex at every turn. The evidence points to a man known as the 50/50 killer. His targets are young couples, who he stalks and subjects to a single night of torture and manipulation, testing and destroying the love between them. Only one of them ever survives until dawn…

Soon afterwards, a young man is picked up by the police, badly tortured and with his memory in tatters. He knows only that his girlfriend is still being held captive in the woods he's escaped from. The team know that by fleeing, the man has sealed his girlfriend's fate. If they can't piece together his experience by daybreak then she will certainly die in his place.

Review:
Although this is Mosby's third novel, this is the first book I have read. He makes up for the rather slow start, set at a funeral, in the following 350 pages, with detailed descriptions of the gruesome torture and murders. The story continually changed direction, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat and wanting to know who survives and the killer's identity. This was probably the reason I read the book in less than 24 hours!

The writing style and storyline at times reminded me of Mo Hayder writing at her best, when she wrote The Treatment and Birdman.

I did keep flicking back through the book to look for a city or town name as I thought I must have missed it. However, there was never a mention of where it was based which was, in itself, unusual.

I have to admit to being a little disappointed with the ending and the final revelation as to who the killer was. However, we'll not say any more so as not to spoil this. Despite being slightly disappointed with the ending, this book still received my top rating as it was a fabulous read - one I will be definitely recommending.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Lawrence - Down Into Darkness

"‘Lawrence is an author who wastes very few words…’"

Synopsis:
The naked body of a young woman is found hanging from a tree on a London roadside. Scrawled across her back, the words...

DIRTY GIRL

Detective Sergeant Stella Mooney and the AMIP 5 squad are faced with a murder as baffling as it is chilling. With no means to identify the victim and no apparent motive, the case is blocked, until...

A man is found on a bench by the river, his throat cut back to the vertebrae. And, as before, the killer has left a trademark comment:

FILTHY COWARD

Stella and her team can see there's a connection: but what? One victim is a young girl - maybe one of the hookers who work the Strip - the other a researcher for a prominent and controversial MP. More evidence is needed. And, soon enough, it comes in the form of another death - another message…

Review:
Lawrence returns with Mooney for her latest case, a series of seemingly unrelated murders in London. Lawrence is an author who wastes very few words when writing, and if you miss a word, you need to reread. There is no unnecessary 'padding' in his books to fill them, which make a pleasant change. He also manages to find a good balance between the cases the characters work on and the personal lives they lead. By introducing more of the personal lives and families, he gives the characters more dimension.

However, I did find this book was slightly difficult to follow at times as it changed from character to character from paragraph to paragraph, and then it was sometimes in the present and then sometimes in dream state… There were also a lot of characters appearing from nowhere with little or no explanation as to where they fit into the story. At the end of the book I still had a few questions unanswered.

Although I enjoyed this book and Lawrence's style of writing, I thought Cold Kill was a much more enjoyable and easier read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen White - Kill Me

"… not the usual 'happy ever after' or 'good always prevails' story…"

Synopsis:
He's rich, powerful, attractive and attracted to danger. The only thing he's afraid of is being left dependent on others. He would far rather be dead.

So he uses his wealth to take out an insurance policy like no other. It offers him an 'end of life' service. If he's struck by illness or accident, his insurers will kill him - quickly, painlessly and 'accidentally'.

However, when his circumstances change, he begins to question the wisdom of the insurance policy. But he is locked into a binding contract with his insurers, and it will be a battle to the death to get out of it.

Review:
White brings us a book with a difference. Not your run-of-the-mill murder mystery – and with no police or detectives in sight! I found the story started a little disjointedly, flitting from past to present and back again, and also with two narrators, each writing in the first person narrative style (although only at the very beginning and end) which I found somewhat confusing.

However, even with all the flitting from time frames, White had this particular reader hooked from the outset, and just when you wanted to know what was happening in one particular time, he would deftly change to another, equally gripping chapter.

I had an inkling about where one part of the story would be going but the ending is not the usual 'happy ever after' or 'good always prevails' story, which I think makes a refreshing change.

Featuring great, well drawn characters and all round, very well written. I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to Stephen White.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jesse Kellerman - Trouble

"‘Kellerman has an easy style to read and this is a very well-written book…’"

Synopsis:
Young, idealistic, and overworked, Jonah is living the lonely life of a medical student in New York City when he accidentally stumbles across a murder in progress - a woman being stabbed to death in the middle of the sidewalk. Without thinking, he rushes in to protect her, inadvertently killing her attacker in the process.

Thrust into the media spotlight and crushed by guilt, Jonah quickly learns that heroism isn't all it's cracked up to be. He receives a shower of unwanted attention - and hostility - from his superiors. The district attorney wants to "interview" him. The family of the dead man wants revenge.

Everything is further upended when the woman whose life he saved shows up at his apartment. What begins as a thank-you drink turns into a wildly passionate love affair. As their relationship deepens, however, Jonah realizes that she isn't quite the woman she appears to be. His nightmare has only begun, and the price of kindness will turn out to be higher than he could have imagined.

Review:
Jonah Stem thinks he is doing the right thing when he sees a woman in trouble and steps in to help her. Everything goes horribly wrong when Jonah accidentally kills the man whilst protecting the woman.

This book was a slight change from my usual genre of the average murder mystery, which made an interesting change, but still a good read. Jonah is the typical lead character, a likeable person who has been thrown into a situation and is now out of his depth.

Kellerman has an easy style to read and this is a very well-written book, with strongly defined characters but unfortunately I feel, let down with a slightly predictable ending.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: