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Reviews

July 2007

Cody McFayden - The Face of Death

"McFadyen manages to mislead the reader down many a wrong path..."

Synopsis:
“I want to talk to Smoky Barrett or I'll kill myself."

The girl is sixteen, at the scene of a grisly triple homicide, and has a gun to her head. She claims "The Stranger" killed her adoptive family, that he's been following her all her life, killing everyone she ever loved, and that no one believes her.

No one has. Until now.

Special Agent Smoky Barrett is head of the violent crimes unit in Los Angeles, the part of the FBI reserved for tracking down the worst of the worst. Her team has been handpicked from among the nation's elite law enforcement specialists and they are as obsessed and relentless as the psychos they hunt; they'll have to be to deal with this case.

A vicious double murder reveals a killer embarked on a dark crusade of trauma and death. This is an "artist" who's moulding sixteen-year-old Sarah into the perfect victim - and the ultimate weapon. But Smoky Barrett has another, more personal reason for catching The Stranger - an adopted daughter and a new life that are worth protecting at any cost.

This time Smoky is going to have to put it all on the line because The Stranger is all too real, all too close, and all too relentless. When he finally shows his face, if she's not ready to confront her worst fears, Smoky won't have time to do anything but die

Review:
Having just read the Shadow Man, I had high hopes for the Face of Death, and I wasn't disappointed. Although I didn't feel it was quite as gripping as his previous novel, and included quite a bit of 'padding', it was, nonetheless, an excellent read - even with the lead character having such an annoying name!

McFadyen manages to mislead the reader down many a wrong path and keep them guessing until the very last minute. As you would fully expect, there's an explosive twist to the end of this book.

References are made to previous cases and incidents from the previous book are summarised for the reader. However, the actual plot to his first novel is given away in one of these summaries, so if you are wanting to read both books, then I would suggest you read them in order. Of course, once you have read the first book then you may find all the recapping a little tedious, but I feel it will be worth it.

Each of the characters is now fully defined and McFadyen is adding to the main character base to develop the relationships between each of them. I am hoping that Barratt will spend less of her time in the past as I did not feel that this really added to the story.

However, Special Agent Barratt and her team are here to stay - and roll on their next case.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Candace Robb - The Guilt of Innocents

"As always, the atmosphere and history of mediaeval York are beautifully conveyed."

Synopsis:
It is the winter of 1372 in York and Owen Archer is called to investigate the murder of a man drowned in the River Ouse. The man has been seen with a student of St Peter's School and is involved in a skirmish with several of the students.
It is a harsh winter and Owen Archer is concerned for his wife Lucie, who is expecting their third child.

Together with Jasper, their adopted son, Owen follows the clues that take them away from home and into the Yorkshire countryside. After another body is discovered, Owen realises that he and Jasper are also in danger. He finally understands the greed and motives of the killer and all ends well for him - both as a solver of crimes and as a family man.

Review:
I am always pleased to return to the world of Owen Archer and the politics and intrigues of mediaeval York. This book is no disappointment, as the complex ambitions and manoeuvring of the great and the good continue.

Owen, as an honest and trustworthy man, meets his challenges in the competent way he always does and I think part of his appeal is that we would all like to be able to deal with problems in the same efficient way. He is, however, a convincing character who has to deal with the emotional pitfalls of everyday living, and the interaction between all his friends and family contribute to the enjoyment of these books.

As always, the atmosphere and history of mediaeval York are beautifully conveyed.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Claude Izner - Murder on the Eiffel Tower

"The reader can sense in the writing that this period in the wonderful city of Paris is a passion for the writer."

Synopsis:
On a cloudy May day, crowds await the arrival of Buffalo Bill to Paris. Among the crowds is a man called Jean Mering who stands to catch a glimpse of his hero while he visits the Exposition. Suddenly, Jean feels what can only be described as a bee sting on his neck. The next moment he is losing consciousness and is soon dead on the station platform.

Some weeks later, on a hot June day, Eugenie Patinot is taking her niece and two nephews to the brand new Eiffel Tower, home to the 1889 Universal Exposition. As the children enjoy themselves, Eugenie melts in the heat and has to take a seat. When the children return – she is dead – from a bee sting. Soon, a bookshop owner named Victor Legris is caught up in the drama that claims even more victims. Victor's loyalties are stretched as the man he calls his father and a woman he has fallen in love with court his suspicion as the drama unfolds.

Review:
The author has certainly done his homework on the 1889 Universal Exposition. The reader can sense in the writing that this period in the wonderful city of Paris is a passion for the writer. Izner conveys a strong sense of the heat of the month of June - and the stress of the women as they try to live lives whilst having to deal with strangulating corsets in unbearable temperatures. The men don't have it much easier – being obliged to wear heavy suits every day.

I loved the character of Kenji, who is very mysterious. and I hope that more of his past will unfold as the novels progress. This story is populated with many colourful characters. Victor is a weak character who seems to be trying to please everyone whilst searching for the maniacal killer on the streets of Paris.

The plot is exciting and the whole story raced away nicely. This was an enjoyable introduction to this author. I look forward to the next saga in Victor's life.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Penny - Dead Cold

"Louise Penny describes the community with affection and insight so that it becomes like an extra character in this engaging book."

Synopsis:
Three Pines is a small pretty village near Quebec. In the middle of a snowy winter the peace is shattered by an apparently clueless murder of an unpopular incomer to the village. When Chief Inspector Gamache is called in, he discovers that underneath the surface there are many secrets and the murdered woman has surprising links to the village.

There are a number of fascinating characters who turn out to have histories linked together with the murdered woman. She was, apparently, a completely selfish and uncaring individual who has upset many of the inhabitants by her behaviour. Yet the roots of this behaviour are in the past of some of the oldest women, and Gamache sensitively and carefully unwinds the twisted plot…

Review:
Louise Penny was featured as a Fresh Blood author in November 2006. This book follows on with admirable skill in displaying the professionalism and sensitivity of Chief Inspector Gamache. The characters are delightfully drawn and provide a convincing background of village life, in addition to holding the key to the solution of the mystery. Louise Penny describes the community with affection and insight so that it becomes like an extra character in this engaging book.

Gamache also evokes a highly sympathetic response and there is an underlying current of menace that is not resolved in this book, but I look forward to reading about it what re-appears in a later story. The plots against Gamache made me feel like a pantomime audience shouting “look behind you”, while the unsympathetic characters ( including the murdered woman) are so vividly drawn that they, in turn, provoked sotto voce boos…

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Gross - The Blue Zone

"… the suspense and mystery are maintained right until the very last page."

Synopsis:
They were the perfect family. And he was the perfect family man. One day changed it all.

Arrested for racketeering, Ben Raab must join his family in America's Witness Protection Programme, but the Programme's perfect success rate is about to come to a shocking end. Their case agent is tortured to death, then Ben vanishes. And the only person who might be able to find him is his eldest daughter, Kate.

Pursued by killers, forced to question everything she knows, Kate is plunged into a terrifying existence nothing has prepared her for.

Most people would call it certain death. The FBI calls it the Blue Zone.

Review:
The Blue Zone is Gross's first novel to be written alone – he usually co-writes with James Patterson. Patterson's style, energy and ability to keep the reader wanting to turn the pages is certainly mirrored by Gross, and the Blue Zone is an exciting story that is not easy to put down.

Whilst reading it is impossible to work out which side characters are on, and where the next surprise is going to come from… There are plenty of skeletons in the cupboard to be found and the suspense and mystery are maintained right until the very last page.

Whilst I enjoyed reading the book, I found the whole plot a little unbelievable – which, in itself, isn't necessarily a major flaw - but it does seem incomprehensible that a young, untrained girl is able to unravel a mystery that has had FBI baffled. I feel Gross has tried to incorporate too many 'secrets from the past' and puzzles to keep the reader guessing, and that, sometimes, less is indeed more.

However, still a good read and will be receiving a recommendation from me.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Laura Lippman - What The Dead Know

"I guarantee it is impossible to guess the end ‘twist’…"

Synopsis:
On a Baltimore road, following a minor traffic accident, a woman is arrested for failing to stop at the scene of the incident. When questioned by police in hospital all she is willing to reveal about herself is that she is one of the 'Bethany girls', two sisters who disappeared over twenty years earlier after a trip to a shopping mall.

Police are suspicious about the woman's claims, especially as few who worked on the original case are now serving police officers and the girls' parents are presumed dead. However, as the police probe further it becomes clear that she is aware of facts related to the case that have never been made known to the general public. If she is indeed one of the Bethany girls, what has she been doing for the last twenty years? And what happened to her sister?

Review:
This is an excellent novel from a writer whose work just keeps improving. What could be a mundane “missing person” investigation turns, in Lippman's accomplished literary hands, to a well crafted story of loss and regret. This author is also particularly good at drawing out the minutiae of people's lives, examining the many ways that families can be both supportive and oppressive and how a single action can change the course of events forever.

The plot is excellent and the reader is cleverly drawn to swing between believing the young woman's story and being convinced that she is a fraud. I guarantee it is impossible to guess the end 'twist' - and yet the final revelation is completely believable. This is by far Lippman's best book yet.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martha Powers - Death Angel

"…delightfully easy to read."

Synopsis:
Kate and Richard Warner have a quiet life - a routine life - until the one afternoon that changes them forever. Within a few short hours they are thrust into the black hole of every parent's worst nightmare. Suddenly they are at the centre of attention of their community, the media and the police - for all the wrong reasons. The chief of police has singled out Richard as the primary suspect in a heinous crime that took more than an innocent life.

With Richard as a suspect, Kate's life unravels into unbearable chaos, grief and a whole new world of deception. Neighbours turn away and only a small handful of close friends are there to help. Or are they? After a second murder, and Richard's disappearance, Kate sets out to find the killer in their midst and clear her husband's name. She begins to piece together an eerie puzzle, finding the clues buried deep within the heart of her own community.

Kate's need for answers pits a mother's love against a ruthless killer. This puts her in jeopardy as the real murderer realises that her determination could uncover the secrets he is desperate to keep hidden.

Review:
Unusually for a book written by a woman today, the lead character was not a strong, independent female. I was fully expecting that, at some point in the book, the worm would turn and was slightly disappointed that, although Kate was hell-bent on solving the mystery of who killed her daughter, she still let her life be controlled by men.

I felt the book started off well but soon fell into the predictable trap of introducing all the possible suspects and giving them a reason for the killing - or a weak alibi. I still felt it was easy to guess the identity of the real killer. That said, I still enjoyed the book very much and found it delightfully easy to read. I wanted to know what happened, even if it was to prove my own guesses correct in this instance.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Pat McIntosh - St Mungo’s Robin

"… a very different slant on the mediaeval whodunit."

Synopsis:
Set in Glasgow in 1493, this is the story of a murder in an Almshouse investigated by Gil Cunningham, a notary who has responsibility for looking into unusual deaths in his area. The Warden of the Almshouses is found murdered and some of the residents fall under suspicion. When Gil begins his investigation he finds that the Warden had several secrets that make him a likely candidate for murder.

Gil is about to be married to Alys, and his sisters are visiting Glasgow for the occasion. The womenfolk prove to be instrumental in helping him find the answer to the problem of who killed Deacon Naismith.

Glasgow in mediaeval times was a small settlement centred around the castle, the university and the cathedral. This story revolves around these institutions and reveals much about the life of the people there.

Review:
This is definitely a very Scottish book about a mediaeval land, with its strong links to France, which contrasts greatly with the England of the same time. Gil Cunningham, a graduate of Glasgow University, is happy to talk in the vernacular, in French or in Latin as required.

Much of the conversation is written in Scots (although the spot of Aberdonian Doric is incomprehensible even to most of the characters). This definitely contributes to the atmosphere, whilst remaining understandable to those used to mainstream English. There is a strong flavour of the life of the city of Glasgow.

I enjoyed this book, as it provided a very different slant on the mediaeval whodunit. The characters are well defined and interesting, although I would have liked to find out more about Alys, who only came into her own towards the end of the book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gordon Ferris - Truth Dare Kill

"Truth Dare Kill is populated with a carnival of misfits… an exciting debut"

Synopsis:
It is New Years Eve 1945: the dawn of a new year. The war is finally over but London is still feeling very bruised and fragile - and so are its dwellers. Some are feeling this more so than others. As a newly demobbed Danny McRae sets up his own investigation business, a brutal killer is prowling the streets of London, targeting young prostitutes.

Danny gets a visit from a very well-to-do lady who believes she has killed a man. From these initial revelations, Danny is sent on a journey which will involve him in ways he never thought possible. Soon he is on the run and being blamed for murders that even he doesn't know if he has committed or not.

Will he regain the memory he lost during his days in war torn France or do the black outs he suffers from mean he really is a murderer without knowing it? He has only a short space of time to find the truth.

Review:
This is Ferris' debut novel and it beautifully evokes the sense of wonderment and shock of a nation getting used to peace after so many years of the horror of war. With Ferris' descriptions, the reader can sense the hand to mouth existence of Londoners at this time and really feel the icy winter wind blow through the thin cloth of their everyday garments. This is Great Britain at its lowest point as it counts the cost of war, with a large percentage of the population paying the price.

The story weaves smoothly along with Danny McRae proving a very enticing and genial character. One can only wish him well as he endeavours to avoid the police to clear his name. Truth Dare Kill is populated with a carnival of misfits, in particular Inspector Wilson who is a nasty piece of work and takes advantage of a city in a state of flux.

The conclusion is quite startling and satisfying. Truth Dare Kill reminded me of Buchan's The 39 Steps for its vitality and spirit of strength in the face of adversity. This marks an exciting debut for Danny McRae and I look forward to his next adventure.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: