September 2007

Aline Templeton - Lying Dead

"This really is an excellent read."

The story begins with the discovery of a body in a remote forested area in the South West corner of Scotland. The first person to discover the body gets a great shock as it is someone from his past. DI Marjory Fleming has been suffering from a lack of interesting cases and is quick to begin the investigation.

When another corpse appears, the pressure from her Superintendent to gain a result increases. The need to keep her end up with her counterpart in the Manchester CID adds sparkle to the story. The tension in her own force increases with the rampant ambition of DC Jon Kingsley rubbing against the common sense and realism of DS Tam McNee. At the same time DI Fleming has to deal with animosity from a close neighbour who resents the part played by the policewoman in the disaster of the foot and mouth epidemic. Within the small community of Drumbreck there is also tension between the locals and the incomers from the city who have holiday homes there.

This really is an excellent read. The characters are beautifully drawn and the types are immediately recognisable. Aline Templeton has an excellent ear for dialogue and I particularly enjoyed the ubiquitous language of the young teenagers from the city.

As in previous DI Fleming books I also enjoyed the conversation of the locals with their well-drawn use of the vernacular. The advantage of the setting in a small country town is that you get a real feel for the community and the interaction of the members. The dual role of family member and police chief is handled beautifully.

DI Fleming is tough but sympathetic and her understanding of her staff enables her to manage them well- but there is a twist in the tail. A very satisfying ending, leaving the reader ready for the next instalment!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Billingham - Death Message

"This is an excellent read and a real ‘must’ for all fans and followers of Thorne."

DI Tom Thorne has just received a message on his phone, a photo.

The man's face fills the small screen, pasty and distorted. A clump of dark hair across the only visible cheek. The mouth hung open, its lips flecked with white and a sliver of tongue just visible inside. Chins bulged, one above the other; each black and silver stubbled, with a thin red line delineating the two. The single eye in the shot was closed.

Thorne knew what the odds were - he knew that he was looking at a murder victim.

The cynical, slightly morose and outwardly humourless Thorne returns for his latest (and possibly final - for quite some time) case. Having just received a text message with a photo of a victim, Thorne has the insight on a murder, but as yet no name for the victim. Whilst Thorne starts off the case within the lines, he is soon up to his old tricks, breaking and bending rules to get a result and see that justice is done.

The more I read of Thorne, the more miserable, unsociable and belligerent he seems, and I have to confess… the more I like him! Death Message was a much better read than some of Billingham's previous books which may have disappointed those with such high expectations since reading his first few books.

Any doubts or concerns that Thorne is to be killed off can be laid to rest, and rumour has it he even laughed in Death Message…

This is an excellent read and a real 'must' for all fans and followers of Thorne.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffery Deaver - The Sleeping Doll

"Deaver is a master…"

California Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Kathryn Dance is an expert in kinesics - the science of interpreting behaviour. It makes her a brilliant interrogator. But she is up against Daniel Pell, a master of control, who mesmerises, seduces and exploits people for his own murderous ends. A convicted killer who is known as the 'Son of Manson' for the chilling parallels between him and the notorious ritual murderer.

To track down Pell before he destroys yet more lives, Kathryn Dance must enlist the help of four people from the killer's past. The three women who lived under his sadistic sway in the cult he once headed, and the young girl known as the 'Sleeping Doll' - the only survivor of her family's salughter at Pell's hands…

Deaver introduced Dance in his last Rhyme book - and now Special Agent
Dance is the lead character in his latest thriller. This book kept me totally spellbound until I had finished it. Deaver has the ability to twist plots whilst throwing in clues along the way as to who has committed the crime, and why - enabling the reader to have a chance at solving the puzzle. It is only once everything has been pieced together that you wonder how you missed the obvious clues. Certainly, Deaver is a master – expert at the art of intrigue and psychologial thrillers.

Dance, unlike Rhyme, seems an average person, apart from her ability to read body language, and I am fully expecting her to feature many more times in forthcoming books.

The story continued to twist and turn until the very end, and, as ever with Deaver, this is another book not to be missed (or put down until it has been read in one go!)

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Marshall - The Intruders

"… a complex and rewarding novel"

Former policeman, Jack Whelan, has left LAPD in disgrace and is now earning a living as a writer. When his wife, Amy, disappears on a business trip to Seattle, ignoring scepticism from her employers and an underlying suspicion that she may be having an affair, Jack sets out to search for her. His confusion is compounded by a visit from an old school friend – lawyer, Gary Fisher - who tells a fantastical tale of a rich millionaire who has left a strange will that disinherits his family. Instead, his money is distributed around a number of charities and foundations that nobody has ever heard about. Jack initially declines to help but is soon sucked into the case when links emerge with his wife's disappearance.

Meanwhile, nine-year-old girl Madison has embarked on a journey across America, chased by a mysterious man named Shepherd who has orders to kill her. While her frantic parents are seeking her, Madison oscillates between the personality of her nine-year old self and that of someone much older.

This is a complex and rewarding novel by Michael Marshall. What initially starts as a missing persons mystery soon transcends the crime genre to become a thriller/science-fiction hybrid. The main protagonist, Jack Whelan, is as hard-boiled as any classic American detective. However, the other characters are less easy to categorise, the reasons for which eventually become clear and are hinted at in the title of the novel.

The novel's strength lies in its ambitious plotting. The reader is drawn into the mystery of Amy's disappearance, Madison's journey and the hunt for both of them in the urban landscape of Seattle. However, Marshall is also excellent at pulling the reader out of their comfort zone to explore the concepts of who we are - and what other influences might be around. The book has a faintly threatening tone which carries the narrative to its conclusion. An excellent read.

Reviewed by: S. W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Cruz Smith - Stalin's Ghost

"… a very well written book"

It is deep winter in Moscow and Arkady Renko, a maverick detective, is called in to investigate reports of Stalin appearing on the last metro of the night. If that was not enough, he is competing with a colleague for the affections of his girlfriend Eva. This particular colleague has a troubling record in the war in Chechyna, where Eva had volunteered to tend the sick.

As momentum gathers, Renko is embroiled in an increasingly dangerous investigation where the ghosts of Russian political life, ancient and modern crowd in and seem to be vying for his destruction, and nearly succeed.

Only the unearthing of the bodies from the second world war, a war which Renko's father fought with deadly distinction, can atone for and answer the riddles posed by the recent dead piling up alarmingly at Renko's feet.

This is an ambitious novel as it tries to bring together the nature of Russian identity against a backdrop of bloody recent history. In the main it succeeds, bringing to life modern Russian life with all its heroic and seedy features. Indeed, the author manages to tie many themes successfully together. He explores how the communist horrors of Stalin reflect the current terrors in Putin's Russia; reflecting that the “glories” of Stalingrad and the defence of Russia against the Nazis are used to prolong and increase the grip of the state on ordinary Russians. But there is more, much more. The crime ridden and sordid features of modern, cash rich Moscow and the abject and continuing poverty of many ordinary Russians mingle with many heroes of the past.

The author cleverly evokes the continuing fear pervading throughout Russie. Not banished by the end of the Cold War, just transmogrified into a new image. The plot itself, and the writing, is admirably taught and believable. The only fault lies in the range that the author attempts – there are possibly too many ideas that need more space to breathe, and the pages of a crime thriller restrict this too much. Possibly the necessary requirements of a crime novel - fast moving action, linear plot, and human interest - do not allow the underlying ideas to blossom and flower. But, after all, this is not War and Peace, but a very well written book – certainly one to rival Gorky Park. The character of Renko is one I would like to spend more time with in the future.

Reviewed by: S.M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Martin - Gangster's Wives

"… the plot races ahead like a getaway car after a bank robbery."

Four women: Sadie, Niki, Kate and Poppy are the wives of four of the most notorious bank robbers in London. Sadie has everything she could wish for - a big house, plenty of clothes and all the kudos money can buy (even the occasional young men she takes a fancy to). Niki is a Russian bride who is kept on a short leash by her husband, Connie. Kate is a punch bag for her husband, Robbo, and Poppy is betrayed when Joseph takes up with another woman - and has the child she can never conceive.

Then, Sadie's husband, Eddie, is sent down for fifteen years. Soon the money has dried up and so has the friendship with the men folk that she thought was so rock solid. Even her old man is stabbing her in the back from behind bars. Wreaking his personal vengeance against all her dalliances. But Sadie is no shrinking violet and the four women – who each have one reason or another to escape their lives – begin to plot jointly against the most ruthless criminals in the land – their husbands.

You can see straight away from the front cover that this is definitely in the genre that is ruled over by the marvellous Martina Cole. It even has a glowing byline from the great lady herself. Martin doesn't fool about with setting the scene – he does this by opening the book with Sadie in bed with a young lothario and her husband coming through the front door. The language is very Martina-esque and Martin does not shy away from that fact. The vocabulary is always very colourful and the plot races ahead like a getaway car after a bank robbery.

I read this in a day and, well, my life wasn't transformed but it was certainly an entertaining romp. I look forward to hearing if there are going to be any further adventures of Sadie et al. This is lightweight, esacapist fun – but very well done. Worth a read.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Robinson - Friend of the Devil

"… a confident storyteller whose writing just gets better and better."

DCI Alan Banks is called to the Maze, a warren of streets off Eastvale's main drinking district, to investigate the murder of a young woman drinker. Having disappeared down one of the dark passageways after a night of drinking she is found later that morning, raped and murdered inside one of the street's workshops.

Meanwhile, DI Annie Cabot has been seconded to Whitby police and is called to a lonely cliff where a wheelchair bound young woman has had her throat slit. Annie is mystified by the woman's lack of family or past history, the reasons for which soon become clear.

As each detective pushes forward their separate investigations, disturbing similarities become apparent which seemingly revolve around a mysterious woman who was a victim of a violent assault eighteen years before...

Peter Robinson is a confident storyteller whose writing just gets better and better. As with his last book, Piece of my Heart, there are two separate narratives charting the progress of each detective's case. Each narrative stands up by itself and both are equally engrossing. Banks and Cabot's relationship seems to have cooled but there is obviously still a spark between them, which is well drawn out in the narrative. In this book Banks has become a more calm and reflective detective, perhaps signalling a new direction for future novels.

The method of the killings, involving rape and mutilation, could be distressing to read, but in Peter Robinson's assured hands the details of the murders are sensitively written. He tantalises the reader by focusing on a number of potential suspects without overdoing the suspense.

The stories are firmly rooted in the northern countryside and, once again, this landscape comes vividly to life in this excellent writer's hands.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Cain - The Accident Man

"… a perfect thriller."

A powerful consortium of wealthy and influential men has employed Samuel Carver to eliminate a known terrorist target in a classic 'black' operation. At least, that's what they have told him. With skilled, military precision he sets about the mark, but it all soon starts to go wrong. Finally, having completed his job and forced the car carrying his target to crash at speed in a tunnel in Paris, he realises that he has been set up. Worse still, someone is now trying to eliminate him in order to cover their tracks.

It's Sunday 31st August 1997 - and the target turns out to be the Princess of Wales. Now Carver knows he's in big trouble.

Having shaken off one of the two assassins paid to eliminate him in the Paris sewers, Carver manages to hook up with the second, the stunning Russian courtesan, Alix, in an unlikely alliance. Can they trust each other? Soon both are on the run and trying to unravel the tangled trail of deceit that surrounds them.

Who are the secretive members of the consortium and why did they want the Princess dead? Is someone else pulling the strings behind the scenes? Along the way Carver and Alix encounter a ruthless Russian oligarch, dangerous hired thugs, corrupt high-ranking British government advisers, MI5, MI6 and a lot more besides…

Is Alix all she seems - and will Carver live to tell the tale?

With an impressive list of literary fans heralding this book pre-publication (Wilbur Smith, Lee Child and more…) much was expected of The Accident Man – and, boy, does it deliver! This novel reads like a masterclass in thriller writing. It starts with a brilliant opening hook; adds some great characters, exotic locations, a tough-guy hero, a stunning female lead, some really nasty bad guys, a few mysterious twists and turns to the plot and… well, what more could you ask?

The really interesting thing about The Accident Man is that, despite being based around the death of the Princess of Wales, the actual event of her death is peripheral to the main storyline and, in fact, she is never named. The entire focus of the plot is on Carver as the main protagonist. He's the classic British hero. Strong, super-efficient and outwardly unemotional - yet with a core of decency and emotional attachment that belies his macho front. If Carver returns – and I really do so hope he will - he could just turn out to be a Bond for our times.

Reading The Accident Man is an exhausting, exhilarating and utterly enjoyable experience. That Cain manages to gain, and maintain, our sympathies for Carver – the hired assassin responsible for the death of the Princess of Wales – is quite a feat in itself. Yes, it's escapist stuff, yet somehow entirely believable. I strongly urge you to read this book. It's a perfect thriller.

Reviewed by: A.C.

CrimeSquad Rating: