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Reviews

October 2008

R J Ellory - A Simple Act of Violence

"... this stunning book proves that he is definitely here to stay."

Synopsis:
It's modern day Washington, murder capital of the USA, and serial killers are passé. However, when the Ribbon Killer slays a fourth woman and his actions are detailed in the media, it is decided that he can no longer be ignored, particularly given that in this city of politicians, the mid-term elections are looming.

Detective Robert Miller is tasked with finding the killer before more women are murdered. Experienced as he is, he had never come across a case quite like this. He can find no trace of the most recent victim in the system. Then they find her social security number, but it is linked with a different name - the name of a mountain range in Nicaragua. Miller tracks down the earlier victims and finds out that none of them officially exist either. Clues appear and Miller can't help but feel that he is being led by the nose. He also can't help but feel he is being watched every step of the way. What is the significance of Nicaragua? Who is watching and just who is setting up the trail of clues? The more Miller uncovers the more complicated and unsolvable the case of the Ribbon Killer appears...

Review:
This is a book with everything that a fan of modern mystery fiction could hope for; a labyrinthine plot, unbearable tension, controversy and a social conscience. R J Ellory has come up with a meaty book where he takes a serial killer novel and shapes it into a barbed comment on American foreign policy and a criticism of the God complex of the CIA. That he does this while never dipping on the entertainment value is a compliment to this writer's consummate skill.

Talking of skill, Ellory's is never more evident than when he is turning the spotlight of his charged and hugely effective prose onto his bad guys - in this case his sacred monster, Jon Robey. There is one scene where Ellory is writing from Robey's perspective that almost had me in tears. I'm saying nothing more, but you need to read the book.

For many readers R J Ellory might have just arrived on the scene with the success of A Quiet Belief in Angels, but this stunning book proves that he is definitely here to stay.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Brett Battles - The Deceived

"The book gathers pace at breakneck speed and it includes a number of unforeseeable twists that will leave you in a whirl."

Synopsis:
As a freelance “cleaner” it is Jonathan Quinn's job to make bodies disappear. As an ex-CIA agent he works on behalf of a little known U.S Government intelligence agency. When he is called in to clean up after an incident he initially believes it is going to be a straightforward job. However, this is not the case.

When he arrives at the busy Los Angeles port he realises that one of his main rules (that no one or nothing should be traced back to him) has been contravened. Enclosed inside the crate that has just arrived from the sea is the body of a dead man. The body he is asked to make disappear is that of an old CIA friend, Steven Markoff - someone who once saved his life. In order to find out who murdered his friend Quinn becomes personally involved thus violating one of his own rules of not becoming personally or emotionally involved. Determined to find his friend's murderer Quinn, along with the rest of his team, finds that Markoff's girlfriend Jenny Fuentes must be traced, knowing that she is not only unaware of his death but has also gone missing herself.

The search for Fuentes takes them from Los Angeles to Houston and on to the corridors of power in Washington D.C. and then to Singapore. It takes all his skill along with the help of his friends and a former underworld contact to help discover the plot's villainous mastermind and for him to clear up the mystery of his friend's death.

Review:
This is the second novel by Brett Battles and a very strong sequel to his début novel, The Cleaner. Readers will welcome return of the rather unorthodox and somewhat ruthless character, Jonathan Quinn. While he is determined, skilful and at times devious he is not without an element of compassion and this is seen by the fact that Quinn finds himself doing a lot of soul -searching as he tracks down who killed his friend.

The Deceived is a tale centred on who you can you trust. Realistic, engrossing and action-packed Battles characterisation is good and the interplay between the various characters ensures that there is plenty of snappy dialogue that will keep you captived. Battles is also very good at setting the scene and making the setting part of the story itself. The book gathers pace at breakneck speed and it includes a number of unforeseeable twists that will leave you in a whirl. The non-stop action can be at times overwhelming. The strength of this novel is the action and the suspense that will leave you clamouring for more. It is the urgency and momentum of the story that makes it such a page-turner.

This is a novel that will be warmly welcomed into the annals of political thrillers. Jonathan Quinn may be a “cleaner” but he never leaves a mess behind.

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ian Rankin - Doors Open

"The Scottish crime master is at work and I was hooked from page one."

Synopsis:
Doors Open is all about doors: the Open Doors day when usually closed public buildings open to the public; doors of opportunity to change the direction and emphasis of life; doors to safety and doors leading to disaster...

Art lover Mike Mackenzie has made lots of money in the IT industry and now has sold out. He is a self made man who doesn't share the privileged youth of his friends, and has a background that has encouraged him to take risks. He shares a love of art with a Professor Robert Gissing of the College of Art and Allan Cruikshank of First Caledonian Bank. All three men are at a critical point in their lives. Gissing is on the point of retirement, Cruickshank is “expensively divorced” and resentful of those clients who own beautiful works of art to which he cannot aspire whilst Mackenzie is bored and missing the excitement of the business world he has left.

Together with Chib Calloway, a very shady and violent individual from Mackenzie's schooldays and “Westie”, an impecunious student with a talent for copying pictures, they conspire to remove several valuable pictures from the National Gallery of Scotland's store in a warehouse at Grantown. Apparently carefully planned, the crime is committed without major hitch-and then, everything slowly begins to unravel...

Review:
So Rankin's first foray into post-Rebus territory is an expanded version of a previously published short story... so what? The Scottish crime master is at work and I was hooked from page one.

Set in the Edinburgh that Rankin clearly loves, the rugged character and nature of the city continues to play an important role in the story. Where people live - and their attitudes to their homes - reinforces the characters being described. Although Inspector Ransome of the Edinburgh and Borders police plays a significant role in the action, the main characters are those who perpetrate the crime. The structure and geography of the police stations are familiar to Rebus aficionados, but I only spotted one reference to ”you-know-who”. Rightly so, as this book is about the psychology of how and why some people become criminals. It is told from a reverse perspective and looks at the motives and pressures that lead an apparently ordinary man to become involved in crime. Appreciating this is a skill that any good detective should possess in solving a crime.

Like many fans I approached this book with slight apprehension that maybe Rankin without Rebus would not be as good. I need not have worried. This book contains many of the aspects of Rankins work that I enjoy: an intimate and affectionate knowledge of Edinburgh and detailed observation of characters - not all bad or all good. It has, however, a fresh and exciting approach and is destined to be an absolute winner.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Connolly - The Brass Verdict

"... mature, thrilling, devastatingly plotted and teetering on the edge of pure genius!"

Synopsis:
Things are finally looking up for defence attorney Mickey Haller. After two years of wrong turns he is ready to go back to the courtroom.

When Hollywood lawyer Jerry Vincent is murdered, Haller inherits his biggest case yet: the defence of Walter Elliott, a prominent studio executive accused of murdering his wife and her lover. But as Haller prepares for the case that could launch him into the big time, he learns that Vincent's killer may be coming for him next...

Enter Harry Bosch. Determined to find Vincent's killer, he is not opposed to using Haller as bait. But as danger mounts and the stakes rise, these two loners realise their only choice is to work together.

Review:
Although I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of Connolly's previous novels, this has to rank as the best yet by a mile. Connolly has put two main characters from previous novels together, and Detective Harry Bosch appears to be a completely different person as he is seen through the eyes of a defence attorney.

Haller, despite being a lawyer known for representing guilty clients still reads as a likeable character. Even when you think he may be representing a guilty person, you still want him to win the case. The story keeps going at a rate of knots and even though I count myself as an expert at spotting twists - I genuinely didn't see this one coming.

What else can one say? I thought this book was mature, thrilling, devastatingly plotted and teetering on the edge of pure genius! It will appeal to all Connolly fans, together with those who enjoy legal thrillers from the likes of Grisham and Meltzer.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Leonard - Quiver

"The dialogue is street-sharp and the action spirals into a description of murder and mayhem that will satisfy the most bloodthirsty of thriller fans."

Synopsis:
Kate McCall had the perfect life; a handsome, multi-millionaire husband and teenage son, Luke, who is a grade-A student. Then in a tragic hunting accident, the arrow that Luke fires from his crossbow into a deer, exits the deer's body and lodges in his father's thigh. His father, Owen dies from loss of blood.

An ex-boyfriend, Jack, reads about the accident and makes contact with Kate. Jack and Kate have developed a pattern in the past. When Kate is in danger, Jack comes running. The trouble is Jack is fresh out of prison and Kate can't be quite sure of his motives.

Luke is haunted by his part in his father's death and runs away to the family cabin in Michigan. Kate and Jack follow, but hot on their heels are a trio of bad-guys who are convinced that Jack has hidden away money from the heist that landed him in jail. If they can't get their hands on that, then the rich, beautiful widow he is trying to seduce is bound to be able to get her hands on lots of cash. And they know just the leverage to apply to make sure she comes up with the green stuff. Her son, Luke...

Review:
This author comes with a fine pedigree. After all, his father is Elmore Leonard. However, don't be thinking for one minute that Peter only got this far because of his father's reputation. Leonard junior is a very fine writer in his own right.

This is an engrossing and at times, thrilling read. The story unfolds at a cracking pace, with a cast of characters that would satisfy fans of Carl Hiaasen, for example. The dialogue is street-sharp and the action spirals into a description of murder and mayhem that will satisfy the most bloodthirsty of thriller fans.

It seems almost a shame to mention the one niggle I had, regarding the way that the relationship between Kate and Jack unfolds. That said, this novel marks a wonderful debut from a new exponent of crime fiction, one whose career I will be following closely and would wholeheartedly recommend.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gillian Philip - Bad Faith

"This is, dare we say it, an important book."

Synopsis:
In the not too distant future, the state and the church have become One Church and Cassandra is living an easy life. She is the privileged daughter of a rector and, as such, considers herself safe from the extremist gangs who roam the cities, enforcing the One Church's will through violence and intimidation.

Her infidel boyfriend, Ming, is a source of worry for her parents, especially given that his family are in and out of jail and constantly being accused of undermining the Church's position as the One True Faith. But Cass has no time for the bully-boy tactics and is determined that she and Ming should remain close friends. Until one night, while walking in their old childhood haunt, they stumble across a corpse. Bishop Todd was one of the foremost clerics in the land. Now he is at their feet with a hole in his skull, starting his own personal maggot farm.

The authorities are determined to find the killer. Cass and Ming are spotted leaving the scene and become prime suspects of the church's enforcer who has no interest in a fair trial when a lynching and a hang-rope will do the job much more effectively. And with much more screaming...

Review:
This book is a little different for CRIMESQUAD.COM given that it was originally intended for young adults. However, this is a mystery novel and its publishers are confident the story will cross over to the adult market. In the fantasy genre there are many examples of such a crossover; JK Rowling, Phillip Pullman and Stephanie Meyer to name but three. Perhaps Ms Philip will perform the same service for crime writing?

This is, dare we say it, an important book. Think 1984 without the livestock. Bad Faith is a very clever satire, written with pace and humour and wholly deserving of a wider audience. My initial concern was that I would be able to identify with a narrator who was a teenage girl. But this notion was quickly dispelled as I was quickly caught up in the sinister dystopia that is Cass's world.

Given the weight of her topic, Ms Philip wields her “pen” with a deft and surprisingly light touch. Never preaching, allowing her characters to perform their roles within her themes and bound by the confines of a tightly constructed plot. All of life is here; family secrets and delusions, a state-sanctioned serial killer called Holy Joe and a disconcerting demonstration of what might happen if fundamentalism were ever to overtake these shores.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andy McNab - Crossfire

"... an extraordinary, breathless and frenetic read."

Synopsis:
Nick Stone is given the job of protecting the prized reporter and cameraman Pete and Dom. When Nick is, somewhat embarrassingly, saved by Pete something very bad happens. Pete is found dead and the questions on Nick Stone's mind build up to the conclusion that the only person who is a prime suspect is Dom the cameraman - and he is missing.

When Nick follows the trail of the now unknown cameraman he is led into the trickery of the government and is forced to use all of his logic, all his strength and all of his rock-hard will to solve the biggest puzzle – one that could spell the end of Nick Stone himself.

Review:
Crossfire mixes the truthful scariness and the silent hell of 'home of the brave' soldiers in the army today. It offers the reader a full-view, front row seat to the story, plot and extremely well thought out characters who possess qualities no other author can create. The sheer balance of the detail in this book offered me a brilliantly visual mental storyline.

Back in the UK, Nick Stone's life is thrown into the deepest end he has ever been in his life. Crossfire gives the reader non-stop, mind-numbing action which can sometimes lead us to believe the language and hints in the storyline which are clearly designed to throw us off balance.

McNab has placed the characters perfectly in this explosive book. He especially emphasises the terrible luck of Nick Stone and the fact that he has been placed in the middle of a war zone with all of the predictable mayhem and catastrophic results.

McNab has also placed numerous terrorist groups and lots of suspects in the frame for the biggest question: who the hell killed Pete the “heroic” reporter who had saved the main character? This then leads on to more questions that pop up in the book. Why is the government involved? What did Dom have to do with all of these terrorist groups that Nick is suddenly being bombarded with? Crossfire, in the end gives us a decent answer to all these questions. And its an extraordinary, breathless and frenetic read.

Reviewed by: H.Y.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kate Atkinson - When Will There Be Good News?

"... an absolute joy to read."

Synopsis:
The third book in this series starring private eye Jackson Brodie opens with a brutal murder of a young mother and two of her children by a knife-wielding madman in the English countryside. Six year-old Joanna runs away and survives the massacre.

30 years later she is a GP in Edinburgh, living a seemingly perfect life with a beautiful home, husband and baby son. Such a busy life necessitates a nanny and 16 year-old Reggie, whose own mother recently died in a freak drowning accident, gets the job.

A perfect life rarely lasts forever and DCI Monroe comes visiting to tell Joanna that the man responsible for the murders has been released at the end of his jail sentence –and has since disappeared. When the doctor and her baby themselves go missing, it appears that Reggie is the only person worried about it.

Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie - who is in the middle of a paternity suit - boards the wrong train. A mistake that results in the theft of his identity and his near death.

Review:
Kate Atkinson delivers everything I look for in a good book. This is a compelling tale with a cast of characters that grab your attention and, in particular with the spunky Reggie, your heart. All of this, wrapped up in a prose style that is an absolute joy to read. Reading Atkinson's work, you just know that she would give great banter over a few glasses of wine.

With a series of wry and witty observations Atkinson charts the lives and adventures of her characters, bringing them all together in ways you would least expect. Some people might argue that there are just too many coincidences in the way that this happens. My advice is to just go with it, enjoy the ride and revel in the scenery.

This is crime, Jim, but not as you know it. The tone is light, deft almost, and it gives you a false sense of security right up to the moment when someone is killed with a pencil stabbed through their eye.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James McGee - Rapscallion

"... all action and suspense of the highest order..."

Synopsis:
There is trouble afoot in a Thames hulk that is currently holding French prisoners of the Napoleonic war. When the navy sends out two officers to investigate the reason why there have been reports of smuggling activities and an increase in the number of enemy prisoners escaping they do not expect one of the officers to drown under suspicious circumstances or for the second to disappear without a trace.

The navy is unable to deal with the situation so the Home Secretary calls in Bow Street. Of all the Bow Street Runners the only person who they believe can get to the bottom of the situation is Hawkwood. He soon finds himself sent on a hazardous mission where he needs all his strength, cunning and courage to locate and sabotage the evil scheme that threatens Britain's whole war effort.

In order to get to the bottom of what is going on Hawkwood masquerades as an American on HMS Rapscallion. Life aboard the ship is vile and the mysterious events taking place are dark, dangerous and exciting. Not even Hawkwood could have imagined how bad it was to become or that he would soon be fighting for his very life.

Review:
This is the third book in the series featuring that enigmatic Bow Street Runner, Matthew Hawkwood. Each book in this series is distinct and individual. This time around author James McGee has moved him out of his familiar milieu of London and put him in the unknown area of the Thames estuary and amongst the navy. When one thinks of Hawkwood, the immediate comparison that comes to mind is, of course, Sharpe. But they are two totally different characters. Hawkwood is astute, a killer and nobody's fool.

This is an extremely visual book, and this is one of the reasons why this series is so enjoyable. McGee takes no prisoners in the way in which he describes how rough and how tough life was as a prisoner of war. Taking Hawkwood away from his normal stomping ground also makes the book an interesting interlude as he is unable to utilise his normal contacts. Indeed, in some ways this is also a very topical book as it focuses on the treatment of foreign prisoners of war and smuggling.

Rapscallion certainly falls into the category of a boy's own adventure book. It is all action and suspense of the highest order and in my mind takes one back to the heady days of swashbuckling films. The action is well written, fast paced, exciting and, when necessary, uncompromising and brutal to the point that some might feel is excessive. However, when one looks back on how hard it was to survive during this period, McGee's sturdy style certainly does this story justice. The introduction of a number of new characters - especially Lasseur, a French sea captain - makes for an fascinating addition to the series and it will be interesting to see where this leads in future books.

This is a historical romp that is certainly full of charm and intrigue and makes me think of rum and the sea blowing in my face. You don't have to be a lover of action books to enjoy this, just of good writing.

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tana French - The Likeness

"... complex characters and a steady build-up of tension and threat, described in beautifully constructed sentences..."

Synopsis:
Detective Cassie Maddox is still deeply affected by the events of In The Woods. She is out of the Murder Squad, working in Domestic Violence and has started a tentative relationship with fellow detective Sam O'Neill. Then Sam is allocated a new case, that of a young woman stabbed to death just outside Dublin. He calls Cassie to the murder scene and she is shocked to find the victim is her double. Not only that, but her ID says she is Lexie Madison, the identity Cassie used years ago while working as an undercover detective.
With no leads, no suspects and no clues, Cassie's old undercover boss spots the opportunity of a lifetime: to send Cassie undercover in the dead girl's place. She could pick up information the police would never hear and lead them to the murderer. With strong misgivings, yet unable to stop herself, Cassie moves into Whitehorn House as Lexie, pretending that she has survived her wounds. With a wire in her bra and a handgun strapped into her bandages Cassie's job is to lure the killer out of hiding to finish the job.

Review:
This is the latest in a long line of books that simply elevate the genre and cock a snook at the literary snobs who deride it as somehow not “worthy”. Tana French takes a police procedural, adds a twist of psychological thriller and a dash of gothic romance to brew up a novel that satisfies on every level. If you are looking for a gore-fest then move on to something else. If you are looking for complex characters and a steady build-up of tension and threat, described in beautifully constructed sentences then this is the book for you.
French's main theme is the past. The inhabitants of the stately Whitehorn House who don't admit to having one; the murdered woman who was trying to run away from hers and even a nation struggling with a modern age while old wounds have barely begun to heal over.
Just as surely as Cassie is seduced by the stately Georgian pile and her own need to belong, the past follows just behind like a shadow waiting for the right moment to pounce.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kathy Reichs - Devil Bones

"Tempe Brennan is one feisty woman..."

Synopsis:
Tempe Brennan is back in Charlotte. She is enjoying University teaching, but finding meetings and internal politics tedious. She is therefore almost relieved when called to investigate an underground chamber discovered in a rundown house where there is a skull found amongst evidence of a religious ritual.

Her investigation confirms that the skull belongs to a young black female. Later, another find is of a headless body, carved with Satanic designs. Tempe finds herself involved with seemingly innocent followers of Wicca, together with other more sinister supporters of black magic. At the same time she is in conflict with a local politician who leads a campaign against all supporters of the occult, often without any grounds. It all starts to turn very nasty, and Tempe finds herself in some very dangerous situations.

At the same time her relationships with both her ex-husband Pete and her Canadian boyfriend, Ryan, are not going well. When an old friend, Charlie, comes on the scene, she contemplates a future with him. Who knows what will happen!

Review:
Tempe is back in her comfort zone. Kathy Reichs' command of the scientific facts and background to these investigations is superb, and probably cannot be bettered. This knowledge is what makes the books so good. We have an insight into how apparently obscure details can be discovered, and we experience a vicarious pleasure in the skill and expertise she displays.

Tempe Brennan is one feisty woman who has so much going for her but still makes mistakes, particularly in her emotional life.

The plot is exciting and moves along quickly, although I still find that the voice of Tempe Brennan is sometimes a bit slick and the frequent use of short staccato phrases grates slightly, particularly at the beginning of the book. It was a most enjoyable book and I, as always, look forward to the next one.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: