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Reviews

July 2008

Cody McFayden - The Darker Side

"...another spellbinding book from McFadyen"

Synopsis:
FBI Agent Smoky Barrett and her team are called in by the Director himself to investigate a murder committed on a flight from Texas to Virginia.

It soon becomes clear that they are dealing with a serial killer who has already struck a truly horrific number of times. A killer who can find people with secrets - the deepest, darkest secrets we keep even from ourselves - and is using them to target and destroy his victims.

The case is about to go public. When that happens, with all the accelerated power of the internet behind it, public hysteria is never far behind. Smoky is under the most intense pressure of her career to get results, yet the team has never been faced with such an apparently insoluble problem. Who will the next victim be? Surely everyone in the world has secrets...

Review:
McFadyen is one of those authors who seems to surpass himself with every new book, and the Darker Side is no exception. I read this book in less than a day as I was utterly unable to put it down.

Thankfully the author is sticking with his original principal characters and any plot works well around them. With each new book written, the characters reveal more layers about themselves and grow further. And, despite possibly having slightly annoying names and one in particular having an irritating way of speaking, they still seem to command empathy and a connection with the reader.

The plot in itself was actually nothing spectacular, although smartly executed. But this, put together with the characters and the writing style, make the complete package very impressive.

This is yet another spellbinding book from McFadyen. I challenge anyone to put it down!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Charlie Newton - Calumnet City

"... a tormented heroine with a backbone that would put many tough-guys to shame whilst retaining the ability to tug mercilessly on your heartstrings."

Synopsis:
Patti Black is Chicago's most decorated cop. However, she finds herself caught up in a dark tale of murder and treachery where her past comes back to haunt her with a vengeance. A series of unrelated cases threaten to pull her life apart as she investigates a number of brutal murders.

Patti's life before she became a cop was not one to write home about. A survivor of abuse from her foster parents and rape; while she may have grown up to become an embittered adult she also grew up to be a determined, tough “ghetto cop” who realises that she has to confront her past sooner rather than later.

It is her nemesis that drags her down to that dark alley she had hoped to have left behind and back into the life of her son in order to save both of them.

Review:
Calumet City is a dark gritty début tale that could under any other circumstances be read as a true crime novel. From the outset the reader is drawn into the frantic and hectic pace of this bleak Chicago cityscape that has in its clutches stories that will make you weep and violence and corruption that immediately makes you think of a classic noir tale.

Patti may be based on a real-life cop but she is also a tormented heroine with a backbone that would put many tough-guys to shame whilst retaining the ability to tug mercilessly on your heartstrings. As she tries to maintain that stoic exterior it is her sarcasm and anti-authoritarian attitude that pulls her through. Black has baggage by the ton, some of which she is still trying to deal with.

Charlie Newton has written an outstanding début police procedural that is incredibly hard to put down and not solely due to its main character. It is a combination of the bleakness, his excellent descriptions of Chicago - warts and all - and that tiny but persistent nagging thought that is constantly in the back of your mind as to Black's total innocence in all that is going on.

If you want pace, especially gradual pace then forget it. In Calumet City you will get pace in large doses. Non-stop, unrelenting action that is like a whirlwind. It's an adrenalin rush which Calumet City certainly provides.

Blood, guts and lots of atmosphere is what makes this début novel stand out.

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Marshall Karp - Bloodthirsty

"A fantastic, fun read – in a dark, twisted kind of way!"

Synopsis:
No matter how popular you are, there's always someone who would be happier if you were dead. In some cases is seems you can be so despised that everyone would be happier if you were dead.

Barry Gerber, one of the most hated men in Hollywood, is a no-show for a red carpet event. The next morning he turns up dead, killed in such a bizarre way that neither Detectives Mike Lomax nor Terry Biggs - nor anyone in Forensics - has ever seen anything like it before. Two days later, the prime suspect - another despised show-business bad boy - is also found murdered in the same sadistic manner.

The list of suspects then becomes as long as the credits in a summer blockbuster. Everyone hated the murdered men. Biggs jokes that this could be an elaborate public service effort to make Hollywood a better place to live and work. But he and Lomax soon find that all jokes are off as they wade through a daunting number of leads to uncover who will be the next victim. What they stumble upon is a motive far more primal than they had ever imagined.

Review:
Karp returns with the sequel to the Rabbit Factory, following the lives and fortunes of Homicide Detectives Lomax and Biggs. Karp has lost none of his humour and there are some great, witty one-liners that can't help but make you smile.

The story, as with his previous book, is way over-the-top and very hard to believe which simply adds to the enjoyment of this book, keeping everything very light-hearted. This said, all details and facts are well researched and nothing has been left out on a forensic or police procedural point of view.

The characters, although larger than life are still believable and the relationship Lomax has with his father (especially the dialogue) is just priceless. And for anyone who has read the first book and wonders what was in the letter from Lomax's wife, you may have to wait a little longer!

A fantastic, fun read – in a dark, twisted kind of way! My only disappointment is I now have to wait a while for the next book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Aline Templeton - Lamb to the Slaughter

"... an excellent read."

Synopsis:
Kirkluce, a small town in South West Scotland, where nothing much happens: the local youth are a bit out of hand, a bloody sheep carcass is found in front of the craft centre and there is discussion and animosity about a proposed new superstore. Nothing to cause DI Marjory Fleming much lost sleep.

When a central figure in the decision about the superstore is found murdered, things begin to change. The Superintendent and the Chief Constable are anxious for a result - and soon. The local youths increase the pressure on a vulnerable old lady, and DCI Fleming's daughter is involved with the boys in some way. Marjory's elderly father dies. When another fatality occurs in what appears a random shooting, DCI Fleming struggles to make sense of these apparent unrelated deaths. Her trusted sergeant, Tam, is on extended sick leave, but desperate to come back and be involved in the case. Slowly her team works together (more or less) to bring the murderer to justice.

Review:
DCI Marjory Fleming is a strong and utterly believable character. She holds together the well-constructed plot and the detailed descriptions of small town life to make a compelling and fascinating read.

Together with the meticulously observed behaviour and truly authentic dialogue, her persona and her involvement in the community make this book an excellent read.

There are several other well-drawn characters, including the maverick Tom MacNee and the stroppy teenager, Barney Kyle. This is the fourth book of this excellent series, and it is equally as good as the previous ones.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Thomas Perry - Fidelity

"The plot is intricate..."

Synopsis:
When Phil Kramer is shot dead on a deserted suburban street in the middle of the night, his wife, Emily, is left with an emptied bank account and a lot of questions. How could Phil leave her penniless? What was he going to do with the money? And, most of all, who was he if he wasn't the man she thought she married?

Jerry Hobart has some questions of his own. It's none of his business why he was hired to kill Phil Kramer. But now that he's been ordered to take out Kramer's widow, he figures there's a bigger secret at work - and maybe a bigger payoff.

As they race to find the secret that Phil Kramer so masterfully hid, both Hobart and Emily must question where their true loyalties lie and how much they owe those who have been unfaithful to them.

Review:
Perry's latest book centres around Emily Kramer, the widow of a Private Investigator who has recently been murdered.

The plot is intricate and - despite knowing who was behind the killings quite early on - the reasons are saved until the end to ensure the reader was kept interested and wanting to keep turning the pages.

For various reasons I felt unable to identify with Emily and found her character to be somewhat unbelievable. She is something of an enigma; strong one moment but weak at other times. This lack of identification with this character did mar my enjoyment of the book a little but it was, nonetheless, an excellent read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Lovesey - The Headhunters

"An excellent and gripping story."

Synopsis:
Jo and Gemma are friends who met at a Yoga class. They appear to have a similar light-hearted outlook on life. Gemma is finding her boss at the Estate Agents very irritating and, as a joke, she and Jo discuss ways in which he can 'disappear'. They share the joke with Jake and Rick, who enters into the game with worrying enthusiasm.

To further the joke the group start to call themselves 'The Headhunters'. Things take a serious turn when Jo finds a dead body on the beach. When she and Gemma find another dead woman, it becomes a very worrying situation.

Meanwhile Gemma's boss has also disappeared. The four seem to be inexplicably involved with the mysterious deaths - and DCI Hen Mallin is very suspicious, particularly of Jake, who has a previous record.

Review:
This is an interesting tale, where the innocent find themselves under suspicion, and succeed in making things look worse for themselves as they try out a bit of detective work.

DCI Hen Mallin is not one of your super-invincible cops who makes no mistakes and works inevitably to the correct conclusion. On the contrary, she rushes up blind alleys, makes incorrect assumptions and takes us along with her as she tries to bring the guilty to justice. Sometimes we know she's wrong, sometimes we think she might be right, but all along the interest and excitement is sustained.

An excellent and gripping story.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeff Abbott - Run

"Miles Kendrick is a well-drawn and likeable central character."

Synopsis:
Miles Kendrick is a federal witness hiding from the mob, constantly haunted by the horrifying memories of his best friend's death. Whilst helping his psychiatrist with a mysterious favour, Miles stumbles into a murder - and an illegal medical research program that could free him and millions of others with post-traumatic stress disorder from their crippling fears. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Miles ends up in the cross-hairs of Dennis Groote, an ex-FBI agent turned hit man. Groote is determined to find a cure for his traumatized daughter - and determined to gain control of a secret drug formula worth billions on the open market, a formula he believes Miles possesses.

Pursued by both Groote and government agents, Miles runs for his life.
He draws on his old skills as a mobster's spy to survive a deadly duel of strike and counterstrike with the unrelenting and brutal Groote.

Miles finds two unlikely allies: a mentally broken ex-soldier and a reclusive woman whose life was destroyed by violence. To save them all - and with one last chance to be the man he once was - Miles takes the battle back to the powerful, murderous forces who want to silence one troubled man before he can get his life back.

Review:
It's a tried and tested plot; Miles is an ordinary man who has been involved in a crime of which he knows nothing. In order to survive he needs to find out who is controlling events. Whilst the reasons for the crimes may be different to other books, the 'good guy facing adversity' is not. Still, Miles Kendrick is a well-drawn and likeable central character.

I found to book to be a little broken as the chapters change quickly from one person to another and sometimes also between present and the past, which made it not only a little hard to follow, but also difficult to stay focussed on one plot.

However, despite it being a slightly pedestrian storyline of good versus evil, I enjoyed the book and was also able to empathise and identify with the likeable lead character which left me wanting to know what happened to him.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Dobbs - The Lords’ Day

"...an exciting and gripping story, with an unexpected twist in its tail."

Synopsis:
It is the State Opening of Parliament, and the great and the good are all assembled in the House of Lords to hear the Queen deliver the Queen's Speech to the members of her House of Lords and as many members of the House of Commons as can be squeezed into the Upper Chamber: an ideal opportunity for terrorists to make an emphatic point about the treatment of their families in their homeland...

It is also an opportunity for money to be made and revenge executed in unexpected quarters. Enter Harry Jones, a wealthy, intelligent man of action who puts all his experience in the armed forces and as a Member of Parliament at the service of the accumulated powers that set out to defend the land.

Add a touch of political backstabbing and power struggles, a dash of tension and violent action, and you have a recipe for an exciting and gripping story, with an unexpected twist in its tail.

Review:
The story line is excellent and emphasises the point that many must have thought: that the such magnificent state occasions would provide an ideal opportunity for various terrorist groups to make their point, particularly if their own survival is not important. The assumption is that this would be such an obvious target that security must be of the highest order. Michael Dobbs postulates the position that this is not necessarily the case and describes a possible outcome.

The outstanding quality of this book is that the author has wide and deep knowledge of the background to the characters and the plot depends on his insider information. His view of the possible relationship between the Queen and Prince Charles is also interesting. Bearing in mind the success of the television series House of Cards , based on his trilogy, I can also see this as a television series which would have the audience on the edge of their seats.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Lee Burke - The Tin Roof Blowdown

"James Lee Burke is clearly passionate about New Orleans..."

Synopsis:
As Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, the inhabitants of the city who are unable to flee to safer ground experience the full force of the storm. In its aftermath, members of the surrounding police forces come to the city's aid, including Dave Robicheaux from Iberia's Sherriff's Department.

Much of their work involves the distressing recovery of the bodies of those drowned by the storm. However, Robicheaux is perplexed by the events leading to the shooting of two black youths who were looting the house of a local gangster. One potential suspect is Otis Baylor whose daughter was brutally raped by a gang of young black men, one of whom may be among the victims.

However, with the remaining looters on the run, it is clear that something of great value was stolen from the looted property and these burglars now have a price on their heads. As Robicheaux investigates these odd events, his family is drawn into the crisis - with violent results.

Review:
This book is both a murder investigation and a passionate account of those caught up in the events of the hurricane. The strength of the book is that these two aspects are seamlessly interwoven into the story. The shooting of the two looters is shown partly to be a by-product of the storm. Bureaucratic inefficiency has left many inhabitants with no choice but to defend their property by whatever means possible and has allowed those with criminal intent to go about their business virtually undetected. James Lee Burke is clearly passionate about New Orleans and the book is also a rant against those in positions of authority who allowed the city's flood defences to be left to deteriorate.

The part of the book which depicts the psychopathic Ronald Blesoe terrorising Robicheaux's family is, in my view, the least convincing aspect of the story. Although Bledsoe is a fascinating character, he doesn't seem to fit in to the rest of the book's gritty realism.

This is an extremely well written book, however, and fascinating for readers who want an insider's view of the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martyn Waites - White Riot

"White Riot shows that Waites is an author on top form..."

Synopsis:
Newcastle in the summer time - a lot of people are getting hot under the collar and feeling very murderous indeed. When a Muslim student is killed and dumped in the middle of a council estate the blame is placed directly onto the National Unity Party that seems to go out of its way to preach white supremacy. Then another Muslim dies, this time in an explosion in a car. Was this a suicide bomber who got unlucky before he could reach his target?

At the same time Donovan's team, Albion, is called in to investigate haunting phone calls received by Trevor Whitman, an ex-radical who once led the Hollow Men and was blamed for a pub bombing in the seventies. The voice on the phone quotes the Hollow Men and Whitman knows it is his past come back to get him. But, as events take their own course, Donovan and his team uncover a plot to bring racial unrest to the people of Newcastle and there is an even bigger plan - one that will bring an explosive end to everything.

Review:
One good thing about Martyn Waites' books is that the author is never fearful of taking a topic that is important to today's society and weaving it into a crime scenario without jeopardising its integrity. In The Mercy Seat we had child prostitution, in Bone Machine Waites gave us human trafficking and in White Riot we have the issue of the British Muslim and the fear of suicide bombers within out shores. Or is that all just propaganda?

In White Riot, Waites has really excelled himself. The book starts off at a racing pace and doesn't let up for a moment. Within its pages we also get to know more about the Albion team, especially the private lives of Peta and her parents. That is the excellent thing about Waites' writing, he always manages to bring a human side to his characters and fleshes them out so they are more than two dimensional figments of his imagination. The characters bleed and have problems of their own as they try to keep everything together while they follow the case.

There is more about Donovan's missing son and, once again, we see more into Donovan's past so the reader begins to understand why he fell apart. However, this being a crime novel, nothing is simple and there is a devastating consequence to Donovan trying to get back the boy he believes to be his son. The main plot of White Riot unravels with consummate skill and, needless to say, not everyone is going to be skipping off into the sunset...! White Riot shows that Waites is an author on top form who is clearly getting even more settled into his series, and is obviously enjoying Donovan and co. And as we draw towards the very end of White Riot we are left on a cliffhanger. I wait with bated breath for the next instalment.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lis Howell - The Chorister at the Abbey

"...a very English detective story"

Synopsis:
A young chorister in Norbridge Abbey Chorus discovers a dead body in his College. Near the body he sees a thin volume which looks like a psalter. When the police arrive at the crime scene, there is no book to be seen. The victim had a knack of upsetting people and there are several local inhabitants who do not mourn him.

Suzy Spencer and Robert Clark are sharing Robert's home with Suzy's children. As they deal with the various stresses of the beginning of a relationship, they are also drawn into working with their friends to find out what has been going on in the old market town where they live. Against a background of local and ecclesiastical history, planning and development issues and the Easter performance of the Abbey Chorus, the killer is finally tracked down.

Review:
This is a very English detective story, set in a small rural town, with the relationships between the inhabitants intrinsic to the plot. I enjoyed the background using the nuances and politics of the Church of England, somewhat reminiscent of Barbara Pym updated.

The interest in genealogy, as well as the references to current issues in the church, make it very much of its time. It is a very gentle story with none of the horrific gory details often found in the current crime genre, but it nevertheless grips the reader's attention. The characters are sympathetic, although sometimes a little strange. In particular I was intrigued by the transformation of Alex Gibson from dowdy mouse to famous author, and the change of Chloe Clifford from bolshy teenager to dowdy mouse.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson - Step on a Crack

"... an exhilarating, high-octane powered ride that you won’t be able to get off until you have finished the final page!"

Synopsis:
When the former first lady of the United States suddenly dies, you know that her funeral is going to become a huge production with the crème de la crème of the film and music industry in attendance. Add to that all the heavyweight politicians and you know here is a disaster just waiting to happen. And happen it does. As the funeral begins, the church is hijacked and, after ejecting security staff and anyone not on the cover of a magazine in some country or other, the ones left behind are very high-profiled indeed.

Detective Michael Bennett is pulled in to the fray, much against his wishes. Bennett's wife is dying of cancer, his ten children are going through a very emotional time and although it is only days before Christmas he hasn't even bought a tree yet! Soon Bennett becomes the main negotiator to the man who has planned this scheme for a long time. He is racing around New York trying to bring this situation to an amicable and blood free conclusion. Can he do it?

Review:
Welcome to Patterson country! Step On A Crack is an exhilarating, high-octane powered ride that you won't be able to get off until you have finished the final page! After a few false starts on some of Patterson's recent novels, this one delivers the punch that Patterson has garnered a name for. High powered, jet propelled thrillers.

This latest novel introduces Detective Michael Bennett and the whole clan including his ten children, his grandfather, Seamus, and the new au pair, Mary Catherine. This book brings all the electricity of the current from a lightening bolt to the tenderness Michael feels towards his wife as she loses her fight.

I read this book in a day - not difficult with a book that calls to you to finish it whenever you put it down to make a cup of coffee. It seems that after a couple of average books from the Patterson brand, the master is finally back in the driving seat. Long may he remain there!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: