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Reviews

January 2009

Linwood Barclay - Too Close to Home

"... a good mix of suspense and humour..."

Synopsis:
Promise Falls simply isn't the kind of community where a family is shot to death in their own home. But that is exactly what happened to the Langleys one sweltering summer night, and no one in this small upstate New York town is more shocked than their next-door neighbours, Jim and Ellen Cutter. They visited for the occasional barbecue and their son, Derek, was friendly with the Langleys' boy, Adam. But how well did they really know their neighbours?

That's the question Jim Cutter is asking, and the answers he's getting aren't reassuring. Albert Langley was a successful, well-respected criminal lawyer, but was he so good at getting criminals off that he was the victim of a revenge killing - a debt his innocent family also paid in blood? From the town's criminally corrupt mayor to the tragic suicide of a talented student a decade before, Promise Falls has more than its fair share of secrets. And Jim Cutter, failed artist turned landscaper, need look no further than his own home and his wife Ellen's past to know that things aren't always what they seem. However, not even Jim and Ellen are ready to know that their son was in the Langley house the night the family was murdered.

Suddenly the Cutters must face the unthinkable: that a murderer isn't just stalking too close to home but is inside it already. For the Langleys weren't the first to die and they won't be the last...

Review:
The main plot with the idea of the wrong family being killed really enticed me to read this book. The lead character, Jim Cutter, is a likeable enough man, although I wasn't too keen on his wife, Ellen. The plot had two main threads and plenty of red herrings and twists. And it is not until much later on that the reader can work out who the killer is and why they are committing these crimes.

There are a number of other characters in this book, most of who are very well written to enable to reader to either feel empathy or dislike towards them. Despite being very eager to read this book after reading the synopsis, I was left a little disappointed with the ending as I was expecting a rather more complex or exciting motive. However, on the whole, the book was excellently written and a good mix of suspense and humour and I thoroughly enjoyed Barclay's most recent book which comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tess Gerritson - Keeping the Dead

"... brilliantly written and with a thoroughly climactic ending."

Synopsis:
She is Pilgrim's Hospital's most unusual patient, and on this Saturday night a media circus is gathered to record every minute of her visit to the x-ray department. Crammed into the small CT scan room are reporters, TV cameras, a select group of medical technicians and forensic pathologist, Maura Isles.

Maura is there beacuse the patient being scanned tonight isn't alive.
She has probably been dead for centuries. She is, in fact, a mummy.

As the CT scan proceeds, everyone in the room leans in close, and gasps in horror as an image of a bullet is revealed. Maura declares it a possible homicide and calls in Detective Jane Rizzoli.

When the preserved body of a second victim is found, and then a third, it becomes all too clear that not only is a maniac at large but he is taunting them. Unless Maura and Jane can find and stop him, he will soon be adding yet another chilling piece to his monstrous collection.

Review:
When I first started to read Keeping the Dead I was slightly concerned to learn that it was being billed as 'the new Maura Isles thriller' as I have previously found this character of Gerritson's to be quite aloof, cold - and at times weak.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find Jane Rizzoli taking more than a passing role in this book as she is such a strong, more likeable character. She is not the nicest of people per se, but I find this only makes her more realistic and endearing.

Gerritson is definitely back on top form with Keeping the Dead. With her usual in-depth research this book provided a facsinating insight to ancient rituals whilst still having a more contemporary plot. This plot was at times a little transparent but was brilliantly written and with a thoroughly climactic ending.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Camilla Läckberg - The Ice Princess

"... likely to be enjoyed by Scandinavian crime enthusiasts everywhere. "

Synopsis:
Erica Falck returns to her childhood home following the death of her parents only to be plunged deep into a local tragedy. Her childhood friend, Alex, is found in her bath with her wrists slashed; an apparent suicide that her family refuses to accept. Erica, a biographer, sees the mysterious life of Alex as ideal material for a new book and starts to delve into her past. But there are a number of years that are missing from Alex' history - years that coincide with the break in friendship between Erica and Alex. As she delves further, Erica becomes convinced that Alex did not commit suicide, a hunch that is supported by one of the local detectives Patrik Hedstrom.

Together, as they move towards solving the case, they unravel the disturbing life of a woman who tried to escape a community with a dark and violent past.

Review:
This is a substantial book by Swedish bestselling writer Camilla Läckberg. Like many other Swedish writers, Lackberg concentrates on the dizzying undercurrents that often exist in a small community. Close-knit groups are rife with people with influence, people with secrets and victims of both. The book successfully draws the reader into this narrow world without making the plot seem too claustrophobic.

The character of Erica Falck is well drawn although the death of her parents, which brings her back to the community, is never adequately explained. But the main plotline of the death of her friend Alex is well constructed, and with a satisfying conclusion. I found the love scenes between Erica and the policeman Patrik too mawkish for my taste and the local police in Sweden cannot surely be as incompetent as the writer suggests. But the book is a very good read and is likely to be enjoyed by Scandinavian crime enthusiasts everywhere.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Klavan - Empire of Lies

"... an engrossing, taut, thrilling novel..."

Synopsis:
Jason Harrow is an American Christian Conservative living the American dream in the mid-west. He's in his mid-forties, married to a beautiful wife and together they have produced two boys and a girl. However, life hasn't always been so blessed for Jason and a phone call from an ex-girlfriend pulls him back to a time he fought hard to forget.

This woman and Jason shared a life of S&M orgies and now she's calling him for help. It seems her daughter has got in with a bad lot. She's out all night, meeting strange men and taking all sorts of substances. Now she has gone missing and Jason is the only man this woman can trust to find her.

Against every sensible thought in his head Jason returns to New York and finds himself embroiled in a murderous terrorist plot that only he can see and possibly only he can stop. Chased by the police and by the terrorists Jason has mere hours to prevent the deaths of thousands of people and in doing so he endangers his own life, his sanity and the values of decency he has spent a decade trying to rebuild.

Review:
There's no other way of putting it, so forgive the cliché, but Andrew Klavan really is a master of suspense. Jason Harrow is an ordinary man put in a harrowing predicament and if that isn't bad enough he has to face up to his guilt over his mother who died alone and insane, his fears for his own sanity and a debauched and violent past he had thought well behind him. As he does so the lives of thousands of people are under threat.

Although the plot is at times somewhat improbable, Klavan is such a good writer that you suspend your disbelief and simply go with the flow. Jason Harrow is well drawn, convincingly full of contradictions and his relationship to his world and the people in it is cleverly observed.

The great American public (and by extension ourselves) become an extra character in this novel as this talented writer uses Jason Harrow to highlight his view of celebrity, our reliance on TV as entertainment and a world where truth has become second to the fear that it might offend. The America, as detailed in Empire of Lies, is a nation founded on free speech but floundering against the unforgiving rock of political correctness. A situation that the terrorists are only too delighted to take advantage of.

Andrew Klavan's earlier novel True Crime is in my view among the very best of modern crime writing. Does he reach these heights with his latest offering? It is no shame that he falls short of those standards; however this remains an engrossing, taut, thrilling novel that I would heartily recommend.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Neil Cross - Burial

"... has an originality and sheer quirkiness which is an absolute delight."

Synopsis:
Nathan and Bob meet in 1993, when Nathan has graduated from university and is waiting for his ideal job in the music industry to transpire. Bob is working on his PhD thesis on communication with the dead.

This book is the story of the events that follow on from a party held at the house of a DJ who is fading rapidly from his glory days. Drink and drugs are flowing freely when Nathan and Bob meet up with a young girl, Elise, and run off with her from the party. All three are out of control, and events occur which result in the death of Elise. Nathan and Bob panic and decide to dispose of the body. The DJ owner of the house is suspected of murdering Elise but no body is found. Nathan remains obsessed with Elise and becomes highly involved with her family. He loses touch with Bob until fifteen years later Bob turns up with the news that building developments mean that Elise's body is likely to be found. The subsequent panicky actions result in a breakdown of relationships and a final showdown with more than one twist in the tail.

Review:
This book has an originality and sheer quirkiness which is an absolute delight.

Some of the facts are obvious to the “hero”, Nathan, but as the story unfolds, more and more details are revealed as the different characters interact. An exploration of individuals' reactions in impossible situations is fascinating and leads you to wonder what you might do in a similar position.

Loyalties and friendships between characters affect their behaviours. The final revelation and its consequence grab the attention. All told this was a riveting read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Pearce - A Dead Man in Barcelona

"... an engaging and witty tale."

Synopsis:
It was 1910 when the reservist units refused to be sent to Spanish Morocco and resulted in major riots taking place in Barcelona. The period became known as “the Tragic Week”. The deadly disturbance left a large number of people dead or in jail and amongst those who were to lose their lives was one Sam Lockhart, an English businessman who was based in Gibraltar. Lockhart was not killed on the streets but found dead whilst he was locked in prison.

In 1912 Special Branch Detective Sandor Seymour finds himself being sent to Spain to investigate what events exactly took place surrounding the murder of Lockhart. Why was he killed and who would have wanted to kill him? More importantly, what was he doing in Barcelona at the time? With the locals reluctant to talk to the police, let alone strangers, Seymour has his work cut out if he is to get to the bottom of what really happened. It is with the help of his girlfriend that he manages to make some headway but as they dig deeper into the case peculiar incidents happen in Barcelona that reveal a city still in fear and yet to recover from what took place. Can Seymour get to the truth?

Review:
A Dead Man in Barcelona is the fifth book in the series to feature Special Branch Detective Sandor Seymour and, like the previous books in the series, A Dead Man in Trieste, A Dead Man in Istanbul, A Dead Man in Athens and A Dead Man in Tangier Michael Pearce has once again written an engaging and witty tale.

This time around it is Barcelona that is given the treatment and we are given an insight into this magnificent city as it recovers from what took place during the “Tragic Week” two years earlier. This is in fact a “cold case” and as Seymour delves into what happened to precipitate the homicide of the Gibraltar-based English businessman the reader is drawn into the story which is not only action packed but is also very atmospheric, with a good sense of place and time.

Pearce is adapt about being descriptive no matter where his books are set. It is also intriguing to see how he deals with the “will they, won't they” aspect of the relationship between Seymour and his half Arab, half French girlfriend, Chantale de Lissac. The fact that it is resolved in a manner that is not apathetic is unsurprising to those of us who have been consistently reading this series and is a testament to the author's ability to constantly write such an entertaining story arc. This series is lots of fun to read and, while it may be compared to his other first-rate series the Mamur Zaput Egyptian historical novels, it is no slouch. If you like your books with amusing, droll and enjoyable dialogue then the Dead Man in... series is well worth reading.

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ruth Brandon - Caravaggio’s Angel

"... an interesting mystery where art, war, love and loss all come into play."

Synopsis:
Dr Reggie Lee is an art curator currently working at London's National Gallery. When she organises an exhibition of a small collection of Caravaggio's masterpieces Dr Lee does not expect to find herself in the midst of a mystery.
The death of a young man not long after a Caravaggio painting is stolen from the Louvre is rather unusual. One of the other Caravaggio paintings that Dr Lee hopes to include in the exhibition is housed at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and she also hopes to track down the third as well. On a trip to Paris the accidental death of a surrealist painter comes to the attention of Dr Lee. What is his connection to the earlier death of the young man?
As she digs deeper Dr Lee finds herself wading through intricate political and ancestral dynamics of more recent decades. The problems gather pace when an unknown Caravaggio is discovered. Is the painting that has been found a true Caravaggio or is it a fake; and is there someone trying to stop her from getting to the truth?

Review:
Caravaggio's Angel is the first book in what is going to be a series featuring Dr Regina “Reggie” Lee, an art historian.
It is an interesting mystery where art, war, love and loss all come into play. With a likable female protagonist who starts out as an art historian but ends up becoming an amateur sleuth, Dr Lee endeavours to get to the truth of what is happening. The storyline is brisk and the historical features draw the reader into the art world of the early seventeenth century and, from a more modern perspective, the theft of these works from museums.
Caravaggio's Angel has much to offer as an art mystery, however what lets it down slightly is the fact that the author has spent much of the book rehashing the known facts about Caravaggio. Despite this Caravaggio's Angel is undeniably a fascinating story. It definitely falls into the realm of “art mysteries” and art, history and murder is always a good combination in a crime novel. Art and politics are also deeply entwined and the political consequences of art fraud are also carefully embedded in this story. Furthermore, the reader is given a good understanding how these two aspects go hand in hand. The author's background as an art historian certainly comes to the fore in this debut novel and her expertise with the details of the fine art world permeates throughout. The ornate plotting is also complementary to the sort of niche audience that will no doubt enjoy this novel. It will be interesting to see in the subsequent books which artists the author will choose to focus on.
Caravaggio's Angel is certainly a book for art lovers who also like reading about crime and it will, no doubt and in due course, join the annals of other art mystery series such as Iain Pears art history mysteries and those of Nicholas Kilmer.

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Carol O’Connell - Bone by Bone

"... anyone could be the killer and, equally, anyone could be the hero."

Synopsis:
Twenty years ago in Coventry, California, two teenage brothers went into the woods, but only one came back. Determined to find his younger brother Josh, Oren searched the woods every night. And every night the townspeople of Coventry search the woods for him, equally determined that they should not lose another boy to the mystery of the woods...

Twenty years later, Oren returns to Coventry. On his first day back he hears a thump on the front porch. Lying in front of the door is a human jawbone, teeth still intact. This is not the first delivery, his father tells him. He has a coffin in a bedroom upstairs in which he is placing all of these bones. Someone is delivering Oren's brother's remains bone by bone.

Review:
After reading the above synopsis you could be forgiven for thinking - so far, so run of the mill modern thriller. Until Carol O'Connell takes you on quite a different journey than the one you have so far anticipated. It is a truism to say that our experience of life is made memorable by the people who populate it. The same, of course can be said of our experience through the course of a book and Carol O'Connell is a writer who is keenly aware of this. With an eclectic collection of characters, Coventry, California should have a welcome sign that reads – You Don't Have To Be Eccentric To Live Here, But It Helps.

There's the town Sheriff who is so inept that as soon as he names a suspect, everyone immediately discounts them; the pony-tailed Judge who talks to his deceased - and subsequently stuffed – red-setter dog and who wears soft-soled shoes so that he can surprise everyone; a muscle-bound librarian who never leaves her library despite the fact that no on in Coventry goes to the library; and the beautiful heiress who's step-father is a corrupt lawyer and mother an alcoholic with a terrible secret. The heiress herself is no stranger to controversy; if she's driving and Oren is walking, she'll do her level best to run him over.

And then there's the town itself where the dead boy's photographs hang in every public building and its inhabitants who have the habit of holding a regular séance to speak to the dead boy, who in turn regularly sends a message – “Oren, help me.”

If you haven't read any Carol O'Connell books do yourself a huge favour and buy this one. In a book that is in turns thoughtful, pacy, quirky and thrilling, O'Connell demonstrates that she is deserving of a much wider audience. In Bone by Bone she layers clue upon clue, character upon character in a town where anyone could be the killer and, equally, anyone could be the hero.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles - Game Over

"You can always rely on Cynthia Harrod Eagles to tell a cracking good story..."

Synopsis:
Detective Inspector Bill Slider is called in to investigate the death of Ed Stonax, a well known former BBC correspondent turned civil servant, who had left his job after implication in an unsavoury sex romp. To those who knew him this seemed an unlikely scenario. His attractive journalist daughter discovers the body and is anxious to help in any way she can to discover the truth. Slider's assistant, Atherton, is more than happy to liaise with her. Meanwhile, Bill Slider's personal life is complicated as he tries to arrange his wedding to Joanna before the imminent birth of their child.

There are intrigues and power struggles behind the murder, and Slider finds himself under threat from an old enemy who has escaped from prison in very peculiar circumstances.

Review:
You can always rely on Cynthia Harrod Eagles to tell a cracking good story with likeable and sympathetic characters, a good plot and the continuing interest in the on-going lives of Bill Slider and Atherton. This one is well up to expectations.

The book is bang up to date with the emphasis on the importance of the IT expertise and has a completely modern and believable tale of political corruption at its heart. In addition, not only do you have the excitement of chasing the villains of the piece, you also have a satisfying element of personal and emotional development in the main characters. This is just the book to read for a quiet afternoon besides the fire.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: