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Reviews

November 2009

Michael Connelly - Nine Dragons

"...an acknowledged master of the modern thriller..."

Synopsis:
The shooting of a Chinese liquor store owner in LA brings Harry Bosch's mind back to the Rodney King riots and the memory of a moment when a complete stranger gave a young inexperienced cop sanctuary.

The murdered store owner was the man who helped Harry out all those years ago and now the debt must be repaid in the way that Harry knows best; he must find the killer and bring him to justice. He soon discovers the old man's death was no ordinary hold-up.

Digging into clues ignored by the cops at the scene, Harry builds a picture of corruption and intimidation, with the local Triads at the heart of it all. But as he tries to build a case and breach the impenetrable wall of silence in the local community, he finds he is taking a dragon by the tail - a dragon whose claws reach across the globe.

He receives a terrified message from his daughter in Hong Kong and suddenly the most precious thing in Harry's life is under threat. With no back-up and working outside of the law he is forced to leave the familiarity of LA to stop his worst nightmare from happening.

Review:
Michael Connelly is an acknowledged master of the modern thriller and with this, his third book in almost a year, he demonstrates the high level of skill that his fans have come to expect. Some readers might worry that their favourite author's work might be diluted by such a publishing schedule, but let me put them straight on that. Michael Connelly is simply too good to allow this to happen and Nine Dragons is a strong addition to the master's oeuvre.

Pick up Nine Dragons and you will find all the elements are there. Connelly is exceptional at choosing just the right details that add “truth” to the actions of his characters, and in turn his characters, are superbly drawn and completely believable. They each play the part that the master puppeteer has drawn for them as the plot turns and twists and unfolds in a confrontation that is well choreographed and as thrilling as a bungee jump off the Central Plaza Tower in Hong Kong.

Connelly has that “must read through to the wee, small hours” factor by the bucketful. This is exciting, taut and clever writing. It also gives the reader a chance to see Harry Bosch driven into a situation with consequences that are deeply personal, adding further layers into a character already full of depth. Classy and relevant.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cody MacFadyen - Abandoned

"The story is faultless, the plot well engineered, the characters real."

Synopsis:
For FBI Special Agent Smoky Barrett, the wedding of one of their own was cause for celebration. Until a woman staggered down the aisle, incoherent, emaciated, head shaved, and wearing only a white nightgown.

No one knows who she is or where she's come from - or why she's chosen to appear in a church filled with law enforcement agents. Then a fingerprint check determines that the woman has been missing for nearly eight years - that once she was someone's wife, someone's mother... and a cop. Imprisoning her in a dark cell, depriving her of any contact with the outside world, her enigmatic captor was a man she didn't know and who seldom spoke, who punished her only when she failed to follow his most basic instructions designed to keep her alive.

Cold, businesslike, seemingly indifferent to his victims, he's a predator with an M.O. as terrifyingly inscrutable as any Smoky has ever encountered. As she fits together the pieces of what remains of his victim's fractured life, a chilling picture emerges of a killer every bit as calculating, masterful, and professional as Smoky and the team she leads - a professional psychopath who doesn't take murder personally and never makes a mistake.

There's a reason he let one of his victims go free. And by the time Smoky pierces the darkness of his twisted mind, it may cost her more than she can bear to lose to escape. For a trap snapped closed the moment she took this case too much to heart...

Review:
Smoky Barrett (the FBI agent with possibly the daftest name ever) returns in McFadyen's new book, Abandoned. This book will keep every reader glued to their seat until the final page has been read.

McFadyen continues to build on existing characters introduced in previous books featuring Smoky and her team (including Callie, who infuriatingly calls everyone honey-love). The story is faultless, the plot well engineered, the characters real. But for some reason I cannot bring myself to like or empathise much with Smoky.

Some authors start with an explosive debut then fizzle out a little. McFadyen, at the very least, matches, if not improves with every new book offering gripping plots and intelligent writing. The descriptions of the situations are so well explained and vivid that the reader can imagine being there.

A truly thrilling and disturbing read. Abandoned is not one to be missed.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Christopher Brookmyre - Pandaemonium

"The only fault I could find with this book was that I wanted it to have at least twice as many pages..."

Synopsis:
In the highlands of Scotland a retreat for businessmen and their teams is used by St Peter's High School in an attempt to help pupils overcome the murder of one of their classmates and the subsequent suicide of the classmate who committed the murder.

Counselling, faith and contemplation are the prescribed methods of dealing with the fallout of the horrors witnessed. The teenagers are more interested in the partying, drinking, drug-taking and secret liaisons that may occur than any introspective thoughts that may help them through the ordeal.

Unbeknown to all concerned, a secret underground laboratory conducting military experiments is very close to their chosen retreat. The Lab is funded by the US military, yet has a Vatican representative present. The subjects of the experiments subsequently escape and wreak havoc, enveloping the troubled teens and their guardians into a fight for survival.

Who can possibly win this encounter? Will it be the kids with everything to fight for or the savage creatures who are hunting them?

Review:
Yet another cracking read from Christopher Brookmyre. This has his usual high levels of detail, his unique humour and his seldom rivalled knack of putting the correct words into the mouths of his characters.

I have never before come across a book in this genre that does not have a strong central character around which the action is based. Brookmyre is one of the leading lights of the “tartan noir” scene and this novel showcases his amazing talents to the maximum. He relies on the strength of his writing to carry the novel as he flits backward and forward between at least a dozen different people who feature in the story that unfolds.

Brookmyre dispenses with tradition and gives the reader the chance to view the events through multiple eyes with differing viewpoints. This is a rare occurrence in the world of crime fiction as readers are used to seeing through the eyes of a maximum of 3 people - or in some cases only through the hero's eyes if the novel is written in the first person. This works brilliantly on so many levels because of his adept skill at creating empathy and understanding for each person portrayed; be they scientists, deputy headmasters, Goth-loving schoolgirls, wannabe hard men, computer geeks or Cardinals. The reader is given insights into each of their personalities, thoughts and desires.

Subjects which may be deemed as taboo or blasphemous are dealt with articulately, yet he still makes the preposterous believable. Dark humour is used as a tool to lighten the mood and works very well due to the author's skill of knowing when a funny line will work and when it will not. Brookmyre is not the messiah, he is a very naughty author!

The only fault I could find with this book was that I wanted it to have at least twice as many pages again because I finished reading it a long time before I was ready to put it down.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cassandra Clark - The Red Velvet Turnshoe

"A fast moving adventure story with action aplenty..."

Synopsis:
It is 1383 and England is suffering from terrible, continuous rain and the plague is widespread. Hildegarde is a nun in the priory at Swyne in Yorkshire. She hopes to take a small group of nuns to set up her own religious house whose work will be with the poor in the countryside. Before this is possible she is given a difficult task to perform. She has been asked by the Archbishop of York to travel across Europe to Rome and obtain the legendary cross of Constantine, who was converted to Christianity when in York, and return it to Yorkshire. This cross is reputed to have powers that aid the bearer in battle, and is desired by many in these difficult and warlike times.

This is a very difficult and dangerous journey, particularly for a lone woman, and Hidegarde has to use all her intelligence and ingenuity, together with a lot of luck, to reach Rome. Adventure after adventure befalls her, but she finally returns home to meet with more puzzling circumstances.

Definitely a time of intrigue when nobody can be trusted.

Review:
A fast moving adventure story with action aplenty, this story carries the reader along with it to the final page. Always exciting, it also manages to convey the flavour of the middle ages. It is somewhat surprising how much Hildegarde manages to achieve, given the dangers of the journey, but her strong and resourceful character carries you along. She is sensible and able to recruit help when needed.

The detailed descriptions of the ways of life and attitudes bring the period to life very well indeed. The turmoil over the Peasants' Revolt and the conflict between different factions at court, infect the whole of life, so that no-one can be trusted. Political intrigue and personal ambition are rife, and respect for life is not high. This is the atmosphere in which Hildegarde lives, and her strength and common sense in dealing with it all maker an attractive heroine who will continue to entertain.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathan Kellerman - Evidence

"...as good as it gets..."

Synopsis:
In a half finished mansion in the wealthy Holmby Hills district of LA a security guard makes a gruesome discovery. The bodies of a young couple have been left still locked in a passionate embrace. The only identification is on the young man who has been shot, but the strangled woman's identity remains a mystery.

For LAPD detective Milo Sturgis, who is charged with investigating the case, the murder is puzzling on a number of levels. What was an eco-friendly architect doing having a romantic tryst in a skeleton of a house - and who is his mystery partner?

With consultant psychologist Alex Delaware by his side, Milo digs deeper into the man's past and discovers a history of seduction and intrigue. They also lock horns with the victim's former boss, the cold and distant Helga Gamein who shows little interest in bringing the perpetrator to justice. Only when they delve into the eco-terrorist roots of some of the people involved does the case begin to unravel - with violent consequences.

Review:
Jonathan Keller has for over twenty years been the master of the American crime thriller. His duo, Milo Sturgis and Alex Delaware, have legions of fans and despite his recent forays into novels with different characters, these two remain firm favourites. So, it is wonderful to see a new novel with the pair as lead characters.

Milo apparently has lost weight but in this book his appetite for food and murder seems undiminished. Alex, fortunately, is still with his partner Robin, so the book doesn't dwell too much on the private life of the psychologist. Instead, we get a complex crime thriller which takes in wealthy LA and the world of eco-terrorism.

Like the best of Kellerman's writing, the book moves between the different LA oeuvres with ease. He writes particularly well when depicting how the rich live, with their huge mansions and fractured lives. But he is also good at portraying the underbelly of LA, in this case how teenagers can be distracted by their peers and get sucked into alternative lifestyles.

It is good to have Milo and Alex back and this is about as good as it gets for Kellerman. An excellent addition to his works.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Yaba Badoe - True Murder

"...a gorgeous dark and sad tale, very well told."

Synopsis:
Ajuba is an eleven year old girl originally from Ghana. Having watched the disintegration of her parents marriage she moves to Britain with her mother. When her mother is taken away, Ajuba is placed in a boarding school by her father. There, Ajuba falls in with a new girl, Polly Venus, a brash girl who becomes a forceful influence on Ajuba.

As Ajuba becomes more involved with Polly's family she sees an idyll that she once had with her mother and family back in Ghana. But everything is not as it seems in the Garden of Eden and soon the cracks in the Venus family begin to pull her more inexorably into their fragile world. As the girls start a journey to find out the truth about the human remains they found in the Venus' attic, Ajuba's safe world is about to explode.

Review:
True Murder, the title taken from the magazines the girls read about true crime stories, is an amazing debut from an exciting and fresh new author.

Yaba Badoe writes with an assurance that some writers take years to master. The writer carefully drip feeds her reader, slowly unwinding her tale, misdirecting you until she is ready to show her hand. I have read many tales that involve children and it is difficult for any writer to keep inside the head and emotions of any child without veering off and putting some adult attitudes in which reflect more the writers feelings than their characters. However, Badoe has managed to give Ajuba her own voice and wonderfully keeps 'in character' when giving Ajuba her own thoughts and feelings. You can feel the mixed emotions of the girls and misunderstandings of the adult world. It made me feel very vulnerable to think that I could have felt that I knew what adults were thinking and feeling when I was so off the mark. This is how Badoe portrays Ajuba and you have to give her credit in portraying a girl who is misguided and yet only wishes to help her newfound family through their grief. But like an early Barbara Vine, Ajuba has her dark side which finally seems to come out.

I wasn't sure if I would like True Murder as it was about a group of pre-teen girls, but Badoe beautifully brings them all to life with their insecurities as they stand on the cusp of womanhood. True Murder is a gorgeous dark and sad tale, very well told. Definitely one not to be missed by this exciting author.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

N.J. Cooper - No Escape

"What Cooper always excels at is creating monsters."

Synopsis:
Doctor Karen Taylor is writing a paper on DSPD (Dangerous Severe Personality Disorder). She had interviewed several criminals to research her work and now comes to the last one – Spike Falconer, also known as the 'Island Freak'. The deaths occurred on the Isle of Wight – a family of four shot to death at close range by a sawn off shotgun. Spike, who had been in trouble with the law many times, was found spaced out on skunk, the evidence against him overwhelming.

But as Karen digs deeper she reawakens emotions that have been burried for decades. The local police seem against her as well as the rest of the Falconers who have had to deal with such a smear on their name in the form of Spike. But someone is not pleased with the way things are developing and so decides to take risks to get rid of the good doctor. Soon there is a prison escape and another murder – but will Dr. Taylor be dissuaded from her mission?

Review:
After the 'niceness' of Trish MacGuire, Natasha Cooper has come back with a new character and a new identity. Now re-christened as 'N.J. Cooper', this well established writer has revved up into another gear entirely.

Along comes Karen Taylor, a woman who has been through the mill despite her young years and knows all about 'guilt'. Not only does she come out fighting, but she does have a thread of steel through her core which doesn't alienate her from the reader, but makes you feel more passionate about her crusade. Although Dr. Taylor is essentially a 'good woman' she is also feisty, something I felt missing from Trish. Also, Karen is slightly 'damaged goods' but has managed to nearly work her way through her issues, although these don't get in the way of the investigation, just serve to make her more of interest.

What Cooper always excels at is creating monsters. She has the knack of moulding and fabricating truly terrifying deviants who not only inflict the most violent acts upon other people, but have been doing it for many years. Her ability to describe the psychological side of a murderer is engrossing and I thought her depictions of the Falconer family wonderful – the most truly hideous menagerie of freaks I have come across in a very long time.

Contrasting this with the idyll of the Isle of Wight just brings their viciousness into stark reality. This is a wonderful start to a new series character and one I look forward to reading about in future books. This is definitely going to please Cooper's longstanding fans as well as an inviting door to enter her world. But beware – 'beyond this point be monsters'!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Hewson - Dante's Numbers

"...an excellent addition to what is a beguilingly atmospheric and addictive series."

Synopsis:
When the death mask of the poet Dante is to be exhibited alongside the opening of a contentious adaptation motion picture by Tonio (based on Dante's classic work Inferno) it was supposed to be joyous and culturally significant event. However, at the distinguished presentation of the invaluable work of art the death mask is found to have been replaced by a grisly death mask of another; that of Allen Prime the lead actor of the film.

Shortly afterwards the lead actress is also endangered and her attacker is shot. Not long afterwards the recording of Prime's murder has been placed on the internet for all to see. The Carabineri determined to get to the bottom of what they see is the work of a mad Dante fan follow the film to its next place of call being San Francisco hoping that they will be able to retrieve the stolen death mask. However, their arrival in San Francisco from Rome does not bode well. Nic Costa and his fellow officers find themselves entangled in a mystery that intensifies as the clues mount up. With the Carabineri and the local officers finding themselves sidetracked by fake clues it is down to Costa to protect the leading lady, get to the bottom of what is going on and also hunt down the killer before anymore murders take place...

Review:
Dante's Numbers is the seventh book in the series to feature Nic Costa and his cohorts and it is certainly a welcome return. This time around Nic Costa finds himself involved in the madcap world of the movies and its associated peculiarities. Do not let the title of the book put you off, especially if you are amongst those who (like me)find that got thoroughly fed up with artistic references to that infamous book, The Da Vinci Code. Dante's Numbers is nothing like it. It does not deal with some age old conundrum surrounding the work of Dante nor does it - or will it - have the Catholic Church up in arms. In some ways this is a ridiculous book, but enjoyable nonetheless. There are mafia links, ornate serial murderers, the accustomed 'femme fatales' and a number of improbable criminals. Despite this, and partly due to the brisk way in which Dante's Numbers has been written in the author's hands, these characters work very well indeed. Furthermore, the characterisation, especially that of the lead character Nic Costa, is one of the best things about this series in general. In addition, the way in which the ongoing conflict between the police department and the Carabineri is portrayed (as they battle over who has jurisdiction) is totally believable. Inter-departmental territorial wars are to be expected.

The writing here is droll, clever and appealing and will certainly appeal to those who can appreciate it. The author's dry sense of humour is also an added bonus and subtly creeps up on you. I am a big fan of books set in Italy and this series is amongst my favourites. However, I hope that in the next one that the author does what he knows best and that is ensure that Nic and his fellow officers remain in Italy that is where they are best suited.

Dante's Numbers is an excellent addition to what is a beguilingly atmospheric and addictive series. It is a shame that this series has not got the attention that it deserves as it is series that should be read by a lot more. If you enjoy books set in Italy then this series should be surely added to your list - if it is not there already.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Luis Miguel Rocha - The Last Pope

"...a taut, tense and dramatic race to find the truth behind the mysterious coded list."

Synopsis:
33 days after being elected, Pope John Paul I is found dead in his chamber on the 29th of September 1978.

Some thirty years later a young London journalist named Sarah Monteiro has a mysterious package delivered from a Vatican source she has no knowledge of. The package contains a list of names and a message written in code.

Almost immediately Sarah is attacked by an unknown assassin who tries to kill her and steal the package. The package holds a deadly secret implicating corrupt politicians, mercenaries and even members of the clergy.

As Sarah flees her assassin she contacts her father whose name is included on the list she has been sent and he arranges for a guardian angel to help her escape. Together they try to stay one step ahead of the murderous conspirators who try to get possession of the list at any cost.

Many are the questions Sarah has to find the answers to, such as what does the list of names refer to? Why is her father's name included in the list? Who is so desperate to get control of the list? And, most importantly, what part does the Vatican have to play in the proceedings...?

Review:
This is a very complex novel with lots of interweaving of both historical fact and fiction in a taut, tense and dramatic race to find the truth behind the mysterious coded list.

Many twists and turns make this a most enjoyable read that keeps you guessing right to the end of the book. A writing style that has short sharp descriptions interspersed with lengthy explanations as to historical background and religious ideals, this sets a tone of fast-paced action against a fascinating background and this is displayed in his prose in a way which shows meticulous research.

As a card carrying fan of conspiracy-theory based novels and having read many books which touch on some of the same essential background as this tome. True events are well documented and fit in line with the plot in a way that enraptures the reader whilst educating throughout.

All in all a thoroughly good read.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Sheehan - Law of Second Chances

"...will appeal to fans of Grisham..."

Synopsis:
A rich man parks his expensive car in downtown New York. As he gets out of the car, he is surprised to see a young man in front of him, holding a gun. No need to panic. He's been in this situation before. It's surely about money, and therefore negotiable - isn't it? There's a sharp crack of a gun and then silence.

A week later a small time crook has been arrested for murder. Two eye witnesses have put him at the scene of the crime, but did he pull the trigger? He's facing death row and if there's to be a law of second chances, he needs a good lawyer fast.

Review:
Sheehan returns with his latest novel following the success of The Mayor of Lexington Avenue, and I had been eagerly awaiting this book.

However, I did not find the plot to be quite so innovative, and the story itself appears to be cases and situations that have been included to explain the presence of the characters, which in my opinion were unnecessary. There was also a large amount of the book dedicated to Jack's personal life, which when reading a legal thriller, is not generally the content of interest, and even more so when it plays no integral part to the story.

The story flits from past to present and back to somewhere in between, making it difficult at times to follow and know exactly where the story is at.

The down points aside, Sheehan does write in a manner that is easy to read and has an ability to bring his characters to life, making the reader feel as though they really know them. Whilst the Law of Second Chances was not as gripping as the Mayor of Lexington Avenue, it was still a good read and will appeal to fans of Grisham who enjoy a good courtroom thriller.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: