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Reviews

July 2009

Thomas H. Cook - The Fate of Katherine Carr

"Cook ably strides the divide of being a ‘literary’ crime writer…"

Synopsis:
George Gates is a reporter for the local Winthrop Examiner. He writes pieces on local flower shows, a few obituaries and anything else 'nice'. But life hasn't always been 'nice' for George. His wife died giving birth to their son, Teddy, and when the boy was only eight he was taken away and found dead some weeks later. Every day George wonders what Teddy would be like now seven years down the line. He also thinks about who took Teddy away and how different things would be if he had collected Teddy from the bus stop like he had promised on that last morning.

Now George has another mystery to solve – the disappearance of a local poet, Katherine Carr. Vanished twenty years ago without a trace, George is now reading her weird and wonderful novel which seems to be mixing fact and fiction - or is it all just fiction? Or all simply fact? It appears to be a diary of strange events leading up to the day Katherine disappeared?

Helped by a young girl called Alice who has a degenerative condition, the unlikely sleuthing pair read through Katherine's book to find out what happened to her on the night she vanished from life.

Review:
The Fate of Katherine Carr is a darkly Gothic novel touching several themes. With masterful strokes Cook takes us on a dark journey of people who kill, the victims they leave behind and the people left to deal with the trauma. It is an essay in why some murderers are caught and some clearly – literally - get away with murder. Are the clues found discovered by sheer chance or is there a higher body taking action?

The Fate of Katherine Carr is not a book filled with action or car chases. This is a cleverly, beautifully written novel about victims and how they could stop being a victim and, possibly, become something else. This novel isn't your usual crime fare. There are deaths involved, unsolved murders but they are either played off stage or take place some time in the past. What gives this tale its impetus is the way Cook weaves the tales of George Gates and his guilt, the sad short life of Alice and the vanishment of Katherine herself via her manuscript she left behind the night she was last seen twenty years before.

Cook ably strides the divide of being a 'literary' crime writer, combining sumptuous prose that gouges deep within the players of his books with a convincing, tightly written crime novel. He shows how human they truly are whether they are a wronged party or a killer without emotion. Cook also treats us to a winding tale full of dead ends and false pathways. In this latest novel, he infuses a sense of fantasy, a fairy tale amongst the daily lives of the inhabitants of Winthrop. With this mesmerising mixture he delivers a chilling Gothic tale resonant of Sheridan Le Fanu or Algernon Blackwood. This is amazing writing from an author who clearly has questions that need answers and is unafraid to take his readers to task and make them think as well.

I dare you not to be still unravelling the Fate of Katherine Carr days after you have read the final page.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Connolly - The Lovers

"...an excellent addition to the series. Possibly, one might argue, the best yet!"

Synopsis:
Charlie Parker is working in a bar in Portland, having been deprived of his P.I.'s license. He's being watched by the police and trying to keep out of trouble. But trouble has a habit of tracking Charlie down. He feels drawn back to the house where he grew up and the strange events of his childhood. When he was a boy, his father, a NYPD cop killed a young couple and then shot himself with the same gun. There was no explanation for his actions and events are pushing Charlie into finding out once and for all what drove his father to murder and then suicide.

Running parallel to Charlie's investigations, a fraught young woman is running from an unseen threat, one that already seems to have taken the life of her boyfriend. A journalist-turned-writer named Mickey Wallace is conducting an investigation of his own into Charlie Parker. He is convinced that America needs to know about Charlie's exploits over the years and hopes to write a non-fiction book about his story.

Haunting the shadows, as they have done throughout Parker's life, are two figures: a man and a woman, the lovers of the title, who appear to have only one purpose, and that is to bring an end to Charlie Parker.

Review:
I've been a fan of John Connolly's books since he burst onto the scene with Every Dead Thing in 1999 and this latest Charlie Parker novel is an excellent addition to the series. Possibly, one might argue, the best yet!

There is a fluidity to this man's prose that is at turns functional and poetic; everyday and elegiac and it makes every page a pleasure to read. He also brings a welcome touch of originality to the genre with his supernatural twists. This is a tightly plotted, beautifully constructed novel where John Connolly exhibits his considerable skills.

To anyone reading this review who might be new to the series, Charlie Parker is quite literally haunted by the murder of his wife and child. He combats his grief by helping out others whose lives are threatened by personal disaster and hunting the sick and dangerous. He is ably assisted in his travails by a couple of professional assassins going by the name of Angel and Louis. These guys are a “couple” in more ways than one and who else but John Connolly could use a pair of psychopathic killers to provide some lighter moments to counteract the trauma that is Charlie Parker's existence.

The Lovers comes with a hearty recommendation. It is well worth your hard earned and will surely provide hours of chills and suspense.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Reginald Hill - Midnight Fugue

"Hill is a master of detective fiction"

Synopsis:
Dalziel is almost officially back to work after recuperation from his encounter with a bomb when an old friend in the Met, Mick Purdy, contacts him. His fiancé, Gina Wolfe, has come to Yorkshire looking for her husband who has been missing for many years and is believed dead. Mick asks Dalziel to help her. The roots of the story lie in the past and relates to a big time benefactor with a shady history that cannot be proved.

The up and coming Tory MP, David Gidman the third, is the son of this benefactor. As it is important that no hint of disgrace attaches to the MP, David Gidman the second, sends two of his supporters to ensure this doesn't happen. Added to this a Welsh journalist and his rooky brother have the hint of a story. All the elements coalesce on one day, resulting in Dalziel being catapulted back into action rather quicker than he or his team imagined. There is a tension as Pascoe and Dalziel try to re-establish their working relationship as both realise that things have changed.

Review:
This is another gripping and thoroughly well written tale in the lives of Dalziel and Pascoe.

As always, the construction of the story is brilliant. Based on a musical theme of a fugue and depending on the pun on the psychiatric term fugue for the nub of the story, Hill displays throughout the book virtuosity with language and a depth of vocabulary, which has me reaching for the dictionary on occasion. There is a feeling of great enjoyment in the writing that passes on to the reader. Another great delight is the development of the characters. Dalziel emerges from his enforced rest a little unsure of himself and gradually reassures himself and others that he has not lost it. Pascoe has developed and matured into a leader, a fact recognised by Dalziel, but he can be frustrated by his boss's idiosyncrasies, even when they turn out for the best. Unlike the TV adaptations, Pascoe's home life continues to give him support and joy.

Hill is a master of detective fiction and I look forward to every book with enthusiasm.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Marshall Karp - Flipping Out

"...one of my favourite authors..."

Synopsis:
Bestselling mystery author Nora Bannister has found herself a very lucrative sideline, house-flipping. Along with a group of female friends, she buys a run down house in LA, and whilst her business partners turn it into a show home, Nora makes it the scene of a grisly murder in her latest bestseller. It seems people are only too happy to live in a house where someone has died a violent death - in fiction at least. But, much to the horror of Nora and her pals, a series of real murders start taking place. It's up to Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs to track down the killer before he murders his next logical target, Terry's wife.

Review:
Karp's comedy duo, Lomax and Biggs retrun for their third outing in Flipping Out. However, I found the previous superb plots and brilliant one liners that were so prevalent in the first two novels to be slightly lacking in this latest offering. Karp has a great style of writing and both of these characters, together with 'Big Jim' do make a mediocre book better.

Flipping Out was definitely not as good as The Rabbit Factory and Bloodthirsty. For those that have not yet read any of Karp's books, I would recommend starting with the Rabbit Factory as you will be hooked on the characters and writing. Then you will be able to forgive a plot that is a little weaker in Flipping Out. That said, Karp remains one of my favourite authors and I have not been deterred from reading book number four which I hope will return to the excellent high standard of the first two.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson - Swimsuit

"Patterson fans out there – this is another one that will keep you reading until three a.m.!"

Synopsis:
Kim McDaniels is a glamorous model doing a photo shoot in Hawaii. Hours after she disappears, her parents get a call from her mobile – by the man who has kidnapped her. Flying out to Hawaii to find their daughter, the McDaniels come across apathy from the local police. Enter Ben Hawkins an ex-cop turned reporter. Latching on to Hawkins, the McDaniels believe he will help them find his daughter. But her killer is nearer than any of them can imagine.

After the events in Hawaii where everything went from bad to worse, the killer wants Hawkins to write his life story – the autobiography of a serial killer. But this one doesn't simply kill for kicks – he is a paid assassin for some very important people who love to watch, as if in a Roman arena, the slaughter of innocents – but this time it's all on the Internet.

Soon, Hawkins is fighting for his life and that of his loved ones to bring a killer to ground and smash the ring that pays for his services.

Review:
Please ignore the flimsy title. I can't imagine how anyone having read this book before publication, reached the end and during a 'Eureka' moment announced that this book was begging to be called – Swimsuit! Besides that small niggle, this is something very different from the Patterson stable. With Maxine Paetro who normally pens the Women's Murder Club novels, this pair of writers now bring us something extremely gory. Obviously they are on the same wavelength and having fun with these stories.

I have to say right now that this isn't normal Patterson fare. If anything, the body count is quite high and there are some grizzly methods of decapitation within these covers. But for some strange reason it works. As always the chapters are short and keep you speeding along and the story does work although it is quite a bizarre tale to say the least.

As with all the books that come out of the Patterson factory, some work, some don't. This one does although I did feel that the ending felt slightly rushed as if neither author knew how to wrap it up. But for all those major Patterson fans out there – this is another one that will keep you reading until three a.m.!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anne Zouroudi - The Taint of Midas

"She obviously feels an affinity with everything Greek..."

Synopsis:
On a picturesque Greek island the old beekeeper Gabrilis lives a simple life next to the ruined Temple of Apollo. When he is found murdered at the side of the road, seemingly the victim of a hit and run accident, it becomes clear that all is not well in Arcadia. Gabrilis's land is worth a fortune to unscrupulous developers and he may have unwittingly signed it over to them moments before his death.

Enter Hermes Diaktoros, an investigator who answers only to himself. After discovering his friend's battered body he sets out to call to account those responsible for his death. But on this small Greek island, people quickly close rank and it will take all of Hermes' detective skills to reveal the truth.

Review:
This is an excellent follow-up to The Messenger of Athens. In her first book Anne Zouroudi seemed to be playing with the character of Hermes Diaktoros as if she was unsure of how to present him to readers. In this new book she writes much more confidently about her protagonist and his relationship with the Greeks around him. She obviously feels an affinity with everything Greek and writes well about the lives of the islanders and the contrast between them and the incoming tourists.

The book is enhanced by Zouroudi interspersing her text with phrases from the Greek language. She writes with a light touch and without ever resorting to caricature. It would be nice, however, for more of Diaktoros' past to be revealed as his mysterious life can sometimes overshadow the plot. This is highly recommended for those intending to visit Greece this year and for those armchair readers who want to be transported to a Mediterranean island.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - Dead Man's Dust

"Fast, ferocious and a thrill a page, this book will have you reading into the wee, small hours."

Synopsis:
Joe Hunter is an ex-special forces soldier who has barely had a moment to enjoy his “retirement” before he hears that his half-brother, John Telfer has gotten himself into a spot of bother. Jennifer, John's ex gets in touch asking Joe to look for John. He was last seen in America and she has received word that his life may be in danger.

As far as Joe is concerned John is and always will be a waste of space, but when someone of his blood is in trouble Joe has no option other than to step in. He travels to the States and picks up with an old army mate, Rink and it quickly becomes apparent that John has some extremely dangerous men interested in his whereabouts. Joe hones in on John's trail and prays that he catches up with him first.

In the meantime, John, in an attempt to get some distance between him and the bad guys dumps the first car he “borrowed”, holds up a solitary male on a deserted road at gunpoint and steals his car. Feeling certain that this can only help his situation he couldn't be more wrong, because the man he has stolen the car from is “The Harvestman” America's most feared serial killer. Normally, this sick killer murders for the love of it, but now he has a special reason; revenge.

The scene is set for a chase across America and a confrontation that only the very skilled and very fortunate will walk away from.

Review:
Matt Hilton hit the news in April last year when he was offered a five book deal for his Joe Hunter series. The deal came along with an advance of the size normally only heard of for celebrities. At long last the book is about to hit the shelves and now we can see for ourselves just what all the fuss was about.

This is a high-voltage, gripping read that will transfer easily to the big screen. Comparisons with Lee Child are facile, but unavoidable, and to be fair Dead Men's Dust doesn't suffer from the comparison. Fast, ferocious and a thrill a page, this book will have you reading into the wee, small hours. The action is non-stop, the fight scenes authentic and thrilling. The finale in particular is as good as any action scene I've read in recent years.

Joe Hunter is one of those characters you wouldn't mind having as a member of your family or a friend. No-one would dare mess with you if Hunter was standing by your shoulder. However, I felt he was a tad two-dimensional, but there is plenty of room in the rest of the series for him to display more depth. The writing is no-nonsense and effective but on occasion strays somewhat into cliché. This could have been easily sorted with some judicious editing and for the majority of readers won't detract one iota from their enjoyment.

Will I be reading the next book in the series? Certainly. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Hart - The Last Child

"...brilliantly written with plenty of twists and clues..."

Synopsis:
Thirteen year-old Johnny Merrimon had the perfect life: happy parents and a twin sister that meant the world to him. But Alyssa went missing a year ago, stolen off the side of a lonely street with only one witness to the crime. His family shattered, his sister presumed dead, Johnny risks everything to explore the dark side of his hometown in a last, desperate search. What he finds is a city with an underbelly far blacker than anyone could've imagined - and somewhere in the depths of it all, with the help of his only friend and a giant of a man with his own strange past, Johnny, at last, finds the terrible truth.

Detective Clyde Hunt has devoted an entire year to Alyssa's case, and it shows: haunted and sleepless, he's lost his wife and put his shield at risk. But he can't put the case behind him - he won't - and when another girl goes missing, the failures of the past year harden into iron determination. Refusing to lose another child, Hunt knows he has to break the rules to make the case; and maybe, just maybe, the missing girl will lead him to Alyssa.

Review:
The Last Child, Hart's latest book, brings in a fresh batch of characters for a fast paced police based thriller.

I did find many, if not most of the characters somewhat annoying at times. The book started excellently, and I found myself unable to put it down. However, as the story progressed I almost felt as if it was going round in circles and the characters repeating themselves, giving the book a slight lull. The book however did pick up considerably again and get back to the pace it started with. And this, together with an unpredictable ending (although some of the lines within the main plot were quite transparent), redeemed the book completely.

The story itself was nothing new, focusing on a missing child, but it was brilliantly written with plenty of twists and clues, often to put the reader off the scent and to keep them guessing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend Hart to any detective novel fans.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - Red Bones

"...another intensely satisfying and well-constructed story from Ann Cleeves."

Synopsis:
In this third book of Ann Cleeves' Shetland series, Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate the shooting of an elderly woman living alone in an isolated croft on one of the smaller islands. The woman was discovered by her grandson, Sandy Wilson, who also happens to be a colleague of Perez in the Shetland police. It appears to be an accidental shooting, but Perez has a few doubts that he needs to resolve before he can assure the Procurator Fiscal that no murder investigations are needed. An archaeological dig is sited on the old woman's land and recent investigations have indicated some interesting facts, culminating in the discovery of some bones which may or may not be very old.

Perez finds himself uncomfortable in the tensions arising between the two old families on the island, and he is not convinced that everything is as it appears. When another body is discovered, he plunges into the past and discovers the line of events which have lead to the tragedies.

Review:
This is another intensely satisfying and well-constructed story from Ann Cleeves. It concentrates on the unravelling of the plot, whilst at the same time giving a detailed and convincing description of life in a rural and remote community with sympathetic and attractive characters.

Jimmy Perez is a thoughtful and conscientious detective whose relationship with his artist girlfriend remains important, but is not centre stage as she is away for most of the story. The young Sandy Wilson develops some maturity as he experiences sadness in his life and even begins to consider the feelings of others. Their development and their relationships with the communities contribute to the well rounded feel of the book.

Shetland and its people have a distinctive flavour of their own and this is beautifully portrayed in this work.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Nugent - Soul Murder

"...an example of how crime fiction can be used to explore deep and important truths. "

Synopsis:
Set in a top boys' boarding school in a castle in Ireland, the story tells of the horrific murder of a respected housemaster. Totally unexpected, the event may be linked to a particularly bloody suicide of an ex-pupil a year before. Superintendent Dennis Lennon and Sergeant Molly Power of the Irish Police Force are at a loss, and as the story develops, a boy disappears and the former owner of the castle is found with his throat cut.

The reasons for these violent deaths in the context of a normally peaceful and optimistic setting are initially unimaginable. Ambition and perversion, and the effects of the corruption of innocence prove to be the starting point for a sequence of devastating happenings.

Review:
As before, Andrew Nugent draws on his experience to write a totally believable and engrossing tale. This story is an example of how crime fiction can be used to explore deep and important truths. The murderer is indeed responsible for the death of two innocent men, but also the despair and corruption and eventual death of a young man with future promise. Which is the more heinous crime? There is no answer, but the book makes one think.

The respect and affection with which Andrew Nugent writes about the young men of the school, and his description of their basic code of honour, are delightful. The characters of Dennis Lennon and Molly Power are still engaging, and both emerge as warm and goodhearted individuals. There is an on-going wit and lucidity of writing which make this book an excellent read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Yrsa Sigurdardottir - My Soul To Take

"... interesting and slightly odd."

Synopsis:
In a remote peninsula in Iceland a woman is found murdered on the beach near to a new holistic centre cum spa hotel where people go to have their physical and spiritual ills cured using alternative therapies. She is the architect who is developing plans for the centre, built on the land of two farms belonging in the past to two brothers.

There has been some problem with the development, and lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir is called in to represent the owner of the hotel in negotiations with the heirs of the two brothers. When the body is discovered, she also represents him, as he is considered a suspect by the police. Her new German boyfriend Matthew joins her and together they discover that the previous history of the farms involving sibling jealousy and even Nazi sympathies has an impact on the investigation.

Review:
Unsurprisingly, the cast of characters in the New Age hotel are interesting and slightly odd. Together with the family tensions and money involved with those who sold the land to the developer Jonas, we have a group of unpredictable and self absorbed people whom Thora has to talk to and evaluate. She cuts a few corners in her search for the truth, and her relationship with the police is not exactly co-operative, but in the end she does help to find out what has really happened, both in the past and in the present.

The history which has provoked the events is dark and disturbing, but entirely believable. Thora herself is a dogged and determined individual, who tries to balance her complicated private life with pursuing her career. I think her care for her family definitely comes second!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Helen Black - A Place of Safety

"Nothing is as it seems..."

Synopsis:
Lily Valentine is a lawyer whose main interest is in childcare cases. She also has to attend to the more mundane divorce cases in order to keep the rest of her practice happy, but her real love is trying to make a difference to the lives of children and young people who find themselves in the care system.

True to form, she finds herself defending Anna, a young asylum seeker, who is assaulted by three public schoolboys. When Anna and her friend Artan turn up at the school to confront the boys, things get worse. It is a difficult case to prove, and Lily's friends and colleagues are against her getting involved, particularly when they also appear to be targeted.

Lily has to make the decision as to whether to follow her conscience and put her family at risk, or back down.

Review:
Lily is a feisty character who deserves admiration for the way in which she passionately defends the rights of those who have little going for them. The book reveals the desperate plight of some asylum seekers and the lengths to which they will go to find safety. Nothing is as it seems at first sight, and the plot cleverly reveals the truth step by step.

The characters are beautifully drawn and involve the reader in their lives. I particularly liked the descriptions of Lily's life, balancing her commitment to the under privileged with her love for her son and for Jack, and for the complicated relationships which occur when families split up. It is a common scenario and will resonate with many people.

Above all though, this is a good story which grips your attention and keeps you involved to the very end.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Glenn Cooper - Library of the Dead

"...perfect for the beach..."

Synopsis:
There is a killer on the loose in New York. His tag is the Doomsday Killer. He already has six victims under his belt. But the police haven't got a clue what singles out these people – they have nothing in common with each other, the only thing they all had at the time of death was a postcard telling the victim when they were going to die. After one of his colleagues originally put on the case is taken ill, Will Piper is put in charge.

Soon the investigation takes an astonishing and personal turn. Could Piper have done something so bad in his formative years that he unwittingly made a man become a killer? But the truth lies further in the past: back to the eighth century when a sinister library was being gathered in the dark underground of a monastery – the knowledge of which is kept secret to this very day from the world. Could the terrible deaths of today been foreseen all those centuries ago? It takes Will Piper to stand up against a power stronger than he. Can he survive to reach the end of the investigation?

Review:
Let me put this title in to perspective. Is it going to be a life changing book? No. Are you going to feel resonances of this book days after finishing it? Not very likely. Is it the kind of book that keeps me flipping those pages over as it is gripping? More than likely, yes!

Library of the Dead is what I would class as candy floss for the brain. Quality candy floss though... It is an exciting read to begin with, although the story does seem to loose its way a little during the middle, but then appears to get back on track for the finale.

This title is the sort of book perfect for the beach (I hazard a guess that is why it is being released in time for the summer market). You will not go far wrong with this book whilst cooking under the Mediterranean sun, for example. You will enjoy it and pass it on to the next person. You may not even remember the plot very well but you will know that you enjoyed it. So, please go ahead and read this strange, yet intriguing book.

Da Vinci Code it ain't, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it?

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Brian Freeman - The Watcher

"...will certainly keep the reader guessing..."

Synopsis:
One murder has haunted Lieutenant Jonathan Stride for thirty years. In
1977 his girlfriend's sister was savagely beaten to death. Stride came face to face with the suspect – and let the man escape.

When writer Tish Verdure begins a book about the decades-old murder, Stride is reluctant to re-open the case. But Tish has new evidence that raises shocking questions about the actions of the police... and even Stride's own wife.

The new investigation scares someone who is desperate to keep their secrets hidden. Tish receives threats. A teenage girl is hounded to her death. And Stride finds himself chasing the twisted trail of a voyeur who may hold the key to two brutal crimes.

With new deaths on his conscience, Stride races toward a devastating confrontation high above the deadly waters of Lake Superior. There, he and Tish will both face their worst fears – and the truth about the past.

Review:
For regular readers of Freeman's books. the story itself gives an insight into Stride's personal life and his often mentioned relationship with his late wife Cindy which they will find interesting.

The storyline will certainly keep the reader guessing although I did feel the ultimate revelation was a little too obvious.

For some reason I find it difficult to like or connect with Stride's partner, Serena, although I can find no reason for this. Freeman's other characters are easy to associate with Stride especially being an easy-going person.

The book is very well written although I did find it a little confusing with the past events being written under the heading 'by Tish Verdure' but are actually the words of Cindy.

Overall I found The Watcher to be an enjoyable read despite having a slightly predictable ending.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: