Click a logo below for more information...
 
 

Reviews

December 2010

MC Beaton - Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body

"With Beaton’s whiplash writing, Agatha appears to stumble across bodies, suspects and murderers with alarming regularity."

Synopsis:
Having decided that she has had enough of Christmas, Agatha decides to go abroad for the festive season. However, with most of the shops and restaurants closed and the weather very cold, Agatha beats a hasty retreat back home. Expecting lots of fairy lights and decorations, Agatha is bewildered to find that John Sunday, the local Health and Safety 'jobsworth' has put the kibosh on anything that could be deemed a hazard regarding Christmas decorations.

During a meeting to try and oust the menace, the man in question, Mr. Sunday turns up dead. Was anyone that angry with the man to kill him over his stance on mere Christmas decorations? When another body is soon found, Agatha is yet again on the hunt and as she blunders from body to body until Agatha finally gets her killer.

Review:
For her growing army of fans, here is another cracking case that puts Agatha squarely in the spotlight. With Beaton's whiplash writing, Agatha appears to stumble across bodies, suspects and murderers with alarming regularity. As always, the real reason we read of Agatha adventures is to cringe and laugh at her exploits and the mad way she has of rubbing everyone she comes in to contact with up the wrong way.

'Busy Body' has its quotient of bodies and there are enough inroads and paths to keep this story moving slickly. And to keep her readers on their seats even more so, James makes a cameo appearance and gets involved with Agatha. Is the love dead between them? It seems that even that path still has plenty of mileage!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Hill - The Small Hand

"‘The Small Hand’ is a marvellous ghost story that bears the hallmark of a master wordsmith at her best."

Synopsis:
On a summer's night, Adam Snow - after delivering a rare book to one of his more affluent clients - takes a wrong turn and finds himself faced with a derelict Edwardian house down a long, narrow lane. Compelled by some unknown force or instinct, Adam wanders around what were once the celebrated gardens of the 'White House'. As Adam strolls around the overgrown remains of weeds and grass he feels a light, small hand slide into his, touching his palm, his fingers embracing the imaginary phantom hand.

But is it imaginary?

As the weeks and months pass, Adam suffers bad dreams, nightmares of the hand pulling him into darkness. The hand visits him now and again, first with gentleness but later the hand is insistent, pulling him towards ponds, a river and even a sheer drop. As Adam fights against giving in to this force he believes the answer lies with the 'White House'. Adam doesn't know how right he is and how what is happening now echoes down from his own long forgotten past.

Review:
Here we have yet another wonderful ghost story from Ms.Hill. 'The Small Hand', like her other ghost stories, is short - more a novella. Hill is such a gifted writer that she has the ability to use a handful of words to describe a feeling, or set the atmosphere of a place, or even better to chill the spine of her reader. Few writers have this talent to convey menace or joy or tranquillity with a word, one of whom was the much missed Dame Beryl Bainbridge who's short novels gave more to the senses of her readers than any writer of large tomes (although they do have their place – some times!).

The scene when Adam meets the celebrated gardener, Denisa Parsons is a masterclass in the Gothic macabre. I loved the point that Hill was making, that there can still be dangers - even in a Garden of Eden. Some will doubtless say that this is not the same as 'The Woman in Black'. Yes, I concur that it does not reach that level of fear – (I can still recall myself thinking I couldn't continue reading it as I raced to the ending, the hairs on the back of my neck stiff with fright), but 'The Small Hand' still manages to cast a sense of menace over her story like a veil of blackened spider webs. The description of Adam's visit to the French monastery s moving and makes you wonder if we are all merely pawns of a greater power. 'The Small Hand' is a marvellous ghost story that bears the hallmark of a master wordsmith at her best.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Various - Sounds of Crime

"Whatever your preference, you cannot go far wrong getting this in your stocking."

Synopsis:
Five stories from five different crime authors. Block's story involves a team of cleaners intent on sorting out the rubbish which has piled into every nook and cranny in Dolly's house over the years. So much so that she has to sleep outside on the porch as there is nowhere else for her to lay her head. But as the rubbish begins to be moved the cleaners and officials find there is more than they bargained for amongst the detritus of Dolly's manic collection of waste. Peter James takes us to Germany where a woman escapes her controlling husband for a new life in a small German village. But before she can move on she must bury the past – quite literally.

McDermid's entrée is a Tony Hill story about a madman killing people on Hallowe'en and other public holidays. Can he manage to figure out the killer's way of thinking before he makes his killing for The Christmas festivities? Billingham tries his hand at 'noir' with a tale of loss and sadness as a man and a woman meet for the one and only time as unbeknownst to the other, they await the retribution of another's crime that changed all their lives. And finally, from Christopher Fowler, a tale of misguided children in a story that unravels a simple deception that ends in an accusation that will blow the whole scam to pieces.

Review:
This is a new concept – new stories from crime authors in audio format. This is an anthology of a kind – simply one as an audio rather than in book form. As always with these collections I enjoyed some more than others but I did feel that all had their strengths and weaknesses. There is a fine art to writing short stories and it doesn't come naturally to everyone.

My favourite of the collection has to be the Lawrence Block. Although the ending isn't exactly breath taking, you can feel that sentence by sentence the menace is always building and you feel, although not put your finger on the 'why', that all is not going to turn out well. Mainly with dialogue, Block sets the scene and gives history as well as characterisation which really makes 'Dolly's Trash and Treasures' a joy to listen to. The same can be said for Christopher Fowler's addition, 'The Deceivers'. A cleverly told story that involves youngsters involving themselves in a scam that blows out of all proportions. As the myth of a ghost's screams on a hill pulls in the ghouls of the general public, other events are taking place that threaten to overthrow the teenagers and their naivety. 'The Deceivers' is a brilliant, sharply observed story that is made spell binding by the fantastic narrative of the young narrator of this story.

The remainder do hold their own. In James' story a woman is escaping her husband who has a penchant for sadomasochism. I am sure that this is another sub-plot I have read in one of James' books. James always likes to put a sting in the tale of his stories – and he delivers one for this story, too. Has she really found her Prince Charming or simply jumped from the frying pan in to the fire? Billingham's effort at 'noir' is a sad tale but extremely well portrayed. I am always sceptical of Brits trying to emulate the 'noir' classics but in 'The Walls' Billingham weaves a poignant tale of love and loss. McDermid's tale, 'Happy Holidays', is a Tony Hill to keep her fans ticking over until his next novel. Although I did enjoy this and felt it had all the required McDermid hallmarks, I did feel that the ending was slightly rushed. Maybe I wanted Hill to stick around a little longer than he did.

Whatever your preference, you cannot go far wrong getting this in your stocking. Then you can wile away the festive season smiling away at your family, not hearing a thing they're saying as you slyly listen to your favourites on your concealed earphones!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Hurley - Borrowed Light

"Hurley is an expert in understanding the characters of his protagonists and the development of the relationships between them."

Synopsis:
D/I Joe Faraday was enjoying a holiday in the Middle East with his partner, Gabrielle, when they were involved in a serious car accident. Faraday is quite badly injured, whilst Gabrielle escapes more lightly, but becomes attached to a very seriously ill young Palestine girl and, indeed, wants to adopt her, despite all the advice to the contrary. Faraday returns to the UK and is dragged back to work before he has fully recovered to investigate the deaths of four people in a farmhouse. His sergeant, Jimmy Suttle, is concerned as Faraday is not functioning to his considerable best.

Ex-cop, Paul Winter, is still working for drug lord Bazza McKenzie but becoming uneasy about the questionable actions expected from him by McKenzie. The comfortable life he now has is undoubtedly enticing, but McKenzie's amoral attitudes cause him concern.

Bazza has lost considerable amounts of money on his property investments. He is relying on a hidden stash of “insurance” cocaine to keep him solvent. When this goes missing and the custodian of the loot appears to have died in the farmhouse fire, Winter is despatched to sort it out. As always, McKenzie plays his cards very close to his chest, and this only serves to exasperate Winter even more.

Faraday is struggling, Winter is unsettled and McKenzie is threatened by ruin and the loss of his fragile good reputation. This is the recipe for another fascinating and exciting tale.

Review:
I look forward with great expectation when I first open the latest offering from Graham Hurley. Well known and respected for his accurate and totally believable police procedural novels, Hurley is an expert in understanding the characters of his protagonists and the development of the relationships between them. In this novel Faraday has reached a crisis point both in his professional life, where he is disillusioned with police work, and in his emotional life, where he feels distanced from his son and his partner. The future looks gloomy for him and Hurley's deft touch means that Faraday's reactions are always convincing and entirely understandable.

Likewise, Paul Winter's journey from maverick cop to sidekick of a drug baron aiming for respectability in the field of politics is completely rational, given the events that triggered his decision. In this book, his growing realisation of where this decision has led him results in another completely logical and understandable review of his position.

Other characters in the series such as Jimmy Suttle develop and grow, whilst Bazza's wife, Marie, and his mistress, Misty Gallagher, continue to provide a little intrigue. A wonderful book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffery Deaver - Edge

"An unmissable read for all Deaver fans."

Synopsis:
When Washington D.C. police detective Ryan Kessler is targeted by Henry Loving, he and his family are immediately put under government protection. Loving is a ruthless "lifter", hired to extract information from his victims, and he will use whatever means necessary including kidnapping, torturing or killing their family.

Assigned to the Kesslers is protection officer Corte: uncompromising, relentlessly devoted to protecting those in his care and a brilliant game strategist. He also knows just how brutal the lifter can be – six years earlier, Loving killed someone close to him. As tension increases between the family, the situation escalates into a deadly contest between protector and lifter as each tries to outwit the other. And as the lifter closes in on his prey, Corte must decide whether to protect his charges, or expose them to a killer in the name of personal revenge.

Review:
Just when I thought Deaver couldn't create a better character than Lincoln Ryhme, along comes Corte. He is deep, insightful, innovative and - as expected with Deaver - highly intelligent. The introduction of a 'lifter' and-'shepherd' were professions not often used in run-of-the mill thrillers, and a real change from Deaver's usual forensic based novels. However, as with all his books, the attention to detail was second to none, giving a real insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes.

The focus of the plot moved from person to person in true Deaver fashion, but surprisingly I was able to work out who was behind the crime, if not the reason, which is most unusual for a Deaver plot. But this did not spoil my enjoyment of meeting the new character Corte, or seeing Deaver excel in a completely different field. I am hoping that Corte will be a regular in Deaver's new novels.

An unmissable read for all Deaver fans.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nelson Demille - The Lion

"...his storytelling is second to none."

Synopsis:
John Corey, former NYPD homicide detective and now a special agent for the Anti-Terrorist Task Force, is back. Unfortunately for Corey, so is Asad Khalil, the notorious Libyan terrorist otherwise known as "The Lion." When last we heard from him, Khalil had claimed to be defecting to the U.S. only to unleash the most horrific reign of terror ever to occur on American soil. While Corey and his partner, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, pursued him across the country, Khalil methodically eliminated his victims one by one and then disappeared without a trace.

Now, three years later, Khalil has returned to America to make good on his threats and take care of unfinished business. "The Lion" is a killing machine once again loose in America with a mission of revenge and John Corey will stop at nothing to achieve his own goal - to find and kill Khalil.

Review:
Terrorism seems to be the popular theme of the moment for thriller novels and whilst I find the whole terrorist/religious war a tad mundane, I have to say Demille has a certain way about him. His main character, Corey, was an instant hit with me and managed to bring a wry smile to my face on more than one occasion with his humour and sarcasm, which is something that does not often travel well from the States.

The plot is very intricate and intelligent, as is the writing and, although I have not read any of Demille's previous books, it is obvious he is an established and successful author as his storytelling is second to none.

The Lion is a traditional good versus evil, one man having to save the day type of book. But there is plenty of action to be had, together with some superb dialogue. And even though I am finding the whole terrorism plot tiresome, this book kept me entertained from start to finish, although I would like to see Corey on a good old fashioned serial murder case.

A thoroughly gripping read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Cain - Dictator

"I’m surprised my page turning finger isn’t blistered such was the turnover rate."

Synopsis:
The African continent has had many dictators, but Henderson Gushungo may be the worst of all. Opponents are imprisoned while millions starve. Meanwhile Gushungo and his cronies grow rich from the country's many natural resources.

Samuel Carver is offered the job of removing the current regime by a consortium of powerful businessmen and politicians. Will the taking of one life save millions of others? Are the men who hired Carver to be trusted?

As the action travels from the busy streets of Hong Kong to the lonely plains of southern Africa, a foe Carver thought he had killed 10 years previously shows his face again to re-engage him. What started out as a relatively straightforward and lucrative job for Carver soon becomes a cat and mouse game with an entire nation as the survivors reward.

Review:
Dictator is an outstanding novel which has both Cain and Carver displaying some masterful tradecraft. Set-piece action abounds as does a powerful plot and a deep, moral question. The pace starts off fast and builds up to frantic in what seems like a blink of the eye. I only noticed quite how much of Dictator I had read without pause, (200+ pages) when I got up to make a sandwich. I'm surprised my page turning finger isn't blistered such was the turnover rate.

The plot is intricate enough to be obscure, yet is not overly encumbered with lengthy explanations, bewildering twists or redundant scenes. The one major twist of the novel was one which I suspected from early in the book and I wore the satisfying smugness of one who guessed correctly until the last page. Dictator also raises the moral question of whether a dictatorial government should be overthrown by outsiders for the good of the country's population or whether the country should be left to it's devices as one despot removed may only make room for another to prosper. Remember the old adage, “when a man leaves his wife and marries his mistress, an opening is created.”

One of the best scenes for me was one which paid homage to Ian Fleming's Bond by replicating a contest where skill, courage and nerve were required elements. It is a brave author indeed who will try their hand at creating a scene which could have fit into a “Bond” book. Cain has both the courage and skill to pull this off. There was also a subtle nod to Wilbur Smith in the book which shared many similar locales to Smith's early novels. After mimicking Ian Fleming and borrowing from Wilbur Smith, who will be next in line for some respectful homage, Dickens? Tolstoy? Christie or Chandler? Whoever it is, Cain has the penmanship to make it seamlessly work in a way that benefits the reader first and foremost.

Carver is slowly being fleshed out by Cain as each new novel arrives, yet we still have many layers left to uncover. Zalika, Flattie Morrison, Moses Mabeki and Justus Iluko are all fine characters and I think that Cain uses these peripheral characters rather than Carver to display emotions, leaving Carver more intact emotionally. Flattie Morrison, in particular, is very pleasurable company, despite his small contribution.

I have read and reviewed 2 of Tom Cain's novels in the last month and after finishing Dictator I was saddened to realise that it will be months before the next one comes along...

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Aline Templeton - Cradle to Grave

"Another totally satisfying book from Aline Templeton."

Synopsis:
Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming has just returned to work after a suspension. She has been cleared but everyone knows that she made a foolish mistake in her last case, albeit for genuine reasons. As a result she is very much on probation and has to prove to the bosses that she has returned to her former excellent form. What's more, she has upset her loyal and trusted sergeant, Tam MacNee. Tam has his own problems as his beloved wife is away from home and he has not started off on the right foot with the new detective constable, Kim Kershaw.

The local youngsters are looking forward to a pop festival held on a local estate but it causes problems for the police not only in policing it but in managing local discontent. Terrible storms hit the area causing cliff falls and major transport disruption and cutting off electricity. A body is discovered in a cottage destroyed by the cliff fall. In investigating this Marjory and Tam are cut off by the destruction of a bridge and are forced to spend the night at the home of the entrepreneur holding the pop festival. There Marjory's past confronts her in the form of a major pop idol with whom she had a relationship in her youth.

A young girl has escaped the rock fall but is hiding from someone and is concealing a terrible secret. The festival may be a front for other criminal deeds and when the promoter is himself found murdered Marjory finds herself under pressure from above to solve the case quickly. Powerful men are behind the money-making activities of the group promoting the pop festival.

Review:
As always, Aline Templeton combines the excitement and modernity of today's crime with a deft and truthful account of life in a small country district of Scotland. We have money laundering, international drug trafficking and world famous pop stars set down in a very remote part of southern Scotland where mobile reception is limited and bad weather stops even the most primitive of communication.

The characters that she describes are totally recognisable and all deal with the problems of their lives in a believable and understandable way. Aline Templeton has an excellent ear for dialogue and I can hear the conversations as I read them. She uses the dialect of the area but it never impedes the swift movement of the plot and only underlines the atmosphere.

Her heroine, “Big Marge”, is competent but not perfect, showing always compassion but sometimes misjudging her own reactions. She is an ordinary person with an ordinary family and works through the tensions of combining a consuming career with domestic life. Thanks in great part to a loyal family she succeeds in being that rare thing, a happily married detective.

In this book it is MacNee who manages to let his private life over-rule his work and for that consequences are paid. Another totally satisfying book from Aline Templeton.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Dick Francis and Felix Francis - Crossfire

"...you can’t help feeling that it is all ‘jolly good fun’ despite the use of shotguns..."

Synopsis:
Captain Thomas Forsyth is badly injured during a tour of Afghanistan, half of his leg blown off by an explosion. After six months of recuperation his only shelter is at Lambourn: his mother's house. Josephine Kauri is the 'first lady' of racing and she has never seen eye to eye with her only child. She seems to have more affection with her thoroughbreds. Feeling decidedly unwelcome by his mother and stepfather, Thomas begins to unravel a few 'home truths'. Why are his mothers horses loosing easy races when they are 'dead certs' to win? Why is his mother skittish when it comes to money?

As Thomas finally gets the truth from her, he uncovers a deadly trail of blackmail and extortion that runs into the millions. As he begins to find out who has their claws in his mother, Thomas realises that he will need to gather all his Army training to survive some very nasty people who will stop at nothing to keep their scam secret.

Review:
You know when you crack open a Dick Francis book that you are about to enter an adults version of the Famous Five or Secret Seven. The goodies and the baddies are easily delineated and easily spotted. As always, the action deals with the horse racing world and if this was to be true in real life, then the people who mingle in these circles seem to be a very unruly bunch indeed.

Despite trying to get a sense of menace going, you can't help feeling that it is all 'jolly good fun' despite the use of shotguns, etc. As most of the unpleasantness is remote, you don't really get a feel for the perpetrators of this crime until near the very end of the book. You can see that with regard to the Army training, Felix Francis has certainly done his homework. 'Crossfire' isn't the best Francis I have ever read, before or since this collaboration, but it is still a rollicking good romp and one that should sate any crime readers' appetite on a wet winter's afternoon.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Daniel Silva - The Rembrandt Affair

"Here is the same appeal as James Bond exerts - terrible deeds are allowed in the name of justice. "

Synopsis:
Gabriel Allon, master art restorer and master spy, has retired with his wife Chiara to the quiet shores of Cornwall to nurse his wounds and recover from the horrific consequences of his final job for the Office, otherwise known as the Israeli Secret Service. He is just beginning to find seclusion a trifle boring when art dealer Julian Isherwood, a contact from Allon's past, arrives to make a suggestion which will use Gabriel's many skills without involving his former masters in King Saul Boulevard.

A long lost portrait by Rembrandt is being restored when it is stolen and the restorer brutally murdered. To save Isherwood's skin and fortune Allon agrees to search out the painting. The search takes him from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires, from Marseilles to Paris, and finally to Geneva. Inevitable he is drawn back into the world of espionage and his old friends in Israel, the United States and Britain. The corruption of money overpowers ethical considerations and a Swiss billionaire who has a reputation as a great philanthropist proves to have a very guilty secret linked to Nazi plunder...

Review:
I love the moment when I have a new unread story of Gabriel Allon to open. I know I will have an exciting, fast moving and utterly gripping escape to turn to. It is always slightly tinged with a sense of guilt because Allon carries out the most clinical and efficient murders whenever it becomes necessary. However, all are justified by the need to remove terrible threats to the safety of the world and all the victims are particularly unpleasant characters. Here is the same appeal as James Bond exerts - terrible deeds are allowed in the name of justice.

Allon is particularly clever and dextrous in carrying out his plans, and with all this he is an attractive man with a beautiful wife, a past full of tragedy and the amazing skills and knowledge of an art restorer.

The plot is, as always, modern and up to date and even seems to predict the news. This time the possibility of hidden Iranian nuclear plants prepared to provide fuel for nuclear weapons is introduced as the means by which unscrupulous men make huge fortunes. Another aspect that I enjoy is the feeling that we have insider information on the workings of the spy networks of the world. Daniel Silva is well researched and appears to have contacts with this world. It may not be true, but it is an exciting thought.

An excellent book which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Charlie Charters - Bolt Action

"A thoroughly enthralling debut..."

Synopsis:
After the events of 9/11, cockpit doors must be locked and impregnable to prevent a repeat of that day's terrible events. But what happens when the pilots are dead?

Tristie Merrit heads a renegade band of former servicemen. Their audacious scam is designed to force the UK government to pay millions to veteran's charities – provided that MI5 do not catch them first.

However when a plane is hijacked at 36,000 feet then Tristie and her colleagues are the only hope that the CIA and MI5 have of preventing a disaster which will plunge the world into unpredictable turmoil.

Review:
A thoroughly enthralling debut from Charters sees a massive terrorist atrocity, planned in such a clever way as to leave western government powerless. They're damned if they do and damned if they don't intervene. The basic idea behind the plot is terrifyingly simple and yet devastatingly effective.

The narrative starts out in different locations with different threads of the story and plot coming together to form a rope around the neck of the US President. The strands come together one by one and each makes perfect sense as the plot come to its conclusion. The pace is anything but sedentary and each set piece is carefully constructed to progress the tale just that little bit faster than the last. All of the ideas and ideals tackled are logically laid out and are utterly believable. This raises the tension further for the characters involved.

The central character of Tristie Merritt is portrayed with a seasoned touch, her team are all the kind of men expected to feature in an ex-forces group taking revenge on their government for their mistreatment. The villains of the piece are suitably sinister and the many spooks from MI5 and the CIA who are on the trail of Merritt's Ward 13 are all well structured without any surprises. Bill Lamayette and Sheila “Noppy” Devane are the characters I found the most compelling after Merritt even though they are interchangeable. Strangely, Merritt's role, while central, is understated and personally I would like to see her and her Ward 13 colleagues play a greater role in future novels. Merritt and her team though did make me feel a sense of injustice at the way returning soldiers are treated, and I am of the opinion that even in these financially tough times the UK public would agree with her intentions if not her methods.

While violence is always a feature of these kind of action thrillers, Charters uses it sparingly and instead uses guile and intelligence to achieve the characters aims rather than shock and awe tactics. There is, of course, some violence and one particular scene could have come from the pen of Thomas Harris such is its shocking intensity.

All together I would recommend Bolt Action to anyone who wants to read a damn good, gritty and realistic thriller.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Linda Castillo - Pray for Silence

"...a very talented author and a book that must be read."

Synopsis:
In the quiet town of Painters Mill an Amish family is found slaughtered on their farm. Kate Burkholder and her small police force have few clues, no motive and no suspect. Formerly Amish herself, Kate is no stranger to secrets, but she can't get her mind around the senseless brutality of the crime.

State agent John Tomasseti arrives on the scene to assist. He and Kate worked together on a previous case, and they're still setting the limits of a complex, difficult relationship. They soon learn that the disturbing details of this case threaten to push those boundaries to the breaking point.

When Kate discovers a diary, she realises a haunting personal connection to the case. One of the teenage daughters kept some very dark secrets and may have been leading a lurid double life. Driven by her own scarred past, Kate vows to find the killer and bring him to justice - even if it means putting herself in the line of fire.

Review:
Often when a second novel follows a superb debut, it is not always possible to deliver another book of the same quality. But Pray for Silence does not fall into this category. It is as exciting and gripping as Castilo's first book and builds on the main characters, Kate and Thomasseti, both in their personal and professional lives.

Castilo's novels are set partly in the Amish community and the facts given about this lifestyle can only add interest to what is a well planned and executed plot. I didn't find that I wanted to discover who the killer was, although I did keep guessing, but - because of the style in which Castilo writes - I found myself more just enjoying the book, which is not a regular occurance.

Castilo does not overtly spend too much time on describing people and situations, but this is done in such a subtle way that by the time you have finished reading the book you feel as though you know Kate and have even been to or seen pictures of the town, Painters Mill.

In my opinion, a very talented author and a book that must be read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Harper - The Lazarus Vault

"...a runaway train of a quest..."

Synopsis:
Impoverished graduate student Ellie Stanton is unexpectedly invited to join the small, secretive and fantastically wealthy Monsalvat Bank, deep in the heart of London. The offer they make her is one she cannot refuse.

But the bank is far more than it seems and Ellie soon realises that her life is now the property of her employers and they are guarding her closely. Buried in their vaults below the bank is a medieval treasure which has immeasurable power and is interlinked with Ellie's own history.

Ellie ands up in a race against time as she becomes hunted by the bank and pursued by her past. To win the race she must discover the secret of the item in the vault and restore the relic to its rightful home.

Getting into the vault is only the beginning though...

Review:
There is no such thing as a free lunch and boy does Ellie Stanton choose to learn this the hard way... She is rocketed from academic obscurity into the big leagues of banking and she has to work hard to stand still when she starts to discover things that make her question her employer's motives in hiring her. Mysterious meetings with strangers prompt her to dig deeper into matters and she ends up on a runaway train of a quest as she is hunted across Europe while she battles to track down the mysterious relic's history and discover the truth behind her father's involvement.

There are a number of authors writing this kind of novel where history is interspersed with modern day technology, yet few can rival Tom Harper for his skill at melding the two together and producing a story which drags the reader along in the same way a knight would drag his captured bride. Raging from medieval days in England and France to modern day times, Harper sets the scene, shouts action and directs the reader exactly where he wants them. Subtle touches of pathos, empathy and revulsion are used to make us like, love or loathe character as required.

Ellie starts off the naïve girl in a new job but ends up a worldly woman. Her plight is an interesting one as she struggles to juggle her new job and existing relationship with boyfriend Doug. Blanchard her new boss is a fantastically sinister creation who has ties far beyond her initial comprehension. Peter of Camros is the reformed medieval knight whose fate is also tied to the relic. Each of these three characters is essential to the novel and each is depicted with a scribe's sublime attention to detail.

All the elements you would expect to find in this sub-genre are there in abundance, the reluctant hero / heroine, the sinister yet wealthy villains, the historical detail and of course the mysterious protectors of an ancient secret combine to produce a fantastic adventure which swings across time effortlessly and has the reader rooting for Ellie and Peter by turn. Virtually every chapter ends in a cliff-hanger which compels the reader to keep reading. This is not an easy book to put down as it sticks to your hands like glue. For me it was a very welcome distraction to Simon Cowell's Cross Factor (So named because of the effect it has on me) which my wife insists on watching. My tip. Read The Lazarus Vault and stay calm.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin O'Brien - Confession

"...it is good to see a writer developing his style and central character."

Synopsis:
Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot is rudely disturbed from an evening with his lover Claudine by Solange Bonnefoy, the examining magistrate in Marseilles. But the call is not an official one.

Solange's niece, Elodie Lafour, has disappeared from Paris and she is linking the disappearance with the recent death of another girl who disappeared in the capital but was discovered in Marseilles. Jacquot reluctantly agrees to take on the case and go undercover to see if he can discover any evidence of a trade in young girls. But he has a turbulent history with Alain Gastal, the official investigator of the case and he is convinced that trouble will erupt.

Meanwhile Virginie Cabrille, the daughter of a local gangland boss has come to hear about the disappearance. Sensing an opportunity to both make money and exact revenge on a member of Elodie's family she instigates her own search for the girl. Marie Ange, a local psychic, has also picked up some disturbing clues to the girl's disappearance. Although initially investigating alone, she soon hooks up with the undercover Jacquot to help him with his search.

With so many people out looking for Elodie it is only a matter of time before she is discovered. But will it be Jaquot who gets there first?

Review:
This new Inspector Jacquot novel by Martin O'Brien is written in a slightly different vein from his previous books. The first four Jacquot books emphasised his international rugby playing past and developed his character as a pot smoking, long haired maverick detective. In this book, some of these attributes are played down. Instead the writer concentrates on developing what is quite an intricate plot involving various sections of Marseilles society.

Of these narrative strands, by far the most successful is that of Virginie Cabrille the amoral member of a prominent gangland family. She is a character that jumps off the page, although I personally found the violence that she dishes out too much to stomach. In contrast, the psychic Marie Ange is an almost ethereal creature who nevertheless plays an important part in solving the case. I was pleased to see her reappear in this novel and I hope she will be around in future books.

So we see in this latest Jacquot novel a new style detective and a different type of narrative. But the sense of place is still there and the reader is soon immersed in southern French life. I liked the style of this new book although the more violent scenes may turn off some of his previous readers. But it is good to see a writer developing his style and central character.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Caro Ramsey - Dark Water

"...add Caro Ramsay to the top of your next-book-to-be-read pile. "

Synopsis:
It's a frozen February in Glasgow and hanging from a rope in the attic of a deserted tenement building is the body of a criminal thought to have been hiding out on the Costa del Sol for the last ten years. His face has been horribly disfigured. Investigating officers DI Anderson and DS Costello believe the dead man to be a suspect in a decade-old case: the rape and attempted murder of a young student by two men.

There are other, similar cases on the books. But what has happened to the dead man's accomplice, 'Mr Click'? And with the discovery of another young woman who has been brutally attacked, detectives Anderson and Costello realize this terrifying psychopath has started working once again. They must use every trick in the book to stop him. For Mr Click has developed a hunger for his bloodthirsty trade. And to satisfy his lust he is sure to strike again and again.

Review:
The freezing fog that envelops the city of Glasgow during this story is like an extra character in this chilling read. It lends itself to the atmosphere and the reading experience so effectively that the book feels cold in your hand as you race through the pages.

Anderson and Costello are the detective dream team in literary Glasgow and their ongoing working relationship is one of the pleasures of Caro Ramsay's excellent series. They are beautifully observed, as are the petty politicking and the office intrigue that threatens to shadow the investigation.

The pace is spot on, the investigation weaves in and out like willow in a basket and the characters have you eating out of their collective hands. While balancing out the narrative, Ramsay also manages to get in a dig at society's celebrity obsessions and carefully satisfies our urge for murder and havoc.

You like Police Procedurals with colour, intelligence and heart? Do yourself a massive favour and add Caro Ramsay to the top of your next-book-to-be-read pile.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gerard O'Donovan - The Priest

"...one to watch for the future."

Synopsis:
The streets of Dublin are stalked by a killer who makes the sign of the cross before each attack. Then he sends his victims to God.

The daughter of a Spanish diplomat is brutally assaulted and left for dead, her body scarred with cross shaped burns. DI Mike Mulcahy is handed the case and he has do deal with all its horrors. The Priest is more evil and elusive than any adversary he has ever faced.

Mulcahy is teamed up with Claire Brogan and together the must stop The Priest before he carries out his divine yet murderous mission.

Review:
The Priest is a fine first outing for Mike Mulcahy who, I'm sure, will return in a series. O'Donovan captures perfectly the atmosphere of Dublin and at times you feel as if you are walking alongside the characters, such is his literary skill. The book is a standard police procedural and follows the usual rhythm of such novels with the explosive start and then the more detailed characterisations which follow among the revelations which lead to the finale.

The pace falters from time to time but never for long enough to lose the reader's interest. The prose is neither delicate nor brutal, instead it rolls with the action and events and gives a concise narrative. Mulcahy is a fine lead character who knows his own flaws and he is ably assisted by Claire Brogan who is the tradition “ball busting” female DI. The reporter, Siobhan Fallon, is a wonderful foil, providing both conflict and assistance to Mulcahy case.

I have read many police procedurals where the antagonists are rapists/murderers and the like, but I was surprised by one or two of the events and twists although some situations I could see right through. With practice O'Donovan will improve his craft and reach the lofty heights suggested by passages in this tome. He is definitely one to watch for the future.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Weeks - Kiss and Die

"graphic, gory and gruesome..."

Synopsis:
A serial killer is targeting adulterous businessmen in Hong Kong. Picking them up in bars using seductive methods Ruby then brutally tortures her victims before beheading them.

Hong Kong detective Johnny Mann is battling to come to terms with the legacy he is presented with after his father's death. His father was mixed up with a leading triad faction and Mann's new business partner is none other than CK Leung, the dragonhead of the triads. Leung deploys the most dangerous weapon in his arsenal, his beautiful but deadly daughter Victoria.

Mann is on the verge of destroying all he holds dear, as he plummets on a downward spiral. Yet he must pull himself together and quickly as Ruby's murderous spree shows no sign of stopping and she is closing in for the kill.

Review:
Lee Weeks and Johnny Mann are rising stars with Kiss & Die seeing them scale new heights together. Mann is a perfect hero, in the troubled detective, trying desparately to escape his past mould. Yet this is done with a subtle touch which avoids him being too much of a cliché. Yes he drinks too much; yes he has a long term sex partner who wants a commitment he cannot make; yes he is driven by his work. Yet none of these matter as his predicament is so despicable it would have anybody reaching for the bottle. His past ghosts haunt him too much for him to settle down and, let's be honest, who wants a hero who is happily married, teetotal and home early every night?

The pace of the novel is a constant canter interspersed with furious gallops as the tension is racked up by some clever prose and economic use of grammar. The detail in describing the “Mansions” is excellent and you have a feel for the place which can almost teleport you into Mann's world. Another compelling trait of Week's narrative is her characterisation of the main leads, all are portrayed skilfully and draw the emotions as required, whether it is empathy for Nina and Michelle, disgust at Victoria, CK or Rizal or outright revulsion and fear of Ruby. Ruby is one of the most sadistic killers I have ever had the pleasure of reading about and Week's tackles Ruby's depravities with almost a gay abandon and details torture, sexual sadism and murder in every gritty detail, in a way many of her contemparies would shy away from.

The plot is carefully wound and as tension mounts, it seems as if Mann will disintegrate and you are left wondering whether he will join the dark side or simply implode. The final pages grip the reader tightly, as you rifle through them watching events unfold in a dramatic climax.

All in all Kiss & Die is graphic, gory and gruesome. I can't wait for her next book.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Karen Campbell - Shadowplay

"Campbell delivers the story in an assured fashion."

Synopsis:
Anna Cameron has been promoted to Chief Inspector and has moved to a new division, this time with a female boss, Commander Marion Hamilton. Anna starts off with optimism that she can make a new start and put behind her the trauma of Easterhouse and move on to pastures new in Giffnock. She soon finds that female solidarity is not on the agenda.

A young Asian boy is murdered in what appears to be a gang fight, an old lady disappears from a care home leaving a distraught room mate and a worried son. Counterfeit money is found in the area and it may be part of a nationwide scam. At the same time as dealing with the non-stop pressures of policing, particularly in a new job, Anna is juggling with rivalries and jealousies in the force. Her personal life is also in turmoil: her mother is taken ill in her home in Spain; Anna is approaching forty and is evaluating her own life; and a new relationship causes her to rethink her own commitments.

Review:
Karen Campbell manages the plot cleverly and with all the knowledge that a background in the police force gives her. Glasgow, with its warring gangs and area rivalries is beautifully described. The nuances of place and the attitude of those who live there is so true to life, as is the cocky humour and hard-boiled attitudes of the inhabitants. Added to the old Glasgow is the problem of the illegal immigrants who are forced into crime because of fear of being unveiled.

Complicated webs of family relationships linked to criminal conspiracy are the heart of this plot and Campbell delivers the story in an assured fashion.

Added to this I particularly like the insight into emotions and motivations that Karen Campbell shows. Nobody is perfect and none of the characters here are. Most are mixtures of altruism, ambition, greed,hard work and laissez-faire, complicated by sexual tension and genuine love. It results in a cast of characters who are entirely believable and some of whom are completely sympathetic. Anna is frustrating but ultimately a storming good heroine.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Marcus Sakey - No Turning Back

"...very cleverly done..."

Synopsis:
Alex is failing as a father.
Ian keeps dangerous secrets.
Jenn wants adventure.
Mitch wants Jenn.

Four friends just scraping by, finding comfort in each other and the hope that things will get better. But as their twenties fade in the rear-view mirror, none of them are turning out to be who – or where – they hoped.

At a time when CEOs steal millions while their employees watch savings dwindle, these four are tired of the honest approach. They're going to stop waiting and start taking.

They have a failsafe, victimless plan that will change their lives for ever.

What could possibly go wrong?

Review:
No Turning Back dealt more with the moral dilemma the four friends found themselves in after committing a crime, rather than delivering the fast-paced thriller of Sakey's debut novel. The book started very slowly and took time for the story to gather any momentum. And even then the four main characters remained self-absorbed and rather bland. Their characters did change over time and adapt to the situations in the book and I think this was very cleverly done, showing how people will change or do something for love, money or fear.

I found the end rather disappointing and very 'American', with the need for a hero, and would have liked to have seen an ending that wasn't a crowd pleaser.

No Turning Back was easy to read, had a couple of unexpected twists, a good plot which may make you question what you would do in that situation, but not the most thrilling of thrillers that will be read this year.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: