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Reviews

March 2010

Lee Child - 61 Hours

"...Jack Reacher’s finest hour..."

Synopsis:
Jack Reacher lives a transient lifestyle which sees him board a bus passing through South Dakota in the middle of winter. The bus crashes after slipping on the icy road. Reacher and his fellow passengers are rescued by the police force form a local town called Bolton.

Bolton is a prison town with a problem; they have a witness to protect before a trial a month away and a killer who has to eliminate the witness to protect his family from the Mexican gangster Plato.

Reacher becomes embroiled in the events as he is billeted with deputy Sheriff Andrew Peterson after the crash. And Jack Reacher is a man who cannot abide injustices and the wrongs of others. Whilst prepared for anything man can through at him the elements hamper Reacher and his quest to help out the Bolton Police force.

Review:
This has to be Jack Reacher's finest hour as he is pitted against an unknown killer, a drug baron and the extreme cold of a South Dakota winter.

The novel has an inexorable countdown to which all the combatants are oblivious and it is only in the final pages that the reader learns the reasons behind the countdown. As ever, Lee Child has written a fantastic story featuring his creation Jack Reacher, a character who epitomises the archetypal 'decent honest guy' who lives by his own rules and code of honour. He bothers nobody and allows nobody to cause him trouble.

The rattling fast pace of the book is driven by the tautness of the prose and the tension driven by the ticking clock. The characters are all as excellent as you would expect and there is a fantastic piece of telephone flirting involving Reacher and a previously unknown character. There are passages in the book which Child uses to display Reacher flexing his own deductive powers. Never before have I read such well reasoned arguments based on such a small amount of information! Jack Reacher has enough investigative skills and logical thoughts to make Sherlock Holmes himself look shabby.

Personally, I would love to see a new Jack Reacher book hit the book shelves every week, however not even the mercurial talent of Lee Child can produce the goods that fast and retain this kind of quality. 61 hours grabbed me with a vice-like grip and it was only the fact that I work for myself that stopped me throwing a 'sickie' and staying home to finish it sooner. If this is your first read of a Reacher novel by Lee Child be warned that before you know it you'll be in a bookshop buying more...

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joseph Wambaugh - Hollywood Moon

"...a born story-teller..."

Synopsis:
Ordinary isn't an adjective you'd associate with Hollywood; and Hollywood certainly isn't your conventional police precinct. These days it seems even more outlandish than usual, from drag queens in action behind dumpsters to men in massage parlours receiving the weirdest injuries from Barbie dolls. The cops at the precinct have peculiarities of their own: Hollywood Nate still dreams of movie stardom, but worries that he's too good-looking to be a character actor. Then there's Dana Vaughn, a tough no-nonsense cop who can't stand the fact that former chauvinist pig Lee Murillo has become her new guardian angel after she saved his life.

But there's a darker side to all that eccentricity - and when the enigmatic crook, Dewey Gleason, hatches an audacious kidnap plan without knowing that one of the hired help lives a double life as a serial sex attacker things start to get very dangerous indeed.

Review:
It has been a while since I read any of Wambaugh's offerings and when I was given the chance to read this one, I jumped at it.

If you are new to him then let me prepare the way for you a little. From the beginning you may be taken aback a little by the rambling storyline, the large cast of characters and the anecdotal nature of the narrative. My advice is to stick with it; the reward is well worth it.

Every writer recognises the truth in the cliché that says fact can be stranger than fiction. With any other writer than Wambaugh a reader might be left shaking their head and dismissing certain parts of the story as almost too unbelievable, but Wambaugh manages to pass this off with aplomb. He clearly retains contacts in the force, for some of the stories he relates here are so crazy they simply must be true!

In Hollywood Moon, Joseph Wambaugh throws out all of these kooky characters and seemingly unrelated incidents onto the page, but then displaying the mastery of a born story-teller he gathers all of the threads together, ups the pace and before you know it you are racing towards the end.
This is fascinating, entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Richard North Pattterson - The Spire

"...a magnificently subtle touch that draws you along as each little piece is revealed. "

Synopsis:
Professor Lionel Farr intervenes in the life of young scholar Mark Darrow and mentors him through his college life. Darrow's best friend, Steve Tillman, is accused of murdering fellow student Angela Hall after Darrow finds her body at the base of the Spire in the centre of the college campus.

Fast forward... 16 years and Darrow returns as college principal after being offered the position by Farr who is now provost of the college. Farr wants his protégé to lead Caldwell College through the scandal of the previous president's theft of college funds. Darrow is now a successful and wealthy lawyer who was a college football hero and a star student and his return can be just the boost the college needs to drive it forward.

However Darrow's experience as a trial lawyer leads him to question the events which took place 16 years previously. Despite his new responsibilities and his growing attachment to Farr's daughter Taylor, he investigates into what actually happened all those years ago and has to confront old friends and foes in the search for the truth. Darrow becomes convinced that his friend was jailed for a crime he did commit and that Angela Hall's killer is still at large.

Review:
A masterpiece of crime fiction writing sees the past come back to haunt individual characters and a whole college. Patterson has penned a wonderful homecoming novel which has murder, love and embezzlement as its main themes. The story is tightly wrapped around the events which happened 16 years previously and their emotional fallout.

Darrow is a carefully crafted character whose goodness shines through as does his gratitude towards mentor Lionel Farr. Emotions are tackled head on by Patterson as he deals with Darrow's loss of his wife and child, his emerging feelings for Taylor and his personal recriminations about whether he was a good enough friend to Steve Tillman. Lionel and Taylor Farr make good accomplices and the surrounding characters of the novel are all expertly drawn.

The book has a curious way of gripping you and making you read just one more page before you can put it down. I put this down to the author's skill in reeling the reader into his net. This is not done with action sequences or a series of twists and turns which scramble the brain, but with a magnificently subtle touch that draws you along as each little piece is revealed.

The Spire is a crime novel with a difference, there is no lead police investigator, forensic examiners, psychologists or private eyes. Instead Patterson's ever burgeoning ability turns the story of an ordinary guy looking into an old crime that concerned one of his friends into a full blown page turner.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Crais - The First Rule

"This is heroic fiction with high voltage action scenes as carefully choreographed as anything on the broadway stage."

Synopsis:
The team thought that Frank Meyer had got out of the 'life' safely. For the love of a good woman, he had put an end to his days as a mercenary and settled down to a normal life with a “proper” job and 2.4 children. It had been a decision he laboured over, but encouraged by his boss and friend Joe Pike, he committed to it and walked away from the only life he had ever known.

Ten years later, a group of vicious killers charge into his Los Angeles home and brutally gun him and his family down. The job bears all the hallmarks of a professional outfit. They are in and out of the house quickly, having caused the maximum damage. The perfect hit. But unknowingly, they have made one massive mistake - Joe Pike. Because Pike is now locked-on - determined to hunt down and eliminate everyone involved in the attack. One by one. #

The local cops are convinced that Frank never entirely left his former life and their cursory investigation convinces them that Frank was involved with some unsavoury characters, and that the deal backfired big time. Pike knows better. He starts his own investigation and it doesn't matter that, as he delves deeper into the events of that traumatic evening, he discovers that this group of criminals are bigger and more well-organised than he ever could have imagined - part of sprawling gang of east European mafia. None of that concerns him. One of his team has been killed and everybody involved will pay the ultimate price.

Review:
Fans of Robert Crais will be well aware of his work with Elvis Cole and his side-kick, the enigmatic Joe Pike. Most of the previous works are fronted by Elvis, but in The First Rule, Joe gets the nod.

Joe Pike is my favourite “bad”, good guy out there. Crais has created a wonderful character who embodies everything you want from an action hero. An expert fighter, with or without weapons, dependable to the last, and with an unwavering belief in his own set of ideals. He will act as judge, jury and executioner and once set on that path he will do so without question.

You would be mistaken if you were to think that Pike is a creation of two-dimensions. Alongside this battery of weapons, he has the ability to centre himself like a Buddhist and the occasional moment where you will feel the resonant “aah” of a lucid human connection.

With an action character this good there might be the concern there will be no tension. Pike (and Elvis Cole) are match for anybody they come up against, right? However, Robert Crais handles this aspect brilliantly. As you read you may feel certain that Pike will do the job but you never know just how he is going to do it and Crais carefully plants the seed that maybe - just maybe - this time Pike has met his match.

This is heroic fiction with high voltage action scenes as carefully choreographed as anything on the broadway stage. Once again Robert Crais delivers. What can I say? I'm a fan. Read this and you will be too.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jon Stock - Dead Spy Running

"Fans of Spooks will enjoy this book."

Synopsis:
Daniel Marchant is the son of the ex-chief of MI6 who left the service after accusations of treachery by the CIA and then died, a disappointed man. Daniel himself is suspended whilst investigations into his loyalty are carried out.

He is persuaded by his girlfriend and fellow agent to take part in the London Marathon. In the middle of the crowds of runners his trained eye spots a runner strapped with explosives and close to the US London ambassador. Marchant's subsequent actions save the American –or do they? He is suspected of engineering the whole situation and to prove his innocence he has to undertake his own investigation that leads him into dangerous encounters both with terrorists and friendly fire. The twisted relationships between friends and foe provide a satisfying and challenging plot. ]

Roaring ambition, personal animosity and family loyalties all compete for the minds of the protagonists.

Review:
In the light of recent revelations about possible Mossad activities, the machinations and plotting and counter plotting of this tale are only too believable. The tensions between the different approaches of the CIA and MI6 are well drawn out.

The lack of trust between spies and the double dealing of all contribute to the exciting and fast moving plot. Background colour on India is authentic. I particularly liked the descriptions of the various family loyalties that drive the main characters actions. Fans of Spooks will enjoy this book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jillianne Hoffman - Pretty Little Things

"...a welcome return for Hoffman."

Synopsis:
Special Agent Bobby Dees knows what grief feels like. He understands the pain of losing a child. And he′ll do whatever he can to prevent it from happening again. The phone call that comes on a Sunday morning will take him away from his insular world of grief and sleepless nights - and into a far darker place.

A young girl, Elaine Emerson, has gone missing and only Dees has a chance of finding her. It seems that Elaine had gone to meet her boyfriend, a mysterious figure she met secretly on the internet, who goes by the name of "Boogeyman", and whose reality is as cruel and chilling as the worst thing Dees can imagine.

Review:
Pretty Little Things is Hoffman's new novel in which she leaves the courtroom and legal emphasis from previous books and moves more into the killer/thriller genre. It is a move that works well.

Her first book, Retribution, was a superb read, but I felt slightly let down reading her second novel. However, this latest one definitely returns Hoffman to the top of the pile.

The story starts with a gripping opening, but did slow down a little. However, not for long and once hooked it was impossible to put down. There are no real clues to help the reader work out the killer, but this did not take away from my enjoyment of the book.

There is also a sub-plot running through the book, and although the ending was left slightly open - presumbaly for Bobby Dees to return in later books - there was nothing left unaswered or unfinished.

All in all, a great book that will appeal to all readers who enjoy a good crime novel set in America. Pretty Little Things has a wide range of realistic characters and a believeable storyline and brings a welcome return for Hoffman.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Camilla Lackberg - The Preacher

"The most disturbing aspect of the book is when Lackberg switches to the voices of the murdered women."

Synopsis:
In the remote fishing community of Fjallbacka in Sweden, the disappearance of two young women over twenty years ago has remained a puzzling mystery. When a young boy stumbles over the naked body of young girl he unwittingly reveals of the final resting place of the missing women.

Now local detective, Patrik Hedstrom, has three corpses to deal with, and two cases to solves with twenty years between them. Some members of the local community have their own opinions of the likely culprit, although worryingly one of the suspects is long dead. When another young girl goes missing it is up to the police to pull together all the leads it has. But a family feud threatens to wreck the case and religious fanaticism and family secrets overshadow the investigation.

Review:
Camilla Lackberg made an excellent debut on the crime fiction scene with her book The Ice Princess. Her latest novel is set in the same region of Sweden and involves the return of local detective Patrik Hedstrom.

In The Ice Princess Patrik had become romantically involved with Erika , a local woman, and in this latest book Erika is now heavily pregnant. Erika was an integral character of the first book but plays a minor role in its sequel However the scenes involving her in this book are some of the most interesting, not least those involving her relationship with her physically abused sister as she moves on from one damaging relationship to another.

The murder case is well constructed with the religious fanaticism portrayed without hysteria. The most disturbing aspect of the book is when Lackberg switches to the voices of the murdered women. This is very distressing to read and not for the faint of heart. But it does give a voice to the victims which makes the crimes seem even more tragic. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Will Adams - The Lost Labyrinth

"...tightly wound and marvellously fast paced..."

Synopsis:
The evening before a sensational revelation at a conference, the reclusive archaeologist Roland Petitier is found dying in his Athens hotel room. Why did a police officer beat Augustin Pascal into a coma and why is the Georgian psychopath Mikhail Nergadze so interested in Petitiers discovery?

Daniel Knox and his partner Gaille Bonnard set out to clear Pascal's name and are drawn ever deeper into the complexities of a mystery concerning as yet undiscovered ancient artefacts and political high stakes. This quest leads them into contact with the thoroughly amoral Nergadze and his murderous henchmen.

Review:
Having read both of the previous books featuring Daniel Knox and Gaille Bonnard, when it came to reviewing this book I was expecting yet another rollercoaster ride through antiquity. As ever Adams does not disappoint with a characteristically fast paced thriller.

Daniel Knox is growing in stature as a character apace with Adams' development as an author. The introspection shown in the few slower moments is wonderful as is the depiction of all characters especially the hideous Mikhail Nergadze. The relationship between Knox and Gaille is allowed to blossom as a compliment to the main storyline without ever becoming mawkish or overly sentimental.

The plot is tightly wound and marvellously fast paced with barely time for the reader to pause. The book carries you along and it is nearly impossible to put down. I managed to read it inside 48 hours which included a day at work and a trip to the pub!

For me Will Adams deserves to be mentioned along with the other great authors in this genre including Dan Brown, Raymond Khoury and Chris Kuzneski. If Dan Brown could write like Adams then he would receive little criticism from the literary press.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Clive Cussler - Plague Ship

"Cussler writes rip-roaring, high octane novels of derring do which make the heart pump and the pulse race."

Synopsis:
A Nazi officer has discovered an amazing relic hidden in a Norwegian glacier during the Second World War. Some sixty years later a maniacal leader of a modern day cult uses this discovery to attempt to shape history.

A cruise ship's passengers and crew are all struck down with a sudden sickness which takes the lives of everyone on board except for sick bay patient Jannike Dahl. The crew of the ship Oregon come to her rescue and lift her from the ship as charges detonate to scuttle the ship.

The crew of the Oregon are no ordinary ships crew. They are a band of highly equipped mercenaries who pull off the dirty jobs that governments cannot be seen to go near. The leader of the mercenaries, Juan Cabrillo, leads his team into an investigation of the fatal virus which claimed the lives of all other on board the stricken ship. This investigation pits them against the modern cult of Responsivists as they battle to prevent the cult changing the future.

Review:
Another thoroughbred from Cussler's stable of bestsellers sees the Oregon Files team fight to preserve mankind from a zealot's ideal of future society.

Led by Cabrillo and his entourage the novel gathers the usual frantic pace you would expect from any of Clive Cussler's books. He does not attempt to write touchy-feely novels which are more about the characters emotions rather than the events surrounding them. Cussler writes rip-roaring, high octane novels of derring do which make the heart pump and the pulse race.

Having first read a Clive Cussler novel some 20 plus years ago I have followed his career throughout the Dirk Pitt series of novels until he retired Pitt from the action adventures. This is the first of his books from the Oregon files or the NUMA files that I have read and I am left asking myself why I stopped reading Clive Cussler? The simple answer would be that I have grown up and discovered many other authors to enjoy but this is not the whole answer. I suspect that after reading so many of his novels they became a little stale with Pitt constantly saving the world from doom.

The Plague Ship addresses the issue of repetition by having a larger cast of characters, each with special training which lends their accomplishments the credibility of a team effort rather than having a massively larger than life character carrying the whole story.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson - 8th Confession

"If you like your books full of pace and as frothy and light as a Cappuccino, then 8th Confession is a must..."

Synopsis:
It is a normal day in San Francisco (if there is such a thing) when a school bus blows up. Believing that school children have been involved, Lindsay soon discovers that the bus was used for more subversive means than ferrying school children. This bus was a mobile drug factory and the dead are well known drug dealers.

At the same time, Cindy, news reporter of The Women's Murder Club has discovered the murder of a homeless man only known as Bagman Jesus. He has been beaten and shot and Cindy is soon on a mission to write a piece on this unknown man and why the SFPD are so reluctant to investigate a homeless man's murder.

On a different level, someone is murdering the nouveau riche, men and women who are anything but homeless – people who have too much money in someone's opinion. The only thing is that no one can see what they died of. They have the corpses of young, fit people who have died – but no idea what from. Soon, the cases begin to merge one in to the other and Lindsay and her partner, Conklin are negotiating their strangest case to date.

Review:
I am sure that I am not alone on this one, but even though Alex Cross is Patterson's best known character, I actually look forward to the Women's Murder Club novels more. Why? I feel that Patterson is allowed much more scope with his female band of criminologists and can spread the plot about, bringing in the different personalities of each of the four women. Also, he and Maxine Paetro seem to be having a lot of fun with the characters and the plots that involve them throughout each book.

Although this plot isn't particularly difficult to fathom, the Patterson/Paetro team seem to have found a kooky way of despatching their latest victims. And there are plenty of them. Running conjointly with the homeless theme, 8th Confession seems to be giving the message that no matter if you have everything or nothing – you are never totally safe. As with all Patterson's novels, you tend to fly through the short scenes which send you careening towards the taut ending. If you like your books full of pace and as frothy and light as a Cappuccino, then 8th Confession is a must and a well deserved episode in the fraught lives of the Women's Murder Club!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: