Click a logo below for more information...
 
 

Reviews

May 2010

Jo Nesbo - The Snowman

"...a very cool thriller with a surprising twist in the tail."

Synopsis:
Inspector Harry Hole is an obsessive dedicated policeman who struggles to keep himself on the wagon. He has a new detective partner - the young, attractive Katrine Bratt. He still has a connection to his old girlfriend , Rakel, who has opted for the comfortable and safe Doctor Mathias as a partner and father figure for her son Oleg.

Hole is called in to investigate the disappearance of a young woman. Her son finds only wet footsteps on the stairs and a snowman in the garden wearing his mother's pink scarf. Hole is convinced that there is a connection to a letter he received some months earlier and inspection of police records indicates to Hole that there is a serial killer at large who targets married women with children. As the investigation proceeds, Hole begins to believe that there is a personal aspect to the killings and as the story unfolds, the cunning and inside knowledge displayed by the killer leads Harry to the disturbed and clever murderer, but not without the odd red herring...

Review:
Above all this is a fast moving, chilling and exciting story. I was hooked from the first minute and read it in super-fast time.

In addition to the gripping plot, there are some very intriguing and knowledgeable psychological insight thrown into the mix. The characters have developed from the previous books, yet Harry Hole is still haunted by the disappearance and deaths of his valued colleagues. The impact of traumatic youthful experience on adult behaviour and mental stability is beautifully considered. There is more than one of the characters in the book who presents a normal face to the world whilst at the same time struggling with a completely absorbing obsession. Not all of them become killers...

Another interesting slant is the description of modern day Norway, a very rich country as a result of the oil and gas fields, but still a very tiny country with limited impact on the international community.

The Snowman is a very cool thriller with a surprising twist in the tail.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Booth - Lost River

"...moves between cityscape and countryside with the ease of a seasoned traveller."

Synopsis:
The May bank holiday is spoiled in the Peak District by the drowning of an eight-year old girl. DC Ben Cooper tries to save her but tragically fails. The trauma from this failure leads him to become involved with the girl's family and it is only a matter of time until he begins to suspect that the family is harbouring a dark secret.

DS Diane Fry has returned to her old stomping ground of Birmingham in a bid to lay some of her own demons to rest amid the inner-city streets she once patrolled. The investigation and its findings cause her great distress and she comes to realise that there is only one person who can help her through her troubles. However he is busy in Derbyshire where his suspicions are leading him to a horrific discovery on a Peak District riverbank.

Review:
Once again Stephen Booth has produced an excellently dark noir novel. This one is a little different as he mixes his backdrops and moves between cityscape and countryside with the ease of a seasoned traveller. Never does his narrative strike the wrong chord and his prose strikes all of the correct sensors whether he has you beside a babbling brook or in a concrete jungle.

The central theme to the novel is about tribalism and how we all yearn to belong to one group or another, whether consciously or not. The social commentary which is detailed is exactly right, and a fine eye for detail has him describing things to the reader and the reader thinking “yeah I've done that or played a game just like that”. Few authors have the skill to do this whilst keeping to the main themes of the Fry and Cooper novels in the old “will they, won't they. It's about time they did.” cliché, the dark mindless murders and the rural setting of the Derbyshire Peak District.

Fry and Cooper have been around for a while now and it is great to have a pair of characters that we can watch grow both together and apart from each other. Each has qualities the other admires and they always stand united but they never seem to get on as well as they could as theirs is a tempestuous relationship to say the least. The revelations that carry this story forward are gently drawn out by a master craftsman, who obviously takes great care with every sentence and has the necessary ability required to turn this standard police procedural into the fantastic novel that is Lost River. Do not be complacent though as Booth can startle even his seasoned fans like myself and his writings will catch out many of the unwary newcomers with his trademark gruesome twists in the tail...

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

William Ryan - The Holy Thief

"The Holy Thief is a very good starter to this series..."

Synopsis:
It is Moscow in 1936 and the body of a young woman has been found dead on an altar like some gruesome sacrifice. The blue-eyed boy of the Moscow militia, Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev, has been handed the case as he is known for always getting his man. But this case has bizarre overtones. The girl is of Russian descent, but has American nationality. Not only are the officials perturbed by this news, but also by the fact that the girl was severely tortured before being put to death. Marks on her body indicate that she was electrocuted to extract information - but what information?

The NKVD – the most feared organisation in Russia which has been credited with making people vanish without trace - become involved. With information from the NKVD, Alexei appears to have a faint trail as to why the girl was killed and what the men were looking for. Then a man is found dead, mutilated and tortured in the same way. But this man was one of the legendary Thieves, a syndicate of men who run the Russian underworld.

Very soon, Korolev feels he is out of his depth and he is sure it is not his imagination, but he is being followed. As he finds himself deeper in the case he begins to suspect that not only can he not believe the words of the underworld, but also those who call themselves his colleagues. Everyone, it appears has a secret to hide. And soon enough, Korolev is fighting for his own life.

Review:
I am sure that others think it, so I will write it and get it out of the way: after Child 44, it was only a matter of time before we would get more crime novels from this period of Russian history that was so steeped in fear and suspicion that neighbour turned upon neighbour, friend upon friend, just to save their own skin. It was a tragic time and one that saw the Russian people go through such purgatory that you couldn't imagine it happening today. But in different parts of the world it does.

So, we now have a sub-genre created and William Ryan's is the first to emerge. Is it worthwhile? I felt that Ryan has a great sympathy and empathy for the country as a whole. The way the characters address and speak with each other - always seeming to keep other people at arms length - is well drawn in this novel. The sense of place and the emotions of the characters involved and their feelings of frustration and hunger grip you and bring to life a very sorry picture of people starving and yet frightened to say their lives are a misery.

As for the main plot of the novel, it cantered along nicely and kept my interest although I felt I knew where the story was headed. However, Ryan's ability to bring Korolev, with his meagre belongings, to life is extremely strong. You cannot help rooting for a man in his early forties when he feels wonder at being given a room of his own – even when he head butts a man, giving himself concussion at the same time!

The Holy Thief is a very good starter to this series and I can see that there are certain avenues that Ryan will be exploring and embellishing in future novels. I look forward to seeing what Ryan has for Korolev in the future. For some reason I don't think Korolev will be sailing in the sunset any time soon.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - Slash and Burn

"Joe Hunter is fast becoming a serious rival to Jack Reacher in the action stakes."

Synopsis:
Joe Hunter is an ex-special forces operative who lives in Florida and does occasional jobs for his PI friend Jared “Rink” Rington. His latest job is to search for a missing woman whose brother he had fought alongside in the Special Forces. Accompanied by their sister, Kate, Hunter heads for home only to be ambushed by two armed men. Chaos ensues as they battle for their lives with more attackers joining the fight. However, Joe Hunter is no easy target and he sets about discovering the identity of his attackers and who sent them after his client's sister. Hunter is a hard man who lives by his own moral code. He is not afraid to take a life if necessary but he does not fit the mould of a vigilante despite that being what some people choose to call him.

Businessman Robert Huffman appears respectable, but has some seriously questionable connections, not to mention his own gang of henchmen. His schemes involve trying to find the missing Imogen Ballard and he has a vested interest in her reappearance... namely, that he wants to kill her.

Review:
Joe Hunter is fast becoming a serious rival to Jack Reacher in the action stakes. In Slash and Burn he does everything you would expect of such a character and more. He defends his friends, he repays an old debt that is mostly in his conscience; takes on overwhelming odds and, of course, he risks his life for little more reason than a pretty girl and a point of principle.

Slash and Burn is the kind of novel that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you along at breakneck pace before finally throwing you down exhilarated, breathless and screaming for more. The prose is sparse and so tightly wound it is impossible to turn the pages fast enough, making it a definite read-in-one-sitting novel. Hunter is a thoroughly moral man who just has different morals from the rest of us. However, his ethics are at times stricter than some of societies' and his adherence to the task at hand is often due to this sense of morality which is sometimes misplaced. He is an excellent character who is developing more and more as Hilton's confidence as an author grows. Rink and other associated characters are all that you would expect of such a talented new writer and I think there may be a long long future for Matt Hilton and Joe Hunter as they work together to bring us vicarious pleasure. A special mention to the Bolan twins, Larry and Trent, who - despite being somewhat clichéd - are still very enjoyable.

Inevitably Joe Hunter will always be compared with Jack Reacher, yet he stands up to the comparison well as he has his own attributes which Reacher does not and vice versa. The main difference for me is that Hunter has a close friend who he sees regularly and has assisted him in his adventures. This allows the author to display more emotional depth than we are used to from Lee Child and Jack Reacher and helps set the two similar characters apart.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martina Cole - Hard Girls

"Definitely, vintage Martina..."

Synopsis:
Danielle Crosby had a body to die for. A body she sold to the highest bidder. But she ended up paying for it with her life.

When a prostitute's body is found lifeless, mutilated and brutally raped, DCI Annie Carr has never seen anything like it - and never wants to again. Kate Burrows, retired DCI now consultant, has plenty of experience when it comes to murder – after all she caught the Grantley Ripper and broke the biggest paedophile ring in the South East. She is determined to help put the killer behind bars. But whoever it is won't be easily caught. And when another girl's body is found, even more horrifically disfigured than the last, it is clear the killer is just warming up...

In a ruthless world where everyone's out for themselves, Annie and Kate must dig deep if they hope to catch a callous serial killer who knows no limits and makes no mistakes. For some, prostitution is seriously big business. But how many people will pay the ultimate price?

Review:
Unusually, Hard Girls sees Cole writing more of a murder mystery, rather than setting the books in the criminal world. I found Hard Girls an easier read and I now rather hope that Cole will write more about police investigations and from the police 'point of view' because when she does, she does it very well indeed. This is only the second time Cole has done this, apparently. The characters, of course, are always a very hard bunch and most of the police characters in the book are in the pockets of the criminal gangs – something that I can only hope it is not a true representation of real life!

The plot itself has a serial murderer killing prostitutes. However, you know who the culprit is about halfway through the book, together with the motive. Nonetheless, this did not detract from the enjoyment and I wanted to finish the book partly to be proven right but also hoping to be proven wrong. Knowing the identity of the killer, for me, did not detract from the enjoyment of reading Martina's latest thriller.

I hope that Martina will be bringing back a few of the characters and will again write from the point of the police investigation. A strong book, with strong characters and even stronger language, not for the feint hearted! Definitely, vintage Martina... and one for fans and newcomers alike!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

S. J. Rozan - Trail of Blood

"S.J. Rozan offers up a rich tapestry of historical mystery stitched into contemporary suspense."

Synopsis:
Estranged for months from fellow P.I. Bill Smith, Chinese-American private investigator Lydia Chin is brought in by her colleague and former mentor, Joel Pilarsky, to help with a case that crosses continents, cultures, and decades.

In Shanghai, excavation has unearthed a cache of European jewellery dating back to World War II, when Shanghai was an open city providing safe haven for thousands of Jewish refugees. The jewellery, identified as having belonged to one such refugee - Rosalie Gilder - was immediately stolen by a Chinese official who fled to New York City. Hired by a lawyer specializing in the recovery of Holocaust assets, Chin and Pilarsky are to find any and all leads to the missing jewels. However, Lydia soon learns that there is much more to the story than they've been told: the Shanghai Moon is one of the worlds most sought after missing jewels and is believed to have been part of the same stash.

Before Lydia can act on this new information, two men are murdered, Lydia is fired from the case, and Bill Smith finally reappears on the scene. Now Lydia and Bill must unravel the truth about the Shanghai Moon and the events that surrounded its disappearance sixty years ago during the chaos of war if they are to stop more killings today.

Review:
Published as The Shanghai Moon in the US, Trail of Blood is one of those books. You know the ones; the kind that demands your attention and refuse to allow you to do anything else – other than drink coffee and visit the bathroom – until it is finished.

There is so much to enjoy and admire about this novel; great characters, neat prose and a writer who plots expansively and ambitiously. S.J. Rozan offers up a rich tapestry of historical mystery stitched into contemporary suspense. Using letters and journal entries from the 1930s and 1940s, Rozan illustrates a little known facet of the war - the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai - setting the stage beautifully for a modern quest for missing valuables stolen during the Holocaust. The plot dips, weaves and turns to the very last page offering a tantalising clue here and a fascinating insight there.

Another part of the pleasure of the novel was the relationship between the two leads. Even if you haven't read the previous books in the series you pick up quickly that they have issues. You also pick up quickly, given time – but perhaps not yet – they will manage to work it out. Lydia Chin and Bill Smith are my new favourite double act. With this couple the writer gets to spell out the plot with precision, and cleverly her choice of protagonists allow her to offer spells of light and humour in the story to balance the murder and mayhem of the present and the intrigue and horror of the past.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stuart MacBride - Dark Blood

"...a typically dark, gritty, atmospheric and often hilarious novel. "

Synopsis:
Violent rapist Richard Knox has served his time in prison and relocates from Newcastle to the family home in Aberdeen with the intention of making a new start. However his dark past cannot be left behind him that easily. It is up to DS Logan McRae and company to protect him from all those who are out to get him.

There are also the beginnings of a turf war between rival gangs as one gang tries to muscle in on another's territory, counterfeit goods flooding Aberdeen and a missing informant to keep everybody busy.

Review:
DS Logan McRae returns once again in a typically dark, gritty, atmospheric and often hilarious novel. MacBride has a splendid knack of knowing how to set the scene for whatever sequence of events he chooses to depict, be it a pair of tired cops on stakeout during a freezing Aberdeen night, the aftermath of savage violence or the bewildering office politics of the Police Station.

McRae is having a torrid time trying to keep the incorrigible DI Steel happy along with the newly promoted DI Beattie who is not up to the job and subsequently lands everything, especially blame, on McRae's shoulders. This has McRae finding solace in a bottle as MacBride adds new layers to his main character and explores some of the issues which concern us all, such as being passed over for a promotion, then getting told what to do by the idiot who got the job that should have been ours.

The villains of the piece are fiendishly twisted and his characterization of Knox and the crimes he committed is a terrifying concept. DI Steel is as magnificent as you would expect from MacBride. Her wife is pregnant and therefore she is not having sex with Steel which causes her to vent her sexual frustration on all around her with some marvellously phrased insults and put downs. I would love to go for a drink with the person who is the inspiration behind this character as it could only be a laugh a minute. All other characters are well portrayed, although McRae's girlfriend seems to be a bit too contrived for my taste.

The plot is fast paced and has a surprising amount of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, although I was not guessing long as I simply could not put the book down!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Craig Russell - Lennox

"Lennox is so brilliantly depicted that only an author at the top of their game could have even attempted this characterisation. "

Synopsis:
Meet Lennox, a tough no nonsense “Enquiry Agent” in post war Glasgow. He is a private investigator who operates in the murky area between gangsters and the police. His personal code of honour walks the thin lines between legality, honour and greed.

Gangster twins the McGahern's are brutally murdered as they attempt to climb the crime hierarchy and Lennox is the lead suspect in their murder. His only way to prove he didn't kill them is to find out who the real killer is and this leads him to form an uneasy alliance with the 3 “kings” of Glasgow's underworld, all the while dodging the police and a shadowy third party who is more professional than either the police or the gangsters in their approach.

Review:
Lennox is so brilliantly depicted that only an author at the top of their game could have even attempted this characterisation. At times mean, moody, insolent, violent and introspective; these are words that may be used to describe Lennox, but they just do not do justice to Russell's wonderful creation. If Lennox was to be made into a film then only an actor of the weight of a Burt Lancaster or Humphrey Bogart could possibly play the lead.

The atmosphere of post war Glasgow is evocatively drawn and the settings take place in surroundings that are expertly depicted. The supporting characters are elegantly portrayed which is an outstanding achievement considering they have names such as “Hammer” Murphy and “Twinkletoes” McBride. Twinkletoes, in particular, has a most inventive way of persuading people to part with information. The police officers deserve a mention too. McNab is almost as brutal as the gangsters while Ferguson is basically an honest and decent copper.

Lennox has a touch of the Jack Reacher about him which can be no bad thing, although he lacks Reacher's supreme self confidence. One of Lennox's most endearing traits is that he may walk in the shadows knowingly but he endeavours to lift both himself and others out of the mire. A sense of comic timing also helps to lighten the gloom although the humour can be both dark and bleak.

Having never lived either in those times or environments I am grateful both to Russell for his depiction of the times and mood on the early 1950's and for the fact that I'm a seventies child. Those bleak days are behind us now but authors such as Craig Russell never let us forget what has gone before.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jakob Arjouni - Chez Max

"...the feeling of Paris is certainly there; a city where romance and subversion go hand in hand..."

Synopsis:
The year is 2064 and the world is ruled by a huge superstate consisting of Europe, Asia and North America. The rest of the world is securely fenced off to protect itself from countries living in poverty whose inhabitants make frequent attempts to cross the border for a better life. Society is patrolled by Ashcroft, a security agency with a network of spies who go about their everyday lives whilst informing on their family, friends and colleagues.

One such agent is Max Schwartzwald, owner of the smart Parisian restaurant, Chez Max. Although paid to identify and inform on any subversive activity, Max's success rate is depressingly low and he resorts to informing on his clientele for minor misdemeanours. But the main thorn in his side is his colleague Chen Wu, a coarse and disagreeable agent who delights in winding up Max about his restaurant and his love life.

When Max unexpectedly stumbles across evidence that Chen is a double agent he decides to focus his investigations on exposing his colleague and thereby improving his career prospects.

Review:
This is an unusual book by Jakob Arjouni. Although set in the near future, it traces the origins of the paranoia and suspicion that dominate society back to the events of September 11th and the response of governments to it.

Society is therefore like the one we live in now only more paranoid and closed. It is a stroke of genius to set the story in Paris. All the things that we associate with the city including its restaurants and cafes are there but provide a backdrop for a much more insular society. Because the story is told from Max's perspective, we never really get a feeling of how the society feels from an outsiders perspective, from someone who is not a government agent. But the feeling of Paris is certainly there; a city where romance and subversion go hand in hand...

The story itself is very well told although the ending is a little oblique. The writing is excellent and one of the best aspects of the novel is its clear prose. The book also brings together the science fiction and crime thriller genres very well and will appeal to both audiences.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Clem Chambers - The Twain Maxim

"...a helter skelter romp through the jungle and financial markets (spot the similarity there?)..."

Synopsis:
Billionaire trader Jim Evans has risen from the Squalor of London's East End into the elite of the mega-rich by his early twenties. He has an uncanny ability to read a stock trading chart and correctly predict which way the stock price will go. He buys into the fledgling Congo based Barron mining as a favour to a friend but when he purchases more and more shares his broker goes to investigate and disappears whilst looking over the prospective mine.

The action rages from the stock market floor to the jungle and back with Baz Mycock and Jim Evans trading blows against each other through the stock exchange as Evans' buying is disrupting Mycock's plans to manipulate the markets for his own gain. Evans sets off from the mine with “Man Bites Dog” a child soldier who is his guide as he attempts to find his missing broker. Congolese rebels storm the mine when Evans is away on the search and Mycock bravely abandons Evans and Man Bites Dog to their fate...

Review:
This is a helter skelter romp through the jungle and financial markets (spot the similarity there?) that has the reader turning pages with increasing rapidity. Chambers has a marvellous style of prose as he describes events rather than emotions and action instead of words. The whole feeling of the book reminded me very much of Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley which I thoroughly enjoyed, having exhausted those authors many years ago.

It is not a crime, action, adventure or financial book but rather an amalgam of all four and Chambers understanding of the stock markets made his explanations straightforward enough for a novice like me to follow.

The characterisations of Evans, Mycock and Man Bites Dog have obviously been given much careful deliberation and it shines out of every page they feature on.

There are a decent supporting cast but for me Man Bites Dog stands out as a prime example of what can be achieved with a new character in a single novel. Personally, I would like to read his autobiography!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kimberley Chambers - The Feud

"For all Cole and Heller fans..."

Synopsis:
For more than a decade two East End families have been locked in a bitter war. On one side are the Mitchells, a notorious underworld mob from East London's Canning Town. They have an iron in every fire and will resort to intimidation and violence to get what they want. When Stanley Smith's lovely young daughter, Jessica, announces that she is to marry Eddie, the son of mob boss Harry Mitchell, Stanley is horrified, but too afraid to stand in their way.

On the other side are the O'Haras. The Mitchells biggest rivals are a travelling family who live in nearby Stratford. They compete with the Mitchells for pub protection and the two families hate each other.

Caught between these two families at war, are two innocent children, who will grow up to love the wrong people and spark the last terrible act in the long-running feud.

1988 was a happy year in many people's lives. Some called it The Rave Year, others The Second Summer of Love. For Eddie Mitchell and his family it is neither. 1988 is the year in which his whole dangerous, violent world explodes around him.

Review:
Like the majority of books set in the criminal underworld, The Feud offers the reader plenty of murder but not too much mystery. Whether based on fact or not, the one main issue I have with these books is the women, who all tend to be quite weak and blind to the faults of the men in their life.

In true Cole/Heller-esque style, Chambers has written a story with plenty of violence and the language used would not be suited to the faint hearted!

The climax of the story was, in my opinion, a tad predictable. However, I did enjoy the book and despite the misgivings I have in general with this genre, found it to be entertaining and easy to read.

I always think that the characters are slightly unbelievable but maybe people like this really do exist and I just move in the wrong circles.

For all Cole and Heller fans, Chambers will be sure to please. Again, you wont get a literary masterpiece, but you will get a good story with a gritty plot and interesting characters.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Grant McKenzie - Switch

"An explosive ride..."

Synopsis:
Sam White is a 'resting' actor working nights as a security guard for a shopping mall. After another night shift, Sam returns home – only to find a burnt out shell and two bodies being lifted into the back of an ambulance. Believing that he has lost his wife and daughter, Sam receives a phone call. A distorted voice tells him that his family are safe – as long as he does as he's told and completes the tasks set out for him. If he does as he is told, then he can still save his family.

Soon, Sam teams up with Zack Parker, another victim of the maniac who also holds his family to ransom. As Sam begins the different and strange assignments, they begin to slowly make their own investigations and find that the voice commanding them to make such sacrifices is someone they both know. Now all they have to do is find out the 'why' and hope that they can find their loved ones before it all ends horribly.

Review:
Switch is a wild thriller that I could not put down. With the short chapters of only two or three pages, some even shorter, like the great James Patterson, you end up whizzing your way through this edge of your seat thriller ride.

There are more twists and turns than a Haunted House ride and the action never ceases. This is not a particularly well-written book, but it doesn't need to be. It does exactly what it says on the cover. My only quibble would be the solution: it has been done before but McKenzie has a good crack at it and succeeds.

If you are a fan of Lee Child and are craving something similar, then I can guarantee that you can't go wrong with this little gem of a book. As you say to yourself that you'll just read another chapter as it's only a page and a half long you suddenly find yourself fifty pages down and two o, clock in the morning! An explosive ride and if he keeps up such a good standard, we can expect great things from Mr. McKenzie!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cathi Unsworth - Bad Penny Blues

"...this 'period noir' novel is the most modern book I have read so far this year! "

Synopsis:
The year is 1959 and a known prostitute has been found savagely murdered. Police Constable Pete Bradley is the policeman who finds the body and is drawn inextricably into the case. Soon, he is on the team dealing with the murders while at the same time working undercover to expose corruption within the police force. As more girls are found decapitated, Bradley sees that this will not be an open and shut case. The investigation will take him through to 1963 and include political rallies that incite racial hatred and a scrape against the landed gentry who have dirty secrets of their own.

Stella is a young girl who has dreams of designing her own fashion label. She is also a girl tormented with other dreams – ones that are not so alluring. She dreams of the murdered girls and their last hours before they fall foul of the dark man in the big black car. Whenever they accept a lift from this man the girls are never seen alive again.

As the two individuals become more involved with the case they become more and more drawn into areas of the investigation which will have a resounding effect on everyone...

Review:
This is the third novel from Unsworth and it is her most accessible by far. It is also her most accomplished technically. It is impressive that after only three novels, this young writer has the talent to produce a novel of such high calibre that it leaves you breathless with admiration. Her writing is sublime and so rich that it lifts you up and carries you along with the complex storyline. The principal characters, especially Pete and Stella, are more than two dimensional stereotypes, they are given their own back story, their own fears, their own insecurities that they rapidly become real people emerging from the page. It is clearly Unsworth's passion for the characters who populate her novels that makes you care for the people you are reading about.

As with her previous two novels, there is an accompanying soundtrack to the story and all the titles of the chapters are from songs of the era. Readers will sense that Unsworth has great respect and love for the period she is writing about, but at the same time she is not afraid to expose the cruel, ignorant side as well. Lifted along with this great care for detail, readers are transported back in time and will literally smell the garbage on the streets and the stench of stale booze oozing out of the old men's pubs that populate Portobello.

Inspired by the real case of Jack the Stripper from the time, Unsworth weaves a dark tale of murder with a dash of the supernatural that simply lifts the novel to another level. Bad Penny Blues is a marvellous platform to discover this wonderful writer and you can only breathe a sigh of relief that with amazing novels like Bad Penny Blues that the contemporary crime fiction novel is in very safe hands. In fact, it is a delicious irony that this 'period noir' novel is the most modern book I have read so far this year! If this is the sort of novel Unsworth can produce on her third outing then I can only get excited to imagine what she is capable of when she really gets rocking and a rolling! Highly, very hightly, recommended.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: