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Reviews

June 2010

Oliver Stark - American Devil

"...scenes of terror and suspense leading up to a chilling and completely engrossing finale."

Synopsis:
Two young girls from the rich and exclusive end of town have been murdered. It looks as if there is a serial killer on the loose. The obvious man to head up the New York Police Department's team to track him down is homicide detective, Tom Harper. He has the experience and the flair to find the killer, but there is a problem. Harper has a violent temper and the physical strength and skill to inflict punishment on those who cross him. That one of these individuals happened to be a superior officer means that Harper is suspended and facing dismissal.

The high profile of the victims means that the powers that be are desperate to make headway in finding the murderer. Tom Harper is persuaded to return on condition that he undergoes anger management sessions with the Police Department's psychiatrist, Dr Denise Levine.

Although Harper is very reluctant accept advice, Levene's expertise gradually persuades him that there is something to her knowledge and insight that is valuable and helpful in getting under the skin of the murderer. Gradually they begin to work together. Their joint skills are tested as the number of victims increases, and they are drawn into the murderer's net.

Review:
This is a stunning first novel. From the very beginning my attention was grabbed and I found it difficult to put it down. Harper is a very macho hero with a sensitive side. He is struggling to deal with the departure of his long-term girlfriend and his suspension from the Police Department. He is completely self-absorbed. As his attention is diverted to solving the problems of the vicious murders he is intrigued by the insight into the minds of killers provided by Denise Levine, and he slowly returns to normality. He even begins to appreciate her advice on controlling his own temper.

The dark and twisted mind of the killer is chillingly described as he collects trophies for his ultimate work of art. His awareness of the frailties of others and his ability to use them for his own purposes is frightening.

The everyday repetitive work of policing, checking every possible lead and trawling through mountains of detail to find the nugget of information that points the way is made easier by the use of the internet, but it is this thoroughness along with several touches of inspiration provided by Harper and Levine that brings the killer finally to justice. Along the way are some scenes of terror and suspense leading up to a chilling and completely engrossing finale.

The detailed putting together of the killer's history and the projection to his future acts is beautifully done. I was intrigued by some of the ideas put forward by Dr Levine. Are serial killers really more likely to have blue cars? Does twanging a rubber band on the wrist really influence behaviour?

I look forward to the next book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rory Clements - Revenger

"...a great successor to the first book."

Synopsis:
Schoolmaster John Shakespeare, brother to Will, is living quietly with his wife and daughter in the midst of Elizabethan London, and trying to prevent his wife's catholic faith annoying the powers that be. It causes conflict between them, as Mary wants the freedom to pursue her faith and John wishes to protect his family from the cruel punishments meted out to those who threaten the Protestant beliefs.

When John is called upon to return to his previous occupation of spy, this time in the service of Robert Cecil, adviser to Queen Elizabeth, he enters a very dangerous world. The Earl of Essex is plotting ways of achieving power when the aging Queen finally dies. He is very influential at court as he is a favourite of the Queen. His mother, the beautiful Lettice Knollys, is loathed by the Queen, but has her own powerful and influential group of supporters, and his sisters are also beautiful and dangerous ladies.

As before, Shakespeare has to manoeuvre his way around different power bases and avoid coming a cropper as long held animosities can prevent him gaining the information he needs. On the other hand his reputation for fairness and respect for honest men proves invaluable in gaining access to the scenes of plotting and treason against the Queen. His brother Will's unwise and unwitting contribution to Essex's plotting for power also complicates the course of action for John Shakespeare.

Review:
This is a substantial and satisfying novel. The background story of this fascinating and exciting time in English history demands a well-researched and knowledgeable writer, and that is what Rory Clements is. There is a wealth of detail that makes the story come alive and the intractable views of both sides of the religious divide are vividly described.

As well as the wonderfully solid background there is an exciting and gripping murder at the heart of the plotting, the solution of which leads to the unmasking of treachery.

The complicated and devious mind that is Robert Cecil's leads Shakespeare to work with hard and difficult men whom he dislikes and distrusts, but that is the reality of espionage.

I love this book and it is a great successor to the first book. John Shakespeare is established as a swashbuckling hero of the first order and his family are becoming important to the story. I look forward to another tale of John Shakespeare in the pay of the master intriguer, Robert Cecil.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Diane Janes - The Pull of the Moon

"A wonderful first novel..."

Synopsis:
Kate Mayfield has told her parents that she is abroad in France with her friends' family when in fact she is staying with her boyfriend, Danny at a secluded house. The house is owned by the Uncle of Danny's best friend, Simon. The boys have promised Simon's uncle that while he is away they will dig a pool for him in the garden. The lazy days pass by slowly, the work they have promised is not done. Then, on a day at the beach, they collect Trudie who comes to live at the house.

In the nearby woods, rumours have it that the ghost of a woman murdered there years ago still walks the woods. As strange events happen around the house and things begin to vanish, Trudie convinces the others that she is psychic and that it is 'murdered Agnes' who is taking the items from their rooms. When finally work begins on the garden, grudges and petty jealousies begin to fester between the young adults and during a trip to the woods late one night to find 'murdered Agnes', a tragedy will take place that will change all their lives.

Decades later, Kate receives a pleading letter from Danny's mother. She is dying and wishes to know the truth about her son and what happened all those years ago. But as Kate traverses the path back to the past she can only wonder how much this dying woman truly knows.

Review:
I have to admit from the start that I wasn't too sure about the premise of The Pull of the Moon. Although I enjoy Sophie Hannah and some of her current followers in this new sub-genre, I feel slightly jaded already having to read pages of in depth descriptions on daily chores and personal angst! However, thankfully, The Pull of the Moon doesn't fall into these categories. With great calculation with any of the great Barbara Vine novels, Janes shows us who the victim is from the start. Now all we have to do is find out what happened to bring those characters to that particular point in their lives. And Janes does this with great style. Very understated but extremely compelling, the author weaves her story between the present and the past.

With great assurance, Janes takes us back to the seventies and through her careful prose not only 'takes us back to the Seventies' but actually conveys to the reader the sensation of actually being transported to that nostalgic time. The feeling of being 'cut off' from civilisation is so alien to today's populace. With the advent of mobile phones no one needs to ever be out of contact. So the thought of not having a house phone will be an alien concept for many people, but one that many of us will actually remember!

The Pull of the Moon is one of those special books in the fact that you can't stop reading and want to charge ahead to reach the end of the book, but also you want to slow down and enjoy the writing - something that doesn't happen with every book. In a way, the writing takes on the languorous rhythm of those long, lazy hazy days of a hot thick British summer. This is not only a book Vine herself could have written, but even the cadence of the writing felt the ink could have come from Vine's own pen. A wonderful first novel that I encourage you to pick up. I look forward to seeing where this author will go next.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Thomas Perry - Strip

"A book that shows that money really is the root to all evil."

Synopsis:
Former bar owner Joe Carver has come to L.A.with a new identity and lots of cash only to find that thugs hired by low-level mobster Manco Kapak are out to get him.

Carver has been mistakenly fingered as the person behind the armed robbery of Kapak's night deposit, a hefty sum used in part to launder drug profits, only the first of many hits the gangster will absorb from a masked gunman. Failing to clear his name, Carver counter attacks.

Along the way, bigamist detective Nick Slosser, is juggling the demands of two families and is trying to capture the increasingly brazen robber while investigating Kapak for a drug lord's murder. As these and other colorful characters spiral around each other with gripping intensity and one startling twist after the other, the question is: Who's going down, and who's getting away?

Review:
Perry's latest novel, Strip, is - as with all previous books - impossible to put down. As with his other brilliant novels, Perry introduces big characters and ambitious plots, and again Perry manages to pull it off and Strip will not disappoint.

Joe Carver appears and remains as somewhat of a mystery and one of the few 'good guys' in a story full of crooks and thugs. The plot is extremely fast paced and with many story lines running simultaneously.

Despite the plots and ending all being wrapped up in literally the last 3 pages, it was done in such as way that it didnt feel rushed but instead well planned. Some of the endings were left a little open bit assume the reader was left to image what would happen as the lines had been drawn for them.

A great book with a great story full of reprehensible characters but you will have to read it yourself to see who gets their just desserts. A book that shows that money really is the root to all evil.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Berenson - The Midnight House

"A masterpiece of modern spy fiction..."

Synopsis:
A former CIA agent and an army veteran are shot dead on the same day. The next day, agent John Wells is instructed come to Langley immediately. The two victims were part of a clandestine operation whose remit was to interrogate captured Jihadi warriors at a secret US airbase in Poland known as “The Midnight House”. These were no ordinary prisoners, they were the ones who had information the coalition forces needed and the remit of The Midnight House was basically, get the information but don't leave a mark on the prisoners.

The prisoners who have survived their incarceration and been released are the obvious suspects and it is up to Wells to track them down and bring the killer to justice. Wells and his boss Elliott Shafer have to battle bureaucracy as they try to uncover the identities and whereabouts of the prisoners so that they can begin their hunt.

Review:
A masterpiece of modern spy fiction sees Wells pursue the killer behind the slayings of The Midnight House's guards and interrogators. This is a deeply thought provoking tome which has the reader questioning both the pros and cons of torture. It gets information that can save lives, they would do it to our troops – yet it is barbaric and makes us no better than the people we are fighting. While there is no mention of such physical torture as thumbscrews or amputation, methods such as water boarding, isolation, sleep deprivation or a good old fashioned beating are employed by the interrogators.

It requires a very brave author to bring such actions to the reader from the supposed good guys and Alex Berenson does this with a sublime skill which makes the torture a background element rather than a graphically horrific set piece. The plot is labyrinthine as the trail of the killer twists back and forth with each layer being slowly revealed before the killer is unmasked and Wells' loyalty and allegiances are sorely tested.

The depiction of all characters is done with panache and the insights into the minds of the prisoners, their guards and the service men fighting are outstanding in its detail. This is an author to watch out for and follow if you enjoy high stakes espionage and strong moral questioning introspection.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Connolly - The Whisperers

"...quite simply one of the best thriller writers around..."

Synopsis:
The border between Maine, USA and Canada is leaky. Almost anything can be smuggled across it: drugs, cash, weapons, people...

Now a group of disgruntled former soldiers has begun its own smuggling operation, and what is being moved is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the shadows that reside in men's hearts.

But the soldiers' actions have attracted the attention of the solitary and sinister Herod, a man with a taste for the bizarre and dangerous. And where Herod goes, so too does the shadowy figure that he calls the Captain. To defeat them, Parker must form an uneasy alliance with a man he fears more than any other, the killer known as the Collector...

Review:
The release of a Charlie Parker novel is one of my favourite times of the year. John Connolly is quite simply one of the best thriller writers around. He's the kind of writer who not only opens the door to his imagination, he pulls up a chair and plumps up the cushions first. Just don't get too comfortable because you are in for a thrilling, unpredictable and at times chilling ride. I just love the way Connolly brings the supernatural into the thriller genre. He does this with a suggestion of demonic forces and with the creation of really, really bad men. The kind of men we spook our children with, while simultaneously scaring ourselves.

The better novels often have elements other than a straightforward narrative and, clever man that he is, Connolly uses The Whisperers to discuss the effect of war on soldiers. Being a very, very clever man he does this without lecturing. We get the information in digestible chunks that makes us assimilate the detail, wonder at how people could be treated in such a way, but never at any time are we at a remove from the story.
The Whisperers is quite simply an excellent addition to the man's oeuvre. As always the prose manages to be both muscular and lyrical, the plot deals with the macabre and the emotional and the characters are as finely drawn as any you'll come across in literature. My only complaint was that at times in the beginning of the book there was a wee bit too much exposition - you know, the bits you skim over - but this could have been sorted with some judicious editing. In any case John Connolly can get away with this sort of thing, where lesser writers might not, because everything else is just so on the mark. This is me counting the days till the next one.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Donna Moore - Old Dogs

"The way she orchestrates her comic set-pieces is nothing short of genius..."

Synopsis:
Set in Glasgow, the story features an elderly Italian Countess and her sister who are actually ex-hookers turned con artists, who decide to steal a pair of golden, jewel-encrusted Shih Tzu dogs from a museum. Unfortunately, there is something of a queue of undesirables after the same loot – including the elderly ladies' dodgy chauffeur who is desperate to get in on the action, a pair of Glasgow neds who dream of buying their own pub, an out of work insomniac bent on revenge, and an innocent young Scottish islander who wants the dogs returned to the Buddhist monastery they came from.

Oh, and if that isn't enough in this hilarious mix there's an Australian hitman after the septuagenarian con artists.

Strange as it seems, after- hours on a Saturday night turns out to be the museum's busiest time. Burglary, kidnapping, murder, some very bad decisions and lots of laughter ensue.

Review:
Having established her credentials with her first published novel “Go To Helena Handbasket” Donna Moore turns her wit and attention on to the world of the crime caper with gut-achingly funny results. With care and precision Donna introduces her main players and their foibles and then very cleverly drops them in and out of the action to maximum effect. The way she orchestrates her comic set-pieces is nothing short of genius and designed to eke out every last piece of humour.

An extra ability on to the already impressive list of skills that Donna exhibits in her writing is in the ear she has for dialogue. For someone who is not a natural Scot she has the accent and the patter down to perfection.

If Alexander Pope was here to turn his attention to crime writing rather than philosophy he might have said, to laugh is human; to make other people laugh is divine.

Donna Moore shine your halo.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lin Anderson - Final Cut

"The forensic and police procedural details are spot on, the characters engaging and the plot never short of compelling."

Synopsis:
Where the hell had the kid found a human skull?

McNab heard an intake of breath behind him as someone else made out the shape in the torchlight. A metre away now, McNab crouched on a level with the child.

'Where did you find that, Emma?' he said softly.

She stared at him. 'I was lost. I heard them calling me.'

When Claire regains consciousness after a stranger causes her car to crash in a snowstorm, she is frantic to discover her nine-year-old daughter Emma missing from the back seat. Then Emma is found in the woods nearby, unharmed but cradling a child's skull. She claims it 'called to her' – and she can hear another voice nearby...

Meanwhile, forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod is trying to discover the identity of a corpse found badly burned in a skip. The body is wearing a soldier's ID tag, but DNA tests show it's not him. When DS Michael McNab asks for her help identifying the remains Emma found, they discover the two cases are linked in ways they could never have imagined...

Review:
With her main protagonist, Dr Rhona Macleod, Lin Anderson takes on the assembled ranks of such characters provided in American based fiction and TV and gives them a damn good run for their money. If you enjoy crime fiction that has a leaning to the forensic – or even if you just like an intriguing read - my advice is to make Lin Anderson your go-to- crime writer.

The forensic and police procedural details are spot on, the characters engaging and the plot never short of compelling. What particularly impressed me was Lin Anderson's ability to take the divergent plot strands and link them beautifully as the story unfolded. Event followed event, clues were highlighted and the action never let up to the very last word.

Lin Anderson recently signed a deal with ITV to have Final Cut and her other 5 novels adapted for the small screen. If you haven't done so already my advice is to get to know this excellent writer before she really hits the big time and you can act all superior with your crime fiction mates.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mari Jungstedt - The Killer's Art

"Mari Jungstedt is adept at considering the relationships between her characters..."

Synopsis:
It is winter in the Swedish island of Gotland. The pretty and ancient town of Visby is quiet. In the early hours of a Sunday morning a hotel worker is on her way to work when she comes across a body hanging from the gateway in the wall of the ancient medieval city. It turns out to be a well respected member of the community, Egon Wallis, Director of Visby's Art Gallery.

When Inspector Knutas is called in he discovers that all is not as most people imagined in the life of the apparently respectable Wallis. He was about to leave his wife and move to Stockholm. When thefts of paintings occur both in his gallery and in Stockholm, and bizarrely an item is moved from one gallery to the other, Knutas' investigation becomes more complicated. The press are also fascinated by the details emerging, and pressure is put on Knutas to find a quick solution.

Review:
There's an old saying - “There's nowt so strange as folk” - and in this case the complicated motives and hidden histories of the characters prove the truth of this. Relationships are at the heart of the crime, and the parent-child relationship in particular drives on the killer and tips his behaviour into the realms of madness. Mari Jungstedt is adept at considering the relationships between her characters, not only the homicidal ones. Knutas, in particular, has a very long suffering and patient wife, but at least he is one Scandinavian detective with a stable home life.

There is a very vivid and clear portrayal of family life in modern day Sweden and it gives the novel a distinctly Swedish feel. The journalist Johan and his girlfriend Emma try to work out a life together, each with different expectations. Knutas himself is not fully aware of the various undercurrents of emotions in his department and can step on a few toes in an attempt to do the right thing.

Life in the dark and freezing northern winter is described with all its hardships.

All told, this is good story with serious Scandinavian overtones.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ed by Elizabeth George - Two of the Deadliest

"...good quality crime stories ..."

Synopsis:
Although there are seven deadly sins, perhaps the two that are most represented in crime fiction writing are lust and greed. 'Two of the Deadliest' is a collection of short stories written around these two deadly sins. Edited and introduced by Elizabeth George the stories are set principally in America and include a section where new writers are given a forum to show their talents. Elsewhere, notable talented women crime writers are represented by Laura Lippman and Marcia Muller and a helpful biography is included at the back.

Review:
Books of short stories can be difficult to review as not every story will be of equal quality. However it helps when the book opens with a story of such high quality as this one does with Dark Chocolate by Nancy Pickard. It has the essence of what makes short stories in any genre good -
a poignant subject which is alluded to but never fully revealed. There are some other very good examples that also appear in the book. Susan Wiggs writes a deceptively simple piece about how an evening's events can escalate out of control and Z Kelley demonstrates how fortune can sometimes favour the good.

Other writers have written good quality crime stories with a strong narrative. Alison Brennan writes about a crime set in the political world of California which could easily which could have been expanded to a novel and Marcia Muller is on form as usual with a story of how scamming can get out of control.

My only criticism of this book would be the separation in the book of the new crime writers from the more established. I would have preferred to see them published together, perhaps alphabetically, rather than divided up as all of the stories collected here are good quality.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joseph Finder - Vanished

"...a labyrinth of plots and false leads..."

Synopsis:
Lauren Heller and her husband, Roger, are out to dinner one night when they're brutally attacked. Twenty-four hours later, Lauren awakes in the hospital to find that her husband has vanished without a trace.
The only one who has any chance of finding him is his brother, Nick, a high powered investigator with a private intelligence firm.

Nick Heller is tough, smart, and stubborn. Trained in the Special Forces, he specializes in digging up secrets that powerful people would rather keep hidden. He and his brother have been estranged ever since the imprisonment of their notorious billionaire father. But Nick will do anything to protect Lauren and her son. He never backs down. Even if it means taking on the most lethal enemies he's ever had to face.

Plunged headlong into a desperate chase, Nick begins making shocking discoveries about his brother's life - and about the giant defence contractor he works for. Now, in order to keep Lauren and her teenage son alive, Nick must take on a powerful and deadly conspiracy that will stop at nothing to protect its secrets.

Review:
Vanished introduces Nick Heller, a maverick investigator who uses any way or means to do his job. He is an interesting character who is a bit of a loner and I feel there is a lot more to his character that will be revealed in future novels.

Vanished has a labyrinth of plots and false leads, and whilst I felt the book took a while to get into, once I was hooked there was no putting it down. The slow start was perhaps due to the original characters being a little dull but things soon pick up once Nick Heller gets going. The book is very well written, and Nick Heller, whilst not exactly a nice person is also someone with a dry sense of humour and a man you cant help but like. However, I felt the plot was slightly tired with the commercial espionage/one man trying to solve the crime.

Finder certainly knows how to write a gripping thriller and Vanished won't leave readers disappointed.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathan Hayes - Hard Death

"Jenner is one of those characters that readers will instantly like..."

Synopsis:
Jenner's New York medical license has been suspended and he is forced to take a pathologist's job in a quiet backwater of the Florida Everglades.

Quiet that is before he helps remove two murder victims from a car sunk into the swamp...

Quiet before a late-night call sends him to a lonely stand of trees in the middle of the Glades; an execution scene filled with putrefying bodies....

The autopsies reveal how the victims were tortured and killed and Jenner's investigation points to the killers with unforeseen circumstances. There is no such thing as quiet in the Glades and there are no easy deaths.

Review:
A Hard Death was my first introduction to Hayes, although the main character Jenner has appeared in a previous book.

Jenner is one of those characters that readers will instantly like, due to him having a dry sense of humour, being good at his profession, but also having the inclination to break the rules as and when needed. Although in this book the rules have been broken so sadly I am not sure if Jenner will return.

A Hard Death deals with drugs and corruption but written in such a way that it feels as though it has a different take on both of these subjects so has a novel feel to it.

This is a great introduction to Hayes and I would definitely recommend this book to other readers.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Byrnes - The Sacred Blood

"A wonderfully complex and layered thriller…"

Synopsis:
Archaeologists discover a secret room in a Judean desert cave. The room's walls are covered with hieroglyphics and various other symbols including a dolphin entwined around a trident. In the room is a clay amphora which houses an ancient scroll.

This discovery follows after a raid on the Holy Land's Temple Mount left the area once again as the centre of dispute between different religious bodies.

The secretive sect known as The Sons of Light are meanwhile planning to turn the world on its head using the contents of their secret safe and the DNA from a human skeleton exhumed beneath the Temple Mount. Upon discovering that American scientist Charlotte Hennesey Shares this rare DNA they plot to kidnap her and use her DNA for their own misguided agenda.

Review:
A wonderfully complex and layered thriller that is excellently researched. Having not read the prequel to this book The Sacred Bones at times I felt that reading the 2 books in correct order would be much more gratifying than reading this book as a standalone. Having said that I must stress that the book was a fine read, and does not have to be read as the sequel to The Sacred Bones.

Byrnes has created a masterpiece of modern religious fiction with his depiction of events at the Temple Mount and the carefully crafted circumstances and characters who inhabit this novel. Hennesy is well balanced and her counterparts in this book are all depicted with consummate skill.

This book is not a quick read, it is an intelligent read which shows a writer with a serious story to tell about subjects that most of us would not consider.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: