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Reviews

November 2011

P.D. James - Death Comes To Pemberley

"...every sentence is like a pearl on a necklace, delicate and precious. "

Synopsis:
It is the evening before the Lady Anne ball when the residents of Pemberley are disturbed by a coach ridden in a hazard manner and pulls up outside the front door of Pemberley. Elizabeth Darcy's younger sister, Lydia falls from the carriage in a hysterical state. Unable to get any facts from the girl, it is to the coach driver to tell the household what has occurred. The carriage originally carried Lydia, her husband, Wickham and their friend, Captain Denny. Midway through the woods of Pemberley, Denny ordered the carriage to be stopped and climbed from the vehicle, denouncing Wickham and strode off in to the wooded area. Wickham followed his friend and after a few minutes gunfire was to be heard. On Lydia's orders the coach driver took them at speed to Pemberley itself.

Setting out a patrol that includes Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Alveston, the three men follow the carriage back to where Denny and Wickham were last seen. Soon they find Wickham prostrate over Denny's dead body and declares upon their arrival that he has killed him.

What follows is an inquest and trial of unsavoury proportions that will envelop the Darcy's, Bingham's and all at Pemberley before the truth is finally revealed.

Review:
I was a little apprehensive with this new novel. It is always a gamble to write about the beloved characters of a respected author. There can be many pitfalls to this practice – not portraying reader's characters in a good light or even worse placing them in a sub-standard story. It will always be a minefield as an author cannot please all of Austen's staunch readership.

However, James does take a fair crack at it and true to her idol continues the essence and atmosphere of Austen's best book, Pride and Prejudice. For readers who may not have read Austen's book, James does a pre-sis at the beginning of the novel to show how each one came to be where they are when her own novel starts and as 'a la James', she takes her time before the crime element of the story enters the fray. What follows is a pleasant enough story that is more about each person's relationship to others than the actual crime which itself is not difficult to work out if you are an avid crime reader. There are certainly interesting facts about the inquest and trial and James has certainly done her research. But what is apparent is that the author does give the book a definite sense of time and place. How antiquated life seems when we have all got used to our mobile phones!

Some of James' readers may have preferred a Dalgliesh to this latest offering, but at the end of 'The Private Patient' you could feel the author had turned the last page where her famous detective was concerned. 'Death Comes to Pemberley' is like her other novels, well crafted and certainly well written, every sentence is like a pearl on a necklace, delicate and precious. At the grand age of ninety-one you have to admire that James has decided to write a novel at all when others have retired a lot earlier than our razor-sharp Baroness. And for that we must rejoice that we have one more James novel to enjoy!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

F. G. Cottam - Brodmaw Bay

"The supernatural element in the book is fairly scary without it being unreadable. "

Synopsis:
When James Greer's teenage son is mugged on a London bus, Greer decides it is time to move his family out of London. By his son's hospital bed, he comes across a book which depicts the Cornish fishing village of Brodmaw Bay. The book appears to have been illustrated by his artist wife, but she has no memory of doing so. But Lillian Gree has problems of her own. She has been having an affair with the glamorous children's writer Robert O'Brien and he is getting increasingly aggressive as she tries to end the affair.

After James Greer visits Brodmaw Bay he decides to move the family into one of the large houses there. But it is a move that will prove disastrous to the family as the village is a place that has remained unchanged for decades and where old secrets are buried.

Review:
I have enjoyed all of FG Cottam's previous books and was eagerly anticipating this latest novel. Cottam writes thrillers with a supernatural element and his greatest strength is the sense of place that he brings to a book. In Brodmow Bay we get a strong sense of a mysterious Cornish fishing village with its slightly eerie inhabitants. Cottam is also very good when writing about family relationships and again in Brodmaw Bay, portrays a family that despite its fractures is still a loving and supporting unit.

The supernatural element in the book is fairly scary without it being unreadable. My only criticism is that the plot is a little slow to get going and we're about two thirds of the way through the book before the drama starts to unfold. However, as usual this is a very readable book from an excellent writer.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martina Cole - The Faithless

"Cole’s punch line is ‘she tells it like it really is’. She does and she tells it bloody well!"

Synopsis:
Cynthia Tailor is a woman who believes she deserves more than her lot in life. She always aspired to having the best life had to offer. To her she is saddled with a weak husband, two annoying kids and an embarrassing family. She wants more and is determined to get it, regardless of the cost to her nearest and dearest. But Cynthia doesn't see it that way. They all owe her and she takes what she wants.

However, her actions reverberate down the years, even touching the one man she has ever truly loved, her sister's husband, Jonny Parker. As Cynthia leaves a trail of destruction with her parents, her sister, Celeste and her own daughter, Gabriella and it is not until her grandchildren are born that Cynthia truly becomes the epitome of evil to get exactly what she wants.

Review:
Martina Cole has always been good at portraying mothers that have abandoned their children and get their come-uppance. With Cynthia Tailor, Cole has truly brought a believable monster to the page and 'The Faithless' is a searing psychological portrait of a woman who will tread on kith and kin to gain what she feels is her right. Cynthia is one of those creations that her actions abhor the reader but at the same time Cole, with the mark of a professional writer, eggs you on to find out what vile plans Cynthia has up her sleeve.

True to say that Cynthia gets her just desserts by having her face caved in (I am not giving anything away here as this bit is described on page one!) but Cole is brilliant at telling how her characters reached that moment in time by going back over decades of family in-fighting. That is why her characters are so sharp – they all have 'history' and Cole makes sure her characters are well-rounded and never one-dimensional. Her other remarkable talent is the detail of the hierarchy within the criminal world and how you can be prince one day and pauper the next.

For me, Mary and Jack came alive and I wondered how such wonderful people could spawn a demon, while I was routing for Gabriella as she constantly tried to evade the emotional grenades lobbed by her vile mother. 'The Faithless' again proves why Cole sells so many books and why readers rush out to buy her latest when it arrives in the bookshops. Cole's punch line is 'she tells it like it really is'. She does and she tells it bloody well!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lawrence Block - A Drop of the Hard Stuff

"A welcome return for Matt Scudder."

Synopsis:
Matt Scudder and 'High-Low' Jack Ellery were acquaintances growing up in the Bronx but their lives took different paths. Scudder joined the NYPD while Ellery took to a life of crime and ended up in a police line-up. The only thing that they had in common was their alcohol dependency. In time both dried out, Scudder left the force and Ellery was inspired by the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step programme to atone for his past misdemeanours. The ninth step involves him making amends to all the people he had wronged during his life. The only problem is that it is a long list and many on it don't realise that it was Ellery who committed the crimes.

When Ellery is killed, Scudder is pulled into the world that his old schoolmate left behind. There is a list of potential killers all with a good reason to want Ellery dead but no obvious prime suspect. Only as the list of victims grows does Scudder realise that he will soon be in the killer's sights.

Review:
The return of Matt Scudder is always something to look forward to. Lawrence Block writes excellent books but his Scudder thrillers are a cut above the rest. In this book, Block takes us back to Scudder's early years. It is a great plot device for fans of Block who have seen his characters mature and develop. However I wouldn't recommend it to those new to the Matt Scudder books. Some of the characters who make an appearance here have long departed the series, some of them violently and the small round-up of their fates at the end of the novel would spoil the reading of other books. For fans of the series however, the book is a treat and it is great to see the return of old characters.

There is a slight air of sentimentality about the writing that you don't always see in Block's work. The New York that he revisits is vastly different from today's city. There are no mobile phones or computers. Gentrification of the working class areas has only just begun. However this nostalgia is tinged with warning. A disease amongst the homosexual community has begun to spread and reference is made at one point to the twin towers. There is a sense of the old world on the cusp of the new. A welcome return for Matt Scudder.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - The Litigators

"A welcome return to form for Grisham."

Synopsis:
Oscar Finley: street cop turned street lawyer. Wally Figg: expert hustler and ambulance-chaser. David Zinc: Harvard Law School graduate. Together, this unlikely trio make up Finley & Figg: specialists in injury claims, quickie divorces and DUI's. None of them has ever faced a jury in federal court. But they are about to take on one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the States. David gave up his lucrative career at Chicago's leading law firm for this: the chance to help the little guy stand up to the big corporations. But if Finley & Figg have right on their side, why do his new partners feel the need to carry guns in their briefcases? David thought he was used to cut-throat law from his days at Rogan Rothberg, but this is something else. He knows he was right to get out. He just may live to regret his new choice of firm.

Review:
Grisham is back on top form with this courtroom thriller. Zinc, and his courtroom partners, Finley and Figg, the underdogs taking on a large pharmaceutical company with a water tight case which later seems to spring a leak, but which will keep the reader on the edge of their seat because as with all good Grisham books one thing is certain; nothing is certain. And 'The Litigators' is no exception. Unusually for Grisham he is injecting quite a lot of humour into this book which I found worked really well and lightened the tone somewhat.

The characters of Finley and Figg are hapless washouts, chasing the big payouts of their careers without ever wanting to put in the work. Not easy to like, Zinc on the other hand is, as with most of other Grisham's main characters, one of the good guys, and has the reader rooting for him to succeed.

'The Litigators' is a courtroom battle that will keep you turning the pages until the end, wanting to see the big guns fail, but you will have to wait until the last few pages until you find out who wins. A welcome return to form for Grisham.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alan Glynn - Bloodland

"‘Bloodland’ has quality written all over it."

Synopsis:
A private security contractor loses it in the Congo, with deadly consequences, while in Ireland the ex-prime minister struggles to write his memoir. A tabloid star is killed in a helicopter crash and three years later a young journalist is warned off the story. As a news story breaks in Paris, a US senator prepares his campaign to run for office. What links these things and who controls what we know?
Jimmy Gilroy, a journalist on his uppers thanks to the economic meltdown in Ireland, wins an assignment to write a biography of the recently deceased young Irish celebrity Susie Monaghan. He grabs at the opportunity like a starving man and quickly realises that he is only dipping his toes into a situation that has worldwide complications. He is warned off the case, but digs in and ultimately puts his own life on the line to uncover the truth.

Review:
'Bloodland' has quality written all over it. This is a thriller of our times – with a location list to rival a Bond movie, the action moves at a ferocious pace from Dublin to New York to West Africa and involves the ordinary man on the street as well as the privileged in their gilded offices.
Prepare to have your conscience tweaked as the author gives an indication of how the 21st century is unravelling. Glynn cleverly works a number of current issues into his plot and without causing a dip in the pace he highlights such concerns as corruption in big business, China's greed for raw material, ex-military personnel ignored by the nations they risked their lives for, the role of hidden men in politics, and the rapacious hunger for immediate, 24 hour-a-day news.
This is a cracking read: credible top level entertainment that engages the heart, the imagination and the intellect. Don't miss it.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Daniel Silva - Portrait of a Spy

"I always pick up the latest Daniel Silva with excitement..."

Synopsis:
Gabriel Allon was an Israeli spy and has a deserved reputation for daring efficiency and ruthlessness. He and his beautiful Italian wife, Chiara, are recuperating in Cornwall from his latest and supposedly last daring enterprise. They travel to London for a romantic weekend, where Allon's senses are alerted when he watches a suspicious man walking through the streets of Soho. There have been suicide bombers in recent weeks and all his instincts tell him that this is another. As he is about to eliminate the suspect (after making sure he is for real), he is stopped and arrested by plain clothes policemen. The inevitable happens.

Political constraints prevent open support for action against the threat but Allon's old allies in the American and British secret services combine with the clinical expertise of the Israeli forces to hunt down the new threat. Allon is dragged back into service and uses all his skill and charm to recruit the one person who can help. As always, the action moves quickly between New York, London and the Saudi desert before the final denouement.

Review:
Daniel Silva's books are very difficult to put down once you have started. There is a slight feeling of guilt at enjoying the all-powerful Allon using his powerful intellect, his prodigious artistic talent and his undoubted charm to remove all obstacles in his path. You can justify it by the old saying that 'the end justifies the means', and Gabriel Allon's enemies are definite hard core “baddies”, but sometimes the means are particularly violent. Maybe it is because you can enjoy the primitive killer instinct at second hand, secure in the knowledge that it isn't real - or is it?

Whatever it is, the story that emerges is exciting, bang up to date and completely absorbing. The old characters from the previous books are there, older and perhaps wiser. The interaction between the characters is beautifully described and mirrors the tensions and alliances of real life.

I always pick up the latest Daniel Silva with excitement and this one proved a worthy successor to those that came before.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Harper - Secrets of the Dead

"The prose is marvellously laid out and carries with it the subtle nuances of pace and characterisation..."

Synopsis:
Abby Cormac has spent ten years trying to imprison some of the world's worst criminals. Exhausted by her ordeals she thinks she's moved on until a horrific act of violence shatters her life once again. In a plush villa on the shores of the Adriatic she is left for dead after her lover Michael is murdered.

Alone and petrified, Abby vows to bring her lover's murderer to justice, but when her investigations lead her into contact with one of the most notorious gangsters in the Balkans, she realises that Michael wasn't the man she though he was.

He'd discovered a secret, a legacy of deceit and murder hidden in a client conspiracy. Abby is convinced that unravelling this secret will get her to the truth. However there are powerful enemies watching her every move and they will stop at nothing to prevent her from uncovering the secrets of the dead.

Review:
'Secrets of the Dead' is a beautifully written novel which is a pleasure to read. Tom Harper has a wonderfully literate style of writing that simply draws you in and wraps you up like a duvet on a winter's night. The prose is marvellously laid out and carries with it the subtle nuances of pace and characterisation to a higher plane.

With an intricate plot and a fairly large cast the book will be best enjoyed in large chunks as small nibbles can easily lead to confusion. The novel flows back and forth between modern day and fourth century roman times.

The twin leads of Abby who is written in the third person and Gaius Valerius who is written in the first person perspective are both fine creations although it is Valerius and his relationship with Emperor Constantine who grabbed my attention hardest.

With the time slip plot and the fantastic prose this is an excellent novel for the discerning reader.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Megan Abbott - The End of Everything

"A modern classic."

Synopsis:
Lizzie and Evie are inseparable. They walk home from school together, have sleepovers at each other's houses and even tease boys together. Most importantly, they have no secrets from each other.

Or at least, that's what Lizzie thinks – until Evie goes missing and suddenly Lizzie is questioning everything she ever thought about her best friend.

Review:
There are books you rip through. There are books you savour by the page and run your hand lightly across the cover with wonder each time you set it aside, safely, for the next time. Megan Abbott has conjured up one of the latter.

The experiences of a teenage girl are far removed from those of a man approaching (cough) middle-age. Therefore I initially questioned my ability to engage and empathise with a novel narrated from the viewpoint of such a child, but thankfully I quickly set aside any misconceptions I might have had. From the first page; the first sentence, Abbott had me snared in her web.

'The End of Everything' is a book about sisters, fathers and daughters, family and friendships, truths dripping reluctantly from the owner, but more than that, it's a book about two young girls on the verge of discovering the confusing and heady power of their gender.
Megan Abbott has done something few of us can dream of. She's taken everything we know about noir fiction and re-framed it in a world almost alien to the genre. She has imbued it with a command and grace that compels while meeting our expectation of entering the dark and forbidding places of the human psyche.

Each character is drawn with care and given breath with just a few well-chosen words and the prose has a dream-like, captivating quality you can't fail to fall in love with.

This is quite frankly, wonderful stuff and I am in awe of this writer's skill. A modern classic.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Danny Miller - Kiss Me Quick

"'Kiss Me Quick’ showed a lot of promise and an assured future for both author and character."

Synopsis:
Brighton, 1964. Vince Treadwell a young detective is send down from London to discover the whereabouts of powerful gangster, Jack Regent. As he seems to chase Jack's ghost around Brighton, a place that is high with pent up energy and violence, Vince becomes involved with Jack's girlfriend, Bobbie LaVita who distracts Vince from his work.

With a charged atmosphere with the sudden surge of Mods and Rockers in Brighton, Vince has to stay alive as he becomes the target from many different sources. It is going to be a long Bank Holiday for Vince and he is not sure if he is going to see the end of it alive.

Review:
'Kiss Me Quick' is one of those books that literally grabs you from page one. It took me by surprise how quickly I was transported back to that time and Miller was very competent at envisioning the scene very rapidly in my imagination. Poor Vince seems to get attacked from every side and it is amazing the man isn't dead by the end of the story. No matter where he goes, he seems to find himself connected to the end of someone's fist.

With the pages rapidly turning themselves, Miller gives us a wild chase over one weekend and it certainly was a story I wanted to see through to the end. The only thing that did distract me about 'Kiss Me Quick' was that instead of going for pace, Miller seemed to throw everything except the kitchen sink at this plot and sometimes a little bit less can be more. But that is something that the author can refine with progress. To me, Miller certainly feels at home in the time period he has chosen and I hope that I will be reading more of Vince Treadwell in future novels. Certainly, for me, 'Kiss Me Quick' showed a lot of promise and an assured future for both author and character.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Conor Fitzgerald - The Dogs of Rome

"The plot unwinds like the luxurious landscape of Italy."

Synopsis:
Chief Commissioner Alec Blume has always loved the dark and shade of his adopted country. An American by birth, Blume now sees himself as Italian. But it isn't until he begins an investigation in to the brutal murder of Arturo Clemente that Blume really sees the dark underbelly of Rome.

For Clemente was no ordinary man – he was the husband of an elected member of the Senate and was himself an activist for cruelty against animals. This last did not bring him many fans – especially within the dog fighting world. And that is where Blume must go to find out who killed Clemente. And before he reaches the end of the investigation there will have been a lot of blood spilt on the streets of Rome.

Review:
There are obviously going to be comparisons made that Fitzgerald is the new Dibdin, solely because it is written in the same country, but there are resonances of Dibdin here, although very faintly. Fitzgerald is extremely adept at setting the place, the smell of the countryside, the barren, dustiness of the landscape or the suffocating heat of the city. These were points that were as important to Dibdin as the investigation. There I believe the similarities end.

Fitzgerald slowly and enticingly unravels the dark plot at the heart of this story. Despite the subject matter nothing is gratuitous or unnecessary. For a first novel, 'The Dogs of Rome' is very well and smartly told. The plot unwinds like the luxurious landscape of Italy. This is a very strong beginning to what promises to be a thrilling and addictive series.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Connelly - The Drop

"...Bosch is a firm favourite of mine..."

Synopsis:
Harry Bosch is facing the end of the line. He's been put on the DROP - Deferred Retirement Option Plan - and given three years before his retirement is enforced. Seeing the end of the mission coming, he's anxious for cases. He doesn't have to wait long. First a cold case gets a DNA hit for a rape and murder which points the finger at a 29-year-old convicted rapist who was only eight at the time of the murder. Then a city councilman's son is found dead - fallen or pushed from a hotel window - and he insists on Bosch taking the case despite the two men's history of enmity. The cases are unrelated but they twist around each other like the double helix of a DNA strand. One leads to the discovery of a killer operating in the city for as many as three decades; the other to a deep political conspiracy that reached back into the dark history of the police department.

Review:
Despite Bosch working in the Open Unsolved Department for older cases at the request of a leading politician, one of the cases I found disappointing as the original case Bosch was dealing with was of much more interest to me and a lot less political. Also, where as I found the original case moved at a fast pace and had a slightly unpredictable ending, the second case dragged a little and was somewhat of a damp squib.

However, Bosch is a firm favourite of mine and if/when he does retire from the force I would like to see him return in some other capacity, possibly as a private detective, as I think he is too good a character to lose. Maybe too sanctimonious and judgemental at times, and he is not one to forgive easily.

Connelly has a good split between the stories and the personal elements give enough information to get to know the characters without detracting from the plot itself. As always this was a well written novel but I would have preferred less of the political influence.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nick Stone - Voodoo Eyes

"Voodoo Eyes is quite simply, a cracking read."

Synopsis:
Meet the man with the voodoo eyes: Solomon Boukman. He'd used voodoo, black magic, and extreme violence to control his people, and to keep anyone who ever heard his name in a state of fear. He'd turn his enemies into Zombies with potions and hypnosis and used them as his very own suicide killers. Some said he was the earthly embodiment of Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of death; others said he was The Devil incarnate.
For private detective, Max Mingus, Boukman has been the cause of consistent and unthinkable personal tragedy and professional torment. When Max uncovers a web of death and deceit stretching from Miami to sinister Cuban slums, the voodoo eyes of Boukman are never far from his mind.
Voodoo Eyes is set around the time of President Obama being voted into office and draws on the presidential office's sins of the past. Events occur around him and Mingus feels he is being led by the nose, with Boukman in control of the chains. But how can Max stop the man who has tortured him in the past without losing his life, and the lives of those he loves?

Review:
This is Nick Stone's first outing since King of Swords in 2007 and boy was it worth the wait. His private detective, Max Mingus is older, not necessarily wiser but still determined to bring down the bad guy. And they really don't come much badder than Solomon Boukman.
Max is a wonderful literary creation. He is washed thin by personal tragedy, partly because he feels he deserves most of it, but still he keeps on coming. Once as corrupt as any cop in the sweltering metropolis of Miami, he takes his penance like a man and works what he sees as a demeaning job just to keep food on his table and to give him some kind of purpose. The effect of this on the reader is that you are completely sold on the character and on his side throughout the book, despite the sins of his past. His back story is stitched into the plot of the novel with care allowing the book to be read as a one-off.

The sympathetic but honest eye that Nick Stone used to chronicle the past of Haiti in his earlier work is now used to good effect on the neighbouring island of Cuba. Stone observes with the skill of a journalist and paints a word picture as effectively as any poet. The sense of place in this piece is so vivid you leave the book feeling as if you had just spent a few hours on the island itself.

Modern history adds its flavour to the narrative; from the civil rights fight in the USA, to the revolutionary war in Cuba and this brings a quite fascinating touch to the book.

None of this detracts from the action for even a moment. Fast and fascinating, 'Voodoo Eyes' is quite simply, a cracking read. I loved it from the first word to the last page.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Raymond Benson - The Black Stiletto

"...Benson engages the reader with his direct prose, atmospheric locales and intriguing characters."

Synopsis:
Martin Talbot's elderly mother is stricken by Alzheimer's. Searching through her belongings he uncovers her old diaries. Stunned beyond belief his discovers his mother was once known as The Black Stiletto – the underground heroine who made 1950s New York a safer place by taking on the Mafia, Communist spies and other recalcitrant foes.

In a fascinating story of good versus evil, the tale wanders between past and present as the legend of The Black Stiletto unfolds. Why she fought for justice, why she started to fight crime, why she chose to operate outside the law.

As Talbot struggles to come to terms with his mothers hidden past, an old foe of hers reappears and he is forced to defend his mother and protect her secret.

Review:
Benson's new series kicks off with gusto and is a magnificent introduction to a marvellous new character. From the very first chapter Benson engages the reader with his direct prose, atmospheric locales and intriguing characters.

The time slip format means the reader is transported between the present day and the fifties with regularity although the fifties play a much larger part. For me the scenes set in fifties New York are a mixture of modern noir and traditional values which coupled with innovative thinking by the author provide the reader with some thought provoking asides on past social issues.

Judy has to be one of the standout characters I've read this year. Her early brand of feminism and sense of justice make wonderful reading and she brings the book to life with every passage. Talbot and Roberto are both decent characters but really they are just there to enable Judy's story telling via her diaries.

The pace is nicely increased as the novel progresses and while not massively action led there is a significant pull on the reader to read just one more chapter.

In conclusion? A marvellous start to what promises to be a fantastic new series.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Walker - The Crowded Grave

"...well written and evoke a strong sense of the French countryside."

Synopsis:
Bruno, the St Denis Chief of Police has a full schedule. Local archaeologists, looking for ancient graves have dug up a body wearing a leather jacket with a Swatch on his wrist. Animal rights activists have attacked a local foie gras farm, killing a number of geese and a French-Spanish summit in the locality is being threatened by ETA terrorists. Bruno is forced to juggle conflicting priorities while the arrival of a new magistrate, fresh out of law school exacerbates tensions within the town and stretch Bruno's diplomatic skills. Meanwhile, his personal life is once again thrown into confusion with the return of the glamorous Isabelle and the temporary absence of his long standing girlfriend, Pamela.

Review:
Martin Walker has carved out a niche with his Bruno, Chief of Police novels. They are well written and evoke a strong sense of the French countryside. Walker doesn't rely on stock English characters but confidently writes about local French individuals, including the redoubtable Bruno. As usual, the plot proceeds at a fair pace and my only criticism about this book is that there is perhaps too much going on. There are effectively three separate cases which although interlinked are slightly confusing to the reader. The plot is interesting though and I like the exploration of links between the Perigord department and the Basque region.

Much more successful are the descriptions of Bruno's personal life, his love of the countryside and his cooking skills, again bringing that French region to life. Those who enjoyed the previous Bruno books will love 'The Crowded Grave'.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: