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Reviews

February 2011

Matt Hilton - Blood and Ashes

"...the prolific penman strikes gold again. "

Synopsis:
The police say that when Brooke Reynolds died in a car crash it was a tragic accident. Her father, Don Hoffman, knows otherwise. And he wants Joe Hunter to find the men responsible. The bloodbath which follows is just the beginning of a trail of death which leads to the heart of a racist conspiracy. White supremacists want to hold the government to ransom; and they have managed to get their hands on a dirty bomb to back up their demands.

Hunter is on a countdown he can't afford to lose. He must stop the supremacists before they detonate their dirty bomb.

Review:
As Hilton grows with confidence and experience, so Hunter grows as a character. Blood and Ashes sees him wracked with self-doubts about his ability as he regains his strength from the injuries he sustained in Cut & Run. Blood and Ashes sees far greater consequences for failure than Hunter has ever faced before. Normally he just has to worry about his own life and that of a few friends, but this time he has to save thousands of lives by preventing the supremacists from detonating their dirty bomb in a major city. This is handled carefully and never do you get the sense that the author has allowed the story to run away from him.

Joe Hunter is being slowly revealed as each adventure unfolds and his self questioning is a joy to behold. His is unsure of his fighting abilities, so at the first opportunity he kills. Then he has a period of self recrimination thinking he did not need to kill the person in question, before rationalising his actions against his skewed moral compass. As ever he is flanked by his good friend Rink and encounters the shadowy Walter Conrad-Hayes his old Arrowsake boss.

The novel sets off at a reasonable pace for such thrillers before hurtling into a fantastic manhunt which is so explosive and deadly that many other authors would have kept it for a finale. Hilton serves it up, almost as an entrée as there are bigger fish to fry. Things do slow down for a while after that as both the reader and the protagonist gather their collective breath and learn more about the situation. As the novel progresses Hunter moves from helping a family to saving a city and Hilton guides him into the murky waters of international conspiracy where neither have trodden before. While few of the conspiracy theories were new to me. the whole plot was more intricate and involved than any of Hunter's previous outings. Is this a new direction for Hunter & Co? Only time and Matt Hilton know.

The prose is as tight as you would expect from someone who with the publication of Blood & Ashes will have released more than 5 books in less than a 2 year period. To clarify this there is scarcely and unnecessary word on the page. In my opinion the prolific penman strikes gold again. True to Hilton's usual style the novel is written in the first person for Joe Hunter and third person for all others.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter May - The Blackhouse

"Peter May handles the psychological depths of he story with a deft touch and great insight."

Synopsis:
Detective Fin MacLeod has been on compassionate leave following the tragic death of his son. He is brought back to work to return to his birthplace of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides to assist in a brutal murder that has similarities to an investigation he has been involved with in Edinburgh. His return to Lewis stirs many memories, some of which are very deep-seated indeed.

The victim is an old adversary and is mourned by very few. MacLeod's background knowledge of the island and its people enable him to delve deep into the motives of the inhabitants, but even he is completely overwhelmed when the truth emerges. Some very intense emotions are generated and some people dear to Fin are threatened.

Review:
This is a magnificent and gripping story of murder and long held resentment that grabs the attention from the very first word. Fin is a very troubled man, grieving for the loss of his son and his failing marriage. When he returns to the island, the intense emotions soon reveal a truth about the darker side of human nature. The damage done in youth comes to haunt the lives of many. Peter May handles the psychological depths of he story with a deft touch and great insight.

The close-knit community, its strengths and weaknesses, is beautifully portrayed by someone who knows it well. On a lighter note, descriptions of the day-to-day life, present and past are fascinating, and the vividness of the annual trip to An Seigr to kill and cure gannets is absolutely stunning, if a little bloody.

This is much, much more than a murder mystery, revealing the depths to which human beings are driven by passion and jealousy. Fin is a complex and attractive character plunged into an emotional whirlpool and I am looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Baldacci - Hell's Corner

"The plot has more contortions and twists than a carnival freak show convention..."

Synopsis:
Oliver Stone, who was once the country's most skilled assassin, stands before the White House for what may be the last time. The president personally re-enlists Stone for a high risk undercover mission. After having tried for 30 years to leave his past behind him Stone is left with no alternative but to answer his country's call.

Then Stone's mission alters drastically before he has even got started. A bomb goes off in the vicinity of the British prime minister as he leaves a presidential dinner. Stone is immediately re-assigned to investigate the terrorist attack along with MI6 agent Mary Chapman. Their quarry are elusive, deadly and very well informed - which keeps them one step ahead of Stone and Chapman. As things develop Stone turns to the Camel Club for help investigating what he believes is the opening salvo of a series of attacks aimed at the President. In the murk of politics and international espionage, nobody can be trusted and nothing is as it first appears.

Review:
The return of Oliver Stone to the US government can only ever achieve action, intrigue, death and discoveries. His uncompromising attitude and manner mean he gets results first and deals with sensibilities second. Yet, he is not gung-ho or out to buck the system; far from it. He just sets out to do a job and does it with the minimum of interference from those around him. The plot has more contortions and twists than a carnival freak show convention, yet it is so well laid out, that never do you lose track of who is who and which side they are on in any particular chapter. The whole intricacy of the novel is very akin to the work of Jeffrey Deaver.

Stone is a marvellous character whose wings have been allowed to spread and every outing with him is a great adventure. His deep sense of self criticism and the guilt he subsequently carries around with him are the softening touches to a fine man who is a hard as nails. Advancing years do not hold him back and it is wonderful to see his mental capacity being fully displayed as well as his physical attributes. Chapman, her boss Sir James, Agent Ashburn, Agent Gross and the Camel Club all play their part - but really they are just there to facilitate Stone.

The prose is as tight as one would expect from an author of such note and it panders to both the pace and the plot as required. Hell's Corner may not be as fast with the action as previous Camel Club outings but it will not leave you lacking, as the plot reveals more than compensate the reader for any dearth they may experience. The final denouement on murder mountain is a spectacular action sequence which will satisfy even the most bloodthirsty reader.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Deborah Harkness - The Discovery of Witches

"...gripping, intense, with plenty of bite!"

Synopsis:
The launch of an epic story that follows the forbidden love of an historian witch, Diana and a geneticist vampire, Matthew. After discovering an ancient alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian library, Diana is soon pursued by powerful daemons, vampires and witches intent on discovering it's contents which have remained hidden for hundreds of years.

Matthew, who is equally curious, takes it upon himself to protect Diana from those intent on harming her. Diana soon binds herself to Matthew, throwing herself into a world she worked so hard to dissociate herself from.

A quest for the truth leads Diana and Matthew on a journey, not only to uncover the ancient manuscript, but to discover her own power and what it holds for the future.

Review:
Fans of dark romance or historical fiction will be hard pressed to find anything with better originality than this exciting debut novel from Deborah Harkness. I was drawn in from the beginning by the quick pace and interesting characters who guide you through the supernatural world. Harkness creates an atmospheric tone and masterfully puts her own stamp on what witches, daemons and vampires should be.

The first half of the book was reminiscent of 'The Historian' by Kostova but this soon changed as the story progressed, moving more towards Charlaine Harris' 'Sookie Stackhouse' territory.

Although the story itself was interesting I felt it got lost in parts, focusing too heavily on the romance between Diana and Matthew and not enough on developing the overall plot. There were a number of characters I would have liked to have seen better developed, such as 'Ysabeau' Matthew's overbearing mother (yes, vampires even have mothers here!) and I hope these characters will progress in future novels.

Harkness has a skill recounting periods of history which really add to the story rather than a clever ploy to add weight to the book. Towards the end of the novel the romance between Diana and Matthew became incredibly intense and sometimes, as a result, I felt was too much. Despite that little niggle, I felt 'The Discovery of Witches' was a very enjoyable novel which does end with several strands of the story unresolved. I feel that now the foundations have been built that the next installment will be even better!

'The Discover of Witches' was gripping, intense, with plenty of bite!

Reviewed by: N.F.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jim Kelly - Death Toll

"... a master at his dark craft. "

Synopsis:
The local cemetery is being cleared of its graves and the bones removed to higher ground to save them from being swept away from potential flooding. In one of the graves a gruesome discovery is made when a body is found lying on top of one of the coffins. Who is the victim who was so unceremoniously killed and then hidden? Is the body connected in any way to the death of the person whose grave they reside? The woman who was buried there, Nora Tilden was murdered over twenty years ago in her own pub, 'The Flask'. Do the two events have any connection?

As Shaw and Valentine begin to clear away the webs of the past they find that their victim was a young black man. In the eighties not many black people populated West Norfolk and racism had been a problem, in particular with a local group that incited racism. Was the murder a racist crime or was the reason for his untimely death deeper than the colour of his skin? As the two detectives find themselves back in 'The Flask', now owned by Nora's daughter they find a family rapidly closing ranks and as more people begin to be killed, someone out for revenge.

Review:
Whenever you open a Jim Kelly novel you know that you are about to embark on a marvellous dark Gothic tale that will chill your bones and tease your mind. Whether it is describing the bleak shores of Norfolk in winter or the spooky cemetery, Kelly seems to know how to draw atmosphere from the words he writes. With this latest case, Kelly touches on the theme of racism in the eighties. 'Death Toll' is also a tale of forbidden love within a family that pulls together to keep any outsiders away and yet there are deep crevasses within this family loyalty.

Kelly gives his readers a crime novel that has racism at it's core, but despite the terrible subject matter, the writer doesn't try to sensationalise it. In the end, Kelly weaves a tale of unrequited love, another love that was not returned and about fractured families. Again, Kelly has written a book that shows why he is such a treat to read and a master at his dark craft.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Vince Flynn - American Assassin

"I could hardly put this book down to eat, sleep or work..."

Synopsis:
Tensions are simmering in the Middle East, so CIA Director Irene Kennedy is given the green light to form a group of clandestine operatives – men who do not appear to exist and only work under the radar. She finds the perfect candidate in the wake of the Pan Am Lockerbie disaster.

Two hundred and seventy people lost their lives on that cold December night with thousands of family members and friends left searching for some solace and comfort. Gifted college student Mitch Rapp was one of the many, he didn't want platitudes or pity – he wanted revenge.

After six months of intense training he finds himself in Istanbul face to face with the arms dealer who sold the explosives used in the atrocity. From there he moves to Europe where he once again leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. Next it is on to Beirut, but what he doesn't know is that the enemy is aware of him and has laid a trap.

When the hunter becomes the hunted then Rapp is forced to use every scrap of cunning and skill he possesses just to survive.

Review:
This is my kind of book. Brutal action, strong uncompromising characters, international intrigue and plenty of all of them. I could hardly put this book down to eat, sleep or work. Never having read any of Vince Flynn's books before I now have another author on my “must get the next one list” I was intrigued right from the moment I read the back of this book as I live only 12 miles from Lockerbie itself and can clearly remember the events unfolding on the fateful night in 1988. The Lockerbie disaster is however used merely as a cause to give Mitch Rapp his “call to arms.” Flynn, however, manages to be both respectful and indignant about the events without ever going into too much detail.

Mitch Rapp is a fantastic lead in the kind of 007 type spy/assassin/hired gun role into which he is cast and this return to where he started out, is I'm sure, a welcome piece of information for his regular followers. The tutor Stan Hurley is another fine creation who excels in his sadistic drive for perfection from his students and gives a virtuoso performance under interrogation. The opposition in the form of terrorist Sayyed and Russian agent Ivanov are truly despicable foes, both in their casual disregard for human life and their unswerving corruptness.

From the opening paragraph to the closing lines the pace is heightened through a clever use of language which is a feature of the pitch perfect prose displayed on every line. The plot is neither easy to follow nor bewildering, all it asks of the reader is that attention is paid. If like me you pay attention then you will be rewarded in spades by a finely tuned novel which may be set more than twenty years but is still very relevant today.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Harlan Coben - Caught

"Coben is skilled at developing his characters and giving them many facets..."

Synopsis:
17 year-old Haley McWaid is a good girl, the pride of her suburban New Jersey family, captain of the lacrosse team, headed off to college next year with all the hopes and dreams her doting parents can pin on her. Which is why, when her mother wakes one morning to find that Haley never came home the night before, and three months quickly pass without word from the girl, the community assumes the worst.

Wendy Tynes is a reporter on a mission, to identify and bring down sexual predators via elaborate - and nationally televised - sting operations. Working with local police on her news program Caught in the Act, Wendy and her team have publicly shamed dozens of men by the time she encounters her latest target. Dan Mercer is a social worker known as a friend to troubled teens, but his story soon becomes more complicated than Wendy could have imagined...

Review:
As with so many other books at the moment, it would seem that the zeitgeist is to involve popular social web sites either in the crimes themselves or the solving of them, and after a while this can become a little tiresome and worn. Yet again, Facebook plays a starring role in a novel whereas most readers I believe prefer to rely on good old fashioned detective work, or using the computer solely for databases or reference.

Coben is skilled at developing his characters and giving them many facets, but I did think that one of the main characters was almost superfluous to the story. The plot itself was very intricate, almost too intricate although there was a very good twist at the end.

Because this is written by Coben, there is a distinct, and professional style to it, but overall I did feel a little let down. There was a lack of his usual twists and although right until the end there was a question of who committed the crime, was the right person punished, it was certainly not on the same level of his other stand alone thrillers. For a Coben fan you will enjoy the book, but for an introduction to this author, I would start with his excellent thriller, 'Tell No One'.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sam Christer - The Stonehenge Legacy

"Christer moves to the UK’s most iconic historical site, and combine ancient myth and mystery with 21st century police procedure."

Synopsis:
Eight days prior to the summer solstice, a young man is ceremonially butchered in a blood chilling sacrifice at the ancient site of Stonehenge. Present are a congregation of robed worshippers. Within hours, one of the world's leading archaeologists has taken his own life in his nearby mansion, leaving a cryptic letter to his estranged son, Gideon Chase, who is also a budding young archaeologist.

Gideon is left reeling by his father's death and he enlists the help of DI Megan Baker. Soon they have uncovered a secret society devoted to Stonehenge which dates back thousands of years and spans the whole globe. A new leader now has the cult performing human sacrifices in a bid to unlock the secret of the stones.

Review:
In a fresh look at the historical thriller genre, Christer moves to the UK's most iconic historical site, and combine ancient myth and mystery with 21st century police procedure. He manages to pull off the trick of marrying contrasting styles with aplomb. The historical detail manages to inform without boring, the procedure is as you would expect from a seasoned author and the way he welds them together makes for a fine read.

Gideon Chase is an able character who is given depth of emotion due to the estranged relationship with his father which is debunked in his father's letter. Baker is a good copper in a bad situation and the emergence of one of her colleagues from others shadows is beautifully scripted. The Henge Master and his cohorts are all suitably sinister, nefarious and single minded. The plot is tight with very few discernible holes although some of the twists and turns were as predictable as a Chuckle Brothers joke.

The pace of the novel is steady throughout before rising for the final set piece. This is an excellent debut and I predict a bright future for Sam Christer.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Dan Bruns - Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

"These guys really do make you think “I could do better than that.” And you know what? You probably could."

Synopsis:
The stumbling pair of James Lessor and Skip Moore are now officially licensed PI's, James Takes a job on a traveling carnival show as More or Less Investigations wait for their first case. This carnival has a history of accidents including a death in the last year.

When they are hired to investigate these accidents the bumbling pair set into motion a rollercoaster chain of events which nearly costs them the ultimate price. A trip on the bone-jarring Dragon Tail, a Fun House punch up and open threats from the carnies makes the luckless duo realise that they are unlikely to get anywhere with the cantankerous carnies.

A carnival worker is murdered, causing Skip and James to work fast in case they are next. The only thing they would find sweeter than the carnival food smells, would be success. However success in this case would be survival.

Review:
This is the fourth installment of the “Stuff” series from Bruns. I have not read any of the previous offerings but I will be looking out for them in future, as I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to this series.

James and Skip are a couple of modern day Clouseau's, such is their ineptitude. They know nothing about investigating crimes and this is a point which another character makes sure they are informed of. Somehow they are endearing in a lost puppy kind of way, James with his positive “everything will be all right” manner and Skip following him around trying to look after his friend, make a few bucks and win back his girl. The tequila swilling dwarf Winston Pugh is good fun, opposed to Charlie and Bo who operate the Dragon Tail ride. Moe Bradley and his sisters who own the show are all worthy additions, but the book really is more or less about Messrs Lessor and Moore

The plot is quietly intricate as suspects range back and forward without ever taxing the reader too hard. The pace gathers nicely and while action set pieces are few, there is plenty of dialogue and plot aspects to enjoy. This is a sedate romp set in a lighthearted manner. In other hands this could have been a very dark and gritty tale, yet the way Bruns has kept it light makes it a fun adventure. The complete uselessness of the duo as they set about their investigation is one of the joys as too often we readers are shown up in our investigative prowess by the likes of Elvis Cole, Myron Bolitar etc. These guys really do make you think “I could do better than that.” And you know what? You probably could.

The book is written as seen through Skip's eyes which gives a first person perspective to the novel and often his musings are the drops of humour needed to soften the tone. Would I pass on the chance to read their next adventure? Not now Kato.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jon Trace - The Rome Prophecy

" I absolutely loved reading this book and defy any fan of Dan Brown, Chris Kuzneski or David Hewson to read this novel and not enjoy the ride. "

Synopsis:
A beautiful young woman is arrested on Rome's streets, she is covered in blood and claims to be on the run from a powerful sect which once brought the eternal city to its knees.

Ex-priest Tom Shaman teams up with Italian police Captain Valentina Morassi to decipher the mystery. Within Rome's churches and corridors of power, forces move against them and all the while someone is re-enacting sinister legends from the city's bloody past.

Review:
Part police procedural, part high adventure and part historical novel, The Rome Prophecy is an outstanding read which bowls over the reader in the manner of a runaway train. It gathers pace at about the same rate as well. From start to finish there are few quiet moments, whether the action is high octane or simply office politics being dealt with, Trace writes in such gripping fashion you can never quite catch your breath.

Shaman and Valentina share the lead role almost equally between them, although for me Shaman just edges ahead. The schizoid nature of one of the characters is a joy to behold and Cassandra's rambling reminiscences add a much greater depth to the plot and novel as a whole. The despicable Caesario (who really should be sectioned!) is another notable character as are Guilio and Louisa.

The prose is sparse enough to excite yet just enough to inform and the plot is nicely intricate and has a few lovely twists along the way. I absolutely loved reading this book and defy any fan of Dan Brown, Chris Kuzneski or David Hewson to read this novel and not enjoy the ride.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Craig Robertson - Random

"‘Random’ reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s style..."

Synopsis:
There is a serial killer going around Glasgow who has been named The Cutter. Nobody knows who will be next as every victim is different, their deaths brought about by a different MO every time. It isn't until The Cutter dispatches a key member of the Glasgow criminal underground that events really start kicking off.

Soon, due to misunderstanding and misdirection, people are being killed in revenge and gangland warfare is imminent. Amongst all this, The Cutter who has his own plan to play out must avoid being caught by a very annoyed gangland mobster out for blood. Especially when he finds himself in very close proximity to said mobster.

Review:
'Random' is an unusual novel written from the perspective of the killer. There isn't anything unusual in that - it has been done many times before - it was just that there was a strange and yet attractive quirkiness to the story, possibly due to the writing that made me want to read on further.

This novel is not littered with particularly nice characters and you don't really warm to any of them, even the narrator – not even when you find out the whole reason why he is committing these 'random' killings. However, that said, something inexplicable made me want to continue to turn those pages. 'Random' reminded me of Patricia Highsmith's style, people you didn't find loveable and yet you had to watch as they spiralled further down in to the darkest depths none of us could ever imagine ourselves in. It is the same with why people slow down when there has been a car accident on the motorways… it is that fascination and repulsion that makes us look. The same here with 'Random' - I just couldn't avert my eyes! There isn't much in the way of dialogue as most of it is the thoughts of the killer – but definitely a very good first novel that promises much darkness in the future.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

H. Terrell Griffin - Bitter Legacy

"...enough twists to entertain without ever being so complicated that the reader loses track or feels they should have made notes."

Synopsis:
After a week's holiday Matt Royal returns to Longboat Key intent on enjoying the good life - good fishing, good food, good beer - and more good fishing. However he comes back to bad news. A sniper has shot one of his best friends.

To make matters worse, now he's back someone is also trying very hard to kill him. With no idea as to who is behind the attempts on his life Matt finds himself at the centre of a mystery involving a tourist left for dead, a ruthless gang of bikers, a murdered lawyer, a reclusive billionaire with nothing to lose and an ancient manuscript which could ruin some of the most entrenched financial interests in Florida.

Between solving the mystery and surviving further attempts on his life, Matt has plenty to deal with, the least of these being the new police officer on Longboat Key, the undeniably beautiful Jennifer Duncan.

Review:
This is my first encounter with retired lawyer Matt Royal and I have to say that I was delighted to meet him. He is living the dream lifestyle but when his path is crossed he brooks no opposition and quickly sets off on the hunt for the paymaster of his would be assassins. He is a decent sort of chap who is both liked and respected within his small community and he even has the unofficial backing of the local sheriff. He is ably assisted by his friends Jock and Logan who are both loyal and objective to his failings. Jock in particular is such a fine character that he could probably carry a book by himself. His shady goings on for a shadowy government agency are beautifully depicted in their scarcity. JD is also worth a shout out as she is far from the stereotype she originally appears to be.

The plot is basically straightforward yet has enough twists to entertain without ever being so complicated that the reader loses track or feels they should have made notes. The prose is accomplished and the understanding of his friends as voiced through Matt Royal is one of the strengths of the author. From start to finish there is a steady pace which builds to a tumultuous action sequence in the final chapters. One torture scene is quite horrific in its premise and will have fainter hearted readers gasping although Griffin does lighten the mood with Royal's observations. Overall I found Bitter legacy to be a very entertaining novel.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: