Click a logo below for more information...
 
 

Reviews

July 2011

S.J. Bolton - Now You See Me

"The pace is relentless with a constant descent into the underbelly of society which makes this novel such a fascinatingly gory spectacle."

Synopsis:
London DC Lacey Flint has held a lifelong fascination with Jack the Ripper but has never yet worked a murder case or even seen a corpse.

Returning to her car one evening she finds the horrific sight of a woman slumped over the car bleeding to death from multiple stab wounds. When the woman dies in her arms Lacey is thrown headlong into the hunt for her killer and stops at nothing to unmask the murderer.

Lacey receives a letter which is a copycat of those the Ripper sent. This is more than the usual letter in blood; it shows the killer's fixation with both Jack the Ripper and Lacey herself. Can this raw recruit catch a killer whose role-model eluded capture?

Review:
When this book arrived I was instantly attracted to it by the dramatic cover image and the intriguing synopsis. I have never read any of S.J. Bolton's other books and cannot honestly say if Now You See Me features characters from her previous books. This is something I plan to rectify at the earliest opportunity such was my enjoyment of this novel.

The character of Lacey Flint is a marvellous step away from the usual DS, DI or even DCI lead and her tortuous experiences define both her and the flavour of the book as more and more revelations come to light. Dana Tulloch, Victoria & Cathy Llewellyn, along with Mark Joesbury, all add greatly to the novel and its dark atmosphere. But for me the best characterisation came with lesser characters and the human traits they showed. Many authors merely fill space with such people; S.J. Bolton treats them all as equals in her work.

The pace is relentless with a constant descent into the underbelly of society which makes this novel such a fascinatingly gory spectacle. The plot is cleverly intricate with a drip feed of information to constantly heighten the pace and a wonderful twist in the tail at the end which almost caught me off guard.

I would only offer one word of caution to future readers, the water got so cold around me when reading this book in the bath I almost caught hypothermia!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Karin Slaughter - Fallen

"Another great read as is to be expected from Karin Slaughter!"

Synopsis:
On an ordinary spring day, Special Agent Faith Mitchell of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation returns home to a nightmare. Expecting to find her mother minding Faith's new baby daughter Emma, she is horrified to discover Emma locked in the shed, her mother's safe open, her gun missing and a trail of blood to the front door. Without waiting for back-up, Faith enters the house to a scene of carnage. It has been torn apart and a man lies dead in a pool of blood. She stumbles across two more intruders, and within minutes they too are shot dead. And when the Atlanta police force turns up, Faith has some difficult questions to answer. But she has some desperate questions of her own. What were the killers searching for?

Ex-Atlanta police chief Evelyn Mitchell was once under investigation by Faith's partner Will Trent. Is her mother directly involved this time, and where is she now? With Faith suspended from duty, Will, together with the help of Dr Sara Linton, must piece together the fragments of a brutal and complicated case and catch a deeply troubled and vicious murderer with only one thing on his mind. To keep on killing until the truth is finally revealed.

Review:
This is simply Slaughter at her best, despite Sara Linton making an appearance. She seems to have lost some of her depressive, whining character traits and I found her more bearable in this novel, however the past few books have made me dislike her so much that it will take me some time to actually warm to her. Will Trent, however, is a different kettle of fish and impossible to dislike, Despite all his issues and baggage from his childhood you cannot help but hopes he succeeds and he remains a firm favourite of mine.

This story starts as it continues - fast and furious. Amanda Wagner, Deputy Director of the GBI is being her usual evasive self, but another character despite having so many flaws that you cannot help but warm to.

The characters do have great depth and the plot has been well thought out with an ending that I wasn't expecting which is always much more enjoyable than a predictable read.

'Fallen' has a great mix of murder, intrigue and police work with plenty of personal touches from the characters to make the reader care about what happens to them.

Another great read as is to be expected from Karin Slaughter!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Craig Russell - A Fear of Dark Water

"A Fear of Dark Water is a wonderfully entertaining read for the intelligent reader."

Synopsis:
A huge environmental summit is about to start in Hamburg when a massive storm engulfs the city. As the flood waters recede, a headless torso is found among the debris.

Initially Jan Fabel of the Hamburg Murder Commission suspects it may be the latest victim to fall foul of a serial rapist and murderer who has been stalking women through social networking sites before dumping there bodies in the city's waterways.

However the truth is far more sinister and complex than Fabel suspects. His investigation leads him to the door of Pharos – a secretive Doomsday cult which is the brainchild of the reclusive billionaire cripple – Dominik Korn. Fabel's skills as a detective come under scrutiny as he finds himself drawn into the unfamiliar world of high-tech crime where anyone can be whoever they want to be.

Before long he realises he has become the hunted instead of the hunter.

Review:
Jan Fabel has to be one of the best of the “European” detectives patrolling the streets of Europe's major cities. He is right up there with the likes of Nic Costa and Gabriel Allon. This is his finest adventure to date as he pursues the “Network Killer” around Hamburg as all around him conundrums are arising and certainties sinking.

A Fear of Dark Water is a wonderfully entertaining read for the intelligent reader. Theories are expounded, twists are convoluted and nuances inhabit this novel throughout. There is a subliminal message throughout that cults are evil and the environment is precariously placed. Do not let this distract you though; this is still a proper police procedural novel. Russell has great skill in setting the scene and creating a noirish atmosphere in Hamburg. His plotting is first class and the novel is populated throughout with compelling characters.

Fabel is a marvellous creation who is the epitome of any fictional detective driven by his work. Some may call him a cliché, others might use the word stereotype, I would say shining example. Anna Wolff manages to be upstaged for once by the gregarious Brüggeman. Kroeger and van Heiden are ideal foils for Fabel and the evil Wiegand rounds off the major characters.

All in all I found this book to be a gritty insight into the complex world we inhabit written in a fantastically entertaining style with touches of humour borrowed straight from the author's other creation Lennox.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeff Abbott - The Last Minute

"This is a great read from an author who never fails to surprise."

Synopsis:
They framed me. They abducted my wife. They took my child. I want him back. Sam Capra has one reason to live: to reclaim his baby son from the people who kidnapped him.

Now they have offered him a deadly deal; they'll surrender Sam's child... If Sam agrees to commit a spectacular murder. Teaming up with a young mother whose daughter went missing, he tracks his child across the country in a dangerous, desperate race against time.

Review:
'The Last Minute' is Abbott's sequel to Adreneline and in my opinion is far superior. The pace is as fast but many unanswered questions from the previous novel and lots of lose ends have been tied off, leaving the reader feeling more satisfied.

Capra is a great lead character. He is for the most part an ordinary man trying to get back control of his life and child, but also there is a reason and explanation for the skills that he has and the people/contacts he knows (his former job within the CIA) making his ability to outrun the 'bad guys' just a little more believable.

Capra's relationships with those people before he went on the run are always questioned as to whether he will be betrayed. This leaves the reader wondering who can be trusted.

In the prequel the group the Nine Suns was never fully explained, nor was Capra's partner Mila's reasons for her involvement with the Round Table explained. However, in Last Minute, Abbott gives plenty of background on both of the groups and Mila giving more depth and strength to the characters and brings the plot to life.

There is a great twist to the end of the book and in a way I was slightly disappointed that Abbott seemed to take the soft option for an ending but am hoping this is maybe to lay the foundations for a further novel? I would certainly like to see Capra return, so maybe the ending is not as cut and dried as the author would like us to believe.

This is a great read from an author who never fails to surprise.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Eoin Colfer - Plugged

"There are many laugh-out-loud moments as well as some spine chilling and blood curdling events."

Synopsis:
Dan is an Irish ex army hard man who finds himself as a bouncer in a seedy New Jersey casino. He looks and sounds the part except for his concern for his receding hairline and the lengths to which he has gone to amend the situation.

When Connie, a hostess at the club, is murdered he takes a personal interest in tracking down the killer. A shifty and dubious doctor friend goes missing and Dan's inner voices urge him on to find him.

Add to this several very unpleasant drug dealers and decidedly weird female cops and you have the ingredients for a very humorous and unpredictable story.

Review:
'Plugged' is a take on a hard-boiled American crime story but with a cast of unusual, crazy characters. Eoin Colfer himself described it as 'Artemis Fowl with torture' and he is not wrong.

There are many laugh-out-loud moments as well as some spine chilling and blood curdling events. Despite the weirdness of the characters, they are compelling and sympathetic. I found myself really concerned about Dan and hoping he would find a compatible lifestyle. In the meantime his exploits with his upstairs neighbour and the cop-killing female cop did make me laugh.

This book took me out of my normal comfort zone and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I look forward to more of the same!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Mills - House of the Hanged

"... the perfect beach read."

Synopsis:
France, 1935: At the poor man's end of the Riviera sits Le Rayol, a haven for artists, expatriates and refugees. Here, a world away from the rumblings of a continent heading towards war, Tom Nash has rebuilt his life after a turbulent career in the Secret Intelligence Service.

His past, though, is less willing to leave him behind. When a midnight intruder tries to kill him, Tom knows it is just a matter of time before another assassination attempt is made.

Gathered at Le Rayol for the summer months are all those he holds most dear, including his beloved goddaughter Lucy. Reluctantly, Tom comes to believe that one of them must have betrayed him. If he is to live, Tom must draw his enemy out, but at what cost to himself and the people he loves?

Review:
Having read all of this author's books, one of the pleasures I have come to expect is an exquisitely detailed and utterly convincing sense of time and place - and once again Mark Mills delivers in spades. The French Riviera is so beautifully drawn on the page you'll be on to your travel agent as soon as you close the last page.

Of course “place” can only hold your interest for so long and Mills augments this with a fascinating cast of characters and a premise that will keep you hooked. The period between the world wars is one that is not much explored in modern fiction, but the jostling for position among the world's largest countries and the threat of another human disaster on the horizon offers a huge dramatic opportunity to the novelist and is one that Mills jumps onto.

The pace lagged just a little in the middle third of the book but picked up nicely well before the end when the author brought us home to a thoroughly exciting and satisfying conclusion.

While packing your flip-flops and sun cream, be sure to add House of the Hanged to your luggage, it is the perfect beach read.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Marshall - Killer Move

"Marshall writes very well, keeping the pace going throughout and builds realistic characters... "

Synopsis:
Bill Moore is a man with a plan. He's got a lucrative job selling condos in the Florida Keys, a great marriage and a beautiful house. He had a five year plan for world domination, too, but it's already creeping into year six. So now he's decided to mix it up - just a little. This means getting in tight with the people in power; the players who run the area like their personal kingdom. It's all going to plan until the day Bill gets to work to find a card left on his desk. It's black on both sides, just one word printed in white: MODIFIED.

From that moment, Bill's life begins to change - at first barely noticeably, then in more and more disturbing ways. Bill soon finds out, in the most terrifying fashion, that he has become the subject of a dark and deadly game... and that he has no choice but to fight back.

Review:
Killer Move started off very promisingly with an exciting plot and plenty of characters to enable the reader to question who the culprit may be, even if the motive may not have been evident at the time. However, as time went on, the quality of the writing and characters remained strong but I felt it was let down with a very weak reasoning behind the actual crime.

The ending in itself wasn't so much of a disappointment but I did feel that too many questions were left unanswered and events not fully explained which took away some enjoyment from an otherwise very good book.

Marshall writes very well, keeping the pace going throughout and builds realistic characters for the main part (although I did find one or two to be slightly unbelievable).

I am hoping that Marshall will write a follow up novel which will take off which Killer Move ended and answer the questions that need answering. On the whole it seems like a perfect book. Great plot, good strong characters, creatively and well written, just let down by the lack of explanation at the end.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tess Gerritsen - The Silent Girl

"... a mix of Chinese myths and superstitions, together with present day crime. "

Synopsis:
In the murky shadows of an alley lies a female's severed hand. On the tenement rooftop above is the corpse belonging to that hand. A red-haired woman dressed all in black, her head nearly severed. Two strands of silver hair - not human - cling to her body. They are Rizzoli's only clues, but they're enough for her and medical examiner Maura Isles to make the startling discovery: that this violent death had a chilling prequel.

Nineteen years earlier, a horrifying murder-suicide in a Chinatown restaurant left five people dead. But one woman connected to that massacre is still alive: a mysterious martial arts master who knows a secret she dares not tell; a secret that lives and breathes in the shadows of Chinatown. A secret that may not even be human. Now she's the target of someone, or something, deeply and relentlessly evil...

Review:
Rizzoli is my favourite of Gerritsen's characters, and in the Silent Girl she is as fiery and dogmatic as ever. I am disappointed that her husband, Gabriel, seems to have taken a back seat as I think they work well together and he is another character I enjoy.

The Silent Girl has a slightly strange feel about it, a mix of Chinese myths and superstitions, together with present day crime. Although at times I found it hard to follow and work out who was who. Indeed, some characters are never fully identified, which I find a little off-putting. Also the mythical monkey and whether it was a real creature or an imagined being I found to be a little tiresome and somewhat unconvincing.

The plot itself is based around a current murder, and also a shooting at a restaurant some years earlier. When investigating, other crimes come to light, and there is an unexpected turn at the end of the book. Gerritsen has a great style of writing, but if I have to be honest, although I did enjoy this book, it certainly isn't one of her best.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Denise Mina - The End of the Wasp Season

"...a multi-layered human drama with a dollop of violence and generous helping of mystery to keep us crime addicts happy."

Synopsis:
When notorious millionaire banker Lars Anderson hangs himself from the old oak tree in front of his Kent mansion his death attracts little sympathy. One less shark is little loss to a world nursing a financial hangover. But the legacy of a lifetime of self-serving is widespread, the carnage most acute among those he ought to be protecting: his family. He leaves behind two deeply damaged children and a broken wife.

Meanwhile, in a wealthy suburb of Glasgow, a young woman is found savagely murdered in her home. The genteel community is stunned by what appears a vicious, random attack. When DS Alex Morrow, heavily pregnant with twins, is called in to investigate, she soon discovers that behind the murder lurks a tangled web of lies. A web that will spiral through the local community, through Scotland and ultimately right back to a swinging rope hundreds of miles away.

Review:
This is the second book where Denise Mina brings us the character of DS Morrow and for me is the one where she really gets into her groove with this individual. I use the word “individual” deliberately because Morrow is so well drawn she feels like a real person. Next time I'm up in Glasgow I fully expect to bump into her.

It's in the depiction of her characters where Mina excels. A little slice of description, an action, some carefully crafted dialogue and they take flesh before your eyes. Adding heft to this is her ability to record the interaction between her characters: to demonstrate their finely nuanced behaviour.
End of the Wasp Season is ostensibly a police procedural, but Denise Mina's talent takes it beyond any perceived limitations of that sub-genre into a multi-layered human drama with a dollop of violence and generous helping of mystery to keep us crime addicts happy. As a reader you know pretty much from the off “who-dunnit” but that's not the point of this excellent novel. This is people-watching on an intimate and at times uncomfortable level. And it's this ability to draw her characters that makes you care. Mina enlists your sympathy even for the suspected killer, despite the fact he's spoiled rotten and given every advantage in life. Real life is never that straightforward. We life in a world of contrast, a rainbow of gray if you will, and few writers highlight that as well as Denise Mina does.

If you like a read full of red-herrings and the chance to deduce who the bad-guy is, this is not the book for you. I can also understand if readers who are new to Denise Mina feel the pace lags in places. For me, however, End of the Wasp Season is a vibrant, thought-provoking read and one that is an excellent addition to this talented author's oeuvre.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Franklin - Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

"The writing is delicious, the pace sure and steady and the sense of place offers an atmosphere that is impossible not to be seduced by."

Synopsis:
Amos, Mississippi is a quiet town. Silas Jones is its sole law enforcement officer. The last excitement here was nearly twenty years ago, when a teenage girl disappeared on a date with Larry Ott, Silas's one-time boyhood friend. The law couldn't prove Larry guilty, but the whole town has shunned him ever since.

Then the town's peace is shattered when someone tries to kill the reclusive Ott, another young woman goes missing and the town's drug dealer is murdered. Woven through the tautly written murder story is the unspoken secret that hangs over the lives of two men - one black, one white.

Review:
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is an emotionally charged, highly original and deeply satisfying crime novel.

It is a book that offers many levels. Yes, there is the mystery of the missing girls, past and present, but at its heart - and this book has a huge heart - this is a novel about secrets, friendship, family, redemption; it is a book about lost opportunities, about “what ifs”.

Scary Larry, as the locals call Larry Ott is a study in loneliness and ostracism. From the off he never had a chance. He's the introverted class geek, bullied by his father, who seeks solace in books. Franklin's characterisation of Larry is spot on, hugely endearing and never wavers throughout. There were times when I was all but screaming at the book for Larry to do something that would help his situation, but that was his flaw ...and his saving grace.

The writing is delicious, the pace sure and steady and the sense of place offers an atmosphere that is impossible not to be seduced by. There is much to admire about this novel and a whole lot more to love. If there is any justice in the world this will become a huge bestseller.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Felix Riley - The Set-Up

"A spectacular debut from Riley..."

Synopsis:
Financial investigator Mike Byrne wants his mother's money back from the bank that lost it by investing in Madoff's Ponzi scheme. After his meeting with four bank officials he appears to re-enter the room and shoot them all. He has been framed and wants to know who has set him up as the murderer.

Detective Jenni Martinez only wants her badge and gun back. However you can't always get what you want. Together Byrne & Martinez have just 3 days to prevent America being financially ruined and find out who has set up Byrne and why.

Review:
A spectacular debut from Riley sees his protagonist, Byrne, battling against his former employers – the Secret Service, the NYPD and the shadowy Russians who are somehow involved in the mess he calls his life. All he wanted was his mother's money back and now he's being hunted by almost every law enforcement officer in New York for a crime he didn't commit.

Riley combines the blistering pace of an action novel with the financial shenanigans of the banking world and weaves a tale of action and intrigue. Among this he actually manages to explain the reason behind credit crunch with a clarity and frankness missing from any other explanation I have read, seen or heard about.

Byrne is a fine lead with his straight no-nonsense manner and his Secret Service background gives him the training he needs to stay alive. When he is talking about the financial misdoings of his country's banks he really comes alive and fills the role fully with his disdain for their banking practices. Some may see this as author intrusion or a wonderful honesty depending on which side of the fence they sit. Martinez is a fine assistant and engages well in the sidekick / person to hear explanations position without ever stealing Byrne's thunder. Carlton his former boss and other main characters such as the bank's CEO Rankin are all well scripted.

The prose is excellent in that indefinable way that just works. Whether making sense of the credit crunch with dialogue or describing a full-on action sequence, it works beautifully and sets the required pace and atmosphere for the event. The pace varies between fast and frantic as riley ramps up the tension, and then pauses to explain sub-prime mortgages before embarking on the next mini adventure.

Has Felix Riley created a bankable character which will have longevity? Yes. Would I read his next book? You can bank on it.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Camilla Lackberg - The Hidden Child

"Above all this is a crime novel about murder in a small community where many people know each other and family histories are intertwined. "

Synopsis:
Detective Patrik Hedstrom is on Paternity leave and is adjusting to the domestic scene whilst his wife, crime writer Erica Falke, is settling down to writing her new novel. However, she also is fascinated by reading her dead mother's old diaries and finding a Nazi medal amongst her effects. In a climate where Sweden has an active neo-Nazi group she is puzzled and concerned.

As she investigates the medal, one of the people she consults is found murdered. Her mother's diaries reveal the active part her family in supporting their neighbour Norway in fighting the Nazis, and reveal the past history of current members of the community. As she finds out more about her mother's past the more it seems that the present is influenced by the past, especially when another of her mother's childhood friends is found murdered.

Alongside the dark secrets of the past the families of Patrik and Erica develop and grow and this is part of the charm of the book. You will either love or hate the cozy domesticity Swedish style.

Review:
Above all this is a crime novel about murder in a small community where many people know each other and family histories are intertwined. The shocking murders derive from events of the past. It sheds a light on what happened to Sweden during the Second World War and how different members of the community supported different sides. Because the individual characters have depth and history the psychological reasons for their behaviour becomes fascinating. The people are very real and behave in understandable ways. It portrays the dark undercurrents which can be present in many small communities.

Lackberg explores the effect of trauma in youth on the lives and attitudes of the characters. Some are scarred so much that they never recover whilst others develop and overcome the past.

Erica Falke and Patrik Hestrom are a very Swedish couple, sharing childcare and generally behaving in a very civilised manner. But it is not all perfect and some of the tensions of modern living are explored.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Adam Kolczynski - The Oxford Virus

"...a worthy read."

Synopsis:
Dr. Lomana Olembe of the Lorenex Biotherapeutics laboratory believes he may have found a cancer cure. On the brink of his first human trial disaster strikes re-convening the battle between convention medicine and vanguard therapy.

DCI Dárdai of the Thames Valley police is called in to investigate. Barely has his investigation started when a body is found in a terraced Oxford house. Was it suicide? Is it connected to the Olembe case? Or are there other forces at work?

Dárdai enlists the help of Professor Konstantin Zolotov, a failed medical student who is now the head of Russian and East European Studies at Clapperton College. Two distinct working practices are on a headlong collision course as both try to solve the case.

Review:
Let me say from the start that I am still not sure what exactly this book is meant to be. A crime thriller? A literary masterpiece? A dig at pretentious university types? At times it can be all three at once or any individual. Back to the point though. The basic plot is sound and the prose is technically correct although it does wander off topic frequently as the author demonstrates his literary prowess.

Each character is carefully crafted and the pontificating Professor Zolotov is very acute in his observations. His assistant Figeuroa and the coven of women who are central to the case are all drawn with an artists brush and supplement Zolotov who is the real star of the show. This is no better depicted than in the finale which sees him conduct a Christie style “all the suspects in the same room together” exposé of the criminals.

Personally I found the book to be a little too high brow for my tastes, although there were enough glimmers of daylight to prove a worthy read. The author is obviously highly intelligent and this is shown throughout in a style similar to that of Christopher Brookmyre, but without the satirical comedy which Brookmyre injects into his books.

My advice to the reader – Approach with caution and time to digest this book and you will be rewarded by a crime story which may well win a literary award.

My advice to the author – Make a decision which side of the crime / literary divide you are on and write in that fashion as I believe you have the skill to succeed in either genre but not both at once.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Charles Brokaw - The Lucifer Code

"Brokaw blends fact and fiction together to create a rollercoaster ride through historical fact and modern day menace. "

Synopsis:
When an ancient manuscript is uncovered after being concealed for centuries, its pages are found to contain the most unholy secret ever known to mankind.

A sacred brotherhood has sworn through generations to protect this terrifying truth against those who would use it to destroy mankind. The unimaginable happens and the manuscript falls into the wrong hands, and Dr Thomas Lourds is called upon to decipher the cryptic document.

Lourds soon find himself embroiled in a race to uncover the secret of the document with good and evil both enlisting him in the sprint to find the key to cracking the ancient code.

Review:
As with his previous novel (The Atlantis Code) Brokaw blends fact and fiction together to create a rollercoaster ride through historical fact and modern day menace. The pace is frantic throughout and readers, let alone the characters, never have time to gather their wits before being plunged into the next desperate situation.

Lourds is once again the centre of attention against his wishes, yet he retains the innocence of those who are thrust into events, rather than the “lets have it” attitude of the seasoned warrior. His plight sees him question beliefs which are held by many of us and he confronts them with aplomb. His companions, Cleena and Olympia, are poles apart and the conflict between the two give the novel an extra edge. The mysterious Qayin and Joachim add to the drama of the moment and are vital to the story.

The Lucifer Code is tightly written and few words are wasted as you are transported on a journey through time and beliefs. Nefarious characters abound, as do earth-shattering plot twists and when you finally put down this book you will sigh and be glad it's only fiction.

Personally I can't wait for the next instalment of Lourds' adventures from Brokaw.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: