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Reviews

September 2011

Emlyn Rees - Hunted

"...I am wondering why this author hasn’t turned his hand to this genre before now – he obviously has a natural talent for suspense and action."

Synopsis:
Danny Shanklin wakes up slumped across a table in a London hotel room he's never seen before. He's got a high-powered rifle strapped to his hands. He hears sirens and stumbles to the window to see a burning limousine and bodies all over the street. The police are closing in. He's been set up. They're coming for him…

With only his tech support friend, the Kid, for backup, Danny sets out on a nail-biting odyssey though the panicked city streets, in a desperate bid to escape, protect the people he loves, and track down the terrorists who set him up. But with 500,000 CCTV cameras, 33,000 cops, 9 intelligence agencies, and dozens of TV news channels all hot on his tail, just how long will this one innocent man be able to survive?

Review:
I thoroughly enjoyed Hunted, with Danny Shanklin as the main character who worked really well with the plot. The story itself is mainly set in the present tense - over the space of a day - which in some way gives a sense of urgency to the events taking place. Although in itself it is a tried and tested plot in that the hero has been set up and is trying to avoid the authorities/bad guys whilst he tries to clear his name, there is still some originality here.

Shanklin is also having flashbacks to events that happened some years ago, and with the way the book ended I am wondering if perhaps these may be relevant in future novels. This should be an interesting twist as it will bring a different element to the stories. The pace will keep the reader wanting to keep reading and, as ever, wondering who Shanklin can trust. Although expecting him to ultimately survive the chase, it is all about at what cost?

Hunted is an excellent read and I am wondering why this author hasn't turned his hand to this genre before now – he obviously has a natural talent for suspense and action. For sure Rees will be on my list of must reads from now on.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Johan Theorin - The Quarry

"...I am sure Theorin will become a leader of the new wave of Scandinavian crime fiction hitting our book stores..."

Synopsis:
Per Morner is living in his cottage inherited from an uncle on the Swedish island of Oland and preparing for his children to visit for their holidays. The cottage is in a beautiful position, next to an abandoned quarry where Per used to play as a child. His daughter is in hospital for tests for an unexplained illness. When his father, Jerry, calls him asking for help Per rushes to Jerry's studio in the mainland woods where he finds Jerry injured in a blazing building. Two more bodies are found in the building.

Jerry abandoned his family years ago to pursue a career in pornography. He retains the power to shock and embarrass Jerry's friends. At the heart of the mystery is Jerry and when he dies after a road accident Per is left to pursue the killer, particularly as he feels threatened. His neighbours on the island are an assorted bunch and their histories intertwine with that of Per and Jerry.

Review:
There are beautiful and haunting descriptions of life on the island of Oland and Theorin conveys his own love of the life there very evocatively. The passing of the old way of life and the inevitable changes to the people is recorded in a gentle and loving way. Superimposed on that is the effect of long ago wrongs on the present; the sins of the fathers coming to haunt the lives of the sons (and daughters).

The history is not idyllic. Violence has occurred on the island before and it returns again to strike at Per and his family. I loved the characters in this book. They are original yet completely recognisable. Gerlof is an admirable man, fighting the inevitable ravages of old age and Vendela is a woman emerging from dominance by others to become her own person - albeit with slightly odd views. Jerry is a sleazy old man who very easily infuriates and angers. 'The Quarry' is a cracking good story and with this new novel I am sure Theorin will become a leader of the new wave of Scandinavian crime fiction hitting our book stores around the globe.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Cain - Carver

"As Cain and Carver progress they both become more rounded and confident in every possible way"

Synopsis:
Shockwaves were sent around the world when Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2009. The unprecedented demise of such a large and venerable institution of the banking world created a domino effect which saw the world's economy take a hit which affected every man woman and child in the western world. Blame was apportioned to greed and the sub-prime mortgage market.

But what if it was neither of these factors, what if it was a twisted financial manipulator hell-bent on destroying the banking system and all the major banks? What if the collapse of Lehman Brothers was merely a trial for a bigger, more damning assault on the world's financial capital, London?

When the financial markets are in meltdown and the life of the woman he loves are at stake Sam Carver is left with only five days to stop an attack which can bring the global economy to its knees.

Review:
This book has a tough act to follow. I named its predecessor (Dictator) as one of my two favourite books of 2010. Needless to say I expected nothing but the highest standards of entertainment, informed speculation and more thrills than Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Let's just say I was not disappointed!

The whole novel is set on a “what if” premise that one man is responsible for all the financial woes which have dominated headlines for two years now. As Cain and Carver progress they both become more rounded and confident in every possible way. The whole novel is littered with some wonderfully intelligent nuances and insults in there for those clever enough to recognise them, and is generally a high class read for the discerning reader.

The practical and pragmatic explanations behind the financial shenanigans which make the main plot line are easily followed yet are not condescending or patronizing. The pace is initially fairly sedentary for a Carver novel (only one fatality by page 25) as the groundwork is laid out before the final 200 pages where the action is so fast that pages, chapters and hours pass by in a blur.

In Cain's hands Carver is steadily fleshing out like a man approaching his fortieth birthday. He is getting ever rounder, more experienced and has fewer surprises for those who know him well. Alix, as ever, fills the role required of her with aplomb and one particular scene will always make me afraid of women holding perfume bottles. Schultz and Grantham make dependable allies but this really is a Carver story and no-one else comes close to stealing his thunder. On the other side of the coin Malachi Zorn and Ginger are decidedly despicable foes.

The prose is tightrope taut and rarely is any word either extraneous or unnecessary. All in all Carver carries on the mantle from where Dictator left off.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Marshall Karp - Cut, Paste, Kill

"Another brilliant read with some great humour!"

Synopsis:
When Eleanor Bellingham-Crump - a socialite responsible for the death of a ten-year-old boy - turns up murdered on the floor of a Hollywood hotel bathroom, Lomax and Biggs are confronted with a crime of artistic brutality. Along with the scissors sticking out of Eleanor's lifeless body, the two detectives find a meticulous scrapbook documenting a motive for vengeance in lurid detail.

As more bodies are discovered, each one connected by the intricate scrapbooks left at the murder scenes, Mike and Terry are on the hunt for a vigilante stalking unpunished criminals. They must race to decode the meaning behind the scrapbooks before the crafty avenger has time to cut and paste the story for another kill.

Review:
Hooked since reading Karp's first novel, the Rabbit Factory, Cut, Paste, Kill, the fourth in the Lomax and Biggs series, has lost none of the dark, sardonic humour delivered in one liners, mostly by Lomax or Biggs, nor a far-fetched plot.

Whilst this pair of detectives are not quite so accident prone and hapless as the lead character from Evanovich's books, Stephanie Plum, there are definitely similarities - crime with a touch of humour. So any fans of Evanovich would soon have a new author to add to their list of must read books.

My one criticism is that the book was too short (approx. 300 pages) which for a thriller/murder in my opinion is too short.

The plot was, as expected, perhaps a little unbelievable but there was still the opportunity for the reader to try and solve the murders (and whilst I didn't guess the murderer from the beginning, I did feel that I was able to work out who a little too early and I prefer to keep guessing until the end or at least be proven wrong).

Lomax's relationship with Big Jim, his father, has still not improved and provides many a moment of humour. He has also come to terms with the loss of his wife and now in a relationship, but the contents of the letter from his wife have still not been revealed! Another brilliant read with some great humour!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Robinson - Before the Poison

"This is a brilliant novel that is all the better for Banks’ absence. "

Synopsis:
Chris Lowndes forged a career writing music for the movies, otherwise known as 'music nobody listens to'. After many years promising his wife that one day they would move away from LA and buy a house in Yorkshire, Chris has finally managed to realise one dream. His only heartache is that his wife, Laura, died before the dream became a reality. Kilnsgate House is a big house desolately set in the Yorkshire countryside. The nearest neighbours live over a mile away. And soon after moving in Chris hears the true history of the house that was suppressed during his purchase of Kilnsgate House.

On New Years Eve of1953 during a snowstorm when the inhabitants were marooned in Kilnsgate House, Grace Fox allegedly poisoned her husband, the local doctor. It was these events that led Grace to be hanged. Why wouldn't she speak at her own trial? Was the fact she was having an affair paint her as a scarlet woman and therefore, a murderess?

Nearly sixty years on, Chris feels that Grace's true story was never told and begins to dig under the surface to find the real Grace Fox and what made her act the way she did that winter's night in 1953…

Review:
Before we start let's get the 'Banks' issue out of the way. This is not a Banks novel and, to be honest, if he had been in it I am sure it would have felt as though he had been 'shoehorned' into the story.

'Before the Poison' has many different levels and even the title refers on varying degrees to many of the plot strands that surface in this fascinating and haunting novel.

With adept professionalism, Robinson brings to the reader a story that is tantalisingly unravelled like a poisoned present; a plot that uncoils like the proverbial serpent. At times 'Before the Poison' is a haunting love story and also one of obsession. Chris' obsession with his dead wife as well as the long-departed Grace Fox are extremely powerful emotions that Robinson brings magnificently to the page. Some of the scenes of the house, with its creaks, groans and the possibility of a ghost gliding along the corridors is very emotive and brought the hairs standing up on my neck! It takes a lot to scare me, but even I had to put this book down after beginning to feel freaked out in the dead of night! Even now, writing this and remembering the scenes I have shivers running down my spine!

Although there are some spooky moments this isn't classic ghost territory. What this story is about is the search for truth and poses the question if good people can do bad deeds? It questions if evil is evil and good is good or whether there can be a blurring of the two? And as always with this author, there is a resolution that brings everything full circle. This is a brilliant novel that is all the better for Banks' absence. You feel this is a story Robinson has wanted to tell for some time – and now he has had the chance he has created a spellbinding tale which has all the right ingredients – a haunting, moving tale that will get you thinking days after the last word has been read.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Linwood Barclay - The Accident

"The plot is tight, with shocks, red-herrings and enough twists to satisfy even the most critical reader. "

Synopsis:
Milford, Connecticut is a nice place to live and bring up a family, yet the residents are all starting to feel the recession bite. Decent law-abiding citizens have to look to other sources to make ends meet and some have unusually creative methods.

Builder Glen Garber has been struck harder than most by the recession, particularly when one of his buildings burnt to the ground. Yet things are going to get a whole lot worse for Glen. His wife has a secret sideline with a group of friends which she intends to use to generate some much needed extra income.

Before long it looks as if the “get rich quick” scheme is more likely to fill graves than coffers and Glen has to risk everything to unravel the mysteries which confront him, while unable to trust any of his closest friends and acquaintances.

Review:
This book is a little different from Barclay's usual fare as with The Accident he serves up a descent into hell for his lead instead of the usual nerve racking thriller. Readers are able to watch Glen's life disintegrate around him as drama leads from crisis to catastrophe. Yet the battle to get his life back on track is enthralling in the extreme as readers are treated to a wonderful tale of a man conquering whatever life has to throw at him.

For the record, Barclay throws more at Glen Garber than Eric Bristow ever threw at a dartboard. This culminates in some marvellous standoffs against the least expected opponents as the story twists and turns so fast it's a small marvel I don't have whiplash.

If you gave the plot of this book to a literary writer then they would throw away the second half of the plot and delight themselves with describing angst, forlorn feelings and despair. These are touched upon but only lightly as the lead is a fighter who never lets his head go down when many of us readers would call it a day and curl up inside a bottle or simply refuse to get out of bed.

Sally, Doug, Marcus, Fiona, Theo, Sheila, are all fine characters who add greatly to the novel but, for me, the shining stars are Garber himself and his 8 year old daughter Kelly. Linwood Barclay can speak convincingly with almost any voice and his depiction of young Kelly's reactions to events gave the novel an even greater tug at my heart strings. Very soon though he would have my heart racing again as he sent Glen off on his next mini adventure.

The prose is everything you have become accustomed to with this author. It is direct, sparing, informative without over-elaboration and the dialogue fits the character every time. The plot is tight, with shocks, red-herrings and enough twists to satisfy even the most critical reader.

I can give The Accident little higher praise than to say it reminded me of both Severed and Relentless by Simon Kernick such was the intensity of the problems the hero had to overcome and the driving pace throughout.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Carter - The Night Stalker

"A classis thriller with all the required elements that make it impossible to put down..."

Synopsis:
When an unidentified female body is discovered laid out on a slab in an abandoned butcher's shop, the cause of death is unclear. Her body bears no marks; except for the fact that her lips have been carefully stitched shut.

It is only when the full autopsy gets underway at the Los Angeles County morgue that the pathologist will reveal the true horror of the situation - a discovery so devastating that Detective Robert Hunter of the Los Angeles Homicide Special Section has to be pulled off a different case to take over the investigation. But when his inquiry collides with a missing persons' case being investigated by the razor-sharp Whitney Meyers, Hunter suspects the killer might be keeping several women hostage.

Soon Robert finds himself on the hunt for a murderer with a warped obsession, a stalker for whom love has become hate.

Review:
A classis thriller with all the required elements that make it impossible to put down; excellent plot, believable characters and fast paced.

The lead character, Detective Robert Hunter, feels somewhat like a stranger to me and a little mysterious. Although details are given about his past and history, I still feel that I did not know this character very well. This, however,| is my only minor criticism of the book.

Young women are being murdered and Hunter and Garcia are working together to track down the serial killer. The murders themselves are pretty gruesome and quite descriptive but there is plenty of investigative work and forensics so the style of the killings doesn't feel gratuitous in violence.

There are a few clues along the way for the reader to try and work out who the killer is. But even once discovered, the motive is not revealed until the last few pages. Timed with an unexpected twist at the very end this book kept me gripped from start to finish.

Chris Carter has written yet another excellent thriller that comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Leather - Fair Game

"Spider make a fine lead character with his devotion to duty, outrage at injustice and his unswerving manner."

Synopsis:
Somali pirates seize a yacht off the coast of Africa and end up with problems they couldn't foresee. Kidnapping is one of the cruellest crimes and putting live at risk for cash is always a dangerous business for both the kidnappers and kidnapped.

One of the crew members who they have kidnapped is the God-daughter of the British Prime Minister and Dan “Spider” Shepherd is brought in to effect a rescue. He goes undercover in a daring plan to infiltrate the kidnapper's lair and bring the reign of terror to an end.

As Spider closes in on the kidnappers he realises that there is far more at stake than the hostage's lives when he learns of a terrorist plot to strike at the centre of London.

Review:
Stephen Leather is one of the UK's finest thriller writers and with Spider Shepherd has a fantastic lead character for his escapades. Fair Game sees Spider at his best as he tackles pirates, IRA hit-men and terrorists.

Leather has the rare knack of writing in such a way that you almost feel as if you are watching a film such is the crystalline clarity of his prose and descriptive passages. I could see every scene all laid out in front of me as I devoured chapter after chapter late into the night. (Personal sleep deprivation is not a good idea but hard to resist with books this good)

The plot is neither complicated nor overly simple. Instead it fits nicely into the story and gives motives and reasoning where required. There is definitely some follow on of the theme of vigilantism from Rough Justice as Spider is amazed at the impotence of the authorities to prevent piracy and deal with the pirates when captured. Happily, Spider takes matters into his own hands in a wonderful “Under Siege” style rampage aboard a cargo ship.

Spider make a fine lead character with his devotion to duty, outrage at injustice and his unswerving manner. He is ably assisted by friends and colleagues alike although for me the only others worth a real mention are the baddies, Crazy Boy, Two Knives and Blue.

Everything about this novel made sound logical sense to me and the world would be a better place if more forces for good like Spider existed.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Val McDermid - The Retribution

"The pace is quietly relentless and such is the draw there is little reason to distract yourself with such fripperies as eating or sleeping."

Synopsis:
Jacko Vance, the killer of seventeen teenage girls, escapes from prison and is seeking revenge against those who brought about his imprisonment. Top of his list are DCI Carol Jordan, profiler Tony Hill and his ex wife Micky.

Carol Jordan has her hands full with a serial killer case in Bradfield which will be the last case she and her team have before being disbanded by a penny-pinching Superintendent. Can Carol juggle the manhunt, the serial killer case and stay out of the clutches of someone once voted the sexiest man on British TV?

Review:
Reading a story is often akin to going on a journey; sometime the journey is rough and bumpy with peaks and troughs and other times it is smooth and serene. In the hands of Val McDermid this story is like being chauffeur driven in a Rolls Royce. You know you are travelling, but someone else is doing all the hard work while you relax in comfort and let the miles pass you by.

The pace is quietly relentless and such is the draw there is little reason to distract yourself with such fripperies as eating or sleeping. The prose is both delicate and brutal as required and fits perfectly into the required setting. There is the usual skilful dialogue you would expect from an author of McDermid's standing with the finest example being a school dinner-lady, of all characters.

With characters as well known and loved as Hill and Jordan, there is little I can say that has not already been said before, except that they are subjected to some powerful emotions which neither has felt for the other before. Stacy, Chris, Sam, Kevin and Alvin all fill their roles as supporting cast fully. Vance is a truly amoral fiend whose every action casts a long shadow throughout the book. However, nothing can overshadow the wonderful emotions which the two lead characters display and draw from each other and the reader.

The plotting shows signs of true genius with twists, turns, surprises and a marvellously symmetrical finale which ties up both cases in quick succession.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stella Rimington - Rip Tide

"Rimington brings her past experience to the fore to produce a very exciting and taut spy novel."

Synopsis:
Bang up to date, this spy thriller involves piracy in Somalia, grooming of terrorists in Pakistan, conflicts within established Muslim families in Britain and a network of intrigue involving Athens.

Liz Carlyle, Intelligence Officer in MI5, is called in when a young British born Muslim is caught on a piracy operation against a ship carrying valuable supplies from a charity based in Athens to Africa. Tracing his route from Birmingham to Pakistan to Athens to Somalia and finally to a French prison uncovers a spider's web of plotting and necessitates clever spy work from the British and French security services. The Americans are also very much involved, although prevented from taking a very proactive part.

When finally a plot is uncovered much closer to home, Liz Carlyle and her close colleague in the French Security services are involved in a race with terrible consequences if they lose.

Review:
Like John Le Carre and Ian Fleming, Stella Rimington has the knowledgeable background which adds to the authenticity of the story. In fact, her credentials cannot come any better - she has seen everything. This description from the horse's mouth of the venues and the methods of working of the Security Services is part of the fascination of this book.

It is not all, however, as the story is exciting and gripping from the beginning and develops into an exciting and nail-biting finale. The characters are very real and although their way of life and the risks they take are far from normal, their reactions and emotions are very believable. Rimington brings her past experience to the fore to produce a very exciting and taut spy novel.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ruth Rendell - The Vault

"Rendell’s acerbic wit is still as sharp as ever..."

Synopsis:
Reg Wexford is retired and no longer with the police force. And he is certainly feeling the pangs of retirement as he begins to get used to being plain 'Mr. Wexford'. A chance meeting in London introduces him to a case that has been puzzling police for some time. A number of bodies were discovered in a bricked-up cellar in St.John's Wood in various degrees of decay. Three of the bodies have been there for over a decade: a woman with red hair, an older man and a young man whose pockets were full of expensive jewellery. And a fourth – but this last has only been in 'The Vault' as Wexford calls it, for only two years. Was the macabre burial place discovered and then used to store this extra body?

As Wexford weaves his way through a political minefield due to his absence of authority, he finds that maybe this time the case could well place him in immediate danger. As well as having to deal with family traumas at the same time, Wexford slowly but surely arrives at the right solution.

Review:
'The Vault' springs from the pages of a previous Rendell psychological novel, 'A Sight for Sore Eyes'. I loved this book and it has been a favourite of mine since first reading it in the late nineties. I re-read it again immediately before embarking on 'The Vault' and I believe that opinions will be divided as to whether or not reading the former improves the latter book. I would say read 'Sore Eyes' because although it doesn't necessarily involve the three bodies in the cellar, you will know how they arrived there in the first place. I also believe it enhances 'The Vault' and the search for the murderer of the fourth victim.

Compared to previous Rendell books, 'The Vault' is slightly thinner than normal and although the solution is well thought through, I felt that Rendell herself was grasping for something to give Wexford himself. And to also reduce his stature in the police force I felt also reduced his stature as a man and main character. With normal irritating regularity, Sylvia finds herself stumbling into another dilemma and you do wonder that both the Wexford's haven't washed their hands of her already. I did have some difficulty trying to understand the reasoning behind this sub-plot.

As always Rendell has a social issue to wave around which, although well done in such novels as 'Simisola', I feel that if anything this fist waving does tend to inhibit the drive of the main plot. Plus, you cannot tell me that a police officer born and raised in London has never heard of 'Cockney Rhyming Slang'. What is good to see is that Rendell's acerbic wit is still as sharp as ever, especially when dealing with the ghastly 'Mildredful'. Brilliant!

This is certainly not her best, but even such a passable novel from the great lady herself is certainly better than most of the stuff being churned out these days!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Granger - Rack, Ruin and Murder

"This is a very English crime story and extremely enjoyable."

Synopsis:
Monty Bickerstaffe discovers the dead body of a complete stranger in the drawing room of his dilapidated ancestral home. He has no idea how it got there and nobody else seems to know either. Not only that, someone has been making use of the abandoned first floor without his knowledge either. His house is quite isolated and his few neighbours are apparently as ignorant as he is.

Inspector Jess Carter and Superintendent Ian Carter have to dig deep into Monty's family history and interpret present day intrigues and greed to find the murderer.

Review:
Ann Granger has drawn some well-defined characters who are very much modern players in an old-fashioned countryside detective story. The cantankerous old Monty Bickerstaffe, the nouveau riche neighbours and the dodgy but generally well meaning Colleys are true to life and represent a slice of rural England which is easily recognisable and is portrayed with a gentle sense of humour.

The plot is intriguing and the pace is lively. This is a very English crime story and extremely enjoyable.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Ewan - The Good Thief's Guide to Venice

"From the first page Charlie Howard stole my attention and even after finishing the book I still haven’t got it all back."

Synopsis:
Meet Charlie Howard, he's a struggling crime writer and a reformed burglar who has gone straight to concentrate on his writing. He has holed himself up in a crumbling Venetian palazzo to work on his next novel without distraction; however he is still itching to go out on a “job”.

To add insult to injury he catches a beautiful cat-burglar making off with his prized possession and leaving a mysterious calling card in its place. Will kicking the habit of a lifetime prove too much for Charlie or will he achieve his aim?

Prowling among Venice's maze of waterways Charlie attempts to re-capture his lost talisman from the cat burglar, find him embroiled in a far greater plot than he could ever have imagined.

Review:
Once again, Chris Ewan picks the readers pockets whilst dazzling them with a sardonic spiel. Just when you think you have things nicely figured out something happens or is said and theories fly out of the window quicker than a burglar who just been interrupted by the family Rottweiler.

Let me explain a little, the plot is relatively straightforward and there are the usual few twists to keep you guessing. You just can't guess right about what is going to happen next. I tried, hard; I finally got one which on reflection I think was only put in to make the reader feel better about themselves. This is done without masses of characters or the “killer/doer/ perp” being someone who rode past Charlie in chapter two and was never heard of again for half the book. It was achieved with the laying out of known facts to lead the reader one way until at Ewan's whim the plot pulled them another.

Charlie is growing as a character with every passing chapter and his interaction with Victoria is the kind of relationship you see in any married couple, but they have not even kissed yet. Her strong-minded nature and ability to cut through his defences with a word or a glance would in some hands be heavy handed or worse become mawkish unrequited love. Ewan sidesteps the issue and gives voice to Charlie's petty annoyances, paranoia and skewed moral code instead to drag Charlie away from the precipice of cliche-dom. Graziella & Alfred make wonderful additions to the cast as does the Count.

The pace is steady throughout oscillating between action, introspection and dialogued plot reveals. The prose is neatly manicured and the entirely first person viewpoint is what elevates this novel and turns it from a petty thief into a criminal mastermind. Charlie's introspections in particular, stand out thanks to the author's stiletto sharp observations and the piercing accuracy of his sardonic wit. From the first page Charlie Howard stole my attention and even after finishing the book I still haven't got it all back.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Yrsa Sigurdadottir - The Day is Dark

"The descriptions of the vast and spectacular scenery are impressive."

Synopsis:
This is the fourth book featuring Thora Gudmundsdottir, an Icelandic lawyer who gets drawn into hands-on investigation of violent crime, whilst balancing a complicated domestic life with the demands of work. This time she is transported to the north east coast of Greenland to investigate the disappearance of two Icelandic mining engineers. She is working on behalf of the bank that employs her German partner, Matthew, and he also comes along to the frozen and remote area of the camp where the men were working. The investigative party includes a doctor and some of the original crew of the station.

A woman had disappeared from the camp a few months before and there may be a connection. The difficulty is that the weather is so extreme that all these disappearances could be simply accidents, but as Thora and Matthew investigate, curious incidents and unusual personal reactions point to a more sinister solution.

Review:
Thora is a slightly scatterbrained (I was tempted to say dotty) investigator. She arrives in the wilds of frozen Greenland with a suitcase full of unsuitable clothes including evening wear but her empathy with the people and her outsider's view lead her to find out what has been happening. Her family is unconventional and her relationships slightly chaotic but her evident care and concern make her a sympathetic character.

Iceland was cold, but the move to the wastes of Greenland is literally Arctic. Thora keeps reiterating that the people are warm and welcoming in most of the country but the native Greenlanders we meet are decidedly unusual. We do, however gain an insight into the terrible effects of alcohol on some of the community. The descriptions of the vast and spectacular scenery are impressive.

The atmosphere of the camp and the terrifying tension that builds up make this an exciting read. A good book to take on holiday - preferably somewhere warm!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ed Lynskey - Lake Charles

"...an excellent read with a dark feel and some brutal action peaks."

Synopsis:
Brendan sets off on a fishing trip with his twin sister Edna and her estranged husband Cobb Kuzawa, who is also his best friend. While the guys are Bass-fishing Edna sets off on her jet ski but does not return. As the two friends go looking for her they run across pockets of dope being grown in the woods on the shore of Lake Charles.

They meet up with Brendan's lawyer Herzog who is defending him on a murder charge he is innocent of. Things quickly descend into chaos, leaving Brendan and Cobb fighting for their lives, whilst trying to also discover who framed Brendan for the murder of Ashleigh Sizemore.

Review:
Lake Charles is set in the late seventies and is almost a woodland noir novel, such is the depth of atmosphere created by Lynskey. The plot is simple enough to follow with a few decent twists to keep the reader glued. I found myself drawn more to the enigmatic Mr Kuzawa rather than Brendan who was weaker in all respects than the ever-resourceful Mr Kuzawa. Herzog, Cobb and Edna all added a little extra to the novel without ever making a massive impact.

The pace is steady and suits the darker moments which set the atmosphere and tone of the whole book. The prose is direct as Lake Charles is written in the first person from Brendan's viewpoint. The novel as a whole was an excellent read with a dark feel and some brutal action peaks. It will certainly have me looking over my shoulder the next time I go for a walk in the woods.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Brent Ghelfi - The Burning Lake

"The Burning Lake is a fascinating portrayal of life in the Russian secret services."

Synopsis:
When prominent Russian journalist Katarina Mironova's body is discovered in a shallow grave complete with bullet wounds it would be easy to dismiss the killing as just one just another journalist killed due to Putin's war on the free press. Known best as Kato, the journalist's death sparks an investigation by Russian agent Alexei Volkovoy who has too many memories of her to allow her death to pass quietly.

Volk's investigation sees him travel across Russia from Moscow to Mayak where a nuclear processing plant exploded back in 1958. As his investigation progresses his life with long-time lover Valya and his relationship with his patron, The General, slowly fall apart as more details of his connection to Kato emerge.

Meanwhile the French assassin Jean-Louis and American contract agent have secrets regarding a tragic nuclear alliance between Russia, France & America... secrets which the French and Americans will go to any length to preserve. Eventually Volk becomes both hunter and prey as he fights to expose Kato's last story.

Review:
This is the first book I have read by Brent Ghelfi, but it will not be the last. It is a wonderful conspiracy thriller written in a different perspective than any other I have read before. It is from the Russian point of view, rather than the European or American, and this freshens the whole feel of the novel. Written in the first person for Volk and third person for all other characters The Burning Lake is a fascinating portrayal of life in the Russian secret services.

The lead character, Volk, is as shadowy as a moonlit night in a sparse copse, his background comprises both the Russian army and several mysterious agencies with none as obscure as the one he now works for. Yet he remains true to his own morals, skewed though they may be. Valya, his lover, and Kato the journalist are both dealt with by flashbacks, but otherwise remain in absentia. Kato in particular has a massive impact on the story and it is Volk's feelings for her which provide the driving force behind his investigation. Grayson Stone and Jean-Louis fulfil the roles of bad guys amply, although a mention must be made for Mami Kai, the Tijuana brothel-keeper and her henchman, Garcia.

The plot is relatively straightforward and there are a few twists to retain the reader's attention. The prose is a delight and the descriptive way in which Ghelfi describes both the Russian countryside and mentality speaks of a deep love for the country and its inhabitants.

To sum up I have to say that I found this book to be an excellent foray into life behind the former iron curtain. With a strong, ruthless lead and engaging characters, true to life relationships and believable plotting I see a bright future for Volk and Ghelfi.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: