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Reviews

December 2012

Karen Rose - Did You Miss Me?

"...a rollercoaster ride that for ticks all boxes. "

Synopsis:
The last thing Ford Elkhart remembers is walking his girlfriend back to her car. Now he's lying tied and gagged on a cold, dark floor and doesn't know why. He knows he needs to escape – but where is he and who are the two strangers who have kidnapped him?

Assistant State's Attorney Daphne Montgomery is devastated by her son's disappearance and immediately thinks that his kidnapping is connected to the white supremacist she's just had jailed for murder.

FBI Special Agent Joseph Carter isn't so sure - especially when he learns that Ford's girlfriend is also missing. Is Ford's abduction payback for Daphne's courtroom victory? Or is he a pawn in an even more dangerous game?

Review:
Karen Rose is back with the fourteenth thriller in her long running series. I am going to start by saying that I absolutely love Karen Rose's books and am privileged to have met the awesome lady herself. She writes brilliant thrillers, but in my opinion, doesn't get the credit she is due because romance is involved. Not everyone likes romance with their crime and I respect that, but it does not take away from the fact that all her books are full of suspense, action and every element needed for a successful thriller.

'Did You Miss Me?' is the latest in the long running series, pulling in many of past favourites and completing the story of Daphne Montgomery and Joseph Carter which started in the previous novel; 'No One Left To Tell'. I say series because all of the books are linked in some way via Rose's characters and sometimes have an on-going storyline although each book can be read as a standalone.

'Did you Miss Me?' focuses on Daphne and Joseph who, having both had more than their fair share of trauma in their pasts, are in the hot seat to unravel the reasoning behind Ford's kidnapping and various acts that start to happen to Daphne. All characters, and that includes the villains, are engaging, with none being one dimensional or a meaningless addition. Several individuals from previous books make a welcome appearance to aid in solving the mystery which adds to the strength of the plot because it utilises their skills in a more interesting way as Rose has an ability for maintaining multiple characters without confusion.

The plot is typically full of twists and turns, making an excellent page turner and I was addicted. Karen Rose weaves a strong suspenseful plot, provides a dose of realism, engages you with all the characters – including the villains – and adds a dash of spice to make a rollercoaster ride that for ticks all boxes.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.J. Sansom - Dominion

"Thought-provoking and powerful."

Synopsis:
It is 1952 and Britain is under the rule of a government that surrendered to the Nazis in 1940 and is now working with them. British Jews are required to wear badges and are under threat of exportation, the press is controlled and order is maintained by violent police on the streets. The Government is headed by Lord Beaverbrook, with Mosley and Enoch Powell in support.

David Fitzgerald works for the Government but is secretly a member of the resistance, headed by Churchill, now in his eighties. Fitzgerald also had a mother who was a Jew. His marriage is under great strain as he struggles to hide these facts from everyone, particularly from his wife who is herself a pacifist.

One of David's old university friends, Frank Muncaster, is being kept in a psychiatric hospital after apparently pushing his brother out of a window. The cause of the fight was his brother's drunken revelation of his work in the United States. This horrific secret is the reason that so many people on all sides want to get hold of Frank. David is responsible for aiding Frank's escape.

Leading the search for Frank from the German side is Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth. A seasoned and determined detective, Hoth is able to read situations and people's motives to great effect. The action builds up towards a tense climax when the protagonists meet in a dramatic rescue attempt.

Review:
It is interesting to embark on what might have been, and quite frightening to think what could have happened if the course of the war had been different. Not such an impossible scenario as portrayed by Sansom. He himself was influenced by Robert Harris' 'Fatherland' and Len Deighton's 'SS-GB', and the result is an intriguing examination of what a Nazi sympathising Britain could have been.

What I particularly like are the detailed descriptions of the characters. They relate to types we know today, and those who collaborate and those who resist are neither totally good nor totally bad. It makes you think “what would I have done?” Even the Gestapo officer Gunther Hoth starts off as a generally decent upright German who becomes obsessed and frightened by what he sees as the power of the Jews. Hoth and many others are seduced by the excitement of the new life promised by the National Socialist Party compared to the drab monotony of unemployment and poverty.

This is a reflection on the evils of nationalism and in an historical note at the end Sansom sets out his own views, including a denouncement of today's Nationalist parties, particularly The Scottish Nationalists.

Sansom cleverly weaves actual happenings of the time into the story, particularly the great London smog of 1952, almost a metaphor for the disarray of the country. Joe Lyons Corner house has changed its name because Joe Lyons was a Jew. I have less sympathy for his choice of politicians who chose to collaborate. I agree that Mosley would have definitely been in the forefront, but I am not sure about Enoch Powell. He definitely had racist views, but he was very anti Nazi prior to the war and was scathing in his attack of Halifax and Chamberlain. I cannot see him as a collaborator, but this is fiction.

This book is a meaty tale with an entrancing story line and, as ever with Sansom, it has brilliant characterisation. The strength of this book for me is the way in which it engenders thought and consideration of the way people think and the way in which the whole course of history can hinge on very little. Thought-provoking and powerful.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Various - Off The Record 2 (An Anthology)

"...it’s a cracking collection of short stories..."

Synopsis:
47 short stories, based on classic film titles...
Following the Spinetingler award nominated 'Off The Record', the charity anthology featuring stories based on classic song titles, comes the highly anticipated sequel. This time, inspiration arrives in the form of classic film titles. With an introduction penned by Chris Ewan and featuring some of biggest and brightest names writing today including…Will Carver, Steve Mosby, Helen FitzGerald, Adrian McKinty, Matt Hilton, Stav Sherez, Claire McGowan, Sean Cregan, David Jackson, Mel Sherratt, Nick Quantrill, Maxim Jakubowski, and many, many more...

47 writers from around the world, all coming together to raise money for two children's literacy charities with tales which include everything from crime to fantasy, 'Taxi Driver' to 'Weekend at Bernie's', there's something for everyone in this collection of 47 short stories. All proceeds go to the National Literacy Trust and the Children's Literacy Initiative.

Review:
As one of the contributing authors to this anthology I can only say that any money raised to help children's literacy can only be a good thing. Naturally I will refrain from commenting on my own story! Some of the names in this anthology are new to me while others are people I have read or known for some time. Top names such as Steve Mosby, Will Carver, Maxim Jakubowski, Richard Godwin and Stav Sherez all deliver in spades. Yet so do all the lesser known names. Each story grabs you tightly and gives you a snapshot of life, a brief encounter with troubled lives but never the meaning of life.

While there is a mix of genres, crime seems to be most author's medium of choice although there is some cross genre writing as well. Particular favourites of mine were the haunting '9 Songs' by Steve Mosby, 'How the West was Won' by Matt Hilton, 'Get Carter' by Nick Quantrill, 'Eyes Wide Shut' by Col Bury and 'Dead Man' by AJ Hayes. Other strong entrants were Stav Sherez's bewitching 'Bring Up Baby' and Pete Sortwell's 'Apt Pupil'. A special mention must also go to editors Luca Veste and Paul D. Brazill who have not only contributed a hell of a lot of time but also two fine stories.

While most stories featured tend towards the darker more hardboiled end of the genre there is a blend of wit, humour and pathos in there to lighten the mood. What I can say about the general feel of the book is that each tale is beautifully crafted. You shouldn't ignore 'Off The Record 2 – At The Movies'. And why not? Simply because it's a cracking collection of short stories, whose proceeds are going to help the next generation of readers.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sam Hawken - Tequila Sunset

"...draws you into the lives of the characters with consummate ease until you reluctantly turn that final page... "

Synopsis:
El Paso and Ciudad Juárez sit across the Texas / Mexico border from each other. They share streets, industry and crime. One gang claims territory in both: Los Aztecas. This single criminal organisation is responsible for most of the homicides committed in Juárez, and Felipe Morales is one of them. Recruited in prison, and now on the streets of El Paso, 'Flip' has no choice but to step further into that world, but he has a secret that threatens his life. A witness to murder and intimidation, he tries playing both the cops and the outlaws in a bid to escape.

On the American side, El Paso detective, Cristina Salas struggles to balance the needs of single motherhood with those of life in the city's anti-gang unit. When her path crosses with Flip, their relationship will spell the difference between life behind bars for the young gang member, a grisly death or freedom. Meanwhile, Mexican federal agent, Matías Segura, must contend with the scourge of Los Aztecas while coordinating a long-term operation with the American authorities.

The Aztecas, north and south, stand in the way of three lives. They have no qualms about crossing the line, about killing, about moving their deadly product, and it all comes together in a confrontation where the stakes are, truly, a matter of life and death.

Review:
Sam Hawken's first novel, 'The Dead Women of Juarez' was one of my favourite debut novels of last year so his next book went straight to the top of my 'to be read' pile. There are few things more disappointing than a much anticipated book that doesn't quite hit the mark of previous outings and I am happy to report that 'Tequila Sunset' is a worthy and exciting read. Hawken has easily avoided the fall into the “tricky second novel” category and straight into 'Consolidating a Potentially Impressive Career' grouping.

The novel is told from the multiple viewpoints of Flip, Cristina and Matias with each character taking on alternate chapters to move the story forward. I found that this technique initially affected the pace, slowing it down until each character wormed their way into my attention. If you find that you have the same reaction my advice is to stick with it. The payoff will be well worthwhile. Each character is skilfully drawn and their lives, hopes and trials come into vivid life in that space between the page and your imagination

Where the journey of Cristina and Matias were utterly convincing, Flip was the beating heart of the novel. His story is the well trodden and hugely effective trope of the ex-con trying to go clean and as a reader I was on his side from the get-go. Hawken cleverly paints him, line by line into a corner and as you read you can barely take the tension. Will he or won't he survive the impossible situation he finds himself in?

As with his previous novel, Hawken has researched his subject well and he wears this lightly, just giving enough detail to convince. 'Tequila Sunset' is a fascinating, tense and engaging read that draws you into the lives of the characters with consummate ease until you reluctantly turn that final page and you consider that the people whose lives this story is based on have to face this fierce reality every single day.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Smith - Gunshots: Ten Blows to the Abdomen

"This is a collection of stories from a budding writer with great potential. "

Synopsis:
A selection of short stories featuring a range of different scenarios from a one night stand in Brighton which literally comes back to haunt the man involved to a hitman's big last shootout. Stories included are the suburbs where everyone is under the sway of a tyrant to a woman's vengeance for stealing her life, to a battle of wits between writer and reviewer.

Review:
This is a collection of stories from a budding writer with great potential. Out of these ten stories the ones that stood out for me started with 'A Girl I Once Met' which portrays the terrible effects of what can happen when someone expects more than a simple 'one night stand'. Smith peels away the layers as the reader can only watch and see the story unfold, knowing that it will all end horribly. And it does.

'My Job is Murder' is a British Noir tale of the worse kind of hitman – one with nothing to loose. This aggressive little tale again shows Smith's ingenuity with stringing his reader along and delivering a bang of an ending. The stories seesaw from the Noir, to the psychological to the definitely tongue-in-cheek. I had to groan at the end of 'Hannah's Last Hurrah'.

Smith definitely knows his stuff when it comes with regard to firearms, etc which always manages to impress me. Some of my favourites included 'Suburban Combat' which is a modern day take on the classic, 'The Stepford Wives'. I loved this story and although one of the longest in this showcase, I felt it could have been even longer. The one story that has stayed with me has to be 'Author Meets Reviewer'. This is a clever little tale pitting author and reviewer against one another. There may be some upsets now and again on different social networks but let us hope it never gets to the stage as shown in this story.

Smith is a fine addition to the crime fiction genre and with these powerful stories you can see this author cutting his teeth in the lead up to his debut novel which if these stories are anything to judge by, then it will be a blinder! And at a bargain price this is a lot of story for your pennies!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Nickson - Come the Fear

"...‘Come the Fear’ is a marvellous stepping-on platform for this fresh series. "

Synopsis:
Set in Leeds, 1733, this is a story about Richard Nottingham, Constable of the city, and his investigation into the death of a young woman found in the ashes of a burnt-out house. Nottingham, an honest and conscientious man, works hard to discover who the girl is and who is responsible for her death. As the story goes on the plight of the poor girl emerges as she has had an unhappy life, taken advantage of by many.

Nottingham keeps a close eye on the happenings in the city he loves, and he is disturbed when new characters enter into the underclass with their own interests at heart. The equilibrium of the city is being disturbed. Nottingham's essential humanity feeds all his decisions, both in work and in his close family relationships.

Review:
Eighteenth century Leeds is clearly and lovingly described in this book. As always in historical fiction a great deal of information about life at the time is absorbed, and fascinating it is too. The atmosphere of daily life is brought to life by Nickson and I learnt a lot about the keeping of the peace at that time.

Nottingham and his friends and family are an entertaining and sympathetic crew. The family ties and the relationships amongst them are the backdrop to the story and make it even more enjoyable. Definitely the sort you want to hear more about in the next book. The villains, products partly of their environment, and their poor victims who do not appear to have much of a chance in life, are brilliantly described and brought to life. I greatly enjoyed this book and 'Come the Fear' is a marvellous stepping-on platform for this fresh series. I will definitely look out for the next instalment featuring Richard Nottingham with relish.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Patricia Moyes - Who Saw Her Die?

"...a highly enjoyable classic which has thankfully stayed fresh with age. "

Synopsis:
Crystal Balaclava was once the doyenne of London society. Over thirty years later she lives deep in the countryside with only her companion, Dolly Underwood-Threep and a cocktail cabinet for company. But Lady Balaclava feels under threat and with her birthday and the arrival of her family, Crystal seeks assistance from old time friends high up in the police. Hence, Detective Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbett and his wife, Emmy find themselves at Foxes Trot surveying the birthday proceedings of a lady they have only just met and pretending they are solely there for the celebrations.

The day of Lady Balaclava's birthday and the normal ritual must be followed. Her three daughters must arrive, each with their usual presents, one with champagne, and another brings the birthday cake and the third daughter brings roses from Amsterdam. Crystal must always admire and taste the cake, smell the delicious roses and along with her family toast another year with champagne. This year is no different, except Tibbett to the bemusement of the members of the family must taste the cake first, smell the roses and drink Crystal's champagne – and all is fine. And so Crystal raises her glass and drinks, but she then clutches her throat and begins to gasp, she staggers a little and is caught by Tibbett. Within seconds Crystal Balaclava is dead.

Review:
I have known of the author Patricia Moyes for some time although she is one of those authors that I have never got round to. Then I saw that after many years out of print, Arcturus have now re-printed this title and I fancied a little time away from recent crime novels that involve CCTV, iPads and any other technology. Here you have a detective slogging away long and hard to find that nugget of information, the key that will finally unlock the treasure chest that holds the truth. And I have to say I greatly enjoyed myself in the company of Moyes and her creation, Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbett.

Despite this book being originally published in 1970 and being placed in the 70's, 'Who Saw Her Die?' has the distinct aroma of the 1940's. Obviously Moyes is paying homage to the height of the golden era of crime fiction although I felt that Moyes gave her characters a lot more dimension than some writers ever did. Saying that, Moyes does not forfeit characterisation for plot and the solution when it comes is complex and very satisfying. For me, it is always the sign of a good crime novel when I find myself constantly trying to fathom out how the crime was perpetrated and accusing more or less the whole cast at some point in the proceedings! Nearer the end I was on the right track but without the fully formed picture. I greatly enjoyed this book and which had humour and fun threaded throughout. I felt this was a highly enjoyable classic which has thankfully stayed fresh with age. I will certainly be seeking out more of Moyes' novels.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sheila Radley - A Talent for Destruction

"...very well-plotted with a twist that echoed in my mind days later. "

Synopsis:
The winter snow is melting and a skeleton is found in a field that belongs to the rectory. Quantrill's investigation naturally leads him to the Aingers, the local Rector and his wife but despite both classed as pillars of the community Quantrill gets the distinct feeling that both are lying. Soon it becomes known that a young Australian had been staying the previous summer, camping in the field with the Aingers permission. The young man disappeared suddenly and thinking he had left for different shores, or even back to his homeland, his disappearance was not reported. Quantrill wonders why the Aingers did not bring this fact to his attention before. Why this wall of silence and subterfuge? But it is some months later and from a totally different quarter and that Quantrill finally gets his break in a case he thought would remain unsolved.

Review:
Originally published in 1982, this is the third in the Quantrill series. 'A Talent for Destruction' and is one of those novels that is a hybrid between a police procedural and psychological novel. This short novel is divided up in three sections: starting with winter, then back to last summer and finally the present in spring. The summer part of the story is the psychological part of the story and charts the troubled marriage of the Aingers and allows the reader to discover how they ended up with a policeman on their doorstep in winter with a skeleton discovered under the recently melted snow. This section is the crux of the plot and brings to life people merely mentioned in the first part of the novel.

Radley was and is an exceptional writer and even in such a short novel gave her characters a breadth and depth however, I really could not quite get to sympathise with the Aingers and for me that tainted the novel a little – it could be possible that was Radley's intention as they are hardly a loveable couple. I think that Radley felt a little compassion for them as she deals with them sympathetically towards the end. 'A Talent for Destruction' is certainly a novel that is extremely clever and very well-plotted with a twist that echoed in my mind days later. I did miss Martin Tait, Quantrill's sergeant in the first two novels, but he has now moved on with his fast track promotion so I felt that Quantrill was a little adrift without his foil, plus the fact that here Quantrill seemed to be on the periphery of this tale as 'A Talent for Destruction' is more about what happened before the body is discovered. Radley's expertise is shown here and the reason for the killing shows that people can and do act for the simplest of motives and under such easy manipulation. This is a strong addition to this highly addictive series from an author who is thankfully back in print.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andy McNabb - Red Notice

"...a fast paced, high concept thriller..."

Synopsis:
Far beneath the English Channel, a band of terrorists have seized control of a Paris bound Eurostar. With four hundred passengers held at gunpoint, the terrorists declare war on a government with a lot of buried secrets.

One man stands in their way though. That man is Tom Buckingham, an off-duty SAS officer who is a passenger on the train. He is the only chance the passengers have of surviving the terrorist's end-game.

Review:
When a former SAS soldier like McNab puts pen to paper I would expect lots of action, with explosions, shootouts and generally pulse raising action on every page. I have to say that I wasn't disappointed in this regard as Red Notice delivers in spades. Tom Buckingham is a fine lead who in the tradition of all actions heroes does not know when he is beaten. Yet there is a romantic side to the lead which softens him away from the automaton he could so easily become.

The plot is nicely clever and the title is a real clue as to the hidden goal of Buckingham's paymasters. With all the action and intrigue flying around it would be easy for the reader to lose track of time when reading 'Red Notice', however, there were a few clunky phrases and tense shifts which jarred me out of the story. A small point you may think, but with tighter editing this could have been a fantastic novel instead of a very good one.

This is the first McNab book I've read and I was curious to see if the books were as good as I'd heard they were. Barring the editing comments I made earlier, I would have to say that McNab has written a fast paced, high concept thriller which will satisfy and sate his reader's appetites.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R. J. Ellory - A Dark and Broken Heart

"This book has quality written all over it..."

Synopsis:
It should have all been so easy for Vincent Madigan. Take four hundred grand from the thieves who stole it in the first place and who could they turn to for help?

Madigan is charming, resourceful, and knows how to look after himself. The only problem is that he's up to his neck in debt to Sandià - the drug king of East Harlem. This one heist will free Madigan from Sandià's control and give him the chance he needs to get his life back on track. But things go wrong when Madigan is forced to kill his co-conspirators and a child is shot in the crossfire. Now both Sandià and the collected might of the NYPD are hunting him down, and the one cop assigned to lead the case is the very last person he could have expected.

Employing every deception and ruse he can think of, Madigan must stay one step ahead in a battle of wits that will test him to his limits. Can he evade justice for his crimes, or will his own conscience be his final undoing?

Review:
R J Ellory is one of those writers. The ones you have on your 'To Be Purchased and Read Immediately On Release List'. Having reviewed most of his earlier books on this site, it is fair to say I am a fan, and I am afraid I am now running out of superlatives, because the man simply does not disappoint.

Madigan is an anti-hero and one of his most fascinating characters I've encountered in fiction this year. Flawed to the point of being beyond hope you nevertheless find yourself almost liking the man. And hoping he finds his way out of the utter mess he has painted himself into, because be assured, he has no one to blame for his predicament but himself. It is to his credit that he acknowledges this and asks for no sympathy.

I would argue that this is Ellory's most tightly plotted novel to date. The story unravels at a breakneck pace with one twist following another. Just when you get used to one idea, Ellory pulls the rug from under your feet and off you go again in another direction and when you come to the end you are all but breathless with excitement.

This book has quality written all over it – from the unforgettable characters, the see it and taste it sense of place and the punch in the gut ending. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Berry - The Columbus Affair

"...Berry is the undisputed master... "

Synopsis:
Tom Sagan is peering down the barrel of his own gun. He's lost everything he cared about: his job, his daughter, his wife and his reputation. What hurts him more than anything else is the knowledge that his Pulitzer Prize winning career as a journalist was sabotaged by persons unknown. He can't prove it but he knows what they have done. Before he can pull the trigger a mysterious stranger interrupts him.

Zachariah Simon has Tom's estranged daughter held captive and he is after something only Tom can provide. It's the key to a mystery centuries old which if solved could have a massive impact on the modern world. The two men engage in a dangerous quest which takes them from Vienna and Prague to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica before they square off against each other. Along the way they both make discoveries which will change their lives forever.

Review:
Steve Berry's name alone is a byword for intelligent, educational thrillers which inform the reader as well as entertaining them. 'The Columbus Affair' is a wonderfully informative action novel where every sentence is either there to make your pulse race or your knowledge increase. The plot is actually straightforward but the way that Berry drip feeds information and has his characters withholding details from each other adds to the air of mystery. The intertwining of historical facts and artefacts with modern politics gives the story another edge although it is a commonly used one. However for me Berry is the undisputed master of the sub-genre despite a certain Mr. Dan Brown outselling him.

The characters are established with an artisan's eye but it was only the duplicitous Béne Rowe I really warmed too. Such is the volume of knowledge and action imparted the characters were almost lost in the background of the story. Also the switching viewpoints could catch an unwary reader out. To get the full value from 'The Columbus Affair' I recommend that readers allow themselves time to read a good number of pages in each go as this style of novel does not suit being read two or three pages at a time. The readers who do this will be rewarded with a first class thriller, which while not as good all round as his Cotton Malone series is still a bloody good read.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - The Racketeer

"as with all his books, ‘The Racketeer’ is a fast paced book... "

Synopsis:
Who is the Racketeer? And what does he have to do with the judge's untimely demise? His name, for the moment, is Malcolm Bannister. Job status: former attorney. Current residence: the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

On paper, Malcolm's situation isn't looking too good these days, but he's got an ace up his sleeve. He knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and he knows why. The judge's body was found in his remote lakeside cabin. There was no forced entry, no struggle, just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied. What was in the safe? The FBI would love to know. And Malcolm Bannister would love to tell them. But everything has a price—especially information as explosive as the sequence of events that led to Judge Fawcett's death. And the Racketeer wasn't born yesterday.

Review:
I have read all Grisham's books and as with all his books, 'The Racketeer' is a fast paced book based on the legal system in America. However, unlike other Grisham novels, 'The Racketeer' had, in my opinion, a very transparent plot. With previous books this author has added a twist at the end which has made up for some of the more predictable elements in his books. However, here I felt there was no twist and it was also lacking in any real suspense.

As I was expecting the unexpected to happen I read between the lines and thought I had seen hints and clues that weren't even there. It was a clever plot but just missing the spark. Grisham is a skilled novelist and 'The Racketeer' is a great read, but I wouldn't class this on the same level as some of his previous work like 'The Rainmaker' or 'The Firm'.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: