Click a logo below for more information...
 
 

Reviews

March 2012

Elizabeth Haynes - Revenge of the Tide

"...another great book from a promising author who is fast becoming one of my favourites."

Synopsis:
Genevieve has escaped the demands of her job and can now live her dream: to leave London behind and start a new life aboard a houseboat in Kent. To celebrate Genevieve holds a 'boat-warming' party. On the same night a body washes up beside the boat and she recognises the victim.

As the sanctuary of the boatyard is threatened, and her life is increasingly in danger, Genevieve's story unfolds and she learns the real cost of mixing business with pleasure.

Review:
Elizabeth Haynes' 'Revenge of the Tide' is another standalone book which I felt was less of a psychological thriller than her debut novel 'Into the Darkest Corner'. This latest offering is more investigative. Whilst this is not what I was expecting, it was still a thoroughly gripping read. Haynes tends to write in both past and present tense and whilst with other authors this can be confusing and often off-putting, Haynes carries it off superbly and I found myself enjoying this style of writing.

The role of some of the characters is not fully explained until well into the story which adds to the intrigue and the main character, Genevieve, is an immediately likeable character that the reader can identify with. Although I did miss the claustrophobic psychological element that Haynes conveyed so well in her debut, 'Revenge of the Tide' still had all the parts to make this book a hit - realistic characters, great plot and plenty of intrigue. This is another great book from a promising author who is fast becoming one of my favourites.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - Six of the Best

"Hilton serves up a veritable smorgasbord of action in this collection of short stories..."

Synopsis:
Joe Hunter has always hated bullies. And Tony Largo is a bully who has picked the wrong target when he assaults a war veteran. Joe promises a grieving mother he'll bring her son home, whatever it takes. When a hot-dog seller gets mugged, Joe finds a sneaky way of getting revenge. Hunter and his best buddy Rink don't play by the rules when they take on a child abuser at a bowling alley. Carl Riley didn't sound like the name of a beast. But he was a man who preyed on the faceless young who worked the neon strip, until he came face to face with Hunter. Joe also plays the Good Samaritan.

Review:
Hilton serves up a veritable smorgasbord of action in this collection of short stories featuring Joe Hunter. Most are tales of retribution and vengeance as Hunter distributes his own brand of vigilante style justice. However where Hilton differs from other authors writing about such characters is that he recognises that the punishment should fit the crime. To this end we see the hero spare lives as he dispenses justice.

The six stories are all page turners in their own right and as Hilton spent years writing short stories before being published each one is a shining example of the craft. The voice of Hunter is much stronger in these offerings than in the full novels, although I did admittedly race through 'Six of the Best' in one sitting. With a spinal double tap Hilton and Hunter crank the action up to twenty two.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Zoe Sharp - Fox Five

"...the only fault I could find was that it stopped at five when I wanted many more!"

Synopsis:
'Fox Five' is a collection of short stories featuring Sharp's formidable heroine, Charlotte “Charlie” Fox. The first four are ones which have been submitted to various anthologies and the final one is a brand new story written especially for this collection.

Join Charlie as she takes a break to recuperate from an injury, protects a dignitary from assassination and joins a bunch of thrill seeking teens. She also has the unenviable task of escorting reporters out of a war torn country and acting as body to the father of a spoiled brat.

Review:
I am a devout fan of Charlie Fox and these five vignettes were all excellently told insights into her character. Fox shows pathos, understanding and a certain malicious streak as she allows events to progress to a certain point before intervening. Yet throughout, her character is never in any danger of being doubted by the reader.

I particularly enjoyed the way that Sharp brings real life situations to Charlie's analytical mind and walks the reader through the everyday steps. Each of the tales is hard hitting in their own different ways and there is a trace of noir running throughout. It is at it's strongest in 'Served Cold' which was the story I most preferred. What I wouldn't give to have written that one! For me 'Fox Five' was a one sitting read and the only fault I could find was that it stopped at five when I wanted many more!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Brian Freeman - Spilled Blood

"...a rising star in the crime genre"

Synopsis:
On a March night outside the river town of Barron, Minnesota, three teenage girls gather in a ghost town to play a terrifying game of Russian roulette. For nearly a year, two communities on the river have been plagued by vandalism and violence. Young people have been bullied and beaten. Animals killed. So far, the crimes haven't spilled over into murder, but that's about to change. By morning, one girl will be dead, and another in jail. Olivia Hawk claims she didn't pull the trigger on Ashlynn Steele, but no one believes her. For the people of Barron, this is the latest act of terrorism directed against them by the small town of St. Croix.

Olivia's best hope is her estranged father, an attorney from the city, who she barely knows any more. He'd been working hard to make a life for his family, but it turned out they wanted him at home, not in the office and his wife took his only child away. If he's going to prove Olivia's innocence, he's going to have to learn everything about her public - and private - life, however much she might like to keep it hidden.

Review:
'Spilled Blood' opens with what seems as a teenage argument getting out of hand. A few teenage girls, that are not particularly easy to warm to were either being killed, or being accused of killing. As the story developed, as did the personalities behind these girls, all was not as first seemed. Hidden depths started to be revealed and so the characters and the plot started to become much more interesting.

Some of the characters were, in my opinion, too obvious to be the killer, although were guilty of other crimes which were uncovered during the book. Not every suspect had a motive, but Freeman did write in such a way that there was some guessing as to who was guilty of what. There is a large cast in 'Spilled Blood' to try and work out who amongst them is the killer. And even if you guess the killer, I believe you would be hard pressed to uncover the motive. 'Spilled Blood' is not as fast paced as his previous books but nonetheless this is still a great read from a rising star in the crime genre.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anna Smith - To Tell The Truth

"...the way reporters gain stories and their relationship with the police and other entities is fascinating..."

Synopsis:
A three-year-old British girl is taken from a Spanish beach while on holiday with her parents. Nobody heard a sound. Nobody saw a thing. Or so they claim. Meanwhile, on the nearby Costa del Sol, Rosie Gilmour is enjoying a well-deserved vacation: one that is cut short when the abduction story breaks and she's sent to cover it.

Rosie's instincts tell her something's wrong. Such a crime, committed in broad daylight, must surely have its witnesses. Moreover, the girl's mother's story just doesn't add up. When Rosie is approached by an illegal sex worker with information about the abduction, she knows these instincts are correct.

Key information about the crime is being withheld from the authorities. The reason: corrupt politicians and vicious human trafficking gangs - enemies one would think twice about making. But thinking twice is not in Rosie Gilmour's DNA, especially when a young child's life is at stake. And, as Rosie closes in on the truth, she realises the penalty for missing this particular deadline is just that, death.

Review:
'To Tell The Truth' is Anna Smith's second novel about reporter Rosie Gilmour, following on from the events of 'The Dead Won't Sleep', although it is not necessary to have read the first. It is as gritty, suspenseful and real as you would expect from a Glaswegian ex-reporter and in my opinion surpasses 'The Dead Won't Sleep', which I really enjoyed.

Taking the reader from Spain to Glasgow to Morocco and back, through harrowing experiences that pull no punches, Anna's background gives an additional edge to the dramatisation that feels so real, I am not convinced similar real life circumstances did not happen that way but never get published. The insight into how newspapers work, the way reporters gain stories and their relationship with the police and other entities is fascinating in itself, but the story is a complete page turner that grips you as the seedy depths of human trafficking and networks unravel.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Thompson - Lucifer's Tears

"The plot sweeps back and forth like a pendulum and never do you want to lay down the book."

Synopsis:
After his last major case left him with physical and mental scars, Kari Vaara gets back into trouble when working the graveyard shift in Helsinki's homicide unit. Terrified his wife will miscarry again and suffering from almost debilitating migraines Vaara is pushed into investigating a World War II hero whose legend has reached national status.

Politicians want it covered up to preserve Finland's heroic perception but Germany is pressing for extradition. A secondary case involving businessman Ivan Fillipov and his murdered wife distracts Vaara and Fillipov's arrogance leads to some very strange revelations.

Review:
This novel has been my introduction to Scandinavian crime and what a way to start. Lucifer's Tears is a rollercoaster of a hard boiled novel with sexual intrigue, feuding families, political machinations and a twisted history rearing its head. From the first chapter to the last I was captivated by the wonderful prose and precise narrative. The plot sweeps back and forth like a pendulum and never do you want to lay down the book. There are some tough to read scenes although I like to be challenged by an author and these passages were entirely in keeping with the flow of the story.

Vaara is a marvellous lead and his hard drinking and vengeful character is saved from cliché by some excellently deft touches of compassion. Milo and Arvid make fine foils for Vaara and the unrepentant Fillipov is a worthy opponent. All in all 'Lucifer's Tears' is a fantastic read which will grip the reader tighter than a shrunken jockstrap.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - The Glass Room

"...brilliant observed and populated with an interesting collection of characters..."

Synopsis:
D/I Vera Stanhope is content living in her father's old house in the country. Her nearest neighbours are somewhat unconventional, but so is Vera and they rub along quite well. When Joanna disappears with only a note, neighbour Jack asks Vera to investigate unofficially. Despite discouraging this sort of unofficial activity from her staff, Vera manages to find out that Joanna has gone on a writers' course in an isolated but beautiful farmhouse. It becomes complicated when a dead body is discovered and Joanna is chief suspect. This gives Vera the excuse to investigate further. Another body is discovered and Vera battles with all the aspiring crime writers to discover the truth.

Review:
'The Glass room' very much emulates an Agatha Christie scenario with all the possible suspects under one roof, this book elegantly twists the knife by making the residents of Writers' House established and aspiring crime writers. I wonder what collection of writers sparked off this plot line?

I love the character of Vera Stanhope—and I think Brenda Blethyn plays her beautifully in the TV adaptation. She is relentlessly non politically correct but possesses an extraordinary understanding of how people work. This is how she manages to solve most of her crimes, along with background knowledge and with painstaking care. Alongside her, is the very attractive sergeant, Joe Ashworth. He is the one who has to balance a normal family life with Vera's sometimes unreasonable demands. As always with Cleeves' work, 'The Glass Room' is brilliant observed and populated with an interesting collection of characters and an intricate and well worked out plot. For anyone hankering for a novel that Christie may have been writing if she was still alive today should definitely reach for 'The Glass Room'. Wonderful escapist fun.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alan Bradley - I Am Half Sick of Shadows

"The book is written in a humorous tongue-in-cheek style..."

Synopsis:
A shortage of money leads Colonel de Luce to rent out Buckshaw, the family home to a film company as a location. For his eleven year old daughter, Flavia de Luce, it is a great opportunity to indulge in star spotting and also to hone her investigative techniques, known in her family as snooping. The star of the production is Phyllis Wyvern, an aging actress who is still able to knock years off her age through her youthful appearance. When she is found murdered, dressed in the costume of one of her previous feature films, a cast of suspects remain trapped under Buckshaw's roof as the result of a snow storm.

Flavia, using her home made chemical lab and sleuthing skills attempts to unmask the killer's identity while Inspector Hewitt from the Hinley Constabulary is intent on thwarting Flavia's attempts to interfere.

Review:
I loved Alan Bradley's first book, 'The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie' but haven't read any of his books since. I was therefore a bit apprehensive about picking up this latest offering as I may have missed some important developments but happily I was easily able to slip back into the world of Flavia de Luce. She is this writer's greatest asset, an eleven year-old going on thirty who blithely goes about her investigations without heed to danger or the finer subtleties of adult life. The book is written in a humorous tongue-in-cheek style, which I don't normally enjoy reading but absolutely loved here. Flavia's encounters with her elder sisters are particularly well done.

The murder investigation is slightly underplayed here and for the death of someone who is a very strong character, I would have expected slightly more of brouhaha. But the book has a lovely 1950's feel and gives a nice humorous take on the traditional country house murder.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tami Hoag - Down The Darkest Road

"‘Down The Darkest Road’ does not always make for comfortable reading..."

Synopsis:
'Once upon a time I had the perfect family. I had the perfect husband. I had the perfect children. I had the perfect life in the perfect home. And then, as in all fairy tales, evil came into our lives and destroyed us.'

Four years after the unsolved disappearance of her sixteen-year-old daughter, Lauren Lawton is the only one still chasing the ghosts of her perfect Santa Barbara life. The world has given her daughter up for dead. Her husband ended his own life in the aftermath. Even Lauren's younger daughter is desperate to find what's left of the childhood she hasn't been allowed to have.
Lauren knows exactly who took her oldest child, but there is not a shred of evidence against the man. Even as he stalks her family, Lauren is powerless to stop him. The Santa Barbara police are handcuffed by the very laws they are sworn to uphold. Looking for a fresh start in a town with no memories, Lauren and her younger daughter, Leah move to idyllic Oak Knoll. But when Lauren's suspect turns up in the same city, it feels that history is about to repeat itself. Leah Lawton will soon turn sixteen, and Oak Knoll has a cunning predator on the hunt.

Sheriff's detective Tony Mendez and his team begin to close in on the suspected killer, desperate to keep the young women of their picturesque town safe. But as the investigators sift through the murky circumstances of an increasingly disturbing case, a stunning question changes everything they thought they knew.

Review:
'Down The Darkest Road' follows on from previous books by Tami Hoag involving Detective Tony Mendez, Vince and Annie Leone and other characters from Oak Knoll. Set in the 1980's, a totally different time of investigating and forensic ability, it follows the story of Lauren Lawton, whose daughter Leslie was abducted four years previously. Lauren has turned into a shell of her former self and is totally dedicated to finding out what happened to Leslie and bringing the perpetrator to justice.

A rather dark and twisted tale, nothing is quite what it seems and because of the fact it is set in an age of different technology, it was focussed much more on the characters; their feelings, needs and the depths you can fall to. The overall plot was strong and whilst not typically suspenseful in my opinion as you knew who'd done it, what was going to happen next and how it would all end kept the pages turning. I always enjoy going back to strong characters, which Mendez and the Leone's are, and this was no exception.

'Down The Darkest Road' does not always make for comfortable reading, but that is one of Hoag's strengths; strong, suspenseful thrillers that keeping you wanting more.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Hill - Betrayal of Trust

"...Susan Hill always knows how to provide a well rounded detective novel."

Synopsis:
A flash flood over southern England exposes the remains of the missing teenager, Harriet Lowther. Sixteen years earlier she had disappeared at a bus stop and the investigation must focus on the old evidence to identify what was missed at the time. But DI Simon Serrailler is facing staff cuts and has to undertake a significant amount of the investigation himself.

Meanwhile his sister Cat Deerbon is struggling to keep on top of work at the hospice where she is a doctor. Provision of care for the dying is woefully inadequate, something that Joceyln Forbes is well aware of. Recently diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease she considers the options for assisted suicide outside England.

Review:
I enjoyed the first couple of Susan Hill Simon Serrailler books but had fallen behind with the series. Happily I was able to pick up this latest book and read it as a standalone. The issue of assisted suicide is a current topic and one that divides opinion considerably. I thought that it was sensitively handled in this book. Although not central to the murder investigation it provided an interesting sub-plot around the character of Cat Deerbon.

The investigation by Simon Serrailler was well done although I thought the resolution a little disappointing. As usual though the writing was excellent and Susan Hill always knows how to provide a well rounded detective novel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Verdon - Shut Your Eyes Tight

"The plot is very complex..."

Synopsis:
When he was the NYPD's top homicide investigator, Dave Gurney was never comfortable with the label the press gave him: 'super detective'. He was simply a man who, when faced with a puzzle, wanted to 'know'. He was called to the investigative hunt by the presumptuous arrogance of murderers – by their smug belief that they could kill without leaving a trace. There was always a trace, Gurney believed.

Except what if one day there wasn't?

Dave Gurney, a few months past his last case that pulled him out of retirement and then nearly killed him, is trying once again to adjust to his country house's bucolic rhythms when he receives a call about a case so seductively bewildering that the thought of not looking into it seems unimaginable—even if his beloved wife, Madeleine, would rather he do anything but.

Review:
Verdon's retired detective, Dave Gurney returns in 'Shut Your Eyes Tight' and despite loving his last book I found this latest to be a very slow starter. With characters that were difficult to like and therefore not really easy to care for, it was hard to garner any interest in their story. However, the pace picked up eventually although this was some way into the book and perseverance was required. I found Gurney's wife to be quite annoying which also marred my enjoyment of the book.

The plot is very complex, and in some ways it is almost too clever. Most of Verdon's characters are difficult to connect with; even Gurney is not the easiest protagonist to endear himself to the reader. However, once the book finally got going, it was hard to put down and there were plenty of twists to keep the pace moving. I would like to see some softer, more empathetic characters in future novels, but I would say it was worth the struggle at the start of this book as I did end up thoroughly enjoying it!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Rector - Already Gone

"...I had got a lot more into the story than I had initially thought."

Synopsis:
Jake Reese, a man with a violent past is now planning for a different future with his new wife Diane. However, this all changes when he is attacked in a car park one night which results in his ring finger being cut off and subsequently the disappearance of his wife.

From there, Jake spirals through a series of events that start to unwind the trail to his wife, whilst taking him back in time to pieces of his past he wants to forget and a conclusion he didn't see coming.

Review:
'Already Gone' is a thriller in a similar vein to Harlan Coben's 'Tell No One' albeit a simpler and faster paced version. Whilst 'Already Gone' doesn't have the complexities of the book it has been compared to and the plot is looser, it is fast paced, dark and does keep you turning the pages. The thriller style suits the characters, who are well rounded and in the main felt realistic.

I did enjoy the book, although I found the central character Jake annoying in the way that he had a habit (in my opinion) of blundering his way through the various scenarios without listening to those trying to help him. By the end I felt I really wanted to talk to him about his choices, which told me I had got a lot more into the story than I had initially thought. Overall, this is a good read for thriller fans and worth the read.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Helen Dunmore - The Greatcoat

"...Dunmore’s story possessed me until I had turned the final page."

Synopsis:
Isabel has moved to a small village with her new husband, Philip to start a new life. Isabel Carey is happier than ever after a lot of turmoil in her short life. But the reality soon crowds in on her sugar coated dreams. The flat is dark and forbidding, her life lonely with hours of solitude as Philip makes his mark as the new village doctor. And why does the landlady, the frightening and intimidating Mrs. Atkinson constantly march across the floor of the upstairs flat as if on constant nightly patrol?

On a cold night Isabel searches for something to keep her warm. In a far corner of a cupboard she finds the perfect thing, a greatcoat, heavy and warm and despite being dusty still smells as fresh as a field in summer. The next night Isabel hears tapping on the window and pulling back the curtain there stands a tall, young man dressed in RAF uniform and wearing a matching greatcoat. That first night Isabel is frightened by his presence but soon after she allows him in to her life, becoming infatuated with Alec. But little does Isabel realise how much of a pawn she is in a game of deception.

Review:
With the release of 'The Woman in Black' there is a craving for the supernatural at the moment. We want not only to be thrilled, but chilled these days. And this can only be a good thing as the ghost story has been in decline for a few years and it is wonderful to see great writers of Dunmore's calibre carrying the baton of horror to the obvious delight of readers and fans.

Dunmore is an exceptional writer, read 'Talking to the Dead' which has stayed with me many years after the reading. 'The Greatcoat' is not as horrifying as Hill's famous book, (in fact this book reminded me more of Richard Matheson's brilliant novel, 'Somewhere in Time'). Dunmore chronicles with subtleness and with an acute spareness of prose the impending doom of the bizarre affair conducted between Isabel and Alec. It is through her lack of confidence and self imposed solitary confinement that Isabel clings to Alec like the proverbial rock in a swirling sea of change. Never, in all her short life has Isabel ever really felt as though she 'belonged', until now.

Here, as with many of Dunmore's novels we are not solely given a ghost story but an in-depth perception of people's inner feelings and how they can paint one in a corner or get them involved in a situation not entirely of their own design. I could list the small nuances of this tale that make it a whole but best if you read it for yourself. 'The Greatcoat' kept me enthralled and Dunmore's story possessed me until I had turned the final page. This is a quietly haunting tale that will send a shiver down your spine. Let us hope that more of the same may be coming to us readers from Dunmore's magnificent pen.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: