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Reviews

September 2012

Attica Locke - The Cutting Season

"‘The Cutting Season’ is a thought provoking tale full of suspense with a literary edge."

Synopsis:
Belle Vie has been set up to preserve history and make people aware of the past by showing them the beauty of the plantation house versus the slave huts, with the staff acting out some parts of the history in a sanitised version. Caren grew up there with her mother and despite leaving for a better and different life, came back to manage it when Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans. Steeped in the history of the place itself as well as her, Caren drifts through the days taking comfort from the familiar whilst bringing up her daughter.

Just after dawn, Caren, the Manager of Belle Vie, does her usual morning check of the grounds. Although she has a bad feeling and gets spooked on visiting the old slave huts, she doesn't see anything unusual, apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar cane fields.

Not long afterwards a dead body is found and now she has police on site, an investigation in progress and a member of staff no one can track down. As Caren keeps uncovering things, she's drawn into the dead girl's story and makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie, the secrets of its past, and sees, more clearly than ever, that Belle Vie, with its beauty, is not to be trusted.

Review:
'The Cutting Season' brings a literary style to a murder mystery set in the world of racial history meeting the present in the southern state of America, which in itself has a chequered history in that respect. Blending the times gone past of plantations and slavery with the current Obama administration, it is easy at times, to forget that the book is about a murder.

Using the law degree Caren never finished, she digs further and ultimately finds the killer; bringing this part of the book to its climax. The ultimate ending ties up any other loose ends and yet doesn't at the same time; finishing with the acceptance of a life being over and yet everything staying the same.

I wouldn't say the murder is peripheral, because it is what starts the story, it is threaded through it and is responsible for keeping it going, but to me this tale is about the acceptance of life and that what lives under beauty is not always what you would expect: cruelty, violence and greed being an example. I am never a fan of glorifying such areas of the past as slavery, and despite a small initial impression that this could lead that way, 'The Cutting Season' is not about that, nor is it a historical replay or political diatribe. It is, in my opinion, an analogy of the light and dark merging through life by using the correlation between the beauty of a plantation house in Louisiana with a backdrop of slavery just steps from the front door. Cleverly done, almost understated as the parallels slide along, covered by the need to find a murderer.

'The Cutting Season' is a thought provoking tale full of suspense with a literary edge.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Will Jordan - Redemption

"Jordan has the potential to deliver even more gripping thrillers that will earn him a large audience and fan base."

Synopsis:
Ryan Drake finds people who don't want to be found. Once a soldier in the British Army, he now works for the CIA as a 'shepherd' - an elite investigation team that finds and brings home missing agents. But his latest mission - to free a prisoner codenamed Maras from a maximum security prison and bring her back to US soil within forty-eight hours - is more dangerous than anything he and his team have attempted before.

Despite the risks, the team successfully completes their mission, but for Drake the real danger has only just begun. Faced with a terrible threat, he is forced to go on the run with 'Maras' - a veteran agent scarred by years of brutal imprisonment. Hunted by their former comrades and those willing to do anything to protect a deadly secret, Drake is left with no choice but to trust a dangerous woman he barely knows. For he has only one chance to save those he loves and time is running out.

Review:
'Redemption' introduces Ryan Drake who works for the CIA 'off the books' as the work he carries out for this agency cannot be acknowledged.

I felt that by using the code name 'Maras' for the woman the team was rescuing de-personalised her, making it hard to empathise or connect much with the woman. Rather than the code name making her elusive, to me it made her impenetrable and cold. I don't like comparisons and wouldn't make any between Drake and Lee Childs' creation as they are very different characters with different qualities but I think it good that Jordan has made Drake his own man and not a carbon copy of Reacher.

Although I had a few niggles about 'Maras', the plot moved very fast indeed, keeping me interested and urging me to turn those pages. The ending was left tantalisingly open for future novels with the possibility of re-appearances of some of the characters introduced in Jordan's debut. 'Redemption' certainly intrigued me enough to look forward to seeing forthcoming books and to discover the development of the different relationships. 'Redemption' is a solidly plotted and well-written debut thriller that will certainly attract many readers and although this novel is not what I class as 'A-star', I am convinced as a hardened reviewer and avid crime fiction reader that Jordan has the potential to deliver even more gripping thrillers that will earn him a large audience and fan base.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Carter - The Death Sculptor

"Another assured hit from a very exciting rising star in the genre."

Synopsis:
A student nurse has the shock of her life when she discovers her patient, prosecutor Derek Nicholson, brutally murdered in his bed. The act seems senseless - Nicholson was terminally ill with only weeks to live. But what most shocks Detective Robert Hunter of the Los Angeles Robbery Homicide Division is the calling card the killer left behind. For Hunter, there is no doubt that the killer is trying to communicate with the police, but the method is unlike anything he's ever seen before. And what could the hidden message be?

Just as Hunter and his partner Garcia reckon they've found a lead, a new body is found - and a new calling card. But with no apparent link between the first and second victims, all the progress they've made so far goes out of the window. Pushed into an uncomfortable alliance with the confident Alice Beaumont, Hunter must race to put together the pieces of the investigation, before the Death Sculptor puts the final touches to his masterpiece.

Review:
When you have not read a particular author for a while it is easy to forget how much you enjoy them, and why. And this was certainly the case with Chris Carter. Within moments of starting the book, I was hooked and this continued until I had finished the last page. The Death Sculptor is a murderer with a very gruesome signature in that sculptures are from the victims' bodies and left behind at the crime scenes. Although Carter tries to describe these for the reader, I think they are too difficult to visualise and therefore loose some of their impact.

Hunter and Garcia balance each other well and are a good team. Hunter was the child prodigy and is extremely clever but also in touch with his compassionate and caring side, stopping him from being alienated from the reader. Despite this, Hunter remains single although I am not sure what in his past has deterred him from having a relationship and it would be good to see the author explore this part of his history. Overall, 'The Death Sculptor' is an excellent read. Another assured hit from a very exciting rising star in the genre.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Robinson - Watching the Dark

"Yet again Robinson strikes gold."

Synopsis:
DCI Alan Banks is back! He is called in to investigate when the body of DI Bill Quinn is found in the grounds of a police convalescence and treatment centre. He knows the place because Annie Cabot spent time there recovering after a traumatic attack. The murder weapon is a crossbow - not the usual weapon of choice. DI Quinn is considered one of the good guys by his colleagues, but when compromising photographs are found in his room doubts begin to creep in.

At the same time there are rumours of someone within the police leaking information to the underworld. Inspector Joanna Passero from Professional Standards is sent in to investigate. As part of her brief she insists on shadowing Banks as he goes about his work. This does not go down well and there is some friction. DI Annie Cabot is just back from sick leave and is anxious to be accepted back into the team but she is still apprehensive that her fears will return to haunt her.

There seem to be links between the crooks running a scheme for employing migrant workers from Eastern Europe and the disappearance six years ago of an English girl on her hen weekend in Estonia. Banks and his shadow Passero fly out to Tallin to investigate that end of the enquiry. The various strands of the enquiry interweave and end in a completely satisfying expose of the truth.

Review:
This is another thoroughly enjoyable book from Peter Robinson. It is delightful to welcome back Banks, much as I enjoyed 'Before the Poison'. He is a very real person with a distinct and likeable personality. He is also thoughtful, reflective and usually insightful about his own feelings and motives. He is so well portrayed that you feel you know him.

The story is set in Yorkshire and as always is up to date with issues that confront that part of the world. Many parts of Eastern England are facing problems with migrant workers without the correct documentation and their exploitation by unscrupulous criminals aiming to make a quick buck. Robinson explores the good and bad of this development, at all times aware of the impact on the characters. One of the strengths of the book is the way in which characters react to events as they happen in a thoroughly believable and true way.

Great characters, an exciting plot and a satisfying ending: the recipe for an outstanding book. Yet again Robinson strikes gold.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Child - A Wanted Man

"...a fine addition to an outstanding series which goes from strength to strength."

Synopsis:
It's not easy to hitch a ride when you are as large and rough as Jack Reacher. Having a busted nose held in place with a strip of duct tape doesn't help matters. With unfinished business in Virginia, Reacher is determined to get there and he is eventually picked up by a car carrying two men and a woman.

Within minutes it becomes clear to Reacher that the trio are lying about everything. Then they run into a police roadblock, there has been an incident and the police are looking for a specific someone. Will they pass the roadblock because three are now four or was Reacher only picked up to act as a decoy?

Review:
You expect certain things from a Lee Child novel. Action, intrigue, tense prose, logic and a relentless pace. You'll be pleased to know 'A Wanted Man' does not disappoint in any way, as all these factors are there in abundance. The best part for me was the ever present logic which Reacher displays. I love the way he just sees things as they are and explains them with such unerring clarity.

What is different about 'A Wanted Man' is the viewpoint, a rare foray into third person for Child and Reacher. The action is completely centred on Reacher and for the first half of the novel Child treats us to Reacher's brain before introducing his brawn later in the tale.

'A Wanted Man' is timed in the aftermath of 'Worth Dying For' and the tight timeline between the novels is a clever ploy by Child to prevent his character aging in real time. Although there are more clues to his age than in any other Reacher book with the exception of 'The Affair'.

The two female leads of Sorenson and Delfuenso are very strong characters and their presence is a boon to the novel. There isn't much for me to say about Reacher as a character that hasn't been said either by myself or others before. One thing I can say though is that as with 'Worth Dying For' the usually aimless Reacher has an actual destination in mind. He is going to Virginia to see the woman he talked to in '61 Hours'. I believe that when he does make it to Virginia he may well be retired by Child. However he's not there yet although Child cannot realistically write many more novels about his journey there. The plot is as ingenious as you would expect from Child and there is enough misdirection and trickery to make an amateur detective of any reader.

To sum up 'A Wanted Man', I would have to say that it is a fine addition to an outstanding series which goes from strength to strength.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Amanda Kyle Williams - Stranger in the Room

"...great characters and stylish writing."

Synopsis:
Summer is smouldering through Atlanta on Fourth of July weekend, as fireworks crack through the air and steam rises from the pavement on Peachtree. Private investigator and ex–FBI profiler Keye Street wants nothing more than a couple of quiet days alone with her boyfriend, Aaron—but, as usual, murder gets in the way.

A.P.D. Lieutenant Aaron Rauser is called to the disturbing scene of the death of a thirteen-year-old boy. Meanwhile, Keye must deal with not one but two of her own investigations: in the hills of Creeklaw County, there's a curious case involving chicken feed and a crematorium, and in Atlanta, Keye's emotionally fragile cousin Miki is convinced she is being stalked. Given Miki's history of drug abuse and mental problems, Keye is reluctant to accept her cousin's tale of a threatening man inside her house late one night. But as a recovering alcoholic herself, Keye can't exactly begrudge a woman her addictions - especially since Miki drives Keye to near-relapses at every turn. And yet, Miki is family, and Keye must help her—even if it means tempting her own demons.

All hell breaks loose when another murder—the apparent hanging of an elderly man—hits disturbingly close to home for Keye. And though the two victims have almost nothing in common, there are bizarre similarities between this case and that of Aaron's strangled teen. Is there a single faceless predator, a calculating murderer targeting his prey at random? Only a skilled profiler like Keye Street can help the A.P.D. find him. With the threat of more deaths to come, Keye works on pure instinct alone—and soon realizes that a killer is circling ever closer to the people she loves the most.

Review:
Since leaving the FBI due to her being an alcoholic, Keye works alongside the Atlanta Police as a consultant on criminal behaviour. Keye is still trying to stay on the wagon but there are many temptations throughout the book. So many, that at times this second outing almost becomes more about Keye trying to beat the bottle than about the actual cases.

Keye trying to find out who is threatening her cousin is the heavy going plot, but there is another thread which has, at times, a much lighter note to it - especially with the out-spoken neighbour of the crematorium. It was these dialogues, and some of those with Neil, (Keye's assistant) that added humour to the book. Keye's mother remains unchanged but does not seem to play such a large part in this second book. However, Neil is more involved and he is a great sidekick to Keye with his conversation which is peppered with humourous comments.

I wasn't as won over with this book as I was the first one which I thought was a stunning debut and immediately made it a Fresh Blood choice last year on Crimesquad.com. However, Williams' characters still really appeal to me. 'Stranger in the Room' was a very easy read and what was lost in tension was gained with great characters and stylish writing.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - A Pound of Flesh

"This is a cracking good story..."

Synopsis:
Several prostitutes have been found brutally murdered in Glasgow but also several businessmen have been found dead in their white cars. Two different series of deaths but is there a possibility of them being linked? After promotion, Detective Superintendent William Lorimer has taken up his post in charge of the Serious Crimes Squad. The pressure to find the killer is definitely on Lorimer when the latest man to be found dead in his car turns out to be the Deputy First Minister of Scotland. There is less pressure to solve the prostitutes' murders but he is convinced that there must be some connection.

Lorimer calls in his good friend, Sol Brightman to help him with a psychological assessment of the crimes. In a new job, with new colleagues and a new rank, Superintendent Lorimer has to be “ca canny” and tread carefully but his calm and measured approach wins him no friends.

Review:
This is a cracking good story, peopled with a host of interesting characters. It is good to catch up with Lorimer and his wife Maggie, Solly and Rosie Brightman and their very new daughter, but Alex Gray has introduced us to several more. I particularly like the awkward and gauche Sergeant Barbara Knox, who is exploited because of her loneliness but still manages to retain some of her strict police principles.

As always, Glasgow is there with its own distinctive voice. The feisty character of the people as they go about their business, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, comes through with astounding clarity. Lorimer is that rare thing in crime fiction: a happily married policeman. I love the description of the relationship between Lorimer and his wife, Maggie.

Totally up to date, this latest book by Gray brings in the character of the politics in the Scottish parliament and how it affects life in Scotland today. 'A Pound of Flesh' is a gripping, feisty novel from an author who wins fans with every new book produced.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Craig Russell - Dead Men and Broken Hearts

"...this is a brilliant addition to an excellent series that is getting seriously addictive with every instalment. "

Synopsis:
November 1956 and the world is in turmoil, the Hungarian Uprising and Suez Crisis are dominating the headlines. Lennox has other concerns though, like getting his business and personal life back on track. In a bid to stay out of trouble he's taking more legitimate cases. When a woman enters his office to ask him to follow her unfaithful husband it seems like the ideal case: straightforward, typical and best of all, legal.

Digging deeper Lennox learns that this is no simple case of cheating. He finds himself caught by the police in a room containing a dead body. Pursued by a shadowy intelligence group and then the people Lennox has been hunting start to track him down as well.

Review:
The fourth instalment of the Lennox series is Craig Russell's best yet. Russell's sardonic sleuth is at his best as he battles unknown shadowy foes. From page one this book laid its grip around my interest and only let go when the final page was turned. The pacing was perfect throughout and the plot was beautifully detailed in all its twists and turns.

Lennox inhabits a dark, dank world where tragedy is never more than a few seconds walk away and it is to Russell's credit that Lennox's world is utterly absorbing. In Russell's hands 1950's Glasgow is a character in its own right. Lennox is a troubled lead whose stature grows with every passing paragraph. No other characters really stood out for me in 'Dead Men and Broken Hearts' although I loved the extra prominence of Twinkletoes MacBride.

All in all this is a brilliant addition to an excellent series that is getting seriously addictive with every instalment.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

T. Jefferson Parker - The Jaguar

"Parker effortlessly achieves what more famous writers fall short of."

Synopsis:
Erin McKenna, a beautiful songwriter married to a crooked Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, is kidnapped by Benjamin Armenta, the ruthless leader of the powerful Gulf Cartel. But his demands turn out to be as unusual as the crumbling castle in which Erin is kept. She is ordered to compose a unique 'narcocorrido', a folk ballad that records the exploits of the drug dealers, gunrunners, and outlaws who have populated Mexican history for generations. Under threat of death, Armenta orders Erin to tell his life story—in music—and write “the greatest narcocorrido of all time.”

As the mesmerizing music and lyrics of Erin's song cascade from the jungle hideout, they serve as a siren song to the two men who love Erin: her outlaw husband, Bradley Jones, and the lawman Charlie Hood—who together have the power to rescue her. Here, amid the ancient beauty of the Yucatan lowland, the long-simmering rivalry between these men will be brought closer to its explosive finale.

Review:
That T. Jefferson Parker is not more widely read in the UK is a mystery to me. Parker effortlessly achieves what more famous writers fall short of. The Jaguar works on several levels. At first reading you have a shoot 'em up tale across the Mexican border country with enough gun action to satisfy the most ardent of action fans. And on a deeper level, we are offered a morality tale of good versus evil, with the several characters movement across the demarcation line demonstrating that we are all capable of both.

People who live in Mexico will tell you that it is impossible to escape the storytellers' use of magic realism – and Parker introduces this element through the character of Mike Finnegan: a man who appears to be much more than human and meddling on both sides of the good/ evil divide. To be honest, the book would have worked just as well without this, but for me it added an extra frisson – and the publisher tells me that in the next book this element will be more openly explored.

If the guns blazing are there to satisfy the action fans, the sections of the book where Erin suffers her captivity under the evil eye of Armenta and his depraved son provide a thoughtful counterpoint. Here Parker's writing is at its most telling with lyrical descriptions of the jungle, it's dangerous inhabitants, and Erin's attempt to make music. He even manages to play with the reader's emotions as there are moments when you feel empathy for Armenta until you are reminded that he plans to skin Erin alive if her husband doesn't return with millions of dollars.

In summary, this book has a little bit of everything and only a writer of Parker's skill could meld all those elements and make it work. I found the book a fascinating read and would heartily recommend it to you.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sophie Hannah - Kind of Cruel

"...a highly intelligent, psychological thriller from this exciting author."

Synopsis:
When Amber Hewerdine consults a hypnotherapist as a desperate last resort, she doesn't expect that anything much will change. She doesn't expect it to help with her chronic insomnia. She doesn't expect to hear herself, under hypnosis, saying words that mean nothing to her: 'Kind, cruel, kind of cruel' - words she has seen somewhere before, if only she could remember where . .

She doesn't expect to be arrested two hours later, as a result of having spoken those words out loud, in connection with the brutal murder of Katharine Allen, a woman she's never heard of.

Review:
'Kind of Cruel' is a highly intelligent, psychological thriller from this exciting author. Hannah has created a masterful plot full of detail and intricacies. The characters are multidimensional with many facets ensuring that they are interesting and also getting the reader to work hard to make all the connections between all the characters - even if they do elicit little empathy with this particular reader!

With the killer being suspected someway through the book, the remainder of the story is left to unravel the why and how. 'Kind of Cruel' is a great psychological novel that explored the darker side of human behaviour and kept me engrossed for hours. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ken Bruen - Headstone

"Bruen writes, quite simply, like no one else in the market today."

Synopsis:
Some people help the less fortunate. Others kill them. Evil has many guises. Jack Taylor has encountered most of them but nothing before has ever truly terrified him until a group called Headstone rears its ugly head.

An elderly priest is viciously beaten until nearly dead. A special needs boy is brutally attacked. A series of seemingly random, insane, violent events even has the Guards shaken. Most would see a headstone as a marker of the dead, but this coterie of evil intends to act as a death knell to every aspect of Jack's life as an act of appalling violence alerts him to the horror enveloping Galway.

Accepting the power of Headstone, Jack realizes that in order to fight back he must relinquish the remaining shreds of what has made him human - knowledge that may have come too late to prevent an act of such ferocious evil that the whole country would be changed forever - and in the worst way. With awful clarity, Jack knows that not only might he be powerless to stop it but that he may not have the grit needed to even face it.

Review:
Jack Taylor is one of the most fascinating protagonists being written about right now. Taylor is your archetypal flawed P.I. but carries his flaws like no-one else you will ever read of. A man of huge complexity, Taylor is capable of frightening violence one moment, and heart-wrenching tenderness the next. Through this creation, Bruen allows himself to provide insights into modern Ireland, its troubled history and the omnipresent influence of The Catholic Church on the population. And he does so with a wit that warms you regularly into a chuckle, providing welcome release from the darkness that envelops Taylor and those around him.

Bruen is one of those writers who can't write a single paragraph without using at least one quotable phrase. He writes with a brutal intelligence and a poet's sensitivity. He writes with more meaning in one truncated sentence, than some people might write in a chapter. Bruen writes, quite simply, like no one else in the market today.

'Headstone' is the latest in a long-running series and a book that deserves a wide audience. Read this. Enjoy. And if he is new to you, go and seek out the man's backlist. As a reader of crime fiction you owe it to yourself.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gene Colan - Tales of the Batman

"This is a direct homage to Bram Stoker and his famous novel. "

Synopsis:
As always, Batman is given trials that would have taxed the mighty Hercules. This collection compiles issues from 'Batman' and the famous 'Detective Comics' featuring the great dark detective himself. Battling against such foes as Poison Ivy who is bent on taking over Wayne Enterprises, Dr. Death and the wonderful re-emergence of the Mad Hatter completes the role call of the most powerful and bizarre of Batman's Gothic menagerie.

However, the main storyline is Batman's supernatural quest against the dark forces. Vampires roam Gotham and it seems nothing can stop them when Batman becomes one of their number.

Review:
'Tales of the Batman' is a collection featuring the pencils of Gene Colan who became just as famous for his stint on Batman as O'Neill and Jim Aparo (The Brave and the Bold).

Why I have included this collection is because the main storyline involves vampires – and not simply 'wannabe' vampires – but real ones. Not someone pretending to be a vampire and leaving vampiric clues with his/her victims – no, they are the real McCoy. This is a direct homage to Bram Stoker and his famous novel. Batman has always brushed against the supernatural and the macabre in certain stories, but this is, I believe, his first foray (and only?) brush with vampires. The artwork is sublime, Gothic without taking itself too seriously, making great use of light to counterbalance the dark.

This was a great time for Batman – a new wave of classic storylines in Batman's life as well as Bruce Wayne's private life. It continued the differing opinions of Bruce and his ward, Dick as both men viewed the world through different eyes. This is a wonderful and nostalgic collection and with Batman mania surrounding the film, this is the perfect choice – but I do suggest this is not your usual Batman fare and I wouldn't read this on your own at night!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: