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Reviews

March 2013

Matt Hilton - Rules of Honour

"...Hilton drives pace faster than The Stig..."

Synopsis:
After the brutal murder of Rink's father, Joe has to prevent his friend taking matters into his own hands. Rink's mother witnessed the crime but Yukiko's version of events doesn't quite add up.

The Japanese tradition of 'giri' or moral obligation powers her silence, but when there are more vicious deaths – of elderly men known to Yukiko – is becomes a matter of honour for Rink and Joe to discover the truth.

The killer is working to his own agenda and Joe will do anything to make sure that Rink gets his vengeance.

Review:
Hilton is stretching his not inconsiderable literary muscles in this latest thriller. By making this Rink's fight he gives his volatile vigilante the role of moral conscience while Rink assumes Hunter's usual mantle of the hot-headed avenger. By invigorating the novel this way the writing is fresher and we readers get to learn more about favoured characters.

The plot is less grand than usual, but rather than suffering from a lack of grandiose elements the stripped down nature of the plotting, coupled with the human urges which drive it are masterfully done. Personally I like a break from world saving adventures and enjoy the more locally or personally set tales.

Hunter and Rink's role reversal gives Hilton a playground he uses to its full potential. While things may swing back and forward as the plot develops they never slide. Yukiko is nicely drawn but the murderer (No, I'm not going to name the killer) is a beautifully constructed character whose actions draw out some interesting introspections from Hunter as Hilton addresses the whole vigilante idea. Is it a brave move from a courageous writer, or an author who is in tune with his readers sensibilities? I know which one gets my vote!

As ever Hilton drives pace faster than The Stig ever could, and once again he kept my attention until the last page.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Green - Another Small Kingdom

"...well written and thought provoking."

Synopsis:
In 1790 President George Washington sets about providing money for intelligence operations. This is necessary as the growing United States begins negotiations with those European countries involved in North America. Britain, France and Spain are all closely involved in developments in that part of the world. Set against this background are negotiations involving the Louisiana Territories, owned by Spain, secretly negotiated to France and wanted by the United States of America.

Jean Marie Macleod, a lawyer in Boston. Son of a dour Scot and a beautiful Frenchwoman, he is a strong supporter of the new republic of America. He is suffering after the death of his wife and young daughter and has lived a very isolated life since then. He is drawn into serving the government in secret ways and is manipulated and used by secret agents for their own purposes. Britain and France also have their own plans and Macleod is buffeted between the groups as he slowly comes to understand what is going on.

Review:
I found this insight into the early days of the United States very fascinating. Not only the fierce independence of the new country but the internal rivalries and the background to the future Civil War with the interests of the South and the slave owners taking their part. Britain and France also played their own Machiavellian games with an Old World contempt for the newcomers. The background against which the story develops contributes greatly to the enjoyment.

Green has an eye for detail where we follow the events which pick up Jean Marie Macleod and force him to move from Boston to New Orleans and on to Europe. I really liked the character of Macleod and Marie de Valois who later journeyed with him. A host of other characters played a part in the complicated events and they too were very intriguing.

There are various strands within this book and as the story develops we gradually understand who is doing what, but it is not until the end that I really felt I knew what was happening. In fact, I think I might need to re-read the book with hindsight just to appreciate the subtleties of the plot. 'Another Small Kingdom' is a great story and one I found exciting and extremely interesting. A book that educates you and makes you think is always one to reach out for if you enjoy your thrillers well written and thought provoking. I thoroughly recommend this one.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kerry Wilkinson - Think Of The Children

"This is a solid read which I would highly recommend..."

Synopsis:
Detective Sergeant Jessica Daniel is first on the scene as a stolen car crashes on a misty, wet Manchester morning. The driver is dead, but the biggest shock awaits her when she discovers the body of a child wrapped in plastic in the boot of the car. As Jessica struggles to discover the identity of the driver, a thin trail leads her first to a set of clothes buried in the woods and then to a list of children's names found in an allotment shed. With the winter chill setting in and parents looking for answers, Jessica must find out who has been watching local children, and how this connects to a case that has been unsolved for 14 years.

Review:
Wilkinson has written three previous books featuring Jessica Daniel although 'Think of the Children' was the first one I had read. It was an easy book to get into with a lead character that I immediately liked. There were quite a few references made to previous cases without much explanation which was a little frustrating for a first time reader. The book is also quite heavy going (which is not a criticism) but I mean that every word and sentence had to be read in full. Skim reading is not an option for this one.

There is quite a bit of humour in the dialogue which does lighten the story, and I enjoyed the relationship between Daniel and her colleagues. She is a strong character but does have a softer side which renders her more human. The plot itself I found a little far fetched and confusing at times, but the excellent writing and characters definitely saved the day for me. I was also like to be able to try and guess who did what and why but 'Think of the Children' is not a book which offers the reader the opportunity to do this. However, it does mean that you will be kept guessing until the end.

This is a solid read which I would highly recommend and has already got me going back to the beginning and reading the first three novels by this author to watch!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Ewan - The Good Thief's Guide To Berlin

"...enough twists to satisfy even the most ardent Chubby Checker fan..."

Synopsis:
You can't keep a good thief down. Charlie Howard – mystery writer and professional burglar-for-hire – is back in the saddle, robbing the people of Berlin blind. But his larcenous binge is about to be interrupted by a call to duty – on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

A sensitive item has been stolen from inside the British embassy in Berlin. Four employees are suspected of the theft and Charlie is hired to discreetly break into each of their homes, identify the guilty culprit and steal the item back. There's just one problem: the item is so sensitive that Charlie can't be told what it is. But how do you find something when you don't know what you're searching for? And what do you do if you witness a murder during your first break in?

In this fast-paced and charming mystery, Charlie must evade a hornet's nest of foreign spies to retrieve the mystery item, catch a killer, and finally confront how he really feels about his best friend and confidante, Victoria.

Review:
Since first encountering Charlie Howard I have been a firm fan of the 'The Good Thief's Guide' series. Each is written with dry sparse prose which crackles like a camp fire. 'TGTGT Berlin' carries on the tradition while lifting the series to another level. Charlie's witty asides and wisecracks are sharper than ever, Victoria's management of him is stronger and the plot is more involved and better thought out.

Charlie Howard is a modern day Raffles and while he is an incorrigible thief he is otherwise decent. Victoria is both his foil and a love interest although his love may well be unrequited. Other characters such as Buster, Gert and Freddy Farmer add to the drama as required with Buster especially being a real scene stealer. The nefarious Russians are also expertly drawn but for me the standout character was Berlin itself. What Ewan has done with the setting is nothing short of brilliant as he breathes life into the German capital and gives it a central role.

The ingenious idea of setting a thief to catch a thief is heightened by the drama of not knowing the identity of the desired plunder. When all is revealed after enough twists to satisfy even the most ardent Chubby Checker fan, I was left amazed at Ewan's plotting skills.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Doug Johnstone - Gone Again

"This is a clever book, where nothing is wasted. "

Synopsis:
As Mark Douglas photographs a pod of whales stranded in the waters off Edinburgh's Portobello Beach, he is called by his son's school: his wife, Lauren, hasn't turned up to collect their son. Unconcerned at first, Mark picks up Nathan and takes him home but as the hours slowly crawl by the worries start to fester.

This isn't the first time Lauren has disappeared and Mark has been ordered by the court to attend anger management classes. As he struggles to deal with his fears, look after his son and shield him from the truth of what's going on, the police seem worryingly short of leads. That is, until a shocking discovery...

Review:
Doug Johnstone has once again conjured one of those novels. A book that has you asking yourself: What would I do? And that is the genius of his work. You are so caught up in the character's story because it is grounded in the ordinary and everyday: an everyday that you share. And into the carefully drawn concrete details of this life, he inserts very real fear.

A huge part of this set up is the father and son; Mark and Nathan. Their interaction is beautifully realised on the page, with just the right amount of detail to suck you in to their lives, without detriment to the pace that we demand of our crime reading.

This is a clever book, where nothing is wasted. Seemingly insignificant details soon assume great importance. Students of creative writing should read and take note: this is how you use foreshadowing.

Addictive and gripping, this book will involve you. It will take you on a ride and your heart will be thumping in your chest as you worry about the boy and his father. Buy it and see if you don't.

Reviewed by: M/.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Kardos - The Three Day Affair

"...I will definitely be looking out for any future titles from this creative and promising author."

Synopsis:
Will, Jeffrey and Nolan have been friends since college. Their lives are normal, even boring. Until one shocking moment changes everything. One night, in a moment of madness, Jeffrey robs a convenience store and drags the only witness into Will's car. Before they know it, Will, Jeffrey and Nolan are holding a young girl hostage, with no idea what to do next. They have three days to decide her fate. Three days to choose between right and wrong, prison and freedom. Three days to manipulate each other into a unanimous decision. These ordinary men are already guilty of abduction and robbery. What else are they capable of?

Review:
I started reading 'The Three Day Affair' and was impressed with the innovative plot. I thoroughly enjoyed Kardos' writing style and the story read fluently and it was easy to get hooked on the story and characters. There was a good mix of humour, insightful characters and a strong story line. I would not say that the pace of the story was particularly fast but it was consistent and kept my interest, making me want to find out how it would end.

The ending itself is the one disappointment of the book as I found that it was rather an anti-climax and a little too predictable. Whilst reading the book I kept trying to guess what had happened and why, fully expecting to be blown away by a spectacular twist at the end. However, this did not happen and it was only the great writing of this author that saved the book rather than the story itself. The story had a strange feel to it, at times it felt that nothing was happening and it was not moving forward yet because it was so well written, it did not feel that it was stagnating or slowing down.

Overall though I did enjoy this book and will definitely be looking out for any future titles from this creative and promising author.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ian Ayris - One Day In The Life Of Jason Dean

"...a vulgar, violent and visceral noir novella which batters you into submission before breaking your heart. "

Synopsis:
Jason Dean is a hitman with a penchant for fine literature, poetry and classical music. As he says himself, 'I left school with f**k all. But I was built like a shit-house and I could quote 'Rime of the Ancient f**kin Mariner' word for f**kin word.'

Jason loves Shostakovich and he adores his little girl, Sophie. And he hates Wagner. Everything he stands for.

Mind you, with three jobs to do for Micky Archer and a heart that is breaking by the minute, Wagner is the least of his problems…

Review:
Another of the Byker Books 'Best of British' series sees Ian Ayris encapsulate a single day in the life of his unique hitman. From waking up in the morning to the end of the day we accompany Jason Dean as he goes about his day's work.

Written in the first person with a voice more distinctive than Morgan Freeman, this sparkling novella stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries. The classical music loving, poetry quoting assassin is a joy to behold as he tells a tale which is blacker than the Earl of Hell's waistcoat.

All in all this is a vulgar, violent and visceral noir novella which batters you into submission before breaking your heart.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nick Quantrill - Bang Bang, You're Dead

"For my money ‘Bang Bang, You’re Dead’ is Brit Grit at its finest."

Synopsis:
Fresh out of prison, Sam is back home and determined to turn his life around, be the man his family needs him to be. But it's not so easy going straight when you're friends with Jonno. Drawn into a drugs deal involving petty local gangs, things quickly take a turn for the worse when he discovers the notorious Nolan brothers are involved.

With simmering rivalries coming to the fore, Sam has to decide between new and old loyalties. And with old sores over his brother's death being picked at, it's not so simple. Especially when you have a gun in your pocket!

Review:
I've read a couple of Quantrill's short stories which I thoroughly enjoyed but I have never read any of his longer work. (A fellow reviewer beat me to it). 'Bang Bang, You're Dead' is a novella rather than a full length novel. Publisher by the edgy Byker Books as part of their Best of British series 'Bang Bang, You're Dead' is a wonderfully hardboiled tale of attempted redemption.

Sam is well drawn and his desires and dreams upon leaving prison are all both plausible and honourable. Jonno, Weasel and Vinnie all have other ideas though and their influence drives him down a road he doesn't want to travel.

By using his home city of Hull as the setting, Quantrill brings a gritty realism to the location which when coupled with his tight prose and sure footed plotting give the reader a cracking read. For my money 'Bang Bang, You're Dead' is Brit Grit at its finest. Grab a copy for less than £2 to see if Sam can escape his old life.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.J. Lyons - Blind Faith

"...on the whole I enjoyed this book."

Synopsis:
When her husband and son are murdered, she thought she'd lost it all. But for Sarah the nightmare is just beginning...

Sarah has just witnessed the execution of the man who confessed to killing her husband and son, among others. She leaves with no closure as the killer has refused her repeated requests to reveal the site of her family's graves. Sarah returns home to her small town of Hopewell in the Adirondacks Mountains and vows to search until she finds Sam and Josh.

Her hunt leads her to a trail of lies and unearths a new killer. In a race to save everything she holds dear, Sarah is forced to place her faith in the man who betrayed her... her husband.

Review:
I was hooked within the first few pages of 'Blind Faith', and with no synopsis of the book, did not know what to expect. The story started with witnessing the execution of a serial killer, and the subsequent journey of recovery of the mother and wife of the victims. Sarah is struggling to move on following the murders of her son and husband and Lyons managed to capture some of the emotions felt by Sarah, making her appear very real indeed.

Whilst the plot started out really well, I feel the author missed an opportunity to continue with the suspense. Answers were revealed way too early on in the story although there were a few unknowns left to the end. I feel it would have been more of an exciting finish if the book had been planned differently, making this particular thread reveal under-rated. Also, despite it being a murder/mystery novel, there was a distinct lack of any crime as such in that it was more mentioned rather than described.

Some parts of the plot I found a little predictable, but on the whole I enjoyed this book. It was an easy read, lacking in any major punches, but still a good story with some realistic (albeit some stereotypical) characters.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Linda Castillo - Gone Missing

"...a great read from a great author."

Synopsis:
Three teenagers have vanished from Ohio's Amish country. The only thing they have in common, other than their religion, is they are keen to leave the 'Plain Life'. Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called in to consult by Agent John Tomasetti as her Amish roots will be invaluable in an investigation involving this sectarian society. They travel to the small town of Monongahela Falls to investigate the latest disappearance – that of seventeen-year-old Annie King. The only evidence left behind is a satchel – and a pool of blood. The case moves closer to home for Kate when a young relative, Sadie Miller, vanishes.

With her own past resonating, Kate delves into the lives of the missing teens. Soon, a sinister pattern emerges along with a vital clue that changes everything. While following up on a lead, Kate makes an appalling discovery and unearths a secret no one could have imagined—thrusting her into a fight to the death with a merciless killer.

Review:
Both Kate and Thomasetti are easy characters to like; headstrong without being arrogant, and sensitive without being saccharine sweet. Both are workaholics who live for their job, but still manage to find the time to continue to develop their relationship.

I do enjoy reading about the life and culture around the Amish, but after now reading all four books, I am either at the stage where I am beginning to find the story lines unbelievable or thinking that perhaps the Amish are a group of violent people that murder each other as Castillo centres her plots on this one particular group. I would like to see further novels from Castillo, keeping the same characters, but perhaps focusing less on the Amish, or at least not having the culprit being Amish.

The plot itself in 'Gone Missing' was acceptable to begin with but not one I found that I couldn't put down. However, later on in the book the pace did speed up considerably. I had my own thoughts as to who was doing what and why, and whilst not completely right, I was on the right tracks so there was no explosive revelation at the end, but it was still a great read from a great author.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Mooney - The Killing House

"...a shame as Mooney is a great author."

Synopsis:
Rule #1: Don't Scream

Four years ago, Theresa Herrera's ten-year-old son Rico was abducted. The police found little evidence and the case went cold. Theresa's husband has told her to move on, but she won't give up hope.

Rule #2: Don't call the police

A mysterious woman invades Theresa's home and tells her that Rico is alive. Theresa talks on the phone to a young man who is, without question, her son.

Rule #3: Don't run. Don't fight

The woman promises to reunite Theresa with Rico only if she will follow the rules. But it is the last rule that fills Theresa with horror…
Rule #4: Kill your husband and your son will live…

Malcolm Fletcher - a former FBI profiler and now the nation's Most Wanted fugitive - arrives in Colorado to help Theresa and her husband find their son. But his arrival coincides with a dangerous and shocking twist in the case.

Barely surviving his first encounter with a suspect, Fletcher embarks on his own secret investigation, with the police just behind him every step of the way.

Review:
Mooney centres 'The Killing House' on his character Fletcher from previous books. Fletcher worked alongside Darby McCormick who is the lead character from previous Mooney novels. He is an elusive investigator who lives beneath the radar as he is wanted by the FBI. The reasons behind Fletcher being sought by the authorities is explained, however I did feel that these were rather disappointing. As a character, Fletcher appears to be mysterious and complex, always one step ahead of the game, yet I also found him to be somewhat aloof and difficult to warm to.

In 'The Killing House', the story really starts when Fletcher is brought in to help with the disappearance of a young boy who had been abducted some years ago. As soon as he met the mother of the missing boy, for me the story spiralled downwards and seemed to lose its realism. I found the plot to be too far-fetched and convoluted, as often the most simple of plots are those that work the best. This is disappointing as I have previously enjoyed all of Mooney's books. Fletcher may have worked with a different plot, but with a character that is hard to connect with and a plot that tried to be too clever, I felt this book fell short of its predecessors, which is a shame as Mooney is a great author.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Roger Hobbs - Ghostman

"The plot was cleverly put together..."

Synopsis:
For one minute twice a day more money than two guys could steal from half a dozen banks changes hands in front of a casino. All a professional heist team has to do is get past two or three guards and get away before the cops arrive.

It sounds easy but four people end up dead as more than a million dollars are stolen. Over one hundred bullet casing litter the floor and the man behind the heist has to call in the only man who can clean the mess up.

Review:
This novel is chock full of technical know how and inside information which educates the reader as to the world of professional thieves. Sadly though at times it can seem more like a training manual than the fast paced novel it could be.

The lead character is a shadow and a master of disguise. I enjoyed his first person viewpoint and warmed to him as a character. The various opposing forces and police officers were all well drawn without being particularly notable, with the exception of Angela.

The plot was cleverly put together and I liked the way that Hobbs filtered in a back story sub-plot to give an added dimension. The pace was undulating as technical detail was deposited between action set pieces. Hobb's prose was neat and tidy and his characterisation touches were very well thought out.


Some readers will enjoy the minutiae of a professional thief's trade but for me the information dumps sucked some of the soul out of what was otherwise a very entertaining debut.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: