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Reviews

April 2013

Tony Black - Killing Time In Vegas

"Tony Black has made a definite switch from my “would like to read” pile to my “must read more of” mountain."

Synopsis:
The City of Sin plays host to a performance-enhanced bodybuilder who loses control with bloody consequences in 'Killing Time in Vegas' and an attempt to kidnap a billionaire's daughter goes badly wrong in 'The Long Drop' in this second collection of original short stories by Irvine Welsh's 'favourite British crime writer', Tony Black.

Find out how a victim of high school date rape takes the ultimate revenge and explore the grisly aftermath of a bank job with a crew who suspects one of their number has tipped off the cops.

These American-set stories are collected here for the first time in a 15,000-word anthology. 'Killing Time in Vegas' originally appeared in 'The Baddest of the Bad' whilst the rest of the collection featured in 'The Mammoth Book of British Mysteries', 'True Brit Grit', 'Plots With Guns' and 'Thuglit'.

Review:
Before I read this collection of short stories, I had only heard good things about Tony Black. Now I've read them I have to say that the reports were all understated. It is very rare that you will encounter such tight prose, strong narrative and pitch perfect dialogue in so many offerings from the one author.

Each tale grabbed me and held me tight until the next one laid its paws on me. The only possible fault I could raise is that it let go of me before I was ready to be released. Tony Black has made a definite switch from my “would like to read” pile to my “must read more of” mountain.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

D.E. Meredith - The Devil's Ribbon

"This is quickly becoming a series one cannot afford to miss."

Synopsis:
In this second book featuring Adolphus Hatton as the innovative forensic scientist and his equally gifted assistant Albert Roumande, the action is centred on the unrest surrounding the militant Irish living in London to escape the horrendous famine at home. There is a serious cholera outbreak, and at first the death of a leading Irish Unionist politician is put down to that. Hatton's forensic skills quickly determine that foul play is involved and he becomes closely involved with the man's family, particularly his attractive wife, Sorcha McCarthy, who reminds him of a lost love. The conflict between the Irish, some of whom support the Unionist cause as a means to bettering their country and some of whom are bitterly opposed to any compromise with those whom they consider to have treated them appallingly, is the heart of the story. Hatton and Roumande continue to amaze and appal their contemporaries as they use the dead bodies of the victims as the source of their scientific discoveries. How primitive the science is to modern eyes is shown by the wonder at the discovery of fingerprinting as a proof of guilt or innocence.

The Police Force is also at an early stage of development and Inspector Grey of Scotland Yard rides roughshod over any modern ideas of correct police procedure. An exciting plot ranges over Victorian London and the Irish countryside. Hatton himself faces death and he rescues others from the murderer. When the plot is finally unravelled the evil lies closer to home than Hatton or Roumande would have wished.

Review:
This is not for the squeamish; some of the descriptions of the dissection would, if on television, be the bit where you look away. The imagination embroiders that. I had to keep reminding myself that this was Victorian London and the casual way in which drugs were held was not unusual, nor was the way in which some of the cadavers were treated.

Again Inspector Grey's fondness for a little candied opium is only characteristic of the times, as is his quick swig of the morphine from Dr Hatton's stock. The main characters are intriguing. Adolphus Hatton is too self absorbed to be truly likeable. Inspector Grey is a complicated man with hidden secrets, but not at all sympathetic.

The only one who earns my admiration is the very competent assistant, Albert Roumande, but taken as a whole the cast is well put together and works brilliantly. As in the first novel, the atmosphere of the time is beautifully described and becomes very vivid for this particular reader. This is quickly becoming a series one cannot afford to miss.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Imogen Robertson - The Paris Winter

"...‘The Paris Winter’ is a great success and confirms Robertson as a shining writer of extraordinary potential."

Synopsis:
This delightful book, set in the Paris of the Belle Époque, uses as a framework a series of paintings by an unknown artist from the collection of a wealthy American art connoisseur. These paintings trace the story of Maud Heighton, a student at the Academie Lafond, who has come to Paris to develop her artistic skills in a respectable women's atelier. At first she seems a very proper if unconventional English lady in Paris but as the story develops her strength of character, her resolve and her ability to cast off the inhibitions of her class shine through. She is preyed upon by an unscrupulous con man who uses her desperation to escape extreme poverty to further his greed.

With the background of the exciting world of Paris in the early twentieth century and the familiarity of the artists and intellectuals of the time, together with the fear and devastation that the Paris floods of 1909 this story has all the ingredients of an exciting tale.

Review:
This book is beautifully constructed around the device of a series of paintings. The plot starts slowly and gently then gathers pace to become an exciting and tense tale which could twist and turn in any way.

The heady atmosphere of artistic Paris with its drug taking, free expression and wonderful talent is so immediate when reading this book which made me love it straight away.

The characters are original and evoke a positive response-for good or ill. Maud becomes a very modern woman, and the positive help she receives from all sorts is heart-warming, particularly when the notes tell you that some of the characters are based on real people. This is a departure from Imogen Robertson's love affair with the seventeenth century and her heroine, Harriet Westerman, but I think 'The Paris Winter' is a great success and confirms Robertson as a shining writer of extraordinary potential.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mo Hayder - Poppet

"...‘Poppet’ is a great read from an author at the top of her game."

Synopsis:
Mentally ill patients at a secure unit are very suggestible. Hallucinations spread like contagious diseases. When unexpected power cuts result in a series of horrific events, fear spreads through the facility infecting patients and staff alike. Senior psychiatric nurse, AJ LeGrande is desperate to protect his charges.

DI Jack Caffery is searching for the corpse of a missing woman. He knows from bitter experience the pain of being unable to find a loved one's body. When AJ seeks Caffery's help, each man must face a bitter truth from their own lives before staring evil in the eye.

Review:
Mo Hayder's books are as close as I'll ever get to reading horror. While basically being left cold by horror and all its sub-genres there is something about Hayder's writing which entrances me. At times unsettling, macabre and downright eerie, 'Poppet' is a first class psychological thriller which dominated my thoughts.

Jack Caffery and Flea Marley share the lead roles with AJ LeGrande and his character is strong enough to stand beside these two. Isaac Handel, Melanie Arrow and the marvellous Patience all make great contributions but it is the three central characters that carry the novel.

Hayder tells the story through the three leads and as ever her prose is faultless. The pace undulates back and forth as events progress and the sub plot of Misty Kitson's missing body which runs through the series is as strong as ever. Trust me, 'Poppet' is a great read from an author at the top of her game.

Check out Graham Smith's website to read his Q&A with Mo Hayder!

Mo Hayder Q&A

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Luke Delaney - Cold Killing

"...an excellent read which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others."

Synopsis:
DI Sean Corrigan is not like other detectives. The terrible abuse he suffered in childhood hasn't stopped him enjoying family life with his wife and two daughters, or pursuing an impressive career with South London's Murder Investigation Unit. But it has left him with an uncanny ability to identify the darkness in others, a darkness he knows still exists deep within his own psyche and battles to keep buried there.

Now Sean's on the trail of the most dangerous killer he's ever encountered. The perpetrator has no recognisable MO, leaves no forensic evidence and his victims have nothing in common. But Sean knows they were all murdered by the same man. Now all he has to do is find the evidence, convince his bosses and stop the killing… before his adversary gets too close to home.

Review:
'Cold Killing' introduces author Luke Delaney and his protagonist, Sean Kerrigan. Kerrigan is a DI in the Special Crime Group, investigating murders but using a criminal's perspective when solving the crime. At crime scenes he is able to see events through the eyes of the killer, how and why he does this has not been given a complete explanation but you feel Kerrigan has some 'extra' sense, rather than due to the abuse received from his father.

The book is very cleverly written and the author leads the reader to where he wants them to go. However, it is possible to see through some of the subterfuge but it will still keep you guessing as you won't be totally sure.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and despite it lasting over 400 pages, I did not feel it was drawn out. However, when giving the plot and story further thought, certain events and some of the links were a little tenuous or convenient which I felt left a few holes in the plot. Nevertheless this debut is still an excellent read which I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to others.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Christopher Brookmyre - Bedlam

"‘Bedlam’ is a masterpiece of scathing satire..."

Synopsis:
Ross Baker is an underpaid and overworked scientist developing medical technology for corporate giant Neurosphere, but he'd sooner play computer games than deal with his lazy co-workers and nightmare boss.

One wet Monday morning in a bid to escape the office, Ross volunteers to be a test candidate for the new tech. When he comes out of the scanner he finds that he has not only escaped the office but real life as well. He finds himself trapped inside Starfire – the games he spent most of his teenage years playing. There's no explanation, backup or most worrying of all, no way back.

Review:
'Bedlam' is a masterpiece of scathing satire which sees Brookmyre harpoon many different targets while also making a point about the dangers of cloning.

I loved the virtual world Ross was launched into and the different games encountered brought back many happy memories of time spent playing various games in my own youth. The plotting was first class and Brookmyre drives the story onwards at a frantic pace which had me facing the end of level Baddie before I knew it.

The character of Ross Baker is perfectly constructed for the dual roles inside and outside of the virtual world but it were the minor characters such as Juno, Iris and Solderburn who really caught my eye.

All in all I have to say that 'Bedlam' is a wonderfully constructed tale which shows all the signs of an author at the top of his game. At times it had me laughing out loud, wincing and feeling nostalgic.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

D.L. Johnstone - Furies

"...the pungent and earthy dialogue makes it easy to feel immersed in first century life."

Synopsis:
Set in first century Alexandria, the story begins with Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, a recently prosperous Roman man of business, looking around the wreckage of his life as his debtors clear his house and belongings, and his wife and beloved son are packing to return to Rome to leave him to his fate.

The man who caused this reversal of fortunes is assumed to be dead. Aculeo's ruin has also meant the ruin of many of his business partners and contacts, making him very unpopular with his former friends. As Aculeo struggles to find out how he comes to be in this situation, mysterious deaths seem to follow him. Something sinister is happening which is linked to him.

Aculeo, along with some interesting accomplices, piece together the facts that emerge and the clever plot culminates in a surprising end.

Review:
I loved this book. The history was fascinating and well researched, the characters were engaging and often funny, the plot was intricate and well crafted.

In particular I enjoyed the dialogue. Graffiti seen at well-preserved Roman sites such as Pompey and the Forum in Rome show that ordinary people of the time were not so different to those of today. There is an immediate connection that links us to the past when we read everyday comments that could have been scrawled a few days ago instead of centuries earlier. D L Johnstone has caught the spirit of the banter and I think this helps to bring the story to life.

There are some interesting characters. I particularly liked the relationship that developed between Aculeo and Sekhet, the Egyptian healer. The glossary of Roman and Egyptian words was very helpful as there were some important nuances that I might have missed without it. Also, when the characters have unfamiliar names the Dramatis Personae is always useful.

As Aculeo moves through the city, the atmosphere and energy of Alexandria is vividly described. The historical facts about the city are there, but the power of description and particularly the pungent and earthy dialogue makes it easy to feel immersed in first century life.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sabine Durrant - Under Your Skin

"This is an excellent read and highly recommended."

Synopsis:
When clever, successful TV presenter, Gaby Mortimer discovers the dead body of a young woman on the common near her house, she has no idea that her apparently happy, charmed life is about to go into sickening freefall. There are connections between the two women—some of Gaby's clothes are found in the murder victim's flat. When the police interview Gaby, it's clear they think she is a suspect. Gaby's colleagues on her TV show insist she take a break (they don't want the bad publicity), neighbours and even friends make themselves scarce, her workaholic husband Philip is out of the country on business - Gaby has to rely on her own resources to reveal the real nature of the killer and fight to get her life back.

Review:
'Under Your Skin' features a real mix of characters, many who act in a shady way, to give the reader plenty of suspects to choose from. The characters and opinions of these characters change during the duration of the book as their personalities are revealed. Durrant gives the reader a few scents to follow, although not all of these are necessarily down the right road.

I did find that at times there seemed to be little happening in this novel, but I was so surprised by the ending that the occasional slowness could be overlooked. This is an excellent read and highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matthew Klein - No Way Back

"One of the best crime novels I have read in a long time."

Synopsis:
Jimmy Thane thinks he knows about loss, about fear, about paranoia. He should think again.

Every time Jimmy has been faced with a crossroad, he has taken the wrong path. But after years of drinking and womanising, he has been given one last chance to save both his career and his marriage - he has seven weeks to transform a failing company.

From the moment he enters the building, he senses there's something wrong - the place is too quiet, too empty. When the police come calling about the disappearance of the former CEO, Jimmy starts to wonder what he's got himself into. Then he discovers surveillance equipment in his neighbour's house, looking straight into his own front room. And his wife isn't just tired, she's terrified - and trying to hide it.

Nothing is at it seems. Jimmy's not living his dream - he's been plunged into the worst kind of nightmare. And when the truth comes out, it's more terrifying than he could ever imagine.

Review:
Jimmy Thane is a character who is not easy to like. He is a recovering drug addict, a recovering alcoholic, a recovering gambler and a womaniser to boot! Yet through all of this his wife stays with him because she loves him.

Jimmy is not a pleasant man, for the reasons given above. His wife Libby also fails on any scale of being pleasant. In fact, many of the characters in the book have deep flaws that make them hard to like. However, my annoyance flitted between Jimmy and Libby as the story progressed and at times I had to remind myself that Libby behaved as she did due to the way she was been treated by her husband.

Some way into the book, I managed to work out what was happening, and which characters could not be trusted. The plot was moving quickly and I was unable to put the book down. It was only when I was a few pages from the end that I realised that my detective work had been totally wrong and I had to change my thinking as the plot was moving so quickly. So good was the writing though, that this all changed again in the last couple of pages. Few of the characters came out of this in a better light. It was hard to know who was who, and what was happening. This is a very well written book with a well-structured plot that is definitely worth reading. One of the best crime novels I have read in a long time.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Millar - Accidents Happen

"It was well written with well defined characters. "

Synopsis:
How many times, when things go wrong, have you said to yourself 'Why me'? Some people seem to have more than their fair share of bad luck, and Kate Parker is one of them.

So when Kate and her ten-year-old son Jack move to Oxford to start a new life, Kate is determined that events of the past will not come back to haunt them. Despite the suffocating support she receives from her overbearing in-laws, she starts to feel threatened. Somehow her comfortable family home doesn't feel quite safe – it's almost as though someone is watching them.

Then a chance meeting with a charming Oxford professor helps to convince her that she can overcome her fears, and that she and Jack can start to live a normal life once again. But just when she feels happier than she's felt in years, a shocking revelation blows all of their lives apart.

Review:
'Accidents Happen' sees Kate struggling following the death of her parents and her husband. There are references to her husband's death but when full details are finally shared I was expecting something more after the build up. Kate by chance meets an author, Jago, who wants to help her overcome her fears, and Kate wants his help so she can be the mother she used to be to her son, Jack.

I found the book to be overly lengthy and some parts superfluous. There were certain events happening that seemed to be unconnected at the time. These were later explained but I did not feel that they were given enough detail. At times the story did drag a little but I thought that towards the latter part of the book, the plot did liven up. There was a missed opportunity with the ending which came across as not being very realistic.

It was well written with well defined characters. Despite the seemingly negative comments, I did still enjoy the book and I was interested enough in the story to want to know what happened to each of the characters and to find out their particular motives. Enjoyable.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Liz Coley - Pretty Girl Thirteen

"On the whole I did enjoy this book..."

Synopsis:
Angie Chapman was thirteen years old when she ventured into the woods alone on a Girl Scouts camping trip. Now she's returned home…only to find that its three years later and she's sixteen - or at least that's what everyone tells her. What happened to the past three years of her life? Angie doesn't know. But there are people who do, people who could tell Angie every detail of her forgotten time, if only they weren't locked inside her mind. With a tremendous amount of courage, Angie embarks on a journey to discover the fragments of her personality, otherwise known as her 'alters'. As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: When you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the parts of yourself that are responsible?

Review:
Whilst Angie is a character that is easy enough to like, the family dynamics and parents' response seem to be somewhat unrealistic. As the plot unfolds, more information regarding her whereabouts for the past three years comes to light. Although the idea behind this book seems like a great plot, somehow it did not translate very well. Some parts of the story seem to be unnecessary and I was unable to find any relevance for their inclusion. Also, the details regarding who had taken her and how Angie got home were not explained in any great detail which left me feeling slightly cheated.

The concept of multiple personality was interesting and could have been turned into a great story. However, the only twist was, to me, very transparent and obvious. I also felt that there was no emotion connection with either Angie or her 'alters'. Had there been, this would have increased my empathy and interest for her. Without spoiling the plot, another story in Angie's life came to light, but again there was no real closure on this.

On the whole I did enjoy this book but I feel it could have been done better and there were opportunities that were missed which could have turned this from an acceptable read to an edge of the seat ride. However, even if it is not highly recommended, it is still worth reading.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R.N. Morris - Summon Up The Blood

"...Morris sews a strong sense of place with his prose."

Synopsis:
It is London, 1914. D.I. Silas Quinn is an unconventional policeman to say the least. He has headed 'Special Crimes' with two officers under his command, but there are threats to close Quinn's office down. There have been rumours that many of the prime suspects in past crimes have been killed and not lived to stand trial due to Quinn meting out his own version of justice. Now there is a new case and Quinn has to bring in the perpetrator – this time alive.

A rent boy has been found exsanguinated, all the victim's blood has been drained from the body. The body has then been found cleaned and re-dressed. The only clue is what appears to be a nondescript cigarette case that many people of that class could acquire. Despite the boy's occupation, Quinn is determined to bring the killer down. Overcoming his own prejudices as well as those he works with, Quinn tries to get inside the mind of a killer and is soon uncovering many deceptions, most emanating from a gentleman's club and involving some of the biggest names in society and politics.

Review:
I really wanted to enjoy this book however I felt that, although the author appears pleased with the end result, it did not flow well for me. Just when I thought the plot was about to get going, it would fizzle out and wind up with Quinn and co back at their cramped office talking over the case and using every derivative for a gay prostitute found in the book. After a while this got repetitive. For some reason every time you could hear the call of 'the game's afoot!' Morris would reign himself back in and we'd be faced with more navel-gazing from Quinn. To be honest I don't know how smoking Opium cigarettes, flicking through gay porn and wondering about your own sexuality can be classed as the detective 'getting inside the killer's mind'.

I felt that the killer was telegraphed from the moment of the villain's appearance and I was sadly correct by the time I reached the end. On the plus, Morris sews a strong sense of place with his prose. He painted with certainty the grimy streets of London with its poverty and pestilence although it felt more like Victorian London even though the time was evidently on the cusp of the Great War. Would I give Quinn another chance? I would be willing to follow Quinn's next case but I hope that Morris injects a bit more impetus in to his plot and his detective.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: