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Reviews

June 2013

Agatha Christie - Miss Marple Short Stories

"...this collection will make an absolutely perfect addition to your library. "

Synopsis:
On a Tuesday night a group of people sit round and discuss… murder. 'Unsolved mysteries' declares Raymond West, Jane Marple's nephew. In the room are the artist, Joyce Lempriere, Dr. Pender, a clergyman, a solicitor called Mr. Petherick, Sir Henry Clithering, a policeman of great standing and lastly, Miss Marple. Raymond's statement to stir up the gentle atmosphere of his aunt's living room starts an evening of strange cases that have avoided a solution for many years. Each individual tells a story that caused great puzzlement when the crime was first committed. At the end of each story, as the others shake their heads in complete bafflement, it is always one person who can see through to the truth - a little old lady who nobody seems to ever notice – Miss Jane Marple.

Many cases include the wife who is killed for her hundreds and thousands, the supernatural blood stained pavement, the woman who is told that the blue geranium will bring death and the missing gold bars from a galleon. Other cases that call for Miss Marple's guidance involve a man found dying in a church sanctuary, a killer who murders with a tape-measure, a fatal stabbing and the curious conduct of a caretaker and the murder at Greenshaw's Folly.

Review:
The Folio Society have collected all the short stories featuring Miss Marple and placed them in this fabulous cased edition. Here are all the stories highlighted in the brilliant 'The Thirteen Problems' which is a personal favourite of mine, 'Greenshaw's Folly' from 'The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding' and six more from 'Miss Marple's Final Cases'. Everyone knows and loves Miss Marple, the old lady with the genteel manner which hides her tenacity to track down a criminal like a bloodhound.

Without moving from her chair (or as in 'The Case of the Caretaker' from her sick bed) Miss Marple can see the wickedness within St. Mary Mead and indeed, of the whole world. It is due to this insight that Jane Marple can unravel the skeins of deception that others cannot see through and she has a wonderful St. Mary Mead parallel for every case.

Christie was a phenomenal writer and she excelled at the short story format, so that each story in this collection is like a pearl with a dark heart; brilliant, enticing and yet deadly. Read this collection and you will see why Christie has endured where many writers of her time have fallen by the wayside and forgotten. Christie always has been and always is pure escapism. If you simply want a grand way of being entertained, then this collection will make an absolutely perfect addition to your library.

Miss Marple Folio Society

My Agatha Christie Top Ten

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Bendoris - Killing With Confidence

"...an excellent debut from an author showing great promise. "

Synopsis:
Osiris Vance is a killer with exacting standards. Addicted to motivational self-help books, he refines his technique with each slaying, aiming to fulfil his ambition to become the greatest serial killer ever. Why be ordinary?

The brutal murder of glamorous self-made millionaire Selina Seth leaves her husband as the prime suspect. But ageing, technophobic investigative journalist April Lavender and her young sidekick Connor Presley think otherwise, as they reveal a web of ruthless ambition and adulterous affairs.

Trying to stay ahead of the press pack, they have to contend with a detective 'with issues', a vengeful gangster, a newspaper regime that wants them to fail – and a perfectionist serial killer.

Review:
Bendoris' debut features a fantastically original serial killer in Osiris Vance. I loved the way he sought confidence from self help tapes to improve his murderous ambitions. Who would ever have thought a serial killer would be afflicted with the self-doubts which plague the rest of society?

All of the characters were depicted with an artisan's eye, with April, Connor, Badger and the inimitable DI Crosbie all competing for centre stage. Choosing a favourite from this quartet is nigh on impossible, but for me Crosbie edged it by the slightest of margins. The plot is nicely constructed without being over-elaborate and the pace builds steadily throughout the story until a twist at the end kicks the feet out from under the reader.

Packed with duplicity, greed and self-preservation, 'Killing with Confidence' is an excellent debut from an author showing great promise. It's packed with stunning characterisation, compelling narrative and fine plotting.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stav Sherez - Eleven Days

"I can’t recommend it highly enough."

Synopsis:
A fire rages through a sleepy West London square, engulfing a small convent hidden away among the residential houses. When DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller arrive at the scene they discover eleven bodies, yet there were only supposed to be ten nuns in residence.

It's eleven days before Christmas, and despite their superiors wanting the case solved before the holidays, Carrigan and Miller start to suspect that the nuns were not who they were made out to be. Why did they make no move to escape the fire? Who is the eleventh victim, whose body was found separate to the others? And where is the convent's priest, the one man who can answer their questions?

Fighting both internal politics and the church hierarchy, Carrigan and Miller unravel the threads of a case which reaches back to the early 1970s, and the upsurge of radical Liberation Theology in South America - with echoes of the Shining Path, and contemporary battles over oil, land and welfare. Meanwhile, closer to home, there's a new threat in the air, one the police are entirely unprepared for...

Review:
Stav Sherez is not only the man with the best hair in crime fiction, he's fast becoming a staple of my reading calendar. In 'Eleven Days' he demonstrates yet again, what a talented and thoughtful writer he is. The elements that we have become familiar with in Sherez's novels are all once again on display and brought to bear with tremendous effect.

Sherez's characterisation is spot-on throughout the piece. Carrigan and Miller are once again the main actors and they are shaping up to be a fine duo, ably assisted by the rest of the cast. He writes with lyricism, clarity and intelligence while taking us on a captivating journey, maintaining a joyous pace throughout. In 'Eleven Days', he turns his penetrating eye on Catholic cults, inner city turmoil and police politics, all of which results in a fascinating and heady brew. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sam Hayes - Until You're Mine

"...a gripping read."

Synopsis:
Life is pretty much perfect for mother-to-be Claudia and her husband, James. Perfect, that is, until their new nanny Zoe moves into the top floor of their Georgian home. She comes highly recommended but when James' job takes him away and out of contact, Claudia starts to get nervous. What is it about the nanny that unsettles her so?

Meanwhile, a series of vicious attacks on pregnant women is all over the news. Married detectives Lorraine Fisher and Sam Scott have never seen anything like it. And when their teenage daughter suddenly decides to leave home and get married, keeping home and work separate becomes impossible. They soon realise that the killer will stop at nothing to get a baby of their own and it becomes a race against time to prevent another murder.

Review:
Hayes has written another of the standalone psychological thrillers that she excels at. Despite not having an opportunity to get to know the characters in previous novels, the leads in 'Until You're Mine', Detectives Fisher and Scott, had a comfortable and familiar feel to them.

This book did not draw me to pick it up and read it at every opportunity, yet when I did I couldn't understand how I could have put it down as I was hooked again from the very first word. Knowing Hayes as an author, I was expecting some twist in the book and I wasn't disappointed as a number of twists actually occurred. Whilst some of these were more expected than others, I didn't feel disappointed being able to work out the story. Hayes's characters are plausible despite a couple of parts of the plot being less so. Perhaps the story did feel a little drawn out at times, but it was still a gripping read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - The Swedish Girl

"...a roaring good story that holds your attention from the beginning..."

Synopsis:
In this latest book of the series Detective Superintendent Lorimer is back with his old division after spending time with the Serious Crime Squad. He is glad to be back and begins his term with a murder of a beautiful young Swedish student in the Glasgow flat bought for her by her wealthy father. Lorimer becomes more involved than is strictly necessary, as one of the girl's flatmates is Kirsty, an old family friend and daughter of a serving police officer.

Another of the victim's flatmates is arrested on suspicion of murder but Kirsty is convinced he is not guilty and pursues her own enquiries, as well as calling on Lorimer for advice. Psychologist Solly Brightman helps with understanding of the crime and his wife Rosie is intimately involved as the pathologist who examines the body. When more young blonde girls are found murdered it appears that a serial killer is on the loose.

Review:
Above all, this is a roaring good story that holds your attention from the beginning and winds up with a very exciting end, with a totally unexpected twist in the final pages. The characters are sympathetic and fans will welcome the development of the story line with the happily married Lorimer and his friends Solly and Rosie. New characters are equally engaging and I suspect Kirsty Wilson will not be lost for ever.

Glasgow remains an ever present character in the story, with its grand architecture and troubled slums. It is always a vibrant and exciting place in Grey's books. A brilliant edge-of-your-seat read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Wilton - Traitor's Field

"This novel demands your attention and concentration."

Synopsis:
Set in 1648, this novel tells the tale of a conflict between two intelligent and committed men. Set against the background of an England where the Royalists have been defeated but Cromwell and Parliament are struggling against dissenters who have discovered that it is possible to challenge authority. Mortimer Shay is a fixer par excellence who flits back and forth across England, Scotland and Ireland in pursuit of protecting the Royalist cause where possible, and his secret network of spies and supporters: the Comptrollerate General for Scrutiny and Survey.

John Thurloe is a young man working for Cromwell but struggling within the hotheads on his own side. He slowly works out the extent of The Comptrollerate General and starts to amass some of the confidential information it has acquired. He is a man of duty but also of compassion. Cromwell is chasing the young Charles Stuart across the country and his brilliant military skills ensure his victory. Charles escapes into exile, leaving Cromwell to deal with the dissidents in his own ranks.

Review:
This is a dense and detailed story and not one you can simply pick up and read in an afternoon. This novel demands your attention and concentration.

At the beginning we are in the dark as Shay and Thurloe flit across England plotting and spying. It demands concentration but is worth the perseverance as the structure of the plot is slowly revealed. I found the short incidents that follow closely one after the other a bit confusing, but they represent the spasmodic life lead by Shay and his supporters and demonstrate the chaotic life he led. By the end of this book, the deliciously complicated and interwoven events make absolute sense and it is quite satisfying that the two protagonists work out the final details together. This was altogether not an easy read, but one which repays the effort needed to follow the plot. Definitely highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Billingham - The Dying Hours

"...fine characterisation, tight plotting and faultless prose..."

Synopsis:
There has been a cluster of suicides among the elderly. Such things are not unknown to the police and the deaths are quickly dismissed by the police as routine. Only one man is convinced that something more sinister is taking place.

However, no one listens to Tom Thorne anymore. Having stepped out of line once too often, he's back in uniform and he hates it. Patronised and abused by his new colleagues, Thorne's suspicions about the suicides are dismissed by the Murder Squad he was once part of and he is forced to investigate alone.

Unable to trust anyone, Thorne must risk losing those closest to him. He must gamble with the lives of those targeted by a killer unlike any he has hunted before. He is a man with nothing to lose and a growing list of victims; a man with the power to make people take their own lives.

Review:
The latest novel from Mark Billingham sees his trusty detective chasing a serial killer who doesn't actually kill people. Instead the twisted villain incites his victims to commit suicide. This is a very clever ploy which allows Billingham to have Thorne hunting yet another serial killer. The plotting makes formidably logical sense and the pace of the novel is delicately balanced with Thorne's personal and professional lives combining to drive the story forward.

Those readers' who like me have followed the trial and travails of Tom Thorne's life, will be fascinated with the way he has fallen from grace, but still has at least one finger firmly on the self destruct button. Helen Weeks, Kitson, Hendricks and Holland all provide the usual level of support for both author and reader, but it is Tom Thorne's story and the reader is never allowed to forget it.

With a mix of fine characterisation, tight plotting and faultless prose, 'The Dying Hours' will keep you turning pages long into the night.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: