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Reviews

July 2013

David Thomas - Ostland

"Educational, entertaining and emotive throughout, Ostland is a first class read..."

Synopsis:
February 1941, wartime Berlin. Brilliant, idealistic young detective Georg Heuser joins the Murder Squad in the midst of the biggest manhunt the city has ever seen. A serial killer is slaughtering women on S-Bahn trains and leaving their battered bodies by the tracks. Heuser must confront evil eye-to-eye as he helps track down the murderer.

July 1959, peacetime West Germany: a pioneering young lawyer, Paula Siebert, is the sole woman in a federal unit investigating men who have committed crimes of unimaginable magnitude and horror. Their leader has just been arrested. His name is Georg Heuser. Siebert is sure of his guilt. But one question haunts her: how could a once decent man have become a sadistic monster?

The answer lies in the desolate wastes of the Russian Front, the vast landmass conquered by Hitler's forces... the new empire the Nazis call Ostland.

Review:
Very rarely do books come along that reach into your psyche and take root. Having read one just before the turn of the year, I had despaired of finding another for several months, and then Ostland came along and kicked my door down.

David Thomas has used his consummate skill to create a marvellous novel. As a budding author myself, I can appreciate the technical challenge of having two different lead characters operating in separate time frames. To compound matters, Thomas also uses first person for Heuser and third person for Siebert. Couple this with one of most complete character arcs I've read and you have wonderfully thought-provoking novel.

Heuser's story is one which touched my heart and made me reassess my opinions. His journey from detective to Gestapo officer makes for fascinating reading with Heuser himself as the narrator. Siebert's tale was adeptly handled and through her and her mentor Kraus, Thomas tackles the various moral issues which arise from Heuser's wartime actions. Dark and disturbing at times, it was never graphic as to be gratuitous. Wisely the author chose to focus on the emotions of the character rather than the deeds which fuelled them, although enough horrors are depicted to leave the reader in no doubt of the facts.

The fact that Ostland is based on the true story of Georg Heuser made it more engrossing for me. This isn't fiction. It's a fictional account of a few years of a man's life.

Educational, entertaining and emotive throughout, Ostland is a first class read by an author at the top of their game. Such is the brilliance of the storytelling, if the author hadn't already been Author of the Month, (admittedly under a previous pseudonym) I would have campaigned the editor for the position.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jason Matthews - Red Sparrow

"Wow! This book is a tremendously exciting story, full of twists and turns."

Synopsis:
Intelligence agent Dominika Egorova has had an interesting pathway to espionage: a highly trained ballerina fated to abandon her career as a result of a fit of jealousy, niece to a top member of the KGB or SRV, daughter of two independent minded intellectuals and herself a highly talented individual with the extraordinary power to see letters and numbers and even emotions as colours.

Set against her is a young ambitious CIA operative, Nathaniel Nash, smarting from a disappointment in his career in Moscow. He is running a very important mole in the Russian hierarchy and comes against Dominica who is charged at finding the traitor. After horrifying and demeaning training as a “sparrow” charged with using seduction to gain information, Dominika embarks on her dealings with Nate.

The action moves between Moscow, Helsinki, Athens, Rome and Washington and as a growing understanding develops between the two spies, they both use every bit of their intuition and training to defend the security of their country. At the same time a passionate feeling for each other is kept at bay.

Review:
Wow! This book is a tremendously exciting story, full of twists and turns. The personal knowledge of Jason Matthews as an ex CIA executive underpins the whole tale of the new relationship between the USA and Russia now that the Soviet Union does not exist. But there is still a huge conflict between the CIA and Russian intelligence. This is partly revealed and the truth we discover is frightening.

I was enthralled by this book and I loved the characters, particularly Dominika, who is very scary as well as absolutely charming. The insights into the world of espionage are truly fascinating. One can only wonder at the appalling way people are treated by the 'bad guys', and no holds are barred in describing some of the actions of Vladimir Putin.

This is definitely in the realms of John Le Carre and I wouldn't be surprised if the characters develop in more books. I sincerely hope so.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Paula Daly - Just What Kind Of Mother Are You?

"The plot is well paced without racing ahead. This is a great first novel from a very promising new author."

Synopsis:
What is your best friend's child disappears and it's all your fault? This is exactly what happens to Lisa Kallisto - overwhelmed working mother of three - one freezing December in the Lake District. She takes her eye off the ball for just a moment and her whole world descends into nightmare. Her best friend's thirteen-year-old daughter, Lucinda has gone missing and now, devastated by this and publicly blamed, Lisa sets out to right the wrong.

But as she begins peeling away the layers surrounding Lucinda's disappearance, Lisa learns that the quiet town she lives in isn't what she thought it was, and her friends might not be who they appear to be either.

Review:
'Just What Kind Of Mother Are You' is the debut novel by author Paula Daly. Whilst perhaps not the most catchy of titles, don't be put off.

Daly has a real flair for creating multi-dimensional characters. Each character has their own quirks and they also have their own secrets that over the time are revealed, none of which are able to be predicted. Daly leaves hints to suggest and lead the reader down certain paths, some of which are in the wrong direction, but it all adds to the guessing.

The book in the main is written from the perspective of Lisa, giving full insight of her emotions and feelings. The cast is a good mix of those who are stable and neurotic but it is not always clear what sort of person each character is as they have been cleverly devised. The plot is well paced without racing ahead. This is a great first novel from a very promising new author.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - One Twisted Voice

"Once you start reading the collection, you won’t stop until you read the end."

Synopsis:
A collection of sixteen short tales told by one twisted voice...

Matt Hilton is best known for his best-selling Joe Hunter thriller series, but he also enjoys writing across the different genres. He has selected stories ranging from crime, thriller, action and horror, with a liberal sprinkling of humour, and presents them here all in one neat bundle.

Review:
I'm a huge fan of Matt Hilton's Joe Hunter series, so I looked forward to reading this eclectic mix of stories. As ever Hilton didn't disappoint me. Instead he chose to scare, humour and entertain me with his short vignettes about werewolf detectives, cops and many others.

All of these stories have appeared in other places at various times, yet together they form an ensemble piece which traverses genres with ease. Particular favourites were 'Misconceptions', 'Wandering Fingers' and 'Booze and Ooze', although every story is a strongly voiced contender for the reader's attention.

Not having to conform to his series character has freed Hilton's creative spirit and with 'One Twisted Voice' he soars high before swooping in on his subject and eviscerating the reader's day. Once you start reading the collection, you won't stop until you read the end.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Denise Mina - The Red Road

"This is a very powerful and engaging novel and Mina fully deserves her growing reputation as an impressive crime novelist."

Synopsis:
Two murders are committed in 1997 by fourteen year old Rose Wilson but she is only charged with one - that of her pimp who used her as a child prostitute for some rich and famous people. She is befriended by a defence lawyer who works to reduce her sentence and takes an interest in her welfare when she is released.

In the present day, DI Alex Morrow is puzzled by some of the evidence in a court case where she is acting as witness against Michael Brown, a brutal arms dealer. Whilst he was in prison his fingerprints have been discovered at the scene of another murder. It is impossible that he could have been there.

The defence lawyer that came to the aid of Rose is involved in some dubious dealings and his well respected son fears for his life when he discovers the secrets his father hid so well and then forwards the evidence to the police. More complications arise as Rose herself is nanny to his children.

These two strands intertwine and the murky Glasgow underworld is completely enmeshed in the highly lucrative business that involved old Mr McMillan. Alex Morrow comes into criticism from all quarters and again has to defend herself from accusations of corruption based on her relationship to one of Glasgow's notorious gangsters.

Review:
Alex Morrow is a feisty heroine who battles against the establishment and the criminal forces to achieve what she believes is right. When she uncovers corruption and errors in high places she wins few friends for exposing it. In an effort to be fair she doesn't even get the credit when the criminals are brought to justice. Denise Mina is adept at portraying the real life quandaries and decisions made by her heroine. Glasgow's underbelly is vividly described and the flavour of policing it is forcefully brought home.

The language of the characters and the way in which they interact is so true to life and takes me straight into the streets of downtown Glasgow. This is a very powerful and engaging novel and Mina fully deserves her growing reputation as an impressive crime novelist.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Arne Dahl - Bad Blood

"...the plot is detailed and fast moving, taking you along with the story..."

Synopsis:
Yet another Scandinavian crime writer! This one is good and has just completed a series on BBC4. This book covers the middle two episodes that have been broadcast and involves a serial killer who moves from the USA to Sweden and has a very particular and extremely painful way of dispatching his victims. Although the series of murders over a long period of time use the same obscure method there is a gap of years between the earlier killings and the current one.

A well-known Swedish literary critic has been murdered at Newark Airport, New York, just before boarding a flight to Stockholm. His place on the plane has been taken by a young man who manages to evade the Swedish police waiting at Arlanda, Stockholm's International airport.

The group that is detailed to investigate and monitor the crime in Sweden is the newly formed “A team”, officially designated the Special Unit to deal with Violent Crimes of an International Nature. This is a group of five men and one woman, led by Detective Inspector Hultin (a man in the book, unlike the TV series). The main character is Paul Hjelm, but all of the very varied characters in the team play their part.

The plot swings from the icy wastes of Sweden to New York and abandoned Kentucky farmhouses. The FBI has an interest in the re-emergence of the killer and much co-operation and some competition ensues.

Review:
There are many good things about this book: the plot is detailed and fast moving, taking you along with the story, the characters on both sides of the moral divide are original and engaging, and above all there is a quiet sense of humour throughout the book that sometimes results in laugh out loud moments. The writing is clear and reads easily. This must pay tribute to the translator who manages to keep that quality in the English version.

A warning for those who watched the television version - the plot is not exactly the same and there are minor variants- more time is spent in America for instance. All in all a very good read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Wood - The Game

"If you’re a fan of crime action thrillers and you haven’t read Tom Wood, then you’re missing out. Big time."

Synopsis:
In the sweltering heat of Algiers, ultra-efficient hitman Victor executes a fellow assassin. When the CIA come calling he ends up posing as his victim in order to identify the dead man's intended target.

His mission takes across Europe, culminating on the bloody streets of Rome. Infiltrating a gang of vicious mercenaries, Victor is left with an impossible decision: does he do what's right, or save the only thing he cares about … his own life?

Review:
This third instalment of Victor's story from Wood, is a fine addition to a must read series. Like all good authors he is pushing himself ever further, even if the majority of the suffering for his art is done by his lead character. He has progressed Victor from a lone hitman into a reluctant tool of the CIA.

The tired old plot of infiltrating a terrorist/criminal gang is given a dust off and a thorough updating to give Victor his own “Bond” style mission. When you throw in Wood's logic laden tradecraft as seen through Victor's eyes, you are left with a mix of Bond and Reacher. Can it get any better?

Of course it can, despite the main plot line being older than the author's grandparents; 'The Game' is a rollicking tale of a bad good guy taking down the bad guys. Infused with modern details and more thrills than Alton Towers the story rockets you along to a most satisfying conclusion.

Victor is developing nicely as a series character, despite everything his author puts him through. Leeson, Coughlin and Kooi all play their parts well, but for me it is Francesca – a finely drawn femme fatale, whose allegiance is never clear until the final chapters – who is the only one who can begin to compete with Victor.

All in all, 'The Game' mixes the best points of two of the genres finest to create a cracking read full of spills, thrills and enough action to leave the reader breathless. The way Wood has taken a much used plot and updated it into this fine novel, shows his skill as an author. If you're a fan of crime action thrillers and you haven't read Tom Wood, then you're missing out. Big time.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Koethi Zan - The Never List

"‘The Never List’ has a non-stop pace and this is a book that has to be read in one sitting."

Synopsis:
For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the 'Never List': a list of actions to be avoided, for safety's sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.

Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn't make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unravelling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

Review:
'The Never List' has a non-stop pace and this is a book that has to be read in one sitting. My only criticism I have is that I didn't feel there was enough explanation as to what made the abductor the way he was, and although lots of threads all came together at the end, again it didn't all fit together properly. At the time of reading it all made perfect sense, but when mulling over the story later, there were some loose connections that remained open.

Zan managed to bring to life the emotions felt by Sarah, together with the relationships and experiences suffered by her and her fellow captives. However, I did feel that the author had a better grasp of the after effects of the captivity rather than the captivity itself which didn't reflect the frustration and fear felt by the girls.

'The Never List' is a great debut novel from a very promising author. I would like to see where she goes from here and whether any of the characters in this book return in subsequent novels.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter James - Dead Man's Time

"...a top notch police procedural written with all the usual style and verve which fans of Peter James have come to love."

Synopsis:
A violent robbery at a lonely Brighton mansion leaves an elderly woman fighting for her life. Millions of pounds' worth of valuables have been taken. As Detective Superintendent Roy Grace quickly learns, one priceless item holds immense sentimental value to her powerful family. They are prepared to go to any lengths to get it back.

Within days, Grace is racing against the clock, pursuing a murderous trail that leads him from the shady antiques world of Brighton, all the way to the waterfront struggles of 1920's New York, as he chases a killer driven by one man's greed and another's fury.

Review:
Roy Grace's return is a top notch police procedural written with all the usual style and verve which fans of Peter James have come to love. The plot centres on a robbery which becomes murder. While the reader is not overly troubled with detective work, James does keep you guessing right until the end.

As ever the details of correct procedure are integrated in such a way as to compliment the story rather than slow it down. The pace is dictated nicely by unfolding events and increases throughout the novel.

The dynamic between Roy Grace and his team is always interesting, although I do believe that Norman Potting is massively underused in this outing. The ongoing story of Sandy's return makes for a very nice side plot and I enjoy the familiarity of characters such as Glenn Branson, Bella Moy and Cleo. I'm sorry to say, that for me, the standout character was The Apologist, a psychotic killer with serious issues of self-worth.

All in all, 'Dead Man's Time' is a wonderful addition to a series which gets better with every instalment.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Vine - The Child's Child

"...Vine’s prose is as sublime as always..."

Synopsis:
Grace and her brother, Andrew have lived together in the same house in perfect harmony. However, the calm is disrupted by Andrew's new lover, James who is off-hand towards Grace in her own home. When James moves in there are certain tense moments and Grace feels that she cannot simply visit her brother's half of the house when she knows that James will be present, too. This all changes when a friend of theirs is a victim of a horrendous homophobic crime.

Grace continues to write her thesis on illegitimacy in English literature when she decides to re-read a book given her by a colleague whose Uncle wrote it many years before but was never published. As she reads 'The Child's Child' she begins to see parallels of her life and those in the book. Is fact stranger than fiction?

Review:
This latest from the Vine pen is slightly different fare than its predecessors. Vine's prose is as sublime as always but I was left wondering exactly what the reason for this particular novel was?

As usual, Vine/Rendell delivers a cast who are not particularly attractive. Maud, one of the main characters from 1929 and the pregnant fifteen year-old of 'The Child's Child' is not a very savoury child, if anything, very spoilt. Despite her brother, John's involvement in restoring her fallen state when she falls pregnant at fifteen and out of wedlock, his own revelation of his sexual orientation makes Maud feel revulsion. Maud angered me by her selfishness throughout this novel and I had to keep reminding myself that she herself is only an ignorant child. Even fifteen years down the road Maud was only thirty and still very immature (and still extremely selfish).

'The Child's Child' does not have that surge of electricity normally felt whilst reading a Vine novel and towards the end I felt that even the author had run out of impetus towards this book as the ending, past and present, in my mind, felt rushed. The crime aspect, if you could call it that is brief and obvious, leaving this reader slightly underwhelmed. For me, I felt Vine should have stayed in 1929 and dispensed with the present. However, I imagine Vine begins in the present to show how far we have come from the ignorant and closed society of 1929 which is when the 'novel' part of 'The Child's Child' starts. Or is Vine trying to hold up a mirror to society and say that despite many leaps and bounds in attitudes towards both illegitimacy and homosexuality, there are still pockets of ignorance that haven't advanced over the past eighty years? Either way, this book doesn't really make clear the message it is trying to convey across to the reader. Even Grace who is writing a thesis on the subject doesn't appear to take away any lessons from the experience or from the novel itself. If you are expecting the normal Vine twist, then don't. You should read this as a pure novel and not as a psychological crime novel.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Sears - Black Fridays

"...I did thoroughly enjoy this book, despite its flaws due to Sears’ great writing talent..."

Synopsis:
Jason Stafford is a former Wall Street hotshot who made some bad moves, paid the price with two years in prison, and is now trying to put his life back together. He's unemployable, until an investment firm asks him to look into possible problems left by a junior trader who died recently in an accident. What he discovers is big – there are problems, all right, the kind that get you killed.

But it's not his only concern. Stafford has another quest as well: to reclaim his five-year-old son, “the Kid,” from his unstable ex-wife, and then learn just what it means to make a life with him. The things Stafford discovers about himself in the process are every bit as gripping as his investigation, and when the two threads of his life come together – the results are unforgettable.

Review:
The synopsis was promising me a thriller beginning when Jason Stafford starts investigating his former friends and colleagues. I was unable to understand Stafford's loyalty towards his wife as the author did not paint her as a particularly pleasant person and I failed to see why he was so desperate to get back with her. It wasn't until he met another woman and then suddenly, within one meeting, all of his ex-wife's flaws became apparent.

I found the financial scam a little too complex and esoteric for me to understand. However, the author does write with such enthusiasm that I still enjoyed the plot, despite not being able to work out how the scam was carried out.

Stafford is also trying to build a relationship with his son who has been diagnosed with autism. Armed with text book knowledge, he tries to make his son's life better. Again, I found the relationship not totally believable as within two weeks, apart from a couple of blips, Stafford is able to work out triggers and routines for his autistic son.

I was also expecting a plot that had more suspense and intrigue. The person behind the scam was revealed at the end, but I found by then I had little interest in even knowing who it was. Despite my comments I did thoroughly enjoy this book, despite its flaws due to Sears' great writing talent, which made this a much easier read than it could have been.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: