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Reviews

September 2013

Anya Lipska - Where The Devil Can't Go

"...Lipska’s dark and mesmerising tale had me enraptured."

Synopsis:
Janusz Kiszka is the Polish man people go to when they have a problem that needs solving. And not in an ethical manner, either. He is the man in the shadows who is not too fussed about crossing any lines to get the job done. However, things get out of hand for the big man when he is asked by his old friend, Father Pietruski, to 'find a girl'. Little does Janusz know that what looks on the surface as a search for a girl who has recently landed in the UK and most likely run off with some boy, turns in to a case that will have him travelling across Europe and fighting for his own life.

Alongside Kiszka's case is another case of another girl from the Polish community being found dead in the River Thames. And very soon after this discovery there is another girl found dead in a hotel room – and a serious clue leads DC Natalie Kershaw directly to Janusz's door. All too soon Janusz can see that he has opened a can of worms that reverberates down the years and in to the heart of Communist Poland. With Kershaw keeping Janusz in her sights, her gut instinct telling her he knows more than he is letting on, Janusz hopes to be able to find this missing girl before they all end up dead.

Review:
Anya Lipska has tapped in to a community which has been controversial and is riddled with the ghosts of Communism. She depicts the savagery of Communism within Poland with chilling effect. As this was unchartered territory, it took me a little while to 'bed down' and get in to the flow of Janusz's character and mindset. However, once this was accomplished, Lipska's dark and mesmerising tale had me enraptured. Lipska is proficient at character and people like Oskar, who was welcome comic relief, took on a life of his own. Lipska's debut is definitely Janusz's tale and although Kershaw gets equal billing, I did feel that she was only used as a necessary foil to Janusz. I hope that Lipska will explore Kershaw fully in future novels.

My only comment on this book is that some of the chapters were far too long. Some came in at over thirty pages which inhibited my enjoyment as it can be off-putting to start another thirty page chapter at two in the morning! I could see natural breaks in the chapters that would have made some of these larger segments more digestible. This small adjustment would have added to the pace of the novel. Also, a glossary of Polish words, I feel, would be extremely helpful to any reader. Lipska is an exciting new voice on the crime scene with a whole new landscape to explore. With EU border restrictions being lifted in January 2014 and the controversy that is already causing, I am sure that Lipska will be flooded with material for her books. And I, for one, will be looking forward to spending more time in the company of Janusz Kiszka. 'Where The Devil Can't Go' is a stunning debut.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tim Weaver - Never Coming Back

"The action in Weaver’s book is as fast as Usain Bolt and packs a knockout punch."

Synopsis:
It was supposed to be the start of a big night out. But when Emily Kane arrives at her sister Carrie's house, she finds the front door unlocked and no one inside. The dinner is cooking, the table's laid, the TV's on and the dog is wandering around. But Carrie, her husband and their two daughters are gone.

When the police come up with no answers to their disappearance, Emily asks investigator David Raker to find them. He's made a career out of finding missing people. He knows how they think. But it's clear someone doesn't want the family found.

As Raker gets closer to the truth, he discovers evidence of a sinister cover-up, spanning decades and costing countless lives. And, in trying to find the missing family, Raker might just have made himself the next target.

Review:
Having read the four books by Weaver my first word of advice to any new reader would be to start at the beginning. This does mean you will have the pleasure of enjoying not one but four books by a new author who excels at writing terrifically pacey thrillers with a twist. That way you will get a good sense of the relationships between Raker and other regulars in the books. However, not to detract from Weaver's latest title, he does give just enough information to bring you up to speed in 'Never Coming Back'. Weaver has only four books under his belt but he is fast becoming a name to watch if he continues to produce great books like this new one.

I thoroughly enjoyed Weaver's last book, 'Vanished', which for me was one of the best thrillers of 2012. 'Never Coming Back' is very strong in its own right, the story was intriguing and I was riveted to the page however, I did feel that the conclusion to this novel was a little too 'convenient' for my liking. That is the only negative, if you could call it that, I have about this title.

To me, Raker is an enigma and I feel that I haven't quite got the measure of the man despite the four books. I am hoping that he will open up more and Weaver will allow us more insight in to the man himself. Weaver's books are very 'filmic' and you can literally see the scenes as the pages flicker past rapidly. The action in Weaver's book is as fast as Usain Bolt and packs a knockout punch.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kevin Sampson - The Killing Pool

"With Sampson’s novel, Liverpool now has another great McCartney."

Synopsis:
DCI Billy McCartney has spent most of his career chasing the masterminds behind international drug cartels. Now back in Liverpool, he is on the tail of the Rozaki family, the biggest hitters on the scene. As he begins to close in, his inside man is murdered. Decapitated and left in scrubland near the docks, his death bears all the hallmarks of a gangland hit.

Trying to salvage what remains of his investigation, DCI McCartney sets out to locate his informants missing partner, whilst uncovering his murderer, and still bringing the shadowy figures at the top of the tree to justice. What he uncovers will bring back painful memories, past injustices, and make him question what he knows about those he trusts, and those he doesn't.

Review:
'The Killing Pool' is starkly descriptive, gritty in content, and won't let you go. It's a truly compelling read. Whilst its main character is DCI Billy McCartney, a copper chasing down drug dealers and investigating murder, that's about all this book has in common with your standard police procedural.

Written in a series of quickly changing first person narratives, it takes a little while to get used to but it's so well done, you will soon have the 'voice' of every character ringing in your ears.

By moving away from the norm Kevin Sampson, has taken his already multi layered plot line and turned it into a truly fascinating story, with just enough questions left over to leave you anticipating more. With Sampson's novel, Liverpool now has another great McCartney.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Dick Wolf - The Intercept

"...Wolf has written a thriller that not only keeps you guessing, it intrigues until the very last page."

Synopsis:
A few days before the dedication of a Freedom Tower on the site of Ground Zero in New York, five passengers and a flight attendant foil the inept hijacking of an SAS aircraft from Sweden to the US. These six people become instant celebrities, meeting the US President and being feted on TV. Jeremy Fisk of the NYPD Intelligence Division, however, thinks there is more to it than a hijacking. He suspects that something big is about to happen in New York.

Review:
If you enjoy reading into the wee small hours, then this is your kind of book. It opens with various plot strands, which are drawn together in a plot that keeps you guessing and wanting to read on, even when your eyelids are drooping.

Osama Bin Laden has already been taken out. And yet he casts a long shadow. You know, as well as Jeremy Fisk, that the hijacking just doesn't hold together, and that somehow, from the grave, Bin Laden has set things in motion. And you know that the various strands – the Yemeni hijacker, Awaan Abdulraheem, the Saudi, Baada Bin-Hezam, and the American woman, Kathleen Burnett, who converted to Islam with the name Aminah Bint Mohammed, are merely players in something much bigger.

But what is this 'something much bigger'? The book reads like a thriller with a 'whodunit' thrown in. Who is the real villain? Just what is the evil deed that this villain is planning? Can Jeremy Fisk prevent it? The clues are all there. Fisk is a deceptively complicated character. He has a back story which isn't explained in this book. Maybe, if this turns into a series, it will be.

And one strand of the ending is totally unexpected. In some ways, Wolf has subverted the genre, but he has done so in a way that just seems so right.

Dick Wolf is the man behind the TV series, 'Law and Order', and here Wolf has written a thriller that not only keeps you guessing, it intrigues until the very last page.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Robinson - Children of the Revolution

"Peter Robinson is a master of his craft and I always enjoy the anticipation when a new book comes out..."

Synopsis:
An ex-college lecturer is discovered dead on a railway line near his small cottage. He has been living a hand to mouth existence yet is found with £500 in his pocket. When DCI Banks and his team begin their investigation they find that the victim was asked to leave his job after complaints of harassment by two of his female students. Further investigation shows this to have been more complicated than appeared at first sight and the lecturer had made some bad enemies and only one good friend.

When links are found to the beautiful wife of an influential theatre producer, Banks is strongly urged by the powers that be to leave well alone. Of course, he doesn't. Unpleasant truths about the victim's colleagues and particularly about secrets rooted in the past emerge as the story proceeds. As always DCI Banks has to work a balancing act keeping his officers on board but he manages to keep all the balls in play until the last moment.

Review:
DCI Banks is a good old-fashioned detective with a softer side. The story is all, and this one does not disappoint. Set in Yorkshire and describing some of the typical characters of the region, Peter Robinson creates an environment for Banks which is totally believable and reassuring. Annie Cabot, Winsome and now Gerry Masterson are all part of the on going story and develop in time, as does Banks himself. One of the reasons I like Peter Robinson's books so much is that I am interested in what happens to all of his characters. Robinson has such a great talent for making them all behave in a very convincing way.

The author finesses the plot of his latest book to provide an exciting and tense finale. Peter Robinson is a master of his craft and I always enjoy the anticipation when a new book comes out as to my mind his books get stronger and stronger with each outing.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Carter - One By One

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

Synopsis:
Detective Robert Hunter of the LAPD's Homicide Special Section receives an anonymous call asking him to go to a specific web address - a private broadcast. Hunter logs on and a show devised for his eyes only immediately begins. But the caller doesn't want Detective Hunter to just watch, he wants him to participate, and refusal is simply not an option. Forced to make a sickening choice, Hunter must sit and watch as an unidentified victim is tortured and murdered live over the Internet.

The LAPD, together with the FBI, use everything at their disposal to electronically trace the transmission down, but this killer is no amateur, and he has covered his tracks from start to finish. And before Hunter and his partner Garcia are even able to get their investigation going, Hunter receives a new phone call. There is a new website address and a new victim. But this time the killer has upgraded his game into a live murder reality show, where anyone can cast the deciding vote.

Review:
Chris Carter mixes gruesome murders, technology and the general public's fascination of reality TV to deliver a book with familiar characters but an inventive plot.

Not only does 'One By One' involve the phenomena of people wanting to 'vote' on the fate of others, this book also looks at human behaviour - and would people, in real life, really want to sit at their computer and watch another person be murdered? I feel that possibly Carter has correctly shown the actions of the majority. Whilst the killings are some of the most horrific used in a book, once the killer is revealed, I did feel some empathy and understanding towards their actions.

'One By One' introduces some new characters, all of whom work well with the existing ones. I would like to see in future books within this series, more depth and some history for Hunter, giving some reasoning as to why he is as he is. Other than that, a fantastic read from a great author.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Toyne - The Tower

"...a captivating and exciting read and one that compels you to finish it until the very end…"

Synopsis:
There is a new threat which is insidious and evil. It is a plague – and one of the first symptoms is the overpowering smell of oranges. Gabriel is a man who has this condition. To avoid passing it on to his beloved and those within the beauteous confines of Eden, he rides out to the city of Ruin in Turkey. There, the Citadel who have enjoyed centuries open their doors to nurse the sick. Many of their number have fallen to this plague and now it is time to fight this invisible enemy together.

At the same time Joe Shepherd and Benjamin Franklin (his real name) from the FBI are investigating the disappearance of two well-known and respected scientists who seek the heavens for answers to the universe. The Hubble telescope has been given a virus of its own and is no longer looking out to space but to the earth itself. At the same time the James Webb Space Telescope has been sabotaged and the chief scientist there has also vanished. Can these instances along with the missing scientists be connected to what is happening in Ruin? Some people feel that man has angered his God by trying to find out the truth to life – but is the threat more human than celestial? It appears that all the dots join together in the city of Ruin where good and evil will have their day.

Review:
It is always a pleasure when you open a book with some trepidation and end up enjoying it so much that you keep sneaking back to read 'just a few more pages'. I have had a glut of 'conspiracy theory thrillers' recently and have been sorely disappointed. However, with Toyne's finale to his trilogy I was greatly impressed and definitely caught up in the story which was entrancing and kept ticking over at a good pace. It is difficult with this type of novel to find the right pace. Too slow and meandering and the book is boring. Too fast and you feel you're watching a film with people you don't really care about. For me, I felt Toyne gave his characters enough depth for you to care about them without taking his foot off the pedal.

I admit to being more involved with the FBI investigation on the Hubble virus rather than what was happening in Ruin, however as the two plotlines converged the story really did reach a higher level. There wasn't too much gore and I really did take to the character of Shepherd and hope that even though this trilogy has been completed that Toyne will find another case for Shepherd. There were allusions to Mayan prophecies of 2012, but this is not simply a novel about people thwarting 'the end of the world…' Toyne has taken the theme of 'Home' as the core of his novel which fits in well with this current time of spiritual development people have been prophesising. However, I could be reading too much between the lines and you certainly don't have to be academic to enjoy this novel. 'The Tower' is a captivating and exciting read and one that compels you to finish it until the very end… of the novel, that is!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Casey - The Stranger You Know

"Another cracking read from a great author who is maturing with every novel."

Synopsis:
He meets women. He gains their trust. He kills them. That's all Maeve Kerrigan knows about the man she is hunting. Three women have been strangled in their homes by the same sadistic killer. With no sign of a break-in, every indication shows that they let him in.

However, the evidence is pointing at a shocking suspect: DI Josh Derwent, Maeve's colleague. Maeve refuses to believe he could be involved, but how well does she really know him? And this isn't the first time Derwent's been accused of murder.

Review:
DCI Derwent and DC Maeve Kerrigan initially appear to be a poor match. Derwent is a bad tempered, egotistical, yet somehow likeable misogynist. Maeve is a little flighty, haphazard and almost meek. Yet together they seem to bring out the best in each other.

Although Kerrigan is ostensibly the lead character, 'The Stranger You Know' is based around a murder investigation, with Derwent as a suspect. Maeve is also investigating a 20 year-old murder. I always feel that Maeve is disorganised yet she manages to solve the crimes through hard work rather than having any enlightened thoughts. With plenty of characters to think of as suspects, I enjoyed working out (wrongly, I may add) who was the killer.

The more novels Casey writes, the more that is revealed about her lead characters. Whilst Maeve grows stronger, Derwent begins to show more of his softer side. Despite Derwent being an arrogant bully, it is not possible to dislike him. And his dialogues are often interspersed with harsh comments that can't help but bring humour to the book.

Casey manages to give all the characters a realistic feeling about them. This is the fourth book in the series and whilst it is possible to read this as a standalone novel, there are references to the past that would make the story more enjoyable and easy to understand if the books are read in order. This is a crime novel that is definitely not to be missed. Another cracking read from a great author who is maturing with every novel.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

S.T. Haymon - Death and the Pregnant Virgin

"...it is wonderful that... this lost treasure can be enjoyed by a new audience."

Synopsis:
It is a hot day in the village of Mauthen Barbary, Norfolk and the whole place is buzzing with visitors from far afield, for this coming weekend is devoted to Our Lady of Promise. The statue is centuries old and only rediscovered five years ago, buried deep in the woods. It is the image of a woman with child and many couples have come in the hope that by visiting the shrine that 'Our Lady' will bless them with children.

This whole festival has been planned by Rachel Case who some would also consider a saint. So who would want to kill this 'saint' so brutally in the shrine of Our Lady of Promise? And that is not the only mystery as it is soon uncovered that Rachel was herself with child – despite still being a virgin. It will take all of Inspector Ben Jurnet's calm collectiveness to find Rachel's killer. Surprisingly, he finds out who killed her first by going back deep in to the past.

Review:
S.T Haymon wrote nine Jurnet novels this first appearing in 1980. She has been out of print for many years and again it is down to the marvellous endeavours of Bello Books that this series is back in print. What strikes me with Haymon's writing is her love of character. Many do shine, especially Charles Griffin and his manservant, Anguish (which has to be the most brilliant name for a valet), alongside Philip Cass and Paul Falkener. If anything, Haymon's detective, Ben Jurnet, is described as dark, possibly with European blood in his veins, but out of everyone he is the most unassuming character here. Haymon appears to have used most of her creative juices for her cast of suspects.

Haymon's prose has a heavenly ecclesiastical tone to it and any writer who loves word-play gets the thumbs up from me. The sheer nerve of including the words 'meretricious religiosity' in a sentence as uttered by the lord of the manor, Griffin shows Haymon's playfulness with her native language. Haymon also shows her ability of observation as well as a wonderful dry sense of humour in her debut novel. The plot is dealt with precision, but like life there are lose ends left unexplained. As a lover of classic crime novels, I think it is wonderful that with the magic of e-books, this lost treasure can be enjoyed by a new audience.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

William Shaw - A Song From Dead Lips

"The thrill-a-minute climax is satisfying in every way, making this book not just a police procedural, but a high-powered thriller."

Synopsis:
It is 1968, and a young woman is found strangled and dumped in St John's Wood, a well-off district of London. A black doctor lives close by, so, because of his colour, he is the prime suspect. Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen and Detective Constable Helen Tozer investigate. Unpopular in the station because he had recently ran off and left a colleague to face a knife-wielding thief alone, Breen initially finds it hard going. But the young woman is identified and gradually a picture emerges. A picture that takes in the Biafran war, corruption, racism, homophobia, sexism and even Beatlemania.

Review:
We're in 'Life on Mars' territory here, though we are in 1968, not 1973. The police are, in many ways, morally corrupt. Helen Tozer, being a woman, is not welcome in the CID, especially when investigating a murder. To lend authenticity, derogatory words of those times are used to express the colour of people's skin. It's powerful stuff, and though the words may offend nowadays, they were indeed casually bandied about in the late 1960s, so they do have their place in this narrative.

Breen is a complicated character, and this novel is the first in a proposed trilogy. In swinging London, he feels like an outsider, as he is Irish. He is also bewildered by the changes to society that are going on around him, but he is also determined, clever and resourceful.

The big difference between this book and 'Live on Mars' is that Sam Tyler took with him all the correctness of the twenty first century. Breen and Tozer, however, are of their time, and they too have their prejudices. Even Tozer, who resents the sexism of some of her colleagues, indulges in casual racism.

The action shifts between London, Devon, and Suffolk. The identity of the murderer – and the motive – is totally unexpected, though inevitable. The thrill-a-minute climax is satisfying in every way, making this book not just a police procedural, but a high-powered thriller.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Catriona McPherson - Dandy Gilver and a Deadly Measure of Brimstone

"This series is an absolute delight!"

Synopsis:
Dandy Gilver is at home in Gilverton, Perthshire and she is nursing all the male members of her family who are suffering from influenza and related ills. When an opportunity to take off to the Moffat Hydro to investigate a mysterious death, Dandy also grabs the chance to take her relatives there to recuperate at the spa. Once settled, Dandy and her detective partner, Alec, set out to discover what has happened to an elderly lady, with no previous history of any heart problems, who has suffered a heart attack and died.

Doctor Dot Laidlaw and her brother run the Hydro. Dot Laidlaw is an academic who uses the clients at the Hydro to further her research. Her brother is a smooth operator who is trying to make money to keep the hotel going. Tensions between the two become apparent and suspected ghostly sightings attract some very unusual people. Dandy's husband is of the old school and not entirely supportive of his wife's antics, but does appreciate the monetary rewards. He is entertained and financially better off as a result of Tot Laidlaw's gambling enterprise.

Review:
This series is an absolute delight! Dandy is a charming heroine who is both forceful and persuasive in getting her own way. She is accustomed to a style of life unknown to most of us but who is refreshingly honest and above all, very funny as she uses privilege and wealth to pursue her detective business.

In this book the strong affection between her and her rather pompous husband is revealed, but in true stiff upper lip style is kept very low key. I love the way the narrative by Dandy Gilver herself reveals her character, her curiosity, her daring and her common sense. Above all this is an extremely funny book in a series that is totally enchanting. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who hankers after the Golden Age of crime fiction. Superb!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kathy Reichs - Bones of the Lost

"This book returns to the style of Reich’s earlier novels. "

Synopsis:
Temperance Brennan is called in when a young girl's body is found by the side of the road. The police officer investigating thinks it is an accident involving an illegal Latino prostitute, but Brennan thinks otherwise. As always, she tenaciously sticks to her belief and uncovers a web of abuse and international crime that even takes her to Afghanistan where her daughter is serving in the military. Always a defender of the underdog, Brennan doggedly and even foolishly puts herself in danger to find out the truth.

Review:
This book returns to the style of Reich's earlier novels. It is a fast moving story, cleverly put together, with an easy readable style. The undoubted expertise and insider knowledge of Reichs, underpins the book. In some of the more recent books I found the style had altered and become grating. This one harps back to earlier days and I welcome it. Also I didn't notice so many references to the I-phone as in the last book I read!

I open a new Kathy Reichs knowing that I will find a good story and an exciting read. It is a book to take on holiday as you know you will enjoy the journey without requiring great intellectual effort. Brennan's relationships have matured and the book ends in an almost philosophical style. Her two loves are at critical points in their lives. How will Kathy deal with this? I await the next book to find out.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Dan Brown - Inferno

"When the sleight of hand was revealed I was impressed as I had been guided up the wrong path. "

Synopsis:
Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital without any recollection of how he came to be in a bed with a gunshot wound to his head. What is an even bigger shock is what hospital he is in… one based in Florence. Langdon cannot remember how he has lost two days and ended up in the city of Florence. The last thing he can recall is walking across campus in the US! Within minutes of waking up an assassin fetches up to the hospital and shoots Dr. Marconi in the chest. The other doctor, Sienna helps Langdon escape.

At Sienna's apartment Langdon finds a 'torch' that shows the painting interpreting Dante's 'Inferno'. But the painting has been altered. Following the clues Langdon must avoid a woman who he believes is intent on killing him as well as a small army who appear determined to capture Langdon at all costs. Racing across Florence Langdon tries to unravel the past few days that elude his memory before it is too late.

Review:
I received my copy of 'Inferno' when first released in May and I have to confess to only finishing it in the past week! So it has taken me just over three months to finish it! This doesn't mean I am a slow reader – simply that 'Inferno' has been a book I could easily put down and not pick up again. I think I just wanted to make room on my bedside cabinet and decided to give it one last push before totally abandoning it. Thankfully I finished it however, that doesn't mean I enjoyed it.

I loved 'The Da Vinci Code' and read it before the whole world went 'Da Vinci Code' mad! However, for me 'Inferno' simply isn't in the same class. I don't expect another 'Da Vinci Code' but if Brown is going to try for the same kind of novel then the standard needs to be high or there isn't any reason to even try. Brown himself set the bar so high so you wonder if he has hoisted himself on a petard of his own making.

What was hideous for me is the amount of unnecessary information in this book. Brown can't get Langdon down a street without explaining the history of half the buildings he passes. When Langdon and co reach Venice and commandeer a boat it takes Brown ten pages, (yes, ten pages!) to describe the journey before they even reach their destination! Yes, Brown has done his homework (and some) but it really didn't need to be inflicted on all of us. This makes 'Inferno' more a travelogue than a novel. All this needless information impeded the plot so much that it virtually came to a standstill. I feel that Brown has been given a dis-service by his agent and editor who sorely needed to reduce this novel down and were either frightened of Brown's ego or wary to harm his delicate skin as an author. Either way, this story does not carry well over so many pages.

Credit due to Brown for misdirecting this reader. When the sleight of hand was revealed I was impressed as I had been guided up the wrong path. However, the conclusion could have been reached much speedier and without the waffle that this reader had to wade through to get to the nucleus of the story. Plus, the actual reason for this particular conspiracy was whimsical at best with Brown shaking his fist about over population. Again this could have been arrived at a lot quicker without the travelogue part of the book. Brown has shown he has a talent for gripping thrillers, but here he sadly buried his plot in far too much fact. But what do I know – the film has already been scheduled for release in December 2015 and droves of people will race out to see it. That's if Earth hasn't already toppled off its axis by the extra weight of all those people born between now and 2015!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: