Reviews

April 2019

Amy Lloyd - One More Lie

"...this is one hell of a read."

Synopsis:
Charlotte wants to start afresh. She wants to forget her past. Most of all, she wants to forget Sean and the terrible crime they committed together… but old habits die hard.

Despite the ankle monitor she must wear as part of her parole agreement and the frequent visits to her therapist, Charlotte soon finds herself sliding back towards the type of behaviour that sent her to prison in the first place.

The further down that path she goes, the closer she gets to the crime that put her in prison all those years ago.

Then, one day, Sean tracks her down. And Charlotte is forced to face the one devastating memory she'd much rather forget…

How can you live with yourself as an adult, when you were convicted of murder as a child?

Review:
I haven't read Amy Lloyd's first novel, 'The Innocent Wife', but it's definitely on my list of books to read now. Why? Because her second novel, 'One More Lie', is a cracking read.

This is a remarkable book. In the central characters of Charlotte and Sean, Lloyd has managed to create two complex and utterly realistic characters. Despite their abhorrent crime, they are not 'bad' people. Like all of us, they are nothing more than a product of their circumstances.

I have read interviews with Lloyd where she talks about her interest in true crime. I don't know if this book was directly influenced by a real crime. If it is, Lloyd has given a real insight into why a child might commit such a terrible crime, and the devastating consequences this can have, for them as well as their victim.

With complex characters, a pacy plot and a real sense of menace that gradually builds up throughout the novel, this is one hell of a read.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Beech - Call Me Star Girl

"There are some killer standout moments in this book..."

Synopsis:
Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago - and her killer hasn't been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever's final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she'll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father...

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station who says he knows who killed Victoria - and he has proof.

Review:
'Call Me Star Girl' is Louise Beech's fifth novel and her first psychological thriller. Her previous four are literary fiction and I highly recommend them all. She is a wonderful writer of character detail where you feel you personally know the people she creates. Beech has used her unique flair and constructed a crime fiction story that will have you frantically turning the pages until you get to the end.

This is a story about love, loss, obsession, passion and tragedy. It's about people and lives and how we feel about those we love. It's about how the power of love can make someone do something they'd never dreamed of and Beech has hit her target. The intensity of the emotions of each character is felt as we move from one POV to the other. You want to hate Elizabeth for abandoning her daughter but feel her pain as she aches for the man she yearns for. You love Stella for her love of her boyfriend Tom but want to warn her for allowing that love to consume her.

There are some killer standout moments in this book; the crime is shocking without being sensational and a twisted sex act that will definitely raise a few eyebrows. However, that is the power of Beech's writing. She can shock you with her subject but bewitch you with her words. An elegant and powerful writer who uses language in all its unique glory.

I hope Beech writes more psychological thrillers. The shelves may be full to bursting with them in the book shops, but the way she writes them, Beech's novels will stand out in any crowd.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nuala Ellwood - Day of the Accident

"This is a fascinating and well-constructed book."

Synopsis:
Maggie wakes up in hospital after being in a coma for ten weeks. She has no recollection of the events that led up to the accident that put her there. Gradually, she pieces together the story. Her young daughter is dead and buried. She was drowned after being trapped in a locked car that rolled into the river, when she was in Maggie's care. Maggie's husband, at first so supportive, apparently left the hospital in anger after he finds out some information about his wife – information that Maggie cannot recall.

Slowly she recovers to find that every aspect of her world has fallen apart. Her daughter is dead, her husband has gone, the house they lived in is not theirs. From a happy, prosperous existence, she is left destitute.

Maggie has to cope with the realities of life outside hospital. The world of benefits, of basic living, of work, and of coping with the implacable hostility of Barbara, the mother of a boyfriend from Maggie's past.

Review:
Maggie is the ultimate unreliable narrator, as she is unable to access all of her own memories and not only has the reader doubting, but doubts herself. In the end, she is driven to look for her past to try and find out why it was that her daughter died and her husband, in the end, blamed her. Was she to blame for their daughter's terrible death, and – as the book goes on the question starts to arise – did her daughter really die?

Interspersed with Maggie's story are a series of letters from a child who seems to have been shut away from the family she loves and cares about, and is writing to her mother in the hopes her mother will come and find her.

This is a fascinating and well-constructed book. Ellwood presents her story via Maggie's narrative point of view, the letters of a distressed child and the diary Maggie's husband writes in the hospital as he is waiting for her to recover or die, and includes the moment he discovers her secret – a secret Maggie is unaware of – that makes him leave her forever, with the words 'How could you do this? It was your fault, Maggie, all of it.'

The plot is immensely complex, and it is credit to Ellwood's writing that it remains believable from start to finish. Ellwood explores tragedy, heartbreak and the relentless struggle of facing up to the mundane world after crisis and tragedy.

Slowly, the mysteries surrounding Maggie, her daughter and her husband start to unravel. The book is described as having a twist – a very fashionable thing in current crime fiction. The ending is more nuanced than that. It is certainly unexpected, a layered winding up rather than an abrupt conclusion that fulfils the expectations Ellwood has set up. It certainly fulfils the requirement of a lot of crime fiction fans – it's unlikely you will guess the ending.

Overall, this is an excellent page-turner of a book with strong characterisation, real emotional impact and vivid, convincing settings from the beauty of the riverside where the accident happens to the dreary flat Maggie moves to when she leaves hospital.

If there is a criticism, it is that the central event – the death by drowning of a child – is so traumatic that it is hard to accept a simple winding up of the narrative and the possibility of closure. This is a more commercial ending than the events of the book warrant, and ironically perhaps, form the only part where the reader's belief might be challenged.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steph Broadribb - Deep Dirty Truth

"...has all the ingredients of a great thriller... "

Synopsis:
Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson finally has her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she's snatched by the Miami Mob – and they want her dead.

Rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob's 'numbers man' who's in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they'll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.

With North due in court in 48 hours, Lori sets off across Florida, racing against the clock to find him and save her family. Only in this race the prize is deadlier – and the secret she shares with JT more dangerous – than she ever could have imagined.

In this race only the winner gets out alive…

Review:
'Deep Dirty Truth' is the third instalment in the Lori Anderson series. I haven't read the previous two novels, but this didn't affect my enjoyment of this fast-paced, page-turning thriller.

Following recent traumatic events, Lori's life is now relatively settled. She's living with her boyfriend, JT, and her daughter, Dakota. The three of them have fallen into a comfortable routine that's abruptly broken when Lori is kidnapped by the Miami mob one morning after dropping Dakota to school.

What follows is a tightly paced, adrenaline fuelled race through Florida and the surrounding states as Lori attempts to track North down and persuade him to hand himself over to the Old Man. As the hours race past, Lori's attempts to find North and save her family become increasingly desperate. Especially when Lori discovers that someone close to the Old Man will stop at nothing to prevent her carrying out the Old Man's instructions.

'Deep Dirty Truth' has all the ingredients of a great thriller - a fast-paced, complicated plot; a kick-ass protagonist; sharp dialogue; and plenty of secondary characters who add real depth to the story. Alongside JT, Dakota and Lori's old buddy, Red, Carlton North is a really great character who I was rooting for from the beginning.

The thing that really makes this novel, however, is Lori herself. It is so refreshing to read a thriller with a female central character. Especially when that female is as all-round compelling as Lori Anderson.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth Mundy - A Clean Canvas

"The characters are well-drawn and distinctive, and the plot is easily followed."

Synopsis:
Lena Szarka, a Hungarian, runs a small business in London called Lena's Cleaners, along with her cousin Sarika. They have a contract to clean a small art gallery in Islington, and are cleaning the gallery before a major exhibition. The main painting is A Study in Purple by the American artist Trudy Weincamp, worth £84,000. Sarika stays on alone after the exhibition. But next morning it is discovered that the painting has been stolen. Sarika is the obvious suspect - but she has run away.

Lena decides to investigate to clear her cousin's name, and is soon dragged into the murky London's art scene, where money. rather than art, seems to rule. So, who stole the painting? Did Pietro, the gallery owner, do it for the insurance money? Was it his wife, the beautiful Ophelia? Or Simon, manager of the gallery? Or one of the guests at the exhibition? Gertrude, for instance, a mean, rude woman? Patrick, an American with a secret? Malcolm, who is fixated with cleanliness? Did Trudy steal it herself for some reason? Or was it Sarika after all? Lena is unofficially aided by PC Cartwright, for whom she has feelings that don't seem to be reciprocated. He is officially working on another case involving a fish and chip shop owner who was seriously assaulted in his shop, but he finds the time to use his contacts and his expertise to help Lena's investigations.

Review:
This is the second of the Lena's Cleaners books, which I'm sure will become a series. This, unusually, is not a murder mystery. It involves the theft of a painting. Who took it? Why was it taken? Where is it now? In the art world, £84,000 (the painting's value) is not a lot of money. Lena approaches the job of answering all these questions in a logical, straightforward fashion, and carries the reader along at each stage of her investigations. Elizabeth Mundy has craftily included some humour in the book due to Lena's ignorance of English idioms, and putting what Lena thinks are English idioms into hers. The characters are well-drawn and distinctive, and the plot is easily followed. Lena's relationship with DC Cartwright is handled deftly, retaining a will-they, won't-they mystery as the story progresses. A fine, enjoyable cosy mystery.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kate Rhodes - Ruin Beach

"This series is going from strength to strength."

Synopsis:
Local diver, Jude Trellon, is found dead on the rocks close to a notorious cave, Piper's Hole. At first, this looks like a diving death, but soon Kitto realises he is looking at murder. A message has been attached to the dead woman, words from an old sea shanty, and an ancient Roman artefact has been pushed violently down her throat, choking her.

Jude Trellon's death sends shock-waves through the community. She was a beautiful and charismatic woman, but one who also made enemies and one who was prone to risky behaviour, such as diving in the dangerous Piper's Hole. Why was Jude diving there that night? Does this have anything to do with her death, or is the cause more mundane – problems in her relationship with her Swedish husband, marine researcher Ivar, her stormy relationship with her brother, or the resentment of her ex-lover whom she left for the man she is now married to.

Or is the murder linked to valuable finds made when Jude was out diving. There have been rumours for years of a Roman wreck under the seas around the islands. Has Jude located this? The appearance of previously unknown artefacts suggests this may be the case. This would be a secret worth killing for.

Kitto realises quickly that Jude Trellon is not the only victim of this killer and may not be the last. He has to work fast if he is to prevent further deaths, and in this he is hampered by his boss, the bureaucratic and controlling DCI Madron who finds Kitto's independence hard to stomach.

Review:
'Ruin Beach' is the second in Ben Kitto series, set on the Scilly Isles. Kitto, now Deputy Police Chief in the small, island community, is coming to terms with a life that is very different from the one he lived before.

Rhodes handles her complex plot well, and peoples it with vivid characters, ranging from very likeable to deeply unpleasant, but all presented as rounded figures with convincing motivations for behaving the way they do. Even the infuriating Madron has a believable rationale behind his behaviour.

The star of these books is undoubtedly the location which is beautifully evoked by Rhodes' writing. This is not to detract from the intricate plotting and narrative impetus that make Ruin Beach a real page turner with some truly heart-stopping moments as Kitto fights against time to solve the mystery. The answer, when it arrives, is satisfactorily surprising.

This series is going from strength to strength. Ben Kitto is a character with great potential for development and the beautiful, sinister and sometimes claustrophobic Scilly Isles offer a stage upon which Rhodes will (I hope) weave some more remarkable tales.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jason Starr - Too Far

"...Starr remains up there as one of my ‘go to’ authors."

Synopsis:
Jack Harper isn't a bad man, but he's stuck in a loveless marriage with a mediocre job as a realtor who is just trying to keep sober. The only good thing in his life is his son. With his marriage at its lowest, when an old friend turns up looking for an apartment, Jack can't help but compare the difference in their lives. Rob is successful and happy where as Jack is neither. So when Rob starts boasting about the fun he is having meeting women on website for married people looking to cheat on their partners, Jack thinks he has nothing to lose. But nothing could be further from the truth and soon it's not just his marriage that he needs to worry about, but when he goes to meet up with his steamy online date, he quickly realises it was a dire choice.

Soon, Jack finds himself desperately trying to prove his innocence for crimes he did not commit, and the life he once had - unhappy as it was - is nothing but a dream. Now, he's living his worst nightmare.

Review:
Jason Starr takes another look into the darkest of human nature. Starr has a knack of being able to write about the worst sort of people. Not necessarily killers or thieves, but those who lack a conscience, who are narcissists, or just self-absorbed. And 'Too Far' is no exception. Even Jack the protagonist is flawed. He is very weak and struggles to stand up to temptation, but this is how Starr wants them to be. I don't feel Starr wants to paint nice characters that has his readers rooting for them. More he seems to make them as dark as possible that the readers will keep reading to make sure they get exactly what they deserve.

'Too Far' isn't my favourite Starr novel. The characters just aren't as low and depraved as previous books and it is this depravity and flawed human nature that keeps drawing me back to Starr's books.

The plot sees Jack go from a failing husband and employee to a complete failure. Page by page he is stripped of his life and any hope. I thought the plot was a little safe and I would have preferred an ending that was more befitting of Starr. That said, 'Too Far' is an easy and entertaining read and Starr remains up there as one of my 'go to' authors.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ragnar Jónasson - The Island

"The plot is dark and labyrinthine and as cold as an Icelandic winter."

Synopsis:
The island of Elliðaey sits off the Icelandic coast. Accessible only by boat its isolation makes it the perfect place to vanish.

During a long, hot summer four friends visit the island. Only three will return.

They each share a past, and a dark secret that could harm them all. As the days pass, tensions rise and loyalties are shed, one of them will commit murder.

Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is sent to investigate and soon finds echoes with the case of a young woman found murdered ten years previously in the nearby West Fjords. Is there a patient killer stalking these barren outposts?

As Hulda navigates a sinister game constructed of smoke and mirrors, she is convinced that no one is telling the truth, including those closest to her. But who will crack first?

Review:
The second part of Jónasson's thrilling Hidden Iceland reverse trilogy, and this is my most anticipated book of 2019. Book one, 'The Darkness', introduced us to a tragic and lonely Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir. The Island takes us back in time to an earlier case. If you've read the first book, you'll know the shocking and breath-taking ending. With that in mind, Hulda's journey is one tinged with sadness which adds an additional layer of darkness and foreboding to the whole book.

Hulda is a richly drawn protagonist and while this trilogy is about her, Jónasson doesn't allow her to take over the whole book. The subordinate characters, the plot, and the crime lead the way and Hulda is on the outside looking in. There are echoes of Agatha Christie's Poirot in that the detective doesn't have to appear in ever chapter to make their presence felt.

Jónasson's writing is smooth and concise. His detailing of the harsh Icelandic weather and landscape is beautifully told making the reader feel a part of the story. I don't know any other writer who has such a rich lexicon and is able to use it so effortlessly.

The plot is dark and labyrinthine and as cold as an Icelandic winter. The twists and turns of the criminal investigation are subtle and tragic and through Ragnar's storytelling we're given hints of what lies ahead for Hulda and more information of her tragic past.

I am waiting with bated breath for the concluding part of the trilogy. Ragnar Jónasson is the new king of Nordic Noir and while he's producing books of this calibre, he will remain so for an incredibly long time.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lindsey Davis - A Capitol Death

"Another Roman treat from Davis."

Synopsis:
Flavia Alba's latest commission involves a body discovered at the foot of the Capitoline Hill in Rome. It turns out to be an official involved in the preparations for Emperor Domitian's upcoming Triumph. All Rome is engrossed in making sure that the event is successful and spectacular, and no-one is prioritising the search for a possible killer. Much easier to call it suicide. But Flavia Alba is never one for the easy option and starts to delve deeper into the case. She finds that the victim was a very unpleasant individual, unloved by many and mourned by few. As she teases out some of the scams with which he is involved and talks to those preparing for the grand Triumph of Caesar, she begins to see the truth. As always, the nearer she gets to this, the more danger she places herself in, culminating in a free for all whilst the Triumph is proceeding.

Review:
There are certain things that are given when starting a new novel by Lindsey Davis: her knowledge of setting and mores of imperial Rome at this period is superb; her characters are appealing and amusing; there is action and intrigue aplenty. This one is no exception. The familiar cast of characters is there and her much loved family put in several cameo appearances, very entertaining for those of us who loved Marcus Didius Falco. But Flavia Alba is a woman of forceful opinions in her own right, even if a little of the laconic speech and throwaway lines of her father show through.

There is a definite style to Flavia Alba, a feisty woman with a great sense of humour. Another Roman treat from Davis.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tim Weaver - You Were Gone

"...a book worth reading."

Synopsis:
A woman walks into a police station. She has no phone and no ID, just a piece of paper that reads 'David Raker'.

She says she's his wife. She looks just like her. She knows everything about him.

But David buried his wife eight years ago. Is this really the woman he loved? Did he really say goodbye? Or is he losing his mind?

Review:
After enjoying Weaver's previous books I was keen to get started on 'You Were Gone', but this one is a bit of a slow burner. It took a good quarter of the book until I was interested, but I was still put off with Raker's obsession with his dead wife, Derryl. The more the plot unfolded, the more unlikely it became.

Raker is pretty convinced she is not his wife, but as the story continues, he begins to doubt his own sanity. Raker has plenty of paranoia and doubt as to whether what he is being told is true, or whether he can rely on his own memory.

'You Were Gone' continues with the series of Raker books, and whilst there is reference to earlier storylines, this book is easy to read this as a standalone.

I did enjoy 'You Were Gone' but found the plot slightly unbelievable which did dampen my enjoyment of it a little. Raker though is a great character. Weaver has developed a protagonist that is easy for his readers to identify with. A normal guy but who has a slight edge that makes him intriguing.

If you can get past the slower than usual start, 'You Were Gone' is a book worth reading.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Christian White - The Nowhere Child

"There was a nice twist at the end that I wasn’t expecting..."

Synopsis:
A child was stolen twenty years ago. Little Sammy Went vanishes from her home in Manson, Kentucky an event that devastates her family and tears apart the town's deeply religious community.

And somehow that missing girl is you. Kim Leamy, an Australian photographer, is approached by a stranger who turns her world upside down. He claims she is the kidnapped Sammy and that everything she knows about herself is based on a lie.

How far will you go to uncover the truth? In search of answers, Kim returns to the remote town of Sammy's childhood to face up to the ghosts of her early life. But the deeper she digs into her family background the more secrets she uncovers And the closer she gets to confronting the trauma of her dark and twisted past.

Review:
Kim has been living an ordinary life in Australia when one day a stranger approaches her believing she is his long-lost sister who was abducted over twenty years ago.

Believing that she is Sammy Went, Kim travels back to Manson, USA to meet her family and try and find out what happened the day she went missing. Instead of a family waiting with open arms, each person is struggling to live with what happened and are carrying lots of baggage over their actions in the disappearance which has impacted on their lives.

'The Nowhere Child' is not only a mystery thriller but also deals with the emotional aspect and how a missing child can change people and families, and how all families have their secrets. Parts of the story are centred around religion and a religious cult that uses snakes to test the faith of the congregation. Whilst some people will follow the rules of a cult, others will rebel.

The book was easy to read and not dissimilar to a gentle walk; enjoyable, but there was no rush to get to the end. There was a nice twist at the end that I wasn't expecting, but I felt there was really only any action or pace in the last chapter. However, this race to the finish in the last few pages still left me with some unanswered questions.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Annie Ward - Beautiful Bad

"...the story opens at the day of the killing and I was instantly wanting to know more. "

Synopsis:
Maddie and Ian's romance began when he was serving in the British Army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend Jo in Europe. Now sixteen years later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America.

But when an accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian's PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son Charlie; and the couple's tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, the years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of shocking crime.

But what in this beautiful home has gone so terribly bad?

Review:
Written from multiple perspectives and over multiple time lines, the story opens at the day of the killing and I was instantly wanting to know more. But from there the story very quickly stalled and struggled to get going.

With Ian and Maddie meeting in war torn Eastern Europe nearly twenty years ago, I struggled to see any sparks in their relationship. With both of them portrayed as a little unhinged and obsessive, the plot flits from time line to time line. The time spent in Eastern Europe goes into (an awful lot of) detail around Maddie and her best friend Jo and the British bodyguards they met up with and socialised.

The book then returns back to a few weeks before the killing (although at this stage it is not known who has been killed) and gives more of an insight into Maddie and Ian's life. Neither character was painted particularly sympathetically. Maddie appeared to be weak and Ian controlling.

The story spluttered on with very little happening until the last 50 or so pages when the pace went from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds. What a shame the rest of the book moved so slowly and could have been better with some serious editing. There was a great start and a really good finish, but there seemed to be a superfluous amount in between that seemed to me served little purpose to Ward's promising story.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Nahour Case

"...well worth reading..."

Synopsis:
It is a bitterly cold, snowbound January, and at 1.30 am Maigret is woken by a phone call from his friend Dr Pardon. Could Maigret come over at once? On arriving, the doctor tells him that he has just been visited by a couple, and that the woman had a bullet wound in her back. He then left the room, and when he came back after a few minutes, the couple had gone. Dr Pardon, however, had retained the bullet, a 6.35.

Next day he discovers that the couple had flown to Amsterdam. He is also called to the home of a Lebanese called Félix Nahour, who has been murdered in his study. On the desk is a photograph of a woman who matches the description of Pardon's female visitor, and who turns out to be Ēvelyna ('Lina') Nahour, Félix 's wife. The bullet used turns out to be a 6.35, so Maigret makes the connection between the two crimes. Maigret arranges for Lina to return to Paris for the reading of the will. When Maigret interviews each one in the household, their stories conflict. Both Lina and the man she was with at the Pardon's surgery, Vincente Alvaredo, protest their innocence, but admit they were having an affair. Louise Boudin, the chambermaid who found the body, is stiff and uncommunicative. Nelly Velthuis, Ēvelyna companion, pretends not to speak English. And Fouad Ouėni, secretary and jack-of-all-trades to Félix Nahour, is arrogant and unhelpful, maintaining that he was not at home on the night of the murder. All of them are lying to some extent, but which one is concealing the fact that her or she shot Félix Nahour?

Review:
I am a great admirer of the Maigret novels, but even Simenon must have an off-day. This, sadly, is not one of his best. It is still faultlessly written, with his usual brevity, exploration of character and beguiling rhythm, but the plot, and the way it is presented, doesn't quite gel. The denouement appears hurried and contrived, as if Simenon himself had no idea whodunit up until the last few pages. And - horror of horrors - I had worked out the murderer, and the way the deed was carried out, three quarters of the way through the book

Having said that, it is still well worth reading, as its entertainment quotient is high. The old magic with words is still there, but I feel that Simenon had lost interest in this particular mystery half way through writing it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.C. Beaton - Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer

"Just lean back and enjoy a romp through a genre that is cosily British..."

Synopsis:
The Cotswold village of Thirk Magna eagerly awaits a visit by the local bishop, Peter Salvey-Hinkley. The bell ringers of St Ethelred's especially, as they've put together a special peal for the occasion. The bishop is a handsome, sexually attractive man, and, of course, Agatha initially falls for him. However, this doesn't last for long, and she eventually decides (paid for by a bell ringer called Julian Brody) to investigate the mysterious disappearance some years before of heiress Jennifer Toynby, the bishop's fiancée. Is she dead? Did the money-mad bishop murder her?

The ringleaders (if that's the right word) of the bell ringers are the haughty twins Millicent and Mavis Dupin, who lord it over the village from the grand . But when Millicent is murdered in her own home by a blow from a hammer, Agatha has more than the missing fiancée to occupy her mind. Then the body count starts mounting. Something is going on, and Agatha is convinced that the bishop, ably assisted by dean of his cathedral, and mixed up on it all. But alas, her enthusiasm stalls when another man enters her life, and she finds that, for the first time, she is experiencing real love. But there is still James Lacey, her ex-husband, living next door to her, and Sir Charles Fraith, with whom she is in lust, to deal with.

Review:
Lee Child, on the back of the dust jacket of the book, admits that reading Agatha Raisin is his 'guilty pleasure'. I feel the same, and I've been racking my brains to find out why. But now I think I know. It's because the sheer joy that MC Beaton gets from writing the books permeates every page, and this joy transfers to me as I read. The books are, in fact, a joyous romp, subverting Miss Jane Marple and the rather stuffy St Mary Mead. Agatha, in her early 50s, swears like a trooper, still wears London outfits, tells people who annoy her to 'sod off!', eats steak pie and chips in the pub, sleeps around and lights up a cigarette at every occasion.

The plots in an Agatha Raisin book are always simple, but with lots of red herrings. The characters may tend towards the stereotypical, but this gives the books much of its humour. Don't look for gun toting cops here. Don't expect a plot that dissects today's fractured society. Just lean back and enjoy a romp through a genre that is cosily British and unthreatening. The denouement is, perhaps, a wee bit contrived, but nonetheless satisfying, as Agatha puts herself in danger (again!) to unmask the murderer.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating: