Reviews

July 2019

Melissa Scrivner Love - American Heroin

"...a tightly written thriller with a truly original and compelling central character. "

Synopsis:
It took sacrifice, pain and more than a few dead bodies, but Lola Vasquez has clawed her way to the top of the South Central Los Angeles neighbourhood. Still, with great opportunity comes great risk, and as Lola ascends the hierarchy of the city's underworld, she finds herself at the centre of a dangerous new conflict that could destroy everything she's built.

But might her greatest threat lie closer to home?

Review:
I raved about Love's debut novel, 'Lola', when it was first published. And I'm thrilled to report that the sequel, 'American Heroin', is every bit as good.

The central character of this original and gritty LA thriller is Lola, a gangland girl who is the (secret) leader of small-time gang the Crenshaw Six. When her gang is drawn into a battle between rival drug cartels, Lola's life – everything she's worked so hard to achieve – comes under threat. She has to think quick and act fast if she has any chance of saving herself and the few people she cares about.

The novel is steeped in atmosphere. The location, Huntington Park in South Central LA, is brought vividly to life: heat rising from pavements, cheap housing in cramped neighbourhoods, the smells and flavours of the local food, the condensation on a cold bottle of beer, the local characters. The writing is rich with descriptions that make you feel as if you are right there, in the middle of it all.

'American Heroin' is a tightly written thriller with a truly original and compelling central character. The portrayal of women in crime fiction has changed greatly in recent years. Lola is a wonderful addition to the growing number of complex, multi-faceted women we are seeing more of in crime fiction today.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gillian McAllister - The Evidence Against You

"The ending is as unexpected as it is satisfying."

Synopsis:
Set on the Isle of Wight, it tells that story of Isabelle whose past contains the trauma of her mother, Alexandra's, murder, and the conviction of her father, Gabriel, for this crime. Isabelle is married to a police analyst, Nick, and is running the restaurant that used to be owned by her mother, a role she finds unsatisfactory. After seventeen years in jail, Gabriel is released. At first, Isabelle wants nothing to do with him when he turns up in her restaurant claiming his innocence, but slowly, the doubts set in, and she decides – against Nick's advice – to help her father.

This decision takes her into a past she has tried to bury and reawakens memories she doesn't want to experience again. And of course, these, like all memories, are unreliable and one-sided. To what extent can her memories be trusted, or those of the people around her? If her father is innocent, then who did kill her mother? Her world starts to come apart.

Review:
McAllister is a master of psychological games, and through the book, told in the present from Isabelle's point of view and in the past from both Gabriel's' and Isabelle's perspectives, the reader is kept guessing. The plotting is intricate, presenting Gabriel as both a violent man who cannot cope with his wife's independence, and as a loving, caring husband and father. McAllister presents her characters with conviction, Isabelle damaged by her family past, and Gabriel by his time in prison and the loss of his wife and child. She keeps the reader guessing as she explores Isabelle's complex emotions, and the turbulence of Alexandra and Gabriel's troubled marriage.

The ending is as unexpected as it is satisfying. It may go against the expectations McAllister has been developing in her readers, but it is not glib and draws directly from the logic of the book and the subtle signposting that McAllister has given the reader. Ultimately, this is the only way the book could end, given what has gone before.

If there is a flaw, it is that the pace of the book is slow. McAllister takes time in setting out her stall, and though, as the book moves towards the end, the plot twists come thick and fast, the first half of the book moves at a leisurely pace which may not suit all readers.

Beautifully written, with its focus on realistic and complex characters, its intricate plotting and its perceptive presentation of human reactions and emotions, 'The Evidence Against You' is a satisfying addition to McAllister's already impressive stable.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anthony J. Quinn - The Listeners

"It’s a cracking read that really does leave you guessing until the final few pages."

Synopsis:
Not long out of the fast-track training course at Edinburgh's police college, Detective Sergeant Carla Herron is about to be tested to breaking point.

She's been called to Deepwell psychiatric hospital in the Scottish borders to interview a patient who has confessed to the murder of one of the hospital's psychotherapists. The confession is vividly detailed, but for a man locked in a secure ward and under 24-hour surveillance, it is also utterly impossible.

So why can't the supposedly murdered psychotherapist be contacted? Why are the hospital staff so secretive, so difficult to work with? Why have other Deepwell patients made disturbingly similar confessions over the past year? Against the advice of her superiors, Carla delves deeper into the hospital's past and is plunged into a labyrinth of jealousies, lies and hallucinations.

Against the advice of her supervisor, Carla embarks on a chilling trail through the bleak uplands and dark forests of the Scottish borders, every step taking her closer to a deadly reckoning.

Review:
I was already a huge fan of Anthony Quinn. Having loved his debut novel, 'Disappeared', I've followed his career with interest. This latest novel is something of a departure for the author as he leaves Northern Ireland, and his enigmatic detective, Celius Daly, to try something new.

Set in the beautiful Scottish borders, 'The Listeners' introduces us to Detective Sergeant Carla Herron. She's a great character – complex, flawed and, like every working mother in the history of time, she's struggling with the dual responsibilities of parenthood and work. Carla's husband, David, is a stay-at-home father, who feels his wife's single-minded focus on her career is at the expense of her family and, crucially, his own career aspirations.

It's a very plausible set up and Quinn uses Carla's home life to brilliant effect, giving real depth to her character.

The plot is original and compelling too. As with Quinn's other novels, this is a complex plot with a long list of characters, many with their own reasons for wanting to keep Carla from finding out what's really going on at Deepwell hospital.

It's a cracking read that really does leave you guessing until the final few pages. One or two of the plot twists stretched my limits of plausibility, but when the writing is this good, that's a minor quibble. With Carla Herron, Quinn is off to a great start with his new series. I look forward to the next one.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Gray - Thin Air

"...a stunning debut from an author who has the literary world at her feet."

Synopsis:
Private investigator Jessica Shaw is used to getting anonymous tips. But after receiving a photo of a three-year-old kidnapped from Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, Jessica is stunned to recognize the little girl as herself.

Eager for answers, Jessica heads to LA's dark underbelly. When she learns that her biological mother was killed the night she was abducted, Jessica's determined to solve a case the police have forgotten. Meanwhile, veteran LAPD detective Jason Pryce is in the midst of a gruesome investigation into a murdered college student moonlighting as a prostitute. A chance encounter leads to them crossing paths, but Jessica soon realizes that Pryce is hiding something about her father's checkered history and her mother's death.

To solve her mother's murder and her own disappearance, Jessica must dig into the past and find the secrets buried there. But the air gets thinner as she crawls closer to the truth, and it's getting harder and harder to breathe.

Review:
I loved the premise of this novel, and boy, once Gray has you hooked, you're reeled in before you know it. Jessica Shaw is a lead I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of, and Gray has drawn her with skill and subtlety.

The plot is engaging throughout and while I worked out some of what was going on, Gray still managed to blindside me with a twist or two.

'Thin Air' is a stunning debut from an author who has the literary world at her feet.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex North - The Whisper Man

"With an unexpected ending, this book kept me on the edge of my seat."

Synopsis:
If you leave a door half-open, soon you'll hear the whispers spoken...
Still devastated after the loss of his wife, Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a fresh start.

But Featherbank has a dark past. Fifteen years ago a twisted serial killer abducted and murdered five young boys. Until he was finally caught, the killer was known as 'The Whisper Man'.

Of course, an old crime need not trouble Tom and Jake as they try to settle in to their new home. Except that now another boy has gone missing. And then Jake begins acting strangely.

He says he hears a whispering at his window...

Review:
North has brought in quite an eclectic mix of characters; a bereaved father and son, an ambitious detective, a stone-cold killer and a former alcoholic who continues to fight his demons. Dealing not just with the case of the missing boy but also with Tom and Jake's journey, 'The Whisper Man' is not a book you will want to read at night by an open window or door. With just a hint of menace and the suggestion that someone is the other side of the glass is enough to want to shut the windows tight.

With an unexpected ending, this book kept me on the edge of my seat. 'The Whisper Man' is easy to read and well written. An excellent creepy novel from Alex North and another name to go on my 'list of authors not to be missed'.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jay Stringer - Marah Chase and the Conqueror’s Tomb

"Grab a cuppa and settle in for a hair-raising thriller..."

Synopsis:
Once a rising star in the field of archaeology, Marah Chase is now a black-market treasure hunter, her services available to the highest bidder. But when she's caught 'rescuing' relics in Syria before they're destroyed by war, an MI6 officer named Joanna Mason approaches her with an offer she can't refuse: help save the world or rot in prison.

All Chase has to do is find Alexander the Great's lost tomb, recover an ancient weapon of mass destruction he may have used to conquer the earth, and destroy it before the bad guys can get it. Among those adversaries are a powerful church that believes in a forgotten epoch of advanced alien technology, the white supremacist thugs in its employ, and the rival archaeologist who recently left Chase for dead.

Chase can't resist a challenge—or the British spy recruiting her. There's just one problem. If Chase has any hope of unearthing Alexander's tomb before the forces hot on her heels do, she'll need the help of the one person she's been afraid to see since her fall from grace: Zoe Forrester, the heir to a hidden journal that holds the key—and Chase's ex-girlfriend.

Review:
Stringer is one of those authors who I knew I should read but never got around to. I'm delighted to say that when I did finally read one of his books I was entertained from first page to last.

Marah Chase is a tomb-raiding, gun-toting lead who's smart, brave and not without her own hang ups while the support characters are drawn well enough to engage the reader without ever threatening to overshadow the lead.

The plot is everything you'd expect from this kind of novel and had elements which would fit into a Clive Cussler novel or an Indiana Jones movie seamlessly.

Grab a cuppa and settle in for a hair-raising thriller that will leave you breathless and gasping for more.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.W. Craven - Black Summer

"...Craven is at the top of his game with this excellent thriller."

Synopsis:
Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath . . . He's currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again - and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

Review:
Once again, Craven has served up a delicious helping of intrigue that is garnished with fantastic characters, authenticity and a sublime plot.

With Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, Craven has created one of the best double-acts in crime fiction. His grumpiness is offset by her naivety as they each recognise the others' strengths and work together to solve the case.

The plotting is first class throughout and the twists wrong-footed me before the novel came to a stunning conclusion.

Grab yourself a copy right away, Craven is at the top of his game with this excellent thriller.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Casey - Cruel Acts

"Casey delivers a fast-moving plot told with page-turning intensity..."

Synopsis:
Leo Stone is a killer who was convicted of the murder of two women. When the verdict is overturned on a technicality, the defence team, led by charismatic Seth Taylor, go all out to discredit the evidence the police have. The case against Stone is not as strong as it could be, and Maeve Kerrigan and senior officer Josh Derwent are charged with re-investigating the murders.

Before too long, they are at loggerheads. Maeve is convinced there is a third victim of the Leo Stone murders, Rachel Healy. She wasn't included in the original charges as her body was never found, and little if any evidence existed to link Stone to this killing.

Derwent rejects the idea of a link and thinks they will be wasting their time if they try to investigate it. Their boss, Una Burt, takes the opportunity to split up the Derwent/Kerrigan team and leaves Maeve to investigate the cold case of the missing Rachel Healy on her own. As Maeve does so, she begins to doubt the original case. Was Stone guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted? The family of one of his victims certainly believes he is innocent, and Stone's son, Kelly Lambert is campaigning hard to have his father released. Maeve finds herself drawn to Stone's solicitor, Seth Taylor, and also sympathetic towards Kelly, Stone's son. Could the police have got the original investigation so wrong, or are her personal sympathies getting in the way of her judgement? As more bodies turn up, the team realise they have stumbled onto something much bigger than they realised. Then another woman goes missing.

Review:
Casey weaves together the strands of a complex plot along with the tropes readers have come to expect from the Maeve Kerrigan novels: the complex, ambiguous relationship between Maeve and Derwent; the hostility felt towards Kerrigan by her boss, Una Burt; the ambitious young DC on the team, Georgia Shaw who envies Kerrigan and will go a long way to do her a bad turn – and does; and Kerrigan's lost love, Rob, who cheated on her and left her. All of these form a background to a compelling mystery.

Casey handles her complex narrative with real skill, building up tension, creating a cast of convincing characters and sometimes chilling settings – the lonely grassland of a nature reserve, a decaying house on an abandoned farm, a neglected back garden and the terrible secrets it hides are all presented with a visceral intensity.

The plot itself is fast moving and gripping. Kerrigan is carrying out her investigation on the outside of the main team, but this leads her to find things that the previous investigation missed, and shows that what seemed to be simple, if brutal murders have become something far more complex and far darker. The plot builds up to a climax involving a race against time and a rooftop chase that is guaranteed to keep the reader on the edge of the seat.

My only quibble with this book, is with the delicate balance of the Kerrigan-Derwent relationship. This, in previous books, has moved from intense dislike to an edgy but caring friendship and a mutual, if much denied, attraction. The relationship is in danger of treading water as Casey pulls away from the developing closeness between the two in a way that does not fully convince. It's a tricky business keeping two attractive characters apart while maintaining the frisson between them and it will be interesting to see how she continues to develop this relationship.

The denouement is satisfactorily surprising and convincing, arising as it does from the trail that Casey has carefully laid. By the end of the book, Casey has all her ducks in an interesting formation for the next book in the series. It will be much anticipated.

Casey delivers a fast-moving plot told with page-turning intensity, characters that come to life on the page, and in Maeve herself, a vivid central character who is a strong addition to the fictional female stars of the genre. 'Cruel Acts' is vintage Maeve Kerrigan, and those who are avidly following the series will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alice Feeney - I Know Who You Are

"Both the present and past chapters kept me hooked..."

Synopsis:
Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can't remember where from. But I know exactly who you are. I know what you've done. And I am watching you.

When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn't seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she's hiding something and they're right, she is – but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she's never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

Review:
Aimee Sinclair is a rising star. An actress who doesn't believe in herself and feels she has no self-worth. The book goes back and forth from Aimee's (pretty traumatic) childhood to present day. She didn't have a great childhood and Feeney gives lots of explanation as to Aimee's behaviour and feelings. But (and it's a huge but), much of it just doesn't ring true. From Aimee's early house move, to her unhappy marriage to the ending. It is all just unbelievable. Which is fine for a sci-fi or horror, but for a thriller I like to believe these things could actually happen.

The story itself was pretty hard to read in that there was child and animal abuse together with rape and violence. Both the present and past chapters kept me hooked, making me want to know more. The book was well written and kept me guessing. I enjoyed reading this book, but I felt a little let down at the big reveal. Well worth reading, but you will have to suspend some belief.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Melanie Golding - Little Darlings

"Well written and perhaps not the book for a new mother..."

Synopsis:
Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they're right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she's never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own… creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she's imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren's side in a park. But when they're found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, 'These are not my babies'.

Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she's wrong about what she saw…she'll be making the biggest mistake of her life.

Review:
Lacking any support or help from her husband Patrick, Lauren is exhausted. Whilst her friends who had given birth at the same time seeming to have mastered motherhood, Lauren doesn't feel she is coping very well. With the lack of sleep, two babies to feed and change and the threat of her children being abducted, Lauren starts to unravel.

Jo Harper is the police officer looking into the attempted abduction of Lauren's babies, Her boss isn't very supportive, even when Jo links the case to a previous one some decades ago.

I found the book to be really well written. The events surrounding Lauren left me unsure as to whether she was suffering from postnatal depression, or if the person trying to take her children was real. And this was very cleverly done throughout the book. Although mostly set from the perspective of Lauren, it is not possible to know if she was hallucinating or there was some supernatural force at work.

Although I enjoyed the 'is she/isn't she?' to and froing throughout the story, I much prefer definitive endings with all questions answered. 'Little Darlings', although a good read that I struggled to put down, left me with more questions than answers.

Well written and perhaps not the book for a new mother (who if anything like me is anxious) as it may just keep you awake.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: