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Reviews

January 2014

Luca Veste - Dead Gone

"Luca Veste hits the ground running with this impressive debut..."

Synopsis:
A serial killer is stalking the streets of Liverpool, gruesomely murdering victims as part of a series of infamous, unethical and deadly psychological experiments.

When it becomes apparent that each victim has ties to the City of Liverpool University, DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi realise they're chasing a killer unlike any they've hunted before – one who doesn't just want their bodies, but wants their minds.

Review:
Luca Veste hits the ground running with this impressive debut which puts a new twist on the serial killer sub-genre of crime fiction. I particularly enjoyed the taunting letters to DI Murphy, which dropped hints at the killer's motivation.

Murphy was well drawn, although I think that perhaps some of his back story could have been kept for future novels as Veste has dealt him a terrible hand. However he is still a strong and convincing lead ably supported by Rossi and the lovelorn Rob. The killer is suitably odious but of all the characters, I found myself most drawn to Murphy's best friend Jess.

The plot is constructed with a lot more panache than usually found in a debut novel, and the pace was a steady drumbeat rising to a crescendo as the final pages were encountered. Never having read a novel set in Liverpool, it was nice to encounter a new city and meet the natives of a fascinating city. All in all, 'Dead Gone' is a fine debut which marks the introduction of an author who is well on his way to becoming a must-read.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Celia Fremlin - The Trouble-Makers

"...a dark, twisted tale that ends with a chilling denouement worthy of Rendell herself."

Synopsis:
Katharine is married with children and is supposed to be living the dream. But the domestic landscape is anything but bliss. Katharine has many worries about her abilities to look after the home with ease whilst being a wife and mother at the same time. And then there are outside influences, too.

Mary is Katharine's next door neighbour and someone who is coping even less well than all the other mothers. Her home is a mess and her children run wild and the constant 'advice' from her neighbours seems to be having an adverse effect on her rather than a positive one. And then there is 'the dark man in the raincoat' who attacks Mary's husband, Alan. Soon, Mary believes she is being followed. Is it by the man in the raincoat? Katharine tries to help Mary but begins to feel herself pulled in to the storm and soon she is standing at the epicentre of a maelstrom that will have devastating consequences for everyone involved.

Review:
To my mind this is Fremlin's strongest and most claustrophobic pieces of writing she ever produced. When Fremlin was firing on all cylinders she could produce such striking prose that reverberates through your emotional core. Hers were words that deeply penetrated the soul and languished in your conscience for many days, if not weeks later.

'The Trouble-Makers' was first published in 1963 and Fremlin's fourth novel. This being 'Fremlin-land' nothing can be simply defined as 'light and shade'. Fremlin delivers a cast of characters who exist on the edge of poverty, and yet they are under pressure from themselves, as well as others, to perform to the high standards demanded of them from outsiders who are quick to judge. What is it they are judging, you may ask? The art of juggling a job, motherhood, marriage, a home, cooking, cleaning, the list is endless where Fremlin is concerned. As with most of her novels, Fremlin's cast is predominantly female and the battleground is the home, the prize: who is top of the pecking order.

According to Fremlin's daughter this book had deep roots with the author and you can tell by the deep cuts Fremlin makes with her pen, that there is nothing to be ashamed of by not achieving the status of being the 'ultimate woman'. Here, with a dark psychological twist, Fremlin takes a swipe with her razor sharp pen at the class system amongst women within the homestead. This is my favourite of Fremlin's novels and is such a dark, twisted tale that ends with a chilling denouement worthy of Rendell herself. Sublime.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stuart MacBride - A Song For The Dying

"...bleak, noir and thoroughly brilliant."

Synopsis:
Eight years ago, 'The Inside Man' murdered four women and left three more in critical condition – all had their stomachs slit open and then stitched up with a plastic doll inside. And then the killer simply… vanished.

Ash Henderson was a Detective Inspector on the original investigation, but a lot can change in eight years. His family has been destroyed, his career is in tatters, and one of Oldcastle's most vicious criminals is making sure he spends the rest of his life in prison.

Now a nurse has turned up dead, a plastic doll entombed in her stomach, and it looks like Ash might finally get a shot at redemption, at earning his freedom. At revenge.

Review:
A new MacBride book arriving is always a cause for celebration in the Smith household and after reading 'A Song For The Dying' there was a mighty hangover.

MacBride's second series is centred around one of the most noir characters in contemporary crime fiction. Ash Henderson has lost it all and seems hell bent on spiralling downwards, sucking friends and foes into his vortex of misery and revenge. His bleak outlook on life is wonderful to observe from the safety of a favoured armchair. MacBride has a field day, throwing obstacles at his erstwhile anti-hero and basically making his life hell. Yet despite his own inclinations and the author's interference, Ash Henderson is an utterly engrossing character. Coupled up with Shifty and Dr Alice MacDonald he fights to get his revenge, solve the case and fight his demons. Mrs Kerrigan and Wee Free were finely created monsters that play vital parts in this drama.

MacBride's plotting skills are second-to-none and the intricate framework of the novel kept me guessing right to the end. For once I had no clue as to the killer's identity until I was told. The pace steadily ramps up as the pages turn but what sparkles brightest is the prose. Not a word is wasted, and many punch above their weight, such is MacBride's literary prowess. Whether he is describing actions, dialogue or events he'll keep your attention like and impending car crash. By turns I found 'A Song For The Dying' to be bleak, noir and thoroughly brilliant.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hannah Kent - Burial Rites

"...an accomplished piece of writing for a first novel."

Synopsis:
This is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, a young Icelandic woman who, in 1824, is sentenced to death for the murder of her employer and lover. As there are no suitable prisons in Iceland, she awaits execution in the home of District Officer Jon Jonsson and his wife and two daughters. They are horrified at the idea of having a convicted killer in their home and are reluctant to interact with her in any way. Agnes asks for Toti, an assistant priest she has had only fleeting contact with, to be with her at her execution and to provide spiritual comfort.

The fierce winter and the sparse living conditions of the Jonnson family echo the grim reality of Agnes' fate. The story of what actually happened to Agnes is slowly revealed and as it does, she makes her mark with at least some of her gaolers as they come to see the good side of her character.

Review:
This is a bleak and unrelenting story about the terrible things that could happen to those on the lowest rungs of society, particularly to women. Agnes' story is not listened to and everywhere her guilt is assumed. Her whole life has been a struggle and whenever she feels that she is cared for and cherished, circumstances and people conspire to take everything from her again. The chilling factor in all this is that it is entirely believable and the bare bones of the case are based on fact.

Hannah Kent discovered Agnes' story when she herself was spending time in Iceland on an exchange programme. The tale caught her imagination as Agnes' isolation in society reverberated with her own position as a stranger in a land where the landscape and language were alien to her. Kent's writing is beautiful and sensitive and appears to have been written from the heart. The intricate way in which we gradually learn what has happened to Agnes is cleverly and expertly handled.

I did enjoy this book immensely and found it such an accomplished piece of writing for a first novel. It is always exciting to discover a new author and I will definitely keep my ear to the ground about Hannah Kent. I expect great future novels from Kent as she hones and refines her chosen craft.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Simms - A Price To Pay

"Chris Simms’ latest offering has to be one of his best..."

Synopsis:
When a laptop case turns up containing the picture of a girl who acted as a suicide bomber, the Counter Terrorism Unit are all over it as it also holds pictures of other girls, too.

Detective Iona Khan's last case saw her usurp her boss from his position of power. Now trying to integrate herself into the team with a new boss, she finds herself tracking down cold blooded killers. She has to fight not only to solve the case but to establish herself as a capable officer in a male dominated team.

Review:
Chris Simms' latest offering has to be one of his best as he ratchets tension right off the dial in this excellent novel. Filled with believable characters, strong plotting and a compelling narrative 'A Price to Pay' ticks every box. Twice!

Iona Khan is developing nicely as a character and her struggles at work and in her personal life are drawn with consummate skill which triggered great empathy from me. Nina, Liam and Jim all serve to cause her problems while pursuing their own agendas.

The true star of this novel has to be the plotting as it is bang up to date and as plausible as night following day. Simms sets his stall out early and then tugs at your heartstrings as you root for Iona, in the hope she'll save the two girls from becoming victims. Simms' prose is faultless throughout whether narrative or dialogue and I was left with one overriding thought after reading this novel. I need to read more of this talented author.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Verdon - Let The Devil Sleep

"...an exciting read and one I would recommend to others."

Synopsis:
The most decorated homicide detective in NYPD history, Dave Gurney is still trying to adjust to his life of quasi-retirement in upstate New York when a young woman who is producing a documentary on an infamous murder spree seeks his counsel. Soon after, Gurney begins to feel threatened: a razor-sharp hunting arrow lands in his yard, and he narrowly escapes serious injury in a booby-trapped basement. As things grow more bizarre, he finds himself re-examining the case of The Good Shepherd, which ten years before involved a series of roadside shootings and a rage-against-the-rich manifesto. The killings ceased, and a cult of analysis grew up around the case with a consensus opinion that no one would dream of challenging - no one, that is, but Dave Gurney.

Mocked even by some who'd been his allies in previous investigations, Gurney realizes that the killer is too clever ever to be found. The only gambit that may make sense is also the most dangerous - to make himself a target and get the killer to come to him.

Review:
At nearly 600 pages, 'Let the Devil Sleep' is a longer than average thriller and when starting to read this I felt somewhat overwhelmed at the task ahead of me. I wondered how the author was going to fill out the story. However, as I continued to read the number of pages seemed less worrying and there was little superfluous wording. Verdon generally portrays Gurney as rather self-absorbed and selfish. However, Gurney is a strong lead character and like him or not, he does at least have character.

Investigating both the older and more recent murders, Gurney manages to alienate the federal police, and make others question their judgement when he tells them his opinion on the case. With the help of old colleagues and an eccentric and angry near-victim of the serial killer, he sets out to solve the murders.

The investigation was thrilling and having read his previous books, I do enjoy Verdon's writing and his taste for fast pace narrative. The setting and ending of the book was less than original, although the final revelation of the killer hadn't been guessed. I was slightly disappointed as often clues are given, and even when not picked up during the journey, often with hindsight the reader can look back and put everything together. This was not the case with 'Let the Devil Sleep' which left me feeling a little cheated. Despite my criticism, this is another addictive thriller from Verdon and it was an exciting read and one I would still recommend to others.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jo Nesbo - Cockroaches

"...this novel is a gripping, fast-paced read with unexpected twists and turns."

Synopsis:
After Harry Hole's successful outing in Australia he is back in Oslo and indulging in his love affair with drink. He is a talented detective but a bit unpredictable as far as co-operating with authority is concerned. So when his boss, Bjarne Moller, is encouraged by the political hierarchy to send Hole on his own to investigate a politically sensitive death in Bankok, he has many doubts as to the wisdom of the choice. The political view is that all should be settled quickly and quietly and buried out of public view. Hole wants to find out the truth.

The victim is the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand and he is found stabbed in a hotel room by a prostitute. Hole is attached to the Thai police and set to work with an inspector in the homicide division. Working with her department and with a little independent activity of his own, Harry discovers that someone is manipulating the evidence and apparently foolproof clues such as surveillance tapes are suspect. The family life of the ambassador is not as it seems on the surface and corruption in the city is rife. Harry puts himself in danger as he searches for the truth but finally manages to do so, not without some serious loss of life.

Review:
This is the second book of the early Harry Hole stories published in English. Harry is still in a relatively uncomplicated emotional place and, whilst grieving over his love from the first book, engages only lightly with the other characters. His analysis of situations and human character, even in unfamiliar surroundings, is what underlies his success in finding out the truth. Add to that his physical toughness and disregard for personal safety and you have the recipe for the James Bond hero he almost becomes. But he does have a significant flaw with which he lives constantly - his love for Jim Beam and all things related. This struggle follows through all the books to date and it is interesting to go back in time to see where he is at this point in life whilst knowing where Hole will be in the future.

Ideally I would have liked to have read the books in the order they were written but I do quite like the retrospective view of the younger Harry. As always with Nesbo, this novel is a gripping, fast-paced read with unexpected twists and turns. Although maybe not as polished as his later books, I would highly recommend it to all Harry Hole's legion of fans and for all those who want to start at the early stages of Harry's career.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Thorne - East of Innocence

"By the final page you'll feel as if you've been through a roller coaster of emotions..."

Synopsis:
Daniel Connell is a disgraced ex-City lawyer now scraping a living in Essex, a man trying to escape the long shadows of his past. When an old childhood friend visits, asking for his help with a case of police brutality, Daniel wants nothing to do with it. However, he relents and soon finds himself on the wrong end of police attention, and dragged into the shady business of a local gangster.

There is far more at stake than Daniel could ever have anticipated - including the mystery of what happened to his mother, who disappeared just months after he was born. Daniel must keep ahead of his pursuers long enough to uncover the bloody mysteries of the past as well as the fate of another young woman, too innocent to protect herself in the midst of a dangerous game.

Review:
In the opening chapters we meet out protagonist through the eyes of those closest to him; his useless, abusive father, his ex-army best friend suffering the trauma of war and his client Terry, a policeman with a complaint against a fellow officer.

For a novel told in the first person this is the best way to meet the main character. Who better to understand the down-on-his-luck lawyer than his family and friends.

What debut author David Thorne has done is given us a character we think of as being a magnet for life's losers and loners only for him to turn into a no-nonsense fighter who will not be used by a doormat. There are many sub-plots which are each given time to simmer from Essex gangsters and hard men to a missing woman and the hunt for Daniel's estranged mother.

By the final page you'll feel as if you've been through a roller coaster of emotions; wincing at the all too accurate descriptions of inflicted violence and the sadness of a terminally woman who finally has her lifelong dream realised. I was impressed with the plain-speaking dialogue and could almost hear the Essex twang. What grated was the overuse of the c-word.

'East of Innocence' is the first in a new series of crime novels and now that we have got to know Daniel Connell and his past has been unearthed it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. I will definitely be reading book number two; the difficult relationship with his father should be an interesting one to see develop.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Aline Templeton - Bad Blood

"Aline Templeton always delivers a satisfying, well-plotted tale."

Synopsis:
DI Marjory Fleming is well respected in her local force in the small town in Galloway where she lives. She has worked her way up from police constable, establishing for herself a reputation for hard work, honesty and above all, fairness. So, when a young member of her team suspects that in her past there is a situation where a cover up may have been made, there is a distinct air of unease.

As a young police constable Fleming has been involved in the follow up of a disappearance of a woman who had disappeared, leaving her young daughter bleeding and alone in the house. Twenty years later, when the daughter comes back to find out what has happened to her mother she does not get satisfactory responses from the police. The young woman also finds herself the victim of unpleasant bullying and abuse from some of the local residents. There is no apparent reason for this, but it is the clue which reveals the hidden history of Marnie and her mother.

Review:
Aline Templeton always delivers a satisfying, well plotted tale. From beginning to end each detail is carefully worked out and in this case the interplay between three periods of time is cleverly developed. The characters are beautifully drawn and recognisable as people we could know. For followers of D/I Fleming, it is good to know how her life is progressing outside the police work. She is a woman with a happy family life with a dose of the major crises that are liable to affect anyone. How she deals with these as at the same time following her passion for her work is part of the charm of these books. Sergeant Tam MacNee continues to amuse with his bluff manner and habit of quoting Burns at every opportunity.

One of the strengths of Templeton's writing is her ear for dialogue and this skill helps bring the people very much to life. I love first opening a new Aline Templeton as I know I am assured hours of pleasure and 'Bad Blood' certainly does not disappoint.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Marcus Sakey - Good People

"Sakey is definitely an exciting new talent..."

Synopsis:
A family and the security to enjoy it: that's all Tom and Anna Reed ever wanted. But years of infertility treatments, including four failed attempts at in-vitro fertilization, have left them with neither. The emotional and financial costs are straining their marriage and endangering their dreams. So when their downstairs tenant - a recluse whose promptly delivered cashier's checks were barely keeping them afloat dies in his sleep, the $400,000 they find stashed in his kitchen seems like fate. More than fate: a chance for everything they've dreamed of for so long. A fairy-tale ending.

But Tom and Anna soon realize that fairy tales never come cheap because their tenant wasn't a hermit who squirreled away his pennies. He was a criminal who double-crossed some of the most dangerous men in Chicago; men who won't stop until they get revenge, no matter where they find it.

Review:
'Good People' by Sakey is set in 2006/2007 and I did wander the relevance of these dates. However, I later learned that 'Good People' was first published in 2008 (also under the title, 'Too Good To Be True') which explained the lack of relevance for being set 5 years ago.

The plot of Good People had a similar feeling to Scott Smith's – 'A Simple Plan' whereby a seemingly one off event leads to a ripple effect affecting many. However, 'A Simple Plan', in my opinion definitely has the edge on this book. Tom and Anna didn't count on the money being wanted by others and 'Good People' sees them trying to outrun the criminals, drug dealers and police.

This couple weren't the most convincing lead characters and the detective looking into the missing money left much to be desired. His actions and behaviour didn't ring true and at times I questioned which side he was on. But Sakey's novel kept me interested from start to finish. It also asked the moral dilemma of just how far someone would go to get what they want. At times the plot was a little predictable, and although the ending wasn't a happy ever after, it was one I could live with. This wasn't the most exciting thriller I have ever read but it was still a good read. Sakey is definitely an exciting new talent who needs to push himself and we need more of his books in the UK and sooner than five years delay, please.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Thomas Perry - The Boyfriend

"...will grip the reader from page one..."

Synopsis:
Five cities. Five escorts. Five bullets in five heads.

Catherine Hamilton was a high-class hooker. Now she is dead. Jack Till, private detective, has linked her murder to a string of other killings: the cities may be different, but the girls all look uncomfortably alike. Now he knows the killer's type, it's a race against time to find the next victim before it's too late. Who will the boyfriend seduce next?

Review:
Perry is an author who can write a great novel that will grip the reader from page one and 'The Boyfriend' is no exception.

Till is a confident and somewhat lucky person. When he needs a contact in the police force, he knows someone; when looking for clues, he finds them; when making guesses as to how or why the killer behaves as they do, he is always correct. So whilst the plot was enjoyable, Till's ability to never make a mistake made the character less believable.

There was also much mention made of Till's covert behaviour when meeting his daughter, and the care taken to ensure he isn't being followed. By the time the book was finished, I was struggling to see the relevance of why he either took these measures, or why the author included them. My only other criticism was that although the story was fast paced, which is a positive, the ending was way too fast. Perry managed to wrap up his novel in no more than a page. It all felt rushed and incomplete, almost as if the author had suddenly lost interest.

Despite this review sounding negative, I did actually enjoy 'The Boyfriend' and have loved many of Perry's previous novels and believe he is an excellent writer, but he has produced better in my opinion. Whilst you may not be blown away with this book, it is still a very good read that is hard to put down.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathan Aycliffe - The Silence of Ghosts

"...a haunting tale well told that will propel you to continue to its bizarre conclusion. "

Synopsis:
Charles Lancaster is the sole heir to his grandfather's vast estate which includes a hugely successful business importing Port from Portugal as well several properties one of which neither of his grandparents ever mentioned: Hallinhag House. On visiting the house in Ullswater in the Lake District, Charles experiences a supernatural encounter.

Shocked and yet intrigued, Charles reads his grandfather,Dominic Lancaster's diaries from the Second World War and discovers that both Dominic and his younger sister who was profoundly deaf, Octavia were sent to Hallinhag House as a safe haven from the Blitz of London. But Hallinhag House is anything but safe and shelters evil spirits who crossed the boundaries of decency during their depraved lives. Centuries later they are determined not to be thwarted from their despicable desires and their first objective is to recruit Dominic's deaf sister, Octavia who, despite being deaf can hear the voices of the dead calling for her.

Review:
It has been over ten years since Aycliffe's last ghostly offering and 'The Silence of Ghosts' is a welcome return of this author. Aycliffe perfectly sets the scene and at times there were certain parts of this novel that felt as though written by M.R. James or Le Fanu. The name Drablow is also mentioned which is not a usual name and is quite synonymous with Hill's 'The Woman in Black'. I like to think this is Aycliffe's way of giving Hill's ghost story a nod of acknowledgement. The apparition of the four ghost children in the study made my skin crawl and for the first time in years made me look around the room to make sure I was quite alone!

Despite opening the tale in the present, the main body of this story is told by Dominic during the end of 1940 to early 1941. I feel the build-up of this story was much more satisfying than the actual ending. The discovery of the secret at Hallinhag House felt anti-climactic and I was slightly perturbed that after all Dominic and Rose's efforts to combat these forces, that the house was simply abandoned and forgotten about. However, Aycliffe does have a final ace up his sleeve. The book finishes back in the present day with Charles Lancaster which is slightly ambiguous and contradictory. Aycliffe's final 'coup de grace' is a recent letter written by Charles. I read that letter several times and Aycliffe's ending swirled around my head for several days. The only conclusion I have come to is that with regards to the Lancaster family; the apple doesn't fall far from the proverbial tree. You will know what I mean once you read the book. This is not this author's best but it certainly has the chill factor and is a haunting tale beautifully told with some hair-raising moments that will propel you towards its bizarre conclusion.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Fowler - Secrets of the Dead

"...strong plot and believable characters makes for a fine read."

Synopsis:
'I need to tell you about the murder of Lucy Blake-Hall. I know who killed her.' These two sentences, uttered by a retired detective were the last words he said. MIT Civilian Investigator Barry Newstead naturally reported the telephone call when the caller was found brutally murdered.

And so begins an investigation into a current murder connected to a cold case. Lucy Blake-Hall disappeared in August 1983 and has never been found despite a man being jailed for her murder. From the start of the investigation, DS Hunter Kerr and his team uncover a secret which goes back thirty years. Once uncovered it sets in motion a dramatic chain reaction; someone is going to the horrific lengths to keep the truth buried.

Review:
This is the first of Michael Fowler's books I've read but it won't be the last. Fowler writes with a great sense of setting, which combined with strong plot and believable characters makes for a fine read.

I thought Hunter Kerr was a fine lead, although I'm not too sure his happy home life will continue. After all, aren't authors supposed to put their characters up a tree and then throw stones at them? Having said this, it made a change from the usual alcoholic with a string of failed relationships. Grace and Leggate filled their roles amply as did Peter Blake-Hall and Alan Darbyshire.

The pace increased steadily throughout as the plot whipped back and forth before reaching a satisfying conclusion. The only negative I could find was that the prose was at times overly wordy for my tastes. Given a bit of a tighter edit, a number of unnecessary words could have been cut to help the flow of the story. Having said that, 'Secrets of the Dead' is an entertaining read from first page until last.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sebastian Fitzek - Therapy

"...will keep you sufficiently chilled during the cold winter nights to come! "

Synopsis:
Four years after his daughter's disappearance, Dr. Viktor Larenz finds himself on the island of Parkum. Josy, who was only twelve, had been inexplicably ill for many months but before her illness could be diagnosed, Josy vanished at a doctor's surgery and was never seen again. Now, with the tail end of a hurricane battering the island's shores and dark thunderous clouds gathering overhead, the nightmare is about to be re-lived all over again.

A woman turns up saying she is Anna Glass and in need of therapy for her schizophrenia. She is a writer and claims that when she begins to write about her characters, they come to life. Recently she has been writing about a young girl who has disappeared during a long illness nobody could cure. Believing he could finally find out the truth about his daughter, Larenz impatiently follows Glass down the paths of her damaged mind in the hope that the truth about Josy will be waiting for him. However, the path he takes with Anna is treacherous and full of dangers.

Review:
'Therapy' is an extraordinary and compelling thriller. I originally read this novel when first published in the UK in 2008. Five years later and another re-read I can state that this novel has lost none of that claustrophobic sensation of impending menace. Dr. Larenz's desperation to discover the fate of his ill child is palpable and at times, heart-wrenching.

This is a weird, bizarre little tale and although the solution may not be original, it is the journey that makes this novel such a thrilling pleasure to read. Fitzek is a fine writer and I am still amazed at how Fitzek through his prose conjures up a creepy atmosphere and makes the island become real and such a potent part of the unfolding drama. You can feel the sands of time slipping away as Josy's father desperately tries to make his way through the labyrinth of Anna's mind to grasp the truth about his daughter's disappearance. The atmosphere is impregnated and intensified by the foreboding storm that threatens to wash away everything with such a huge deluge.

Re-reading this story still managed to send a shiver down the back of my neck as this wicked little tale twists and turns to the dramatic climax. 'Therapy' is a wonderful little conundrum which is incredibly filmic at the same time. I am pleased that Corvus have re-issued Fitzek's first book as it is a marvellous little gem and as Fitzek has had two subsequent books released in the UK, I am hoping that 'Therapy' will reach a much wider audience. I am sure that 'Therapy' will keep you sufficiently chilled during the cold winter nights to come!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Marc Pastor - Barcelona Shadows

"It's a terrifying read, but a bloody good one too."

Synopsis:
1911. Children are going missing in Barcelona. A body is found, twisted, headless, and drained of blood. The locals say a devil is moving in the shadows, spiriting away the innocent. Others believe a vampire is devouring them. To the police, it just means more corpses in a city where death is a daily occurrence. Who cares about the children of prostitutes and thieves?

Inspector Moisès Corvo is jaded, dissolute, yet with a sixth sense, knows something is different this time. To discover the true identity of this monster he must journey through Barcelona's underworld, from high-class brothels to lurid casinos, where there are powerful people who will do anything to stop him.

Review:
'Barcelona Shadows' is possibly the darkest novel I've ever read. It's a bleak noir that paints a very different picture of the Barcelona we see in holiday brochures. This truly is a story of darkness and voyeur. At one point, the narrator of the story warns us about a pending paragraph which goes into gruesome detail of a victim's demise. If you are squeamish, heed this warning. If you read on, brace yourself.

The plot of children going missing is expected to be a dark one but Marc Pastor takes the reader on a journey through the pits of hell. Every character, including the hero Inspector Moisès Carvo, is full of flaws with no redeeming features. However, don't let this put you off. Think of Jack the Ripper and the terror and fear he provoked in Victorian London and you'll get a sense of the atmosphere in this book. It's a terrifying read, but a bloody good one too.

This is Marc Pastor's fourth novel but only his first to be translated into English. Fingers crossed for the others to follow, especially if they're as dark as this one.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth Romero - Means To An End

"...what this book does do very well however is set you up for the rest of the series..."

Synopsis:
For seventeen years Ashby's life has been ruled by the man she calls 'Poppa,' her drunken abusive stepfather. Her mother, finding herself pregnant had been forced into the marriage by her prideful father, a man who exiled her to North Carolina.

When her stepfather's nightly visits to her room culminate in her rape, Ashby realises she alone can change her future, although little was she prepared for the bloody battle, the daring escape and the hardship, courage and cunning it would take to get there.

Review:
'Means to an End' is the debut novel from Elizabeth Romero and the first in a planned trilogy, 'The Redemption Series'.

The story falls into two main parts, the first dealing with the horrific childhood of Ashby Deveraux and the series of events that are to lead to her new life and persona in New Orleans. The second is the blossoming of Ashby, now reborn as Monique Fontaine from a timid teenager, to a resourceful young woman and eventually a wife.

'Means to an End' is a steady read which works well with the pace of change of the main character, although the length of time over which the change takes place is never completely clear and the final epilogue seems to be a catch-all that covers a huge jump in time from where the story finishes to where the next book will pick up.

On the whole it works as a standalone novel if a little clunky in places and is occasionally confusing with the main characters name switching back and forth, what this book does do very well however is set you up for the rest of the series, leaving you with an intriguing curiosity of what will happen to Monique Moreaux and where will she go next.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Wilbur Smith - Vicious Circle

"...I found ‘Vicious Circle’ to be an enthralling romp which by turn moved, invigorated and demanded my attention."

Synopsis:
When Hector Cross's life is overturned, he at once recognises the hand of a ruthless enemy he's faced many times before. A terrorist group has emerged scorpion-like from beneath a rock. Determined to fight back, Cross draws together a team of trusted friends and goes on the offensive. Together they travel to the remotest parts of the Middle East to hunt down Cross's foes.

Cross has a precious newborn daughter who he'll go to any lengths to protect and when he learns of the danger she is in, he moves to strike hard against his enemies.

Review:
'Vicious Circle' sees a return to form for Wilbur Smith after being disappointed by his last novel. He's back to what he does best and that's a grand style adventure novel, filled with gunfire, love, loss and, of course, Africa. From the onset you are made to care about Hector Cross's plight and one particularly brilliant moment moved me almost to the point of tears.

The plotting is strong if a little predictable (I guessed the major plot shifts long before they were told) although this didn't detract any enjoyment for me, as I always like to pit my wits against the author. As ever with Smith's characters nothing is quite as it initially appears although there are clear demarcations between good and evil. Cross is a strong hero in the mould of a modern day Sean Courtney, while Carl is an evil psychotic.

The novel steps away from its main story for at least a hundred pages as Smith introduces a fascinating back story by way of an explanation. Throughout I found 'Vicious Circle' to be an enthralling romp which by turn moved, invigorated and demanded my attention.

Reviewed by: G.S.

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