Click a logo below for more information...
 
 

Reviews

February 2014

Peter Swanson - The Girl With A Clock For A Heart

"This is a ‘read in one sitting’ book..."

Synopsis:
George Foss never thought he'd see her again, but on a late August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack's Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over the Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl's grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece - the one who had committed suicide - was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved - and of the things she may have done to escape her past.

Now, twenty years later, she's back, and she's telling George that he's the only one who can help her.

Review:
The beauty about this set up in a novel is that when faced with an ordinary guy in a difficult situation, you can't help but try and imagine what you might do. And as the story develops you continue to ask yourself that question, meaning you are caught like a fish on the hook and unable to let go till that very last page.

As heroes go George is perfectly ordinary, naïve, a bit of a wimp but with a streak of tenacity that might just see him through to the end of the adventure that has just been imposed on him. The girl of the title is beautiful, intelligent and knows how to wrap everyone she meets round her little finger and the puzzle the author cleverly weaves round this pair will engage the old grey matter till the satisfying conclusion.

This is a 'read in one sitting' book, a welcome distraction from the piles of laundry in the hall cupboard and the dishes in the sink – or is that just me? So indulge yourself with 'The Girl With a Clock for a Heart', take the day off and buckle up for an entertaining and diverting read.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - Stay Alive

"Kernick's books are sheer adrenalin in paper form!"

Synopsis:
You're on a trip with your family, miles from anywhere. A shot rings out - and your whole life changes in an instant. A woman is racing towards you, chased by three gunmen. Although you don't know it, she harbours a deadly secret. She's in terrible danger. And now you are too. No Escape - You're running, terrified, desperate to find safety. You know that the men hunting you have killed before. And if they catch you, you'll be next.

Review:
I am running out of superlatives to hurl at this man. Kernick's books are sheer adrenalin in paper form! 'Stay Alive' sees the return of Mike Bolt and Mo Khan, hunting down a serial killer known as The Disciple. At the latest murder scene, one witness has been left alive. And to keep herself safe, Amanda hides out in a remote part of Scotland until the killer has been caught, but even in a place she thought she was safe, she is being chased by people who want to harm her.

Bolt and Khan's involvement in the plot isn't so much as in previous novels, but this leaves more time to be spent on the other characters. However, more time has been given to Bolt and his past. The story is very cleverly written, making it at times impossible to work out who is chasing who, and for what reason. One character, Scope, plays a very active role and I am wondering if he will make appearances in any future books.

'Stay Alive' is Kernick at his electrifying best. This is a book that cannot be put down once it has been started, and the pace is fast moving from start to finish. The ending may be considered by some as perhaps a little too pat, but the previous 300 pages more than makes up for this. My only complaint (as always with this writer) is that I now have to wait another year before having my next fix of Kernick. 'Stay Alive' is a definite must for all Kernick fans, and a book, I am sure, will garner him even more readers.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.R. Hall - The Burning

"...sparkles with a richly detailed and well researched plot... "

Synopsis:
A bitterly cold fog has settled over the Wye Valley when Bristol Coroner, Jenny Cooper is called to the scene of a dreadful tragedy: in the village of Blackstone Ley, a house has burned to the ground with three members of a family inside.

Though evidence of foul play is quickly uncovered, it isn't long before the police investigation is drawn to a close. It seems certain that the fire was started by one of the victims, Ed Morgan, in a fit of jealous rage. However, their infant son is still missing and Ed had left a message for his surviving wife, Kelly Hart, telling her she would never find their child.

As Jenny prepares the inquest, she finds herself troubled by the official version of events. What could have provoked Ed's murderous rampage? How might the other, guarded inhabitants of the village been involved? And what could the connection be with the mysterious abduction of a little girl ten years ago?

Review:
The sixth novel in the Jenny Cooper series is as sharp and detailed as ever and shows no sign of becoming stale. 'The Burning' sparkles with a richly detailed and well researched plot that does not let up in pace and keeps the reader guessing right until the final paragraph. It is an intelligent thriller; the tightly woven subplots neatly threaded together.

The beauty of the winter, snow covered Bristol landscape, and the quaint village of Blackstone Ley, hide the disturbing and darker aspects of its inhabitants. When the killer is revealed, not only will it come as a surprise, but a cold shiver will run up your spine. As a former journalist I can vouch for the accuracy of the court scenes. I have covered many coroner's inquests and the miasma of emotions from all parties fills the room with dramatic tension and Hall's prose sets the tone just right.

Jenny Cooper is a fantastic creation. Her flaws are beguiling and I could read a whole 400 page novel just about Mrs Cooper and her tormented personal life and still be gripped. Every protagonist needs a sidekick and Jenny has Alison, who, after suffering life threatening injuries at the end of 'The Chosen Dead', has a change of character and we almost see a lighter side to her. Jenny and Alison work well together and I hope that continues in future novels. That's a big hint to M. R. Hall by the way. More novels, please!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nick Stone - The Verdict

"‘The Verdict’ is a great legal thriller with a solid cast."

Synopsis:
Terry Flynt is a struggling legal clerk, desperately trying to get promoted. And then he is given the biggest opportunity of his career: to help defend a millionaire accused of murdering a woman in his hotel suite. The only problem is that the accused man, Vernon James, turns out to be not only someone he knows, but someone he loathes. This case could potentially make Terry's career, but how can he defend a former friend who betrayed him so badly?

With the trial date looming, Terry delves deeper into Vernon's life and is forced to confront secrets from their shared past that could have devastating consequences for them both. For years he has wanted to witness Vernon's downfall, but with so much at stake, how can Terry be sure that he is guilty? And what choices must he make to ensure that justice is done?

Review:
Billed as London's answer to John Grisham, I was keen to see what all the hype surrounding Stone was about. This is Stone's fourth novel, although this is the first not to feature Max Mingus.

Terry Flynt is a recovering alcoholic and a failed law student. I am unable to put my finger on the reason, but something held me back from truly liking this character. Flynt is now working as a clerk in a law firm who are representing someone from his past. There is a lot of detail as to what happened in the past, giving explanation for the characters actions and decisions, and their routes in life. It was interesting to see the 'inside' of the British legal profession, and how this works, although it did seem to be rather more 'polite' than any American version I've ever read.

The plot is spread over nearly six decades and two continents with some characters returning throughout this time, although the guilt and motive for the key players is not revealed until later on. 'The Verdict' is a great legal thriller with a solid cast. There is not a completely 'happy ever after' which means the ending was not predictable. I really felt pulled in to this book and it kept me gripped until the final page. Maybe the Grisham label is a little ambitious, but nevertheless, 'The Verdict' comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hans Koppel - You're Mine Now

"...there is no way you are going to put this book down."

Synopsis:
Anna and Marcus are a happily married couple with a ten year old daughter, until in a moment of madness while away at a work conference Anna begins a brief fling with the young and handsome, Eric.

When she realises the affair can't go on, Anna tries to end it but Eric has other plans, going to extreme lengths in order to maintain Anna's interest and attention. As his actions become darker and more dangerous, Anna turns to her mother for help and unwittingly forces Eric into making a mistake, one that ensures that when he is cornered the consequences will be fatal.

Review:
Hans Koppel begins 'You're Mine Now', with one of the catchiest openings I have read in quite some time, and one which ensures that there is no way you are going to put this book down.

What follows is a captivating thriller that really puts you in Anna's shoes. As the tension ratchets up and Eric inserts himself into her life in increasingly menacing ways, you cannot help but feel the same suffocating sense of fear that comes with being in a stalkers grip.

'You're Mine Now' is one of those entertaining reads that will keep you engrossed, and whilst there are just one or two small places where the translation doesn't quite gel, it certainly wasn't enough to spoil either my enjoyment or the story itself in any way at all.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter May - Entry Island

"...great characterisation, extensive research and a well woven plot."

Synopsis:
Sime Mackenzie is a Sergeant Enqueteur in the Surete in Montreal, a detective sergeant in English. As he is fluent in English and French he is attached to a new team who are investigating a murder in the Isles de la Madeleine, a French speaking area generally, but the murder has been committed on a solely English speaking island. It is a difficult assignment for Sime as his ex-wife is also on the team and relations are not good. In addition Sime is suffering badly from insomnia and is highly stressed and not functioning to his best ability.

When he meets the victim's wife he is convinced that he knows her but she does not know him. As the story advances other strange coincidences emerge. Parallel to the Canadian story we hear of another Sime Mackenzie living in Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides around the time of the Clearances. Powerful landlords forcibly removed the long established islanders from their simple houses in order to make money from sheep farming. Many of these unfortunate people were sent, in terrible conditions to the colonies, including Canada. The elder Sime's simple life and his encounters with the laird's daughter echo down the past and are felt in the present.

Review:
I was introduced to Peter May's writing with 'The Blackhouse' and I was completely hooked. I love his writing about Lewis in the present with its loving detail of the life and characters so I was a little cautious of this new book after the brilliant 'Lewis trilogy'. Thankfully, all fears were unfounded and quickly dispelled! In 'Entry Island', May extends his remit to cover the island around the time of the Clearances. I have always known about the horrific actions of the landlords at that time but the vivid descriptions of the acts and particularly of the emotions raised really brought it all to life for me.

The main story of course is about modern day Canada and the descendants of those islanders who left their home to start a new life. Again the character of the modern Sime is beautifully described as he struggles with his insomnia and unfinished business with his ex-wife. The strange atmosphere of the island and the secrets that are hidden there, interlaced with the tensions arising from working with his ex wife all add to the stress under which Sime is working. May cleverly hints and drops clues to the relationship between Sime and the chief suspect but it is only at the very end that we learn how important that is to solving the mystery. This was a very satisfying read including great characterisation, extensive research and a well woven plot.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Celia Fremlin - Don't Go To Sleep In The Dark

"Each tale is a glittering gem."

Synopsis:
Here are thirteen short stories featuring a variety of situations that deal with madness, love and hate, splattered with the odd ghost story for good measure. As with Fremlin's novels, these normally take place in the homestead and she takes the everyday and makes it starkly menacing.

Review:
I love Fremlin's novels but I feel it is in her short stories where she really let's rip. I know that short stories aren't everyone's cup of tea, but it depends if the writer can write a good short story or not. Fremlin excels at this art and she could show many different aspects of human nature in a few pages. Fremlin was not adverse to holding up a mirror and showing the absurdity of people's behaviour, their paranoia.

In 'The Betrayal' Fremlin has her tongue wedged firmly in her cheek as the female lead who intends to delay a death actually hastens it; and all due to her own vanity. 'Last Day of Spring' is a theme re-visited many times by Fremlin: growing old. Here she delivers a poignant tale that tugs at the heart strings. 'For Ever Fair' takes us to the other end of the spectrum and deals with the issue of the longevity of beauty. Again, this acid drop is tinged with a precise wisp of humour. 'The Hated House' is the one that has stayed in my mind the most over the years. This poignant tale wrestles with the issue of mothers and daughters and shows that even after death, parent and child can finally come to an understanding. Each tale is a glittering gem.

What I love about Fremlin is that she never treated her readers as stupid. There is some element in every story that will make you think, turn it over in your mind and in some cases, make you turn back and re-read it all over again. These stories are perfect for that train journey and it is wonderful that they are again about to be re-discovered by a whole new audience.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hans Koppel - She's Never Coming Back

"Compelling and creepy."

Synopsis:
Ylva didn't know if she was going out for drinks after work, and that uncertainty was what helped seal her fate. Ylva never came home that night and her husband, already mistrustful after an earlier affair by his wife, assumed a return to past mistakes. But as hours turn into days, he becomes frantic and calls the police who as the days become weeks, make him their number one suspect.

What no one knows is that Ylva is watching it all. Every day she sees the impact on her family through a camera aimed at her house, providing a constant live feed into her prison, the cellar of the house across the street from her own.

Review:
With its economical style of writing, and directness of it story 'She's Never Coming Back' is a quick and easy book to read, but don't be put off, there really is far more to it than that.

Mike and Ylva are not the usual happily married couple often portrayed in similar stories. They are broken, brought down by the simple day by day existence of a marriage between a free spirit and a down to earth man. It is this fragile relationship that helps make the story work, by almost encouraging the 'indifferent and quick to judge' attitude of the police and Mike's own acceptance of how life must move on.

From the Cruelty of Children, and the sadness of a failing marriage, to the grief of unexpected loss, and the intoxicating pull of revenge, 'She's Never Coming Back' touches on the dark places in us all. Compelling and creepy.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.C. Beaton - Something Borrowed, Someone Dead

"Beaton is marvellous at creating characters of the weird variety..."

Synopsis:
Piddlebury is a sleepy village very close to Agatha's own beloved Carsely, but it harbours a menacing serial killer. Gloria French was an incomer and had only been living in Piddlebury for a year. She had started off making friends and raising money for the church before people caught on to her irritating habit: Gloria liked to 'borrow' things. Sometimes she would borrow them and never return them, other times she would simply help herself to others belongings. So someone removed her altogether.

Review:
I have enjoyed the Agatha Raisin series, obviously some more than others. This latest offering was thin in size as well as in plot and I felt it didn't really get off the ground. In the past, despite Agatha's bumbling, there has been some direction which was sadly lacking in Beaton's latest. The investigation itself appeared stretched even though the book comes in at under 200 pages. Beaton is marvellous at creating characters of the weird variety and many populate her latest, but it didn't seem to gel well at all.

I felt we were given a number of vignettes that appeared to repeat themselves over time in one form or another. Agatha is anything but subtle, but here I felt that Beaton was labouring the point of Agatha's rudeness. There were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough to save this book. This is a book that is for serious diehard Raisin fans, but even then some may feel disappointed. Let's hope the next case is juicier and gives Agatha back her bite!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson - Gone

"Michael Bennett is one of the better series… from under the ever-growing Patterson umbrella."

Synopsis:
Michael Bennett of the NYPD is in hiding with his ten kids, nanny and Father Seamus. They have been spirited away under the witness protection program to keep them safe from the drug baron, Manuel Perrine after he escaped jail. But Perrine is on his own crusade and is declaring war on the drug Cartels that snubbed him – and now he has declared war on the United States.

Bennett who knows Perrine well, as it is was he who killed Perrine's wife whilst trying to capture the man, is called back in to action. His family understand but, in his absence, has Bennett left his family vulnerable and in the crossfire of killers fulfilling the orders of a madman?

Review:
Michael Bennett is one of the better series that has recently come out from under the ever-growing Patterson umbrella. The premise was promising and Perrine a suitably heinous villain who wouldn't look out of place in a Bond movie. Ledwidge (let's be honest it is Ledwidge doing the actual writing here) moves the story on at a good pace when detailing the assassins who take out most of the drug lords across the US. As always, there is great detail about guns and a lot of product placement re: watches, sunglasses, etc. which is superfluous and can easily be skipped. The moments with the Bennett family, I felt were too detailed and slowed down the whole story. Once we had milked the cow for the sixth time, I felt I was allowed to skip these intimate dealings of the Bennett family.

As with all Patterson books, you can spot a mile off who isn't going to reach the end of the book alive. You can literally see the 'X' daubed on their forehead where the bullet is going to enter! The journey was more exciting than the conclusion, which was anti-climactic. Perrine had shown his prowess and intelligence by plotting everything out to perfection and was sending shivers of dread down the spine of the US Army. Then, within five pages, Perrine is captured by Bennett and then dispatched by some random Mexican policeman! Please! A very ignoble ending for such a grand character. Even the Bond villain is given a dramatic exit so Perrine was cheated! 'Gone' was diverting but ultimately disappointing. I expect more from Patterson. If anyone wants to read a Bennett try 'Step on a Crack' which is brilliant.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: