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Reviews

March 2014

John Dufresne - No Regrets, Coyote

"Wylie is too good a character to restrict to a standalone."

Synopsis:
It's Christmas Eve in Eden, Florida, the weather is balmy, and Wylie 'Coyote' Melville, therapist and amateur forensic expert, gets a call from his colleague Carlos O'Brien of the Eden Police Department. Five bodies have been discovered in a house – four murders and a suicide. Could Coyote attend? Coyote says yes, but is at odds with the police reading of the situation. Chafin Halliday seemingly murdered his wife and three kids, then turned the gun on himself, and the police are happy with that. Coyote isn't, so starts his own investigation and finds his life in danger. He has other problems as well. His father has Alzheimer's, his ex-girlfriend has signed him up to a dating agency, and a young vagrant is camping out on his front lawn.

Review:
Though not a laugh-out-loud read, this book is still deliciously funny, even though its subject matter is gruesome and bloody. Wylie does not drive the narrative, but rather the things that happen to him that are beyond his control. But he is dogged and persevering, which coupled with an air of resignation about what life throws at him, drives the book's comedy.

He is forever being rescued by his best friend Bay Lettique, a card-sharp with a streak of honesty, a sense of fairness, and links to some shady, dangerous characters. And Dufresne throws in another complication – Officer Shanks of the Eden PD, whom Wylie witnesses stealing a watch from the Halliday crime scene. He reports the theft, and from then on Shanks is hell-bent on framing him for some misdemeanour or other.

The action moves from the sunshine of Florida at Christmas to the snows of Alaska – a nice touch which contrasts Wylie's original laid-back, pleasant life in Florida to the dangers he now faces. There is one scene in Alaska – on a frozen lake – which is as taught and tense as anything I have read.

The book is written in the first person, and throughout the narrative he keeps up a constant internal monologue on loyalty, betrayal and life in general. There must surely be a series of novels on Wylie 'Coyote' Melville. Wylie is too good a character to restrict to a standalone.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mel Sheratt - Watching Over You

"...plotting and pace of the novel were both first class..."

Synopsis:
Following the tragic death of her husband and unborn child, Charley Belington sells the family home and tries to start her life over. On moving into a new flat, she is befriended by her landlady, Ella who seems like the perfect friend and confidante.

Unknown to Charley, Ella is fighting her own dark and dirty demons, as the fallout from a horrific childhood causes her unspeakable obsessions to drive her insane.

As Ellla's mind splinters, her increasingly bizarre behaviour makes Charley uneasy. Every step Charley takes to distance herself from Ella backfires, as Ella's obsessions become more and more intense.

Review:
'Watching Over You' is not a crime novel in the traditional sense of the term, instead it is a novel which features horrific crimes almost as an afterthought. A traditional crime novel would start half way through this tale with someone (Cop/PI/Everyman) investigating, whereas Sherratt has chosen to show us the mind of the perpetrator and the disturbing thoughts which drive her onwards.

Both Ella and Charley are convincing characters who are drawn with realism and deft touches, yet this is really Ella's story. The depiction of her descent into madness was chilling and the way Sherratt drew back the curtains on Ella's psychoses entranced me as I turned pages with the glee of a confirmed rubbernecker approaching a motorway pileup.

The plotting and pace of the novel were both first class and I look forward to reading more of Mel Sherratt.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stuart MacBride - Completely Wholesome Adventures of Skeleton Bob

"...there’s no reason not to buy this book."

Synopsis:
Skeleton Bob is an illustrated children's novel whose profits all go towards the Million for a Morgue campaign.

http://www.millionforamorgue.com/

Review:
With three stories written and illustrated by MacBride, this is a children's book which works for both children and adults alike.

Written in the rhyming style of Dr Seuss, Skeleton Bob's stories are quirky, funny and deliciously dark without any of the tongue-twisting nonsense beloved by the irritating Seuss.

My nine year-old son initially refused to read this book (He's only interested in the Beast Quest series and shuns all other suggested reads) but when he saw me reading it, he snuggled in beside me and started reading with me. Eventually the book was taken from my hands, so I just sat back and watched his smile broaden as he read the story and engaged with the accompanying illustrations.

With entertainment for kids and adults alike and all the proceeds going to a worthy cause, there's no reason not to buy this book.

Reviewed by D.S. (With a little bit of dad's help)

Reviewed by: D.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elisabeth Elo - North of Boston

"Haunting, emotive and compelling..."

Synopsis:
Pirio Kasparov is a survivor. When the fishing boat she was on in the North Atlantic is rammed by a freighter she finds herself abandoned and alone in the freezing waters for nearly four hours before she is rescued. Pirio's friend, Ned, is not so lucky. He disappears without a trace.

As Pirio becomes suspicious that the boat's sinking was not the accident she believed, she begins to unravel a lethal plot that will lead her to whale grounds of Northern Canada, teach. To survive she must overcome a deadly betrayal from someone in her past, and, most importantly, learn to trust her own instincts above all else.

Review:
Haunting, emotive and compelling, 'North of Boston' is an amazing tale and an incredibly strong debut novel that begins on the East coast of America, and culminates in the dark and atmospheric whaling waters of Northern Canada. When we meet protagonist Pirio she is just coming to terms with the loss of her friend, and her own inexplicable survival. It is only as she pushes to find out who is responsible for the tragedy that the realisation there may have been more to it than a simple accident slowly begins to dawn.

One of the best things about 'North of Boston', was its pace, as realistic and true to life as its heroine, it ensures the storyline is intense but not rushed. Elisabeth Elo has written this book so well that your own curiosity is piqued at every turn as Pirio's investigations continue. I found myself urging her onward as she progressed through the mystery, and I even caught myself vocalising these thoughts as the book continued. In Pirio Kasparov the author has created a delightful, tenacious and determined heroine that I would certainly like to know more about.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - The Lawless Kind

"...for those looking for a shot of pulse-pounding escapism."

Synopsis:
Ex-counterterrorist soldier, Joe Hunter has been called to Mexico to bring an end to a cartel that preys on the people they smuggle across the US border. Once the mission's ended, however, Joe's mission leader and mentor, CIA Black Ops director Walter Hayes Conrad, confesses that the bloody mission is not the real reason Joe has been summoned south of the border.

For years, Walter has kept the details of his private life - especially his family - secret from everyone, even his closest friends. But disaster has struck: his great-grandson Benjamin has been abducted, kidnapped by Walter's sworn enemy, the leader of one of Mexico's largest drug cartels. Walter will do whatever it takes to get the boy back. And he knows Hunter is the man for the job. But there's one complication - the drug boss just happens to be Benjamin's father.

Review:
'The Lawless Kind' has to be Hilton's fastest paced novel to date, from start to finish the action rockets along like a thundering rollercoaster. Never once did I find a place where I could put the book down without picking it right back up again.

Joe Hunter is as deadly as ever and while the action levels leave little time for introspection, Hilton manages to address necessary issues through dialogue between Hunter and his friend Rink. The child's mother Kirstie Long is a fine creation but Hunter dominates the story as he takes on all comers.

While the plotting could have been too straightforward at times, the author has added twists and duplicity to muddy the waters of a torrentially fast flowing story. I cannot recommend 'The Lawless Kind' highly enough for those looking for a shot of pulse-pounding escapism.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Luke Delaney - The Toy Taker

"...a bold, dark story and a cold, frightening finale. "

Synopsis:
A child has been taken, snatched from his home in the dead of night. The abductor has left no trace of ever having been there; no forced entry, no evidence.

DI Sean Corrigan and his team are moved to New Scotland Yard to head the new Special Investigations Unit. Their remit is to investigate the high profile crimes which generate the greatest media interest.

In the eyes of the higher ranking uniforms, this is the perfect case for Corrigan; his unique ability to get inside the head of the criminal should have the child found in no time. Unfortunately, his great powers seem to have abandoned him and it isn't long before a second child is abducted and a third turns up dead.

Corrigan is in a race against time, against his superiors and against himself before another child is taken, or worse, before the remaining missing children are found dead. All eyes are on Corrigan.

Review:
A story of child addiction and murder can sometimes descend into melodrama and be brutal for the sake of brutality. Luke Delaney has managed to 'toe the line' and his story is, as you'd expect, dark and disturbing without becoming voyeuristic. The first chapter is subtle yet chilling and will leave you breathless. 'The Toy Taker' may only be Delaney's third novel but his prose, use of dialogue and attention to detail flow like a seasoned professional.

However, Delaney is in a difficult position. As a former detective sergeant he knows the ins and outs of a murder investigation. It would have been easy for him to get tied up with the banality of an investigation crime writers leave out but he hasn't done that. His books are littered with throwaway lines and comments of procedure only a detective would know and it adds a touch of chilling realism to the story.

His creation, Detective Inspector Sean Corrigan is a highly original one; an officer with a gift of being able to get inside the head of the criminal, to see and feel exactly how he does by examining the crime scene. He reminds me of Fitz from Cracker and Will Graham from Hannibal and Corrigan is suitably flawed by his gift.

The many twists and turns of the story will keep you guessing until the final chapter and you will feel Corrigan's frustration as the evidence eludes him and the abductor manages to stay one step ahead. This is a brilliant novel with genuine, likeable characters, a bold, dark story and a cold, frightening finale.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Green - A Union Not Blessed

"...I found it all quite fascinating."

Synopsis:
It is 1805 in the young country of America. Thomas Jefferson is about to begin his second term of office but he no longer has Aaron Burr as his Vice President. A clever and ambitious man, Burr plots to gain back power and influence at the expense of his former colleague. A US general in charge of the US army in New Orleans also has ambition to move into a position of power. Sebastian Francisco de Miranda, a swashbuckling South American adventurer is looking for allies to help him establish his South American dream. To complete the melting pot, representatives of Britain twist and turn to pursue the aim of restricting the new country of the United States from expanding. In to this maelstrom walks the honest and innocent Macleod, a Boston lawyer, newly married and concerned for the happiness of his young wife, Marie.

Macleod visits New York to visit an old friend and in doing so finds himself sucked unwillingly into a complete web of intrigue, plotting, lies and counter lies. More by luck than by judgement he escapes a series of dangerous episodes and travels across America to New Orleans, joined at one point by his wife who displays a considerable amount of courage and initiative in helping Macleod escape from yet another tricky situation.

Review:
Macleod is a complete innocent abroad, and is slow to understand the perfidy of almost everyone he meets. Life is cheap and every group works only to pursue the aims of their cause or their own advancement. 'A Union Not Blessed' is an enlightening tale of the raw passion and convictions of those involved in the development of the United States and I found it all quite fascinating. Many of the characters were real people, although I imagine that the details of the action are largely fictional.

Political subterfuge and jockeying for power has been around for a very long time and I enjoyed the description of the 'secret service' of both Great Britain and the United States. This is one of those books that not only tempts you back to read a quick page or two at any available moment, but makes you think, 'if only' and how things in today's world would have been entirely different if some of these people had managed to get their own way. A brilliant follow-up from Green's first in the series, 'Another Small Kingdom'.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Margie Orford - Water Music

"...this South African writer has served up a crime treat sure to satisfy even the most demanding of readers."

Synopsis:
A terrified, frozen child is found close to death on an icy Cape Town mountainside. But no-one reported her missing. Where does she come from? Who does she belong to? Profiler Dr Clare Hart is baffled - but when a young woman disappears, Clare sees a frightening pattern beginning to emerge.

Rosa is a gifted but troubled young cellist, and her grandfather is at his wits end. Why did she walk out of her music school that day? Where has she gone now?

As winter tightens its grip, Clare must find Rosa and unravel her secrets… all the while carrying a secret of her own.

Review:
Ever since I heard Maggie Orford speaking at Harrogate Crime Fiction Festival she has been on my list of authors to check out and boy am I glad I got round to reading this book, cos this South African writer has served up a crime treat sure to satisfy even the most demanding of readers.

Her main character, Dr Clare Hart is a fascinating invention and someone you will be happy spending your spare time with. Like all good investigators she is dogged and determined and not put off by the politically motivated and frankly corrupt colleagues who are equally determined to throw her off track. This aspect aside, there is something endearing about Hart – a carefully detailed back story that makes her spring from the page and into your conscience.

The crime itself is one that will shock and disturb and one that sits in a well of truth. And given Hart's background it is one that she is more determined than ever to get to the bottom of.

Maggie Orford is also an excellent plotter and she brings together all the strands with ease, creating a 'will they or won't they' scenario that will have you nibbling at your nails. My advice; make sure you have a comfy chair to sit on while reading this on, cos you will be on its edge.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Unger - In The Blood

"By the time I had completed reading the first page I struggled to put this book down until it was finished."

Synopsis:
Lana Granger is a liar. She has told so many lies about where she comes from and who she is that even she can't remember the truth.

Eleven year old Luke lies to play games. He is used to controlling people in his life. But now that Lana has taken a part time job looking after him, he may have met his match.

Then Lana's best friend Beck goes missing and Lana finds herself lying again - to friends, to the police, to herself. But someone knows all about Lana's lies. And they are dying to tell.

Review:
By the time I had completed reading the first page I struggled to put this book down until it was finished.

The book is written in the first person from Lana's perspective and also from the journal entries, breaking the chapters and leaving the reader on a cliff's edge. 'In the Blood' is one of those books that gets you so absorbed that I got carried away with the story and missed all the clues given by the author. So much so that I had to go back and re-read when I finally realised where the plot was leading. With her latest, Unger is able to keep the suspense going from start to finish.

However, this book didn't quite make being a 5 star review only due to the tenuous motive for the crime. I feel there was the potential for the person responsible to be given more depth and reasons for their actions which were never fully explained. Having said that 'In the Blood' is still a great read and well worth investigating. Highly entertaining.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jochem Vandersteen - The Shamus Sampler

"I’ve long been a fan of private eye stories..."

Synopsis:
Private Eye fiction isn't dead. It's alive and walking down the mean streets of your town or city.

Popular names such as Reed Farrel Coleman, Bill Crider, James Winter, Fred Zackel, J.L. Abramo, Keith Dixon, Jochem Vandersteen, Sean Dexter and newer names like Kit Rohrbacher, Peter DiChellis and others, have all contributed a story to this private eye anthology.

Review:
I've long been a fan of private eye stories, to the extent that I've written one or two myself. One of them was even deemed good enough to be included in this tome of fantastic vignettes.

The array of characters and situations is perfect for bite sized reading, as each of the authors tells their stories in a way which is not only succinct but direct. While it would be unfair to single out any author in particular, Kit Rohrbacher deserves a special mention for the way she integrated a wonderful back story. All in all, this anthology of private eye tales deserves the attention of the public's eyes.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane

"This magical tale had me completely under its spell!"

Synopsis:
It all started when the new lodger decided to steal his landlord's Mini and commit suicide in it at the end of the lane. When a seven year-old boy and his father discover the tragedy, the boy is introduced to Lettie Hempstock who takes her back to the farm she shares with her mother, Ginnie and her grandmother who is simply known as 'Old Mother Hempstock'. The old lady claims to remember 'The Big Bang' and Lettie shows him the ocean in their garden. It looks more like a duck pond, but Lettie is adamant that looks can be deceiving.

The death of the lodger appears to have unleashed an ancient evil and unbeknownst to the boy, he has brought the evil in to his parent's house. That is when he desperately calls for the help and protection of Lettie Hempstock.

Review:
This book was voted by the public as the book of 2013 in the National Book Awards which is high praise, indeed. And I can understand why it romped home and collected the prize!

This book is a marvel to read. There is a sense of wonder as the author conjures such beautiful and menacing scenes and delivers a fully formed story in so few pages. In half of what it takes many to start a story, Gaiman paints a rich tapestry of childhood, innocence, the ending of innocence, the discovery of evil and realising that even your parents are not who you thought they were!

Gaiman transported me back to childhood so fluidly that it wasn't until the end that I realised that he doesn't even name the boy who is central to the whole tale. I believe that Gaiman wanted the boy to represent all of us. The boy likes Batman and for me, I WAS that boy. I returned to the boy I was who loved Batman and bought The Dandy every week. I am sure it is the same for every other reader who voted for this title that they too felt that strong echo across the years.

The magic element of this tale goes hand in glove with Gaiman's fable of childhood having its eyes opened by the thoughtlessness of adulthood. This tale sings its heart out and the emotions ripple like the ocean in Lettie Hempstock's garden. This will, for me, remain as one of those books that takes your breath away by the sheer poetry created by Gaiman's prose, by the broad strokes of his pen that define the blue of the ocean, the green hues of Old Mother Hempstock and the black of the field at night whilst being chased by a demon. This is one of those books that make all your senses of taste, touch, sight fly off the scale. This magical tale had me completely under its spell!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Karen Heard - It's Dark Inside

"...six literary ‘amuse-bouche’ which are well worth trying out."

Synopsis:
This is a collection of six stories ranging from a macabre fantasy in a lighthouse, the curtain falling on the last of a species of the animal kingdom, a mutation on a train and a ghost story. These six and very different stories highlight a writer learning her chosen craft.

'The Lighthouse' is a bizarre tale of a woman kept in the lighthouse, brought up by her parents and away from society. It is this being shielded that leads to an act of revenge. Heard brings an apocalyptic feel to the narrative and her sense of place is strong here as is the woman's desperation as her solitude begins to crush her.

'Out of Order' chronicles the start of what could be an outbreak of apocalyptic proportions whilst 'Inside' is another tale of ghostly happenings in an isolated house.

Review:
This is a peculiar collection. It appears that Heard is 'taste testing' her writing skills, deciding which genre she prefers. These not so little morsels are a mixed bag and some work whilst others don't quite hit the mark.

For me my favourite was 'The Lighthouse' where Heard brilliantly conveys the woman's solitary confinement mixed with a dash of the Brothers Grimm. The woman's distress inside the train toilet in 'Out of Order' gradually builds and Heard subtly relays the woman's growing hysteria. The spooky tale, 'Inside' sent shivers up my spine, again due to Heard's marvellous descriptive powers, although the resolution of this tale fell a little flat in my opinion.

There are some continuity issues and minor contradictions that should have been cleared up by an editor or proof reader. One particular point is in 'Snap' when an elephant is shot in the eye and only two small paragraphs later the elephant's 'eyes follow me accusingly'. It would have been more powerful if Heard had described the remaining eye following her protagonist. Maybe I'm nit-picking but these silly mistakes would have been easily rectified. Also, the author needs to incorporate dialogue, however brief, to break up her prose.

Each story is like an 'amuse-bouche' which is well worth trying out. As for the author herself, I feel she needs to find her most comfortable genre and stick to it. For me, on the basis of 'The Lighthouse' and 'Out of Order' which are the strongest stories, I feel she should definitely gravitate towards fantasy. What is apparent is that Karen Heard can write, and very well indeed and at 77p on Kindle these stories are definitely worth a try until you can savour a novel by this author.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - Harbour Street

"...another brilliant addition to an already addictive and highly anticipated series."

Synopsis:
Murder comes much closer to home when the victim is discovered on a busy Metro train by the young daughter of Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth. It is nearly Christmas and Vera is guiltily relieved to have an excuse to avoid the general festivities.

The victim is an elegant older woman with no apparent enemies. The crime took place on a busy train yet there are no witnesses: a difficult problem for Vera who dives in with relish and revisits a place very familiar to her from her childhood.

The inhabitants of Harbour Street are a close knit community and are keeping many pieces of important information to themselves. The death of a vulnerable woman adds to the mystery, but Vera is convinced there is a connection. Balancing the management of her team with her own desire to be hands on and follow her intuition, DI Stanhope succeeds in tracking down the rather surprising killer.

Review:
As always, Ann Cleeves delivers a beautifully written story which completely engages the reader from beginning to end. Vera Stanhope is now a very familiar figure as a result of the TV series and the picture of Brenda Blethyn as the doughty Vera cannot be forgotten, but Vera is a well thought out and engaging character. Her foibles are entertaining and the other characters interact extremely well. They are all an on-going story that moves on from book to book.

In this book the plot engages from the beginning. Who is this affluent and genteel woman living in a down at heel part of town? It is her history that provides the clues to her own murder. Ann Cleeves is particularly good at drawing believable characters and reading their motives to drive the action. I thoroughly enjoyed 'Harbour Street' which is another brilliant addition to an already addictive and highly anticipated series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeff Abbott - Downfall

"...an enjoyable read..."

Synopsis:
Janice Keene is a good mother. She will do what she must to ensure that her daughter, Diana has a perfect life, just as perfect as the one they've led for the past seven years. No matter who has to die.

The simplest beginnings can unravel a life. For Sam Capra, it is the moment a beautiful young woman walks into his San Francisco bar. Sam doesn't want trouble. An ex-CIA agent, his only desire now is to build a quiet, peaceful home for himself and his infant son. But Diana Keene is no ordinary customer. She's pursued by two gunmen, and when she finds Sam, she whispers an urgent, desperate plea: 'Help me.'

Review:
Ex-CIA, Sam Capra returns for his third outing in Abbott's latest book, 'Downfall'. Sam is still managing the bars on behalf of the Round Table, an altruistic organisation of influential people that have grouped together to keep the world safe from others that may wish to do harm. 'Downfall' raises the questions of not only how far would a person go to become successful, but also what would they do to maintain that success and keep their family safe.

Although the plot is fast paced and sees Sam Capra take on those that are trying to harm him, I felt the plot not as believable as it could have been. Whilst it may be possible there are people in the world who are able to help others as John Belias has helped, somehow it lacked any plausibility. The book was still an enjoyable read, as are all books written by Abbott. However, I feel that perhaps Capra either needs to save the world on a less grand scale, or even be retired. Sam is an ideal protagonist - quick thinking, inventive and able to adapt. And whilst I would like to see him return, unless the story lines become somewhat simpler, I feel he will lose his way and become nothing more than a parody.

To be able to fully understand what is happening and why to Sam and his colleagues, it would be beneficial to read the previous two novels that feature Capra. There is a lot of history between him and Mila, together with his Round Table connections that are only briefly mentioned in 'Downfall'. Any newcomer may not understand Capra's reasoning behind his actions.

Overall I found 'Downfall' to be an easy book to read, and one that I was unable to put down although I was left with a slight taste of disappointment with the ending. I am hopeful the next book from Abbott brings him back up to his usual high standard.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kevin Ramsey - The Andersen Plan

"...so brutally imagined that it could genuinely happen."

Synopsis:
2022. Britain's economy is in severe decline and hundreds of young unemployed men are leaving to try their luck in the Australian outback in the booming mining sector. Eventually Australia starts to experience its own economic problems. Soon, reports of Britons being beaten up, robbed and even murdered begin to surface.

John Foster, an ambitious newspaper reporter working for The Sun is determined to find out what is happening and who is behind it. He teams up with an Australian country detective who is seeing too many deaths in his area. Together they set out to solve the mystery despite government indifference in both countries.

Review:
A work of fiction set in the future can sometimes fill you with dread. It is very difficult to get right without descending into over-the-top fantasy. However, there are no hover boards here. This is so brutally imagined that it could genuinely happen. The opening chapters set the scene and use the 2008 global economic meltdown as a starting point. When the story moves past the present day we are informed that Britain's problems increase and the economy is on its knees.

The story of young men seeking a better life and fortune in Australia is not a new one but is given an almost dystopian feel by the bleak picture Kevin Ramsey paints of the homeland. It is well researched and the description of both counties is accurate and written with confidence. The characters all work well, and even the bit players are fleshed out enough to be real people.

I did find the dialogue quite clunky in places and the constant questioning of whether characters wanted a cup of tea and coffee became tedious. However, the short chapters and fast-paced narrative moves the story along briskly. Having being warned of the dangers of the killer throughout the book I was hoping for more of a showdown but it was a satisfying end to a dark story.

This is Ramsey's debut novel and is self-published. Although the story and pace is very good I was distracted by the layout. There are no set out paragraphs and a good proofread would have made this a first rate book.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Lelic - The Child Who

"This harrowing novel combines all the elements of a crime story with a clinical examination of justice and revenge."

Synopsis:
Leo Curtice is a solicitor. He has a comfortable life; he is happily married to Megan; and he has a teenage daughter called Ellie whom he adores. Then a murder is committed which will change his life forever. Twelve-year-old Daniel Blake has sexually assaulted and murdered his schoolmate Felicity Forbes. Leo takes on the case. He says he is not defending Daniel, but representing him and offering him justice. He also sees that Daniel has to be understood if a similar crime is not to happen again. This makes no difference to certain sections of the community who are baying for vengeance. Gradually, Leo's life falls apart. He receives threatening letters. He becomes estranged from Megan, and Ellie is bullied at school. Finally, Ellie herself goes missing.

Review:
To call this book entertaining is, in some ways, to trivialise it, though it is indeed a page-turner. It owes its existence, as Simon Lelic admits, to the James Bulger case. It explores how some people can't differentiate between justice and revenge. And as Daniel's guilt is beyond question, there is no 'it turns out he didn't do it after all' twist at the end. However, Leo also sees the case as a means of advancing his own career. Because of this, Megan accuses him of putting his career before his family and it's from this point that the marriage disintegrates.

But when Ellie disappears, Leo finds himself siding with those people who seek revenge. He would gladly kill the person who did it. And therein lies the thrust of this book – who, when faced with the death of someone close, would not choose vengeance over justice? The denouement is surprising, though there is one clue in the book that leads you to it. I myself saw the clue, but mistakenly thought it was a minor fault in Lelic's wording. That is good writing. This harrowing novel combines all the elements of a crime story with a clinical examination of justice and revenge. Some people may find it uncomfortable reading, but that is surely one of the duties of good writing – to take people out of their comfort zones.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating: