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Reviews

May 2014

Michael Fowler - Black and Blue

"...a carefully crafted selection of short vignettes..."

Synopsis:
Tormented by the recent bloody murder of his first love, teenager, Hunter Kerr, has but one ambition – bring her killer to justice. The realisation for him is that in order to do so, he has to become a cop. And, so he embarks on a career which will bring him closer to her investigation. Though, he has other cases to manage as well, including the brutal attack on an elderly and frail woman, which leaves her at death's door. Throwing himself into the investigation, little does Hunter realise that the hunt for her attacker will take him a step closer to being a murder detective.

Review:
'Black and Blue' is a carefully crafted selection of short vignettes detailed the formative period of Hunter Kerr's early days in the police. Packed with authenticity and procedural detail, I found it to be an entertaining read which gave a glimpse into the life of a good and decent man. The more I read about Hunter Kerr, the more I want to spend time in his company.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - Preternatural

"...tight plotting and an Oscar winning performance from his lead."

Synopsis:
One man, two minds. One is a killer, but is the other insane?

On the remote Connor's Island in the North Atlantic, archaeologists unearthing an ancient Viking settlement have loosed a curse upon the land. People are dying, and everyone is in fear of the Haugbonde and his monstrous servant, the Skeklar.

To catch a monster you must think like a monster. Carter Bailey is the unfortunate vessel of two spirits: his own and that of his dead brother 'Cash', a serial killer who murdered Carter's wife and unborn child. Most people think Carter delusional, and he suspects they are most likely correct. Only one man, horror writer Paul Broom, believes that Carter is blessed with abilities bordering on the supernatural.

Is the curse true, is a creature out of legend killing the people of Conn, or is the murderer firmly entrenched in the real world? Which begs another question: is Carter Bailey as crazy as he thinks, or is he a man with astonishing powers and the ability to sniff out evil? Mad or blessed with powers, it doesn't matter, it's down to Carter - both hindered and helped by Cash - to end the Skeklar's hellish reign of terror.

Review:
Normally I run a mile from anything with a hint of supernatural (unless it's written by Mo Hayder) but a friend persuaded me I should read this book and I'm glad I listened to him. The set-up is very reminiscent of certain Alistair Maclean books, where a trouble soul travels to a remote location to help out a friend.

The mayhem which unfolds around Carter Bailey is but a sideshow to the real story which is his internal battle. With shades of Dr Jekyll inhabiting his character, Hilton somehow finds a way to weave doubt into the reader's mind with tight plotting and an Oscar winning performance from his lead. Paul Broom is a fine creation but for me it was Janet and Shelly who are the strongest of the supporting characters.

The pace increases nicely as the novel progresses and while I had my suspects for the murders, I ended up pinning the tail on the wrong donkey to leave myself looking like an ass. All in all 'Preternatural' is a fine read from an author who can cross genres with consummate ease.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Keith Nixon - Dream Land

"...a tight punchy novella..."

Synopsis:
Konstantin has just arrived in the UK, Margate to be specific, having escaped persecution by the authorities in his own country. The second he steps out of a car he gets into trouble, targeted by local villain Dave the Rave.

But Dave chose the wrong man to pick a fight with...

Review:
Nixon has penned a tight punchy novella with a distinct voice. Dream Land is anything but dreamy and the whole feel is that of gritty noir fiction in which there are no winners, only degrees of losing.

Konstantin and Dave the Rave dominate the story as they both strive for their individual goals. For me Konstantin was the far more interesting character and I'd love to know more about his past.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mike Ripley and Margery Allingham - Mr Campion's Farewell

"If I hadn’t known beforehand, I would have sworn this was vintage Allingham."

Synopsis:
On the surface the village of Lindsay Carfax looks like a picturesque idyll on a postcard. But it also has a menacing underbelly. The whole village is in the grasp of the nine Carders, a silent board of members who make sure that the village of Lindsay Carfax runs like clockwork. There is a long history of people going missing for nine days if ever they 'step out of line'. When the victim re-appears they are so intimidated and frightened that no one ever finds out what happened to them during their nine day disappearance.

Then events take on an even more sinister twist when the schoolmaster of the local school vanishes only to be found disorientated and dishevelled nine days later. Another instance involves Eliza Jane, the niece of one Albert Campion. Setting off to Lindsay Carfax to investigate a couple of suspicious deaths the year before, Albert uncovers a conspiracy within a conspiracy, one that holds deadly consequences for any who pokes their nose where it is not wanted - and that is one thing Campion has always been good at – poking his nose in. But this time it may be the end of him.

Review:
Reading 'Mr Campion's Farewell' felt a bit like inviting an old friend in to your home after not seeing them for years. Mike Ripley has taken an idea that was found amongst the papers of Allingham's husband, Pip Youngman Carter after he died in 1969. After many decades these kernels of an idea have been turned in to a novel. So, how did Mr Ripley fare? Ripley hits the right note from the first word. If I hadn't known beforehand, I would have sworn this was vintage Allingham. Ripley really did get her 'tone' spot on. As always, the story was threaded with humour, especially Campion's self-deprecating manner which is still as strong as when he was a youngster. It was lovely to see my favourite, the wonderful and very verbal, Lady Amanda again and Lugg who also makes a cameo but sadly was not to have a starring role here.

The story is typical Allingham whose books were more character driven and had Campion mainly routing out rogue gangs and secret societies. And here he does so again. My only criticism is the novel felt a little heavy for the plot and did take a while to get underway. We are given many different spins on the number nine, but none are really conducive to the main thrust of the plot. With his next Campion entrée, Ripley needs to take a leaf out of Allingham's own book and show that less can mean more. Despite this minor point, it has been wonderful being in Campion's company once again and being transported back to such a vintage year as 1969! I eagerly look forward to following his next adventure which Ripley is already putting to paper. My only request is he gives Lady Amanda a more starring role, please!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.J. Arlidge - Eeny Meany

"It will be interesting to see if Arlidge can top this one! A stunning debut."

Synopsis:
Two hostages. One bullet. One lives. One dies.

'They were soul mates, destined to spend the rest of their lives together'. When a young couple wake up, disorientated and trapped, they are yet to grasp the true horror of their situation. They have no food, no water. Instead there is a gun loaded with a single bullet and a mobile phone with enough power only to deliver a short message: 'When one of you kills the other, the survivor will walk free'.

Review:
DI Helen Grace is the lead character in a new series of books from debut author M.J. Arlidge. Despite this being the first book from this author, it is clear to see why they have achieved success in their previous career working in television. The characters, in particular Helen Grace, are very strong but their flaws and life histories gave them a connection to this reader.

'Eeny Meeny' has a serial killer with a difference. This killer doesn't actually do the killing and instead leaves the choice of who will die to the victims. With scenes vaguely reminiscent of the film 'Saw', two people are abducted, and to ensure one's survival, they must kill the other. The scenarios deal with the human instinct of survival and just how far a person will go to live. The author also deals with the aftermath and the effects that this has on each person once they return to their own life, rather than it being a 'happy ever after' which gives the author further insight into human behaviour.

The story is written mainly around Helen Grace although there are also some previous flashbacks from one of the characters. Which character is not made clear until nearer the end, but it does give the reader the opportunity to guess who it may be, and also allows you to question the actions and integrity of each person. The motive for the killings, and the killer once revealed, were extremely plausible to me.

'Eeny Meeny' gripped me from page one and had an ending which didn't disappoint. Roll on the next book which is thankfully only a few months away. It will be interesting to see if Arlidge can top this one! A stunning debut.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Karen Perry - The Boy That Never Was

"‘The Boy That Never Was’ is one of the strongest and most potent novels I have read in a very long time."

Synopsis:
Tangier, 2005. Harry only planned to leave Dillon on his own for a few minutes. Robin was on her way home and Dillon was fast asleep, so it wouldn't be any great harm to leave the child alone for such a small amount of time. While Harry steps out an earthquake rips through the town. Rushing back Harry finds their apartment destroyed; a large hole where the building once stood.

Dublin, 2010. Both Harry and Robin have settled back in Ireland with some degree of success. They both carry the scars of blame over Dillon's death, but now there are glimmers of a new stage in their lives with the news of Robin's pregnancy. Harry has moved his art studio to their house and although it is a little unsettled, things feel on a better level since their loss. But Harry is keeping secrets from Robin. He is convinced that he has seen Dillon at a rally in the centre of Dublin and has taken steps to prove it was his son he saw that day. But the truth can be labyrinthine and serpentine if it doesn't want to be discovered and when the truth is unveiled it turns everyone's world upside-down.

Review:
'The Boy That Never Was' is a dense and intense experience. There is no rushing or skipping parts of this story. I felt compelled to read every word, to experience every nook of pain and sorrow felt by Harry and Robin. Let me be clear that this novel doesn't hold many laughs but the subject matter, the loss of a child, is one that horrifies everyone regardless if a parent or not. However, this book is not a play of MacBeth proportions, there are moments of levity to chase away the shadows such as the news of Robin's pregnancy. Harry's guilt about what happened five years' ago is the driving force behind this tale of two people who fight every day to live but are resolutely frozen in the past.

There is no secret that Karen Perry are two writers but whilst I was reading this book I couldn't tell which writer had written which parts of the book, the whole book is seamless. The revelation when it comes is shocking and in keeping with the rest of the book is not delivered in a sensational manner. This is a tale of a parents' pain and loss and the glimmer of hope that becomes a lifeline. It is a tragic tale with a touch of brilliance as to its delivery, a story that ends on a note of regret, grief and acceptance. 'The Boy That Never Was' is one of the strongest and most potent novels I have read in a very long time.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Charles Cumming - A Colder War

"...there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked until the final jaw-dropping chapter..."

Synopsis:
MI6's Head of Station in Turkey is killed in a mysteries plane crash. Amelia Levene, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, wants the incident investigated - quickly and quietly. The only man she can trust is Thomas Kell, a disgraced spy searching for redemption.

Arriving in Istanbul, Kell discovers that MI6 operations in the region have been fatally compromised: a traitor in Western Intelligence threatens not just the Special Relationship, but the security of the entire Middle East.

Kell's search for the mole takes him from London, to Greece, and into Eastern Europe. But when Kell is betrayed by those closest to him, the stakes become personal. He will do anything to see this operation through - including putting himself, and others, in the line of fire.

Review:
Charles Cumming follows up 'A Foreign Country' with this second outing featuring Tom Kell. It's been two years since the last one but it has definitely been worth the wait. 'A Colder War' is a thoroughly researched and highly intelligent thriller.

Cumming has created a very likeable, everyman in Tom Kell. A spy for a lead character can either be cold and emotionless or overly confident to the point of annoying. Kell could be your next door neighbour or the guy at the next table in your local pub. It's this attention of characterisation that makes this novel work.

The story is well written and crackles with suspense and tension. Cumming treats his audience with respect and doesn't keep repeating himself to give the reader a recap of events but allows the action to move along at a steady pace and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked until the final jaw-dropping chapter which will surely give an extra layer to Kell's already fragile persona.

Charles Cumming has been compared to the great spy writer, John Le Carré and this novel more than cements that accolade. This is truly a thrilling roller coaster read and an exceptional spy novel.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Doug Johnstone - The Dead Beat

"This is quite possibly Johnstone's best book yet."

Synopsis:
Meet Martha. It's the first day of her new job as intern at Edinburgh's 'The Standard'. But all's not well at the ailing newspaper and Martha is carrying some serious baggage of her own.

Put straight onto the obituary page, she takes a call from a former employee who seems to commit suicide while on the phone, something which echoes with her own troubled past.

Setting in motion a frantic race around modern-day Edinburgh, 'The Dead Beat' traces Martha's desperate search for answers to the dark mystery of her parents' past.

Review:
As it says above, this book opens with the journalist who normally works the obituary desk phoning in his own obituary, before killing himself while still on the phone. There's a lovely slice of black humour right there to kick off this cracking read.

'The Dead Beat' is full of memorable characters you will be happy to spend time with. Just a few pen strokes from the author and the characters coalesce from your imagination and take flesh on the stage of the page: from Martha and her family, to her female wrestler colleague and a welcome return for some of the people who gave us such a ride in 'Hit and Run'. Make no mistake, however, Martha is the star of this book – she's feisty, flighty and determined and we are on her side from the get-go. Johnstone tickles your empathy circuits by describing Martha's family problems and her mental illness, describing in detail the electroconvulsive therapy she is happy to endure on a regular basis. Brave girl.

The author does an excellent job of drawing you in by finding the drama in the ordinary, making you care deeply about what happens and I raced through this book about families, lies, secrets and revenge. This is quite possibly Johnstone's best book yet.

Reviewed by: M.M

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mason Cross - The Killing Season

"...the feel of an author who is destined to become well practiced in producing best-selling thrillers."

Synopsis:
When the infamous 'Chicago Sniper', Caleb Wardell escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of one man. Carter Blake has certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don't want to be found. And Wardell and Blake have history…

Along with Elaine Banner, an ambitious special agent juggling life as a single mother with her increasingly high-flying career, Blake must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random. But Blake and Banner soon find themselves side-lined from the case. And as they try desperately to second guess a man who kills purely for the thrill of it, they uncover a hornets' nest of lies and corruption. Now Blake must break the rules and go head to head with the FBI if he is to stop Wardell and expose a deadly conspiracy that will rock the country.

Review:
'The Killing Season' is the debut book from Mason Cross. On looking at the title I pre-judged the booked and thought the book would be set in the wilderness, with the killer being a hunter. Whilst I was wrong about the setting, the killer was indeed a hunter, not of animals, but of people.

Blake is not dissimilar to Jack Reacher in that he too is ex-military, and now working to make the world a better place. However, he is even more mysterious than Reacher in that Blake is not even his real name. With few references to Blake's history, there is a lot more of this character to be revealed. And whilst it would be interesting to know what makes Blake tick, paradoxically I also feel that to know him too well will take away some of his appeal. For me, Cross has pitched it just right.

'The Killing Season', together with a plot that speeds along, is a great mix of intrigue, strong characters and a thrilling plot which reels you in from the first page. This debut has the feel of an author who is destined to become well practiced in producing best-selling thrillers.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Greg Iles - Natchez Burning

"...if you haven't read Iles before, you should seriously sort that out. Like, now."

Synopsis:
Penn Cage is facing a son's worst nightmare - having his father stand accused of murder. Worse, each effort to defend Dr Tom Cage unearths new, shocking secrets, leaving Penn to question whether he ever really knew his father at all.

At issue is the murder of Viola Turner, once Tom Cage's nurse, before being transferred to Chicago and now back in Natchez, a corpse in her sister's house. What was the relationship between Tom, Viola, and the 'Double Eagle Club', an ultra-violent group of hardened men who considered themselves smarter, tougher, and more elite than their peers in the FBI-infiltrated Ku Klux Klan?

In Natchez, where the past is never truly 'past', long-buried secrets turn lethal when exposed to the light of day. For Penn Cage, the cost of solving this case will be no exception.

Review:
It's so pleasing to see Mr Iles back following a near fatal car crash in 2011 – and in top form. This man tells a fantastic story and if you haven't read Iles before, you should seriously sort that out. Like, now.

We are in present day Natchez which is south of the Mississippi and the sins of the past are about the crash down on a few of the locals. The book was inspired by a series of unsolved race murders in this part of the USA during the 1960's and that harsh history is brought to life in this fascinating and utterly consuming novel. It's a bit of an epic at 788 pages, but I happily lost a Saturday and a Sunday to it.

It is full of memorable, larger than life characters on both sides of the good/evil divide. Open the first page and what unfolds is a hugely involving story where Iles bravely blends fact and fiction to great effect and under his direction the past bleeds into the present with terrifying results.

The author's sense of time and place and of the dramatic is second to none. And I quite honestly couldn't put it down and when I had to, you know, sleep and stuff, this book haunted me. My only complaint at the end was that there were some clear areas still to be addressed and it was only when I went online that I discovered this was the first part in what is to be a trilogy. Marketing people take note, some indication on the jacket would have helped curb that temporary feeling of disappointment. The next book, 'The Bone Tree' will be released in April 2015. Put a note in your diary, people!

Reviewed by: M.M

CrimeSquad Rating:

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg - The Chase

"Written with humour and wit..."

Synopsis:
Internationally renowned thief and con artist Nicolas Fox is famous for running elaborate and daring scams. His greatest con of all: convincing the FBI to team him up with the only person who has ever caught him, Special Agent Kate O'Hare. Together they'll go undercover to swindle and catch the world's most wanted and untouchable criminals.

Their newest target is Carter Grove, a former White House chief of staff and the ruthless leader of a private security agency. Grove has stolen a rare Chinese artefact from the Smithsonian, a crime that will torpedo U.S. relations with China if it ever becomes public. Nick and Kate must work under the radar and against the clock to devise a plan to steal the piece back. Confronting Grove's elite assassins, Nick and Kate rely on the skills of their ragtag crew, including a flamboyant actor, a Geek Squad techie, and a band of AARP-card-carrying mercenaries led by none other than Kate's dad.

A daring heist and a deadly chase lead Nick and Kate from Washington, D.C., to Shanghai, from the highlands of Scotland to the underbelly of Montreal. But it'll take more than death threats, trained henchmen, sleepless nights, and the fate of a dynasty's priceless heirloom to outsmart Fox and O'Hare.

Review:
I found 'The Chase' to be a first class crime caper which strongly reminded me of Chris Ewan's 'Good Thief's Guide' series. Written with humour and wit throughout, the book doesn't take itself too seriously and offers some light hearted entertainment.

The plotting is faultless as Nick and Kate pursue their goal around the world. The pace starts off fast and gets faster. I saw one set piece coming and expected a slow climb to a high peak. Wrong! Instead within twenty pages we were climbing to the next peak such was the frantic pace.

Nick and Kate were ably drawn characters but I found myself more drawn to Alexis Poulet more than any other. Let's just say, this is one lady you don't want looking you up and down.

Given the pedigree of the joint authors, the prose was faultless and there were one or two fantastically adroit witticisms. I found 'The Chase' to be a barnstorming adventure which left me wanting more.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Walker - The Resistance Man

"...has descriptions of food and wine to make you want to take the first ferry over to France..."

Synopsis:
Benoit Courreges, otherwise known as Bruno, is Chef de Police in the small town of St Denis in the Dordogne area of. An old member of the Resistance in Nazi occupied France has finally died and left some intriguing old bank notes that relate back to a daring train robbery in 1944. Thefts of valuable items from holiday homes are also causing concern. When the body of an Englishman is discovered Bruno's concern is increased.

It becomes evident that there is much more involved than a simple murder, particularly as one of the victims of the burglaries is a retired British officer in intelligence. French intelligence officials become involved and Bruno meets up again with an old love. The history of the resistance comes to influence the present.

Review:
This book is a very comforting read. It has a plot with several strands that interweave and come to a satisfying conclusion. There are local ne'er do wells, international thieves and a dash of espionage thrown in for good measure. It has characters to which you can relate and care about. As it is part of a series, Bruno develops as each book comes out and in typically French fashion he enjoys his life in an area which he adores. It is set in beautiful rural France where the local characters add spice and eccentricity.

Above all it has descriptions of food and wine to make you want to take the first ferry over to France and to immerse yourself in the life of the Dordogne. Peter Mayle eat your heart out!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Claire Kendal - The Book of You

"...I feel Kendal is a writer to watch..."

Synopsis:
Clarissa is becoming more and more frightened of her colleague, Rafe. He won't leave her alone, and he refuses to take no for an answer. He is always there.

Being selected for jury service is a relief. The courtroom is a safe haven, a place where Rafe can't be. But as a violent tale of kidnap and abuse unfolds, Clarissa begins to see parallels between her own situation and that of the young woman on the witness stand.

Realizing that she bears the burden of proof, Clarissa unravels the twisted, macabre fairytale that Rafe has spun around them – and discovers that the ending he envisions is more terrifying than she could have imagined. But how do you protect yourself from an enemy no one else can see?

Review:
Clarissa has an admirer and after spending one night together he won't leave her alone. Rafe is sure that he and Clarissa are meant to be together. At times I was unsure who annoyed me most; Rafe for being unable to accept that Clarissa did not want to be with him or Clarissa for being so passive and not fighting back.

Although the reader was able to understand the thoughts and reasoning behind Clarissa's thoughts and actions, I feel it would have been interesting to be in on Rafe's thought processes, too. There was no reason given in his background as to why Rafe would behave in this manner which I thought disappointing and would have certainly given Kendal's story more ballast.

The ending was left somewhat in the air with some loose ends not tied up properly. Despite these few negatives, overall 'The Book of You' was an impressive debut novel and putting my thoughts aside about this particular storyline I feel Kendal is a writer with potential and I will check out her next book to see where she decides to take her readers.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nicholas Blake - Thou Shell of Death

"There are some marvellous moments of beautiful writing..."

Synopsis:
Legendary World War One flying ace, Fergus O'Brien has invited a house full of guests to come celebrate the Christmas season with him. However, there is an underlying reason for them all to be there. O'Brien has been receiving threats, the latest of which predicts he will be murdered on Boxing Day. Now, O'Brien has gathered who he feels are the likeliest candidates for the role of murderer – and amongst this heady mix is Nigel Strangeways who is to keep an eye on O'Brien and to make sure no harm comes to the former pilot. But, as prophesised, O'Brien is found murdered on Boxing Day and it is now down to Nigel to find the killer – who it appears hasn't quite finished with O'Brien's demise.

Review:
There is no secret that Nicholas Blake is the pseudonym of the Poet Laureate, Cecil Day-Lewis. Words were his metier and through his detective, Strangeways, the author shows his love of words. However, it is this love of words that makes this story sticky and the overuse of words and Greek mythology made, for this reader, the story stop and start instead of being fluid. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy word play and if by the end of the book I have been educated or added another nugget of knowledge to my brain then I am happy. However, here Blake is far too high and mighty with his knowledge and Strangeways who was quite 'Puck-ish' in his introduction, 'A Question of Proof', is unveiled here as a terrible snob.

The conclusion to the mystery surrounding O'Brien's demise may have been quite fresh when this book was written in 1936, but it has been used time and time again since. However, everyone presented here simply appears as a terrible, hideous bore and there were moments I wished they had all committed the crime, including Strangeways and sent off to prison or that a large bomb would bring the painful proceedings to a swift conclusion. There are some marvellous moments of beautiful writing, however, these are few and the story becomes laboured under the constant shows of brilliance displayed by the cast. This is a good murder mystery but could have been done better with a huge amount of editing.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mari Hannah - Monument to Murder

"...Hannah has captured the mystery and atmosphere of the Northumberland coastline perfectly..."

Synopsis:
DCI Kate Daniels is on the case when the skeletal remains of two people are discovered on the shoreline beneath the walls of Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. Identification is difficult, but eventually they prove to be of two girls, murdered five years apart. There is also the question of beads buried with the bodies.

Meanwhile, newly-widowed Emily McCann, a prison psychologist, is being drawn into the warped world of Walter Fearon, a convicted sex offender with a penchant for mature women. She begins to fear that he is becoming obsessed with her, and when her twenty-year-old daughter Rachel goes missing, she is sure he is behind it to get at her. As the story progresses, Kate Daniels becomes convinced that Rachel and the skeletal remains are linked in some way.

Review:
In reviewing this book, I was well aware of my love for the Northumbrian coastline, surely one of the most beautiful and atmospheric areas in England. Did this colour my opinion? I don't think so, because the book would have stood up just as well no matter where it took place. However, Mari Hannah has captured the mystery and atmosphere of the Northumberland coastline perfectly, and the area almost becomes a character in itself. Kate herself is a complicated character. Her former lover, Jo Soulsby, is a forensic anthropologist, and becomes involved in the investigation. Kate still has feelings for her, and she tries not to let this interfere with her work. Does Jo still have feelings for Kate, or was their intimacy during the case an aberration on Jo's part? I found this an intriguing subplot.

No crime novel can truly do justice to a murder enquiry. Most of the work is of the plodding variety – sifting information, going through statements and checking reports. Mari Hannah has caught that side of an investigation perfectly, while still offering excitement and incident. One of the more intriguing aspects of this novel – and I don't think I'm giving anything away here – is the fact that Kate sees Bamburgh Castle itself as a clue. But why? Toward the end of the book we find out.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Sennen - Cut Dead

"...a solid police procedural with an interesting last minute twist..."

Synopsis:
DI Charlotte Savage and her team have a challenging case on their hands when three headless bodies are found mutilated in a pit on a farm. The bodies bear all the hallmarks of the Candle Cake Killer, a killer last at large ten years ago, a killer who was never caught.

Has the original murderer resurfaced or is this a simply a copycat? As the body count begins to rise, and gruesome secrets are uncovered, DI Savage is up against it to find the killer before he strikes again.

Review:
'Cut Dead' is the third DI Savage novel from Mark Sennen and is a solid police procedural with an interesting last minute twist that can catch out even the smartest of those readers, who like to think they have worked out 'whodunit' before the big reveal.

The storyline was sound and intriguing although whilst I liked the character of DI Savage, I felt she lacked the stubbornness, attitude and indeed anger, I was looking for. That said, an interesting development in her back story during this tale may yet see those traits come to the fore.

On the whole 'Cut Dead' was an enjoyable book, and I would certainly look up the previous novels I have missed, but as someone who likes their detectives scarred and battle worn, for me at least, DI Savage has a way to go yet before reaching the heady heights of great detectives who have gone before her.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Celia Fremlin - The Echoing Stones

"Fremlin... could write with the grim beauty of a fallen angel."

Synopsis:
It was supposed to be the dream job, an opportunity for a fresh start, to live on a sprawling estate out in the country. Arnold and Mildred Walter did not own the estate but Arnold got the next best thing, the job of caretaker for Emmerton Hall, a Tudor mansion that is open to the public. Arnold immerses himself in its history and is also the part-time Tourist Guide. His wife, Mildred is not so taken by the new idyll. She feels she has been wrenched from her life in suburbia to work her fingers to the bone in the café, a job she feels beneath her. By the end of the summer season Mildred has packed her bags and left.

Out of the blue, their errant daughter, Fiona appears on the Emmerton Hall estate and soon is helping her father with the café and running the place. Also a bizarre friendship blossoms between the young woman and Sir Henry Penrose who at 90 suffers from senile dementia. Everybody comments on the connection between the two unlikely friends. But there are matters outside of the small estate that will have dramatic and crushing consequences on this small group of people at Emmerton Hall.

Review:
'The Echoing Stones' is Fremlin's penultimate novel and published in 1993. Fremlin again explores the relationship between daughter and parent, but whereas normally it is the mother who is under observation, here it is Arnold, who as the father builds a newfound base of understanding with his wayward daughter. As with life, nothing runs smoothly and there are outbursts from Fiona who is very immature. There is hardly any connection between Mildred and her only child, but then I felt that Mildred and Fiona were far too alike, (spoilt and always getting their own way) that they are never likely to ever be in agreement. Arnold, as the calmer parent, tends to accept his daughter's wild moments with great patience. Fremlin's forte is her characterisation and here she gathers together a motley crew to tell her tale. For me, the best one is Mildred's abysmal friend, Val who is brilliantly drawn and is simply shocking, vulgar and selfish. She has every attribute you wouldn't want in a friend but is someone we have all met at one time or another.

Fremlin is marvellous at highlighting the intricacies of human relationships although in this novel it lacks her usual frisson of suspense. The resolution is quite plain to see and I am not sure if this was Fremlin's intention. However, the scene in the dungeon towards the end of the book is so powerful that it resonated through my body and I had to read the scene a second time immediately, so strong was the sense of smell and taste of despair and fear to my eyes. This was a flash of the Celia Fremlin who could write with the grim beauty of a fallen angel. Just for this scene alone this book is worth reading but as hardy a fan I am of Fremlin's, this is not one of her strongest tales, although still threaded with flashes of literary brilliance.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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