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Reviews

December 2015

Michael Connelly - The Crossing

"...every time I was transported to Los Angeles and could feel the arid heat of that city radiating from every page."

Synopsis:
Harry Bosch is newly retired from the LAPD – and that is only because he thought it best to leave of his choice rather than be fired by his superiors who he constantly banged heads with! Bosch now spends his days restoring a beloved Harley while his attorney, Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) sues the police department for forcing Bosch out. It is through Haller that Bosch hears of a man accused of murder who had no connection to the victim, and yet his DNA squarely puts him in the frame. Haller smells a set-up and asks Bosch to do some digging. Bosch is happy to restore his Harley, but as he reads the case file, Bosch's instincts kick in and he can't help himself asking some awkward questions. It isn't long before the path leads Bosch directly towards the police department itself. That is when Bosch realises he has put himself directly in the firing line of a very clever killer.

Review:
I have met Michael Connelly several times and I understand why he is considered one of the nicest men writing crime fiction today. With the Bosch TV series rocketing Connelly's brand to more readers – as if that was possible… - he brings us another serpentine case that grips you in a bear hug and doesn't let go until the end. Connelly is excellent at dialogue which always has a gritty edge to it. This man has written nearly thirty books and while other writers are waning after half this many books, Connelly is still on fire and producing gripping reads like 'The Crossing'. This one shows Bosch really skimming the edge of the law and being his own man allows him to push the boundaries that once limited him (although Bosch didn't necessarily recognise those during his time at the LAPD). What I also love about Connelly's writing is his sense of place. I am convinced that every time I was transported to Los Angeles and could feel the arid heat of that city radiating from every page. Phenomenal.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ian Rankin - Even Dogs in the Wild

"...an unbeatable read."

Synopsis:
Rebus has retired and he is not finding life as a civilian easy. So when Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke asks him to assist in the investigation of the murder of a prominent retired judge; he is only too ready to help. When his old enemy Big Ger Cafferty also receives similar death threats, Rebus' relationship with the gangster and other of Edinburgh's finest in crime become even more important.

Malcolm Fox has come in from the cold in Complaints and is working with a team investigating the activities of notorious Glasgow criminals who appear to have an unhealthy interest in affairs in Edinburgh. He and Siobhan are close friends and compare notes. As the investigations proceed there seems to be more than a little crossover between them. Slowly a pattern emerges and some unpleasant truths emerge that affect the workings of Police Scotland overall. Rebus proves his worth in a consultative capacity, but as always with little respect for the powers that be, although he does appear to be trying to improve his life style… if only slightly.

Review:
Many people wondered how Rankin would deal with Rebus in retirement. This is the answer. Siobhan Clarke is in charge but Rebus is semi-detached and gets involved wherever he can and with his customary disregard for rules. He is paying a little attention to improving his lifestyle but is easily diverted. This investigation causes him to reflect on relationships and family and there are signs of a little softening. He may even have acquired a canine companion, but don't hold your breath, Rebus is still a hard man. I liked the way Rankin approaches the problem of retirement for a workaholic like Rebus. I think it is very convincing and true to life. I also like the development of Malcolm Fox as he tries to fit back into ordinary policing whilst dealing with a dying father and a needy sister.

For me, the joy of reading Rankin's books that they are so true to life and the people in them so recognisable, warts and all. Add in the background of the great city of Edinburgh, superficially so proper, but underneath seething with trouble and crime, and you have an unbeatable read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georgette Heyer - A Christmas Party

"Heyer’s novel definitely stands the test of time and is still a thrilling read."

Synopsis:
Nathaniel Herriard doesn't like Christmas and is known within the family as a mean old Scrooge. He is cantankerous and argumentative, but family members come along to Lexham Manor for the festivities purely to keep in with rich Uncle Nathaniel. As the family gather for dinner, Nathaniel is found stabbed in the back, his bedroom door locked. Who could have killed the horrible old man – and how did they get out of the locked room? It is down to Inspector Hemingway to find the truth.

Review:
Before I go any further, a word of warning. This is not a new undiscovered crime mystery from Heyer's vaults but her novel, 'Envious Casca' retitled. I just wanted to sort that out first. Even if you have read this book, or have yet to enjoy it, then I whole-heartedly recommend it. I first read this many years ago and believe that Heyer, who only wrote a dozen crime novels, is one of the unsung crime writers of the Golden Age. This first appeared in 1941 and again has a wealthy family gathered in a rambling manor for Christmas with a rather horrid relative who gets 'bumped off'.

This is similar in many ways to Christie's 'Hercule Poirot's Christmas' of four years earlier and this scenario of the grand house filled with suspects on a snowy night was very 'en vogue' back then. However, what Heyer always does brilliantly is develop her characters which Christie was not so hot on. I imagine this is due to Heyer's talent with her romance novels. She is very adept at showing the drama between the guests and their not altogether very pleasant personalities. Heyer's novel definitely stands the test of time and is still a thrilling read. As I mentioned before, I feel Heyer isn't given the credit she is due. Read this and I am sure you will search for her others. In my opinion, 'Behold, Here's Poison' is one of the best mysteries from that period I have ever read. It certainly foxed me – and I've read quite a few crime novels in my time.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.H.B. Kitchin - Crime at Christmas

"...I felt a strange pull towards this book and found myself lapping it up in large doses."

Synopsis:
Malcolm Warren has been invited to spend the Christmas festivities at the home of one of his biggest clients, Quisberg. The huge rambling manor near Hampstead Heath is a spectacular building, but even upon his arrival, Warren begins to feel uncomfortable. His client and another guest, Dr. Green are seen outside whispering in earnest before Quisberg drives off to London for an overnight meeting, anticipated to be back Christmas morn. Warren quickly senses underlying strains amongst the fractured family and their random guests, a strange evening that is brought to a rapid conclusion when Warren falls and hurts his arm during an impromptu round of 'musical chairs'. It isn't until Christmas morning that Warren finds one of the guests did not make it through the evening and is found to have suffered a horrible death. Despite the case being placed in the capable hands of Inspector Parris, Warren just can't help himself becoming involved and starting his own investigation.

Review:
I have been aware of this book for many years but never got round to it (there are only so many Christmas mystery books you can read in December), so a re-issue from Faber was perfect to knuckle down and cross this one off the list. I have seen differing reviews and knew how Kitchin wraps up this particular book. Malcolm Warren who appeared in Kitchin's more famous novel, 'Death of My Aunt', has been invited to Hampstead for Christmas. And it turns out to be utterly miserable with a family of what can only be described as spoiled siblings who are utterly contemptible. There are really no redeeming factors for any of the players in this drama and Warren observes more than once he wishes he could just pack up and leave. I, for one, would have been out the door preferring to spend Christmas alone rather than stay in a house with people who were about as welcoming as an angry scorpion.

The story goes along the same vein as many Golden Age mysteries produced in the 1930's, but this stands out as Kitchin is remarkable at characterisation. Each individual is drawn perfectly and nobody is presented as a simple 'plot device' to drive on the puzzle of this book. The book ends with a strange interview between Malcolm Warren and an anonymous 'reader' to explain a few points of the book in detail. (I promise this is not giving away the plot!). I cannot understand why Kitchin felt this was the best way to wrap everything up, but you do get the feeling towards the penultimate chapter that things had got a little too fantastic (part of the solution involves a wind instrument played on Hampstead Heath) and that Kitchin had dug himself in to a bit of a hole. Saying that, I felt a strange pull towards this book and found myself lapping it up in large doses. Although the conclusion may frustrate some, this is still a well-written book of its time and I found it thoroughly enjoyable. If anything, I would suggest anyone who despairs of the normal family invasion at Christmas to read this and thank the stars you are not in the same boat as poor Malcolm Warren trapped in splendour with the Quisberg family!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Edwards - The Golden Age of Murder

"...before you finish this book you will have parted with some hard earned money and enlarged your already bulging library!"

Synopsis:
Newly crowned President of The Detection Club, Martin Edwards delves in to the origins of this mysterious club that was started by the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton and Anthony Berkeley. He describes the bizarre ritual of the Detection Club, witnessed by very few who were not members (Edwards mentions Ngaio Marsh who as an actress as well as a writer was thrilled by the theatricality of it all) and the subsequent members who were invited to join this illustrious club to dine and discuss murder over dinner!

Review:
This book came out in June but I have only just finished it. This is not a book to be rushed. I was a little concerned to begin with that I was going to be given another re-hash of potted biographies of Christie and Sayers and other 'biggies' who still adorn many a shelf in bookshops. Thankfully Edwards seems to have got the big players out of the way quickly and concentrates on those who are not so well-known. This was the territory I had hoped Edwards would traverse, and I was not disappointed. You can tell through Edwards' writing that he is equally fascinated and respectful of the crime genre and in particular those who were there 'at the beginning'. This is not to say Edwards is gushing – in fact, if he feels a novel is not particularly well-written or stands up to scrutiny, then he says so whilst at the same time recommending a different and better title by the same author. And that is where the problems begin…

Well, maybe not a problem – not for any book lover anyway! This book should come with a health warning – a health warning that is, to your bank balance! Since reading this book I have purchased several books by writers I either a) hadn't heard of or b) books I had never heard of! And of course, to any crime fiction lover, the temptation is just too strong and I ended up having a notebook to hand while reading this in case any more gems popped up I had to lay my hands on! That is the end of the health warning – you have been warned! Edwards fleshes out many who have previously merely been names on the front cover of a book – and some of them are quite tragic tales. One that has stayed with me is how Anthony Berkeley's writing career started with his meeting E.M. Delafield and summarily ended with her death. Edwards supplies notes at the end of each chapter. This is a sumptuous book which will appeal to any reader of the Golden Age period. Edwards has written a lovingly (although not sycophantic) appreciation of these writers and shines the limelight on those who stood in the shadows while Christie, Sayers et al. hogged all the publicity. This is respectfully written and extremely interesting. But again I warn you – before you finish this book you will have parted with some hard earned money and enlarged your already bulging library! Enjoy!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jennifer Morag Henderson - Josephine Tey: A Life

"...good to add some meat to the bones of this elusive writer..."

Synopsis:
Josephine Tey is the well-renowned Golden Age crime writer of 'The Daughter of Time', 'The Franchise Affair' and 'Brat Farrar'. While many writers of that time have fallen out of fashion, Tey's seven crime novels have stayed in print. But what of the woman? Elizabeth McIntosh was her real name and she was also a successful playwright garnering praise for her play, Richard of Bordeaux under the guise of Gordon Daviot which was directed by, and starring the actor, John Gielgud.

Review:
I do enjoy a good biography, but it all depends on the person it is about. I have just read the new biography of Dame Maggie Smith which felt like a long list of her acting credits, but nothing about 'her'. This is not to say Dame Maggie is boring, but rather she is a very private individual who is secretive about her personal life. The same could be said about Josephine Tey. If Tey had lived longer, these two great ladies may well have collaborated on a project – the great actress and the great playwright. Who knows. What I am trying to say is that scant information is known about both ladies – due to the fact that they do not wish to share everything with the general public. This can give any biographer a bit of a headache. It has long been known about Tey's dual personality and how she was 'Gordon Daviot' in London mixing with high society, only to revert to unassuming Elizabeth McIntosh once she boarded a train back to Inverness. So, does Henderson get to the heart of her subject?

Well, the honest answer is not completely – and that is no reflection on Henderson's detective work. Tey was a highly intelligent woman who did not hanker after the limelight and avoided press interviews. I suspect that even towards the end of her life, Tey only allowed what she wanted to remain within the public domain to keep her privacy after her death. Unfortunately, with a biography of such scant information this falls in to repetition, a habit I feel to purely make the book bigger. Sometimes less is more. Henderson does surmise about Tey's sexuality which has been mooted over before now – but whether she had a male or female lover is never definitely settled on, we are given only possible candidates. Having read this my feelings are that although Tey appreciated good looking men and women, the author was not interested in a liaison of any kind. This is an interesting read and it was good to add some meat to the bones of this elusive writer, but I warn readers that you will not get a 'reveal all' account of Beth/Gordon/Josephine's life – and I suspect that is exactly how Josephine Tey would have wanted it!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kathryn Harkup - A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

"This is a great book for any crime fan..."

Synopsis:
Agatha Christie was and still is known as the Queen of Crime. Her favourite method of murder was poison. Here Harkup delves in to the properties of fourteen different poisons from Arsenic to Belladonna, from Cyanide to Hemlock, finishing with Veronal. These and more poisons formed some of Christie's greatest work and now you can find out more about the poisons that led Poirot and Marple to solve some of their famous cases.

Review:
This little book takes a different view of Christie's work than usual. Instead of looking at Christie's work from the angle of the author, it is the poisons used that take centre stage. Harkup does manage to keep the interest going, although now and again I felt a bit mired in the science bits (which may well be just me, as although I loved Chemistry at school, I haven't exactly followed it up as a life career!). What I did find of great interest in Harkup's book wasn't about Christie herself (is there anything we don't know about this remarkable woman?) or her books which have been read umpteen times – but the real-life crimes that took place and could have been influential to Christie when plotting certain books. There is also mention of a crime which was a real cause célèbre at that time which appeared to reflect one of Christie's own books from a few years before. It was these real crimes that make this such a fascinating read as well as finding out how each poison worked and the origin of their name.

I wouldn't say you have to be a Christie fan to particularly enjoy this book, but a word of warning that Harkup does give away a few facts about certain Christie books. This is necessary to show how the poison worked and counter-acted. A particular case is 'Sad Cypress' which was the first Christie I ever read. However, Harkup does give her reader a 'head's up' so you are forewarned. This is a great book for any crime fan – but I would keep any recipient of this book away from the turkey on Christmas Day – and if you have stomach pains afterwards call your doctor immediately. It could be undercooked turkey – or it could be Monkshood!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Noel ‘Razor’ Smith - The Criminals Alphabet

"This is a perfect stocking filler."

Synopsis:
Have you ever wondered what some criminal language actually means? We know the familiar phrase of 'Peelers' and 'doing bird', but did you know there is a whole language used by criminals? Well, here you can decipher this hidden language with the help of Smith's alphabet. You can learn the meaning of slang phrases like 'twocker', an 'april' and 'hairy' that could leave many of us in the dark and no wiser if you didn't have this book to hand!

Review:
This is one of those books that you get and flick through and within seconds are muttering to yourself that you 'never knew that' and 'well, that's new to me'! The next moment an hour has gone by and you feel educated – although you wouldn't necessarily go out and try to earn a living as a 'snowdropper' who is someone who steals clothes from someone's line (and not just your undies!). Smith also comes up with fascinating little nuggets of information. Did you know that if you wanted to steal items from a shop that has security tags on items, you simply line your bag with tin foil and by placing the ill-gained items in there, you can waltz past the security barriers without setting off the alarms! Not that I would put it in to practise, but this was fascinating all the same. This is one of those perfect 'dip in and out' books which would be perfect for anyone writing a crime novel or someone interested in the use of language and it's slang. This is a perfect stocking filler.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Patricia Highsmith - The Talented Mr Ripley - 60th Anniversary

"...should be read by any true crime fiction fan. "

Synopsis:
Tom Ripley is struggling to stay ahead of the law and his creditors. His schemes to illicit monies from the naïve and gullible is not as satisfying as he had hoped. Then Ripley is given the opportunity of a free trip to Europe when he exaggerates his association with Dickie Greenleaf. Dickie's father wants his son to give up the high life and come back home, start a career – and he wants Tom to persuade him to come back. But Dickie has a lot of money and when Tom arrives in Europe he is swept up by Dickie's bohemian lifestyle. Dickie is charismatic, debonair and filthy rich – and Tom not only wants to be Dickie's friend… he wants to be him.

Review:
This new hardback edition of Highsmith's most famous title came out last June to celebrate his sixtieth anniversary, but Tom Ripley made his debut in December 1955 so I guess this month is Ripley's official birthday! As with many Highsmith novels, this is a slow burn with the author incrementally cranking up the suspense as Tom Ripley gets his first taste of the high life. Dickie Greenleaf according to Tom is a wastrel, a young man who doesn't realise how lucky he is to have everything without the worries Tom has as he dodges the law. Highsmith is well-known for having spent most of her life in Europe than her birth country and she vividly describes decadent lazy days on the Italian coast. To say anymore would give it away to any who haven't read this book (although you may have seen the sumptuous film adaptation by Anthony Minghella). Highsmith wasn't one for a series character, but she wrote five novels involving Tom Ripley now known as 'The Ripliad'. This first is the best and one that should be read by any true crime fiction fan.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - Blood Tracks

"Any doubts I had were blown away by the end of the first sentence..."

Synopsis:
When her local District Attorney offers her a considerable sum of money to track down state witness Crawford Wynne, private investigator Tess Grey is in no position to refuse. Wynne is one of the few men still alive who can help the State nail vicious drug lord, Alberto Suarez. However, Tess is not the only one trying to track Wynne down. Suarez's psychotic brother, Hector has been hunting and butchering anyone who is a danger to his brother.

Tess needs help and there's only one man she can turn to: Southern renegade ex-con, Nicolas Villere, known to all as Po. Po always gets his man, but he has never been teamed with a woman before. Both have their own agenda for taking on this case and neither fully trusts the other. The one thing they are sure of: if they don't cover each other's backs, they are both going to die.

Review:
Matt Hilton has taken a break from writing the Joe Hunter thrillers to bring us a more conventional detective story. As a fan of Joe Hunter I was keen to see how he fared when stepping into a slightly different genre. Any doubts I had were blown away by the end of the first sentence as Hilton has written a wonderfully entertaining novel which is filled with compelling characters, snappy dialogue and sublime plotting.

Tess and Po drew me in with their rich narratives and intriguing back-stories while Pinky stole every scene he featured in. Hilton's ear for dialogue brought Pinky alive in a way I haven't seen since first meeting Dennis Lehane's erstwhile, Bubba Rogowski.

The plot twisted back and forth incorporating both suspense and mystery in abundance meaning there was a constant NEED to keep the pages turning such was the compulsion to find out what happened next. All in all, Hilton has excelled himself in unfamiliar territory and given fans of Joe Hunter two more heroes to cherish.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Aline Templeton - The Third Sin

"I absolutely love Aline Templeton’s books."

Synopsis:
It is the South West corner of Scotland: a rural idyll you might think. In 2012 a small group of friends formed an alliance of 'Cyrenaics', based on an ancient Greek philosophy and dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure above all else. When it all goes wrong and one of them dies from an overdose and another apparently is driven to suicide by feelings of guilt, all falls apart and the participants move away.

In 2014 the apparent suicide is found dead in a wrecked car on the Solway mud flats. In addition, a celebration of Scotland's Homecoming year is planned and some of the erstwhile 'Cyrenaics' are heading home for the celebration. DI Marjory Fleming is called in to help with the investigation of the dead body in the neighbouring police area, not always easy, even though it is now all Police Scotland. She meets resistance from the DI in charge. As always, DI Fleming receives great support from home, but all is not completely smooth sailing as her daughter returns from university with boyfriend in tow.

Past alliances and hidden secrets combine to make this a difficult investigation. Big Marge has her work cut out to unravel the strands before anyone else gets hurt.

Review:
I absolutely love Aline Templeton's books. I think she gets just the right balance between the tension and brutality of the police work and the humanity and kindness of family and friends. DI Fleming is no pushover at work, but her uncertainties and growing wisdom in bringing up her family will resonate with many people.

This book is in the classic mould. There is a puzzling death that needs Fleming's understanding of human motivation to tease out the truth. Tensions in the police service and the pressure from above from the direction of ambitious high fliers are part of the problem. DI Fleming uses the characters of her colleagues to great effect and Templeton's descriptions are true to life and extremely amusing. If you are searching for a brilliant read over the festive season, then you can do no wrong by reaching out for this title. Superb.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Nicholl - White is the Coldest Colour

"...I confess to holding my breath as the conclusion drew near."

Synopsis:
The Mailer family are oblivious to the terrible danger that enters their lives when seven-year-old Anthony is referred to a child guidance service by the family GP following the breakdown of his parents' marriage.

Fifty-eight-year-old Dr David Galbraith, a sadistic predatory paedophile employed as a consultant child psychiatrist, has already murdered one child in the soundproofed cellar below the South Wales Georgian town-house he shares with his wife and two young daughters.

When Anthony comes into the doctor's life he becomes Galbraith's latest obsession and he will stop at nothing to make his grotesque fantasies become reality.

Review:
First-time author, John Nicholl, is a former child protection officer with social services and draws on his experiences in dealing with vulnerable children at times of crisis to create this raw and starkly written novel. Set in 1992 at a time when people in a position of power were deemed untouchable by the law and their word sacrosanct, the story revolves around a child psychologist with a sick and disturbing taste in the young boys he readily has access to.

The opening chapters are dark and shocking in their realism as we get to know the evil doctor and his attitudes towards the people in his life. He truly is a vile creation. Nicholl obviously knows his stuff, and I get the feeling he has met people like Dr Galbraith in his work, which makes this story all the more terrifying.

It is no shock to say that, in places, 'White Is The Coldest Colour', is disturbing, but it's also incredibly well-written and the pace is strong and fast to keep you intrigued. The chapter with the child abduction crackles with tension and danger, and the twist is both fitting, yet shocking.

A subject like this is not one to tackle lightly and it takes someone with Nicholl's background to do it justice. This really is an essential read for anyone who enjoys a gripping story told well and with real heart. The final chapters are frantic in their urgency and I confess to holding my breath as the conclusion drew near.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alan Moss and Keith Skinner - Scotland Yard's History of Crime in 100 Objects

"...anyone with an interest in crime (fact or fiction) will surely find this fascinating book intriguing."

Synopsis:
Scotland Yard's Crime Museum was established in 1875, and since then it has accumulated a collection of artefacts associated with crimes investigated, not just by the Metropolitan Police, but other forces throughout the country. In this book Alan Moss and Keith Skinner take you on a journey through 100 of the exhibits, and tell the story behind them. It is a strange, macabre journey which is also at times poignant, as when the story behind PC Yvonne Fletcher's police hat is explained. She was murdered in 1984 by gunfire outside the Libyan Embassy, then called The Libyan People's Bureau. The book also highlights 99 other items such as an IRA timing device, the courtroom sketches of William Hartley, a machine for administering electric torture, firearms, Dr Crippen's pyjamas, and a host of other grim but still fascinating items. The end of the book contains three lists - one of all police officers killed in London while on duty since 1830, one of William Hartley's courtroom sketches, and finally one of all the death masks held by the museum.

Review:
The surprising thing about this book is that no one has thought of it before. The public has only ever had restricted access to the museum for various reasons, one of the main ones being that some of the exhibits show a criminal ingenuity that the police would not like copied!

Though of average size, it's a hefty book, and is best read by dipping into, rather than reading it from cover to cover. The exhibits have been chosen, not for their ghoulishness, but because they illustrate the advances in detection and forensic sciences over the years. It could have done maybe, with a bit more editing in places, but this is perhaps nit-picking. The photographs and sketches are fascinating, the stories highlight police methods over the years, and anyone with an interest in crime (fact or fiction) will surely find this fascinating book intriguing. A must-have book for any fan of true crime or crime fiction.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graeme Macrae Burnet - His Bloody Project

"Very powerful stuff."

Synopsis:
Set in nineteenth century Scotland in a remote crafting area and based on a real event and on the writings of the young Roderick Macrae as he is detained in gaol awaiting trial. His advocate has asked him to set down the true facts and the boy has agreed because of the advocate's kind treatment of him. There is controversy as to whether the account is true but certainly in the view of the author this is a genuine account of the appalling conditions that the crofters in the highlands of Scotland endured before being unceremoniously 'cleared' from the land of the unscrupulous landlords.

After the death of his much loved mother, young Roderick, who is a bright if slightly unusual child, is beaten by his father, persecuted by one of the crofters, ridiculed by some and taken advantage of by others. His life is dreadful, and he is not good at dealing with relationships. This is the story of how he comes to take his revenge on his persecutors.

Review:
This is not your normal murder mystery. There is no mystery about who has done the crime. Roderick Macrae, a seventeen year old son of a crofter in the Scottish highlands, admits freely to the brutal murder of a fellow crofter and his young daughter. This is, rather, an investigation into the motivations and the terrible treatment of the young boy that leads to the horrific events and a reflection of whether such violence can ever be justified.

Macrae's harrowing account of what could happen in those times when the peasant crofter had absolutely no rights appears to be true, and only makes things worse for the reader. The injustice of it all and the noble acceptance of the punishment meted out make for disturbing and moving reading. There are certain books that make me grateful for living in a hopefully more enlightened age and this is one of them. You would hope that nothing like this could happen now. But perhaps that is being ingenuous. The clear writing of Roderick Macrae is incredibly poignant. 'His Bloody Project' is not what I would call a 'feel good' book, but it is one that is well worth buying and reading. Very powerful stuff.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ben Cheetham - Spider's Web

"...a fast-paced, thoroughly researched, and heart-breaking novel. "

Synopsis:
February 14, 1993. Sheffield United fans remember it as the day their team won a famous victory against Manchester United. The date is lodged in Anna Young's brain for a different reason. That was the day her thirteen-year-old sister, Jessica, was abducted.

Fast forward twenty years. The case has long since gone cold, but Anna refuses to let it die. She made a promise to look after her little sister. And it is a promise she intends to keep no matter how long it takes.

A detective with one thing on his mind - Jim Monahan is equally determined to bring down a sadistic sex-ring. But everywhere he turns he finds himself entangled in a web of political power and silence. Then comes a twenty-year-old clue that might just blow the whole thing apart.

Review:
'Spider's Web' begins with a disturbing opening chapter that will stay with you long after you finish the book. The kidnapping of a young child from the streets of Sheffield and the agonising scream from her older sister set the scene for a pitch-dark and gripping thriller.

Ben Cheetham is an assured writer. The title not only refers to the intricate web of deceit and treachery in this book but he's managed to weave in the events of his previous three novels. If you haven't discovered Cheetham's 'Steel City' thrillers yet, then I implore you to do so. These are crime fiction novels written with great confidence and attention to detail.

Protagonist Jim Monahan is a no-nonsense, hard-working detective. While he doesn't stand out as a bastion of the genre he creeps in under the radar as a detective of truth and ethics. The character of Anna Young is a particular favourite of mine in this novel. She's damaged, frightened, dedicated and feisty. Her dark past is deeply rooted and her emotions are erratic and unpredictable. Cheetham has written a wonderfully rounded and damaged woman. You can feel her desperation and fear on every page.

'Spider's Web' is a fast-paced, thoroughly researched, and heart-breaking novel. Book five will be very different following the finale of book four but knowing Cheetham's sense of character and storytelling it's going to be an emotionally tense novel. I can't wait.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Galbraith - Career of Evil

"...an exciting series that cannot be missed."

Synopsis:
Robin Ellacot, assistant to private detective Cormoran Strike, arrives at work in the tiny office in Denmark Street and starts on her first job of opening the post. Only this time she finds a human leg in a parcel addressed to her. Strike's past has a host of possible suspects but he homes in on four main characters who would be likely to carry out such a vile deed. The police plump for the obvious one but Strike doesn't agree with their judgement call and sets off on a nationwide search that takes him all over the country. More horrific acts occur and it becomes apparent that Robin is being targeted.

Alongside this dangerous and exciting action, Robin (or at least her mother) is planning the details of her forthcoming wedding to her long time fiancé, Matthew. Relations with Matthew are very stormy and it is obvious to everyone except the two participants that this marriage is not a good idea. Strike also is enjoying a half- hearted relationship with a very rich but unexciting girl. Underpinning the weird and devious workings of the murderer's mind are the lyrics of the band Blue Oyster Cult.

Review:
In this latest book we learn more of the back story of both Strike and Robin. This goes a long way to explaining why Robin has ended up with Matthew, but Cormoran's upbringing and awful family history makes me wonder how he came out of it with any kind of normality. The story is very dark in places as drug addiction, paedophilia and horrendous psychological dysfunctions are described.

I particularly liked the details that we are given about the various scenes and people described. A brilliant eye for detail in both character and location bring a depth of colour to the writing. It is also quite funny in a few places with throwaway lines making a joke of the macabre. Galbraith handles the intricate and complicated plotting brilliantly. The main suspects are all examined in great detail and one by one the real murderer is revealed after an exciting and nail-biting finish. 'Career of Evil' is Galbraith's latest gripping instalment, upping the stakes and making this an exciting series that cannot be missed.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Lovesey - Down Among the Dead Men

"...an extremely gripping read from a master of his craft. "

Synopsis:
Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond and Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore would not normally be doing hands on police work in a different constabulary area together. Nor would Peter Diamond have chosen it.

But ACC Dallymore is doing a favour for a friend and reviewing an investigation that appears to be flawed. The officer responsible turns out to be his old friend, Hen Mallin, making Diamond's enthusiasm for the task lessen. A body is found in the boot of a stolen BMW and the driver arrested. When the investigating officer ignores evidence that implicates a relative, questions are asked, hence the involvement of Diamond and Dalloway.

An art teacher disappears from a local private school for girls. There have apparently been more unexplained disappearances in the area. Do these events have any connection? Peter Diamond ferrets out the answer despite difficulties put in his way by the force he is investigating and by his own colleague.

Review:
Peter Lovesey is an accomplished and experienced storyteller. This is the latest in a long series concerning Peter Diamond, and carries on in the excellent tradition. There is a slight twist in that Diamond is working out of his comfort zone with an unpredictable and difficult colleague, but that serves to keep the story fresh and original. You can always rely on Lovesey to give you an exciting few hours away from the humdrum with a satisfying ending to complete the experience and this latest book is no exception. Fans of the series will be happy with this new adventure and newcomers to the series will be in for an extremely gripping read from a master of his craft.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Lagercrantz - The Girl in the Spider's Web

"...it was the characters that made this a gripping read."

Synopsis:
She is the girl with the dragon tattoo: Lisbeth Salander, uncompromising misfit, genius hacker. He is the crusading journalist: Mikael Blomkvist, dedicated to exposing corruption and abuse. They have not been in touch for some time.

Then, Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist, Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son's well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story - and it is a terrifying one. Säpo, Sweden's security police have offered him protection, but what Balder hopes for is to preserve his life's work - by going public.

More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder's world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence is news that the professor had been working with a super-hacker with a dragon tattoo. Salander is busy with an agenda of her own. Using her code name Wasp, she has been trying to hack into the American National Security Agency - a lunacy driven by vengeance, and fraught with every possible consequence.

Like Balder, she is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters, who call themselves the Spiders. The violent unscrupulousness of this criminal conspiracy will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team - and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Review:
Stieg Larsson's original Millennium trilogy was possibly the most original and gripping series in the whole of crime fiction. Not just in its native Sweden, but throughout the world readers were hooked by the lives of abused genius, Lisbeth Salander, and brilliant journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. When Larsson died we assumed it was the end of the series. It wasn't.

Writer David Lagercrantz has picked up the baton and continued with Larsson's characters. He has a massive task to undertake; not just the plot but the heavy burden of being faithful to much loved characters and a perfectly crafted series. No pressure then.

What I loved about the original Larsson novels was how dark and disturbing they were and how involved the reader became in the plots. 'The Girl in the Spider's Web', although dark in places, doesn't go to the places Larsson was able to reach. The story is clinical and convoluted in places and I had a hard time following the mathematical aspects of the plot.

However it was the characters that made this a gripping read. Salander is a genuinely disturbed character and it is always wonderful to read a new exploit. Her interaction with August is both touching and exciting. The story of journalist Zander was intense and sad, and, unfortunately, inevitable. It was these subplots that I enjoyed reading more than the central story of cyber hackers.

There were some great scenes and the pace was steady throughout. While nobody can replace Larsson, Lagercrantz has given us an original and taut Nordic thriller. It has recently been announced that David Lagercrantz is to write two further novels in the Millennium series. I hope we get more interaction between Blomkvist and Salander and a darker, character-led plot.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: