Reviews

August 2019

Danuta Kot - Life Ruins

"This is literary crime fiction at its very best."

Synopsis:
A body, briefly glimpsed at the bottom of an abandoned mineshaft, vanished when the police investigate. Jared, recovering from almost fatal injury and addicted to painkillers, knows he saw something terrible in that mine ... but he has no evidence, and fears he is losing his grip on reality.

A girl is attacked so savagely she can't be identified, and dumped late at night in an isolated campground. She's alive, but only just. Becca, tossed out of university and just let go from her dead-end job, is certain she knows who the victim is. But no-one will believe her.

Kay, recently widowed and coming to terms with life on her own, suddenly finds herself forced to get involved. For years she and her husband fostered difficult children - including Becca, whom trouble follows like a stray puppy. And now Becca seems to be in the worst trouble of her life.

And then Jared and Becca meet. Becca, strong-minded and independent, is confident they can figure out what is going on. She pulls Kay into the mix, knowing they'll need all the help they can get - because the police don't believe them. And more girls are vanishing.

Review:
'Life Ruins' is a sumptuously written novel with depth and heart. It's a strong character driven story with three mis-matched people coming together for a joint cause.

Danuta Kot writes with a unique fluidity. Her descriptions of the East Yorkshire coast landscape are beautiful and haunting, mesmerising, atmospheric and dangerous. She can imply so many emotions into one paragraph to unsettle the reader. This is literary crime fiction at its very best.

The characters of Kay, Becca and Jared are richly drawn. They all have their flaws and faults but that's what makes them all the more believable and relatable. Nobody is perfect, and they've all been shaped by their life experiences. It's this level of detail that draws you into the story and go on this dark journey with them.

Many themes are touched upon in this book; grief, addiction, loss, abandonment, and the affects they have on the individual. This is not a fast-paced read, and it is better for not being one. It's subtle and hauntingly beautiful. It reminds me of a favourite film you like to watch on a Sunday afternoon. 'Life Ruins' is a novel to savour and Danuta Kot is a writer of immense talent.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Christopher Fowler - The Lonely Hour

"...if anyone can pull off the impossible, it’s the most consistently brilliant, entertaining and educational voice in contemporary British crime fiction..."

Synopsis:
Four strangers outside a nightclub in the early hours of a rainy London night are pulled together by the expedience of a shared taxi ride. A couple of weeks later, one of their number will witness the shocking murder of another while attempting a bat-watching survey on Hampstead Heath. The black magic accoutrements arranged around the corpse provide a summons for the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Reading the signs Bryant and May are baffled by what appears to be a theatrical, rather than occult tableau – and before they can get a handle on what manner of murderer they are dealing with, two more of the cab's passengers are done away with in completely different ways. While the PCU battle to make a case for the connection – and save their ever-vulnerable outfit from threatened closure – survivor Sparrow Martin, who is nearer to solving the case than they are, is also getting uncomfortably close to the culprit…

Review:
Christopher Fowler's octogenarian sleuths have been up against some perils in their time, but the labyrinthine contours of 'The Lonely Hour' mark their most difficult case yet – and at a time when both personally and professionally, the pair appears to be at their most vulnerable. All Bryant and May mysteries are in part meditations on the soul of London, with the two detectives taking opposing perspectives on the way society has changed since they were first gainfully employed by Winston Churchill's Wartime cabinet – John May always rising to the challenge of the future, Arthur Bryant preferring to take advice from arcane and obscure sources. With their guidance, readers always discover a fresh angle on the London that nobody knows. In this it is a brilliant study of the nocturnal worlds, where the homeless, the economic migrant, the party-going high-flier and all manner of Ladies of the Night coexist in parallel universes linked by a killer who strikes at 4am.

'The Lonely Hour' ends on the most shocking cliffhanger yet – but if anyone can pull off the impossible, it's the most consistently brilliant, entertaining and educational voice in contemporary British crime fiction, the utterly fabulous Christopher Fowler.

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Wade and Stuart Gibbon - Being a Detective

"...a valuable research tool... "

Synopsis:
The subtitle of the book is 'An A-Z Readers' and Writers' Guide to Detective Work Past and Present'. Anyone with an interest in crime fiction will find it a fascinating and rewarding look at how real-life detectives in England investigate crimes, from murder and drug peddling to computer scams and court procedure. The authors are Stephen Wade, crime historian and crime fiction writer, and Stuart Gibbon, a retired detective chief inspector and now a consultant who advises writers on police procedure and action for TV series and books. The entries are laid out in a logical, alphabetical fashion, and most have, as an added bonus - short entries on how particular procedures were used in real investigations. There are also entries on the history of detection, and the advances made in crime-solving over the years.

Review:
Did you know that the 'battering ram' tool used by policemen to gain entry in to a house is called an 'enforcer'? And - much more interestingly for crime fiction devotees - did you know that police slang for the enforcer is 'The Big Red Key'? This is the kind of valuable information contained within the book, information that adds authenticity to a story. And in keeping with most professions, police officers have their own bewildering set of acronyms, such as CPIA, POCA and CHIS. These are explained, not just by explaining what the letters stand for, but by putting them in context during an investigation.

This book is not written to be read from cover to cover, but it is a valuable research tool into which the crime aficionado can dip to gain information. It is a companion to Wade and Gibbon's 'The Crime Writers' Casebook'.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Marwood - The Poison Garden

"Alex Marwood is the new queen of the psychological thriller."

Synopsis:
Where Romy grew up, if someone died you never spoke of them again.

Now twenty-two, she has recently escaped the toxic confines of the cult she was raised in. But Romy is young, pregnant and completely alone - and if she is to keep herself safe in this new world, she has some important lessons to learn.

Like how there are some people you can trust, and some you must fear. And about who her family really is, and why her mother ran away from them all those years ago.

And that you can't walk away from a dark past without expecting it to catch up with you.

Review:
There are some authors who, when they have a new book published, you want to drop everything to read their latest book. Alex Marwood is one of those authors.

With three hauntingly brilliant best-selling psychological thrillers behind her, all of them different and darkly captivating, you never know what to expect from a Marwood novel. One thing is certain, you'll get a well written, original story that will take over your life from the moment you open the front cover until the very last page.

'The Poison Garden' is like no other book I've read before. It's surrounds the survivors of a cult following the mass murder-suicide of the majority of its members. The story follows Romy and her siblings Eden and Ilo as they adjust to a life in the twenty-first century and the guardian (a family member) who takes them under their wing.

This being an Alex Marwood novel, nothing is how it appears on face value and the psychological torment of the cult survivors takes on a sinister turn as we go back and forth in time to experience life in the cult and in the present day.

Is it possible for someone who has been brain washed to simply live a life in a hedonistic world, or is the damage done for life? That's a question Marwood asks and one the reader will constantly ask themselves throughout the book.

What I love about Marwood's writing is that no character is wasted. They're all flesh and blood beings with their own complexities. Nothing is two-dimensional here.

'The Poison Garden' is beautifully written. Haunting, heart-breaking, dark, and chilling as hell with a jaw-dropping conclusion. Alex Marwood is the new queen of the psychological thriller.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lorraine Mace - Retriever of Souls

"...a gritty, compelling novel and a great start to a promising new series."

Synopsis:
Brought up believing that sex is the devil's work, a killer only finds release once he has saved his victim's souls. Abiding by his vision, he marks them as his. A gift to guide his chosen ones on the rightful path to redemption.

Detective Inspector Paolo Sterling is out to stop him, but Paolo has problems of his own. Hunting down the killer as the death toll rises, the lines soon blur between Paolo's personal and professional lives.

Background info: D.I. Paolo Sterling and D.S. Dave Johnson have been called out to a murder scene. This is the killer's second victim and the body is found by two boys out playing.

Review:
This is the first book in a new police procedural series, featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Sterling… and what a cracking way to start a series! 'Retriever of Souls' is a real page-turner. I devoured it over two days and will be reading the next Paolo Sterling instalment as quickly as I possibly can.

What sets this novel apart is Paolo himself. Troubled, flawed and trying to come to terms with a tragic backstory, he's a great character. As he struggles to deal with his ex-wife and his teenage daughter, the reader can't help rooting for him. And Paolo's 'will they won't they' relationship with Medical Examiner Barbara Royston is a very nice touch indeed.

Parts of the story are told from the killer's point of view, and Mace does a great job giving a credible insight into this character's twisted mind. Mace doesn't shy away from writing gruesomely and graphically about how the killer treats his victims. It's a difficult read, at times, but the violence merely adds to the growing sense of menace as the killer and Paolo circle ever closer to each other.

As the various plot threads and character stories came together at the end, I was racing through the final pages. This is a gritty, compelling novel and a great start to a promising new series.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gytha Lodge - She Lies In Wait

"This is a very accomplished first novel and passed the full engagement test with flying colours."

Synopsis:
In 1983 six young teenagers celebrate the beginning of the holidays by planning a few nights camping. Four were in the same year at school, one the year above and one the younger sister of the main group. The younger sister, Aurora, never returned from the trip and her body was never found The remaining group, drawn together by the tragedy, remained friends into later life and thirty years later when they had all achieved a successful life they are devastated when the body of Aurora is discovered. Detective Chief Inspector Sheen who is in charge of the investigation knew the group as he had attended the same school.

As the investigation continues it is clear that it is likely that the perpetrator of the murder is one of the group or at least a close associate. Relationships, under-age drinking and drug taking are revealed, and Jonah Sheen knows more than he is admitting to.

Review:
This is a very accomplished first novel and passed the full engagement test with flying colours. I found it difficult to put down and finished it within a couple of days. I am delighted that another book featuring Jonah Sheen is planned.

The plot is intricate and suspicion falls first on one then another. All of the young people would have had reason to kill Aurora, even though it would be an unlikely scenario amongst such a young group of friends. Events in the succeeding years also point suspicion first one way then another. DCI Sheen is also harbouring a secret which might impact on the investigation.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it as an engaging piece of escapism. Extremely gripping.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Frances Brody - A Snapshot of Murder

"...another thrilling instalment to this highly addictive series. "

Synopsis:
The year is 1928, and the place is Yorkshire. Kate Shackleton, private investigator and amateur photographer, organises a trip by her photographic society in Leeds to Haworth, in Bronte country. One of the participants is Carine, unhappily married to Tobias Murchison. They work in a photographic studio, where something not quite right haunts its cellar. Could there be a connection with Carine's mother's disappearance many years before?

Tobias is a thoroughly unlikeable man, and no one is surprised when he is murdered while on the Haworth trip. So who could be the culprit? Could it be 18 year-old Derek Blondell, who is infatuated by Carine? Could it be Edward Chester, who has suddenly turned up after being posted missing in the First World War? He was, after all, the love of Carine's life before she married Tobias - a love that is still reciprocated? Or Rita, her unconventional friend who smokes cannabis? Or could it even be Carine herself? The story weaves in and out, with red herrings galore and plenty of intriguing characters. It's a great read, and though directly out of the British 'cosy' branch of whodunits, it manages to be different, portraying women at a time when they tended to be look on as second-class citizens.

Review:
Frances Brody's first Kate Shackleton book, 'Death in the Stars', is set in Giggleswick in 1927, during a real event - a total eclipse of the sun. Here again Ms Brody has chosen a real historical event - the opening of the Haworth Parsonage Museum on August 4 1928. And she has incorporated real places in the plot. Ponden hall, where Kate stays in the novel, is a real place, for instance. And one character in the novel - Elisa Varey, carries the name of a real person who took part in a charity auction to have her name immortalised in a Kate Shackleton book, It is an intriguing book, and the characters are well-delineated. Anyone reading the book, and knowing that a murder was going to take place, would know in an instant that the victim was going to be Tobias, so thoroughly unlikable is he. The clues and the red herrings mount up as we are taken on a tour round Haworth and the thoughts and actions of the book's characters.

There is a bonus at the end of the book - a short story that explains Kate's first case, and why she decided to be a sleuth. Though not a murder mystery, it is well-written and with a mystery at its heart. 'Snapshot to Murder' is another thrilling instalment to this highly addictive series.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Oswald - Nothing To Hide

"Just when you think you have the plot worked out, Oswald throws in another curveball..."

Synopsis:
Suspended from duty after her last case ended with a high-profile arrest, DC Constance Fairchild is trying to stay away from the limelight. Fate has other ideas.

Coming home to her London flat, Constance stumbles across a young man, bloodied, mutilated and barely alive. She calls it in and is quickly thrown into the middle of a nationwide investigation. It seems that the victim is just the latest in a string of similar ritualistic attacks.

No matter that she is off duty, no matter that there are those in the Met who would gladly see the back of her, Con can't shake her innate determination to bring the monsters responsibly for this brutality to justice.

Review:
James Oswald is the author of the best-selling series featuring Inspector McClean. Last year he released the first in a new series with protagonist DC Constance Fairchild. The two main characters couldn't be more different yet both are likeable, engaging and have an eclectic cast of supporting characters behind them.

'Nothing to Hide' is the second Constance Fairchild novel and is as strong as the excellent 'No Time To Cry'. Connie is suspended, a court case is looming, and everything she dislikes about her family is splashed all over the newspapers.

Behind Connie's complex personal life is a very brutal and disturbing case involving mutilated bodies. Despite being off duty, Connie cannot help but getting involved. This dogged determination could put Connie into cliché territory as she's warned off by her superiors yet listens to her inner morality. Oswald's deftness of writing and plot twists means 'Nothing to Hide' is anything but another straight forward procedural.

I'm a big fan of James Oswald. Just when you think you have the plot worked out, Oswald throws in another curveball to wrong foot you. That's why he's a bestselling writer. That's why he's one of Scotland's most respected authors and that is why he's got two hit crime fiction series on his hands.

Constance Fairchild is going to be a force to be reckoned with and has all the ingredients of being a memorable creation.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Dr Richard Shepherd - Unnatural Causes

"I found Dr Shepherd’s book an absolutely fascinating read."

Synopsis:
This is not a crime novel but rather a true and honest account by one of those stalwart characters in most crime novels, the Forensic Pathologist. Dr Richard Shepherd has spent a lifetime investigating unexplained or violent deaths. He was fascinated from an early age, having discovered Simpson's Forensic Pathology at the age of 16 and was focused on this as a career from then on. With hindsight, he feels that the early death of his mother and the secrecy surrounding it, probably helped to fuel this interest.

During his career Dr Shepherd has been involved in many famous cases as well as many fascinating but low profile ones. In each he has shown a determination to find the truth behind the death.

Review:
I found Dr Shepherd's book an absolutely fascinating read. I too have always had a fascination with what can be found about bodies from close examination. Dr Shepherd describes clearly his thought processes, as well as detailed information about the technical tools available throughout his career. It is an area where huge developments have been made to enable the pathologist and the police discover the truth in many unexplained deaths.

Such a focused approach as his has repercussions in private life and he is disarmingly honest in describing the impact that his ambition and determination have had on friendships and family life. His own mental health has also been affected by the repeated exposure to violent death.

He is now in a happier place and this book puts on record an account of a full and fascinating life.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Tramp

"...a readable tale that is a joy to read from beginning to end."

Synopsis:
Maigret along with an Examining Magistrate, a Deputy Prosecutor and a Clerk to the Court, are called to the Pont Marie, a bridge that connects the Île Saint-Louis to the north bank of the Seine. A tramp who sleeps under the bridge has been beaten and thrown into the river in an attempt to murder him. Due to the three men's distaste at the crime, they quickly leave and Maigret is left to investigate. He had been rescued from the water by a Belgian barge owner called Jef van Houtte, using a gaff .

The tramp's nickname, he soon discovers, is 'Doc', and he lies unconscious in hospital, unable to help. But Maigret soon discovers his identity. He was indeed a doctor at one time, from the city of Mulhouse, and his name was Francois Keller. Maigret investigates further, delving deep into the man's past, but is unable to find a connection between Mulhouse and the attempted murder. Along the way, he is sidetracked by a dead dog, a suspicious nurse in the Hôtel Dieu where the victim lies, and, eventually the realisation that Keller may not want to divulge who it was who attacked him.

But gradually a story emerges, and Maigret feels he has cracked the case. However, the outcome is not to his liking...

Review:
There is no murder in this short book. The mystery lies in who attacked Keller and why. The plot is simple and easily followed, and the attention to detail meticulous, as usual. You sense Maigret's frustration with the case without it being spelled out. The seedier side of Paris is laid bare, contrasting with Maigret's own life and those of the people he interviews as the case progresses. The denouement is simple and satisfying, as most endings in a Maigret novel are. And the dialogue rips along at a fast pace, creating a readable tale that is a joy to read from beginning to end.

The book is one of the entire series of Maigret books being reissued by Penguin in new translations.

Reviewed by: J.G.

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