Reviews

June 2020

Craig Robertson - Watch Him Die

"...an intricate psychological serial killer thriller with more twists and turns than a grand prix track. "

Synopsis:
Only one person can save you… and he wants you dead.

Police find a man dead at his home in Los Angeles. Nothing suggests foul play but elements of the victim's house show that something is deeply wrong.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, DI Rachel Narey is searching for a missing young woman – and the man she suspects of killing her.

When a feed broadcasting the slow and painful death of another victim is discovered, these two cases because linked.

There is no way to identify the man in the footage; no way to find him and no way to save him. However, there is one man who can help. And the only way he will cooperate with the police is if they allow him to watch the man die.

Review:
I am a big fan of Craig Robertson's Narey and Winter series. The plots are always original and fast-paced and 'Watch Him Die' does not disappoint. From the outset we're given two distinct investigations; one in Los Angeles, the other in Glasgow. How they can possibly be linked is a mystery, but Robertson is a master at weaving together intricate plots. This is an intelligent, thought-provoking and utterly captivating thriller that will grab you in a chokehold from the first page and not let up until the perfectly executed solution.

Robertson doesn't shy away from sensitive issues and the disturbing realities of murder, but he delivers them in a way that doesn't glorify acts of gratuitous violence. He states the facts, but in a subtle way that causes you to read what isn't there, and that's what makes for chilling and exciting fiction.

Another original trait of this series is that Narey and Winter often take a step back. This is definitely Narey's book with her husband, journalist Tony Winter, hardly making an appearance. In the next book, the roles could be reversed. This gives the series its uniqueness in that the characters are so strongly written; they can exist without each other. You could never imagine Dalziel without Pascoe or Morse without Lewis, but Narey and Winter work just as well on their own as they do together.

'Watch Him Die' is an intricate psychological serial killer thriller with more twists and turns than a grand prix track. If you like a multi-layered crime fiction novel, intelligently plotted and inventively delivered, this is a must read series.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen - An Anonymous Girl

"Wow, what a book!"

Synopsis:
Seeking women ages 18 - 32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.

Jessica Farris needs this psychology study, well she needs the money, so she sneaks into the study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields. It'll be easy though right? Just answer the questions, get paid and leave. But the questions start to become more intense and personal, and then Jess decides to continue on with the study, being told what to wear, say and where to go.

Dr. Shields is her friend, she knows everything about her, she wouldn't hurt her though, right? Jess's paranoia starts to grow and she starts to question whether she can trust Shields, what the study is really for, and how she can get out of it?

Obsessions can be deadly.

Review:
Wow, what a book! It was so nice to read a proper psychological thriller that actually got me thinking, such a nice break in amongst all the murder and police novels.

I was genuinely so angry for Jess. Pekkanen & Hendricks wrote a great character in Dr. Sheilds because she was dark, manipulative and your friend all in one book, she was terrifying without being portrayed as a monster. I felt Jess's fear and paranoia in her hope to get away, there was an acceptance of having nowhere else to turn and no amount of planning could get her ahead of Dr. Shields.

The self-detective work conducted by Jess was also written really well, it was what people would do to get out of the situation and was believable. The final reveal or confrontation was executed so well, I almost yelled 'yeah' and punched the air with relief for her, that the played became the player. A dark and twisty novel that will get you thinking and looking over your shoulder, it was fab!

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Helen Fitzgerald - Ash Mountain

"I absolutely loved ‘Ash Mountain’."

Synopsis:
Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she'd escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care.

She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.

As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran's tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants...

Review:
This is the first book I've read by Helen Fitzgerald, but it certainly won't be my last. I absolutely loved 'Ash Mountain'. Packed full of flawed, fully-rounded characters, the novel manages to be dark, disturbing, funny and tragic all at the same time.

The narrative divides between the day of the fire, and the days leading up to it. The reader knows tragedy is imminent, but the central characters do not. The sense of a catastrophe unfolding is almost unbearable.

When it finally happens, the results are even more tragic and shocking than we could have expected. Because Fitzgerald has done such a brilliant job of bringing these characters to life, I was rooting for them, holding on to the hope that – somehow – tragedy might be averted.

'Ash Mountain' is a thoughtful, character-driven psychological thriller with real heart. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Marrs - What Lies Between Us

"This is a book I read in one sitting and I am sure you will too!"

Synopsis:
Nina can never forgive Maggie for what she did. And she can never let her leave.

They say every house has its secrets, and the house that Maggie and Nina have shared for so long is no different. Except that these secrets are not buried in the past.

Every other night, Maggie and Nina have dinner together. When they are finished, Nina helps Maggie back to her room in the attic, and into the heavy chain that keeps her there. Because Maggie has done things to Nina that can't ever be forgiven, and now she is paying the price.

But there are many things about the past that Nina doesn't know, and Maggie is going to keep it that way - even if it kills her, because in this house, the truth is more dangerous than the lies.

Review:
A Pandora's Box of secrets are revealed as the story continues. As each layer of the story is exposed my empathy changes from Maggie to Nina and back again.

This books makes you think. How much would you cover up and lie for someone you love? And if you do lie for them have you really helped them?

The story starts in the present with Maggie being kept prisoner by Nina and then flits back in time to explain how Maggie and Nina got to where they are now. At points I was understanding Nina's pain and felt Maggie was deserving of her punishment and then at other times felt Nina had gone way too far.

'What Lies Between Us' is very cleverly written. The story can feel a little far-fetched and I couldn't conceivably see this happening, but then fact can be stranger than fiction! On the flip side, if the story wasn't a little 'out there', it would not have given the same rollercoaster ride as Marrs gives his reader. This is a book I read in one sitting and I am sure you will to!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Edwards - The House Guest

"...Edwards’ novels should be at the top of everyone’s favourite crime fiction reads."

Synopsis:
When British twenty somethings Ruth and Adam are offered the chance to spend the summer housesitting in New York, they can't say no. Young, in love and on the cusp of professional success, they feel as if luck is finally on their side.

So the moment that Eden turns up on the doorstep, drenched from a summer storm, it seems only right to share a bit of that good fortune. Beautiful and charismatic, Eden claims to be a friend of the homeowners, who told her she could stay whenever she was in New York.

They know you're not supposed to talk to strangers – let alone invite them into your home – but after all, Eden's only a stranger until they get to know her. As suspicions creep in that Eden may not be who she claims to be, they begin to wonder if they've made a terrible mistake.

Review:
On the face of it, 'The House Guest' sounds like a run of the mill domestic noir story about a random stranger coming between two people in love to split them apart. However, this is a novel by Mark Edwards. He doesn't do run of the mill. 'The House Guest' is a pacey, psychological thriller about two regular, hard-working people who are plunged into a nightmare that is as dark as they come.

What I love about the work of Mark Edwards is that you don't know what you're going to get from them. What you're guaranteed is a thrilling, unputdownable story that will leave you breathless. Edwards is a terrific writer who can create genuine characters and make the reader feel like they've known them all their life in the space of a few paragraphs. He's a master at characterisation which is why he's sold more than three million copies of his novels. He's in the same league as Clare Mackintosh and Belinda Bauer when it comes to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

The main three characters of Ruth, Adam and Eden are richly drawn and individual, each with their own insecurities and doubts. They're human and very real. Without this depth of character, a good story can be lost if you don't care about the people you're reading, and Edwards makes sure you care from page one. However, the standout character for me is reclusive journalist Wanda Brooks. Living in isolation surrounded by an arsenal of weapons, Wanda has dedicated her life to searching for the truth and living in fear of the people she's hunting. She's strong, she's intelligent, but she's frightened. The tension of the story cranks up when she appears.

There are some genuinely spooky moments in 'The House Guest', and there's a well described scene with a cauterising pen that will cause you to wince! 'The House Guest' is a dark and exciting read and Mark Edwards' novels should be at the top of everyone's favourite crime fiction reads.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kevin Sullivan - The Figure in the Photograph

"...a clever and original book... "

Synopsis:
It is the end of the 19th century and the new art or science of photography is beginning to come into its own. Juan Cameron and his father have come from their home in Spain to Cuba to record for posterity the wonderful Spanish architecture they find there. Their timing is not great as they find themselves in the middle of a struggle between the Cubans, the Spanish and the Americans. Juan's father is killed by order of his Cuban cousin, Paco who resents the return of the two Spanish rightful owners of the estate. Then Paco and his wife are killed in the fighting between the rival groups. After winding up his affairs Juan travels to Scotland where he was born (his mother was Scottish) to complete the sale of another family property in Bute.

On arrival in Glasgow, Juan follows up an introduction to an entrepreneur who helps him to develop a mechanism that can take timed photographs of a scene automatically. Juan uses this method to solve a crime and his success in this venture leads him to be approached by the police to use his serial photography to solve a series of crimes involving the brutal murder of several people.

The subsequent setting up of two surveillance cameras and Cameron's involvement with the local community leads him into a knot of convoluted motives and intrigue that will eventually reveal the truth.

Review:
This is a clever and original book that takes you back to the Glasgow of the turn of the 19th century, busy, vibrant and a divided community between the haves and the have-nots. Juan's photographic invention precedes the surveillance cameras of today and requires the observer to use powers of observation and deduction beyond anything nowadays. The technical details are interesting but don't detract from the development of the plot. The characters are well-drawn, I particularly like the comparison between the Wee Free minister and the Catholic headmaster. Both were very sympathetic individuals despite enormous theological differences. The family tensions, the resentment of the Irish immigrants and the appalling poverty that existed alongside wealth are well portrayed.

I enjoyed this book as it read well and flowed along, taking the reader with it.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.W. Craven - The Curator

"...writes a plot that will stop you from being able to put the book down..."

Synopsis:
It's Christmas and a serial killer is leaving displayed body parts all over Cumbria. A strange message is left at each scene: #BSC6

Called in to investigate, the National Crime Agency's Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are faced with a case that makes no sense. Why were some victims anaesthetized, while others died in appalling agony? Why is their only suspect denying what they can irrefutably prove but admitting to things they weren't even aware of? And why did the victims all take the same two weeks off work three years earlier?

And when a disgraced FBI agent gets in touch things take an even darker turn. Because she doesn't think Poe is dealing with a serial killer at all; she thinks he's dealing with someone far, far worse – a man who calls himself the Curator.

And nothing will ever be the same again…

Review:
Poe continues to be unconventional in his methods and has little regard for authority if it doesn't suit his purpose. He is unsociable, has little need for friends and doesn't suffer fools gladly. And yet his is probably one of the most likeable characters. Tilly Bradshaw works in completely the opposite way to Poe. Where he disregards rules, Tilly follows them to the letter. Where Poe works on instinct, Tilly relies on fact. Neither had the need or want for friends but they are the best of friends… and somehow it all works.

Craven not only writes a plot that will stop you from being able to put the book down, there is also some interjection of humour which makes 'The Curator' a great all round read. And although I managed to work out who the Curator was, there was still a twist at the end. This still didn't take away any of the enjoyment from the book as it is so well-written by Craven, that it's a pleasure to read from cover to cover in very quick time!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Jecks - Rebellion's Message

"...the suspense is constant and unrelenting. "

Synopsis:
It is London in 1554, and Watt's Rebellion is gathering pace. He and his men are marching to London in an attempt to prevent Queen Mary from marrying Prince Philip of Spain. Meanwhile, Jack Blackjack, a young cutpurse, steals a purse in a London tavern and flees through the yard at the back. Someone knocks him out, and when he wakens up he discovers he's next to a dead man who has been stabbed, and he has a bloody knife in his hand. He knows he will be arrested and hung for murder, so he makes good his escape.

But the purse he has stolen is not all it seems - stitched into the lining is a cryptic note. Jack soon learns that some people will gladly kill to get their hands on the note. And indeed, more people are murdered. Can it have anything to do with Wyatt's Rebellion? And can Jack stay one step ahead of the authorities?

Review:
This is the first in a new series of historical thrillers by Michael Jecks, whose previous books were set in the medieval period, and featured Sir Baldwin Furnshill, a former Knight Templar. The events of 1554 he writes about in this book did take place, and some of the characters did exist, and took part in Wyatt's Rebellion.

The book is an enjoyable read, and the suspense is constant and unrelenting. Just as Jack thinks that things can't get any worse, they get worse, which kept me reading. He is a likeable, resourceful character, even if he is a thief, and his all-too-human avoidance of being involved in warfare and fighting rings true. Jecks has obviously researched the period - not just the events that were played out at the beginning of 1554, but also its slang and now archaic words, which brings an added enjoyment to reading the book. The other characters are skilfully drawn, and the outcome of the book - who it was who actually stabbed the man in the tavern yard, comes as a surprise while at the same time being inevitable.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Corry - I Made A Mistake

"Definitely worth a read."

Synopsis:
It wasn't meant to happen, it was just the once and it was a massive mistake. And now he's dead.

Poppy Page has the life she's always dreamed of, hasn't she? She has a lovely husband, two daughters, an amazing mother-in-law, and a thriving talent agency, but the grass always looks greener.

Matthew Gordon was a figure in her past, one she has moved on from, until he walks back into her life, and she starts wondering what if? Poppy make a single mistake, one that is going to come back and haunt her.

Review:
She did indeed make a mistake! A weak moment was all it took to change her life and make her regret it forever, but in a twist that even she didn't see coming. I could feel the tension for Poppy growing as she tried to bury this mistake and I really felt for her, reading her experience it does make you wonder how you would handle a situation like this, especially when he keeps getting in contact and beyond this. I felt the anger, frustration and regret with her, but also sadness that what she thought was a moment between them turned sour.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Corry told the story between Poppy and her mother-in-law, Betty. Betty's chapters are written to us as letters from Betty to Poppy, her life story in letters building up to a crucial moment of explanation, which ran really well in line with the novel and the plot twist. Corry placed this well for you to believe 'whodunit' whilst propositioning a twist in the mix, a double twist in fact.

Whilst I enjoyed this novel there was a lacking element of surprise for me, but also frustration as I just wanted to shake Poppy. For me, the double twists picked up the pace of the novel. Definitely worth a read.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georgette Heyer - Duplicate Death

"...adept at chronicling the interchanges of all her characters and is sublime with her dialogue."

Synopsis:
A civilised game of Duplicate Bridge ends in a double murder in which both victims were strangled with a tourniquet of picture wire. The crimes seem identical, but were they carried out by the same hand? The odds of solving this crime are stacked up against Inspector Hemingway.

Review:
Mrs Haddington is a woman of dubious origins, but somehow manages to consort with the hoi-polloi of the rich and famous. As with all Heyer's novels, she is adept at chronicling the interchanges of all her characters and is sublime with her dialogue. We have moved from the manor house in the country to a well-to-do house in London, one rented by Mrs Haddington. Nobody seems to know how she made her money. This investigation leads to blackmail, peddling of cocaine and eventually, murder.

Although this is classic Heyer in her crime writing guise, I felt that there wasn't the usual punch of her other novels. It could be to do with there being too many crime tropes here with a gay character being extremely effeminate and crying at every opportunity, or the daughter of Mrs Haddington being a cold-hearted bitch (there is no way of putting it politely!). It all felt as though Heyer herself had got bored with the motley crew she had collected here. Plus, despite reading the solution a few times now, I am still at a loss as to why the murders, the second one in particular, was committed. It all felt as though Heyer decided to bring it to a swift end, which is not entirely fair to her reader. Maybe as this was her penultimate book Heyer felt she didn't have much left in her crime writing tank! Not her best by a long shot, so I would only suggest this one to hardened fans who wish, like me, to read all her twelve crime novels.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: