Reviews

August 2020

S. K. Barnett - Safe

"‘Safe’ really is one of those books that you read without a break..."

Synopsis:
Jenny Kristal was six years old when she was snatched off the sidewalk from her quiet suburban neighbourhood. Twelve years later, she's miraculously returned home after escaping her kidnappers—but as her parents and older brother welcome her back, the questions begin to mount. Where has she been all these years? Why is she back now? And is home really the safest place for her… or for any of them?

Review:
'Safe' is a story that has abduction, abuse, lies and plenty of twists to keep you turning those pages. Jenny reliving her childhood is not for the faint hearted. And whilst some of the plot may stretch the realms of probability, this part doesn't, as abuse really does happen and at times it is really hard to stomach. At times Jenny's character isn't the nicest of people, but after living through what she has, there is a level of empathy that has you rooting for her.

When Jenny starts to get messages warning her that she isn't safe despite being back with her family, she starts trying to find out who is sending these messages and why. But not everyone wants the past to be unburied.

'Safe' really is one of those books that you read without a break as you are desperate to know what happens, and then you feel disappointed when you finish the book too quickly. 'Safe' is a highly addictive read!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Yrsa Sigurdardottir - Gallows Rock

"...a psychological thriller of immense power that packs a sucker punch... "

Synopsis:
On a jagged, bleak lava field just outside Reykjavik stands the Gallows Rock. Once a place of execution, it is now a tourist attraction. Until this morning, when a man was found hanging from it.

The nail embedded in his chest proves it was not suicide. But when the police go to his flat, a further puzzle awaits them: a four-year-old boy has been left there. He doesn't seem to have any link with the victim, his parents cannot be found, and his drawings show he witnessed something terrible.

As detective Huldar hunts the killer, and child psychologist Freyja looks for the boy's parents, the mystery unfolds to reveal a story of violence, entitlement and revenge.

Review:
Yrsa Sigurdardottir is known for her darkly woven stories and labyrinthine plots and does not disappoint with 'Gallows Rock', the fourth in the series featuring Freyja and Huldar. As the layers of this novel are slowly unravelled, the evil people inflict on each other are revealed in the Queen of Icelandic Noir's trademark style.

I am a huge fan of Yrsa's work. Freyja and Huldar are an unlikely pairing, but they work incredibly well together. It isn't often they are actually together in this plot, but when they are, the chapters, and the characters come alive and tension between the two crackles. Huldar, despite his colourful past, is deeply attracted to Freyja. She, however, isn't interested and tries every trick she knows to block his advances. This interplay is often featured in crime fiction novels between two lead characters, but there is no cliché tropes here. Yrsa's richly drawn characterisations make these two genuinely likeable and real. They're fully rounded people, not simply characters in a book. You feel as if you know them, that's the power of Yrsa's writing.

The same can be said for the rest of the main players Huldar and Freyja work with. Without extraneous chapters where we see characters at home in their dull lives to get a sense of their personal lives, Yrsa weaves their backgrounds into the story and the conversations they have with each other. A chat between Huldar and Gudlaugur in the incident room reveals more than a whole chapter would by any other writer. It's this sublime attention to detail in characterisation that makes Yrsa a powerful writer.

'Gallows Rock' is a pitch dark story which will keep the reader guessing until the final pages. It's a psychological thriller of immense power that packs a sucker punch of a reveal into the insights of the human psyche.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Carter - Written In Blood

"I defy anyone to put this book down once they have started it."

Synopsis:
A serial killer will stop at nothing…

The Killer: His most valuable possession has been stolen. Now he must retrieve it, at any cost.

The Girl: Angela Wood wanted to teach the man a lesson. It was a bag, just like all the others, but when she opens it, the worst nightmare of her life begins.

The Detective: A journal ends up on Robert Hunter's desk. It soon becomes clear that there is a serial killer on the loose. If he can't stop him in time, more people will die.

Review:
Hunter and Garcia return to solve more murders in Carter's latest book, 'Written in Blood'. Although 'Written in Blood' is part of the Hunter and Garcia series, this can be read as a standalone. Who would want to do that? Once you read one book from this author, you will want to devour them all.

In previous books, Carter will take the reader into the personal lives of the main characters, but only briefly. The main thread of these books is always the murders and hunt for the killer. In this book, Carter has steered away from life outside of work and has kept the focus firmly on the case. Yet I still feel that I was getting to know more about Hunter and Garcia. Carter manages to share personalities and beliefs of the characters without the reader even feeling as though they are being told.

'Written in Blood' has all the same mix of previous books; the characters that, whilst not always perfect, are easy to like. A trail that will lead the detectives to the killer. A plot that moves at supersonic speed and the imaginatively gruesome murders. I defy anyone to put this book down once they have started it.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cathy Ace - The Corpse with the Crystal Skull

"...definitely a good holiday read..."

Synopsis:
Cait Morgan, Professor of Criminal Psychology, and amateur sleuth, is on holiday with husband Bud in Jamaica to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. At the end of their holiday they are joined by old friends and former colleagues of Bud. They are staying at the estate of eccentric art collector, Freddie Burkinshaw. Within the estate is the historic tower built by renowned pirate Henry Morgan. Freddie has this as a hideaway. When Freddie is discovered dead locked inside this building the local police assume it is suicide but Cait feels something is not right with this assumption, as it does not fit with Freddie's upbeat behaviour at the party the previous evening. As usual when she has a bee in her bonnet she does not let go and proceeds with questioning all of Freddie's contacts in a not too subtle manner.

When another body is discovered on the beach, Cait discovers that there is an ulterior motive in Bud bringing her and their old friends to this island, The three men, old colleagues, are investigating some criminal activity on behalf of the Canadian and British governments. Needless to say she is not best pleased.

Cait uses her experience and analytical brain to solve the murder and reveals all in the classic way-bringing all involved together and pointing the finger in the image of Hercule Poirot.

Review:
This is the ninth book in the series and Cait Morgan is growing older and more self-aware as time goes on. The book is very much in the cosy crime category with nods to Agatha Christie. A locked room scenario is found in several earlier books in the series and it works well. Along with Cait we have puzzles to solve and lines of investigation to follow. If you're good you come to the same conclusion as she does!

I detected a different approach in Cait in this book: she still doggedly follows her line of thought without thinking of the consequences, but she is becoming more aware of other people's point of view!

This is definitely a good holiday read (virtual or otherwise) and even better if you are on some idyllic Caribbean Island, wishful thinking or not.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gillian McAllister - How To Disappear

"...a well-written book that held a steady pace. "

Synopsis:
Zara has witnessed a murder and wants to do the right thing. Mum Lauren and stepdad Aidan are completely behind Zara when she testifies in court. But then it all goes wrong and those responsible for the murder target Zara and the family is told that for their own safety they need to go into witness protection. But Aidan has a daughter Poppy, and his mum, who he can't leave. So Zara and Lauren go by themselves.

But one mistake - a text, an Instagram like - could bring their old lives crashing into the new. As Lauren will learn, disappearing is easy. Staying hidden is much harder.

Review:
'How to Disappear' has plenty of elements to hook you and keep you hooked. The legal element and how restrictive the legal system can be, and how sometimes just because you are doing the right thing doesn't mean that the guilty will get punished. You will get lots of rushes of adrenaline as Lauren and Zara try to keep one step ahead of the people who are chasing them. There is plenty of emotional drama and turmoil as a family is split and tough choices are made.

There is a lot of emphasis put on the perfect relationship between Lauren and Aidan and how them being apart was so difficult for both of them. And whilst at times I felt some irritation towards Lauren I also felt empathetic towards her dilemma.

'How to Disappear' will make you think twice about doing the right thing and serves as a reminder just how open all of our lives are when we live them on the Internet and social media.

This was a well-written book that held a steady pace. I felt perhaps there was too much of a clear divide between the good guys and the bad guys with almost stereotypical traits and situations being used, but look beyond this and this is very much a thrilling read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Caz Frear - Shed No Tears

"...plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their toes. "

Synopsis:
Christopher Masters, known as 'The Roommate Killer', strangled three women over a two-week period in a London house in November 2012. Holly Kemp, his fourth victim, was never found… until now.

Her remains have been unearthed in a field in Cambridgeshire and DC Cat Kinsella and the major investigation team are called in, but immediately there are questions surrounding the manner of her death. And with Masters now dead, there's no one left to answer them.

DCI Tessa Dyer, the lead on the 2012 case, lends the team a hand, as does DCI Steele's old boss and mentor, the now retired Detective Chief Superintendent Oliver Cairns. With their main suspect dead, Cat and the team have to investigate every lead again.

Review:
I'm already a fan of Caz Frear's writing. Her crime series, featuring troubled second-generation Irish detective Cat Kinsella, is brilliant.

'Shed No Tears' is the third in the series, and it's every bit as good as the previous two. There are so many great things about this book. As always, Frear's gives us a plot that's complex and satisfying. But what makes her novels stand out amongst the over-crowded sub-genre of police procedural novels are her characters. Every one of them is a complex, three-dimensional person, none more so than Cat herself. She is deeply flawed and yet you can't help but root for her at all times – even when she's making decisions about her life that you know are going to end badly.

One of the things I love most about the series is Cat's relationship with her remaining family members – her Irish criminal father, her uptight sister, and her dodgy as hell brother. Added to all of this is her ongoing relationship with Irish heart throb, Aiden. Like most of Cat's relationships, her romance with Aiden is complicated. He's the perfect boyfriend but she's been lying to him about herself since she met him when she was investigating the disappearance and murder of his sister, Maryanne. Because Cat hasn't told Aiden that her father played a role in what happened to Maryanne. The longer she's withheld the truth, the harder it is to tell him.

As in the previous novels, the relationship between Cat and Parnell is spot on. He fulfils the father-figure role she's always craved – his honesty and straight-forward personality is a stark contrast to Cat's perception of her own father.

'Shed No Tears' has plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their toes. It also has a delicious cliff-hanger ending that will nag at you for ages after you've read the book – just what will Cat Kinsella do next? All in all, this is a compelling read that will satisfy existing fans and new readers alike.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gytha Lodge - Watching in the Dark

"I am sure you will cry out, ‘Of course that was who it was!’."

Synopsis:
Aidan Poole calls the police to report the possible murder of his girlfriend Zoe. He claims to have heard a scuffle when on Skype to her, but having called in to report it he hangs up without leaving his name or contact details. After being alerted by Zoe's friend the police arrive at Zoe's flat to find her body. Zoe is a talented, up and coming artist who has the kindness and empathy to reach out to many of her friends who need her support. Her erstwhile flatmate, her work colleagues, her neighbours are all sure that Zoe is much loved and nobody would wish her harm. As the book progresses we learn the everyone connected to Zoe has secrets that might give them cause to harm this seemingly innocent girl. It has to be someone that knows Zoe who has been driven to kill her.

Review:
Gytha Lodge has produced another intriguing and gripping thriller. Zoe is a character who does not deserve to die so terribly but each of her close friends have something that they desperately need to hide. As the book proceeds each one of them seems a likely candidate for her murderer, but one by one they are ruled out. Gytha Lodge has a deft touch with her characters. They are original and a very modern group of people, representative of life today.The twist at the end is unexpected, but completely believable. I am sure you will cry out, 'Of course that was who it was!'.

This is an easy read, completely drawing you in to the action and at this time a very welcome way of passing a few hours away in escapist retreat.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Will Adams - The Sacred Spoils

"The fast-paced and exciting denouement never slackens as the plot twists and turns..."

Synopsis:
Cesco Rossi is a conman with a secret. He is on the run from some Nazi thugs, and lives on his wits and his ability to spin a good story (one of which is that he is an archaeologist). While in Calabria in Southern Italy, he meets American historian Carmen Nero, who is looking for the tomb of Alaric, 4th to 5th century King of the Visigoths, and the treasures he looted when he sacked Rome. Meanwhile, Zara Gold, an Israeli professor, is in Calabria as well, seeking the fabled Menorah, the seven-armed candelabrum kept in the Temple of Jerusalem until it mysteriously disappeared.

Alaric was supposedly buried in a tomb, along with fabulous riches, built into the bed of the Busento River in Cosenza, which was diverted for the purpose. Once the tomb was completed, the waters were once more allowed to flow, and the Roman slaves who built the tomb killed so that its secret location might remain a secret. To compound matters further, Cesco and Carmen also come up against members of the 'Ndrangheta, Calabria's Mafia-type crime syndicate. It's at this point that Cesco's tragic secret is revealed, and it puts him in a totally different light. Gradually, the various factions get closer to discovering the location of the tomb and its treasures.

Review:
This is the first in a series of historical and archaeological thrillers featuring Rossi and Nero. It is multi-layered and dense, with the action being relentless. To begin with, all the plot threads are seemingly unconnected. But gradually they come together to make a fast-paced thriller that pulses with action. Perhaps some of the twists and turns are hard to follow, but are never any less than exciting.

The plotting is immaculate, and the characters are well-drawn, with their flaws being as important as their good points. The relationship between Rossi and Nero crackles with sexual tension, even when they are estranged, and no doubt this tension will continue in the future books. This is a great read if you like unrelenting action, unexpected plot twists and dangerous situations which appear impossible to get out of. The fast-paced and exciting denouement never slackens as the plot twists and turns, keeping the reader guessing.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Helen Monks Takhar - Precious You

"I found ‘Precious You’ a book I had to finish."

Synopsis:
When Katherine first meets her new intern Lily, she's captivated. Young, beautiful and confident, Lily reminds Katherine of everything she once was – and it's not long before she develops a dark fascination for her new colleague.

But is Lily as perfect as she seems, or does she have a sinister hidden agenda? As Katherine is drawn into an obsessive power struggle with the intern, a disturbing picture emerges of two women hiding dark secrets – and who are desperate enough to do anything to come out on top.

Review:
Lily and Katherine are drawn to each other but Katherine is convinced that Lily may not be all who she says she is. But with no one believing her, Katherine has a hard time trying to convince others that Lily is out to get her.

Neither Katherine or Lily were particularly nice characters. Both very self-obsessed. It was hard to empathise with Katherine as she had no redeeming qualities and I sometimes felt myself cheering Lily on.

Even Katherine's partner Iain was a character I could warm to. Again, weak and self-obsessed, I struggled to like him or feel any empathy when life didn't go as he planned. But maybe this was the author's intent to make these characters unlikeable. There was a motive behind the plot, and although this was all explained in the last couple of pages, there were hints given throughout the story.

I did enjoy 'Precious You', but found that the lack of being able to identify with any of the characters left me feeling like I really didn't care what happened to them and wasn't able to root for any of them. Despite this niggle, I found 'Precious You' a book I had to finish.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lindsey Davis - The Grove of the Caesars

"...you have a fantastic treat in store."

Synopsis:
Flavia Albia, an investigator with a reputation for independence and efficiency, is left in Rome to look after the family construction business whilst her husband, Tiberius Manlius Faustus, is called away to look out for his sister and mother. This involves her supervising a project in the Grotto, an area of Rome known to be dangerous, especially to women. Her crew unearth a collection of tattered scrolls relating to old and obscure philosophers. Flavia, always with an eye open for a bargain, looks to find out more about them with an eye to selling them at her father's auction house.

Meanwhile a birthday party is arranged in the gardens around the Grotto for a wealthy businessman, complete with feasting and entertainment. After his wife disappears and is then found murdered, Flavia starts to investigate and discovers that there have been several unsolved murders and disappearances in the area. No-one has put much effort into the search for the perpetrator.

With her usual disregard for her own safety and her absolute determination not to take no for an answer, Flavia strides through Rome to find justice for the victims and retribution for the murderer.

Review:
Flavia Albia has style, and her supreme confidence and ability infuse these books with the feeling that you would really like to know her in real life. The laconic tone and funny throwaway lines are reminiscent of her father, Falco, but she has a definite feminine slant on the macho behaviour of the men in her life. The fact that Manlius Faustus is away gives her the freedom of a single woman to pursue her unorthodox path.

As always, I have confidence in the history of Roman life we are given and appreciate the knowledge that Lindsey Davis brings to these books. For the aficionados this is another excellent tale of Flavia Albia. For those new to this investigator of Ancient Rome, you have a fantastic treat in store.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nicholas Shakespeare - The Sandpit

"...certainly a thought provoking read."

Synopsis:
John Dyer, erstwhile journalist and now historical researcher and writer, has returned to the Oxford of his youth from South America. He has brought his son with him and he now attends the same prep school that Dyer did as a boy. The pair of them are taking time to settle, particularly the boy, Leandro, who comes up against the rough and tumble of young boys as well as more severe bullying. Many of the children at the school are from wealthy foreign families.

Dyer and Leandro find friendship with an Iranian boy at the school and his father, Rustum Marvar, a scientist working at the prestigious Cavendish laboratory. When Marvar makes an amazing breakthrough in his work, there is huge interest from both the Iranian authorities and various financial and political authorities who see power and wealth in developing from the innovation. But Marvar has been secretive and not told anyone about his discovery. When he disappears, he leaves a subtle clue for Dyer and lets him decide how to deal with the implications and aftermath of releasing the knowledge Marvar has found.

Review:
This story develops from the question that many people might ask themselves. What would you do if you were handed a life changing piece of information that would change the world for good or ill? Do you risk all in the search for a better and greener world with the possibility that in the wrong hands this information could lead to untold misery, or do you bury the information and pretend it had all never happened?

It is only slowly that the story builds up to Dyer having to make this choice. Cleverly plotted, several strands of his life intertwine giving him a little bit more information to work on. His relationships both with his son and with the new people that he meets are delicately described. The ending is intriguing but I leave you to make your own judgement on the morality of his decision. 'The Sandpit' is certainly a thought provoking read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kathy Reichs - A Conspiracy of Bones

"...good to catch up with a few of the old favourite characters... "

Synopsis:
Temperance Brennan is not in a good place. She is recovering from surgery to deal with an aneurysm, she is still in shock after the murder of her old boss, Larabee, she definitely has huge issues with her new boss who is all about her own self- aggrandisement, and her ongoing relationship with Ryan is moving forward but to where? Her new boss, Dr Margot Heavner is closely allied with Nick Body, a leading internet figure advocating no vaccination of children.

Brennan is sent photographs of a mutilated body but with no names of either victim or sender, She decides to follow these up with the help of retired cop Slider who is now working on cold cases. Without the backup of her department and consequent scientific information she is forced to rely on the help of friends. This is definitely a risky adventure as it could all backfire on her and her friends. When the disappearance of small children is also thrown into the mix Brennan's determination to nail the perpetrators is solidified.

Review:
I haven't read Kathy Reich's books for a while as I was finding them too similar. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Temperance Brennan has developed as a character with more of the doubts and insecurities of real people. She still has the indomitable spirit and determination needed to track down the villains despite working against unfavourable odds. I also enjoyed the writing style more as it seemed more considered and not so fast and furious as before.

The same wonderful plots and unarguable knowledge of the technical side of the investigations continue to entrance. You know that you are receiving the latest information on the incredibly complicated world of forensic investigation.

It was good to catch up with a few of the old favourite characters - Slider was reassuringly familiar if trying hard to be a reformed character. I enjoyed my re-introduction to Reich's characters and feel the author is back on track with this series. Let's hope we can continue to experience life with Temperance Brennan.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

T. M. Logan - The Catch

"...easy to read and kept me interested..."

Synopsis:
She says he's perfect. I know he's lying. He caught me watching, and our eyes met. That was when it hit me.

There was something not quite right about my daughter's new boyfriend. Doting father, Ed finally meets his daughter's boyfriend for the first time. Smart, successful and handsome, Ryan appears to be a real catch. Then Abbie announces their plan to get married.

The perfect fiancé. There's just one problem. Ed thinks Ryan is lying to them. All of Ed's instincts tell him his daughter is in terrible danger - but no-one else can see it. With the wedding date approaching fast, Ed sets out to uncover Ryan's secrets, before it's too late.

Review:
In a book with few characters, Logan builds these throughout the plot, and for the most part I liked and believed them. There is a fine line between keeping an element of mystery and holding back key information that will be used as a twist later, but there does need to be some clue or indication otherwise the reveal at the end seems to be as though it has just been thrown in and could be about any character in any book. There is nothing more satisfying than coming to the end of a book and finally all the clues and hints make perfect sense and you kick yourself for not seeing the blindingly obvious.

Ed manages to unearth some information which is there to mislead the reader, but I feel was never really explained at the end. Nor was peoples motives and without motives or explanations, I find actions to be empty and irrelevant.

'The Catch' was a good read for the most part. There was 400 pages of was he/wasn't he? Is Ed observant or paranoid? And then it was all wrapped up in 20 pages with no reasoning behind the characters which is a real shame as 'The Catch' had the promise of being something better than it was.

This book was easy to read and kept me interested, but it was too shallow for me. My rating is based on my enjoyment of the novel, not the 'solution'.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy

"...a winner in my book and a cracking read. "

Synopsis:
For Dorothea Cassidy Thursdays were special. Every week she would look forward to the one day she could call her own, and would plan to visit people she wanted to see as a welcome respite from the routine duties that being a vicar's wife entailed. But one Thursday in June was to be more special than any other. It was the day that Dorothea Cassidy was strangled.

As the small town of Otterbridge prepares for its summer carnival, Inspector Stephen Ramsay begins a painstaking reconstruction of Dorothea's last hours. He soon discovers that she had taken on a number of deserving cases… were one of these 'deserving causes' the reason why Dorothea was murdered? When a second death takes place, it takes all the investigative powers of Inspector Ramsay to get to the heart of the case.

Review:
Having read and enjoyed the previous Ramsay case, I quickly picked up the next and rapidly absorbed this one, even quicker than usual when sat in the garden! Again, this comes in at just under 200 pages, but it is packed chock-full which is why I couldn't put this down until finished. Cleeves even finds time in such a short space of time to peel back and show us a little more of the insecure Ramsay, especially how he has become such an island since his divorce and his tentative steps to start dating again.

The case is the killing of a typical do-gooder who seemed no better than a nosey parker, or was she really sincere? The family dynamic is worked in with the case and it is amazing that Cleeves manages to pack in so much in, which is wonderful as many books these days are filled with padding. Some authors should read these sorts of books and realise that you can deliver everything, pathos, human interaction, familial complications and a stonking good solid murder mystery without delivering it in a book the size of a breeze block. This one published in 1992 is a winner in my book and a cracking read.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: