Reviews

February 2022

Sarah Bonner - Her Perfect Twin

"‘Her Perfect Twin’ is a great debut novel..."

Synopsis:
When Megan discovers photographs of her estranged identical twin sister on her husband's phone, she wants answers. Leah already has everything Megan has ever wanted. Fame, fortune, freedom to do what she wants. And when Megan confronts Leah, an argument turns to murder.

The only way Megan can get away with killing her twin is to become her. But then lockdown hits. How can she continue living two lives? And what happens if someone else knows her secret too?

Review:
Just when you think authors have written about every type of murder and covered every storyline, along comes a book that proves you wrong.

Megan and Leah are identical twins. But that is where the similarities end. Despite Megan being the killer, I was rooting for her not to get caught as those around her aren't particularly pleasant. The murderer is exposed early on in the plot but the book continues at break neck speed with so many twists and turns that you begin to question what you have read and second guess what is happening.

Whilst the plot doesn't contain your pedestrian murder, the characters still felt real and believable. 'Her Perfect Twin' is a great debut novel from Bonner. It is thrilling to find a new author who writes such a addictive book. I shall be looking out for her next one!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Faith Martin - A Fatal Night

"The Loveday/Ryder series is aching for a TV adaptation."

Synopsis:
New Year's Eve, 1962: a snowstorm rages outside, Oxford high society gathers to ring in the new year at the city's most exclusive party. This is a soiree no one will forget… not least because a guest is found dead in his car the next morning.

It seems the young man tragically froze to death overnight after crashing into a snowdrift – but when WPC Trudy Loveday and coroner Clement Ryder are called in to investigate, they discover a tangled web of secrets that plainly points to murder.

With everyone telling different stories about that fateful night, only one thing is clear: several people had reason to want the victim dead. If Trudy and Clement don't find the cracks in each lie, the killer will get away with the perfect crime.

Review:
'A Fatal Night' is the seventh in the Loveday/Ryder series based in the 1960s. Martin produces a police procedural that shows the difficulties faced by the police force in those days. There was no CCTV to rely on, nor anything remotely workable with DNA. Martin shows that it was a sheer hard flog, with round after round of questions and looking through a mass of paperwork.

This latest investigation involves the factual snowstorm of 1962 which started on New Year's Eve of 1961 and covered the North until March of 1962. I suggest you watch news coverage online to see exactly what people had to endure. Martin certainly brings the zero freeze factor to her story. You may want to read this book under the warmth of a duvet!

Loveday, being a WPC, has to deal with a misogynistic police force when higher ranked officers appear to humour any female wanting to be part of the police. As a man it feels slightly awkward when we have a female Police Commissioner, although not having a woman in charge is still not seen as the norm. The Coroner, Ryder is not his usual self, so one wonders if there will be a changing of the guard in future books. There are no car chases here – too much snow for anyone to race down snow encrusted roads, but this is an assured investigation. Martin misdirects brilliantly and delivers a twist which surprised even this reader of many crime novels. Loveday is a wonderful and well-rounded officer and you will find yourself cheering her on in all aspects of the working life she has chosen. I will be intrigued to see what direction Martin takes for the next in this series. The Loveday/Ryder series is aching for a TV adaptation. Hugely enjoyable.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Olivier Norek - The Lost and the Damned

"...a fast-moving page-turner, often shocking, always surprising. "

Synopsis:
The body of a woman, a junkie, is found in a derelict squat, apparent victim of an overdose; but the woman has been brutally sexually assaulted leaving her with devastating injuries. There are no leads, and the woman remains unidentified. A few months later, the body of a giant man is found in a derelict warehouse, a black man who has been shot, and prior to that, tortured.

Events become macabre when the man comes round on the autopsy table as the pathologist makes her first incision. Further strange and disturbing events occur, including a case of spontaneous human combustion, and a body drained of blood in an apparent vampire attack.

Police Capitaine Victor Coste, has worked the St Denis patch for years, and is familiar with both petty and violent crime, but now things seem to escalating beyond the insecure control the police have over the area.

Review:
Paris, in the minds of most non-Parisians, is usually associated with wide boulevards, romance, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, exquisite coffee and croissants, and for those who have read too much Simenon, gauloises cigarettes and the smell of garlic.

And then there is the real thing. Olivier Norek's first novel in the Banlieue series, 'The Lost and the Damned', presents us with a very different city. It is set in Seine-Saint-Denis, a department to the north-east of Paris with a high immigrant population, known for its crime and drug-ridden estates, its poverty and deprivation.

Norek, one of the writers of the excellent TV series, 'Spiral', presents a violent, gritty but convincing world. Norek has lived and worked as a police officer in Seine-Saint-Denis, and has said that much of his writing is based on fact. The conviction and realism of 'The Lost and the Damned' reflects this.

Coste is a dedicated police officer who sees his role as improving the lives of the people he is paid to protect. This gives the book a lightness and an optimism that is rare in this kind of dark novel.

It is shocking to have to admit that this world Norek describes is very real, but it is heartening to read about it in a very human context. However, Norek does not pull his punches. The book is a fast-moving page-turner, often shocking, always surprising. The narrative is pacey and keeps the pages turning, but he also writes with humour and compassion. He weaves his story of terrible crime around Coste's personal life, the relationships and interactions within Coste's team, giving us a story of friendship, rivalries, and real humanity amid grotesque and often horrifying depravity and cruelty.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Welsh - The Second Cut

"The writing is clean and uncompromising, with a lyricism that reminded me of McIlvanney. "

Synopsis:
Rilke is an auctioneer with Bowery Auctions, owned by Rose Bowery. Business has been slow however, but when attending a wedding, he meets up with a friend called Jojo, a fan of recreational drugs, Grindr and extreme gay parties. Jojo tells him about a potential house clearance in a remote ('the arse end of nowhere') part of Galloway, south of Glasgow. This turns out to be Ballantyne House, which is crammed with valuables. Rilke and Rose are grateful, but before they can set things in motion, Jojo is found dead in an alleyway in Glasgow's Merchant City district. Was it a natural death? A murder connected to Ballantyne House? Or simply a bad trip?

Rilke and Rose visit Ballantyne House and meet cousins John and Alec Forrest, who are selling the contents. The house turns out to be everything Jojo promised, but how did he know about the place? And what is the secret of the polytunnels in a farm belonging to the house? A vicious Glasgow gang leader, Jamie Mitchell, seems to be involved and turns nasty when Rilke refuses to sell him a painting. Then we have two young men who were killed near the house in a car accident, plus a woman who has supposedly gone to Thailand for her health. And lastly, how is Sands, a Glasgow art student, involved?

Review:
This book is a follow-up to Welsh's first novel, the award-winning 'The Cutting Room'. It is, among other important things, a roller-coaster of a ride through Glasgow's LGBQT+ scene, which, as Louise Welsh herself writes in an afterwards to the book, has changed dramatically since 'The Cutting Room' was published twenty years ago.

But it is also a thriller and mystery, and this is at the heart of the book. The writing is clean and uncompromising, with a lyricism that reminded me of McIlvanney. It takes you to the dispassionate core of the Glasgow gay scene while still retaining something of the dangers it possesses. The characters are carefully delineated, and entirely believable. Rilke himself is a good man with flaws who tries to do his best in a world where doing your best is sometimes difficult. So too is the dialogue, and as I've stressed so many times in previous book reviews, dialogue is action. The plotting is immaculate, and the denouement is unexpected but inevitable. This is a highly recommended read.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Goodwin - Stranded

"...a modern take on ‘Lord of the Flies’. "

Synopsis:
When eight people arrive on the beautiful but remote Buidseach Island, they are ready for the challenge of a lifetime: to live alone for one year. Eighteen months later, a woman is found in an isolated fishing village. She's desperate to explain what happened to her. How the group fractured and friends became enemies. How they did what they must to survive until the boat came to collect them; how things turned deadly when the boat didn't come. But first she must come to terms with the devastating secret that left them stranded, and her own role in the events that saw eight arrive and only three leave.

Review:
Maddy has led a very sheltered life due to her over protective mother. So when her parents die in a car accident, Maddy seizes the opportunity to have a break from her usual reality and signs up to a TV programme where she, along with 7 others, live on an island for a year where they are to be mostly self-sufficient. Whilst this all starts promisingly, things soon start to go wrong. With the honeymoon period over its not long before people start to show their true personalities.

'Stranded' felt like a modern take on 'Lord of the Flies'. How people self-govern when you make your own laws, and how people choose to go along with the majority so that they don't become the disliked minority.

The story took a while to get going but once it started, I found myself unable to put the book down. There was a lot of information I didn't need (around plants and foraging) and at times I found myself ploughing through this rather than enjoying the ride. Even though the reader knows that Maddy survives, there is still enough interest to keep reading to find out what happened. And I wasn't disappointed by Goodwin's ending. Definitely persevere with the slow start as this becomes a highly entertaining read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elly Griffiths - The Locked Room

"...Griffiths has given us a fascinating thriller featuring the classic locked room mystery."

Synopsis:
Dr Ruth Galloway is in London clearing out her mother's belongings when she makes a surprising discovery: a photograph of her Norfolk cottage taken before Ruth lived there. Her mother always hated the cottage, so why does she have a picture of the place? The only clue is written on the back of the photo: Dawn, 1963.

Ruth returns to Norfolk determined to solve the mystery, but then Covid rears its ugly head. Ruth and her daughter are locked down in their cottage attempting to continue with work and home-schooling. Happily, the house next door is rented by a nice woman called Zoe, who they become friendly with while standing on their doorsteps clapping for carers.

DCI Harry Nelson, meanwhile, is investigating a series of deaths of women that may or may not be suicide. When he links the deaths to an archaeological discovery, he breaks curfew to visit the cottage where he finds Ruth chatting to her neighbour whom he remembers as a carer who was once tried for murdering her patients. Only then her name wasn't Zoe. It was Dawn.

Review:
The Ruth Galloway series is my favourite modern crime fiction series and I was very much looking forward to reading 'The Locked Room' when I heard Elly Griffiths was going to incorporate the Coronavirus pandemic into her work. There has been a bone of contention surrounding Covid and whether readers want to read about it in their fiction or not. However, what Griffiths has done with 'The Locked Room' is a time capsule. She's taken a time of great significance in our lives and commemorated those first few frightening months of uncertainty. In twenty or thirty years' time, readers will be able to pick up 'The Locked Room' and get a genuine snapshot of what life was like in 2020.

There is a danger that the main plot, the mystery surrounding the deaths of a number of women, seemingly from suicide, could have been lost in the coverage of the pandemic, including food shortages, domestic violence, clapping for carers, the effect of a loved one being hospitalised from the illness, but Griffiths has given us a fascinating thriller featuring the classic locked room mystery.

Regular readers will be aware of the on-again-off-again situation between Ruth and Harry and there is a significant turning point in their relationship here as well as a tease of a finale which hints at a massive change coming. I'm sure many of Elly's readers will be punching the air as they imagine a happy ending for Norfolk's finest.

Just reading the name Ruth Galloway and you immediately picture her stunning cottage, her intelligent and inquisitive daughter, and her cute cat. You're right there with her. These are more than works of fiction, they're genuine friends. I'd give anything to live in Ruth's world. I thoroughly enjoying 'The Locked Room' and cannot praise Elly highly enough. Some series can start to wane after a while, but this series isn't one of them.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Thomas Morris - The Dublin Railway Murder

"...for all that the murder and the subsequent events did actually take place, this reads like a riveting work of fiction."

Synopsis:
On November 11 1856, the cashier of the Midlands Great Western Railway, George Little, was murdered in his office at the Broadstone Terminus in Dublin. He received an injury to his head, and his throat had been cut. The thing that baffled the police was that his office was locked from the inside. The murder was therefore a real live locked-room mystery. Only some of the great sums of money in the room had been left untouched, so it wasn't a robbery. So what was the motive, and more importantly, who did it?

A huge investigation got underway. Dublin's leading detective and leading lawyer came together to solve the case. But they were baffled. So too were two detectives sent from the Metropolitan police force in London, who give up after a fortnight. The case dragged on for months, eliciting much criticism in the newspapers. Then there was a crucial breakthrough, though not because of the police investigation. A woman came forward and said that she thought her husband did it. Detectives investigated, and eventually built up a case based mainly on circumstantial evidence. The man (I won't do a spoiler by giving his name away here) was brought to trial, and to the dismay of the detectives, and to the people of Ireland and England, was found not guilty.

But the man's troubles didn't end there. He came to England, and was examined in Liverpool by an English phrenologist, who was convinced he could tell a person's murderous tendencies by measuring their skull. At the same time, the man also wanted to emigrate to the USA, as he was reviled by Irish and English people alike, but had no money. Eventually, he emigrated, along with his son, and little more was heard of him.

As to how the murder was committed while the door was locked from the inside - well, you'll have to read the book to find out.

Review:
The book, for all that the murder and the subsequent events did actually take place, this reads like a riveting work of fiction. The research is meticulous, the sources being the transcript of the trial, newspaper stories of the day, files on the case held by the National Archives of Ireland, transcripts of police interviews and so on. Some of the unrecorded dialogue between leading characters was no doubt imagined by the author, but ring true.

The book is a hefty one, each page containing tantalising nuggets of information about the case. There are also allusions to the outside events of the 1850s and 60s, while the investigations were taking place, such as the sensational trial of Madeleine Smith for murder in Glasgow in 1857.

This is a book I can thoroughly recommend. It tells of a police investigation that was badly handled and bungled, and no doubt today it would have been carried out more rigorously, and not relied wholly on circumstantial evidence.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.M. Ewan - The Interview

"...an easy read that kept me wanting to turn those pages until Ewan’s finale. "

Synopsis:
It's 5 p.m. on a Friday.
You have been called to an interview for your dream job.
In a stunning office thirteen floors above the city below, you are all alone with the man interviewing you.
Everyone else has gone home for the weekend.
The interview gets more and more disturbing.
You're feeling scared.
Your only way out is to answer a seemingly impossible question.
If you can't… what happens next?

Review:
Following the death of her husband some months ago, Kate has found it hard to move on with life. She has been working at a company where she feels safe. So when she is head hunted for an exciting new role at a young vibrant company she is in two minds as to whether she should go or not. Kate arrives for the interview and to begin with the interview feels like normal. But after a short while Kate starts to feel uncomfortable and wants to leave, but finds out that it is not as simple as that.

Joel, the interviewer, is no longer just asking questions. He is threatening Kate. Joel is much better prepared for this interview than Kate. And there's lots of questions that he wants answered before Kate can leave.

There is little I can comment on 'The Interview' without giving away some spoiler. Ewan has written another thriller that will keep you hooked from the beginning. The characters were easy to get in to, but you will have to suspend belief with some aspects of the plot. Unlike some books, Ewan doesn't leave any loose ends or unanswered questions, which does tend to frustrate me whenever things are left 'open'. I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened and why. 'The Interview' was an easy read that kept me wanting to turn those pages until Ewan's finale.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Bryndza - Darkness Falls

"Bryndza carefully weaves these lives together to create an effortless tapestry..."

Synopsis:
Kate Marshall's detective agency takes off when she and her partner Tristan are hired to investigate a cold case from over a decade ago. Twelve years previously, a determined young journalist called Joanna Duncan exposed a political scandal that had major repercussions. In the fallout she disappeared without trace and was never found.

When Kate and Tristan examine the case files, they find the trail long cold, but they discover the names of two young men who also vanished at that time. As she begins to connect their last days, Kate realises that Joanna may have been onto something far more sinister than anyone first believed: the identity of a serial killer preying on the people who few will ever miss. But the closer Kate comes to finding the killer, the darker things become.

Review:
When you read so much crime fiction, it's often difficult to remember where you were in a series when you pick up the next book. Occasionally, regular characters tend to merge together, and it's sometimes a while before you get back into their lives and difficulties when you pick up the latest novel. With the Kate Marshall series, I don't have that problem. 'Darkness Falls' may only be the third novel, but Kate and Tristan are so well drawn – you soon get back to how things were the last time you met.

Bryndza is a wonderfully talented writer. The way he creates genuine, real people to draw you into their lives and care for them within the space of a few paragraphs puts him in the same category as Lynda La Plante. Kate Marshall is so richly described, it feels like I've been reading about her for decades. It takes a special kind of writer with immense power to do that and Bryndza is one of them.

'Darkness Falls' is a fast-paced thriller with a multi-layered, intelligent plot. We see the clash of people meeting from various points of the social spectrum and the dangerous world of powerful businessmen when confronted with their dark deeds and the immediate and long-lasting fallout. Bryndza carefully weaves these lives together to create an effortless tapestry and the plot or writing never jars. It's smoothly delivered, and you'll be tearing through the pages to get to the devastating, thrilling finale.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.S. Robertson - The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill

"This book will genuinely be one of your best reads of the 2022."

Synopsis:
When people die alone and undiscovered, it's Grace's job to clean up what is left behind – whether it's clutter, bodily remains, or dark secrets. One job takes her to the flat of an old man who has lain undetected for months. It seems an unremarkable life and an unnoticed death but something about it gets under Grace's skin, leading her on an investigation that could cost her life. For Grace knows that everyone has a story to tell and that all deaths mean something far more than they appear.

Review:
Scottish crime writer, Craig Robertson has rebranded as CS Robertson. I've been a big fan of his work since his debut novel, 'Random'. In fact, even now, there is a dark aspect of that book that I still think about. All of his novels have been darkly psychological and thoroughly entertaining. I had high hopes for this new chiller, and I was not disappointed.

'The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill' is a first-person narrative as we follow the titular character about her life and strange work of cleaning up after the dead. She gets all the jobs nobody else will touch; the bodies left to decompose in their own homes, those who died lonely and forgotten. It takes a special kind of person to take on a job like this and Grace definitely fits that bill. She has a very complicated relationship with her father, no friends to speak of, no neighbours to converse with, and only a cat for company. She, like the people she cleans up after, is alone and lonely. She's also incredibly strong and determined.

Grace is also not what she seems. I must have forgotten I was reading a book by Robertson as halfway through the tone changes and it becomes much darker as Grace's own secrets are revealed. But that's where Robertson is a master of the genre. He's adept at reeling you in, making you think you know where this is heading only to turn the story on its head and make your jaw hit the floor. From then on, it's an entirely different novel, and the gloves are off.

This is a wonderful read and touches on many issues that are important to society today – loneliness and sadness, terminal illness, the treatment of the elderly, and the decision over the right-to-choose when to die. In places, this is an incredibly sad story, but it's written so beautifully with depth and style.

It's a dark and disturbing novel. It's chilling and haunting. It's original and touching. This book will genuinely be one of your best reads of the 2022.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Simpson - Our Friends in Beijing

"This makes for a fascinating and intriguing read."

Synopsis:
Joe Swift is a freelance journalist with huge experience, particularly in China, but his career is not going well and he is struggling financially. During the protests in Tiananmen Square, Joe had met a student called Lin Lifang. Joe helped him and rescued him from danger of arrest Years later he meets Lin Lifang in a cafe in Oxford, outwardly by coincidence, but it turns out that Mr Lin has a request. He wants Joe to deliver a message for him. Since their first meeting Lin has become a rising star in the political world but not without making enemies. Somebody from China is very interested in this message.

Once Joe and his colleague, Alyssa are back in China they find themselves in the middle of a web of intrigue where different factions are struggling for power and it is not at all clear who is working for who. As they travel across China they meet danger on all sides till finally they discover the truth.

Review:
John Simpson has vast experience and knowledge to underpin the fast moving story he has delivered. This makes for a fascinating and intriguing read. I sometimes felt as if there were a series of incidents that were closely related to Simpson's experience and the narrative did not always run as smoothly as it could, but that is merely nit-picking. Joe Swift is obviously not John Simpson but I was constantly wondering how much was invention and how much recall of events. Having said that, details of life in China are brilliant.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: