Reviews

September 2019

Ashley Dyer - The Cutting Room

"...smart, pacy and intelligently written. "

Synopsis:
While Britain is obsessed with the newest hit true crime television show, 'Fact or Fable?', detectives Ruth Lake and Greg Carver are tormented by a fiendish flesh-and-blood killer on the loose.

Lured to a “crime scene” by a mysterious digital invitation, Ruth Lake is horrified by what she finds: a bizarre and gruesome tableau surrounded by a crowd of gawkers. The deadly work is the latest “art installation” designed by a diabolical criminal dubbed the Ferryman. Not only is this criminal cold-blooded; he's a narcissistic exhibitionist desperate for an audience. He's also clever at promoting his deadly handiwork. Exploiting England's current true crime craze, he used social media to titillate and terrorise the public.

Ruth is joined in the investigation by her partner, Greg Carver, who is slowly regaining his strength after a run-in with another sadistic criminal. But Greg can't seem to shake the bewildering effects of the head wound that nearly ended him. Are the strange auras blurring his vision an annoying side effect of his injuring, or could they be something more … a tool to help him see a person's true nature?

Review:
Detectives Greg Carver and Ruth Lake were introduced in 'Splinter in the Blood', a terrific and blood-chilling serial killer novel. Both characters suffer life changing injuries towards the end of the book and 'The Cutting Room' deals, not only with a fresh investigation, but the fallout from the previous case.

Ashley Dyer is the pen name for bestselling psychological thriller writer Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper, a senior lecturer in policing at Teeside University. Together they have created a highly original set of characters and crimes so chilling and disturbing, you'll be sleeping with the lights on for months. For fans of the TV series Luther and Hannibal, this is a series for you; engaging characters, dark stories, terrifying crimes scenes and an intelligent and tautly written plot.

Carver and Lake are likeable and relatable detectives. They've both been scarred by their previous investigation and are dealing with past agonies in their own ways. Fans of crime fiction will be familiar with a protagonist hiding their personal pain and taking it out on those around them; that's almost a cliché in crime thrillers. However, this is a novel by Ashley Dyer—no clichés here. Carver's head injuries have left him able to see colours, auras, around people. He can spot a liar as soon as they open their mouths. Lake has an almost photographic memory in that she never forgets a face. Together, they're an indomitable team.

Dyer has tapped into the current trend for true crime podcasts and television programmes to create a disturbing killer crying out for an audience to see their “artwork”. Sections of brain encased in plastic, a heart in a box and a body drained of blood are akin to anything seen in Hannibal, but the descriptive narrative is so detailed without descending into gratuitous gore, making this thriller all the more frightening.
I hope this is a series that will run and run. It deserves to be hugely successful. It's smart, pacy and intelligently written. This is what the British crime fiction scene has been crying out for.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Vaseem Khan - Bad Day at the Vulture Club

"Another brilliant chapter in this highly engaging series."

Synopsis:
The Parsees are one of the communities that make up India. Originally from Persia they follow the Zoroastrian religion and have over the centuries contributed greatly to the economic and commercial success of the city of Mumbai.

Chief Inspector Chopra (Retd.), now owner of The Baby Ganesh Detective Agency, has been asked to investigate the murder of Cyrus Zorabian, one of the Parsee community's most respected grandees, by his daughter. She is unhappy with the progress of the police.

Chopra finds himself mixing with the wealthy and elite of the city but finds that even here greed and the desire for power is rampant. The traditions held dear by the Parsee community are at risk both from the external progress of modern times and the machinations of those within.

Along with his extraordinary companion, Ganesh, the baby elephant, his trusty assistant, Rangwalla, and his wonderful wife, Poppy, Chopra follows his own honourable course investigating the death of Zorabian.

Review:
Vaseem Khan writes with a light and easy style that belies the harsh truth about the country he describes. India is a many layered, complex society, riddled by corruption but also home to a wonderful history of beauty and civilisation. He addresses some of the problems in his writing and in this book he describes some of the off-beat solutions in a way that made me laugh out loud over and over again.

The character of Chopra is wonderful, constantly surprising in his ability to cope with adversity. His wife Poppy is an absolute delight and her enthusiasms provide a little light relief from the darker problems of her husband.

This is a deftly plotted detective story and enjoyable just on that level. The bonus for me is that in each of the books of the series I have found out more about India's past and present and have been reaching for Google to check out more information. Another brilliant chapter in this highly engaging series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Julia Chapman - Date With Poison

"A very enjoyable addition to this addictive series."

Synopsis:
It is March in Bruncliffe, in the Yorkshire Dales. Though winter hasn't yet completely loosened its grip, things should be looking up. But they're not. Samson O'Brien of the Dales Detective Agency is being questioned about a murder, and his time as an undercover policeman with the National Crime Agency in London, and his subsequent suspension from the force could be exposed. Not only that, his partner in the Dales Detective Agency, Delilah Metcalfe, now appears to have given up on him. Then, in the school locker of Nathan, Delilah's nephew, a small tin filled with ketamine (a class B drug, banned in the UK), is discovered. Is Nathan doing drugs? He denies he had anything to do with it, and when no one believes him he runs away onto the moors. As Samson isn't liked in Bruncliffe, suspicion falls on him as being the dealer. But that's not the end of the troubles that are besetting Bruncliffe. Someone is poisoning dogs in the town, laying tainted sausages at various points so that the dogs will eat them. Herriot Ellison, the local vet, is worried that a dog may eventually die. Who could be doing this, and why?

Samson, meanwhile, has to attend a hearing in London about his case. Should he attend, or should he join the search party out on the moors looking for Nathan, and possibly jeopardise his career? Everything is finally resolved, though some important issues still hang in the air, no doubt being resolved in the next Bruncliffe book.

Review:
This is the fourth book in the Dales Detective Agency series. There is no murder as such to be solved, but the plot has many strands to keep you guessing as to the identity of the dog poisoner right to the end (and the way the culprit is unmasked is superbly done). Perhaps some of the dialogue is slightly overwritten, but this is a minor criticism in a book that is difficult to put down. One wonders however, how long Julia Chapman can keep the sub-plot of Samson's suspension and the subsequent investigation of his activities in London going. This situation will have to be resolved before it becomes a clichė that interferes with the storylines. A very enjoyable addition to this addictive series.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Edwards - Here To Stay

"...Edwards has littered the story with red herrings to keep you turning the pages."

Synopsis:
Gemma Robinson comes into Elliott's life like a whirlwind, and they marry and settle into his home. When she asks him if her parents can come to stay for a couple of weeks, he is keen to oblige, he just doesn't quite know what he's signing up for.

The Robinsons arrive with Gemma's sister, Chloe, a mysterious young woman who refuses to speak or leave her room. Elliot start to suspect that the Robinsons are hiding a dark secret. And then there are the scars on his wife's body that she won't talk about.

As Elliott's in-laws become more comfortable in his house, encroaching on all the aspects of his life, it becomes clear that they have no intention of moving out. To protect Gemma, Elliot delves into the Robinsons' past. But is he prepared for the truth?

Review:
It sounds like a nightmare scenario; newlyweds settling down to married life and the in-laws suddenly need a place to live. In the hands of Mark Edwards, this is just the beginning of the nightmare, and it's going to get much worse.

Told in the first person, we see the story unfold through Elliot's eyes - a man who has lived alone for the majority of his life, with no family. Within months he has a wife and three other members of his new family living under his roof. He's overwhelmed, suffocating, and trapped.

The in-laws really are grotesque people. They're loathed from their first appearance and as they inveigle their way into Elliot's world they get worse. I could feel my blood boiling as I read. Mark Edwards has a wonderful ability to create rounded characters with minimal description. He knows his characters inside out and forces you into the action as if you're a part of the story. That's what makes him such a frightening psychological thriller writer. However, it wasn't long before I was in Elliot's shoes and screaming for him to throw this monstrous couple out.

'Here To Stay' is a fast-paced novel and Edwards has littered the story with red herrings to keep you turning the pages. I have never felt such anxiety reading a work of fiction before, but that is the power of Edwards skill. Like the title, he is here to stay, and I cannot wait to see what darkness he comes up with next.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Claire Douglas - Then She Vanishes

"...manages to keep the intrigue and suspense going with plenty of red herrings..."

Synopsis:
Everything changed the night Flora Powell disappeared.

Heather and Jess were best friends - until the night Heather's sister vanished. Jess has never forgiven herself for the lie she told that night. Nor has Heather.

But now Heather is accused of an awful crime. And Jess is forced to return to the sleepy seaside town where they grew up, to ask the question she's avoided for so long:

What really happened the night Flora disappeared?

Review:
As a child, Jess spent a lot of time with sisters Heather and Flora. Now two decades on, Jess works as a reporter, Flora has been missing for 18 years and Heather has been accused of killing two people.

'Then She Vanishes' flits from present to past, telling the story of the friends and what happened leading up to the time Flora disappeared, with the narration of the present dealing with the investigation of the two murders.

There are many threads to this story, with each person having a sub-plot of their own. Each thread is intertwined with the other, with them all being connected somehow. Some I have to say are very tenuous links and felt too manufactured to be believable.

The author manages to keep the intrigue and suspense going with plenty of red herrings and false leads, although a couple of them were very transparent and easy to guess.

The book was well written. I enjoyed the style of writing and Douglas gave enough to her characters that I not only liked them but also wanted them to be ok. Each of the characters had their flaws, making them easy to empathise with.

This book was easy to get into and kept a fast pace all the way through.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Booth - Drowned Lives

"This is a novel written from the heart, with passion and belief. "

Synopsis:
When council officer Chris Buckley is approached by an odd old man demanding help in healing a decades-old family rift, he sends the stranger away.

But then the old man dies in mysterious circumstances, and the police arrive on Chris's doorstep asking questions to which he has no answers.

As Chris begins to look into the cause of the man's death, he uncovers a deadly secret in the silt and mud of the local canals that he'll realise was better kept buried.

Review:
After eighteen novels in the bestseller Cooper and Fry detective series, Stephen Booth has written his first standalone novel, and 'Drowned Lives' is a whole world away from what the crime fiction community know Booth for. Told in the first person and set in the late 90s, the pace is infinitely slower, but the drama is ratcheted, the tension is palpable, and the plot, as we've come to expect from a master of the genre, is a taut and gripping as ever.

Chris Buckley is not your typical protagonist. He's not a maverick. He's not brave. There is nothing about him that stands out from the norm. He's an everyman. He's a council worker facing redundancy who has sunk what little money he has left in a doomed dotcom venture and he's struggling through life with no family, no relationship, and very few friends. On the face of it, Chris isn't the type of character to carry a whole novel, but it's the level of detail Booth instils in his character, dotted throughout the book, that make Chris an ideal storyteller. He literally could be the bloke living next door.

Chris, however, is not alone in his search for his family history. He has a neighbour, sweet-natured Rachel, who is clearly holding a candle for him. This isn't so much as a will-they-won't-they subplot, you'll be itching for one of them to make the first move.

'Drowned Lives' has family history and will appeal to anyone with an interest in genealogy. However, Booth is a clever storyteller. Set in the modern day and our lead character would have spent chapter after chapter staring at a laptop screen, but in the 90s, there was no such thing as ancestry.com so Chris has to go out into the world and talk to people, and it's these disparate characters who are attempting to thwart Chris at every turn.

There are some beautifully written chapters about canals, locks and waterways, and the funeral on the barge is inspired. I've often compared Stephen Booth to the late Reginald Hill in the past and 'Drowned Lives' has cemented that claim for me. Hill was a true master crime writer and a wordsmith. You felt he laboured over every single word to make sure it was the perfect one. I felt exactly the same as I read 'Drowned Lives'. This is a novel written from the heart, with passion and belief. I sincerely hope Booth has other standalone stories up his sleeve.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joseph Knox - The Sleepwalker

"...a masterclass of urban noir. "

Synopsis:
As a series of rolling blackouts plunge the city into darkness, Detective Aidan Waits sits on an abandoned hospital ward, watching a mass murderer slowly die. He has just one job: extract the location of Martin Wick's final victim before the notorious killer passes away.

Having confessed to an unspeakable crime that shocked the nation and earned him the nickname of The Sleepwalker, Wick has spent over a decade in prison in near-total silence.

But when a daring premeditated attack leaves one police officer dead and another fighting for his life, Wick's whispered last words will send Waits on a journey into a dark and troubled past.

Threatened by a manipulative psychopath, unable to trust his new partner, DC Naomi Black, and dogged by his own personal history, Waits realises too late that a remorseless contract killer is as work.

Review:
The third novel of the Aidan Waits thrillers and Joseph Knox gets better and better. This is as dark and as gritty as crime fiction gets. The whole series is spectacular as Knox is writing in a league of his own with a unique style reminiscent of some of the greats of the genre: Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to name just two.

Aidan Waits is a protagonist British crime fiction has been crying out for; a walking time-bomb of a detective, unpredictable, complicated, and a host of great one-liners when facing off against some of Manchester's most evil crime leaders. He's damaged, self-destructive, and everything he touches falls to pieces, but it's difficult not to love him. In the hands of a lesser writer, Waits could have been a cliche, but Knox has hit the mark perfectly.

'The Sleepwalker' is a dark and gritty read. The electric pace kicks off on the first page and is relentless throughout. There's an explosive set-piece that is incredibly well written that you'll feel the heat coming off the page. All the story unfolds and the tension mounts, we learn more about Aidan's shocking past, which explains why he performs the way he does.

There are not many crime novels that can put the reader through the emotional mill, yet 'The Sleepwalker', will leave you shocked by the crime, grieving for the victims and their families, saddened by Aidan's past and crying by the final page.

There is a sense of a finale about this book, as of this is wrapping up the trilogy rather than a third book in a series. If that is the case, Knox will have written a pitch-perfect trilogy that will be remembered for generations to come as a masterclass of urban noir. If there is a fourth book, it will be most welcome.

Joseph Knox does for Manchester what Ian Rankin does for Edinburgh. There is, however, one difference, Knox is no follower, he's his own voice, and he's dangerously talented.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Daniel Cole - Ragdoll

"‘Ragdoll’ brings Cole firmly to the forefront of thriller writers."

Synopsis:
A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the 'Ragdoll'. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William 'Wolf' Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter.

The 'Ragdoll Killer' taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them. With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?

Review:
'Ragdoll' introduces the characters Wolf and Baxter. The detectives are working together to catch the man who has killed at least 6 people and attached all their bodies together to form what the press have dubbed the 'Ragdoll'.

Wolf and Baxter are working with the rest of the team in the Homicide and Serious Crime Command to find out who is responsible for the killings and what links all the victims.

Wolf is not the most popular detective in the team. Reinstated due to public pressure following him losing his job after nearly killing a previous suspect, Wolf still struggles to follow the rules.

Cole has managed to introduce not just a winning protagonist, but a winning team of characters. Each one feels real and believable, each one has both faults and redeeming features which immediately give you a connection and empathy with them.

The plot will draw you in from the first line and leave you wanting more once the book has finished. Cole has an easy style of writing making his books enjoyable to read. An excellent mix of gripping story line, depth of character and humour.

'Ragdoll' brings Cole firmly to the forefront of thriller writers. Definitely not one to be missed.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Dahl - The Heart Keeper

"...a book that delivers an emotional sucker punch... "

Synopsis:
When Alison's beloved daughter Amalie drowns, her world turns impenetrably dark. Alison tries to hold it together throughout the bleak Fall, but in the darkest days of the Norwegian Winter she completely falls apart.

In another family, Amalie's passing is a new beginning. After years of severe health problems, young Kaia receives a new heart on the morning after Amalie drowns. Her mother Iselin has struggled to raise Kaia on her own and now things are finally looking up. She's even made an affluent new friend who's taken a special interest in her and her daughter.

Alison knows she shouldn't interfere, but really, she's just trying to help Iselin and Kaia. She can give them the life they never had, and by staying close to them, she can still be with her daughter. Kaia is just like her, and surely, something of Amalie must live on in her. As her grief transforms into a terrifying obsession, Alison won't let anything stop her from getting back what she has lost.

Review:
The book itself is very well written. Everything in Alison's life is falling down around her. She has lost her daughter. Her marriage is falling apart. You can feel the pain Alison is experiencing. Every word will go straight to your heart. The despair, guilt and emptiness are palpable through the pages.

The death of Alison's daughter Amalie brings both women together; one whose life is filled with despair and the other with hope.

'The Heart Keeper' tells the story of both women and how they are both dealing with these major events in their life. Expecting a thriller, I kept reading expecting something to happen. And it never did. The story continued to focus around Alison's desperation. If you are looking for an intricate, clever plot that will keep you guessing and trying to work out what is going to happen next, then 'The Heart Keeper' isn't for you. However, this book is brilliantly written with the emotions pouring from every page, a book that delivers an emotional sucker punch to the gut. Not what I would call a crime novel, but a sensational book, nonetheless.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathan Aycliffe - The Vanishment

"...a dark, spooky tale that ran shivers up and down my spine... "

Synopsis:
Peter and Sarah's marriage has reached an impasse; their holiday in beautiful Cornwall is chosen to mend old wounds and bandage past pain. The house they go to has space - space for their writing, their painting, and their reconciliation. It has space too for its own memories and its own unforgettable horrors. but they are not to know that.

When the locals are less than friendly than they might be and when the house sighs with its secrets, the sands of their marriage shift. and then Sarah vanishes and Peter is left alone. Or is he?

Review:
I am currently filling in the gaps of books by writers I have enjoyed over the years. I can't say why it has taken me so long to get round to Aycliffe's 'The Vanishment', but it certainly was well-worth waiting for.

As always with Aycliffe, he doesn't pull his punches. Nor does he allow sentimentality for his characters to get in the way of his plot. Petherick House is a creaking Gothic pile on the Cornwall cliffs. That may be the usual trope for a ghost story, but it certainly works to full effect here to the point that the house is one of the main characters in Aycliffe's book. If you have read Aycliffe's more famous book, 'Naomi's Room' then you know that Aycliffe doesn't allow anyone to go skipping off in to the sunset. This is a dark, spooky tale that ran shivers up and down my spine – even though I was reading it in the garden on a summer's day! Read this in a day. All chores abandoned as I could not put this down. That's how good Aycliffe is. It is a shame he hasn't written anything for ages, but if you want a great gruesome ghost story, then do no more than reach for 'The Vanishment'.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: