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Reviews

March 2017

Jake Arnott - The Fatal Tree

"Arnott’s genius – and genius it is – is to reawaken and channel this material into his own rendering of our history..."

Synopsis:
Elizabeth Lyon is headed for The Tyburn Tree, the last act in a scandalous life in 1720s London. Before she is sentenced, she tells her story to a young Grub Street scribe, Billy Archer. Her journey begins in the genteel surroundings of Edgworth, where as a servant girl at a country house she had her fatal first dalliance with the young master. Dismissed in disgrace, she makes her way to the streets of Covent Garden and St Giles known to its inhabitants as Romeville. Here she learns the ways of the 'flash' world from cross-dressing prostitute, Punk Alice, and catches the eye of the Thief-taker General, Jonathan Wild. Wild bestows favours on the girl he calls Edgworth Bess, but there is a price to pay for each one – as she will discover when highwayman Jack Sheppard makes off with her heart. A price known only too well to her biographer Billy, who has his own secret life amid the Molly Houses of the Hundreds of Drury.

Review:
Based on the true stories of Elizabeth Lyon, Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard, and rendered in the mesmerising slang known as St Giles Greek, 'The Fatal Tree' brings alive the teeming streets of early 18th century London as vividly as the contemporaneous etchings of William Hogarth. Though separated by centuries, it is a place that has many parallels to our own — bankers spinning fortunes on the South Sea Island bubble, politicians looking after their own when it bursts, a populist press selling scandal direct from the gates of Newgate Prison and a public who take their pleasures in the 'vaulting academies' of Covent Garden and under the shadow of the noose. A Capital city of immigrants and outcasts, all crammed in together like rats and ruled over by one-man police force Jonathan Wild, whose methods of enforcing order are more akin to those of a gang boss.

There are further similarities between Wild and Harry Starks, the mythical gangster who first made Jake Arnott famous in 1999's 'The Long Firm', his reimagining of the Kray twins, Joe Meek and clandestine Sixties London. There are further echoes of Stark's boyfriend Harry in Billy, and his closest friend, aspiring actress Ruby Ryder in Edgworth Bess. But then, that story began with a line from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's 'The Threepenny Opera', that still resonates loudly today: 'What's breaking into a bank compared with founding one?' Brecht in turn spun his work from that of another character who appears in these pages, the poet and satirist John Gay, who collects the material for his 'Newgate Pastoral' 'The Beggar's Opera' with the help of Billy Archer.

Arnott's genius – and genius it is – is to reawaken and channel this material into his own rendering of our history with such magical dexterity that, by the time you tear yourself away from the final page, you will believe that you have really journeyed with him back into the flash world, leaving the flat one far behind.

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elly Griffiths - The Chalk Pit

"Griffiths is a top drawer crime novelist..."

Synopsis:
Boiled human bones have been found in a tunnel under Norwich. A medieval curiosity? Perhaps, but when Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they were recently buried, DCI Nelson has a murder inquiry on his hands.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour she's gone 'underground'. Both Ruth and the police have heard whispers that the vast network of old chalk-mining tunnels under Norwich is home to a community of rough sleepers. Can the tales of cannibalism in this subterranean society possible be true?

Then another woman goes missing and the police come under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of the Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk as its heart - before it claims another victim.

Review:
I confess I'm a wee bit in love with Ruth. She's a wonderfully human creation. I would happily read a 400-page novel about her trip to the dentist.

'The Chalk Pit' is fresh, pacy, and original. Griffiths has a unique concept of engaging the reader to become part of the story. You feel like you're with Ruth as she excavates bones or with Nelson as he's wrestling with his conscience. I can vividly see Cathbad chatting to the mothers at the school gates. This series of novels is a snapshot of a world in Norwich I'd love to live in.

The story revolves around a missing rough sleeper and the homeless community as a whole. There is victim apathy among some police and Elly shows the forgotten community brilliantly with lack of press attention for a woman living outside society. When a second person goes missing, a middle-class woman living a respectable life, she's given the resources required to find her. The different ways we treat people depending on their social background has hit a nerve with me. It's made me sad, and angry. The humanity seems to have left society and we only care for those we can relate to.

New Superintendent, Jo Archer, was almost a stereotype but I should have known better from Elly Griffiths. By the end we saw the real Jo. I get the feeling she's going to be a great addition to the series.

Griffiths is a top drawer crime novelist, and Ruth Galloway is the most believable and likeable protagonist in modern crime fiction.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Brad Parks - Say Nothing

"Reading 'Say Nothing' has put Brad Parks firmly on my ‘Must Read List’."

Synopsis:
Judge Scott Sampson doesn't brag about having a perfect life, but the evidence is clear: a prestigious job and a beloved family. On an ordinary Wednesday afternoon, he is about to pick up his six-year-old twins to go swimming when his wife, Alison, texts him that she'll get the kids from school instead.

It's not until she gets home later that Scott realizes she doesn't have the children. And she never sent the text. Then the phone rings, and every parent's most chilling nightmare begins. A man has stolen Sam and Emma. A man who warns the judge to do exactly as he is told in a drug case he is about to rule on. If the judge fails to follow his instructions, the consequences for the children will be dire.

For Scott and Alison, the kidnapper's call is only the beginning of a twisting, gut-churning ordeal of blackmail, deceit, and terror; a high-profile trial like none the judge or his wife has ever experienced. Their marriage falters. Suspicions and long-buried jealousies rise to the surface. Fractures appear. Lies are told.

Through it all, Scott and Alison will stop at nothing to get their children back, no matter the cost to themselves or to each other.

Review:
'Say Nothing' is a mix of legal drama, thriller and mystery - a perfect combination that has been mixed with expertise to give a faultless end result. Not only does Parks include the excitement of the plot, but also all of the characters have believable emotions, motives and actions.

Parks' novel is a moral dilemma of what a parent would do to protect their child, and how far they are willing to go - even if it means going against everything they believe in.

This is a book that will grip you from the first page and won't let you go until you have finished the last word. Reading 'Say Nothing' has put Brad Parks firmly on my 'Must Read List'. Brilliant.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ragnar Jónasson - Rupture

"...a natural storyteller of immense talent. "

Synopsis:
In 1955, two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjördur. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved.

Fifty years later, an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone in the fjord after all.

In nearby Siglufjördur, young police office Ari Thór tries to piece together what really happened that fateful night, in a town where no one wants to know, where secrets are a way of life. He is assisted by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own.

Things take a sinister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town of Siglufjördur in quarantine, the last night just come back to haunt them.

Review:
Ragnar Jónasson creates a powerful and claustrophobic atmosphere in his work. With a novel set in Iceland it would be easy to use the weather to cut-off characters to build up the tension, but in 'Rupture', Jónasson has isolated his community with the spread of a virus.

The is a lot going on in 'Rupture' - the outbreak, a kidnapped boy, an unsolved murder from more than fifty years back, and the main character, police officer Ari Thór seems to take a back seat as he is one of the people stuck by the virus. Reporter Ísrún takes the lead in various strands of the story. Together, the detective and the journalist work well together. It's refreshing, original, and it works.

There is a nod to queen of crime, Agatha Christie in the denouement as Ari Thór assembles those involved as he explains how a murder was committed. Not only does the character seem to enjoy playing Poirot but you can tell Jónasson enjoyed writing these chapters too. They're very well done without giving in to cliché.

Jónasson is an exceptional writer of Nordic Noir. His style, pace, and sense of tension and atmosphere are almost perfect. This cannot be taught. Ragnar Jónasson is a natural storyteller of immense talent.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sam Blake - Little Bones

"...a real cliff-hanger ending, this is a highly-recommended wintery read."

Synopsis:
Investigating a routine break-in, Detective Garda Cathy Connolly makes a grisly discovery: an old wedding dress and, concealed in its hem, the bones of a dead baby. Then the dress's original owner is found dead in a Dublin suburb.

Searching for answers, Cathy is drawn deep into a complex web of secrets and lies spun by three generations of women.

Meanwhile, a fugitive killer has already left two dead in execution-style killings across the Atlantic. Now he's in Dublin with old scores to settle.

Struggling with her own secrets, Cathy doesn't know how dangerous – and personal – this case is about to become.

Review:
'Little Bones' introduces Detective Garda Cathy Connolly, a feisty new addition to the growing number of female police detectives in crime fiction. It's always a risk, trying to come up with a character strong enough and interesting enough to stand out from the crowd and I'm delighted to say that Sam Blake achieves this in spades with Cat Connolly.

Like all the best fictional detectives, Cat comes to us complete with her own complex back-story and personality quirks. She is strong-willed, independent, smart-mouthed and funny. She is, in short, a great character (as well as being a champion kick boxer). The plot revolves around one of the most original storylines I've come across in recent years. It's an intriguing concept that immediately made me want to read on past the first chapter.

The dress is discovered when Cat is called out to a suspected burglary at the home of Zoe Grant, an up-and-coming Dublin-based artist. When Cathy learns that Zoe is the grand-daughter of Lavinia Grant, 'the doyenne of Irish fashion', the case takes an interesting twist, especially when Lavinia turns up dead shortly afterwards.
Piece by piece, we discover the secrets and lies behind the privileged world of the Grant family. Like so many before them, the Grants would rather destroy those in the family who risk disgracing them, than lose their standing as one of Ireland's leading families.

Three intertwined stories draw us deeper into Zoe and Lavinia's background and the origin of the bones. In Dublin, there's Zoe – still fighting against the complicated relationship she has with her grandmother, even after the older woman has died. In London, meanwhile, Emily Fox is trying to help a disturbed elderly woman called Mary. It's clear that Mary is hiding secrets but what are they and why do they matter? And finally, there's Angel Hierra, a dangerous killer who has come to Dublin for reasons not yet clear to us.

Blake twists the different threads of these stories with great skill, drawing us forward to a knuckle-clenching ending as all three storylines come together in Dublin at Christmas time.

With a real cliff-hanger ending, this is a highly-recommended wintery read. Cat Connolly is a great addition to the world of crime fiction and I cannot wait to see what happens to her next.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alan Judd - Deep Blue

"Bang up to date..."

Synopsis:
An extremist group plans to discredit the British nuclear deterrent and might be trying to gain credibility by using the Scottish National Party's declared opposition to nuclear submarines in Faslane. MI5 are aware, but are unable to investigate a bona fide political party. The head of MI5 asks Charles Thoroughgood, Head of MI6 for advice.

Charles has connections to one of the leading players through his past and finds himself deeply involved in investigating the case, if only in a strictly unofficial capacity.

As Charles finds out more about the plot he realises that it would be a significant threat to the stability of the country and also that it is fast reaching a critical point. He employs some strictly unofficial methods to try to scupper the extremists' plans.

Review:
Bang up to date, Alan Judd imagines an all-to-likely scenario. 'Deep Blue' is an exciting, fast-moving tale of espionage and threats that could actually happen. If that is your cup of tea, then this book is the one for you. Judd's experience means that we trust him that this is true to life and follows in the footsteps of the master Le Carré, Graham Greene and Stella Rimington who all know what they're writing about.

There is a strong plot that drives the action, characters who will pull you into their lives and an extremely satisfying denouement. 'Deep Blue' is a spellbinding read for aficionados of spy thrillers.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Dufresne - I Don't Like Where This Is Going

"The humour is sometimes broad, and sometimes sly, but always laugh-out-loud funny."

Synopsis:
Wylie 'Coyote' Melville, therapist and amateur forensic expert, leaves his home state of Florida and heads for Las Vegas. With him is his buddy - card-sharp and magician Bay Lettique. While there, he sees a woman, Layla Davis, fall to her death from the Luxor Hotel. He is hurriedly ordered away from the scene by a guard, so he decides to find out what happened. Over the next few days he makes enquiries. However, it's as if the death never happened. There is no record of her death anywhere, and the hotel denies that she was a guest.

This is the start of a mad, funny, dangerous journey that takes Wylie down into the storm tunnels beneath Las Vegas, back to Florida and then to a under-age bordello where there is a mad shoot-out that finally involves a rocket launcher. Along the way he encounters Kafka lookalikes attending a Kafka convention in Vegas, which, considering the plot, is a neat touch.

Review:
The book starts as if it is going to be a standard thriller, but it soon veers off into an uproarious, rambling adventure where anything can and often does happen. The humour is sometimes broad, and sometimes sly, but always laugh-out-loud funny. Perhaps the second part of the book is a bit too rambling for my taste, as at times it involved going back a few pages to reconnect with the storyline.

The title of the book, in some instances, echoed my feelings as I read it, but this was no problem. I was swept along in a Kafkaesque and illogical flood of bizarre happenings and unlikely characters, and I finally put the book down feeling that maybe this is how Dufresne sees modern-day America - full of mobsters, corrupt deputy sheriffs and sex-crazed county treasurers.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

A.D. Garrett - Truth Will Out

"...more twists and turns than a Grand Prix racing track. "

Synopsis:
A mother and daughter are snatched on their drive home from a cinema. The crime has a number of chilling similarities to a cold case Professor Nick Fennimore had been lecturing on. Then, Fennimore begins receiving taunting messages - is he being targeted by the kidnapper?

Meanwhile, a photograph emailed from Paris could bring Fennimore closer to discovering the fate of Suzie, his own daughter, now missing for six years. He seeks help from his old friend, DCI Kate Simms, recently returned from the US. But Kate is soon blocked from the investigation.

A mother and child's lives hang in the balance as Fennimore and Simms try to break through police bureaucracy to identify their abductor.

Review:
'Truth Will Out' is the third novel in the forensic thriller series by A D Garrett, a pseudonym of psychological crime writer Margaret Murphy working with forensics expert, Helen Pepper.

The opening is original and exciting. Chapter three, in particular, was so powerful it tapped into a fear of mine which gave me a sleepless night and chilled me to the bone.

Nick Fennimore and Kate Simms are a classic double act. Their partnership goes way back and is fraught with tension. In a twist on the will-they-won't-they, they already have, the question here is will they again? Together, they would be deeply unhappy but apart they yearn to be together. They're both self-destructive and unpredictable beings, which makes for fantastic reading.

The detail Garrett puts into the novel is the right amount before it descends into a forensics training manual. Sometimes you can feel bogged down by all the technical aspects of police and forensics procedure, but there is just enough to intrigue and teach you, yet keep you entertained in the story.

As usual with an A D Garrett novel, the plot is multi-layered, and had more twists and turns than a Grand Prix racing track. This is crime writing at its best with a brilliant finale you will not see coming.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Carter - The Caller

"Yet another of Chris Carter’s books I couldn't put down."

Synopsis:
After a tough week, Tanya Kaitlin is looking forward to a relaxing night in, but as she steps out of her shower, she hears her phone ring. The video call request comes from her best friend, Karen Ward. Tanya takes the call and the nightmare begins.

Karen is gagged and bound to a chair in her own living room. If Tanya disconnects from the call, if she looks away from the camera, he will come after her next, the deep, raspy, demonic voice at the other end of the line promises her.

As Hunter and Garcia investigate the threats, they are thrown into a rollercoaster of evil, chasing a predator who scouts the streets and social media networks for victims, taunting them with secret messages and feeding on their fear.

Review:
With 'The Caller', Carter has delivered another hit. Detective Robert Hunter returns working with his partner, Garcia, for the Ultra Violent Crimes Division of Los Angeles Homicide. The team are on the hunt for a killer that is calling a person close to the victim and making them watch the murder.

Carter has crafted a fantastic lead character in Hunter. He is smart without being too academic, confident without being arrogant; in fact he has been pitched perfectly.

The plot itself is contemporary with the use of video calling and social media: technology that only a few years ago would have seemed unbelievable but which has now become part of everyday life. The book starts right in the middle of the action, with a murder taking place. And the pace doesn't slow down from there. Carter manages to throw in a rather interesting character that the murderer wasn't expecting, giving the plot another layer and thread.

Despite there not being a large number of killings and the book being longer than the average thriller, the book didn't drag and I enjoyed every page.

Carter is one of those authors who makes writing look effortless. Each book has a strong plot and cast of characters. Yet another of Chris Carter's books I couldn't put down.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matthew Hall - A Life to Kill

"...a superior writer of British crime fiction and his series goes from strength to strength."

Synopsis:
Just hours before the excited families of Highcliffe are due to welcome home their loved ones from Afghanistan, disaster strikes. Nineteen-year-old Private Pete 'Skippy' Lyons is abducted from his post and the patrol sent out to locate him is ambushed. One killed, two injured. One still missing...

The families find themselves with desperate questions that the Army won't answer. How did Private Lyons's abduction go unseen? And why are the officers concealing what happened in the mission to save him?

Their only hope lies with Coroner Jenny Cooper, who must take on the full might of the military to stop the truth being buried with the boy soldiers. But in a town filled with secrets and rumours, the Army isn't the only one with something to hide.

Review:
'A Life to Kill' is the seventh novel in the Jenny Cooper series and in my opinion, Matthew Hall's finest novel to date. He has created an original series using a Coroner as a protagonist rather than a police detective. In Jenny we have a very real and very human character we can support and believe in.

'A Life to Kill' is a gripping and stark story that has been thoroughly researched which is one of Hall's greatest powers. His keen attention to detail brings the characters and situation to life. The secrets of the military bear the hallmarks of real life cases such as the recent Deepcut investigations. It's a highly emotive situation but Hall writes with great sensitivity and aplomb.

Another of Hall's powers is in creating genuine characters and an entertaining story that grips you from the beginning. There are some very heart-breaking scenes in this book: the grandmother being told the fate of her grandson and the letter received seemingly from beyond the grave will stay with me for a long time to come.

As the investigation takes hold, the army closes ranks and it takes all of Jenny's energy to get to the truth. I have been a fan of this series since Hall's debut, 'The Coroner'. Seeing Jenny grow and improve in her anxieties to a confident professional is wonderful to see. She still has her doubts, but she's no longer hiding antidepressants in her packet of mints.

Matthew Hall is a superior writer of British crime fiction and his series goes from strength to strength.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: