Reviews

May 2021

Danuta Kot - Someone Who Isn't Me

"This is urban noir at its best."

Synopsis:
When the body of a twenty-four-year-old man is found on Sunk Island, a quiet stretch of land in Yorkshire, two facts immediately stand out. First: the killer wanted the body to be found. Second: the dead man was a police officer, and he had been working undercover.

Meanwhile, aimless 20-something, Becca, has multiple jobs to keep her head above water. At night, in the local pub, she serves punters and tries to work out what she wants to do with her life. One thing that keeps her going is Andy, a regular she always has a laugh with – and maybe something more.

But then Andy disappears. Becca is convinced that the shady manager of the pub has something to do with it. In order to discover the truth, she'll have to put herself in danger. All this for someone she doesn't truly know.

Review:
'Someone Who Isn't Me' is a dark and tense, multi-layered story which deals with social depravity, the struggle to make our way in the world when everything is against us, and the power of survival. It's also beautifully and powerfully written by a writer who knows how a crime novel is crafted and has put everything into character development, plot and research, making this feel like a genuine snapshot of life in twenty-first century Britain.

Becca is someone we all know. She's had a dark and frightening childhood and she's surviving on her own wits. She lives from wage packet to wage packet and being able to afford the bus fare to work is classed as a luxury. Despite Becca's internal monologue telling her how bleak and pathetic her life is, we, the reader, know she is desperate to make something of her life, and she's much stronger than she thinks. Basically, she's the perfect protagonist. An understated champion.

Becca is amiably supported by her foster-mother, Kay. Readers will benefit from having read 'Life Ruins', the first novel in this series, but this can be read as a standalone. Danuta Kot is a fine writer, and you won't miss out on the history between these two characters but, having read the first, you'll understand the unwritten feelings they have towards each other. Kot is a writer of immense power and it's often the words not used, and reading between the lines, that add to the intensity of a relationship. There are very few writers with this attribute.

As the story unfolds of the murder of an undercover police officer investigating a drug ring, the pace and tension mounts. This is a bleak story in a bleak setting, but even when describing the barren landscape of Sunk Island, Kot makes East Yorkshire in winter seem beautiful. It's the parallels of the goodness of people like Becca and Kay against the darkness of money laundering, drug running and a decaying society that make this a novel that deserves to be a bestseller. It's understated, it's dark and it doesn't need huge explosions, car chases and set pieces to make it an exciting page turner. This is urban noir at its best.

I implore you to buy this book and 'Life Ruins', sit back, and enjoy. You'll feel much the richer for having done so.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.J. Lee - When The Evil Waits

"Seriously addictive stuff!"

Synopsis:
A young boy's body is found in a meadow beside the River Mersey. No DNA. No witnesses. No clues. It brings back painful memories of the Moors Murderers.

After two weeks, the police have made no progress finding the killer. The one thing they do know; he will kill again. It is a race against time – and they are losing.

DI Thomas Ridpath has just returned to work. Diagnosed with PTSD and undergoing supervised psychological therapy, he is dragged into the case against his better judgement. When another child is kidnapped, Ridpath must confront his own demons to stop a killer before he strikes again.

Review:
I have been looking forward to reading this latest by Lee for many months as the last was left on a cliff-hanger. Needless to say, when I had the book in my hands, I dropped everything. As with all of Lee's previous Ridpath novels, this was an electric and stimulating rollercoaster of a ride. Do not for one moment think you will get anything completed whilst reading this book. Jobs needed to be done, but I had a pyjama day with copious amounts of coffee (as if my system needed more stimulants!) and spent the day with DI Ridpath.

Lee is my latest new go-to name on my list. There is a downside to bingeing on Lee's books – you have to wait for the next one – which I have already checked up to see when that is coming out! 'When the Evil Waits' is the sixth in the Ridpath series and I cannot shout loud enough from the rooftops about these books. I am sure like me you will gobble up all six books and then crave the next in the series. Seriously addictive stuff!

Reviewed by: H.F.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Clarke - The Spy Who Inspired Me

"This is a splendid read that makes you laugh, think, and even squirm a bit."

Synopsis:
Ian Lemming is having a good war. He works in London, in Naval Intelligence, far away from the fighting and bloodshed. Being a serial womaniser, one evening in April 1944, he entertains a young woman called Margaux to dinner, but finds his later advances rebuffed. Next day he is called to a meeting, and is surprised to see the young woman is also there. The meeting is to discuss an operation, which will take six people across the channel by submarine to Dieppe to find details of German shore defences. One of them will be Lemming, and another will be the young woman, but she will not be returning with the rest of them. She will be heading inland to meet up with the local Resistance. Someone in France is betraying British airmen hiding from the Germans in safe houses, and it is her task is to find out who.

Things don't go fully to plan, and Lemming finds himself accompanying Margaux inland, and discovers that she is resourceful, clever, ruthless and courageous - qualities he himself lacks. When they find the person betraying the airmen, Margaux's retribution shocks Lemming to the core. It is something he himself would never have done, but at the same time makes absolute courageous and commendable, sense.

Review:
This book is a romp, with heart-stopping thrills aplenty as they traverse the Normandy countryside, seeking out members of the Resistance and British sympathisers. Lemming, meanwhile, is more concerned with an unshaved chin, not having clean underwear and a dwindling supply of cigarettes. Margaux, in all of this, is the boss, while Lemming stumbles from one mistake to the next. Ian Fleming and James Bond are never mentioned, but the parallels are deliberate. The comedy comes from Lemming's stumbling inexperience and his discomfort of not having the trappings of the civilised life he led in London.

Every few pages the pair encounter seemingly insurmountable problems which Margaux resolves. Gradually there is a rapport between them, and Lemming reassesses his opinion of women. A female spy (every bit as resourceful as James Bond, if not more so) is a clever deceit. The whole premise of the book is a take on the macho Bond novels, and the treatment of woman they contain. Lemming, is, of course, Fleming, and Margaux is a female Bond, without the about-town sophistication.

Even though it's a romp, there is a serious side to the book. The pair are in Nazi-held France, and if they are discovered, they will be shot. Margaux has a ruthless, calculating side that women in most crime novels and thrillers lack. This is a splendid read that makes you laugh, think, and even squirm a bit.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - Before The Storm

"I love this series and am reluctant to finish each book..."

Synopsis:
Inspector Daniel Kohi of the Zimbabwean police force arrives in Glasgow in mid-winter as a refugee from persecution in his own country. His wife and children are dead and his own life is in danger if he returns. Almost the first thing he sees as he arrives in Glasgow is a man emerging from a tenement door, clutching a bloody knife. This remains on his mind and his police instincts lead him on to find out more, even as he has to adjust to life in this strange cold Northern city.

Superintendent Lorimer however is congratulating himself on the relatively low crime level in his native city. Too soon as it happens. Counter terrorism has wind of a possible attack on the city in the run up to Christmas. Threats of a bombing are taken seriously. There is evidence that whoever is plotting the attack may have information from inside the Police force itself. Then more bodies turn up to add to the pressure on Lorimer. He turns to the Zimbabwean inspector who has already been helpful as a witness in a murder enquiry and asks him for help to find out more about the refugee community which might harbour some disaffected individuals prepared to commit a terrorist outrage. All is set for a terrible outcome if Lorimer and his team cannot find out who is behind the threat.

Review:
Alex Gray continues to find a new twist to an old story: this time the way in to a terrorist circle is provided by another asylum seeker who happens to be a talented police officer in his own country.

As always, Gray is brilliant at providing believable and likeable characters. This time the scenario between Inspector Kohi and his eccentric, kind and genuine Glasgow neighbour, Netta is delightful. Gray's Glasgow characters, both the rough and the smooth, reflect the nature of the city. Glasgow is its people and Gray shows us the warmth and the violence that is part of that great place.

I love this series and am reluctant to finish each book as I then have to wait for the next instalment. Let's hope there are many more of them.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Paul Herron - Breakout

"...great for those who are looking for their next Lee Child-esque fix. Cracking stuff."

Synopsis:
Jack Constantine – a former cop who killed one of his wife's murderers in an act of vengeance – is serving his time in Ravenhill penitentiary, a notorious 'supermax' home to the most dangerous convicts in the country.

When an apocalyptic superstorm wreaks havoc across the USA, the correctional officers flee the prison…but not before opening every cell door. The inmates must fend for themselves as lethal floodwaters rise and violent anarchy is unleashed.

Teaming up with Kiera Sawyer, a Correctional Officer left behind on her first day of work, Constantine has one chance of survival – he must break out of a maximum security prison. But with the building on the verge of collapse, and deadly chaos around him, time is running out.

Review:
Jack Constantine is serving his sentence together with 799 other men. 'Breakout' sees Constantine and Sawyer take on the hardest of criminals. This is a real David and Goliath story with the protagonists having a slim chance of survival. Despite being sentenced to jail for murder, Constantine is still a character that is easy to identify with and root for. Although he did kill another person, his reasons for this can be understood. And with so many really bad people in this jail, there's no need to waste any time disliking Constantine.

Herron has written a real fast burner with 'Break Out'. It starts fast, finishes fast and doesn't slow in between. And even though it is mostly an action book (that would make a brilliant film btw), there's a nice little twist at the end that was a good surprise. I'm not sure what I was expecting from 'Breakout', but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I am eagerly awaiting the next book from Herron. 'Breakout' is great for those who are looking for their next Lee Child-esque fix. Cracking stuff.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Neil Broadfoot - The Point of No Return

"Murder is ugly, but Broadfoot’s prose is beautiful."

Synopsis:
After more than a decade of being in prison for the brutal murder of two Stirling University students, Colin Sanderson has been released after his conviction was found to be unsafe.

Returning home to a small village not far from Stirling, Sanderson refuses police protection, even in the face of a death threat. But the PR firm that has scooped him up to sell his story does know of a protection expert in Stirling.

Connor Fraser reluctantly takes the assignment, partly as a favour to DCI Malcolm Ford, who is none too keen to have Sanderson on the loose, particularly as he was involved in the original investigation that saw him imprisoned.

When a body is found, mutilated in the same way as Sanderson's victims were, all eyes fall on the released man. But how can he be the killer when Connor's own security detail gives him an alibi?

As Connor races to uncover the truth, he is forced to confront not only Sanderson's past but his own, and a secret that could change his life forever.

Review:
Whenever a new Scottish writer emerges onto the scene, they're often described as 'the new Rankin', but in my opinion, they've all fallen short. Nobody can match the style, pace, structure and drama as Ian Rankin… well, until now... meet Neil Broadfoot.

Broadfoot is the author of the original and gripping Connor Fraser series and 'The Point of No Return' is the third. If you haven't read the previous two, you can read this as a standalone as previous character relationships are recapped in a way that doesn't feel like filler. However, I urge you to read from the beginning as this is a series you do not want to miss.

Connor Fraser, a security expert, is a classic protagonist, a match for any of the leading Scottish detectives. His complex life and family problems make him well-rounded and an everyman. We'll all be able to relate to some of his issues and that's what makes these books particularly entertaining. Fraser isn't a maverick. He's just a regular bloke.

The plot, like those of Rankin's novels, is complex, intriguing, and gripping throughout. The murders, though disturbing and gruesome, are not voyeuristic and are written with sensitivity. Murder is ugly, but Broadfoot's prose is beautiful.

Connor, Donna and Malcolm are an excellent team and the characters gel well together, and it will be interesting to seem them develop as the series progresses.

'The Point of No Return' is wonderfully crafted with plenty of action and will keep you turning the pages until the gripping finale. A series to be cherished.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Frances Brody - Death and the Brewery Queen

"Another exciting chapter in this addictive series."

Synopsis:
1930, and William Lofthouse, owner of the Barleycorn Brewery, in Masham, North Yorkshire, has called in Kate Shackleton's detective agency to discover why the brewery has problems. Why is the brewery losing clients? Have crimes been committed on the premises? Why are there financial irregularities in the books? Fraud? Embezzlement? Or is it simple mismanagement? Kate sends in Jim Sykes, an expert in finance and book-keeping, to investigate. One member of staff, William's secretary, Miss Crawford, seems to know the answers, but before she can reveal them, she is killed. Then another killing takes place - this time in the brewery's fermentation room through asphyxiation.

Meanwhile, Ruth Parnaby, a wages clerk, has entered a competition to find a Brewery Queen. This, William's wife, Eleanor surmises, will improve the brewery's image. Ruth is desperate to escape from her violent father, Slater Parnaby, who also works in the brewery.

Gradually a picture emerges of what is going on within the brewery, but when Ruth is kidnapped before she can enter the competition, things take a different turn. Who is the murderer? Who is the kidnapper? It takes all of Kate's skills to uncover the truth.

Review:
This is the twelfth book in the Kate Shackleton series, and has a plot that weaves and dodges, throwing up red herrings and real clues aplenty. Kate herself is well-imagined, as is Jim Sykes. I know very little about brewing, but life in the brewery seems believable. Frances Brody seems to have done her homework, and at the end of the book she explains the research she undertook.

The other characters - William Lofthouse, his wife Eleanor, Ruth Parnaby et al are central to the plot, which is devious, to say the least. And the book is eminently readable - being a page turner that will have you reading into the wee small hours.

This is a most satisfying novel - ingenious, up to the standard of Francis Brody's other books, and one that will have you guessing as you read, even though the clues are all there. Another exciting chapter in this addictive series.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lynda La Plante - Judas Horse

"‘Judas Horse’ gallops like a wild mustang! "

Synopsis:
'Do you know what a Judas Horse is? When the wild mustangs are running free, you corral one and train it. When he's ready, you release him and he'll bring his team back into the corral - like Judas betraying them...'

Violent burglars have been terrorising residents across the English countryside. But when a mutilated body is discovered in a Cotswolds house, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary group of opportunist thieves.

As Detective Jack Warr investigates, he discovers locals with dark secrets, unearths hidden crimes - and hits countless dead ends. With few leads and the violent attacks escalating, he will have to act as audaciously as the criminals if he hopes to stop them.

When Warr meets Charlotte Miles, a terrified woman with links to the group, he must use her to lure the unsuspecting killers into one last job, and into his trap. But with the law already stretched to breaking point, any failure will be on Warr's head - and any more blood spilled, on his hands.

Review:
I have been a big fan of La Plante's books for years. I loved the first in this series, 'Buried' and plunged into 'Judas Horse' as soon as it was in my hot little hands! It was great to be back in Warr's company. La Plante definitely makes him someone you can root for – and I was especially cheering Warr on when he belted someone who deserved it!

As with her TV shows, La Plante is so good at keeping the tension going that her story won't let go until finished. With me, it is always one more chapter, one more chapter as the early hours of the morning come and go!! La Plante knows when to push that button to make her books buck and gain even more momentum, leaving you breathless. 'Judas Horse' gallops like a wild mustang!

Reviewed by: H.F.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kate Morgan - Murder: The Biography

"...a book that is simple to understand and hugely enjoyable to read."

Synopsis:
The crime of murder is as fascinating as it is gruesome, and in this book Kate Morgan has followed its history from a legal point of view from Anglo Saxon times up until the present day. A thousand years ago, the punishment for homicide was a fine based on the value placed on the murdered person, known as the 'wergild'. Since then retribution has gradually become more complicated, the main complication being the legal difference between murder and culpable homicide (also known as manslaughter). Through the years, lawyers and judges fretted over the difference, with clarity coming mainly through case law. We read of Archibald Kinloch, whose frenzied killings led to a recognised defence of diminished responsibility. We also read of the gruesome case of Richard Parker, a cabin boy who was killed and eaten by hungry shipmates (was it manslaughter or murder?), and the Aberfan disaster, which led directly to the crime of corporate manslaughter.

Along the way, several notable cases led to changes in the law. Percy Bateman, whose treatment of a pregnant woman led to a death - Ruth Ellis, the last woman to hang in the UK - and many more. All played their part in shaping the country's response to homicide, be it murder or manslaughter.

Review:
Though it deals with the legalities and history of murder and culpable homicide, this book is no heavyweight tome which is mired in the niceties and esoteric backwaters of the law. It is, in fact, an easy read, and explains, in simple terms, how our legal system has, over the years, dealt with such a fraught subject. The court cases are explained in the context of the times in which they took place, and the many difficulties faced by the law are presented in a no-nonsense fashion that makes for an enjoyable read.

It is not a 'must' for crime writing aficionados as such, but reading this book will certainly compliment the pleasure of a good crime novel, especially courtroom drama. Kate Morgan, a lawyer herself, is to be congratulated in writing a book that is simple to understand and hugely enjoyable to read.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger - Smoke Screen

"Everything moves along at a fast pace."

Synopsis:
New Year's Eve in Oslo's harbour district and Police Officer Blix is on duty. Journalist Emma Ramm is there too trying to confront her irrational fear that something terrible is about to happen. But unexpectedly something terrible does happen. A bomb goes off, killing four and leaving one seriously injured woman struggling for life. She turns out to be the mother of a young child reported missing ten years previously and never found. At the same time the child's father, who is in prison is sent a photograph of an older girl whom he is convinced is his daughter, still alive.

Blix and Ramm work together to find out what happened in the past and they discover that the explosion at the harbour was rooted in the events of ten years ago.

Review:
I am not usually a fan of joint authorship of books but on this occasion the co-operation between two of my favourite Scandinavian authors works brilliantly. The writing is seamless and each has their own separate experience to inform the story.

The plot is clever, unexpected but utterly believable. Everything moves along at a fast pace. The icy Nordic winter adds to the chill of the action and the atmosphere generated is suitably creepy. 'Smoke Screen' is an absorbing read and will definitely help you forget the tedium of lockdown. Highly enjoyable.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro - 21st Birthday

"The story starts off at a sprint and gets faster and faster."

Synopsis:
When a distraught mother pleads with San Francisco Chronicle reporter Cindy Thomas to investigate the disappearance of her daughter Tara and baby granddaughter Lorrie, Cindy immediately loops in SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer. The prime suspect is Tara's schoolteacher husband, Lucas Burke, but he tells a conflicting story that paints Tara as a wayward wife, not a missing person.

While the city's chief medical examiner, Claire Washburn, harbours theories that run counter to the police investigation of the Burke case, Assistant District Attorney Yuki Castellano sizes up Lucas as a textbook domestic offender - until he puts forward a theory of his own that could connect the dots on a constellation of killings.

As the case grows into something far bigger than any of them could have imagined, the four friends will need each other to help unpick the truth from a web of lies.

Review:
I can't believe it has been twenty years since I bought '1st To Die' back in 2001. I have kept tabs on the Women's Murder Club. Andrew Gross wrote the first three, handing over the reins to Paetro on '4th of July' and she has made it her own since. The WMC have had their ups and downs, as have some of the plots. I am still trying to figure out what '19th Christmas' was all about, plus it was very much a Boxer case. Thankfully, in '21st Birthday', which marks the 21st novel and not years, all the ladies are present and taking their own place in the spotlight. Yuki is more centre stage. Not an original WMC member, I had wondered back then if I was going to like her, but Yuki has proved she is a solid member of the WMC.

The story starts off at a sprint and gets faster and faster. There were some great twists and turns and I was always wondering 'did he or didn't he?' as the scenario flipped and then flipped again. The courtroom scenes were particularly gripping. All was going well and I was enraptured, feeling '21st Birthday' was as strong as the those from the beginning. But then, Patterson/Paetro seem to lose momentum and run out of steam, leaving me feeling the end abrupt and did not match up to the beginning and middle of this novel, which was a shame. I am hopeful that as with the Cross series, this will be a story that bridges over two novels. I feel there is much more of the perpetrator's story to be told. This would be an excellent moment for Cindy to take a leading role. Regardless, the Women's Murder Club will be around for possibly another 21 books! Raise your glass!

Reviewed by: C.S.

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