May 2019

Neil Spring - The Burning House

"...has plenty of chilling moments to make sure you sleep with the lights on..."

It was a victimless crime. Estate agent Clara Jones is struggling to make a sale. With her abusive ex-husband on the brink of finding where she's hiding, she needs to make a commission soon or lose her chance to escape.

Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness has remained unsold for years, and Clara is sure that an 'innocent' fire will force the price down. But the perfect crime soon turns into the perfect nightmare: there was a witness, a stranger in the village, and he's not going to let Clara get away with it that easily.

Neil Spring's three previous novels have been bestselling, and genuinely frightening, ghost stories. This fourth novel sees Spring move into supernatural thriller territory, and it has plenty of chilling moments to make sure you sleep with the lights on, and it may be a while before you set foot in a butcher's shop again.

The true story of Boleskine House at Loch Ness is the basis of the story and Neil has used the history of the house and the famous legend of the Loch to create a cast of characters whose lives are shaped by superstition, the unexplained and a hope for something otherworldly to tell a truly terrifying story of the lengths people are prepared to go to stay alive.

Protagonist, Clara Jones, is a damaged woman who has suffered immensely at the hands of her violent husband. She has escaped London for Scotland in the hope of a fresh start. Unfortunately, her nightmares continue when she meets the charismatic new owner of Boleskine House. We're rooting for Clara from the very beginning and Spring drops hints that despite her despair, there is a sense she is not defeated. She's a strong, gutsy woman with plenty of fight in her.

One of the things I love about Neil's writing is that he's not afraid to take risks and he doesn't hold back when it comes to killing off a likeable character or throw in something most bizarre and outlandish that, in the hands of a lesser writer, would be poorly executed and descend into melodrama. Spring knows his audience. He's an intelligent writer and he respects the reader to know that knowledge is power and everything has an explanation, no matter how strange the situation.

'The Burning House' is a page turner of a thriller and there are some wonderfully written set pieces that will have you reading long into the night. The finale is a dramatic, visual and unpredictable affair. This is crying out for a big screen adaptation.

If you have yet to read any of Neil Spring's novels, start with this one, then read his others. His style of prose puts him up there with James Herbert and Stephen King.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ambrose Parry - The Way of All Flesh

"The denouement is satisfyingly melodramatic, bringing to a close an excellent book..."

Edinburgh in late 1847. Will Raven, fresh out of university, is apprenticed to Dr James Young Simpson, Edinburgh's leading obstetrician. The Victorian city is one of contrasts - great wealth, medical and scientific advancements, polite society, and yet with a visible undercurrent of violence, crime and poverty. Will discovers the contorted body of Evie Lawson, a prostitute whose services he sometimes used. How did she die? Was she murdered?

Will lives with Dr Simpson in his New Town house at 52 Queen Street, along with Simpson's wife, his sister-in-law Mina, and Dr's George Keith and James Duncan. Also in the household is housemaid Sarah Fisher, an intelligent, quick-witted young woman who is frustrated by the fact that women of her intelligence are not valued. When another young woman, Rosie, is fished from the Water of Leith with similar contortions as Evie, she and Raven combine forces to unmask the killer. There is also the search for the elusive Madame Anchou, an elusive French abortionist, and the mystery surrounding Dr Beattie, who is courting Mina. Plus Will is being pursued by two thugs called Gargantuan and Weasel over an unpaid debt.

Ambrose Parry is the pen name of Chris Brookmyre, the crime writer, and his wife Marisa Haetzman, a consultant anaesthetist. The book has been meticulously researched, and there is always a temptation in such cases to cram the book with research to the detriment of the plot. This doesn't happen here.

The story is always the important element. Drs Simpson, Keith and Knox were real characters, and an incident in Simpson's dining room, where the three men experimented with chloroform and passed out until the following morning, actually did take place (and by doing so discovering a safe way of alleviating pain during medical procedures).

There are other historical characters in the book - David Octavius Hill, Robert Adamson and Jessie Mann, who were pioneers of photography; Dr James Syme the surgeon; even James McLevy, a detective in the local police force, was a real person. Indeed, McLevy went on to write true-life crime books himself.

The denouement is satisfyingly melodramatic, bringing to a close an excellent book in which the city of Edinburgh, medical ethics and religious tensions are almost as important as the characters. This is a dense book, full of incident and believable characters, but this denseness doesn't complicate the plot, which is essentially simple - who in Edinburgh is murdering prostitutes, and why?

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Hilary - Never Be Broken

"...a dark and timely novel which covers difficult topics... "

Children are dying on London's streets. Frankie Reece, stabbed through the heart outside a corner shop. Others recruited from care homes, picked up and exploited; passed like gifts between gangs. They are London's lost.

Then Raphaela Belsham is killed. She's thirteen years old, her father is a man of influence, from a smart part of town. And she's white. Suddenly, the establishment is taking notice.

DS Noah Jake is determined to handle Raphaela's case and Frankie's too. But he's facing his own turmoil, and it's becoming an obsession. DI Marnie Rome is worried, and she needs Noah on side. Because more children are disappearing, more are being killed by the day and the swelling tide of violence needs to be stemmed before it's too late.

The DI Marnie Rome series is one of the most exciting and authentic throughout British crime fiction. 'Never Be Broken' is the sixth and packs the biggest emotional punch of them all.

Rome takes a back seat and her sidekick, DS Noah Jake, steps up as the lead character as his fragile emotional state from events of the previous novel reach breaking point. This change of direction is refreshing and shows Hilary is a master writer who is capable of wonderful and terrifying things.

Noah is suffering the aftermath of the murder of his brother, Sol, and blames himself. In his weak mental state, Noah sees his brother and converses with him. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would have been seen as gimmicky and far-fetched, but Sarah handles this sensitively and shows the grieving process with aplomb.

'Never Be Broken' is a dark and timely novel which covers difficult topics concerning life on London's streets at present; knife and gun crime, racism, homophobia and a crumbling society. There are times when Hilary's story hits incredibly close to the bone that this could be non-fiction, and some parts are difficult to read with echoes of the Grenfell Tower tragedy firmly in mind, but the point of the story is to show how reaching for a knife or a gun to solve an argument is never the right solution, and Sarah's elegant prose hits the target every time.

I was gripped with the change in direction with DS Jake taking the lead and Marnie's ongoing story regarding her foster brother is briefly touched upon. Both characters are growing and developing well. This is a series that has the ability to run and run, and with Hilary taking risky chances and so successfully, Sarah Hilary is going to be up there with the likes of Ruth Rendell, PD James and Val McDermid, as a game changer of British crime fiction.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Carter - Hunting Evil

"...not to be missed."

As roommates, they met for the first time in college. Two of the brightest minds ever to graduate from Stamford Psychology University. As adversaries, they met again in Quantico, Virginia. Robert Hunter had become the head of the LAPD's Ultra-Violent Crimes Unit. Lucien Folter had become the most prolific and dangerous serial killer the FBI had ever encountered.

Now, after spending three and a half years locked in solitary confinement, Lucien has finally managed to break free… and he's angry.

For the past three and a half years, Lucien has thought of nothing else but vengeance. The person responsible for locking him away has to pay, he has to suffer. That person is Robert Hunter. And now it is finally time to execute the plan.

Lucien Folter is Hunter's nemesis. Hunter previously tracked and found Folter in an earlier novel and he has been locked up in prison for the past three and a half years. After a daring escape, Folter is back to doing what he does best - killing. But this time he is also out for revenge against his old friend and adversary Hunter.

Folter is a truly evil psychopath and he kills without any care or conscience. As usual for Carter, the killings are pretty gruesome. Folter is a dangerous character and there's just enough menace for you to want to check the doors are locked if you are at home alone.

The crimes carried out by Carter's characters aren't (as far as I'm aware) real, but they are described and written so well it feels that they could easily happen.

Carter continues to be one of my favourite authors. Every book he writes is of the same high standard. Great plots, interesting and realistic characters and plenty of thrills and suspense. 'Hunting Evil' is another one of Carter's books that is not to be missed.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Yrsa Sigurdardottir - The Absolution

"...hits the mark every time."

The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows the terrified victim begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number 2.

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager's friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim - but even so, who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, and more clips are sent. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. And the killer is not done yet.

This series featuring Detective Huldar and child psychologist Freyja gets better with each book. 'The Absolution' is the third and if you've yet to read one and two I highly recommend them.

The opening for 'The Absolution' is terrifying and reads like the opening to one of the Scream horror films. It's is a nail-biting, adrenaline racing, shocking murder that grips you by the throat and forces you to continue you reading. Be prepared for a sleepless night as this is the definition of unputdownable.

Through the dark and atmospheric plot, we are given moments of lightness as the relationship between Freyja and Huldar simmers along nicely. There's an attraction that Huldar wants to pursue and Freyja wants to ignore and the Tinder sequence made me smile. Both lead characters are richly drawn, superbly flawed and a delight to be in the company of.

Yrsa has shown a dark side to social media and the vulnerabilities of its users, primarily children. Through her tightly written prose, the author raises many questions about the make-up of social networking sites and the information we share, and how easy it is to become a victim. This kind of story that is not only entertaining and exciting but has an underlying message, it is the kind of stays in the mind long after the final pages. Not many do that, but I will be thinking of 'The Absolution' for months to come.

I'm a huge fan of Icelandic crime fiction and I believe Sigurdardottir to be the Queen of Icelandic Noir. No other writer can touch her for pace, drama, thrills and depth of character. She makes thriller writing seem effortless and she hits the mark every time. This series has the potential to run and run.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret's Patience

"This is a corker."

Maigret has just solved a case that took place in the Rue des Acacias. A few days later he is back in the street - in fact, in the same building, this time to investigate the murder in his apartment of Manuel Palmari, a crook whom Maigret has long suspected of being behind a series of jewellery robberies from jewellers in Paris. Palmari was in a wheelchair having been shot some time ago by a machine gun, and losing a leg. Though a crook, Maigret had a certain respect for him, as he had, over the years, passed on valuable information on criminal activities in the city. He lived with a young woman called Aline Bauche, who is devoted to him, and calls him 'Daddy'. She discovered the body and called the police.

Maigret is sure that the murderer is someone who lives in, or is connected with, the same apartment block as Palmari. So he carefully and patiently interviews each person living there, including maids who live in garret flats, seeking out motives and alibis. It all takes time, but his patience begins to pay dividends. He uncovers a simple but effective jewel robbery set up, and this eventually leads to an arrest.

This is a corker. I admire Simenon greatly, but this book swept me away. Why? Because it has a simple plot that still manages to keep you guessing, the prose is concise, with not a wasted word, and the characters seem so real I felt as if I could reach out and touch them. It also, without any lengthy descriptive passages, brings Paris alive. I don't know how Simenon pulls it off, but he does.

The seediness of a certain stratum of Paris society which considers itself to be elite (it has maids, and maid's bedrooms) is captured beautifully within a plot that is satisfying and compelling. As usual, the motive of the perpetrator is as important as their identity (such a simple motive - why didn't I see it?).

One of the best (so good, in fact, that it has been included in the list of his ten best books), from a man who could teach some 'intellectually respected' but obscure modern writers a thing or two.

Reviewed by: J.G.

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