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Reviews

December 2006

Ruth Rendell - The Water’s Lovely

"RR doesn't just stand for Rolls Royce... Pure class and stunning engineering from Ruth Rendell."

Synopsis:
Ismay was only fifteen when she and her mother found her stepfather, Guy, floating dead in the bath. Her sister, Heather, who was in the house at the time, was drenched. She and her mother lied that Heather had been with them shopping and that Guy, on his own in the house and just recovering from a severe virus, must have slipped under the water and not having the strength to pull himself up, must have drowned.

Ten years later, the matter has never been mentioned since. Now Heather has found a new boyfriend and Ismay is frightened that she just may harm someone else to keep her man by her side. Ismay decides to record a message on a tape cassette for Heather's fiancée, Edmund. Soon after, she believes it a ridiculous notion to even think she could have handed it to him and destroy their happiness. Forgetting the tape, she continues with life. But this being Rendell-land, that isn't where things finish. In fact, this is where things start to go very, very wrong…

Review:
RR doesn't just stand for Rolls Royce... Pure class and stunning engineering from Ruth Rendell. This author always has the knack of collecting together a menagerie of outcasts and making us feel that they could very easily be our next-door neighbours. The Water's Lovely is a startling affair and, unlike the tepid novel, The Rottweiler, it sees Rendell back in the driver's seat. This novel is populated by the most bizarre, mischievous people imaginable. Within a few paragraphs the reader can relax, as you just know that you are in the realm of the Rendellesque.

My favourite character in this story is certainly Marion, who wheedles her way into old people's affection, her ultimate goal being a mention in their will and a tasty legacy. Her sycophantic exterior hides a seething need for money – however it is gained. She is a spectacular Rendell creation and it is through Marion that the impasse with Ismay and Heather is finally breached.

The end solution is not breathtaking or blinding. It is the sheer simplicity that embeds the whole work of fiction into some semblance of fact. Anything too surprising would probably have made the whole story seem preposterous. In fact, what Rendell reaches for and admirably achieves is the ability to give Ismay and Heather, a very human side to their characters. What both girls have been through is read in the papers all too often. However, this being the world of Rendell, a swift retribution is dealt by the author involving an incident that is, unfortunately, based in fact.

Whether or not you feel that retribution justified, I leave to you, dear reader…

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mary and Carol Higgins Clark - Santa Cruise

"…another cautionary Christmas tale from this mother and daughter team."

Synopsis:
Alvirah Meehan, the lottery winner turned amateur sleuth, has invited her friends the Reillys on a charity cruise aboard The Mermaid. Right from the very beginning, when a waiter is chased off the boat by cops, the cruise seems to be doomed to failure. Then someone from the Oklahoma Reader's and Writer's group - who are planning to honour a late, great crime writer, Left Hook Louie – believes she sees the ghost of the writer in the ship's chapel.

A number of other strange occurrences happen whilst at sea, including disappearing Santa suits and an attempted murder. Soon, Alvirah and her partners in crime, Regan and Jack Reilly, are hot on the trail of a couple of fugitives who are trying to escape jail. And that is not all that happens on this sea voyage from hell!

Review:
This is another cautionary Christmas tale from this mother and daughter team. This is the fourth seasonal book they have collaborated on, the last was two years ago with The Christmas Thief. I really enjoyed the latest adventure featuring this group of friends. Alvirah can seem annoyingly nosey at times, especially with her little microphone pin which enables her to tape people's conversations, but her heart is in the right place and she wishes only to see justice done.

This story is populated with some bizarre characters and the short chapters help the narrative flow along very smoothly - like a liner on calm waters. Reading this book is a bit like devouring a light, fluffy confection. Its delicious - and can be eaten whole in a single sitting. However, unlike the dessert, this lively little jaunt on the sea will not add any more calories to your waist.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M. C. Beaton - Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor

"…another hilarious Agatha Raisin jewel that literally makes you laugh out loud."

Synopsis:
Agatha Raisin has once again been persuaded by her amour, James Lacey, to go on a 'holiday of a lifetime'. Packing her bags with all kinds of indiscreet, diaphanous garments, Agatha dreams of sunning herself on sandy beaches, blue sea and clear skies - with her man, James, next to her. Then reality steps in. James has taken Agatha to an old childhood haunt called Snoth-on-Sea. Soon Agatha is swapping her swimsuit for wellington boots as the rain constantly lashes down on the faded seaside resort and the sea continues to pound the seafront which threatens to fall into the sea at any given moment.

Soon, Agatha is embroiled in another murder – this time of a woman Agatha has previously had a shouting match with in the dining room. Agatha is a prime suspect and she is determined to clear her name. As Agatha digs deeper, she soon finds that the victim was not an innocent and in the process turns the spotlight onto an older crime. As more murders occur and Agatha herself becomes the target of an assassin, it is a race to find out the real culprit of these heinous crimes...

Review:
This is another hilarious Agatha Raisin jewel that literally makes you laugh out loud. The plot weaves its way precariously and perilously, just like Agatha, with just a dash of humour to make her seem wonderfully human. Of course, the usual banter between Agatha and her now ex-husband, James, is evident and provides much entertainment between these two great characters. There is a wonderful moment, just after an argument, when James is drenched by a wave over the sea wall. Agatha's response to this is just perfect comic timing.

The Agatha Raisin series is now a unique body of work. They are like a series of small watercolours which, when shown together, create a masterpiece. The Raisin series has been published over in the USA for some years and it is only now that, through her publishers, Constable, this author is given the British audience she truly deserves.

We can only thank our stars that we have the pleasure of Agatha Raisin and her motely crew - and laugh as they plough their way like a runaway steamroller, through another investigation. I can't think of anything more pleasurable than to read of Agatha's exploits whilst digesting those Christmas brussel sprouts!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jean-Patrick Manchette - The Prone Gunman

"… written in a distinctive clipped style, reminiscent of the Philip Marlowe novels."

Synopsis:
Martin Terrier is a professional hitman at the top of his profession, working in France. However, wearying of the lifestyle, he decides to leave his work behind him and travel south to find his childhood sweetheart. The firm that he works for, unhappy at his decision, has other ideas and requests that he do one last job for them, the murder of an Arab oil magnate. When Martin refuses his ex-employers follow his movements as he travels to meet up with his childhood girlfriend. She, however, turns out to have a few surprises herself and the pair leave a bloody trail in their wake.

Review:
This is an unusual novel written in a distinctive clipped style, reminiscent of the Philip Marlowe novels. The translation is excellent, with short terse paragraphs opening out the story line by line. The anti-hero of the book, while perhaps sharing the cynical characteristics of 1930s detectives, is definitely a modern day killer who uses the full range of the very latest armoury at his disposal. The men in the book are significantly better portrayed than the women and neither the character of Terrier's Parisian girlfriend or his original paramour convinced me particularly.

Some of the murder scenes are extremely graphic and certainly not for the squeamish. Yet the dispassionate tone in which the story is narrated makes the book very readable. At only 155 pages it's a very quick read yet it packs a complex story into its short length. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anne Perry - A Christmas Secret

"This is a marvellous little seasonal nugget…"

Synopsis:
Reverend Corde and his wife, Clarice have been seconded to a little village called Cottisham to watch over the small parish while the current vicar is away on holiday. It appears that the Reverend Wynter has left abruptly to go on a sojourn and many of his parishioners have no idea where he has gone.

Clarice, having fallen in love with the idyllic countryside after the claustrophobic streets of London, senses that something is amiss with the local folk. It appears that the Reverend knew many people's secrets and some of the locals have something they wish to stay hidden. Would they be willing to keep such a secret hidden at any cost…?

Review:
Anne Perry has carved out a niche for herself by supplying her readers with an annual Christmas novella, which surely gets the reader in the mood for Christmas (whether it be murderous or harmonious!). Perry not only produces a lean mystery in just over a hundred pages, but also instils a sliver of inspiration into her characters motives.

Clarice is the new wife of the Reverend who is also new to his calling. She fervently wishes to please him and knows that she usually manages to put her foot well and truly into things more often than not. Her determination to get to the bottom of the mystery of Cottisham is admirable and I genuinely warmed to this character. The “mystery” itself isn't really that taxing but the moral that envelopes the cast is what I believe to be the real aim of Ms. Perry's story. Perry's dedication at the front of the book clearly alludes to what the story is all about.

This is a marvellous little seasonal nugget, which will certainly whet the festive appetite – even the grumpiest of Scrooge's cannot fail to look forward to the Christmas season after reading this novella.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Derek Wilson - Unquiet Spirit

"… a very pleasing little gem of a book."

Synopsis:
A team of Psychic Investigators has been invited by St. Thomas' College in order to reach a conclusion about a possible haunting on a staircase in the compound. A student mysterious died in one of the dorms leading off the staircase and it is this student who supposedly haunts the area. While this investigation is taking place one of the tutors (one of the main opponents of the experiment), is killed on the staircase whilst all the investigators are surrounding him. Was it the ghost of the student seeking retribution or was the man killed for past sins?

The new Master of St. Thomas', Joseph Zuylestein, asks Dr. Nathaniel Gye to look into the matter. Is it really a spirit taking revenge on the college and it's tutors or is the perpetrator of the crime far more human? With a multi-million pound benefaction in the offing, Zuylestein wants Gye to investigate quickly and reach a solution in the minimum of time. As Gye begins his investigations he finds that the student wasn't the angel he was made out to be and someone who is still very much alive wants Gye to drop his research - or put his family in peril.

Review:
This tight, economical novel is a very pleasing little gem of a book. The main investigation takes place within the twelve days of Christmas and leads Nathaniel Gye into a web of malice, deception, blackmail and sex.

The mix of the supernatural element with the high handedness of the college is especially reminiscent of a favourite classic crime writer of mine, Gladys Mitchell. Much of the action takes place 'off stage', a move that was also often used to great effect by Gladys Mitchell.

Wilson sticks closely to the main characters and, without endless pages of ramblings, concentrates on the nucleus of the mystery itself. The solution is given at the end and, as Wilson wraps it up so well, you can forgive the author for not really supplying the reader with all the salient facts. This is a great little find and certainly would not be unwelcome in any crime reader's Christmas stocking!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Faye Kellerman - The Garden of Evil and other criminal delights.

"This is a useful introduction for those new to Faye Kellerman’s work."

Synopsis:
This is collection of short stories from Faye Kellerman about half of which feature her usual protagonists, Lieutenant Peter Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus.

Each contribution is preceded by a short explanation of the influences behind the writing of the story, which vary from straight 'whodunit' fiction to stories based on Faye Kellerman's family.

Review:
This is a useful introduction for those new to Faye Kellerman's work. Most of the stories are very short and succinct which means that there isn't much time for the development of complex plots. However, most capture the reader's imagination, and a particularly strong story is Bull's Eye featuring Peter Decker's rookie daughter Cindy.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: