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Reviews

August 2006

Kathleen McGowan - The Expected One

"This book has “blockbuster” in letters of fire written all over it."

Synopsis:
Maureen Paschal is a journalist with a very modern approach to women's place in history. She also seems to have been singled out to fulfil an extraordinary personal destiny. Whilst on a research trip to Jerusalem a perfect stranger gives her a unique ring and soon afterwards she starts to experience extraordinary, detailed visions from the time of Christ.

Lord Béranger Sinclair is a wealthy Scottish aristocrat who has spent much of his life and considerable family fortune preparing for The Expected One. From his spectacular Chateau in the Languedoc region of France he heads a secret society dedicated to preserving an ancient secret – the long-hidden marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, and the resulting offspring.

Maureen's story is scattered throughout with extracts of an amazing Gospel written by Mary Magdalene containing her version of the story of those turbulent times. But where there is light there is always darkness. Equally secretive and powerful forces have been dedicated to removing and destroying all traces of Mary's part in the story– and the lineage through history of her offspring - for centuries. Add to this the mysterious role of the Catholic Church... Soon Maureen is caught up in a terrifying psychological and spiritual journey, leading up to a whirlwind of events of epic, life-changing, possibly world-changing, proportions.

Review:
Let's not mention “The you-know-who Code” shall we…? (In fact Leonardo Da Vinci turns out to be something of a bad guy in this version of events!) Yes, it's born of that same biblical/spiritual/psychological/thriller genre. And, yes, there are structural similarities in the short, episodic chapters, each with its own cliff-hanging ending. But there the similarities end.

This book has “blockbuster” in letters of fire written all over it. Kathleen McGowan has delved into a richly evocative and disturbing take on history and focused on events that give a totally new twist to a spiritual tradition that covers the globe. The story spans over two thousand years, yet resonates with a highly contemporary note. This book focuses on righting the deep seated wrongs that centuries of male dominated society have wrought on an important spiritual tradition. The new illumination on a story known to millions is thought provoking, to say the least…

Yet, we should not forget that this is a novel - and a well written one at that. Expertly plotted, packed with believable and well-rounded characters and containing some fabulous twists and turns in the action. Will it change your world view? Possibly. Is it a darn good read? Definitely!

Reviewed by: A.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jim Kelly - The Coldest Blood

"Kelly is a wonderfully manipulative writer showing a great talent for sleight of hand…"

Synopsis:
The whole deception starts when some children on their summer holidays witness an incident that will come back and haunt them thirty-two years later. It was supposed to be an idyllic time on the holiday camp, but other people had other thoughts.

Philip Dryden, Jim Kelly's main character, gets accidentally caught up in a story that involves him in more ways than he could ever have imagined. It is just after Christmas and, as always, news is slow. Dryden is trying to put together a story about people dying from the artic cold that is sweeping Ely. Soon, Dryden hears of a man who died of cold when he fell asleep drunk with all his windows wide open. Then the deceased's best friend is also found dead, a sheen of ice covering his body. Are these really accidents as the local police supposed or are they something worse? As Dryden digs deeper, he couldn't even begin to imagine that what is happening today is something that he had a hand in over thirty years ago…

Review:
As with Kelly's previous novels, this latest has a wonderful Gothic feel about the whole case. The settings of Ely and its imposing cathedral dominating the skyline give the story a certain dash of Hammer Horror about what happens in it's ice laden streets. Kelly has brought forth several stories about past sins catching up with its perpetrators in the present. This latest story is a wonderful conundrum that baffles the reader right to the end of the book. The story flows easily and is populated by some very strange characters. Now and again a little teaser from the past just makes the reader salivate even more for the solution.

The conclusion of The Coldest Blood is the right one and is satisfying from all angles. The layers are peeled back and Kelly allows you to see as much of the whole picture as and when he wants. Kelly is a wonderfully manipulative writer showing a great talent for sleight of hand. It is small wonder that Jim Kelly won the CWA Dagger in the Library Award in July. I look forward to watching this man's work develop over the coming years.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - After The Mourning

"The plot is intricate and very different."

Synopsis:
Francis Hancock is a highly unusual undertaker based in the East End of London during the blitz in Second World War. Having suffered from shell shock in the trenches during the First World War, he relives his terror whenever the bombs are falling and has to keep running to keep his demons at bay.

A young gypsy girl, Rosie Lee, is murdered in Epping Forest. Francis is asked by the family to bury her. The encampment in Epping Forest also includes many dispossessed people; travellers, deserters and possibly German spies. The murder proves to be only the first in a series of deaths that leads to the discovery of a conspiracy that can be tracked back to the Nazis in Germany.

Review:
This is the second book in the series about Francis Hancock and I warmly welcome it. The main protagonist, Francis, and the group of characters around him are both sympathetic and believable. The plot is intricate and very different. The descriptions of the war torn East End are vivid and, at times, frightening.

I found myself really caring deeply about what happened to Francis, his family and friends as the developments of the plot unfolded.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffery Deaver - The Cold Moon

"Deaver is the master of suspense and false leads, and The Cold Moon is no exception."

Synopsis:
On a freezing December night, with a full moon hovering in the black sky over New York City, two people are brutally murdered - the death scenes marked by eerie, matching calling cards; moon-faced clocks that investigators fear ticked away the victims' last moments on earth.

Renowned criminologist, Lincoln Rhyme, immediately identifies the clock distributor and has the chilling realization that the killer - who has dubbed himself the Watchmaker - has more murders planned in the hours to come. Rhyme, a quadriplegic long confined to his wheelchair, immediately taps his trusted partner and long time love, Amelia Sachs, to walk the grid and be his eyes and ears on the street. But she has other commitments now - namely, her first assignment as lead detective on a homicide of her own.

As Sachs struggles to balance her pursuit of the infuriatingly elusive Watchmaker with her own case she unearths shocking revelations about the police force that threaten to undermine her career, her sense of self and her relationship with Rhyme. As the Rhyme-Sachs team shows evidence of deepening fissures, the Watchmaker is out there, methodically stalking his victims and planning a diabolical criminal masterwork…

Review:
Rhyme and Sachs return with the regular supporting cast to track down the Watchmaker. In usual Deaver fashion, nothing about this plot is straightforward or as it initially seems. Deaver is the master of suspense and false leads, and The Cold Moon is no exception.

Whilst the reader is aware of the relationship between Sachs and Rhyme, Deaver always concentrates on the crime and forensic details of the story, which are the parts he obviously excels at. The characters, whilst always keeping their main traits, grow with each book.

Whilst hardened Deaver fans may be slightly disappointed with the low body count in his latest offering, The Cold Moon lacks none of Deaver's usual pace and excitement and, as usual, comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Hill - Risk of Darkness

"Susan Hill has a distinctive voice and her crime novels are likely to become classics."

Synopsis:
This third book in the Simon Serrailler series picks up where 'The Pure in Heart' left off. Serrailler, still disturbed by the disappearance of a local schoolboy, gets news of a similar abduction in the north of England which he is anxious to investigate.

Meanwhile, nearer to home, Serrailler is troubled by news that his overworked sister is contemplating a move to Australia, and, even more worryingly, the actions of a local man deranged by grief following the death of his wife. In the midst of this turmoil it looks like Serrailler's impenetrable reserve is about to be broken...

Review:
Susan Hill has a distinctive voice and her crime novels are likely to become classics.

As in her previous books, her narrative doesn't merely focus on the crime that has been committed but she continues to develop the lives of the characters from earlier novels in the series - as well as introducing new individuals.

Simon Serrailler is an enigmatic policeman. He treats women in a cavalier fashion but this novel hints that this reserve can be broken. Although this may be because, once more, he is falling for a woman that is unattainable. A definite read for those who have enjoyed Susan Hill's previous books.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Pierre Magnan - The Messengers of Death

"The plot itself is ingenious and will, naturally, keep you guessing…"

Synopsis:
It is the 1960's in the Basse-Alpes, France and retired police detective Commisaire Laviolette is tempted back to assist with the investigation of an heiress's murder – stabbed to death and pinned against her piano by a rusty bayonet fixed to an old rifle.

The police and the local community become increasingly alarmed as the murders and unexplained deaths mount up, but Laviolette feels sure that the solution to who is committing these grizzly and eccentric crimes lies in the deep, hard and troubled history of the area…

Review:
Anyone familiar with French crime fiction, from Simenon to Vargas will know that they do things differently over there.

A sense of place and atmosphere is very important and the placing of the characters, and the crime itself, within that context tends to dictate the action. This book is no exception, but this approach does not necessarily detract from the plot or the pace of the novel. The lessons in cuisine, history and geography can disrupt the flow of the narrative but are written with such an obvious love of the area that they can be excused. That said, some of the scenes are a little far fetched and hard to imagine. I'm sure this is more to do with the author's fertile (and salacious) imagination, rather than anything lost in translation.

The plot itself is ingenious and will, naturally, keep you guessing until the end who is responsible; many blind alleys are explored and many red herrings smelt until the denouement is reached. This itself shows another characteristic of French crime literature, which crops up frequently – a sympathy with the perpetrator and a certain fatalistic and punitive morality dealt out to the murdered victims.

This was a good read - good enough to make me search out more of Monsieur Magnan's books.

Reviewed by: S.M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter James - Looking Good Dead

"…the writing takes on the urgency of an action movie."

Synopsis:
Tom Bryce is stuck on a train from London to Brighton. Next to him is a man shouting into his mobile. Thankfully the man gets off the train but leaves behind a disc on his seat. Tom retrieves it and as the disc has no labels on it to direct him to its owner, he looks at the contents of the disc. There he sees the murder of a young woman. Then Tom receives a message telling him NOT to try and enter the site again and NOT to go to the police. Afterwards, Tom reads in the newspapers about the headless corpse of a young woman and he knows it is the woman who was murdered in the film. Does he put his life, and the lives of his family, on the line by telling the police what he saw - or should he just stay quiet?

DS Roy Grace is in deep trouble. He has got a lot of bad press lately and his superior, Alison Vosper, is very unhappy with him and threatens to send him to Newcastle if he doesn't buck up his ideas. Now he is dealing with a headless woman with no reason for her murder. Then there is a lucky break in the case. Even so, Roy Grace could still be too late to save more innocent lives…

Review:
This is the second novel in the DS Roy Grace series. I loved Dead Simple as it really grabbed you by the collar and whizzed you through the whole novel. Although this book is also exciting, it doesn't quite have the same velocity as the first. The breakdown of the Bryce family's life is well drawn but it takes up half of the 400 pages and I felt it slightly impeded the rest of the story.

The investigation appears to play a secondary role in this book and some of the breaks in the case are discovered by mere co-incidence which can sometimes happen in real life, but comes across as sloppy and slightly unbelievable in a novel. However, Peter James is a long standing scriptwriter and the way this book reads you can see DS Grace and his team transferring very easily onto the T.V. Screen.

By the end of the book, the writing takes on the urgency of an action movie. Speeding your way to the finish, you are always interested to know what happens to all the characters in the end.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Jordan - Taken

"This was an easy tale to enter…"

Synopsis:
How far would you go to save the life of your child?

No parent believes it can happen - their child taken from a crowded playing field, right under their nose. But, as widowed mother Kate Bickford discovers, everything can change in the blink of an eye. One minute her amazing, maddening son, Tommy, is begging for ice cream. Then in a terrible instant, he's gone.

Arriving home, hoping to find her son, Kate comes face to face with Tommy's abductor. He wants money. All she has. And if she doesn't follow something he calls The Method, the consequences will be gruesome. Her comfortable life collapses as precious seconds tick by, and Kate is horrified to uncover the terrible secret she and her son share with a killer. But in this deadly game of cat and mouse, no one should underestimate the power of a mother's love...

Review:
Although I found the story itself a little implausible, I believe the book is extremely well written. This was an easy tale to enter, with the action starting to happen within the first few pages.

The author does not tend to use unnecessary words on descriptions, making the read, for me, more enjoyable. Whilst I found the characters maybe a little stereotypically 'nice', especially Kate, it was nonetheless a very good read, with an interesting twist to the kidnapping. Despite the plotting flaws I would certainly recommend this book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matti Joensuu - The Priest of Evil

"Joensuu has a totally distinctive voice."

Synopsis:
In the Helsinki underground, someone is deliberately pushing passengers to their death. Detective Sergeant Tima Harjunpaa investigates the killings but is perplexed by the conflicting descriptions of the murderer. An evil is sweeping the city and the only suspect appears to be an old woman handing out religious leaflets at the station…

Review:
This is an unsettling book that draws the reader into the Finnish underground and underworld.

The plot veers between characters, which can be confusing, especially given our unfamiliarity with the Finnish names. However, the clever writing draws you firmly into the narrative and keeps you in suspense right until the end. The copy on the front of the book compares the writer to Ian Rankin and Henning Mankell, but I think that Joensuu has a totally distinctive voice. Although, perhaps, the style of writing will not be to everyone's taste the book is nevertheless an interesting and absorbing read.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Granger - A Rare Interest In Corpses

"…well-drawn characters and clever detailed observations of human behaviour…"

Synopsis:
Set in Victorian London this is the story of Lizzie Martin who arrives from the country to be a paid companion to Mrs Parry, the widow of a wealthy businessman. Before she even reaches the house she is stopped by the passage of a hearse carrying the remains of a young woman who has been found dead in the buildings being cleared for redevelopment.

When Lizzie arrives at her new home she finds out that her predecessor, Madelaine Hexham has disappeared. Mrs Parry's view is that the girl has some immoral reason for leaving, but Lizzie begins to believe that there is another reason for the disappearance. The discovery of a body confirms this view.

The intrigue which conspires to keep the true story secret is linked to the acquisition of wealth and power. It makes life for Lizzie and the young Inspector Ross extremely dangerous.

Review:
This is an excellent story with well-drawn characters and clever detailed observations of human behaviour. Lizzie is an entirely sympathetic character upon whom you can rely to take an intelligent and honourable view.

The background to the ambivalent standards of morality in Victorian England is interesting and well drawn. Given good characters and good settings the only thing remaining is the plot. This is well up to standard and keeps you guessing to the end. All told this is a very good read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Edward Wright - Red Sky Lament

"… accurately portrays the atmosphere of fear and suspicion surrounding those working in Hollywood in the late 1940s."

Synopsis:
In 1940s Los Angeles John Ray Horn, a former 'B' list actor in westerns, is asked by his friend to investigate why a reclusive Hollywood scriptwriter has come to the attention of the Un-American Activities Committee. When the scriptwriter is found dead in his swimming pool, Horn becomes increasingly convinced that his killing was not due to his political activities but the result of something much closer to home…

Review:
This is an excellent historical crime novel, which accurately portrays the atmosphere of fear and suspicion surrounding those working in Hollywood in the late 1940s. Although the crime aspect of the book is interesting, what I found even more fascinating was the depiction of the life of 'B' list actors, often forced into 'alternative' livelihoods when their careers failed.

The singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie appears as a character in the book and he was brought to life so well that the novel has made me want to listen to his music. A good well-written tale.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: