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Reviews

March 2007

Martin Langfield - The Malice Box

"… made of the same breathless, stirring stuff contained in all the finest adventure stories you’ve ever read."

Synopsis:
The lives of Robert Reckliss, Katherine Rota and Adam Hale-Devereux are inextricably linked from the moment they meet at University, and possibly before. Years - and what seems like many lifetimes later - their paths cross again when Robert is sent a mysterious copper puzzle box.

That night an acquaintance kills himself in bizarre circumstances - and the following day Robert's mission to defuse this Malice Box is revealed. The weapon is set to explode in seven days and Robert must undergo an accelerated spiritual and physical quest in order to become empowered and, simultaneously, track down the seven keys required to avert a disaster of biblical proportions.

Guided by Terri, a mystical character closely linked with Adam, and under the tutelage of the sinister Watchman, Robert battles dark forces bent on an explosive, indeed earth-shattering, finale... Will he succeed?

Review:
In a story which combines the primeval forces of earth, water, fire and air with the esoteric fields of ether, mind and spirit, Martin Langfield creates a thriller ride like no other in The Malice Box. The story is told in short, tightly written chapters spanning time and space. The reader is drawn into an extraordinary world of dark, sinister forces and the power of ultimate goodness in language that is intense but highly approachable.

First, and foremost, this is a damn good tale - and a simply dazzling read - told by a master storyteller. Sure, the mystical nature of the language of the quest may put some readers off, but you don't need to be a New Age convert to understand the elemental forces of good and evil – and the ultimate war that they continuously wage.

This book deserves all the hype that it will doubtless get – check out the great website, for example. It's made of the same breathless, stirring stuff contained in all the finest adventure stories you've ever read. I guarantee you'll be rooting for Robert Reckliss all the way!

Reviewed by: A.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Deborah Crombie - Water Like A Stone

"… will catapult this novelist to the massive readership she deserves."

Synopsis:
Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are spending their Christmas holiday with Duncan's family. Not only is it the festive season, but the two police officers are introducing Kit, Duncan's son, to his parents, the child's paternal grandparents. Recently getting over a miscarriage, Gemma and Duncan hear that his sister, Juliet, has found the mummified corpse of a baby in the old barn she is converting for clients. With this find, old memories are being rekindled of babies and motherhood.

Then there is another death, and the group begin to wonder if there is a link. Can this incident also be linked with the strange behaviour of Juliet's husband, Leo. With internal family squabbling and deceptions from outsiders as well as from those from inside the family, it is a Christmas that many of the Kincaid family are never going to forget.

Review:
Duncan and Gemma are featured in this, their eleventh novel from the mighty pen and imagination of Deborah Crombie. Ms. Crombie's novels inevitably draw comparisons with Elizabeth George and, to my mind, this is a shame. The only likeness between both writers is the fact that they write novels with well-rounded characters. Crombie's book is a hefty tome and is full of the daily traumas of a family getting to know new members while other members have their own agendas. She gives the right feeling to a family fraught with the festive season, as other events seem to be conspiring against them.

The reader is certainly given more history about the main characters, but this book is more about the teenagers Kit and Tally, cousins who are facing puberty and feelings that they cannot place and have no rhyme or reason. This novel is definitely about family, growing up and the pains of becoming an adult-in-waiting. Crombie makes all her characters sympathetic and there is not a single false note within the 514 pages of this book. My main wish is to stop comparisons with George and make Crombie a name as big, if not bigger than her counterpart. I found this an excellent read. One that I hope will catapult this novelist to the massive readership she deserves.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Brad Meltzer - The Book of Fate

"… this book should come highly recommended to any thriller fan."

Synopsis:
“Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead. That was our fate. None of us knew it was coming."

So writes Wes, a young Presidential aide, about the day that changed his life forever. It was on that July 4th day that Wes put the President's oldest friend into the Presidential limousine. By the time the trip came to an end the friend was dead, victim of a crazed assassin, and a bullet in the face permanently disfigured Wes.

"Because of me, Ron Boyle died. Eight years later, he came back to life."

Trying to figure out what really happened on the worst day of his life will lead Wes on a chase that takes him back to that long-distant July 4th. Back to a decade-old Presidential crossword puzzle; back to ancient Masonic symbols hidden in the street plan of Washington, DC, and even back to a two-hundred year old secret code invented by Thomas Jefferson…

Review:
I had been eagerly awaiting Meltzer's latest book after becoming hooked on his earlier legal/political thrillers. The Book of Fate is yet another page-tuner and I found it impossible to put down. In some parts, because there is just so much intrigue I did find it a little confusing (mainly due to the number of aliases being used).

The story features the usual 'good prevailing against evil' slant, but the plot has so many twists and turns that it is almost impossible to know which side most characters fall into until the very end. The denouement is a highly charged affair which eventually explains most of the twists, though not all. Despite the over-load of code names, I still find Meltzer's style of writing to be highly compelling and would say this book should come highly recommend to any thriller fan.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Hurley - One Under

"…reveals the tensions and horrors beneath the surface of apparently ordinary lives."

Synopsis:
A train driver on the first early morning train out of Portsmouth hits a man chained to the rails in a tunnel. This results in a horribly gruesome crime scene to which DI Joe Faraday is called. The first task is to discover the name of the victim and then to discover whether this is a brutal murder or a bizarre suicide.

DC Paul Winter is assigned the task of naming the body. He has just returned from sick leave and has also received a severe warning about his cavalier attitude to the discipline of police work. At the same time as he is pursuing these enquiries, he is puzzled by the curious disappearance of a man who has been living a very quiet and ordered existence.

Faraday and Winter 's work together - and also independently - to solve both these crimes, reveals the tensions and horrors beneath the surface of apparently ordinary lives.

Review:
The two main characters, Faraday and Winter, are very different personalities. Faraday is sensitive, intellectual and interested in pursuits such as birding and architecture. Winter, on the other hand, is an altogether rougher character. Willing to take risks and familiar with many of the individuals on the seamy side of Portsmouth life. Both of them, however, are dealing with difficulties in their private lives.

Together they give a detailed and convincing picture of modern day policing. The descriptions of procedure and the ways of working are completely realistic and knowledgeable. I particularly enjoyed the dilemma which faces the officers at the end - knowing who is guilty but without sufficient proof. Doubtless, an all too frequent occurrence.

The story moves along very quickly and is told largely by the interactions and conversations between characters. Hurley manages this so well that the individuals become very real. The main plot is exciting and well developed but the description of the private lives of the characters as it affects their work also kept my interest and means that I will definitely look forward to the next story of DI Faraday.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Carmen Posadas - The Last Resort

"Carmen Posadas writes with a very distinctive style and this is the novel’s principal strength, along with the excellent plotting."

Synopsis:
Rafael Molinet Rojas, in mourning after the recent death of his mother, decides to kill himself at Morocco's exclusive L'Hirondelle d'Or hotel. The high class hotel is a haven for rich Europeans who want to escape from the distractions of high society life and take advantage of the hotel's spa and health facilities. However, Rafael becomes engrossed in the behaviour of his fellow guests and, in particular, that of the recently widowed Mercedes Algorta, who is dismayed to discover fellow habitués of the Madrid social scene at the resort.

Rafael becomes increasingly drawn into the unfolding social drama which soon reveals it to be more deadly than a simple affair of modern manners…

Review:
This is a witty and intelligent novel from a new Spanish writer. Although subtitled “a Moroccan mystery”, the backdrop to the story moves from London to Morocco, with much of the essence of the plot lying in Spanish polite society.

Each chapter is preceded by an excerpt from historical books of etiquette. Whether these are real or a product of the writer's imagination is not made clear - and doesn't really matter. Instead they serve as a clever introduction to each chapter, each of which is written from the different viewpoint of the main protagonists. The principal narrator, Rafael Molinet, is deliciously camp and bitchy, and looks on his fellow guests as both a source of amusement and possible income. The other characters seem slightly less believable, but perhaps the Spanish upper classes are just like this.

Although the book is billed as a modern “Murder on the Orient Express”, I couldn't personally see the connection with Agatha Christie's books. Carmen Posadas writes with a very distinctive style and this is the novel's principal strength, along with the excellent plotting. I genuinely didn't know what was going to happen next at any point in the book. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Crais - The Watchman

"Once again Crais produces a thrilling nail-biter of a novel that demands to be read in one hit."

Synopsis:
Joe Pike owes a bad man a big favour - and now is wants to collect. Pike is asked to protect the life of Larkin Conner Barkley, a spoiled rich girl who happens to be the only witness to the re-appearance of a deadly mob boss. When Pike and the girl come under intense fire and he realises that he can't trust anyone, he hatches a plan to disappear into the anonymous underbelly of Los Angeles, turn the tables, and hunt down the hunters.

Enlisting the help of Elvis Cole, Pike quickly uncovers a web of lies and betrayals - even the cops aren't who they seem. As the body count rises it soon becomes clear that Joe must fight on two separate fronts because Larkin is a tortured soul who seems bent on destroying herself and taking him with her. Gradually Joe starts to realise that perhaps they aren't so different after all…

Review:
Once again Crais produces a thrilling nail-biter of a novel that demands to be read in one hit. Pike has both depth and intelligence without being the stereotypical hero. He is also fighting his own demons and it would be good to see him overcome these in future books.

Crais is able to engage his reader with an easy style of writing, interesting characters and riveting plots. One slight quibble… John Chen and his continual fascination with women was, to my mind, unexplained and a little over-played. However, if this character appears in further books, it may become relevant later.

This looks set to be another well-deserved bestseller for Crais.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Barnard - A Fall From Grace

"… a little gem of a book…"

Synopsis:
Charlie Peace is a black policeman who lives with his wife, Felicity, and their daughter Carola. Felicity is pregnant with their new child, which they call “Little Foetus”. They have just moved to the village of Slepton Edge. They had wanted to move out of the big city where Charlie works. As they made their plans for the move, Charlie's father-in-law, Rupert, offered to help them buy their new house if they could find him something near for him to live. Rupert has never got on with his daughter due to the fact that he treated her late mother as a slave.

Soon the Peace family find that not everything is as tranquil as they had expected. A gang of children shout disturbing chants outside the homes of people who are new to the area. The gang are soon outside Rupert's home where he acquaints himself with the ringleader, a girl who is in the drama stream at the local school. Fearful of rumours about underage sex, Felicity begins to worry that her father's need for a slave to fetch and carry for him, could lead to him being chased out of the village. Then there is a murder and all is turned up onto its head.

Review:
A Fall From Grace is a deceptively quiet novel about the innocence portrayed by children who, at the same time, may not be quite as innocent as they look. There is even a mention of that famous book by William Golding. This novel is a bit of a slow burner as we are introduced to the various characters populating Slepton Edge. As a master of the crime novel, Barnard leads us ably down certain paths, making sure we are not aware that we are being led astray. The conclusion is sound and I did find myself realising factors that had been planted in my way - but always with a very gracious sleight of hand.

There are, of course, a couple of niggles. I loved the character of Charlie Peace and found him a very graceful, humane man who I hope will return in another Barnard novel. It is always difficult to write across the gender or race divide and sometimes it can work. In fact, for the most part I thought Barnard did this rather well. My only slight issue was having a black, thirty-something policeman describe a matter as a 'brouhaha'. For me, this did not ring true as this is such an old fashioned expression. Some information was explained more than twice and this did get slightly repetitive. Aside from these minor quibbles, this was a little gem of a book that no crime reader would object to following for a couple of days. It is good to see a master of the genre still producing such good fiction.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Terri Persons - Blind Spot

"This is an impressive first book by this exciting new author."

Synopsis:
Bernadette Saint Claire is an FBI Agent with a difference. She sees through
the eyes of killers. Her ability makes her a dangerous maverick in the
Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Saint Claire's reward is a backwater posting to Minnesota, but on her very first day a mutilated body is found. It seems the death is the work of a vigilante killer
intent on settling old scores. Soon more bodies appear up and down the Mississippi. All are evil-doers who have preyed on the innocent and it appears that the murderer is literally interpreting the Old Testament's injunction 'a life for a life'. He will take as many as he can and as quickly as he can before he can be stopped.

Forensic investigation is too slow for the dizzying sequence of events that
now takes place. Bernadette is catapulted from the heart-stopping sequence
of slayings into a chase where stalker and prey swap places and where her
visions will take her to the very brink of insanity.

Review:
Blind Spot is the debut novel from Terri Persons, introducing Bernadette
Saint Claire, a slightly maverick FBI Agent with an unusual talent for tracking
criminals. Parsons has put together an impressive first novel. Her style is an intoxicating mix of Cornwell and Koontz.

The book begins rather matter-of-factly, dealing mainly with the crimes
themselves. As the story builds, however, so do the characters and a rather interesting twist in Bernadette's personal life. Parsons also seems to increase in confidence with her writing style as the book progresses and the story begins to flow more easily.

There are many openings and questions left unanswered for future books and
this has certainly left me wanting to read more. None of this is relevant
to the story, more in the background of the characters, and leaves the reader's
interest piqued as to what really happened.

This is an impressive first book by this exciting new author.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Temple - In the Evil Day

"This exciting novel is very well written, and firmly holds the reader’s attention throughout."

Synopsis:
Con Niemand, an ex-mercenary security guard, is present during a vicious armed robbery in Johannesburg and is the only person left alive. He finds a videotape that appears to be of value - and rashly contacts those looking for it in return for money.

Meanwhile John Anselm, a former journalist working for a private intelligence agency in Hamburg, picks up the trail on behalf of dubious clients and Caroline Wishart, a pushy posh tabloid hack in London, also stumbles in on the action. The owners of the videotape, or those implicated by what it contains, try to track down Con in a violent trail of carnage across London. In Hamburg John finds his past and present wrapping up his conscience whilst danger circles, meanwhile Caroline finds herself increasingly out of her depth in the murky world of the secret services.

All three are swept up in the intrigue as the action develops.

Review:
This exciting novel is very well written, and firmly holds the reader's attention throughout. The three plot strands, however, are possibly more successful in isolation, and tend to detract when they try and tell the larger story.

The different scenes and characters are certainly well described and convincing enough, but in my view the three separate strands of the story are not satisfactorily woven together to a convincing conclusion.

Part of the problem lies in the excellent writing itself. A taught and sparse style maintains tension and interest, and does assist characterisation well, but does not allow enough time and space to bring the story together. This is a perfectly well done novel but felt a bit like eating fast food: easy to consume, difficult to put down, but ultimately unsatisfying and easily forgettable.

Reviewed by: S.M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Aline Templeton - The Darkness and the Deep

"It all rings very true."

Synopsis:
The Knockhaven lifeboat is called out in the midst of a raging storm and on its return is lost on rocks, with the death of three of its crew. DS Tam McNee, called out to the wreck, discovers that it is not simply a tragic accident.
The effect of the deaths on this small town in the South West corner of Scotland is immense, and rumours are rife as to the cause. It could be vandalism by a disaffected youth, related to drugs trafficking or even an act of revenge.

DI Margory Fleming and her team include not only the strongly nationalistic, Burns-quoting Tam McNee but also the ambitious young graduate entry Jonathan Kingsley, eager to make his mark. All are anxious to solve the crime as quickly as possible. “Big Marge” wants to move on from her conflict with the small farming community after the outbreak of foot-and-mouth…

Review:
This novel is set in a small fishing community within an agricultural area. The characters are ordinary people with ordinary lives who are struck by a very unusual happening.

Both the small Scottish town (fictional, but very much set in a real location and easily recognisable to anyone brought up in a similar place) and the people who live there is beautifully described. DI Fleming is an ordinary woman with the responsibility of bringing up a family - who also happens to do an extraordinary job. I enjoyed reading about her ways of coping with this as well as her management of the squabbling and competitive detective team. It all rings very true.

There is a wry sense of humour here too as Tam is fined for quoting Rabbie Burns on all possible occasions. The vernacular language used in places adds to the vivid sense of place and warmly reminded me of my own childhood in South West Scotland.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

ed. Scott Turow - The Best American Mystery Stories

"For readers who want a concise edition of the best that North America is producing in the short story format this book is highly recommended."

Synopsis:
This is the tenth edition of the annual compilation of the best crime short stories published in the United States and Canada. The 2006 collection is guest-edited by Scott Turow who cheerfully admits in the introduction that the short story is not his particular writing genre. As in previous editions, the collection features well known writers such as Laura Lippman and Ed McBain, but also gives welcome space to virtual unknowns whose quality of writing has shone through the rigorous selection process.

Review:
Otto Penzler, the series editor for Best American Mystery Stories, is fast gaining recognition in the UK for the quality of his short story collections. This 2006 collection is a difficult book to review as it left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand the quality of writing was excellent and this edition has a number of outstanding entries. Texas Heat by William Harrison is both a horrific and truly moving story. Likewise, Smile by Emily Rathbone is beautifully written in the cadences of the Cajun vernacular.

However, disappointingly five out of the twenty-one stories appeared in Penzler's previous collection Dangerous Women reviewed by crimesquad.com in September 2006. While these are all excellent stories, notably Walter Mosley's Karma, I think that the collection would have been a better book without them. I would imagine that there is a wealth of good short stories that didn't make it into the edition as a result of the inclusion of these five. Otto Penzler acknowledges that some might be unhappy with his decision to include the stories but cites the quality of the writing as the reason for doing so. For readers who want a concise edition of the best that North America is producing in the short story format this book is highly recommended. Those more familiar with collections of US short stories might prefer to read the book, as I did, selectively.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: