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Reviews

November 2008

Martina Cole - The Business

"The Business is classic Martina. It’s a bravura performance and a very easy, yet satisfying read."

Synopsis:
Imelda Dooley is scared. Really scared. She's played hard and fast and now she's been caught. She's pregnant and she's on her own. Her father - not a man to mess with - will see that somebody pays for this. And it's not going to be her. So Imelda Dooley tells a lie. A lie that literally causes murders...

When Mary Dooley's husband is killed, she knows she must graft to keep the family afloat. And she does; becoming a name in her own right. But she still has to watch her daughter's life spiral into a vicious, hate-fuelled cycle of drugs and prostitution.

Caught up in the carnage that is Imelda's existence are Mary's adored grandchildren, Jordanna and Kenny. Pretty little Jordanna isn't yet three and she already knows far too much. All the little girl can do is look after her baby brother, Kenny, and try not to draw unwanted attention to herself.

Review:
Cole continues with her winning formula of life in the London Underworld and creates the extraordinary characters for which she is famous.

Imelda Dooley is a thoroughly detestable person who the reader will want to see getting all she deserves. She is certainly someone you will love to hate, and you will doubtless be unable to find much empathy for her.

Despite just about all of the characters being involved in one shady business or another, there are still the odd one or two characters who do have some morals or conscience - but it is a rare find. Cole tends to write in great detail what is going on in her characters' minds. Although this may halt the action somewhat, the general thrust and urgency of the writing carries to story forward with great aplomb as ever.

The Business is classic Martina. It's a bravura performance and a very easy, yet satisfying read. I whisked through the pages and was left wanting more. The Business will definitely appeal to all Cole fans and, as usual, is definitely not for the faint hearted!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

FG Cottam - Dark Echo

"...part mystery story, part crime novel and part supernatural thriller."

Synopsis:
Dark Echo is a once magnificent sailing ship that has fallen into disrepair. Now under the ownership of the maverick millionaire Magnus Stannard, he is determined to rebuild the craft and sail across the Atlantic in it to mark the start of his retirement. Despite his misgivings, his son agrees to join him on his journey.

But his father's relative lack of sailing experience is likely to be the least of their worries. The yacht was originally owned by the devilish playboy millionaire, Harry Spalding, and every owner since has met with a violent death. Although initially sceptical, Martin Stannard is now convinced that their journey is doomed, a view shared by his journalist girlfriend Suzanne, who is determined to uncover the truth about the boat's history.

Review:
Like Cottam's last book, Dark Echo is part mystery story, part crime novel and part supernatural thriller. The aspect that works the best is the mystery element, where both Suzanne and Martin try to unravel the ship's history. This allows the author to move the action between the trenches of the First World War, through 1920s Southport and up to the present day. The supernatural element also works well as Cottam never stretches the reader's imagination so much that the plot becomes completely unbelievable.

The character of Suzanne is by far the most sympathetic of the book. She is alternatively supportive and despairing of her boyfriend's plans and works hard to uncover the dastardly deeds of Harry Spalding in an attempt to break the ship's curse. Her visit to Southport and the uncovering of the crimes there is the highlight of the book both in terms of the plot and for descriptions of 1920s Southport.

I would highly recommend this book, to fans of Cottam's previous novel and to those who like an excellent supernatural thriller.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeri Westerson - Veil of Lies

"... mediaeval London is vividly portrayed..."

Synopsis:
Set in 14th century London at the time of Richard II, the hero is a disgraced knight, Crispin Guest, who has, unusually, been allowed to live after being accused of treason against the King. He has been stripped of all possessions and influence, and is left to survive by taking on some dubious and dangerous inquiries for wealthy men-the forerunner of a modern private eye.

London is a centre of manoeuvring for power, and Crispin is well acquainted with many of the main players. Add in the influence of a powerful relic, a beautiful widow with her own agenda to pursue and the dangerous everyday life of mediaeval London and you have a recipe for an exciting story.

Review:
First and foremost this is a cracking good story. Crispin is a great character who engages our sympathy for the plight in which he finds himself and our admiration for the way in which he extricates himself from some difficult situations. There is a touch of the swashbuckler about him. He can read situations and we feel a vicarious pleasure when his opponents are outwitted.

The atmosphere of mediaeval London is vividly portrayed and the reality of everyday life in different social situations is clearly depicted. The interesting subtleties of servant-master relationships are particularly intriguing, not least because of Crispin's ability to move across class divisions.

This book is a good beginning to Crispin's career and I look forward to more tales from the mediaeval city.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Simon - Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

"This book simply has to be in every crime-writing fan’s library."

Synopsis:
“It is the illusion of tears and nothing more, the rainwater that collects in small beads and runs to the hollows of her face. The dark brown eyes are fixed wide, staring across wet pavement; jet black braids of hair surround the deep brown skin, high cheekbones and a pert, upturned nose. The lips are parted and curled in a slight, vague frown. She is beautiful, even now.”

This little girl's name was Latonya Kim Wallace. She was 11 when she was found murdered in an alley in Baltimore one February morning in 1988. This was the scene as described by David Simon who was the first reporter ever to gain unlimited access to a homicide unit in the city in the late 1980's. He spent a year with a team of detectives; working the same shifts, going to the same crime scenes and visiting the same morgues while they battled against a never-ending tide of violent crimes. All of this in a city where one of its citizens was stabbed, shot or battered to death almost every day.

Latonya Wallace becomes a red ball case; one of those crimes that grabs everyone's attentions; the media, the public and the top brass. The death of this child was a crime that baffled detectives, but while they work every waking moment on this case, the body count continues to rise. And as it does, David Simon is there to give witness.

Review:
This true-crime classic was first published in the USA in 1991 and its author went on to great success. He branched out into drama with The Wire, but for some reason the book was never published in the UK. Until now, that is.

This truly is a remarkable book where Simon details the actions of a city whose citizens are at war with themselves. As one original reviewer put it, this is life in the middle of a slow-motion riot. The spoils of this ongoing battle are a street-corner, a smidgeon of respect or enough money to pay for the next fix. As such, it can at times be an uncomfortable read and one that I had to take occasional rests from while reminding myself people actually lived/live like this.

In building this account David Simon shows himself to be a fine writer with an eye for detail as keen as a poet and the ability to build a narrative that many novelists might envy. This book simply has to be in every crime-writing fan's library. For those among you who also write, switch off your phone, place your PC on standby and dive in while justifying your actions with the thought that this counts as research.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Pepper - Kill Devil and Water

"Pepper is particularly good at portraying the underbelly of London..."

Synopsis:
Pyke, still mourning the death of his beloved wife, has fallen on hard times. Through reckless gambling he has lost all of his money and is languishing in debtor's prison. His salvation arrives in the unlikely form of Fitztory Tilling, head of the Metropolitan Police Force, who wants Pyke to investigate the death of a young Mulatto woman newly arrived from Jamaica. Desperate for his freedom, Pyke agrees, but soon becomes fascinated by the case. So much so that when he is ordered to end his investigations Pyke decides to carry on alone.

Drawn into the nefarious world of nineteenth century aristocratic London, Pyke's investigations take him from the shops of London pornographers to sugar plantations in Jamaica. Meanwhile his private life, including his relationship with his son and his beguiling minder Jo, continues its downward spiral.

Review:
After a slightly disappointing second novel, Andrew Pepper is back to form with this new book. Pyke is a loner and the character works best without the shackles of personal relationships. In this book he is given the freedom to concentrate on the murder at hand. As usual, the descriptions of nineteenth century London are excellent when portraying both its riches and its poverty. Pepper is particularly good at portraying the underbelly of London, where criminals are often dressed like Lords.

Where this new book excels is in the descriptions of Pykes adventures in the Caribbean. You can smell the fear and the corruption prevalent in colonial society and it is obvious that Pyke thrives amongst this chaos.

This is an excellent third book from Pepper and I hope that Pyke is given the freedom to wander the world even further afield in future novels.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stella Rimington - Dead Lne

"For those of you who mourn the demise of the spy novel after the end of the Cold War - mourn no longer."

Synopsis:
MI5 Intelligence Officer Liz Carlyle is called to an urgent meeting about a Middle East peace conference planned at Gleneagles, Scotland. Information has been received that someone wants to disrupt the conference and lay the blame at Syria's door. It is up to Liz to deal with this upset and find out who is behind the plan.

As time marches on Liz finds the deeper she digs the more worms she is turning up. Then Liz herself is put in direct danger and barely escapes with her life. Who is so intent on destroying this conference that he or she will do anything to make sure their plan is brought to fruition? As Liz travels down several alleyways and pathways, finding many parties with their own agendas, Liz begins to think she will never find the guilty individual in a crowd who are all inside each others pockets and looking after their own affairs.

Review:
Dead Line is the fourth novel to feature Liz Carlyle, written by the former Director-General of MI5. With Ms. Rimington's knowledge, the reader knows that you are in expert hands as the lady dealt with this kind of intelligence on a daily basis. With her insider knowledge, Rimington leads the reader through a labyrinth of lies and counter lies. Meeting people who, on the surface, want to help as long as it doesn't overlap on their playground. Even if half of what goes on in Dead Line is true, then there are deals being brokered by countries all the time to get some step up on another country deemed an arch rival or enemy.

Despite there being many characters and sub-plots, Rimington carefully and slowly shows her hand so that the reader is not confused by the politics of these people and situations. The writing is assured and sweeps you along as you feel yourself getting more and more immersed in the quagmire of espionage. My only slight niggle in this book is the ending. After three hundred pages of building up the story, the 'dramatic' ending is over in a paragraph and feels slightly a bit of an anti-climax. For those of you who mourn the demise of the spy novel after the end of the Cold War - mourn no longer. Espionage seems very much to be alive and well, and much needed.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Benjamin Black - The Lemur

"... a simple story, told by a master."

Synopsis:
Wilson Cleaver is a journalist from Ireland who has married into a very rich family. Now his father-in-law has asked Cleaver to write his biography. Cleaver is in a dilemma. Not only has he lost his passion for writing, but where do you begin with one of the most famous men in the world - the billionaire William 'Big Bill' Mulholland? An ex-CIA man, Mulholland has always endured whispers about his character. Is Cleaver expected to gloss over these unwelcome rumours?

Hiring a young researcher who Cleaver believes looks like a Lemur, the ex-journo sits back and waits for the information to arrive. But The Lemur has other plans and tries to blackmail Cleaver over information his has dug up about 'Big Bill'. Cleaver thinks he is really in deep but it all gets very sticky indeed when the young researcher himself turns up…dead.

Review:
The Lemur is the third book John Banville has written under this pseudonym. This time, The Lemur is set in contemporary New York with Wilson Cleaver trying to assuage his vertigo in a huge tower block owned by his father-in-law. As with all Banville/Black's writing, he manages to convey his character's feelings in a few simple words, rather than reams of metaphors littering the page. As a result Black can tell this story in under two hundred pages.

The reader often feels the sense of frustration Cleaver feels. Despite living a privilege lifestyle, he has many regrets about how things have turned out and opportunities missed. Even though the characters are sometimes sketchy, the author fleshes them out through their emotions and brings them vividly to life. The end is not breathtaking, but satisfying. As Black offers only a hand full of suspects it isn't long before you grasp the full story. Despite that, The Lemur is written by a master of words and this reader felt completely satisfied, having read a simple story, told by a master.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathan Kellerman - Bones

"...a complicated murder plot that takes you through the highs and lows of LA society..."

Synopsis:
In Marshland outside Los Angeles, four women are found dead with no indication of how long they have been there. Most of the murdered women were prostitutes and have been hardly missed, but the fourth body is that of Selena Bass, a struggling classical pianist. Employed by the wealthy Vander family to tutor their prodigious son, Selena befriended family members and servants alike, but someone drew her into the twilight world of anonymous swingers' parties.

Psychologist, Alex Delaware, is asked by detective Milo Sturgis to help investigate the case. But progress is hampered by the marshland's protected status and by its keen guardian, Silford Duboff. However, the key to the mystery seems not to lie in the marshland but in the Vander's complicated family background, which takes the investigation to some of the seamiest areas of LA life.

Review:
Any new book by Jonathan Kellerman is eagerly awaited and Bones does not disappoint. All of the usual elements are here; the affectionate relationship between Delaware and Sturgis, a complicated murder plot that takes you through the highs and lows of LA society and final restitution for the crimes.

The setting of the murders in protected marshland gives the book a slightly rural feel, not usual in Kellerman's books, although it does lead the reader to the familiar territory of LA prostitution. My only issue would be that the plot was a little thin, without the usual array of suspects that I would expect in a classic Kellerman novel.

This is a highly enjoyable read and I would recommend it to all crimesquad.com readers.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Adrian Magson - No Kiss for the Devil

"... bang up to date and thoroughly, scarily, believable."

Synopsis:
Investigative reporter, Riley Gavin, is drawn immediately into the investigation of the death of Helen Bellamy when her name is found on a scrap of paper in Bellamy's car. She recognises the body as the ex-girlfriend of her close friend, and often partner, private investigator Frank Palmer. It is a brutal death and Palmer's reaction is to find the killer quickly.

Meanwhile, Gavin embarks on her next assignment for an exclusive business magazine. The editor wants her to profile 'Kim' Al-Bashir, a wealthy businessman who is hoping to extend his empire into telecommunications. There is a great deal of money at stake and there also turns out to be a great deal more to her assignment than she initially thought. In fact, Helen Bellamy may have had some connection to the magazine.

The two strands begin to intertwine, and rogue elements of the Russian community exert a malevolent influence on events.

Review:
As the power of the new Russian state has grown, and incidents such as the death of Alexandr Litvinenko become headline news, literature, particularly crime and thriller fiction, begins to reflect a renewed interest in the machinations of the ex-KGB and Russian mafia.

This story is bang up to date and thoroughly, scarily, believable. The plot is gripping and extremely fast moving. Riley Gavin and Frank Palmer are both strong characters - good to have around in an emergency. The relationship between them is close, yet they are both independent agents. The writing is intense and vivid, and I particularly liked the way in which the chapters often end on a suspenseful note, urging you to keep on reading...

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest in the series, even more than the last one.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mandasue Heller - Shafted

"...all about revenge and egos…"

Synopsis:
Larry Logan is a small-time TV star with a mile-wide ego. Furious and upset when his latest show is axed, he's less than impressed when the only work he can get is fronting a fake game show - actually an undercover police sting to entrap criminals.

His reluctance evaporates when it rockets his career back to prime time stardom. Then when lovely, shy, Stephanie enters his life he thinks he has finally made it.

But then it all begins to go wrong. Larry is arrested, on-screen for a shocking crime. He shafted some dangerous men - is this their revenge?

Review:
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book from Heller (my first foray into her work). Even though all the characters are pretty unlikeable to the point of being contemptible, the fact that they were such awful people made me want to see them get their just deserts!

Only a couple of the characters had any redeeming features, but this is how they were meant to be, and it is clear that the author has not built the characters expecting the reader to find them particularly pleasant!

The story is all about revenge and egos, and had a slightly different twist to the usual murder mystery/thriller titles I read.

I would definitely recommend this book, however, in my opinion it would possibly appeal more to the female rather than male readers. That said, this is an excellent read if you are looking for something slightly different.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: