Click a logo below for more information...
 
 

Reviews

March 2008

Lee Child - Nothing to Lose

"Reacher is now firmly established as a classic crime/thriller character, and his legions of fans will be left panting for more..."

Synopsis:
Jack Reacher, on the road again, is travelling between two towns in Colorado, ominously named Hope and Despair. While Hope had seemed an ordinary sort of place, his arrival in Despair is greeted less than enthusiastically. He is arrested on a charge of vagrancy and kicked out of the town by four Deputies. Reacher cannot fathom why his presence is so unwelcome in the town and, in any case, the Deputies have picked on the wrong guy. For Reacher, although a drifter with few possessions, is not a man to be pushed around and his expulsion had piqued his curiosity.

Assisted by Vaughan from the Hope Police Department, Reacher looks to discover what exactly the people in Despair are trying to hide. Young women have begun to turn up in Hope looking for their missing husbands and boyfriends and Reacher thinks that he may have found the body of one of them during one of his night-time sojourns to the town. But as Reacher digs deeper, it appears there may be more than one mystery to uncover in the town called Despair.

Review:
In this twelfth Jack Reacher novel, Lee Child reduces geographically the area of Reacher's investigation. Those familiar with previous Reacher novels will know that in the course of the narrative, Reacher can move from New York to London, in his adventures. In this book, however, the action is reduced to the two towns of Hope and Despair. Despite their quirky appearance, these are realistic names for this part of the world, and Child is excellent at depicting the way of life in small town America; from the 24 hour diners to the close knit communities watching over the residential streets. He also cleverly places the towns geographically in Colorado, so that the descriptions of the looming Rockies evoke the sense of isolation from other parts of America.

The thriller element of the book is classic Reacher. Once more, someone has tried to frame him - this time for the relatively minor charge of vagrancy. But this is enough to develop the book into a full study of the methods of disposing of surplus metal, including former military vehicles. I'm not sure how accurate the descriptions were of a metal processing plant but they certainly sounded convincing. One can imagine what a town must be like when the company dominates all areas of its activities - including law enforcement. Unlike the very best Jack Reacher novels, the small town locations may make some readers feel somewhat claustrophobic. However, Reacher is now firmly established as a classic crime/thriller character, and his legions of fans will be left panting for more...

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Laura Wilson - Stratton's War

"Laura Wilson has created some memorable characters and a highly enjoyable read."

Synopsis:
In 1940, wartime London is preoccupied with thoughts of the blitz and of the children who have been evacuated from the city. When the body of a former movie star. Mabel Morgan, is found impaled on railings in Fitzrovia, the initial verdict is suicide. However, DI Ted Stratton has a gut feeling about this case and soon uncovers a link to Soho gangsters. However, Ted is also preoccupied with his wife at home who is missing their evacuated children - and a nephew who may have his own links with the Soho mob.

New MI5 agent Diana Calthrop is assigned to Sir Neville Apse to work on a case, but fears that he may be involved in counter espionage. She becomes entangled with the charming but shallow Claude Ventriss who may also be involved in Apse's shady dealings. When the two cases investigated by Diana and Ted merge both find that their mistrust of the establishment may lead them to solve their respective investigations.

Review:
This is an interesting novel by Laura Wilson. Wartime London provides rich pickings for a murder writer. Amidst the chaos of the blitz, murder can be committed and, even, possibly go undetected. My personal preferance was for the Ted Stratton investigation. I enjoyed both the realism of Ted's attitude towards his bosses and the problems that he was encountering at home. Unusually for a detective story I also found the sex scenes between Ted and his wife charming and subtly written.

The Diana Calthrop part of the book was possibly less satisfying. That said, I liked the character of Diana very much and also the fact that Claude did not particularly redeem himself at the end of the novel. He seems to be exactly as he appears, a shallow seducer. However, I found the Sir Neville Apse character difficult to relate to and perhaps this story deserved a book of its own? Laura Wilson has created some memorable characters and a highly enjoyable read. I hope to see some of the characters in a future novel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Reginald Hill - A Cure for All Diseases

"... an excellent new Dalziel and Pascoe"

Synopsis:
Superintendant Andy Dalziel is recuperating from the injuries that he received during his last investigations. Much to his chagrin, however, his recovery is taking longer than expected so he checks into the expensive Avalon clinic in the seaside resort of Sandytown. At first Dalziel is deathly bored at the clinic; with only the Dictaphone that he has been give to aid his mental recovery to distract him. However, he befriends a young psychologist, Charlotte Heywood, who is staying at the clinic to investigate the psychology of healing.

When the local landowner is found murdered in a gruesome fashion, DCI Peter Pascoe, is called in to investigate. Uneasily aware that Dalziel is likely to be keeping a watchful eye on the case, Pascoe is convinced that the key to the discovery of the murderer lies in the contents of the victim's will. However, Dalziel and Charlotte have their own theories and each is determined to investigate the case in their own inimitable fashion.

Review:
This is an excellent new Dalziel and Pascoe novel from Reginald Hill. Although not fully recovered, Dalziel is in fine fettle pushing the boundaries of his enforced convalescence. Hill is obviously at ease writing the character of Dalziel and the book has some very funny moments as the author draws out the reactions of various characters to their first meeting with the Superintendant.

Some of the more poignant moments from the last book, particularly those between Dalziel and Pascoe, are developed more fully here, particularly as Pascoe is attempting to solve the case as he sees it, rather than how Dalziel would.

The plot is well thought through with any number of false trails laid for the reader. Much of the book is centred on the personality of Charlotte Heywood and, as ever, Reginald Hill excels in writing strong women characters, based along the lines of the no-nonsense Yorkshire lass. It would be great to see Charlotte Heywood appear in a few more books?

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Marek Krajewski - Death in Breslau

"The whiff of decadence is infused through the book..."

Synopsis:
In 1933 Breslau, Kriminaldirektor Eberhard Mock is investigating a disturbing double murder. The daughter of the town's aristocrat, Baron von der Malten, and her maid have been found raped and murdered. What is particularly distressing is that their corpses have been mutilated and live scorpions placed inside their entrails.

To investigate the case, the maverick policemen, Mock, is sent a young assistant from Berlin, Herbert Anwaldt. Sadly he is fighting his own battles with alcohol. In Anwaldt, Mock sees the son he has never had. However, this becomes a relationship that is severely put to the test by Anwaldt's increasingly bizarre behaviour. Mock has his own preoccupations; not least staying employed, by whatever means, in a police force that is gradually being infiltrated by the Nazi Gestapo.

Review:
This is a highly unusual novel by an established Polish crime fiction writer. The book mixes sex and intrigue and depicts a society that has more in common with 1930s Berlin than Nazi Germany. The whiff of decadence is infused through the book, from Mock's visit to his favourite boudoir to the esoteric pleasures of the strange Baron.

The course of the investigation is kept deliberately opaque; with the detectives taking many twists and turns. The reader is not encouraged to trust any of the characters in the book. Each is working to a personal agenda and no one necessarily wants to find the true culprit behind the killings.

I enjoyed this unusual book but felt perhaps the novel would have benefited from a short introduction. The book has a strange mix of German and Polish characters and it wasn't until I looked up the town on the Internet did I understand that this reflects the town's chequered past. However, I did enjoy the fragmented nature of the story. It is good for a reader to be unsettled once in a while, and I particularly liked the long, drawn out ending. Highly recommended for those who want to read an extraordinary crime novel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jack Ross - Requiem

"... if you enjoy the heady mix of politics and organised crime, then this is a book for you."

Synopsis:
On the gritty and unforgiving streets of downtown Maimi, rookie reporter Deborah Jones is on a quest for the truth. A truth that could see William Craig escape death by lethal injection in Florida's State Penitentiary. The 82 year old is on death row for the murder of the senator's son who raped his granddaughter.

In a race against time, Deborah is determined to expose the blackmail and corruption that lay at the heart of Craig's trial. As she digs deeper she unearths a conspiracy involving the embittered senator, a right-wing governor and a Florida mafia boss - and inevitably becomes a target for those who would kill to protect their secrets. In the desperate final countdown to save Craig, she too may be forced to disregard the law.

Review:
Requiem was very well written and Jack Ross has an easy style of writing. However, I felt the plot at times was a little contrived, and almost too complex for its own good.

Throughout the story I was expecting a twist in the tale or some unexpected evidence to come to light, and the main character's intention throughout was to see justice done. However, I was left a little disappointed that the majority of the story boiled down to blackmail and mafia involvement, rather than a good old fashioned murder and a lead character digging into the past to reveal what really happened.

Whilst I read this book very quickly, it was a little bit of an anti-climax when I got there. That said, if you enjoy the heady mix of politics and organised crime, then this is a book for you.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Roberta Kray - The Lost

"Highly recommended!"

Synopsis:
Private eye Harry Lind doesn't believe in ghosts. Little Grace Harper went missing over twenty years ago and missing girls can't just reappear - or can they? It takes a brutal murder to make him think again.

Reporter, Jess Vaughan is convinced that Grace is still alive but she is going to need some help to prove it. As she and Harry begin to unravel an age-old web of deceit and betrayal their discoveries soon put them on a collision course with one of London's most notorious gangsters.

The search for the truth is about to lead them into a world where people will kill to preserve their secrets.

Review:
After reading Kray's The Pact, I was expecting a similar type of book based around the London underworld. Although Kray has been likened to Martina Cole, she tends to go for the mix of the criminal families together with a strong crime story line running through it. The Lost, however, seemed more of a mystery/thriller style than her previous book. This was definitely a pleasant surprise. The quality of writing and the of the storyline was significantly improved on the previous book I had read, and I found the characters were very realistic – complete with plenty of faults!

The storyline displayed plenty of depth too and – to quote the cliché - this was a book that was impossible to put down. There was also plenty of action to fill the multiple storylines that were contained in the book, although there were a couple of slightly annoying loose ends once the tale had finished. However, this could be due to Kray intending to use the characters in subsequent books.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mari Jungstedt - Unspoken

"...another interesting novel from this excellent Swedish writer. "

Synopsis:
On the Swedish island of Gotland a once successful photographer, now debilitated by alcoholism, is found dead in his apartment. His recent winnings from the racetrack also have disappeared with the murderer and point at a possible motive.

Also on the island, the body of lonely teenager Fanny Jansson, is found murdered. Her dysfunctional home life yields little motive for the killings although there are rumours of a possible affair with an older man.

Gotland police chief, Anders Knutas, investigates both killings, although initially there appears little to connect the two cases. He is helped in his investigations by Johan Berg, a journalist from Stockholm. Johan spent the previous summer on Gotland and embarked on an affair with the married Emma Winarve. Despite attempts to finish their relationship for the sake of Emma's marriage, Johan eagerly embarks for Gotland to report on the murders and see Emma again...

Review:
Following on from Jungstedt's last book, Unseen, this is another interesting novel from this excellent Swedish writer.

The island of Gotland is little known outside Sweden, and the writer gives excellent descriptions about the way of life there in both the town and the countryside. Anders Knutas is a good solid detective and the glimpses into his domestic life are very interesting. The relationship between Johan and Emma, which was so integral to the previous book, I found more wearying in this novel. This could partly be a result of the narrative, where, towards the second part of the book, Emma makes a personal decision which readers might find it difficult to relate to.

The detective element of the book is well written and I enjoyed discovering how the case was solved.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Rickards - Burial Ground

"... plenty of suspense."

Synopsis:
It was a short note. Signed simply 'Sam'. But it was enough to send ex-FBI agent Alex Rourke on a search to an isolated valley in the American mid-West.

Now he's trapped there - in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a ferocious storm. With him are a dozen other men and women, all seeking shelter in Isaac's Bar.

However, the night is about to turn deadly. The nearby riverbank collapses and spits out two badly decomposed bodies. The man and the woman were clearly murdered and buried there months before…

As secrets, recriminations and violent agendas come to the fore in the bar that's now cut off from the world, Alex races to find 'the crosses'. And then the deaths begin, one... by one... by one....

Review:
Rickards returns with Alex Rourke as the central character in Burial Ground. Set in an isolated valley and the bar located there, a group of locals and strangers are stranded in a storm and are slowly being killed off. Rourke, a very laid back yet likeable lead character, is trying to solve both the current murders and some older ones. But with new people coming into the bar throughout the evening, no one is beyond suspicious as one of them must be the killer.

All of the characters either have a reason to kill or at least appear shady to the reader, making it impossible to work out the real killer - offering plenty of suspense. Burial Ground is one of those books set over the period of just one day and night when all the action happens.

Whilst Burial Ground is not as gripping or as memorable as Rickard's last book, The Darkness Inside (which remains a favourite of mine), it is still an exciting read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.C. Beaton - Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death/Vicious Vet

"Penelope Keith is wonderful as Agatha Raisin"

Synopsis:
Agatha Raisin is newly arrived at the beautiful village of Carsely after having sold her PR company back in London. To mingle with the locals, Agatha decides to enter the local quiche making contest. Unfortunately, Agatha cannot cook and her only kitchen appliance is her microwave! So the quiche has to be shop bought. Not only does Agatha get found out but her shop bought quiche is the actual murder weapon of the judge!

Agatha's next adventure includes the debonair new vet who has moved to Carsely. It seems that he has captured the heart and imagination of many mature women from the surrounding villages, Agatha included. It is only upon his untimely demise that Agatha begins to find out a few unfavourable things about the man who she had thought captured her heart!

Review:
This is the BBC audio CD of the Agatha Raisin full cast drama series featuring Penelope Keith and a marvellous cast who all seem to get stuck in to the easy plot and witty asides.

Naturally, there has been a lot of editing but this can be easily forgiven as the plot is exactly as it is in the books. Penelope Keith is wonderful as Agatha Raisin and brings her alive with her usual flair - along with some very pithy remarks. Everyone seems to be having fun and the dramatic pace is quite infectious and makes you feel very good about the world once again.

These small pieces would be perfect for listening to whilst in the garden or perhaps on holiday abroad. The third and fourth books have also been dramatised and so The Potted Gardener and The Walkers of Dembley (which is one of my favourite Agatha novels) are also available in a double CD set as well. Enjoy!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kathryn Fox - Skin and Bone

"...an excellent read with a nice twist at the end."

Synopsis:
Detective Kate Farrer returns to duty after three months of leave following her traumatic abduction. Fearing that she has lost her edge, she reluctantly partners homicide newcomer Oliver Parke, and they are thrown into the investigation of a woman burnt beyond recognition in a house fire. The post-mortem reveals she had recently given birth, but there are no signs of the baby.

With homicide short staffed, Kate and Oliver are also ordered to look into the disappearance of a teenage girl. Suspicion falls on Mark Dobbie, a steroid user who is obsessed with the missing girl's sister. When the detectives find explicit photos of unconscious women in his home they wonder if they have found their prime suspect.

While the pressure to identify the charred body and find the teenage girl escalates, a quadriplegic is burnt to death in his bed. Shocking links to all three crimes emerge and Kate Farrer's past demons come back to haunt her. But she must fight them - her partner's life depends on it.

Review:
Kate Farrar is an Australian homicide detective returning from leave following her abduction. However, although this incident is referred to in such instances when her panic attacks occur, very little detail is given about when she was attacked. As I had not read any of Fox's previous novels, I am assuming that all this took place in an earlier book. The lack of information is a little frustrating as it could explain why Farrar is such a cold, aloof and solitary character, eliciting very little empathy or interest from the reader.

There is a good mix of characters here - and an excellent plot that I feel was somewhat let down by this unappealing leading character. However, it is both of these redeeming factors that make Skin and Bone an excellent read with a nice twist at the end.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ingrid Black - The Judas Heart

"This book was a real mix of characters..."

Synopsis:
Marsha Reed was just another aspiring young actress trying to make it in Dublin. But now she has found fame for all the wrong reasons - as a victim of a brutal murder - her body left tied to her bed.

With former FBI agent, Saxon, now living in Dublin, the murder squad have the perfect expert to call on. Particularly when it turns out Saxon once knew the victim. However, Saxon is already in the middle of another, more personal mission - to track down her ex-colleague, Agent Leon Kaminski, who bizarrely seems to be hiding out in the streets of Dublin. It's not the first time he has gone missing, but it's the first time since his wife was murdered.

Soon enough, though, it is clear that Saxon's hunt for Marsha's killer and her search for her old friend are heading in the same direction...

Review:
This book was a real mix of characters; some Irish, some American. All based in Dublin. Saxon appears to be having a relationship with one of the members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, but this relationship is never completely defined. The characters themselves are varied and since they have all been built very well, all seem quite realistic.

There is an element of humour in the dialogue and we are privy to the thoughts of the characters – an unusual feature that isn't often present in crime novels. The original murder was very gruesome and Black throws in lots of suspects to keep the reader guessing.

Whilst I found the book easy to read and the storyline was something different, the mix of characters and locations struggled to really gel into a cohesive whole.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: