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Reviews

April 2008

C.J. Sansom - Revelation

"... another excellent book from C J Sansom"

Synopsis:
In Tudor London, Henry the Eighth attempts to woo Catherine Parr for his sixth wife, while religious conservatives begin to gain ascendancy at court. Lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, is asked to help a young boy who has been overcome with religious mania and incarcerated in Bedlam for his own safety. Appalled by the boy's treatment and living conditions he agrees to help. However, his close friend, Roger Elliard, is suddenly found murdered and Shardlake agrees to help his widow find the murderer.

It soon becomes apparent that the killing is part of a series of murders that have begun to sweep London. The killer appears to be staging a reconstruction of the doom-laden passages in the book of Revelation and each murder takes place in a horrific fashion. More appallingly, it seems that the murderer knows that Shardlake, and his assistant Barak are on his trail and both they and the people around them are now in danger. Closer to home, however, Shardlake and Barak have domestic problems to distract them for their work.

Review:
This is another excellent book from C J Sansom. With Sansom's Shardlake series the reader gets a strong sense of history moving forward and of the rise and fall of different factions at court. In his latest book, the King is no longer the robust mocking figure of previous books. He is now ailing and looking for a queen to be a companion in his old age. This provides a useful historical background to the novel, imbuing the book with a sense of a country in turmoil. Sansom also always gives his books a strong sense of the religious politics of the time with ascendancy at court oscillating between rival camps. This religious context is particularly well explored in this new book - as suggested by the title. The final book of the Bible provides rich pickings for a murder theme and the murders are suitably, but not gratuitously, gory.

As always, it is the character of Matthew Shardlake that provides the most powerful element in the book. He is both touchy and self assured and I particularly liked the introduction of a romantic theme in his personal life. This contrasted well with the deterioration of Barak's marriage and gave the book a human element amidst the gore. It is these personal touches that elevate a book above ordinary detective fiction, and I particularly liked the character of Timothy, introduced into the Shardlake household whilst pining the loss of his only friend – a horse.

Highly recommended to all existing Sansom readers and to those new to the Shardlake series.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barry Eisler - Requiem for an Assassin

"John Rain may not like being an assassin... but he is bloody good at it! "

Synopsis:
Half-Japanese, half-American contract killer John Rain is still trying to get out of the business. Currently living with his girl friend, the beautiful Mossad agent Delilah, his peaceful existence is shattered when his long time enemy and rogue CIA agent Jim Hilger kidnaps his closest friend, former sniper, Dox.

Hilger agrees not to kill Dox if Rain agrees to undertake three assassinations on his behalf. As much as Rain wants to ensure that Hilger does not carry out his threat, he is under no illusions about Hilger's behaviour. Furthermore, the act of killing someone simply to free his friend does not hold any fear for Rain. Despite the fact that he wants to get out of the business Rain realises that this is one time that he is going to have to trust others to help him resolve the situation. As he undertakes the first two killings he discovers that the third killing was supposed to be him...

Review:
Requiem for an Assassin is the latest in the series featuring Barry Eisler's assassin, John Rain. While the previous books are written from a first persons point of view with the occasional point of view from others as well, Requiem for an Assassin treats the reader to the thoughts of John Rain - but also, increasingly, from multiple viewpoints as well.

Rain is certainly a contradiction. On the one hand he is concerned about the fact that he does not have enough contact with his son whilst on the other he will quite ruthlessly plot the death of another. As usual, Rain finds himself going to exotic locales as he endeavours to track down and rescue his friend Dox.

This is certainly a book that will keep you on the seat of your pants. It is a high octane mixture of intrigue, sex, martial arts and the world of spies, offering heart-pumping action that is difficult to put down. The manner in which Rain manages to resolve the issue will delight any avid reader of fast-paced thrillers. This is a fantastic series and while it is sensible to read them in order so that you can appreciate the nuances of the character of John Rain, this book can quite easily read it as a standalone thriller as well. Tension and excitement are the best things about Requiem for an Assassin and the author seems to manage to write about them both so effortlessly. Eisler always knows how to write a page-turner that will leave you wanting more.

John Rain may not like being an assassin... but he is bloody good at it!

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Harlan Coben - Hold Tight

"If, like me, you have been waiting with baited breath for the new Harlen Coben book - Hold Tight will not disappoint."

Synopsis:
Tia and Mike Baye never imagined they would become the type of overprotective parents who spy on their kids. But their sixteen year old son, Adam, has been unusually distant lately and after the suicide of his classmate, Spencer Hill, the latest in a string of issues at school, they can't help but worry. They install a sophisticated spy programme on Adam's computer and within days they are jolted by a message from an unknown correspondent addressed to their son - 'Just stay quiet and all safe'.

Meanwhile, browsing through an online memorial for Spencer, Betsy Hill is struck by a photo that appears to have been taken on the night of her son's death. It seems that Spencer wasn't alone. Betsy thinks it is Adam Baye who is standing just outside the camera's range, but when Adam goes missing, it soon becomes clear that something deep and sinister has infected their community.

For Tia and Mike Baye, the question they must answer is this... When it comes to your kids, is it possible to know too much?

Review:
Hold Tight is so much more than just a story about parents trying to do the best for their son. There are numerous other sub plots running alongside this main plot, keeping the reader enthralled, and whilst not exactly confused, certainly keeping their minds active in following all the stories!

There is a great mix of characters, many at the beginning seem unconnected. However, one of the great things about Hold Tight (apart from Coben's superb ability to write an excellent psychological thriller) is that every loose end or unexplained character/action is fully tied off at the end of the book leaving the reader with no unanswered questions, which can be very frustrating.

Lauren Muse and Paul Copeland both reappear in Hold Tight, but the majority of the story is based around the new characters that are invented by Coben for each of his standalone books, offering some familiarity for regular Coben readers.

If, like me, you have been waiting with baited breath for the new Harlen Coben book - Hold Tight will not disappoint.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jo Nesbo - Nemesis

"This is an exciting and fast moving story."

Synopsis:
Inspector Harry Hole is called in when a bank robbery turns into a murder investigation. Hole, never one for playing according to the rules, has to share the investigation with Head of Robberies, Rune Ivaarson. This proves an uneasy alliance that can only be improved when Harry is put in charge of the murder element with support from Beate Lonne, a video specialist with a photographic memory for faces.

Harry's girlfriend, Rakel, and her son, Oleg, are away in Russia and Harry is missing them. He meets up with old girlfriend, Anna, for dinner. After going to her house, Harry remembers nothing until he wakes up with a hangover in his own flat twelve hours later. Anna is then found shot dead in her bed, apparently by her own hand. Harry starts getting threatening e-mails implicating him in some way.

Meanwhile, more robberies take place. In the background throughout the story is Hole's determination to find the person behind the killing of his close colleague, Ellen, and his distrust and dislike of Inspector Tom Waaler.

Review:
This is an exciting and fast moving story. The plot details are intricate and very well thought out. The psychological motivations that drive both killers and investigators are nicely considered.

Harry Hole struggles with his own inner problems but is concerned always with the victim and this humanity lightens the tough maverick image he portrays.

The characters are well drawn and intriguing. Nesbo provides us with people we can believe in and truly care about what happens to them. I particularly enjoyed Harry's determination to track down the force behind Ellen's killer and I look forward to the final denouement when, I hope, the killer will get his just desserts.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - White Nights

"... grabs the attention and makes you want to read on."

Synopsis:
This second novel of the Shetlands series features Fran Hunter, artist and single mother, and Detective Jimmy Perez. It continues Ann Cleeves' insightful and detailed evocation of life in a small, fairly rural and isolated community, where everyone either knows or is related to everyone else.

Shared history and an understanding of the mindset of the local residents helps Jimmy Perez to approach the investigation of the death of an English tourist at an exhibition of art in a very different way to that of his boss, Roy Taylor, who has been called in from Inverness to head the investigation team. Taylor is restless and impatient to solve the crime and move on. He is ambitious and finds it difficult to accept that perhaps the softly-softly approach works better.

When a local musician is also found murdered, feelings in the community begin to run high. The “white nights”, when darkness hardly touches the islands, also have an unsettling effect on the inhabitants.

Review:
This is a book that grabs the attention and makes you want to read on. The characters are sympathetic and interesting; the colour of the local descriptions adds to the atmosphere; the people and the place relate to the reader and seem almost familiar.

In the midst of this comes murder, and readers are led to consider their own reactions should this happen. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of small community life and the exploration of how the past interacts with the present. The tension between the local policeman and his ambitious mainland superior adds an additional frisson to the book, together with the developing relationship between Jimmy Perez and Fran.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lindsay Ashford - The Killer Inside

"... displays a fine understanding of life and human nature..."

Synopsis:
Dr. Megan Rhys, forensic psychologist, is visiting Her Majesty's Prison Balsall Gate to investigate the increase in the number of suicides taking place. Her cover is that she is looking at the role of “listener”, whereby a trusted prisoner takes on the role of confidante to troubled inmates. This “listener “ is Dominic Wilde, a lifer who has apparently reformed whilst in prison. On one visit another suicide is discovered with a particularly ghastly rictus grin. Dom Wilde is upset by the death of the young man who he has befriended, and doesn't believe it is suicide.

Looking into the murdered man's past, together with another death in similar circumstances, leads Megan to the killer. The connection with Dom Wilde that emerges has tragic consequences...

Review:
This is the fourth book in the Megan Rhys series and continues the excellent story-telling qualities of the others.

Megan is a strong character with a complicated private life who knows the system and uses her knowledge to pursue justice. Lindsay Ashford displays a fine understanding of life and human nature that contributes to the authenticity of the stories. In Megan's own life she finds herself in unconventional situations where her wide circle of friends is a lifeline. She is a very sympathetic character who draws you into her world. The reader ends up caring (and despairing) about what happens to her.

Megan's relationships with the police in this case are strained, and I am not convinced how much Megan's independent actions are possible or realistic. A fine addition to a reliable and enjoyable series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R.S. Downie - Ruso and the Demented Doctor

"For those of us who enjoy a murder mystery set in Roman times, this is a good read. "

Synopsis:
The second appearance of Gaius Petreius Ruso in second century Britain sees him posted to the Northern limits of Roman Britain. He is close to the home of his slave girl, Tilla, and her relationships with her former friends and family complicate Ruso's life. He is standing in for the eponymous demented doctor whilst at the same time trying to discover whether Doctor Thessalus has indeed committed murder as he claims.

As well as less than honest Romans, and a native running around with antlers on his head causing unrest, Ruso's relationship with his slave girl is not going well. In fact, none of his relationships is going well, and, although he manages to solve the murder, and smooth the path of the poor demented doctor, he still manages to move on without impressing the powers that be.

Review:
For those of us who enjoy a murder mystery set in Roman times, this is a good read.

Ruso is an appealing character who struggles with the vagaries of his life. He is well meaning and determined to solve the mysteries that seem to seek him out, but is never fully in control of his life. Sometimes exasperating, often comical, Ruso and his slave girl, Tilla, struggle through life with a few little victories along the way. The setting in second century Britain also provides a fascinating extra dimension to the story.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Wishart - Illegally Dead

"The combination of a modern detective story with an informed and well-researched description of ancient Rome is a winner."

Synopsis:
This is another tale of Marcus Corvinius and his investigations into unnatural death in ancient Rome. This time, however, he is called from Rome to Castrimoenium when his adopted daughter, Marilla, has suspicions about the death of a local lawyer, Lucius Hostilius. Hostilius, suffering from a clinical and terminal condition that had affected his temper and character - he has apparently been poisoned.

Unofficially, Corvinus begins to make enquiries, and becomes officially involved when a young slave of Hostilius' household is found dead, followed by another unknown woman. There is no shortage of suspects for the death of Lucius Hostilius, as he has upset many people over the course of his illness, but Corvinius looks beyond the obvious and investigates those who will gain from the death. Along the way we are introduced to many aspects of Roman life and cuisine.

Review:
This is a good, racy account of life in Roman times, with many excellent details of the intimacies of life. The culinary delicacies are carefully described, particularly by the grumpy chef Meton who has aspirations to become a celebrity chef of his time, when he is asked to address an audience of Roman matrons on his culinary skills.

Corvinius is a fast talking, wisecracking detective, who inspires confidence in the reader that nothing much will get past his shrewd eye.

This is an entertaining read, with many vivid and humorous characters who can be recognised as types universally known both in ancient Rome and today. The combination of a modern detective story with an informed and well-researched description of ancient Rome is a winner.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jefferson Bass - Carved in Bone

"The story is cleverly plotted and characters well-drawn."

Synopsis:
A woman's charred body has been found inside a burned-out car perched atop a hill in Knoxville. Is it an accidental death, or murder followed by arson? Forensic anthropologist Bill Brockton's quest for answers prompts an experiment straight from Dante's Inferno. In the dark of night, he puts bodies to the torch, researching how fire consumes flesh and bone.
Little does he know that his research is about to collide with reality - with the force of a lit match meeting spilled gasoline. En route to trial, Brockton's nemesis, medical examiner Garland Hamilton, has escaped from custody. What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse, played for the ultimate stakes - Brockton's own life. With help from his loyal graduate assistant, Miranda, and ace criminalist, Art Bohanan, Brockton eventually tracks Hamilton. When the police arrive, they find only a smoldering ruin. Sifting through the ashes, Brockton finds the incinerated remains of Hamilton... or does he? The answer - along with Brockton's ultimate test - comes in a searing moment of truth.

Review:
This was the first book I had read by Jefferson Bass and, although I thoroughly enjoyed the multiple plots and twists included in this book, for some reason I was unable to identify strongly with the protagonist. This could have been because it was an older male character, which in itself is quite unusual. Or, it could simply have been that he was quite a self-absorbed person following the death of his wife two years previously. Either way, this certainly marred my enjoyment of the book for me a little. That said, the majority of the other characters were solid and there were certainly plenty of suspects for the murder(s).

The story is cleverly plotted and characters well-drawn. However, this reader also found it a bit frustrating when the author, staying with authenticity of the speech patterns of those living in the area where the book is based, continually wrote in the colloquial form. Overall, however, I did enjoy this book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin O'Brien - Jacquot and the Fifteen

"Jacquot is portrayed as a connoisseur of fine food and beautiful women and is a very attractive character."

Synopsis:
Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot of the Cavaillon police once scored a famous try for France in a rugby international against England at Twickenham. Some of the celebrated side have gone on to to greater things, most notably Pierre Dombasle, who now heads one of the world's leading sportswear manufacturers. Others, however, including Jacquot, have returned to obscurity and their regular jobs.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the side's famous win, Dombasle assembles the original fifteen players for a reunion at his clifftop villa. When one of the former team members apparently commits suicide after the party, Jacquot is unconvinced by the explanation given. This leads him to reinvestigate the accidental deaths of other members of the famous side of fifteen to see if he can find a possible motive for multiple murder.

Review:
This is the fourth book in the Jacquot series and is another excellent book by Martin O'Brien. A plot that centres around an ageing rugby team might not at first glance appeal to everyone but in fact rugby only plays a small part of the narrative. Instead, the minor disputes that usually come along with people who know each other well provide a useful backdrop the more serious business of murder...

As usual, southern French life is portrayed with affection but without overdoing the romanticism. Jacquot is portrayed as a connoisseur of fine food and beautiful women and is a very attractive character. As was hinted in O'Brien's last book, Jacquot is embarking on a serious love affair whilst remaining attractive to members of the opposite sex. To give the book some dramatic tension in this area, Jacquot at one point appears to be considering infidelity when an attractive policewoman appears. Without giving away the plot, this does liven up the narrative and may be signposting some possible personal hiccups in future books?

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Catherine Sampson - The Pool of Unease

"… she writes with authority about Chinese culture…"

Synopsis:
Robin Ballantyne has been reporting for a TV documentary on a Chinese buy-out of a British steel works. Feelings are running high, not least because of the possibility that the Chinese buyers may close the works and move the production to China. When the headless body of one of the British negotiators is found in Beijing, Robin is forced to leave her lover in charge of her young children and investigate the series of events there. She needs to discover whether there is a link to a series of brutal attacks on young women there.

Meanwhile Chinese private detective, Song, rescues a young boy from a fire which has been started to mask one of the young women's murders. Implicated in the killings, Song searches the Beijing underworld to try and discover who is behind the murders, even if it places his own family under suspicion. As the two cases collide, both Robin and Song must face nefarious forces to discover the truth behind all of the killings.

Review:
This is an excellent new novel by Catherine Sampson. Robin Ballantyne has appeared in previous novels by the author and her character is developed further here. Both harassed mother and professional journalist, the tension between these elements of Robin's life help drive the plot forward. The addition of the character of Song, pursuing his separate, although ultimately linked, investigation is also a welcome addition to the plot. Perhaps if Sampson wants to rest the character of Robin Ballantyne she could develop a novel (or series of novels) around Song?

The book is equally good when set in England and China. I personally found the scenes set in China more interesting as she writes with authority about Chinese culture. I particularly like her descriptions of how Western culture meets Chinese daily life and the tensions between the affluent parts of Beijing and ghettoes only a few streets away. A good read, even for readers who are unfamiliar with previous books in the Robin Ballantyne series.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Child - Bad Luck and Trouble

"Jack Reacher is certainly a man that you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with."

Synopsis:
Jack Reacher was once a military policeman in an elite US army unit. Although now drifting in and out of work, and refusing to stay long in any one place, Reacher's allegiance to his old unit remains. When one of his old army colleagues, Angela Neagley, sends Reacher a message saying that one of their fellow unit members has been murdered, Reacher does not hesitate to get in contact. Neagley's aim is clear - the old unit needs to be put back together to help find the killer.

Whilst assembling the unit, however, a crucial problem arises. Other members of the unit are not answering their calls. Are they unreachable because they do not want to be found? Or is there a more sinister explanation?

Review:
This is another brilliantly plotted new thriller from Lee Child. Jack Reacher's army background has formed the basis of many of Child's previous books, particularly around the investigative techniques that he developed during his time as a military policeman. In this latest book, his former army life is developed more fully, and each member of Reacher's old unit is gradually introduced - either alive or dead.

Jack Reacher is certainly a man that you wouldn't want to pick a fight with. This much has been made clear in all of the Reacher books and is emphasised once again here in this novel, particularly when it comes to messing with his old army buddies. Whilst this might make Child's books feel similar, in fact it is in the plotting that Child elevates his books above the simple 'action man' genre. Child's plots are extraordinarily multi-layered and this is especially true about Bad Luck and Trouble where the action often splits between the unit looking for its fellow members, and Reacher's own personal mission. This is by far Lee Child's best book yet and thoroughly recommended to all readers.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: