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Reviews

May 2008

Ariana Franklin - The Death Maze

"... the reader gets a clear sense of the politics and intrigue of the time."

Synopsis:
As a result of successfully solving the case of missing children, Adelia Aguilar, doctor from the School of Medicine in Salerno, is forced to stay in England. The king, Henry II, considers her skills too valuable to allow her to return, despite the fact that, in superstitious England, she is forced to hide her talents lest she accused as a witch. When the King's mistress, Rosamund Clifford, is found poisoned in her house, Adelia's erstwhile lover Rowley Picot orders her to investigate the crime and find out if the Queen, Eleanor of Aquitane, had any hand in it.

Adelia is forced to bring her household and illegitimate child out of the Cambridgeshire fens to the strange castle where Rosamund lived. The castle is dominated by a dangerous maze and even more dangerous enemies...

Review:
As in her previous book, Ariana Franklin demonstrates her skill as a storyteller in this excellent new novel.

Events have moved on Medieval England and Adelia now has an illegitimate child. Adelia's relationship with Rowley Picot was a central theme in the previous book, and it is with some relief that Picot makes his return in this novel. This relationship is again a key element of the book, and even when Picot is absent the reader constantly is on the lookout for his return. The extraordinary character of Eleanor of Aquitaine is also well drawn in the book. She is portrayed as a powerful and vengeful women and Franklin demonstrates this well when Eleanor sits with the slowly rotting corpse of Rosamund.

The siege at Rosamund's castle, during which most of the action takes place provides a secure framework for the narrative and the reader gets a clear sense of the politics and intrigue of the time. An excellent sequel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R N Morris - A Vengeful Longing

"There is a darkness about A Vengeful Longing that leaves the reader repulsed yet fascinated."

Synopsis:
It is the summer of 1868 and Investigating Magistrate Porfiry Petrovich finds himself having to cope not only with the sweltering heat but also the smell of raw sewage as it oozes into his office. His complaints are being ignored by the powers that be.

However, his complaints about sanitation are soon put to one side when he finds himself investigating three different brutal murders. There is evidently a link to all three cases but that link is initially hard to uncover. As Petrovich endeavours to resolve the murders he also finds himself distracted, not only by his one-time suspect, now a trainee investigating magistrate, Virginsky, but also the brutal antics of Lieutenant Salytov.

Review:
A Vengeful Longing is the second book in the series featuring the character Porfry Petrovich drawn from Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment. This is a dark, steamy, seamy and atmospheric tale and the author makes the most of it by intertwining 19th century Russia along with a historical but modern crime novel. The reader is transported to the seedier part of St Petersburg and it is Morris's excellent characterisation and description of the state of St Petersburg during this period that draws the reader in and makes you feel as if you are seeing everything that is going on through the eyes of Petrovich.

Split into three parts (each part begins with a murder) it is not hard to be drawn into the labyrinth that emerges as the story is told. As various incidents take place we are kept guessing and made to think right up to the very end. There is a darkness about A Vengeful Longing that leaves the reader repulsed yet fascinated. This is very much a layered novel and, as you continue, you find yourself peeling away the layers to find out what is underneath. If you read A Gentle Axe before, then you will welcome not only the return of Petrovich but also the way in which A Vengeful Longing is written. The writing is much richer this time around and there is a lot more depth to the characters, with the elements of Dostoevsky much more evident.

A Vengeful Longing is in essence a novel about power, suffering, bitterness and the lengths that people will go for revenge. Even if you are not too keen on Dostoevsky don't let that put you off reading this excellent novel.

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lawrence Goldstone - The Anatomy of Deception

"... a very interesting book by a new writer."

Synopsis:
Ephraim Carroll is a qualified doctor under the tutelage of Professor William Osler. The professor is pushing the boundaries of the medical profession by cutting up cadavers to find out the cause of death. In nineteenth century Philadelphia, this practice is causing some concern to those at the city hospital, but so far the professor and his students have managed to avoid trouble. However, one morning the appearance of the corpse of a young woman causes the professor to quickly re-cover the body and shortly after the cadaver disappears. Ehpraim notices the reaction of a fellow student to the corpse and becomes convinces that the woman is known to at least two of the doctors present in the room. When one of them later turns up dead, Ephraim is determined to uncover the true identity of the body.

Review:
This is a very interesting book by a new writer. The novel had echoes of Edgar Allen Poe in both the subject matter and the style of writing. The character of Ephraim Carroll is well developed and not always likable, particularly in relation to his attitude to the women around him. Despite his intelligence, he is obviously a naïve young man and this naivety often exasperates the reader.

I also liked the character of Mary Simpson, the fellow doctor and student of the professor but I am not convinced how realistic her position is in nineteenth century Philadelphia. However, the book has clearly been well researched so I presume there were women practicing medicine during this time.

The plot ends satisfyingly and I liked the historical note at the end placing all of the action in the context of the time.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Walker - Bruno, Chief of Police

"A very good start to a promising series."

Synopsis:
In the small French community of St Denis in the Dordogne, life moves slowly.

Bruno Courreges, the Chief of Police for the commune, seemingly spends most of his time trying to protect the local market stallholders from coming under the scrutiny of EU inspectors. This all changes, however, when the elderly Hamid al-Bakir, the grandfather of the commune's Muslim family is found murdered. Markings on the body suggest the murder might be race related, which is reinforced by the presence of far right groups in the region. However, Bruno believes that the motive for murder is to be found nearer to home, and may be connected to the victim's experiences in the second world war.

Review:
This a charming new book from experienced journalist Martin Walker. I initially was concerned that the book would be written from an English standpoint, emphasising how quaint the region is with its old fashioned view of the world. However, although Bruno is certainly an old fashioned policeman, the story that enfolds in a modern day one.

The narrative contains references to racism, drugs, EU bureaucracy and the social tensions found amongst a diverse mix of people found in many French villages. There is also, for those who want it, plenty of lyricism too, including descriptions of the markets, bars and restaurants and cobbled squares. A very good start to a promising series.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - Pitch Black

"DCI Lorimer is firmly rooted in the history and geography of Glasgow and he brings the city to life in high relief."

Synopsis:
DCI William Lorimer is on holiday in Mull with his wife Maggie. On their way back from a completely relaxing holiday, Lorimer has a fleeting but memorable encounter with a woman being arrested on suspicion of killing her husband, football star, Nicko Faulkner. On return to Glasgow, Lorimer finds himself in charge of the murder case. Nicko has been stabbed to death with a bread knife and his wife appears to have fled to Mull, but there is only circumstantial evidence that she is to blame.

Faulkner's team, Kelvin Athletic, is implicated when the referee of their last match is found dead in his car. Power struggles in the football club and the prospects of large financial gain all contribute to a web of intrigue where different people seem to gain from the deaths.

DCI Lorimer is under pressure to find the killer before any more deaths occur.

Review:
This is the second book about DCI Lorimer and continues to establish him as a policeman equally dedicated to solving crime as Rebus, but without the self- destructive quality of the Edinburgh detective.

DCI Lorimer is firmly rooted in the history and geography of Glasgow and he brings the city to life in high relief. The people described are very 'real', and the gritty reality of Glasgow's underbelly is vividly portrayed. The details are never too graphic, however, and light relief is provided by Lorimer's delightful wife Maggie, and a welcome newcomer named “Chancer”!

Glasgow's addiction to football is well known, and this provides the central theme of the story. Not with the big players this time, but with a team just fallen from the Scottish Premier League. The passions and obsessions of football are excellently portrayed, the plot is carefully worked out and the final unravelling is left to the very end.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Taylor - Bleeding Heart Square

"The seediness of this part of London is well portrayed..."

Synopsis:
The down-at-heel Bleeding Heart Square lies in the heart of London. A motley assortment of tenants live at number 7; from the drunken Captain Ingleby-Lewis to the sinister landlord Joseph Serridge.

It is to 7 Bleeding Heart Square that Lydia Langstone flees after an altercation with her husband. Although Captain Ingleby-Lewis is her father, the life that he now leads is far removed from her privileged lifestyle. In order to remain hidden from her husband, Lydia assimilates into the life of the household. However, the house holds its own secret. Miss Penhow, the house's previous owner, has mysteriously disappeared, possibly at the hands of Joseph Serridge. As Lydia struggles to understand the dynamics of the house, her own life, and past, are put into danger.

Review:
This is an interesting book by Andrew Taylor. Part thriller and part crime novel, it is written as a Victorian gothic murder story and the reader is continually surprised that it is in fact set in 1934.

Given the 1930s setting, I did find it hard sometimes to believe Lydia's marriage predicament, particularly as it was during these years that divorce was easier to come by. However, the narrative is very good, split between telling Lydia's story and extract from Miss Penhow's diary. The seediness of this part of London is well portrayed and the practicalities of a well-heeled woman attempting to survive amongst the squalor very well written.

There is an interesting twist at the end and the novel ends satisfyingly well.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andy Oakes - Citizen One

"The Shanghai underworld is portrayed in all its hellish glory..."

Synopsis:
In the concrete foundations of the new Olympic stadium in Shanghai, a number of young women are found raped and murdered. Senior investigator Sun-Piao of the Shanghai Police has recently been released from the Ankang, the mental institution which few escape from. Although confused by his good fortune, he is reassigned from Homicide Squad to the moribund Vice department.

When a colleague who initially found the girl's body is found murdered, with the star of the Chinese republic carved into his chest, he is determined to investigate. During his examinations he puts all around him at risk from the brutality if the People's Liberation Army. Only the mysterious Citizen One appears able to protect him from their murderous intention and it will take all of Sun-Piao and his assistant's skill to access this reclusive figure.

Review:
As with Andy Oakes' previous book Dragon's Eye this in a claustrophobic and intense story set in the underworld of Shanghai.

Sun-Piao is a charismatic figure. He ignores the corruption of the authority within which he works and puts himself deliberately at risk in order to right injustices. However, he also has a vulnerable side and his relationship with his ex-wife is a theme of the narrative in this book, as in his last. Sun-Piao's assistant is equally charismatic, not least for his dedication to his boss.

The Shanghai underworld is portrayed in all its hellish glory but despite the brutality of the crimes, the violence is never gratuitous. The pace of the storytelling is very fast and readers are swept along by the narrative.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nick Rennison - The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

"... this book will highlight the qualities of Holmes."

Synopsis:
Although the stories of Arthur Conan-Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes dominate the world of Victorian detective fiction, they are by no means the only examples of this genre.

The serialisation of crime stories in a number of weekly magazines created an appetite for regular detective stories that writers of varying degrees of talent filled. In this book, Nick Rennison pulls together a selection of detective stories written by Conan-Doyle's contemporaries between 1890 and 1914. Some are by well known names such as GK Chesterton, some by writers famous at the time who have now fallen into obscurity and others by authors for whom fame never took off.

Review:
The title and front cover of this book deliberately set out to appeal to lovers of Sherlock Holmes and - in the main – the book succeeds in this. There is a very good introduction to the anthology that describes the appetite of late Victorian audiences for new crime stories and explains how magazines and writers responded to this need. As the introduction rightly points out many of the detectives in the stories contain characteristics of the towering creation of Sherlock Holmes. It will be up to the reader to decide how much of this is plagiarism and how much is a reflection of what the audience considered to be essential aspects of a Victorian detective. What is also interesting, but is not highlighted in the introduction, is how many stories combine crime elements with that of the occult, which also appears to have been a major preoccupation of the period.

The story I enjoyed the most 'Hagar of the Pawn Shop' had as its protagonist a gypsy pawn shop owner turned detective. The story is very amusing, with a nice twist, although perhaps would not stand scrutiny in terms of political correctness. My one criticism would by the absence of a story containing Holmes himself. It would possibly have been worth including one of the lesser known stories as it has been some years since I read one. It would have stood up well in terms of quality and served as a useful comparison in terms of themes contained in the other stories. Readers may want to dip into an anthology of Conan-Doyle's stories alongside this as, if nothing else, this book will highlight the qualities of Holmes.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: