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Reviews

June 2008

Sebastian Faulks (Writing as Ian Fleming) - Devil May Care

"Welcome back to the glamour, thrills, and excitement to be found in the life of Mr Bond - it is so good to have you back!"

Synopsis:
Bond is back in London after an enforced “sabbatical” on medical grounds. Set in 1967 when the Rolling Stones had just been busted on drug charges, James Bond returns to the summer of love in full swing – and a dangerous new global threat to conquer.

An Algerian drug runner is savagely executed in the desolate outskirts of Paris. This seemingly isolated event leads to the recall of 007 from his sabbatical in Rome and his return to the world of intrigue and danger where he is most at home. A gritty but world weary, older, wiser and more vunerable Bond soon finds himself in a mixed cold war era as he moves from a number of different exotic locations including Barbabos, the Middle East, Paris and Russia.

On the hunt for Dr. Julius Gorner, a power-crazed pharmaceutical magnate, and trying to rescue the twin sister of a glamorous Parisian at the same time. The two cases come together with amazing results.

Review:
Devil May Care is an intriguing, 'Boy's Own' read that returns Ian Fleming's iconic secret agent to the pages and lives of readers.

While the phrase Devil May Care may mean 'wildly reckless or carefree' - and is also the title of this newest Bond book - it also reveals in part Bond's behaviour in this novel. He is indeed at times wildly reckless, showing little concern for those around him. The vulnerability that one has come to expect in the books has not been forgotten, however.

Devil May Care of course has all the requisite elements that one has come to expect in a Bond novel; alcohol, women and the sheer explosiveness that is just as important to Bond novels - along with a dazzling, fast moving plot.

In the year of the Ian Fleming centenary it goes without saying that to find an appropriate person to write a James Bond book in the vein of Ian Fleming's iconic novels was never going to be an easy task. In fact it must have been a daunting responsibility to undertake. However, the choice of Sebastian Faulks was an inspired one. It would be easy for me to pick holes in Devil May Care and to be honest there are a number of incidents that take place that will niggle hardened Bond fans. My only main problem with Devil May Care is the fact that I felt that Bond had lost a bit of that streak of cruelty and ruthlessness that one has come to expect of his character - and I am not talking about the films!

It is nice to see that Faulks has not forgotten all those other elements in Bond's life like May his housekeeper, Felix Leiter, Rene Mathis and of course the delectable Moneypenny. Devil May Care is in an entertaining and engaging book that was tremendous fun to read with a real attempt at evocating the earlier Bond books. There is no doubt that he may not satisfy the purists – and probably never could - but he has, in my opinion, written an 007 novel to be proud of.

Welcome back to the glamour, thrills, and excitement to be found in the life of Mr Bond - it is so good to have you back!

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrea Maria Schenkel - The Murder Farm

"... a concise and elegantly constructed story."

Synopsis:
The story is set in Germany and begins with the narrator returning to a village where she spent a summer with distant relatives at the end of the Second World War. She has idyllic memories of the place, but when she returns, the inhabitants talk to her freely about the horrific murder that had taken place on one of the farms.

The farmer, his wife, daughter, grandchildren and the new maid were all found brutally murdered. The account of each of the neighbours is written down in his or her own voice and it becomes apparent that there are several possible solutions. The narrator learns different things from each account and by the end, the truth as she sees it has slowly emerged. The story is interspersed with extracts from the commendation of the soul from the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic Liturgy.

Review:
This is a concise and elegantly constructed story.

By using the words of the players a description of life in the countryside in Germany after the war is cleverly revealed. The emotional undercurrents of an isolated community are beautifully brought out. This is much more telling and thought provoking than straightforward narrative.

It is a strange coincidence that this book is published in the United Kingdom in the wake of the chilling discoveries in an Austrian basement, Although the details are very different, some of the attitudes resonate with this story. A feeling of great sadness and waste is emphasised by the extracts from the Last Rites and it contributes to the tight construction of the book. I found this book much more than an average crime story. It moved me greatly.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Morley - Spider

"...a perfect crime novel. "

Synopsis:
The press call him the Black River Killer and his statistics are shocking: 16 murders and not captured in 20 years. Now the FBI's best profiler, Jack King, is burned out and beaten, his career shattered.

Jack and his wife now run an hotel in Tuscany. And though he still gets nightmares, rural Italy is a whole world away from BRK's brutal crime scenes in South Carolina. Or so Jack thought ...

As Italian cops discover the body of a young woman - the remains mutilated like BRK's victims - a gruesome package arrives at the FBI; twin events that conspire to lure the profiler back into the hunt.

But this time, who is the spider and who is the fly?

Review:
Spider was a perfect crime novel. Filled with a great storyline and strong characters, this was a book read in less than two days as I was unable to put it down. The plot is very cleverly structured and contains a couple of perfect red herrings to throw the reader off the scent. The murders are pretty gruesome and will appeal to those who enjoy both the thrill of the chase and all the bloody details of the killings!

The ultimate rationale for Spider carrying out his murders could not have been predicted, although the climax of the book was possible to work out - just. Still, it was excellently written and certainly kept me engrossed until the last word.

From the preview of the next book, The Pit, Jack King returns.... hooray! This is yet another debut book from an author that goes straight on to my 'not to be missed' list. Morley's next book can't be published soon enough.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jean-Francois Parot - The Man with the Lead Stomach

"Nicholas Le Floch is a well written and colourful detective..."

Synopsis:
Police Commissioner Nocholas Le Floch is instructed to protect Princess Adelaide, the King's daughter, during a visit to the theatre. What starts as a uneventful evening culminates in the discovery of the body of a prominent courtier's son.

Initial suspicions that the Vicomte de Ruissec committed suicide are belied by the hideous disfiguration of his face. The result, it transpires, of molten lead being poured into his gut. The subsequent violent death of the Vicomte's mother confirms Le Floch's murder diagnosis and he is dragged into the coterie of Madame Le Pompadour who wants the murders solved and also to protect her position as King's mistress.

Review:
Good quality sequels to successful debut novels are often difficult to produce but Jean-Francois Parot delivers an excellent mystery in this novel. Nicholas Le Floch is a well written and colourful detective and I liked the fact that this book moves away from his complicated love life and focuses on his investigative talents.

The murder mystery I found less satisfying. It has all of the elements of a good yarn, particularly in relation to the method of dispatching the victims but I found it difficult to engage with the plot. Much better are the depictions of court intrigue which I found very convincing.

Parot is an excellent chronicler of history at that time and this novel is highly recommended to those who enjoy historical crime fiction.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Mosby - Cry For Help

"Mosby is definitely here to stay and a name to watch for the future."

Synopsis:
Dave Lewis is a man with a history. Haunted by his brother's murder when they were children, and scarred by his parents' grief, he's built a bitter life, denying everything they ever stood for. He spends his time working as a magician, running a cynical magazine that derides his parents' New Age beliefs, and drowning his sorrows over his lost love, Tori. He's trying to convince himself the past is the past. A promise he made to Tori has got him into trouble before, and Dave's determined to move on and not let that happen again.

Detective Sam Currie is also a man with a past. His failure to prevent his son's death has ended his marriage and casts a shadow over his life and career. He's directed his hatred towards the one man he sees as responsible, but he has other priorities right now. A killer is stalking the city, abducting girls and sending SMS messages and e-mails to their families before he kills them. When Dave Lewis appears to connect both investigations, it's an opportunity Currie can't resist.

Review:
As with Mosby's last thriller, Cry for Help is fast paced and exciting. Based around Dave Lewis, the story is about an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation and examines how he reacts and how far he will go to save his friends.

It is a very complex story with great characters - most of whom seem lifelike and easy to empathise with. I found the plot ended a little disappointingly, despite the fact that I was unable work out the killer, or guess the reasons for what was happening and why.

However, this is a real page-turner of a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. As with Mosby's last book, this comes recommended. Mosby is definitely here to stay and a name to watch for the future.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth George - Careless in Red

"... a substantial and absorbing read"

Synopsis:
Chief Inspector Thomas Lynley, mourning his murdered wife, is walking the South West coast path to try to assuage his grief. On his walk he sees a climber fall to his death in an apparent accident. When it is proved that the climber's ropes were deliberately cut, the first persons on the scene, Lynley and the mysterious Daidre Trahair come under suspicion by the local police force. When Lynley's identity is revealed he is reluctantly co-opted onto the case along with his Scotland Yard colleague Barbara Havers. While the police want Lynley to dig into Daidre's past, he is convinced that an accident that took place twenty years ago may be of more relevance to the case. Furthermore, the private life of the fallen climber, Santo Kerne, seems to hold the key to his murder - his promiscuity having touched the lives of the local Cornish residents.

Review:
With No One as Witness saw the murder of Lynley's wife and, although George's sequel What Came Before He Shot Her dealt with some of the aftermath of the killing, it is a relief to return to the Lynley/Havers partnership in this book. It must have been a difficult book to write as most of the plot involving Lynley should naturally revolve around the grief he feels. However, George manages to deal with this while allowing him to play a key role in the investigation.

Moving the action away from London is an inspired touch, although I am not sure whether real life policing allows such flexibility in its investigations. Barabara Havers is as dishevelled as ever and her relationship with Lynley falls into its usual pattern of exasperation and affection.

The conclusion of the murder is slightly disappointing for the reader, not just because there is no justice for the killer but because this plot line becomes less interesting than the revelation of Daidre's history. But the book is a substantial and absorbing read and will be enjoyed, I am sure, by all Elizabeth George fans.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Temple - Dead Point

"Jack Irish, a detective now firmly ensconced in our hearts, truly excels in this latest excellent thriller. "

Synopsis:
Jack Irish, Melbourne's irascible lawyer and detective is commissioned to find Robbie Colburne, an itinerant barman, who has disappeared. With other worries in his personal and professional life, Jack pays scant attention to his missing person's inquiry until the barman turns up dead of an apparent overdose.

Determined to get to the bottom of the case, Jack investigates Robbie's past and his links with the powerful Milan Filipovic. Robbie, it seems, had a sideline in blackmail, with a prominent judge his latest victim. But. perhaps more mystifying, Robbie's past has been deliberately concealed for reasons Jack Irish intends to discover. His investigations, as usual, lead into murder, extortion and the heart of Australia's underworld.

Review:
Jack Irish, a detective now firmly ensconced in our hearts, truly excels in this latest excellent thriller.

All of the usual elements are here – Jack's disastrous love life, his flirtation with danger and his tenacity in uncovering the culpable. The plot is also classic Peter Temple, consisting of fragmented scenes with the action moving around Melbourne and many of Jack Irish's usual acquaintances. My only concern would be how accessible this book would be to those new to the Jack Irish series. Many of the characters appear without introduction and are familiar only to those who have read previous Jack Irish novels. But it is this continuity that Peter Temple fans so love.

I am sure that Dead Point will be just as well received as his previous best-selling books.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Greg Iles - Third Degree

"... somewhat different to the usual thriller/murder mystery which makes it all the more enjoyable."

Synopsis:
Laurel Fields, perfect wife of Dr Warren Fields - living in a perfect house, in a beautiful town - is pregnant. But is the baby her husband's or her lover's?

One morning she returns home and finds Warren waiting for her. When she looks down from his unshaven face, she recognises the piece of paper lying on the coffee table - a letter from her love Danny that she had hidden inside a book.

Then she sees the gun in her husband's hand...

It's going to be a long day for the Fields family, for Danny and for the
Police, because this is not the only secret in town…

Review:
This book was unusual because all the action takes place over a period of about 12 hours. There was plenty of background information on every character and situation to ensure that the reader was fully aware of what was happening and why. To be truthful, when I first realised the book would only span the period of a day I thought it was going to be quite a slow story, as only 2 characters were featured in the main plot. However, there are other lines interwoven in the story that break away from the main plot.

The story is somewhat different to the usual thriller/murder mystery which makes it all the more enjoyable. The main character, Laurel, at times left me with little sympathy due to her 'lack of action' but on the whole, it is a book I would definitely recommend.

Once again Isles brings the story and characters to life and makes this a book that is practically impossible to put down.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson - Sail

"Patterson is an expert teller of tales..."

Synopsis:
Katherine Dunne is off on a sailing trip with her family for two months. This is a last ditch attempt to regain the family she feels alienated from, especially since her husband died suddenly four years ago. Her two sons and daughters are distant and have nothing to say to their mother. They argue constantly. Even the strong presence of their Uncle Jake doesn't seem to calm them. But for the sake of her family, Katherine has left her new husband, lawyer Peter Carlyle, the love of her life, at home so she can get to know her children once more.

Soon, the boat runs into problems. Has someone sabotaged them? Then there is a huge storm and things go from bad to worse. An explosion destroys the boat and a massive search begins using the co-ordinates from the boats tracking system. However, neither the family Dunne nor the remains of the boat can be found. Was something wrong with the equipment? Why can the boat not be found? When a message in a bottle is found, the search is back on with a vengeance. But there are certain other parties who are determined to find the family Dunne. Is it to rescue them or to cover their tracks? The race is on to find the family - dead or alive!

Review:
This latest from the James Patterson stable is another highly satisfactory romp with the usual short chapters rushing you through the story. With Patterson, the characters are never people you want to feel close to. They are puppets in a sequence of expertly plotted dramatic events. Although, I have to say, on this occasion I enjoyed the character of the bad guy, Peter Carlyle, who I preferred to the 'fluffy' feel of the family Dunne.

Although I enjoyed the story immensely – Patterson is an expert teller of tales - I feel Howard Roughan is possibly currently the weaker of all the writers Patterson pairs up with. Paetro has nailed the Women's Murder Club as her own, with Ledwidge a close second. With Roughan you feel that he takes immense pleasure in describing luxury items like Peter's watch - which costs a fortune and does everything except wash the dishes. It is information we simply don't need. Besides that small niggle, I enjoyed Sail for the huge entertainment value it affords. Patterson's novel's are like films on the page. Why more of them haven't been made into movies is a surprise. There are quite a few bodies by the end of Sail and, yes, there is a twist at the end which most crime readers will have spotted. However, Sail does justice to Patterson's brand and will certainly sate the appetite of his many readers.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Philip Kerr - A Quiet Flame

"Philip Kerr writes Chandleresque prose which translates very well to both 1930s Berlin and 1950s Argentina. "

Synopsis:
Bernie Gunther, posing as a fleeing Nazi war criminal, arrives in Buenos Aires in 1950. Formerly a detective in Berlin, he is forced to reveal his true identity which leads to him being asked to help out in a case where young girls are mutilated and killed. Convinced that the culprit in Argentina is the same killer operating in 1930s Berlin, Bernie reluctantly agrees.

However, another case soon comes along that holds equal attractions, that of a number of Jewish immigrants who disappeared soon after their arrival in Argentina. Despite being warned off the case, Bernie investigates with his usual aplomb, leading him and the beautiful Anna Yagubsky into deadly danger.

Review:
Philip Kerr writes Chandleresque prose which translates very well to both 1930s Berlin and 1950s Argentina.

The plot involves the mixing of both real and imagined characters and under Philip Kerr's able hands this works very well. The inclusion of well known Nazis including Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann increases the sense of menace prevalent in Argentina after the war. The rule under the Perons is portrayed as both corrupt and threatening and the position of the Jews hardly any better than that of Nazi Germany.

The plot is multi-layered with the investigation not what it initially seems, although when this is revealed to the reader it makes some of the flashbacks to 1930s Berlin seem superfluous. But it is a very enjoyable read and a highly absorbing novel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Martin - Death on a Branch Line

"Altogether an entertaining read."

Synopsis:
Set in Yorkshire over one weekend in the hot summer of 1911, this story describes the actions of railway detective Jim Stringer and his wife Lydia as they investigate the murder of Sir George Lambert and subsequent threats.

Stringer has met Lambert's son, Hugh, on York Railway Station. Hugh has been convicted of his father's murder and is on his way to his hanging at Durham. He gives Stringer a message to give to his brother John whom he believes is in danger.

Stringer and his wife then go for a weekend break in Adenwold where the Lambert family live. There they find a number of likely suspects and mysterious strangers dabbling in the affairs of this small village. The final solution is reached at the last minute - and involves an international conspiracy!

Review:
For those interested in the history of the railways and the development of the policing of the railways in its early days, this is a fascinating read.

Jim Stringer is an intelligent man who has progressed in his career by using his wits. The social attitudes to both class and the position of women in society in the early twentieth century are clearly brought home in this story. The narrative in Stringer's down to earth tones moves the action along quickly, although his attitude to “the wife” sometimes doesn't ring entirely true.

Altogether an entertaining read.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gladys Mitchell - Printers Error

"Printer’s Error has all the ingredients of a great Mitchell piece of work."

Synopsis:
Mr Justus Bassin visits his client, Mrs. Carn, who is concerned about a number of threatening letters she has received regarding her husband's forthcoming book which is suggested as scandalously anti-Semitic. When Bassin takes his leave of the woman, he returns soon after to find her dead in her living room, smashed across the head with a metal deposit box. And so starts another Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley adventure - where nobody is as they seem.

Soon the man of the house goes missing and parts of a body begin to turn up in the post and in a local factory. As the troupe of Lestrange, Bassin and Mrs. Bradley's nephew, Carey, delve deeper into the mystery they find that Nazi's are operating in the area. And, as with all of Mrs. Bradley's adventure's, the truth lies within a nudist colony!

Review:
Printer's Error, published in 1939 has all the hallmarks of Britain on the doorstep of war. Yet again, we are treated to another of Ms. Mitchell marvellous novels that would be lost to the enthusiastic reader if not for the passion and drive of Andrew Osmond, who has taken it upon himself to publish Mitchell's early works.

Unfortunately, Mitchell's original early books now sell for outrageous sums of money and are therefore unavailable to most of her fans. However, with this new series, we can again delight in this woman's marvellous and hilarious stories.

Printer's Error has all the ingredients of a great Mitchell piece of work. There is murder, intrigue, espionage and of course, nudists! With her usual way of telling a story - which is never as rigid as a Christie or Marsh - Gladys Mitchell held her own with her own unique brand of story telling. Osmond states that the first of the series, Brazen Tongue, was Mitchell's least favourite book. Printer's Error came a close second to upsetting the great lady herself. All I can say is that it is a joy to hold a book which would otherwise never be read due to its scarcity. And we should trumpet the return of Mrs. Bradley and pray that she appeals to a new generation of readers and that they will take the old dinosaur to their hearts like the rest of us die-hard fans!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Claire Seeber - Lullaby

"...a well rounded novel of despair and faith, or sometimes lack of faith, in marriage and motherhood."

Synopsis:
Jessica Finnegan has everything she could ever wish for; a handsome husband who is doing well for himself, a gorgeous house and a newborn baby boy. What more could she ask for?

But Jess feels that she could be a better mother. Surely the first months should be bliss, but for Jess they have been a nightmare and she feels she just can't cope. Then, on a day out with her family, Jess' baby, Louis goes missing and her husband is found beaten and unconscious. Feeling pangs of guilt, Jess lives the nightmare of every mother - the theft of a child. As her husband lays in hospital, his memory gone as to the events that led up to Louis' disappearance, Jessica begins to suspect the people around her - even her own family - as she stumbles from one lost hope to another, desperate to find her baby.

Review:
This is the first novel from Claire Seeber who seems able to write a well rounded novel of despair and faith, or sometimes lack of faith, in marriage and motherhood. The characters who inhabit the novel sometimes seem to be caricatures, like the heroin addicted brother who is immediately in the line-up of suspects. Despite this, I thought Robbie was one of the most interesting people populating this novel.

The story of the loss and search for Louis is well paced, although the novel does take some time to get started as there are many passages describing Jessica's grief at the disappearance of her child. Some of the writing was a little clichéd - something which the writer will doubtless avoid as more of her books are published.

Despite these niggles, I found the author told a strong story which was narrated well. The subject matter is interesting in light of the first anniversary of the disappearance of Maddie McGann and may possibly appeal more to female readers - but this is certainly a book to try.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: