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Reviews

August 2008

Peter Robinson - All the Colours of Darkness

"... an elegant cliff-hanger of a story."

Synopsis:
Back in the Yorkshire Dales the body of a set designer from the local theatre is found hanging from a tree in a local beauty spot. Although there seems no apparent reason for Mark Hardcastle to kill himself, suicide seems to be the obvious solution. DI Annie Cabbot takes charge as DCI Alan Banks is away in London with the new love of his life, Sophia. However, when the body of Laurence Silbert is discovered in an exclusive residential area, the Chief Constable is interested and DCI Banks is called away from his enjoyable weekend.

The easy way to solve the two deaths is to think murder followed by the suicide of the murderer, but Banks follows his instincts and unravels a more subtle and complicated solution. Added to this the involvement of MI6 and a number of the great and the good all make for an elegant cliff-hanger of a story.

Review:
This is yet another totally enthralling tale from Peter Robinson. Banks' love life continues to be beset by difficulties, largely caused by his dedication to the job. He continues his pursuit of the truth, despite obstacles put in his way by the establishment, and all the while is portrayed as a humane, intelligent and cultured man.

The detailed descriptions of the characters make the story truly come alive and the plot is - as always - well constructed and pacy to the end. I think that the great appeal of Chief Inspector Banks is that he is highly competent and successful without being too perfect. He is interesting and sympathetic, yet can achieve results because of his passion for his job. In short, Banks is a hero to whom we can all aspire.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Gardner - Say Goodbye

"... another outstanding read from Gardner..."

Synopsis:
Young women are disappearing, girls no one will notice are gone - prostitutes, runaways, high-risk teens. One night they exist, next morning they have vanished.

But FBI Agent Kimberly Quincy, five months pregnant, has noticed. And when eighteen year old Delilah Rose claims to have inside information on the case, she will only talk to Kimberly. After all, they have something on common; Delilah is pregnant too.

Their only lead is a man who gets his kicks in the creepiest of ways. He is a twisted sadist with a brutal past. Kimberly soon realises she must become the prey if anyone else is to survive...

Review:
Lisa Gardner's latest book is a powerful thriller that is sure to be well received by all present and future Gardner fans.

Leaving behind Quincy, Gardner now sets her novels around Quincy's daughter Kimberly, who is an FBI Agent. Whilst I did not find Kimberley the most likeable of lead characters, the twisting storyline and plot more than make up for my partial dislike of her. This particular story is very involved, and not for the faint hearted, although it is interspersed with details of the personal life of Kimberley and her husband, Mac, which seemed somewhat unrealistic and unnecessary at times.

Say Goodbye is another outstanding read from Gardner and was well worth the wait.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Cain - The Survivor

"Samuel Carver is The Accident Man. He’s a thriller hero par excellance... and we want more of him!"

Synopsis:
Samuel Carver is recovering from the appalling beating and torture he received at the end of the first Accident Man book. Whilst in a Swiss sanatorium life takes over and his beautiful Russian girlfriend is abducted. Then things go from bad to worse...

One of Carver's previous hits has managed to survive – against the odds - and is now plotting to end life on earth as we know it as his dying wish. Religious fanatics, terrorists and madmen are converging in a bid to end all. It will take all the skills he has learned as a paid assassin and more than a modicum of luck for Carver to get out of this one. Will Carver sort things in time, or will he be forced to decide between the fate of the planet and the survival of those nearest and dearest to him...

Who, indeed, will be the ultimate survivor?

Review:
Approaching that difficult second book is always going to be a tough one, and Tom Cain has largely succeeded here. He has already created an exciting new thriller 'brand' with The Accident Man and no doubt the ideas will keep roll into third and fourth thrilling novels, and beyond.

Samuel Carver is a classic flawed hero to match all the greats. His dark, macho character is further explored in this latest book and he certainly does not come up wanting. Carver's nearest and dearest are also well drawn in this book and we get a clearer understanding of why he has chosen his few close friends and associates. The bad guys here are simply epic too. Lunatic religious zealots, Russian Mafia and much more besides. Add to this a plot featuring suitcase nuclear devices and a race against time and you're onto a sure-fire thriller winner!

This reader found the first 100 pages a fairly tough intro, with possibly too much detail of Carver's recovery and the 'set-up' was a bit more laboured that expected. However, do read on beyond this and the action hots up to more than compensate for a slow-ish start. The last chapters raced by deep into the night and it's a real 'can't put it down' ending. Tom Cain's genius creation, Samuel Carver, is The Accident Man. He's a thriller hero par excellance... and we want more of him!

Reviewed by: A.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Billingham - In The Dark

"... when the twist comes - as you know it will - you can’t help but read with your mouth wide open."

Synopsis:
It is late at night. A young woman driving home in her BMW flashes her headlights at a car full of young men who have apparently forgotten to turn theirs on. Little does she know that she has unwittingly singled herself out as a target. Shots are fired. The BMW swerves wildly towards two off-duty cops who are standing at a bus stop after a night out. The car breaches the pavement. One of the cops pushes his friend out of the way, but he can't save himself and is crushed by the car and killed.

The detective was on the brink of a brilliant career and three other people find that this night has a profound impact on the rest of their lives; the young man who pulled the trigger, a gangster consumed with thoughts of revenge and a woman only weeks away from the birth of her first child. To cope with her grief she has to keep moving; has to do something. She determines to find out who is responsible - and why. In doing so she uncovers a world of deadly secrets

Review:
Mark Billingham's depiction of life on the more down at heel streets of London and the impacts on its socially challenged inhabitants is worryingly realistic. The young trigger-happy man has a child of his own. He wants to provide for his child like a real man should but feels trapped by the circumstances into which he has been born. Billingham sympathetically details the social factors that drive people into a life of crime, to the extent that this reader empathised with the shooter and hoped, as the story unfolded, that he might come out of it unscathed.

Billingham also scores in his highly unusual choice of detective. Helen Weeks is just days away from giving birth and her quest to find out about her dead lover's past while suffering heartburn, nausea and a variety of leeks leaves the reader feeling admiration, while worrying that she may give birth at any time on some gangster's polished wooden floor. This is a cracking read where Billingham skilfully places layer upon layers of action into his readers' mind, giving enough detail to tantalise, but not too much so that when the twist comes - as you know it will - you can't help but read with your mouth wide open. Mark Billingham has taken a big chance in moving away from Tom Thorne, the central character on whom he has built a highly successful career, with this standalone novel. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Frances Fyfield - Blood from Stone

"It is Fyfield’s intermixed love and dislike for her characters that stands out here."

Synopsis:
Marianne Shearer is a highly successful criminal barrister. In fact, her latest case was yet another notch in a glittering career that has shown her talents at defending people from the law. But weeks later, Marianne books herself into a hotel room and flings herself from the balcony to certain death. What, her friends and colleagues ask, could lead a woman who was so highly regarded, if also despised, to take such drastic action?

The onus of unearthing the truth is passed on to her colleague Thomas Noble and, strangely, Peter Friel, who was once Shearer's apprentice. But it is Peter who is determined to find out what drove this tough woman he both liked and feared to her untimely death. All through his convoluted journey he uncovers some very sad and uneasy facts about Marianne. What does Mr. Boyd who she defended in her last case have to do with her ultimate decision? Why does Mr. Boyd continue to pester people trying to find something that he believes Marianne kept from him? Where is Marianne's paperwork and all her furniture? What part do Angel and Hen play in this unfolding drama? As tensions rise some people begin to get angry and anyone who gets in their way is sure to be hurt...

Review:
This is the exciting new novel from one of our favourite authors, Frances Fyfield, which rightly won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of 2008. It is a marvellous testament to a talented and original writer.

Blood From Stone is a not only a classic mystery but a tale of evil, deception, innocence, realisation, identity and, ultimately, the seeking for forgiveness. The author leads us resolutely through a grim tale, beautifully told, while leading us through delightfully touching scenery interspersed with scenes of desperate menace and violent domination.

Fyfield is very clever at bringing to life hard and wily men who risk everything and everyone - yet nothing of themselves - to gain exactly what they want. Mr. Boyd stands supreme in the rogue's gallery that Fyfield has created throughout her magnificent catalogue of novels. Boyd is one 'nasty' we will all remember for a long while to come. It is Fyfield's intermixed love and dislike for her characters that stands out here. We have the snobbish and preening Thomas Noble who seems to be out of step with the rest of the human race. Peter and Hen were clearly liked by the author and this shines through the writing. Even Marianne Shearer is ambiguous, disliked and liked in equal measures as flashes of the ogre inside are shown. As is her love of clothes and her nights in dancing with her long-time lover.

Blood From Stone is a wonderful fable for the modern age and should finally bring Fyfield to the notice of the masses.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

E.V. Seymour - The Last Exile

"... a very good debut..."

Synopsis:
It has been a year since Paul Tallis shot a woman he believed to be a terrorist but who was, in fact, innocent. Now his career is just a memory and he is sinking fast in an alcoholic blur. Then he is visited by a woman, Cavall. She wants him to find four people who were jailed for crimes and - instead of being deported - got released back in to the community. These people need to be found and sent back to the country of origin. Reluctant at first, Tallis takes on the task and sets out to gather these exiles and repatriate them. Or so he thinks...

When each exile is found and handed over Tallis doesn't realise - until much later - that these people are not being deported, they are being terminated. Tallis discovers that an organisation is operating to 'clean up' the streets of Great Britain and rid the country of the multi-nationals who have come to live in the country. It is up to Tallis to hunt down these extremists and – ultimately - save the last exile from these animals... but will it be at a great personal cost to the man himself?

Review:
The Last Exile is the first novel by this exciting new author, and it is a very assured piece of work. The issues that surround this book are very current. The shooting of innocents mistakenly thought to be terrorists, the influx of Eastern Europeans and the issue of cheap labour - along with the rising sense of anger that some cultures appear to have more of a liberal standing in society than others. These are issues that always rear their head whenever you are living in a multi-cultural society, as we do today. They are also big issues that can seriously burn a writer if not deal with properly or with some degree of sensitivity.

Despite this being her first book, Seymour has managed to convey a Britain that does have issues but is also predominantly strong and comfortable in its own society. You can also tell that Seymour has certainly done her fair share of research. Thankfully she has avoided the pitfall of preaching to an intelligent reader. What Tallis feels about the extremists is mirrored by a large percentage of the people of this world. That racism will not be tolerated. However, amongst all this, the story is a gripping one and which flows very well, making the reader turn the pages to get through to the end. I also enjoyed many well-drawn characters, especially Crow who I hope will feature in a future novel - even one of her own? The denouement is well planned if not a total surprise and it does bring the book nicely to a full circle. This is a very good debut from an author who is comfortable with her writing and I expect will become stronger and more assured with every new release.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chelsea Cain - Sweet Heart

"... an excellent thriller..."

Synopsis:
Damaged Portland detective, Archie Sheridan, spent ten years tracking Gretchen Lowell, a beautiful serial killer. However, in the end she was the one who caught him. Two years ago Gretchen kidnapped Archie and tortured him for ten days. Then, instead of killing him, she mysteriously decided to let him go. She turned herself in and now Gretchen has been locked away for the rest of her life, while Archie is in a prison of another kind---addicted to pain pills, unable to return to his old life and powerless to get those ten horrific days off his mind.

Archie's a different person, his estranged wife says, and he knows she's right. He continues to visit Gretchen in prison once a week, saying that only he can get her to confess as to the whereabouts of more of her victims, but even he knows the truth - he just can't stay away.

When another killer begins snatching teenage girls off the streets of Portland Archie has to pull himself together enough to lead the new task force investigating the murders. A hungry young newspaper reporter, Susan Ward, begins profiling Archie and the investigation. This sparks a deadly game between Archie, Susan, the new killer, and even Gretchen. They need to catch a killer, and maybe somehow then Archie can free himself from Gretchen once and for all...

Review:
This second book sees the return of Archie Sheridan and unusually, the serial killer he helped catch in her debut novel. Gretchen Lowell has some unexplained hold over Archie, resulting in a very complex relationship between the two of them. Archie is not your stereotypical leading man. His is suffering from many issues, all related to being a victim of Lowell.

Its well written, tightly plotted and the characters are all great. And whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this book - and found I could not put it down – I can't help feeling that its predecessor, Heartsick, had a slight edge. I would have preferred to be introduced to more new killers. Sadly, for me, there was almost a feeling of déjà vu.

That said, it is an excellent thriller and definitely worth reading.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ken Bruen - Sanctuary

"... says more in half a page than many other writers can express in ten."

Synopsis:
PI Jack Taylor is not a happy man. Instead of finding a new life in the USA, he is still in Galway looking after Ridge who is currently having treatment for breast cancer. Then he gets a letter from a crank giving him a list of victims. Two are guards, one a judge, another is a nun and culminating in the taking of a child's life. Having little credibility left, the police refuse to believe his story when a guard and the judge are killed in mysterious circumstances.

Not only is this Taylor's most taxing case but the booze is calling him in a big way. What has led this great but troubled man to hit the bottle? A revelation from his past rocks Taylor and he falls off the wagon, big time. And so, during the short bursts of lucidity, Taylor has to find his serial killer. Then the killer starts getting too close to home for Taylor's liking…

Review:
Interesting. It seems that we have a sudden proliferation of Irish/Scottish PI's who don't know how to handle their drink. Despite all these Bruen wannabes, it is Bruen himself who always stands out a mile from the crowd.

Not only is Sanctuary an utterly gripping story with prose that is melodious and fluid, but it is the dark humour that lifts Bruen's novels above the wannabe pack. Bruen simply hunkers down and tells the story rather than lose the plot in a lot of unnecessary padding. He says more in half a page than many other writers can express in ten. Plus, in these pages you come in to contact with some of the most amazing and bizarre characters populating crime fiction today. Who can ever forget Father Malachy and the comedic scene with his pot of tea? The humour nestles in amongst the angst, rage, drugs, booze and murder, taking its proper place in Bruen's harsh tapestry.

Sanctuary is another sure-fire winner from Mr. Bruen's sharply observed pen.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Hill - The Vows of Silence

"... an excellent detective story combined with a wrought family drama"

Synopsis:
In the quiet cathedral town of Lafferton a sniper has been killing young women, the only apparent link being their recent attendance at weddings. For newly promoted Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler the case is a nightmare as he has few leads and a high profile wedding is in the offing. However, his professional worries are overshadowed by tragedy that has struck his family.His sister, a young doctor just returned from Australia, is forced by events to become a grieving relation and is relying on her brother for moral support.

Meanwhile Simon is also aghast to find out that his recently widowed father has embarked on a new romance. As the tumultuous events run their course in Laffeton, Simon is forced to rethink his position as a loner without any romantic attachments.

Review:
In her new novel Susan Hill combines an excellent detective story combined with a wrought family drama. The murder story is an interesting one. The lone gunman is a figure for our time and sadly the writer has plenty of real-life incidents to draw on for authenticity. The wedding theme of the murders is slightly less convincing and I am sure if there was a gunman targeting weddings in my local town I would have cancelled my own nuptials.

The progress of the investigation develops very well and never becomes subsidiary to the family traumas of the detective. The illness of a family member is very well written and movingly described. The effect of the death on the family stays with the reader a long time - as does the conflicting emotions that a death in the family brings. The book is imbued with a feeling of loss with other characters from previous Susan Hill novels making an interesting reappearance. The book ends on a note of hope which should make the next book in the series an interesting read...

Reviewed by:

CrimeSquad Rating:

Karin Slaughter - Fractured

"Slaughter at the top of her game..."

Synopsis:
When Atlanta housewife Abigail Campano comes home unexpectedly one afternoon, she walks into a nightmare. A broken window, a bloody footprint on the stairs and, most devastating of all, the horrifying sight of her teenage daughter lying dead on the landing with a man standing over her with a bloody knife. The struggle that follows changes Abigail's life forever.

When the local police make a misjudgement that not only threatens the investigation but places a young girl's life in danger, the case is handed over to Special Agent Will Trent of the Criminal Apprehension Team - teamed with detective Faith Mitchell, a woman who resents him from their first meeting.

But, in the relentless heat of a Georgia summer, Will and Faith realise that they must work together to find the brutal killer who has targeted one of Atlanta's wealthiest, most privileged communities before it's too late.

Review:
Slaughter has moved on from her regular characters of Sara and Jeffrey who have appeared often in previous books. Her new lead character, Will, is a much better choice.

Will is severely dyslexic so I am unsure how he managed to obtain and keep such a high level position in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, but he is still a very creative and efficient detective. His fiancée, Angie, seems to be a drain on him. He is such a likeable person who had a bad start in life, so I would like to see him with a girlfriend who appreciates him and actually makes him happy.

The plot started very strongly but slightly tailed away and I think the opportunity of further twists and a slightly more intriguing story was missed after such a promising start. That said, Fractured (though not as compelling as Triptrych) was still a great read and it is a relief to read Slaughter at the top of her game again.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

George Pelecanos - The Turnaround

"...encompasses great writing, a remarkable setting and a great understanding of human behaviour and its repercussions."

Synopsis:
It's the summer of 1972 in Washington DC and three bored white teenagers high on drugs, driving a stolen car and believing themselves to be fearless decide to drive through Washington Heights, a rough, tough black neighbourhood. As they taunt the local black kids and speed away they hope that they will not be caught. Much to their dismay they soon find themselves at the sharp end of an extremely angry mob. As they try to extricate themselves two of them manage to escape whilst the third is tragically killed.

The youths all disperse but this tragic event is not without its repercussions. Alex Pappas one of the two white boys is left badly and permanently disfigured and two of the youths who were part of the mob are sent to jail. What all of those who are involved don't actually realise at the time is that what happened will become a defining event in all their lives.

Thirty-five years later a surprise visit to Alex Pappas by one of the boys involved in the tragic incident re-opens old wounds, one that could lead to recovery or certain death.

Review:
The Turnaround is a tale about survival. Not the survival of the fittest, but a survivor's story that encompasses race, resentment, acceptance, loss, optimism and the belief in redemption. This is also a tale about revenge. Revenge that is hard to give up and that buries itself deep inside one's soul until it festers away like a rotting sore.

George Pelecanos is known for not only creating characters that will dwell in your psyche for ages but also for the way in which he has always been able to drag you into a novel. His characterisation is such that he has the innate ability to make you feel part of the story and this is certainly the case here. Think back to the 1970's, the music, the way in which neighbourhoods were rapidly changing and you can easily understand the sense of place in this gritty, gripping, heartfelt story. As you delve into the lives of those who were affected by this tragedy and, especially, that of the two main protagonists you are left with a feeling of sadness realising what one senseless act can do - and how many lives it can effect.

The Turnaround is full of emotion and suspense and the concept of salvation reverberates throughout this novel. My only real complaint about this novel is the way in which it ends. It is almost as if Pelecanos put all his heart and soul into the main part of the story and found himself running out of words at the end so that he does not know how to finish it. However, despite this small gripe this is certainly a book that needs to be read - if only for the insight that Pelecanos gives the reader into the ordinary lives of people and the catastrophes that can befall them.

Be prepared for an emotional roller coast of a ride that will at times leave you feeling sorrowful, reeling and tearful at the thought of how one fateful incident can have a devastating effect for thirty years. This is so much more than a crime novel. This is a novel that encompasses great writing, a remarkable setting and a great understanding of human behaviour and its repercussions.

Reviewed by: A.O.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Erskine - The Warrior's Princess

"...an intriguing and interesting insight into the day to day lives of women who lived many centuries ago..."

Synopsis:
Jess, a young teacher in London, is attacked by someone she fears knows her well. Fleeing to her sister's house in the Welsh borders to recuperate, she is disturbed by the cries of a mysterious child.

Two thousand years before, the same valley is the site of a great battle between Caractacus, king of the mighty Catuvellauni tribe, and the invading Romans. The proud king is captured and taken as a prisoner to Rome with his wife and daughter, the princess Eigon.

Jess is inexorably drawn to investigate Eigon's story and, as the Welsh cottage is no longer a peaceful sanctuary, she determines to visit Rome. There lie the connections that will reveal Eigon's astonishing life - and which threaten to reawaken Jess's own tormentor.

Barbara Erskine's ability to weave together the past and the present, shedding light on a real but little known figure, makes this a tremendous novel of Roman and Celtic history, passion and intrigue.

Review:
As with all of Erskine's novels, the present day characters always seem to be very weak, helpless and irritating, which is in complete contrast to those characters set in the past who tend to be strong, capable women. Jess, the central character here, is no exception and she slightly annoyed me by constantly putting herself in danger, going places on her own and switching her phone off. Eigon, by comparison, is an extremely headstrong, likeable and feisty character who is using all her strength and cunning to ensure she survives against an age old enemy.

Erkine's novels offer the reader an intriguing and interesting insight into the day to day lives of women who lived many centuries ago, and whilst the story itself is fiction, the characters and places are mainly based on fact, as are some of the events that took place. Erskine is a great historian and by using these facts in novels she is introducing many people to life long ago. I often find the present day character is almost surplus to requirements in each book, and it is only reading about the historical element that keeps me as an avid fan of Erskine's.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jesse Kellerman - The Brutal Art

"Ethan Muller is both fascinating and believable..."

Synopsis:
Art dealer Ethan Muller is asked by a family friend to look at some pictures left in an abandoned flat. The pictures form a huge montage which is disturbing, but undoubtedly brilliant. He arranges a New York exhibition for the works of art and very soon collectors start bidding to buy the pieces. However, for one retired policeman, his interest in the collection goes beyond art appreciation. He believes that one of the pictures depicts the faces of children that were horribly murdered thirty years earlier, a case that is still unsolved.

Although initially sceptical, Ethan is soon drawn into a case that threatens both his professional and private life.

Review:
This is an excellent new novel from Jesse Kellerman. The idea of art holding the key to past misdemeanours is not a new concept but I liked the way that the book integrates this story into modern art. The author clearly knows a lot about modern art and I was left with a strong impression as to how the art appears.

The character of Ethan Muller is both fascinating and believable. Kellerman writes well about family disputes and how generations can conceal a shameful secret. The book moves well between the different generations and all of the narratives hold up well to close scrutiny. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Terri Persons - Blind Rage

"Bernadette St Clare is an FBI Agent with a big difference..."

Synopsis:
A string of trouble young women committing suicide haunts the Twin Cities, But FBI Agent Bernadette St Clare has a hunch that these women did not die by their own hand but were killed by a fetishist serial killer.

It's a big leap to make - and Bernadette is going to need some serious evidence to back it up. There is the English professor who teaches a course on Suicide in Literature who has got uncomfortably close to one of the victims. And then there is the uncooperative psychiatrist who treated two of the dead girls. Both of them know more than they are saying. Saint Clare is going to have to use unorthodox methods to unlock their secrets.

Review:
Bernadette St Clare is an FBI Agent with a big difference. She is able to see and experience the thoughts and actions of others when touching their possessions.

Blind Rage is the usual thriller/mystery style with the additional edge of ESP. However, the book is written in such a way that you do not feel you are reading a book from another genre. The only flaw in Bernadette's sixth sense is that if she can see things by touching items that belong to a killer, then I cannot help but wonder why she doesn't obtain items from all suspects in a case.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy this book and especially enjoyed the relationship between Bernadette and her predecessor, Creed. Also, the personal relationship between Bernadette and Garcia will, I am sure, develop in future books.

Whilst this book may have lacked an intricate and overly original plot, the characters, dialogue and writing style certainly compensated for this.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: