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Reviews

October 2009

Steig Larsson - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

"...a brilliant climax to a fascinating and compelling trilogy..."

Synopsis:
Having barely escaped the clutches of her father, Zalachenko, Lispeth Salander has to fight for both her life and her freedom but, confined to a hospital bed, she is unable to wage the war against her enemies alone.

Mikael Blomkvist, journalist for Millennium, is determined to prove that Salander is innocent. But her story is not a simple one and there are plenty who do not want the truth to be told.

Annika Giannini (Salander's lawyer), Armansky (Salander's former boss), the staff of Millennium and, of course, Salander herself, seek to expose the rotten Section of the Secret Police, the people responsible for declaring Salander mentally incompetent as a young teenager and who now wish to lock her away once again.

Up against such a formidable enemy, Salander and her unlikely defenders must meet fire with fire if they are to survive.

Review:
Having consumed and adored both of Larsson's previous offerings my expectations were high for the third book in the Millennium trilogy. If you haven't read Larsson before, please do, this novel makes no sense without the rich character history of the previous two.

The introduction of new characters on top of the rapid reintroduction of everyone we've met before makes for a dizzying first fifty pages. After settling into Larsson's extraordinary world – if settle is the right word for such a gripping, multi-layered plot – I was once again delighted by Larsson's fantastic prose. His skill at defining characters means every one breathes life on the page making each situation all the more moving, entertaining or dramatic. I particularly liked the interweaving of Swedish legal history with character backgrounds that transformed what could have been dry, difficult subject matter into engaging, insightful glimpses into the motivation behind the police officers - and lawyers particularly.

I felt I knew the characters so well before starting the book that some parts seemed almost predictable – such as Salander's ability to crack any password or hack any network – but Larsson keeps things fresh with the odd profound shock and some wonderfully crafted sub-plots. I really enjoyed seeing Erica Berger's role expand into something more than in the previous novels – her resignation at Millennium and new position as chief editor of another paper creates waves in both camps. Yet again, Larsson demonstrates his ability to create strong female characters that at no point take second place to their male counterparts.

When I was coming to the end of the book I found myself already anticipating the sadness I would feel once it was over. This is a brilliant climax to a fascinating and compelling trilogy, one that will be enjoyed again and again for many years to come.

Reviewed by: N.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ariana Franklin - Relics of the Dead

"...another excellent and gripping story. "

Synopsis:
This is the third book about Adelia Aguilar, an anatomist who is attached, albeit reluctantly, to the court of King Henry II. She is asked to investigate two skeletons discovered in the ancient Abbey of Glastonbury. Are they the bones of the inspirational leader King Arthur and his wife Guinevere? King Henry hopes they are, as that would stop the rumours that King Arthur is alive and preparing to support his Welsh followers. The Abbey hope they are, as this would help re-instate the importance of Glastonbury after a disastrous fire.

Adelia , however, will only report the truth and someone is very concerned that these bodies are not identified: enough to kill to prevent it.

Adelia's travelling companions are her daughter, Allie, her maid, Gyltha, and the Saracen, Mansur. Together they are an odd but formidable team. Help also arrives in the shape of the Bishop of St. Albans, Adelia's erstwhile lover and Allie's father...

Review:
This is another excellent and gripping story. Adelia is a feisty and independent character who is very appealing to today's reader. She manipulates those who hold the opinion of the times that women cannot be responsible, by using her companion Mansur as a cover. At all times her training to discover the truth is paramount. The sensitive descriptions of the relationships she has, and the way in which she achieves her aims despite difficulties, is very well handled. Her realisation of the importance of her relationship to the Bishop of St Albans, and the way in which she resolves the problem, are typical of her independence of thought.

As always, the background detail and historical research provide the atmosphere and contribute to the great enjoyment I had in reading it.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chelsea Cain - Evil at Heart

"Has the Beauty Killer returned to her gruesome ways or has the cult surrounding her created a whole new evil?"

Synopsis:
Gretchen Lowell is still on the loose. These days, she's more of a cause célèbre than a feared killer, thanks to sensationalist news coverage that has made her a 'star'. Her face graces magazine covers weekly and there have been sightings of her around the world. Most shocking of all, Portland Herald reporter, Susan Ward, has uncovered a bizarre kind of fan club which celebrates the number of days she's been free.

Archie Sheridan hunted her for a decade, and after his last ploy to catch her went spectacularly wrong, remains hospitalized months later.

When they last spoke, they entered a détente of sorts... Archie agreed not to kill himself if she agreed not to kill anyone else. But when a new body is found accompanied by Gretchen's trademark heart, all bets are off and Archie is forced back into action.

Has the Beauty Killer returned to her gruesome ways or has the cult surrounding her created a whole new evil?

Review:
I enjoyed the third book in the Grethen Lowell/Archie Sheridan series, despite it being similar to the previous two novels. The two main characters have, in all three books, gone around in circles in their 'relationship', but there hasn't really been any progression or a sign of a definitive ending.

Archie is easy to like, a well drawn character, although he has a weak side, shown clearly through his addiction. Gretchen is quite a mysterious character who despite taking a leading role in Cain's three novels, still seems rather elusive. I feel something is missing from the story as there has been no background as to who Gretchen really is, or why she acts the way she does. It would be great if Cain can give us background to Gretchen to somehow explain how she developed into the serial killer. I would prefer to see a different plot develop in future books.

As with Cain's other Sheridan/Lowell books, Evil at Heart is a gripping and fast paced novel. It can also be gruesome at times but it is definitely worth a read. We may even yet get to see Gretchen coming to a cinema screen near you!!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Philip Kerr - If The Dead Rise Not

"...a fascinating mystery that is historically instructive while also being warmed through with humour and sprinkled with romance. "

Synopsis:
It is Berlin in 1934. The Nazis have been in power for a mere 18 months and already Germany has experienced a number of worrying changes. While the city prepares for the world to arrive at the upcoming Olympic Games, the country's Jewish population is beginning to suffer from the new Germany's policies.

Bernie Gunther has been forced to resign his position as Homicide Detective with the Berlin police and has taken a job with one of the city's finest hotels as a House Detective. Two bodies are discovered; a businessman and a Jewish boxer and this involves Bernie in the lives of two of the hotel's guests. One is a gorgeous journalist focused on persuading America to boycott the Berlin Olympiad; the other is a gangster hiding his Jewish ancestry whilst attempting to use the Olympics to make himself and the Chicago mob rich beyond their wildest dreams.

As the story unfolds, Bernie discovers a vast labour and construction racket taking advantage of the huge sums being thrown about by Hitler's government. He also makes a lifelong enemy and falls in love...neither event being satisfactorily concluded until twenty years later in pre-revolutionary Cuba.

Review:
This book hit the headlines last month when it won the RBA award from Spain, which is one of the world's biggest prizes in thriller fiction and comes with a whopping cheque for 125,000 euros.

Philip Kerr is on record saying he doesn't understand why some thriller writers work with petty crime. His thinking is that if you're going to talk about despicable acts why not go for the worst events you can think of and this is what led him to set his books against the backdrop of the Third Reich and mass murder.

When writing about such actions, things have to be leavened somewhat and Kerr does this through his main character, Bernie Gunther. Detailed in a wise-cracking, first person narrative, Bernie is one of my favourite recent literary creations. He ticks all of the boxes you may have for your “hero”. He's uncompromising, intelligent and tough and has a line of patter as entertaining as an evening with Billy Connelly. Gunther also has his own strict moral code which he tenaciously adheres to while others around him are corrupted by the actions of their political leaders.

What Kerr does with great verve is inject the hard-boiled noir of Sam Spade into 1936 Berlin at the height of one of the most desperately grim periods in human history. Despite the difficulties that this might engender he manages to come up with a fascinating mystery that is historically instructive while also being warmed through with humour and sprinkled with romance.

Fantastic stuff.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Dan Brown - The Lost Symbol

"...will brilliantly carry on the torch for Professor Langdon and Dan Brown."

Synopsis:
Professor Robert Langdon returns in his third outing in Dan Brown's much anticipated fifth novel. This third adventure for Langdon sees him pursuing an ancient Masonic secret that will lead to a momentous revelation.

The novel is set in Washington D.C. and the events which unfold take place in a single night as the professor is pressurised into uncovering the secrets of the fabled Masonic pyramid in order to save his friend Peter Solomon. Solomon is a leading mason who has been kidnapped by an unknown aggressor in an attempt to claim the mysterious knowledge supposedly hidden in Washington D.C. by some of Americas founding masons.

Among his allies in this quest are Solomon's scientist sister Katherine and the director of a shadowy branch of the CIA. The action takes place amid some of Washington's most notable landmarks and often deep behind their public facades.

Review:
Dan Brown's latest epic adventure sets off at a much slower pace than either of Langdon's previous escapades: The Da Vinci Code and its predecessor Angels & Demons.

It is a grand scale quest that features all of the elements you would expect from any book in this literary sub genre which Brown has almost single-handedly created. There is the psychotic bad guy, the friend in danger, the hero in an unexpected situation which sends him into danger to solve a puzzle only he can answer, the accomplice who is there to help explain the plot to the readers and provide a possible love interest, an ancient secret and of course a mysterious governmental connection.

There is a marked difference between The Lost Symbol and Langdon's earlier adventures, something that is reflected in the style of the book's pacing. Whereas the previous novels rushed along at a helter skelter pace with the symbology used as a background and a basis for the adventure, in The Lost Symbol Brown lectures and theologises more, even employing flashbacks as a tool to explain plot nuances which detracts from the story by slowing the pace down. I found I had read half the book before the pace was at the levels experienced in his previous novels. Personally, I think it was the author's way of answering earlier criticism about his writing style and grammar. A better way to deal with this may have been to concentrate more on conversation, prose and the peripheral characters and less on the science, as most of the lauded authors deal with human emotions rather than examine in minute detail science, myth, superstition and multifaith beliefs. However, I only read bestsellers, not write them...

Despite the book's slow start, once I was gripped by the story it held my attention far tighter than I held the book itself. I enjoyed the romp around Washington and was pleased to discover that while I did guess the treasure's location correctly I was caught out by another twist in the book. I am very much of the opinion that if I can guess the complete ending of the book correctly before getting halfway through then I am reading a book written by someone who is clever enough to gain from me the books price but not clever enough to warrant purchase of their next publication!

One can almost sympathise with the author who has had the unenviable task of following up one of the fastest-selling novels of all time. This may answer the delay in writing The Lost Symbol. However the reasons could be myriad with court cases, book signings and film premieres all competing for his attention and time. Plus he was in a position to take his time and create a book which would reply to the many critics of his writing style.

This book will sell many copies based on the public love for The Da Vinci Code, yet the real indicator of how popular this book is with the buying public will be the response to the next novel from the author. Sorry, no pressure... Let's just hope we don't have to wait another six years?

When all is said and done I enjoyed The Last Symbol and, while it is not as fast paced as The Da Vinci Code, I'm sure it will brilliantly carry on the torch for Professor Langdon and Dan Brown.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kathy Reichs - 206 Bones

"...returns to the excitement and originality of Reich's first stories. "

Synopsis:
This latest novel about Tempe Brennan, Forensic Anthropologist extraordinaire, begins with a bang as she is imprisoned in a small claustrophobic space and is struggling both to escape and to remember how she found herself there. The story then backtracks to trace her journey to the nightmare imprisonment. Someone accuses her of professional malpractice and then is found dead before she can confront him. Further examples of apparent sloppiness and mistakes in her work are found and Tempe Brennan finds herself in a very difficult position. A series of deaths of elderly women convinces Brennan that there is a killer around who targets the old and vulnerable and who may be willing to kill again to prevent discovery.

Put together with an unscrupulous and highly ambitious colleague, this threat leaves Brennan in a very dangerous situation. Her connection with Andrew Ryan continues on a purely professional basis, but the old magic is still there should Brennan be prepared to allow it.

Review:
This book returns to the excitement and originality of Reich's first stories. From the very beginning the reader's interest is immediately engaged and intrigued by the development of the plot. Tempe's professional expertise reflects Kathy Reich's knowledge and experience and gives a unique insight into the world of Forensic Anthropology and all the other associated erudite disciplines.

Tempe's life outside work is limited but vividly described as in her relationships with her ex-husband's family. Andrew Ryan remains a constant support and the relationship with Tempe continues on its rollercoaster ride.

The writing was much smoother than some of the recent books and I personally prefer it when Tempe's voice is less trendy.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stuart B. MacBride - Halfhead

"If this is what the future holds for us then criminals beware..."

Synopsis:
A short time in the future in Glasgow

The worst criminals, such as rapists and murderers, are no longer incarcerated. Instead they are “halfheaded”. A barbaric process which sees the criminals lobotomised and mutilated by the state as a means of controlling crime.

The “halfheads” are deemed as lesser people and are made to work in sanitary positions cleaning state buildings such as hospital, police stations and other such civic buildings.

Halfhead tell the story of Will Hunter who is an Assistant Section Director for the “Network” which oversees major crimes. Hunter is teamed with DS Jo Cameron who is acting as liaison between the Network and the “bluecoats”. Together they must solve a murder which has implications far beyond their initial expectations.

There has been no escape from the process of “halfheading” until now...

Review:
Tartan noir's leading light, Stuart B. Macbride has branched away from his usual beat on the mean streets of Aberdeen with his damaged antihero DS Logan “Lazarus” McRae. Instead MacBride takes a step forward in time to the not too distant future where criminals are mutilated and lobotomised instead of being rehabilitated.

This book is an excellent foray into uncharted waters for the author which lets him exercise his deeply dark persona to the full. Halfhead is packed full of his trademark paragraphs that make you wince and cower then laugh out loud a few short sentences later.

The book is set in a futuristic Glasgow, yet is not dated so that you never know how far in the future it may be and you can only hope that it is not in your lifetime.

The plotline resembles many other books that are set in today's world and this book is at heart a police procedural crime thriller despite its terrifying futuristic setting. The main attraction of this book is the author's skill at knowing when to describe in detail and when to let the reader's imagination do the work for him. His characters are fully rounded with the insights one would expect from such an accomplished author, yet whomper's, thrummer's, dragonflies and other such futuristic gadgets are left entirely to the reader's imagination.

This is a spectacular departure from the comfort zone of having an established character by Stuart MacBride and Will Hunter has the potential to rival Logan McRae as a long running character.

Logan McRae fans will not be disappointed with this book and will crave more from an author whose dark humour carries this book like the grim reaper carries his scythe.

If this is what the future holds for us then criminals beware...

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton - Judgement and Wrath

"...one of the creepiest bad guys you’ll read about this year."

Synopsis:
It's easy to say that Joe Hunter isn't a fan of bullies, so when he is enlisted by a worried father to save a young woman from her bullying boyfriend, he is more than happy to take the job. However it quickly becomes apparent that the man who hired him is looking for more than protection for his daughter, he's after revenge.

Hunter is happy to deal out a lesson to the recalcitrant boyfriend, but one thing the customer should know is that Joe never has been, and never will be, a killer-for-hire.

As it turns out, the vengeful father isn't the only one who wants the boyfriend dead. On his first night watching the young woman and her boyfriend, a number of people are murdered and Hunter and the young couple just manage to escape with their lives.

Joe has, in fact, come up against a contract killer who takes his work very seriously. His name is Dantalion, a name taken from the bible. This man has a talent for killing and keeps a list of his victims in a book chained to his waist. Each victim is numbered. And the body count is about to start rising...

Review:
Joe Hunter, the man we were first introduced to in Dead Man's Dust is back. Hunter is, of course, the creation of Matt Hilton, a man who brings to his craft some hands-on experience. Hilton has over twenty years of experience in the UK dealing with criminals, both in the private security and public law enforcement fields, and along the way has acquired skills in hand-to-hand-combat and martial arts.

This experience he brings to bear, most spectacularly in his action sequences. His books are just crying out for a big explosive Hollywood treatment.

Hunter is an interesting sympathetic character, a Special Forces counterterrorism soldier who is a very specialized bodyguard for hire, protecting women from abusive significant others.

He is also ably assisted by a cast of supporting characters and up against one of the creepiest bad guys you'll read about this year. Thankfully, Judgement and Wrath doesn't take itself too seriously; its fun and a thrill a minute and ideal reading for a miserable autumn weekend.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Daniel Silva - The Defector

"...entertaining and up to date. "

Synopsis:
Gabriel Allon, Israeli spy and highly talented art restorer, is busy in Italy restoring a renaissance masterpiece and enjoying his honeymoon with his new wife, Chiara. He is not allowed to enjoy the peace for long as the actions of his enemy, Ivan Kharkov, mean that those people who helped him in his last case are in extreme danger. He is dragged back into the fast and dangerous world of espionage and international intrigue. The action spans the world from a wilderness of the United States, to Italy, to London, to the bankers of Switzerland and, not least, the frozen wastes of Russia.

Unspeakable cruelty, amazing skills, true bravery and fast action are all part of the exciting story which builds up to a satisfying finale.

Review:
Silva gives us a very exciting and gripping story that is difficult to put down.

Allon is a hero in the James Bond mode who is attractive, ruthless and extremely efficient. He hobnobs with the great and the good from many nations as well as nefarious and evil members of society. The sheer effrontery and single-minded cold-bloodedness he displays is breathtaking. He is not a character you would like as a member of your family, but he possesses the charm and power that attracts the would-be heroes in us all.

The fast moving plot is entertaining and up to date. We have an insight into what might be the world of espionage and politics. There is sufficient detail to make us think it could all be true, and that is scary. I thoroughly enjoyed this book as an exciting read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mario Reading - The Nostradamus Prophecies

"The deep knowledge that the author has of Nostradamus’ works is evident throughout the novel ..."

Synopsis:
Nostradamus originally made 1000 prophecies but only 942 were ever uncovered.

A French gypsy tries to sell information of the missing 58 verses to 2 different parties. Firstly to Achor Bale, who represents an ancient society clouded in secrecy. The second possible purchaser is desperate writer Adam Sabir, who is trying to breathe new life into a struggling career.

Bale kills the gypsy and pursues Sabir who ends up hiding with the family of the murdered gypsy. This leads to a race across France and Spain as both parties follow the clues left by the dead gypsy in their attempts to find Nostradamus' missing 58 quatrains.

The missing verses contain the secret of the third “Antichrist” who follows after Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler, details of the second coming and also the date of the Apocalypse.

Will it be the evil society which has supported previous “Antichrists” or will it be the author and his gypsy companions who discover the lost prophecies first?

Review:
A spectacular debut novel from Mario Reading, which enthrals the reader from the first page in a tale which educates and entertains.

The strong characters who make the story their own and draw you into their world are one of the best things about this tale. At times Reading's prose made me feel as if I was really there with the characters and I was made to feel their emotions, even when they were reliving memories. Achor Bale is a wonderful creation who is utterly believable as the murderous psychotic representing the ancient society, while Adam Sabir is a well depicted antihero whose original reason for finding the missing quatrains is borne out of greed as he intends to publish them and make his fortune. His gypsy helpers Yola and Alexi are both complex, yet simple in their depiction.

The deep knowledge that the author has of Nostradamus' works is evident throughout the novel and the insights into gypsy life, customs and beliefs were enchanting. There has obviously been considerable research done on this tome although Reading has previously published 2 non fiction books about Nostradamus.

This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed and I will be on the lookout for any further books by this author.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.M. Palov - Stones of Fire

"This is an excellently researched novel set at a breakneck pace in a race against time between good and evil."

Synopsis:
In the 13th century one of the Crusaders into the Holy Land discovers a golden chest which he claims as his own and transports to his home in England. He hides the chest and leaves 4 stanzas of 4 lines as a cryptic clue as to the chests' whereabouts.

What is the origin of the mysterious chest? Can it really be the fabled Ark Of The Covenant?

Cut to the modern day when photographer Edie Miller witnesses the cold blooded murder of Dr Jonathan Padgham when called into the Hopkins Museum of Near Eastern Art in Washington DC to photograph a new relic.

This relic turns out to be the breastplate worn by Moses to protect him from the Ark Of The Covenant, which is where the stones upon which the ten commandments of God are written.

Escaping the killer, Miss Miller teams up with Dr Padgham's friend, the English Academic Cædmon Aisquith, to track down the location of the Ark whilst racing against a group of mercenaries and their megalomaniacal leader who sent the killer to murder Dr Padgham and steal the breastplate.

The twisted aim of this group is to use the legendary power withheld in the Ark Of The Covenant to wage a religious war on a biblical scale.

Review:
Palov's debut novel is a grand adventure transporting the reader from the sanctuary of a Washington D.C. Museum to deserted English churches and graveyards in the search for one of the greatest religious artefacts in history.

Never before in this genre have I come across a book which tackles the subject of the Ark Of The Covenant. I have always presumed that authors were always wary of comparison with the iconic 1981 film Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Palov bravely deals with this comparison in a simple yet effective manner whereby she involves the film in her characters conversations in neither a contradictory or complimentary fashion.

With a great talent for characters Palov quickly establishes the basic tenets of each character's psyche at the start of the novel while continuing to flesh out details throughout the book. One of the greatest strengths of the prose is the author's switching between each characters colloquial language using American idioms and phrases for Edie Miller whilst keeping the Englishman Aisquith's terminology essentially British.

This is an excellently researched novel set at a breakneck pace in a race against time between good and evil. Giving the reader an educating history of the Ark Of The Covenant, as Miller and Aisquith take on the sinister conspiracy who desire the Ark for the worst reasons imaginable.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: