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Reviews

February 2009

Lindsay Davis - Alexandria

"... well up to the high standard we expect from Lindsey Davis."

Synopsis:
Marcus Didius Falco has gone on holiday with his family to see the sights of Alexandria and to stay with his Uncle Fulvius and his partner Cassius. That is the story, and indeed Helena, Falco's wife, does have some sightseeing in mind. Alexandria is a beautiful and historic city with many famous sights such as the Lighthouse and the Pyramids. However Marcus' boss, the Emperor Vespasian, is concerned that many of the ancient and valuable scrolls in the Library may be missing, and Falco is conducting a low-key investigation.

Then the mysterious death of the Librarian, in the Library, starts a train of even stranger events involving Uncle Fulvius, Cassius and Falco's roguish father, Geminus. Falco has a hard time protecting himself and his family whilst getting to the root of the problem.

Review:
This is well up to the high standard we expect from Lindsey Davis. The historical detail and research into life in Roman occupied Alexandria is superb and absolutely fascinating.

I really felt that I was walking round the ancient city, observing the sights and the cosmopolitan inhabitants. Marcus Didius Falco's eccentric and not always reputable family are a welcome backdrop to the action. The development of Marcus' immediate family from book to book is part of the pleasure of reading the latest production, whilst his Pa's approach to business is always entertaining. Helena's sensible and educated approach is a beautiful foil for Falco's cynicism and black humour. All in all, this is a most enjoyable book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Hurley - No Lovelier Death

"...the relationship between Winter and up and coming D/C Jimmy Suttle is true to life and indeed touching."

Synopsis:
In a leafy and well-heeled area of Portsmouth, a young teenage girl, Rachel Ault, is found brutally murdered next to the body of her new boyfriend. There has been a party in the girl's house while her parents were away and things got very much out of hand. The house was trashed and Rachel and her boyfriend were discovered close to the swimming pool next door.

This large residence belongs to none other than Bazza McKenzie, a man who has obtained his wealth through some very dodgy dealing, but is now trying to acquire a veneer of respectability. Working for Bazza is ex Detective Constable Paul Winter, formerly colleague of DI Faraday, the investigating officer for the murders. There is some mutual respect between these two, but Winter has always sailed close to the wind in his desire to put the villains away. There is great pressure to gain a result in this case as Rachel's father is a judge with some very influential connections. Bazza is also very keen to be seen as helpful before the judge and his wife return from their cruise and discover the connections he has with some of the partygoers. This story includes characters from the seamy side of Portsmouth's life, and there are some surprising connections in the apparently affluent and civilised parts of the city.

Review:
At the end of the previous book in the series, D/C Paul Winter has chosen to throw in his lot with Bazza McKenzie. He had little choice because the ambition and weakness of some of his superiors had put him in a position where money, respect and even affection came with the bad guys rather than with the good. No matter that Winter's maverick style had helped him into the situation, he was definitely let down by his bosses. Now he has to come to terms with the life that he has chosen and the frightening and dangerous situations in which he finds himself.

D/I Faraday remains a thoughtful, conscientious policeman, who does his best to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice, whilst remaining aloof from the general atmosphere at the station, and disdainful of the behaviour of his superiors - the self same officers who had made life so difficult for Winter. Faraday provides a philosophical outlook on the job, and is anchored by his relationship with a French sociologist and with his profoundly deaf son. The contrast between the two former colleagues provides a solid framework for the story, and the relationship between Winter and up and coming D/C Jimmy Suttle is true to life and indeed touching.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - River of the Dead

"Full of unexpected twists and turns..."

Synopsis:
This is the latest tale of Inspector Cetin Ikmen and Inspector Mehmet Suleyman, both of the Istanbul police force. A vicious killer and drug dealer, Yusuf Kaya, escapes from a high security prison, with little regard for the death and destruction he causes in the process. Anyone implicated dies to prevent information leaking out.

At the same time Ikmen's third son, the black sheep of the family, returns home, to his mother's delight and his father's concern.

Inspector Suleyman sets off to investigate the past of the drug dealer in Kaya's home town of Mardin. He is aided in this investigation by Inspector Edibe Taner, a local policewoman, and forceful character. Unexplained deaths, strong and original faith and beliefs intermingle with American involvement and personal tragedy to produce a complex and exciting plot, culminating in a dark ending, with a small glimmer of light from the birth of a new baby.

Review:
The three elements that appeal to me in Barbara Nadel's novels are the exciting plot, the insider information into the wonderful country that is Turkey and the development of the warm and complicated characters of Ikmen and Suleyman and their families. This book does not disappoint on any of these fronts.

The plot is well constructed and grabs your interest from the first. Full of unexpected twists and turns, it ends with a bang.

This time, not only the city of Istanbul, but also the strange and mysterious countryside and people of South East Turkey are explored. The relationships between Islam, Christianity and even older faiths are beautifully portrayed and arouse curiosity. The arrival of Ikmen's difficult son, who left the family to pursue a criminal life without telling them where he was, is carefully and sensitively described. The reaction of his mother is pure joy, which becomes tainted as she discovers how he is influencing her youngest son. Ikmen is the realist who sees the young man for what he is and who fears what will happen. The sadness and stoicism with which he deals with all the outcomes, good and bad, are very moving. Suleyman , on the other hand, remains somewhat reserved and distant from events, but even he is forced to look at himself and his life as an Ottoman in present day Turkey, and he comes to respect the beliefs of Inspector Taner.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barry Forshaw (Ed.) - British Crime Writing Encyclopedia

"This is an extraordinary feat..."

Synopsis:
Have you ever wanted to know about a crime writer from the Golden or Silver era of crime writing? Wanted to find out more about a writer whose books thrill you every time you read them? Wanted to know about an author who is out of print and has been for years and frustrated that there is no information on them, not even on the Internet? Well, finally your problems are about to be solved. The British Crime Encyclopedia lists a cornucopia of British crime writers past and present. The usual suspects like Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh are present as well as others who were giants in their day like Patricia Wentworth, Cyril Hare, Guy Cullingford, Celia Fremlin, Roger Longrigg and the great Gladys Mitchell.

Accompanying this marvellous band of writers from yesteryear are contemporary writers like James, Rendell, Rankin and Martina Cole. Mixed in for good measure are up and coming writers like Martyn Waites, Denise Mina and Cathi Unsworth.

Review:
Barry Forshaw set about the task of putting together a British Crime Encyclopedia many years back. Now the two volumes have arrived and I can promise you that these two volumes will be on the gift list for many crime readers. If you just can't wait, then I can certainly guarantee that any crime fan will be blown away by the sheer mine of information they are about to discover.

Whether you want to know about Chesterton, Wilkie Collins or Conan Doyle or about your favourite author whose books you impatiently wait for on a yearly basis, dive and reach the depths of the greats who began the crime genre and those who uphold it today. Author histories have been donated by yours truly as well as well known authors in the crime genre and other luminaries within the field.

Alongside the individual author entries are pieces depicting how crime has changed from its infancy to the standards that are upheld today. This is an extraordinary feat and one that crime fans will pour over for hours on end. I know I have! So, go on, dive in and find out about your favourite authors – and maybe discover a few new ones at the same time! Enjoy!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Richard Price - Lush Life

"...meaty, lyrical prose, a cinematic atmosphere and an unyielding awareness of every nuance in his characters’ hearts and minds. "

Synopsis:
Eric Cash, a restaurant manager and wannabe screen-writer, and his new bartender, Ike Marcus, are shouldering Ike's very drunk friend, Steven Boulware, home from a night of boozing, when suddenly a shot is fired, and Ike lies dead in the street. Eric's testimony to the investigating cop, Matty Clark, is that two black or Hispanic guys came up to them, demanded their wallets. Ike refused, one of the muggers shot him and they ran off.

However, there are holes in Eric's story - he didn't call 911 on his mobile, as he claimed, and two eyewitnesses claim they never saw any muggers. What's more, the reader learns that Eric seems to have had an irrational grudge against Ike since the moment they met.

Eric becomes the one and only suspect and Matty Clark and his sidekick, Yolanda, under direction from “the suits” haul him over the coals in an effort to secure a quick conviction. The so-called eyewitness testimony then comes under fire and it appears that Eric was indeed telling the truth. Time is now running out and as every fan of the genre can tell you the longer a killer's trail is allowed to grow cold the more difficult they are to bring to book.

As the father of the victim goes into meltdown and starts up an investigation that's likely to get him killed, the only credible witness Matty and Yolanda have is Eric Cash. However, traumatized both by the murder and his subsequent grilling by the cops, Eric ain't talking...

Review:
I love my job. Every so often I get to discover writers like this and, boy, this guy is as good as they come. In Lush Life, Richard Price, an Edgar winning screenwriter from The Wire, exhibits his skills as a novelist with meaty, lyrical prose, a cinematic atmosphere and an unyielding awareness of every nuance in his characters' hearts and minds. And if there's a finer exponent of dialogue in print right now I'd love to meet them. Whether it's the copspeak of the Irish-American or the street patois of the Puerto Rican, Price mimics them with unerring skill, making his characters leap off the page and perform right before your eyes.

Lush Life starts reading as a police procedural, but quickly extends beyond the facts of the murder, displaying with gut-punching empathy the after effects of such a crime. We see the dead man's parents grieve for their son, while struggling to keep their family together. We follow Detective Matty Clark in his search for a killer while fighting to satisfy the contradictory needs of the career-focused bureaucrats and the victim's family's desire for answers, while spectacularly failing to deal with his own errant sons. We walk in the footsteps of Eric Cash as he struggles with his own crippling inadequacies, spirals into drugs and violent sex before facing up to whether or not he should “do the right thing”. Then there's the killer…who we are introduced to from the off. Price resists any urge he might have to explain this young man's actions, but simply displays him in his environs and among his peers, leaving you, dear reader, to be the judge. Need I say more?

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - The Associate

"The story is well written and - as with all Grisham legal thrillers - will have the reader turning every page until the real villain is uncovered..."

Synopsis:
Kyle McAvoy is one of the outstanding legal students of his
generation; he's good looking, has a brilliant mind and a glittering future ahead of him. But he has a secret from his past, a secret that threatens to destroy his fledgling career and, possibly, his entire life.

One night that secret catches up with him in the form of some bad men in a dark alley - they have a deeply compromising video of the incident that haunts him. The men make it clear to Kyle that he no longer owns his own future - that he must do as they tell him, or the video will be made public knowledge, with all the unpleasant consequences.

What price do they demand for Kyle's secret? Strangely, it is for Kyle to do exactly what any ambitious young lawyer would want to do... take a job in New York as an associate at the largest law firm in the world, a job that is incredibly well paid and, with mammoth hours and outrageous billing, could lead to partnership and a fortune.

But Kyle won't be working for the company, he'll be working against it - passing on the secrets of the company's biggest trial to date, a dispute between two defense contractors worth billions of dollars to the victor. Now Kyle is caught between the criminal forces manipulating him and the FBI, who would love to unmask the conspiracy. Will his intellect, cunning and bravery be enough to extricate him from an impossible dilemma?

Review:
Grisham is back with a new novel reminicent of the Firm. An inexperienced underdog trying to take on the might of a faceless enemy with seemilngly unlimited resources.

Kyle McAvoy is a young man way out of his depth in a situation I thought he could have extricated himself from way before the real blackmailing began, but of course that would leave no point to the story. And once someone is involved they just end up getting deeper and deeper...

The story is well written and - as with all Grisham legal thrillers - will have the reader turning every page until the real villain is uncovered and the 'hero of the day' claims victory. Although, with the Associate, I felt very disappointed and almost robbed of what I felt was any conclusive ending and wanted a final chapter in the book to wrap up the previous 350 pages.

Despite the Associate having, in my opinion, a disappointing conclusion, it is certainly not enough to detract from the enjoyment of any Grisham novel and certainly won't deter me from the next one.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge - Run For Your Life

"Patterson is always highly readable."

Synopsis:
Detective Michael Bennett is not having a good time of it. Trying to end a siege with a gunman without shedding blood is doomed when the gunman is shot when on the point of surrendering. Receiving bad press, Bennett seeks solace at home only to find most of his children throwing up and burning with a virulent flu. Having tended to the walking or vomiting wounded, Bennett is called out to a shooting at a Ralph Lauren store. A sales assistant has been killed, a whole clip emptied in to his chest. Then, another call. A Maitre'd also shot in his office. Along with another enquiry about a girl being pushed on to the tracks in front of a train Bennett knows he is going to be busy.

The Teacher has had enough of people being rude and has decided to take a few people down a peg or two. It is his mission to make the people of New York a little bit more pleasant to their fellow man. As The Teacher goes about his killing spree, Bennett is soon hot on his trail. Little does he know that as he draws near to his assassin, his entire family will soon be in the firing line...

Review:
Patterson et al. are normally extremely good at delivering the goods. With brand Patterson on the label, you know exactly what you are getting - and what is in the tin! Michael Bennett returns after the debut, Step on a Crack, which was brilliant. Although Run For Your Life doesn't have the grip of the previous novel, this is certainly an exhilarating read. Patterson's trademark short chapters always keep the reader flying through the pages. As you goad yourself to read another chapter because it is only two pages long you find yourself at three in the morning and two hundred pages down the line!

Patterson is always highly readable. Not all his plots come off, but I am hopeful that the future is bright where Detective Bennett and his clan are concerned. My favourite has to be Seamus who is such a loveable, wily old rogue.

Run For Your Life is an energetic read and one that will hurtle you to the end. Run For Your Life will certainly satisfy the reading buds in any crime reader!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Jecks - King of Thieves

"...an exciting and complex tale of murder and intrigue."

Synopsis:
It is 1325 and England is under the rule of Edward II, whose attachment to the unscrupulous and cruel Sir Hugh le Despenser means that his violence and greed are allowed to run unchecked. Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and his friend, Simon Puttock, are amongst those who have fallen foul of Despenser. Simon's house has been bought by Despenser and his family are about to be evicted.

At this point the King requires Sir Baldwin and Simon to leave their families and travel to France to provide safe travel for the King's son, the young Earl of Chester. He has taken his father's place in swearing fealty to the King of France for his lands in Aquitaine. Queen Isabella is already in France with her brother , the King of France. Bishop Walter of Exeter brings the King's son to France with a mission to persuade Isabella to return to England.

When they arrive safely in Paris, Sir Baldwin and Simon become involved in investigating the string of murders, beginning with two bodies found, one in the Louvre and one near the Grand Chatelet. The underlife of Paris is run by “the King of Thieves”, who controls all criminal activity to his own advantage. The root of the crime is found in the past and the characters involved remind Baldwin of the persecution of the Knights Templar who had protected him.

The Queen is disillusioned with her treatment by the King and is beginning to plot her revenge. The future of the English crown is at stake, and only swift action from Sir Baldwin and his colleagues can save the day.

Review:
This is set in a fascinating time of English history and Michael Jecks gives us an insight into the attitudes and constraints affecting the people of the time. Sir Baldwin's honourable belief in the god-given power of the King, despite all the evidence of Edward's misdoings, is an example of the thoughts of men at that time.

The absolute power held by Despenser, and his ability to do as he wants, is frightening. Meanwhile the good sense and honesty of Sir Baldwin and Simon Puttock stand out. The story is there, set in history, and the author uses it as a background to an exciting and complex tale of murder and intrigue. The details of life in mediaeval times are, as always, fascinating, as is the historical setting. Together with the warm and sympathetic character of Sir Baldwin, we have a highly enjoyable book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Mooney - The Secret Friend

"The Secret Friend is an excellent read..."

Synopsis:
When Harvard student Emma Hale disappears, her father - one of Boston's most powerful men - believes she has been kidnapped. Months pass and the trail goes cold but then her body is found floating in the Charles River... A year later, Judith Chen, another student, disappears. Like Emma, she is soon found in the river. Dead.

CSI Darby McCormick is assigned to the case and uncovers a key piece of overlooked evidence, one that brings her into contact with Malcolm Fletcher, a former profiler with strange black eyes who is now on the FBI's Most Wanted list.

Is Fletcher working for Emma's father? And what connects the two dead girls? Fletcher, it seems, not only knows the answers but also the identity of the killer. When a third student goes missing, Darby is led into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the former profiler and stumbles across deadly secrets that need to stay buried.

Review:
After enjoying Mooney's previous book, The Missing, I was eagerly awaiting The Secret Friend... and I was not disappointed. In fact, The Secret Friend even excelled The Missing.

There is very little explained about Darby McCormick's personal life or her relationships with other characters, so as a reader I do not feel that I know her very well. There was a hint that a relationship was going to develop, but after this first mention this was not brought up again.

Generally, when reading about serial killers, the reader often feels empathy and sides with the police, wanting them to be caught. But with this killer being a vigilante it is possible to be torn between feeling what is right and a feeling of what the original killer deserves for the sake of their victims. This is a dilemma Darby must face.

The Secret Friend is an excellent read and I cannot wait for his next book. But a word of advise, put aside a day or two to read this book as you will be unable to put it down!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steven Hague - Justice For All

"The pace is fast and furious..."

Synopsis:
Zac Hunter is a cop who crossed the line. Thrown out of the police force, Zac is incensed when a child killer walks free from court. Determined to cross that line again to correct a terrible wrong, Zac gets more than he bargained for. When he is about to deliver his own kind of justice, Zac finds that he has already been beaten to it and his intended victim has been dispatched. It seems that the assassin is still nearby. Soon, Hunter is dancing a macabre, deadly dance with a killer without soul; a killing machine who kills without compassion and is determined that Hunter must also meet a quick, violent end to put paid to his meddling.

Hunter teams up with a rooky cop named Carson and begins to track down the assassin through jobs he has completed in the recent past. But as Hunter gets closer to the truth, he discovers that the killer is only the puppet and there is someone else operating the strings. And they are just as determined that the killing continues - and that there is justice for all…

Review:
Steven Hague's first thriller is a powerful, racing machine. With the power of a Lamborghini engine this book revs up in the first chapter and roars through the remaining pages. There is certainly no let up with the plot and the reader is as breathless as Hunter must be with all the racing around he does in this book. The pace is fast and furious and the story weaves between Hunter's deadly 'pas de deux' with the killer and a vicious case at the law courts. By the end of the book, the two story lines interweave and produce an explosive ending.

There are a couple of small niggles I feel I need to point out. Some of the characters feel like caricatures and sound as if they have come straight out of an American cop show. The other is Hague's over use of detail. It is great to see an author do their homework, but another to put it all into the book. Some judicious editing required perhaps? I found myself skimming over the numerous details of the guns that were being fired during the course of this story. However, I am sure that with practice these small points will be ironed out and relevant details will be used without the reader feeling slightly blinded by science. As a debut, Justice for All certainly works and is an excellent start to laying the foundations for what must surely be a marvellous writing career. I, for one will be looking forward to Zac Hunter's next adventure.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kirino Natsuo - Real World

"Probably a cult novel in the making!"

Synopsis:
The central characters are four teenage Japanese schoolgirls who become involved with ayoung neighbour. Nicknamed Worm, he has brutally murdered his mother and then run away. Surprisingly, each in their own way supports him, without really explaining to each other what they are doing.

In the days after the murder, the girls aid and abet him in concealing his whereabouts and in actively helping him. It becomes clear that the girls have had only a partial understanding of each other, and Worm is the catalyst that drives some of them to self knowledge and despair.

Review:
I found this an intriguing, stimulating but not altogether enjoyable book. The attitudes and behaviour of the young girls and of Worm are very alien to me, and I am not sure whether that was because of age or culture. I simply did not want to believe in them as representative of youth today.

Having said all that, the form of the book, where each of the girls reveals her part in the story, gradually leading to a full understanding of events, was satisfying and well done. The observations and understanding of the thought processes were beautifully portrayed. This is well worth a read for an insight into a different culture, but not really a comfortable one. Probably a cult novel in the making!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: