May 2009

Michael Connelly - The Scarecrow

"... the best book I have read so far this year."

Jack McEvoy is at the end of the line as a crime reporter. Forced to take a buy-out from the Los Angeles Times as the newspaper grapples with dwindling revenues, he's got only a few days left on the job. His last assignment? Training his replacement, a low-cost reporter just out of journalism school. But Jack has other plans for his exit. He is going to go out with a bang - a final story that will win the newspaper journalism's highest honour - a Pulitzer prize.

Jack focuses on Alonzo Winslow, a 16-year-old drug dealer from the projects who has confessed to police that he brutally raped and strangled one of his crack clients. Jack convinces Alonzo's mother to cooperate with his investigation into the possibility of her son's innocence. But she has fallen for the oldest reporter's trick in the book. Jack's real intention is to use his access to report and write a story that explains how societal dysfunction and neglect has created a 16-year-old killer.

However, as Jack delves into the story he soon realizes that Alonzo's so-called confession is bogus, and Jack is soon off and running on the biggest story he's had since The Poet crossed his path years before. He reunites with FBI Agent Rachel Walling to go after a killer who has worked completely below police and FBI radar - and with perfect knowledge of any move against him.

What Jack doesn't know is that his investigation has inadvertently set off a digital tripwire. The killer knows Jack is coming - and he's ready.

Connolly returns with The Scarecrow, which is in this reviewers humble opinion his best novel to date. It is a mix of murder, forensics and technology, put together by an expert author and definitely 'hits the mark'.

McEvoy is a character who is very easy to like, although at times a little arrogant, he is still very believable. As are all the characters in this book.

Intriguingly, the ending of the book leaves a few doors open for some of the characters to return, so watch this space for what I believe to be the return of McEvoy in a different role.

Don't miss this one – it's the best book I have read so far this year.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Donna Leon - About Face

"... a powerful and exciting story, full of vivid local colour. "

Commissario Brunetti is attending a dinner party held by his wife Carla's aristocratic parents in their Venetian palazzo. He meets Franca Marinello, wife of a wealthy local businessman, a woman with a surprising passion for Virgil and Cicero. As Brunetti shares this passion, he has a very enjoyable evening. He is intrigued by her appearance too, as she seems to have had extensive cosmetic surgery to her face, leaving her with a mask-like expression.

Later on, Brunetti has a visit from Maggiore Guarino from the Carabinieri, who is investigating the infiltration of organised crime into legitimate businesses in Italy, and more specifically in the Veneto. A local businessman who had begun to deal with the crooks is co-operating with the police and is murdered in the course of a robbery. Guarino suspects that this is all related to the illegal transportation and disposal of refuse, which has caused scandal already in Italy. When Guarinos is also murdered and Franca Marinelli is seen with the main suspect, Brunetti begins to question the honesty of her husband. This ties in with a request from his father in law for background information about Marinello...

The subtle interaction between members of the police, the intense local pride of the Venetians, the relationship between Brunetti and his aristocratic in-laws and the warm and reassuring love of his family all combine in these latest adventures of Commissario Brunetti to provide a powerful and exciting story, full of vivid local colour.

Donna Leon is particularly good at interpreting the nuances of relationships between both colleagues and family. The almost perfect Signorina Elettra remains a valuable asset who only occasionally displays any weakness. Vice Questore Patta is a predictably self serving boss, who is manipulated shamelessly by Brunetti. His wise and understanding wife, Carla, and their two children continue to provide a solid base for Brunetti's dedicated policing. The mouthwatering Italian delicacies provided by Carla add to the enjoyment.

We have come to expect a thoroughly professional product from Donna Leon, and her many fans will not be disappointed in this latest tale from the Veneto.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Caro Ramsay - Singing to the Dead

"Put simply, this is quality stuff."

It's the week before Christmas and following on from the events detailed in “Absolution” the team at Partickhill police station in Glasgow are trying to get back to some kind of normality. For D.I. Colin Anderson and D.S. Costello this isn't easy, but two very different crimes conspire to get their minds back on to the job.

What looks like a simple house fire quickly becomes something more sinister when it is discovered that the man who died in the fire was first poisoned with cyanide. Then in two separate incidents, two seven-year-old boys are abducted from the streets. For D.I. Anderson this is particularly disturbing as his own son, Peter bears a striking resemblance to both boys.

If this isn't enough for the station to deal with, half of their staff are down with a debilitating winter virus, the new DCI, Rebecca Quinn, is struggling to find her feet and rock superstar Rogan O'Neill has come home to Glasgow as part of his smash world tour...

Several more victims of cyanide poisoning are discovered and still the two boys haven't been found. The team at Partickhill are stretched to capacity - and for D.I. Anderson things are about to get even more personal when Peter goes missing.

You know that list you have, as a committed reader? The one where you are waiting with ill-disguised patience for the next book by a particular writer? Well, if she's not already listed, prepare to add the name of Caro Ramsay to that list. This slick and compelling novel is easily is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Caro, who made a name for herself with Absolution and Singing to the Dead, is about to propel herself to the top of the “must-read” list of crime writers out there.

We have a cast of characters here who will continue to follow you about during those impatient breaks life forces you to take from reading (like sleep and work...). Ramsay creates empathy for even her worst characters - there are no faceless psychotic freaks in this book - the relationships these people have are subtly expressed and detailed with real insight. For once the cops also feel as real as their living/ breathing counterparts. DI Anderson and DS Costello are each an effective foil for the other, without straying for even a moment into crime novel cliché land. I admit to have a strong liking for DS Costello. Whilst I'm not sure I'd want to be married to her, she'd be great company over a beer or two.

The plot is complex and the narrative tone is engaging, with several laugh out loud moments. It's also fair to say that this excellent novel was the major factor in a lost Easter weekend for me. Put simply, this is quality stuff.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alafair Burke - City of Fear

" exciting, fast moving American cop story."

Detective Ellie Hatcher has completed just one week in the Homicide division of New York Police Department when she arrives at a murder scene on her morning run with her brother. The victim is a young girl found with stab wounds mutilating her face and her hair cut off. The girl is one of three friends spending spring break in New York and they had spent their last night illegally drinking and partying in a night club. Hatcher and her partner JJ Rogan start to investigate, but Ellie begins to suspect that the murder has parallels with previous cases. There are certain common threads running through. Her boss, Superintendent Eckels, is dismissive of this suggestion, but she discovers that he was the investigating officer in one of those cases and may have mishandled the situation. Wrongful arrest, another murder and duplicitous behaviour by her boyfriend lead Ellie and her partner to the true murderer, but only after an exciting pursuit and dangerous confrontation.

This is an exciting, fast moving American cop story. The characters are sympathetic and intriguing, the background of New York vivid and stimulating and the plot cleverly worked together to come up with a convincing and unexpected twist in the end. Alongside the completely convincing details of crime enforcement in the Big Apple (unsurprising given Alafair Burke's background in criminal law) is the development of Ellie's romantic attachments and her memories of her father and an unconventional cop, Flann McIlroy, who died in her arms, on a previous case. This background detail helps to make Ellie a well-rounded character. I look forward to another case for Ellie Hatcher and friends to investigate.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Pater Temple - Shooting Star

"...a solid addition to Temple’s works..."

Anne Carson, a fifteen year old member of a rich Australian family, has been kidnapped. Following a similar kidnapping years before that was bungled by the police, her family are adamant that this time they will do it their way. They ask ex-soldier and failed police hostage negotiator Frank Calder to act on behalf of the family to pay the ransom. But Calder has his suspicions about the case. He believes that if the girl is not already dead then she is unlikely to get out of the kidnapping alive and calling the police is the best option.

As he gets drawn into the case, Calder is forced to look deeper into the dysfunctional Carson family where its secrets, enmities and indiscretions could hold they key to the girl's kidnapping. But Frank knows that if he gets it wrong, not only will the girl die but he will have to answer to the brutal Carson clan.

Peter Temple is an expert at both serial crime novels and stand alone books. This new book is a solid addition to Temple's works although as a protagonist, Frank Calder doesn't quite match up to Jack Irish, Temple's usual detective. However, he is a convincing character particularly in his search for the missing girl and his interaction with the disturbed Carson family. The plot is well constructed, particularly when dealing with the various family members and Temple does well to bring the strands of this large family together. The scenes where Calder talks to the victim of the previous kidnapping are also very well written and add an interesting dimension to the search for the girl.

Although not Temple's best book, fans of the writer's books will enjoy reading this new novel as it offers plenty to keep the reader interested. But, can we have more of Jack Irish please?

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: