January 2010

David Baldacci - True Blue

"Upon learning the identity of the killer - and the reasons for all of the killings - I was left shaking my head in wonderment at how cleverly Baldacci’s plotting was."

Former Washington DC cop, Mason “Mace” Perry, is released from prison after serving 2 years for a crime she didn't commit. Having lost her freedom and her beloved police career Mace sets out to reclaim her old job back by cracking a case as a civilian, whilst also tracking down the people who kidnapped her and framed her for the crime which caused her incarceration.

Assisting Mace are her elder sister who is chief of police in DC and Roy Kingman - a lawyer she met at a crime scene - as he was the person unfortunate enough to open a fridge door and find the murdered body of a colleague.

This is no routine murder investigation as events quickly spiral out of control with both gang leaders, a US attorney with a grudge and mysterious government agents all impeding the investigation and trying to either harm Mace or return her to prison.

Once again Baldacci delivers a thrilling masterpiece. As you read this book you find yourself drawn ever more into the world that Mace inhabits. The ambition that drives Mace in her attempt to clear her name is wonderfully portrayed as she battles against all of the obstacles that are thrown in front of her. Altogether Mace is a fantastic lead to this novel and she has been drawn by an expert craftsman.

This is an excellent read that shows an author writing with sparse, tight prose which gets to the point with little preamble and great precision. Of the support characters there is little to say, except that they are created so beautifully that each one perfectly fits their purpose in the book and the experience of reading this tome would be lessened without their involvement.

There are a few surprises in this book which kept me guessing right to the end who was the good guys and who was the bad guys in the government agency. Upon learning the identity of the killer - and the reasons for all of the killings - I was left shaking my head in wonderment at how cleverly Baldacci's plotting was.

All in all True Blue is a cracking read that drags you through the underbelly of DC life and through the corridors of power in an intriguing fast-paced novel. There are no other books featuring Mace Perry, but I can only hope that there are more to come from Baldacci

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Arnaldur Indridason - Hypothermia

"Arnaldur Indridason has captivated readers with his depiction of the Icelandic landscape."

At a summer cottage by Lake Thingvellir in Iceland, Maria, a depressed and bereaved woman, is found hanging in her living room. For Erlendur, the detective involved in investigating the death, it appears to be clear case of suicide - a verdict supported by the victim's husband and friends. But Erlendur has a strong sense of there being something wrong with the case, which is reinforced when Karen, the dead woman's friend, hands him a recording of a séance that Maria attended.

Although deeply sceptical about the séance, the drama that unfolds in the recording throws up questions about the tragic drowning of Maria's father thirty years earlier. Soon Erlendur is embarking upon an unofficial investigation that inadvertently stirs up ghosts of previous missing persons cases which have spanned his career. Will the solving of Maria's murder also bring to a close decades old mysteries? And can Erlendur remain objective when he is still mourning the loss of his brother in the Icelandic snowstorm of his childhood?

Arnaldur Indridason has captivated readers with his depiction of the Icelandic landscape. His crime novels are consistent best sellers and each new book is eagerly awaited. This new one certainly does not disappoint. The character of Erlendur is at the heart of the book. He is driven by his own personal demons, which resonate with the reader but are never allowed to get in the way of the mystery. Indridason finds a way of interweaving some of the detective's previous cases to provide a link between them and the current investigation without straining the readers incredulity. Erlendur's personal life, particularly his relationship with his daughter, is also quietly developed without overshadowing the narrative.

But what makes Indridason's books stand out is his depiction of his homeland. His evocation of Iceland both past and present shows a land rooted in its natural environment, yet also beset by modern day problems. It is a country where nature can kill but can also mitigate some of the worst effects of modern day urban life.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Bateman - Day of the Jack Russell

"This is a book to escape into and indulge in..."

The Small Bookshop Keeper With No Name is back! Hired to find the vandals responsible for painting rude graffiti on an insurance entrepreneur's advertising hoarding, he soon finds himself up to his ears in intrigue and battling to solve murders which echo along the corridors of power. Assisted and distracted in equal measure by his girlfriend and his inept shop assistant, MI5 soon gets involved and everyone is on the hunt for a missing, stuffed Jack Russell.
Can Our Man Behind the Counter stay alive, find the suspects as well as keep his world renowned but criminally ignored No Alibis mystery bookshop afloat?

This is a book to escape into and indulge in...
The title itself suggests a book that doesn't take itself too seriously and also hints that Bateman's trademark humour will be on bountiful supply within its pages. And boy, it doesn't disappoint. This book is crazier than a sack of cats and funnier than the love-child of Billy Connelly and Jo Brand.
While giving you a good laugh, Bateman is also mindful of the fact that this is a crime novel so we have a very real mystery to solve. Here, as usual he ticks all the boxes.
My advice to you is this. Try not to read in public. You will be stared at. Lots...

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Russel D. McLean - The Lost Sister

"...takes on the ethos of the American PI and gives it a modern and British sensibility."

Mary Furst is yet another missing teenage girl in Dundee, however her godfather just happens to be the notorious criminal David Burns. Other, closer relations are not much help to the police and in particular her mother is clearly hiding something. The police are baffled and bring in ex-cop and Private Investigator, J. McNee to help out.
The original intention was for McNee to act as a consultant on the case, but typical for McNee, the case is never straightforward and he gets in too deep, following up leads on his own and keeping the lead detective on the case “out of the loop”.
Things get complicated really quickly and McNee is no closer to finding the missing girl when her mother's ex-boyfriend turns up on the scene and offers his help. Is this new connection sent from heaven or is McNee dealing with the devil? Whatever the situation is with this man, McNee is running out of time. With every hour that passes the chances of finding this young girl alive are diminishing.

You wait ages for a novel to come along that's based in Scotland's fourth city of Dundee... and then two come along at once. Last month we had Chris Longmuir and now we have her fellow Dundonian, Russel D. McLean.
The PI as a protagonist hasn't had too many outings in UK crime writing, so it's great to see McLean's return with The Lost Sister. With a wink to the greats of American fiction, Mclean's character McNee is troubled, dogmatic and given to snappy one-liners. He presents a convincing argument that the Private Eye is alive and can thrive in the arena of British crime writing.
Don't be misled into thinking that this novel is from another era; it very much takes on the ethos of the American PI and gives it a modern and British sensibility. Russel D McLean is a fine writer who carefully works his pared down prose to create a world fraught with danger and tight with emotion. There's barely a word out of place here as the plot races to a denouement that is both thrilling and ultimately satisfying.

Russel D McLean's previous novel was The Good Son and this excellent second novel proves that he is no flash in the pan. I just hope he keeps on writing and doesn't run out of relations any day soon.

Reviewed by:

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mo Hayder - Skin

"Yet again Hayder has hit the heights of penmanship..."

Jack Caffery's fourth adventure see him looking into a series of suicides that he is convinced are actually murders. Caffery has to find the connecting link behind the suicides and their victims. This leads him on a dark quest after a killer who may not even exist. Once again he is assisted by Flea Marley the police diver and body recovery expert first introduced in the preceding novel, Ritual.

Flea has to contend with her own feelings for Caffery as well as a devastating family revelation that threatens her career in addition to placing her in an unimaginable quandary.

The novel sees the pair linking occasionally as each pursues their respective goals, Caffery's is to catch a killer who nobody else believes exists and Flea has to disentangle a most damning situation which will jeopardise both her personal and professional life, unless she can find a solution.

This is the kind of book that makes you wonder where all the time has gone when you tear your eyes off the page and finally have a look at your watch. Skin is a brilliantly depicted, yet utterly macabre, tale that picks up almost immediately where Ritual left off. Caffery and Flea both have their own agendas in this story which follows both character's turnabout, offering different perspectives on some overlapping events.

Once again there is the underlying sexual tension of the “will they won't they” scenario between Flea and Caffery. This kind of situation is clichéd but works in Skin because the empathy felt for each character makes you want them to find love and happiness. The other great character in this novel is the “walking man” who wanders around the countryside living rough after murdering his daughter's rapist. Personally, I would like to see a story with him as the lead, relegating Caffery and Flea to his role.

The way that the book follows on from Ritual lets you believe that no case is ever finished until all of the loose ends are tied up. There are, indeed, some very loose ends which are only made apparent in the early pages of this novel. While you do not have to have read Ritual to fully appreciate Skin you will get more from it if you have. My advice is to rush out and buy them both and then find a quiet place to read them both back to back.

Yet again Hayder has hit the heights of penmanship while travelling in the murkier depths of society. Her subject matter could often drag the novel into horror territory were it not for her sublime skill at depicting gruesome events in a palatable fashion. Many other authors lighten the mood using comedy or distract you with all-out action set-pieces. Hayder does none of these things as she lets the characters and their revulsion to events and inner turmoil carry the story away from the horror and back to the crime scene.

I have read all of Mo Hayder's previous novels and am a huge fan of her work and my respect for her writing skill increases with every passing chapter.

Reviewed by: G.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tony Pollard - The Secrets of the Lazarus Club

"...the gripping sense of following the adventures of a 19th Century James Bond. "

It is London – 1857. A secret society called the Lazarus Club is in operation with a cast of the glitterati of those times. Charles Darwin and Isambard Kingdom Brunel are just some of the famous names who are members. All their meetings are secret and although minutes are taken, the are closely guarded as their content could cause disaster.

Enter Dr. George Phillips – a young surgeon who meets Brunel over a cadaver in his dissection theatre. Soon he is a member of the Lazarus Club and keeper of the minutes. But someone wants those minutes and needs to use the information for his own personal use. Soon Phillips, along with a team of adventurers including Florence Nightingale, find themselves at the mercy of a criminal mastermind.

Formerly published in hardback as 'The Minutes of the Lazarus Club', Pollard has given us a wonderfully colourful adventure story for adults. Historical novels are not my usual cup of tea, but this one entranced me within the first few pages. Pollard cleverly brings to life the dingy depths of London during the Victorian years and shows how the poor and the rich were not only poles apart – but lived on separate planets.

Brunel appears to be a loveable rogue who had Britain in his thoughts at all times. As the story progresses Pollard has The Leviathan as the backdrop to his novel and shows how the strain of this huge project had such a devastating effect on Brunel himself. For me, Pollard's writing is eloquent and even though 'Lazarus Club' is quite a tome, the author continues the rapid pace without slowing down or falling in a dip like some books I have read recently. As the thrilling climax torpedoes towards you, Pollard throws everything at his plot and you have the gripping sense of following the adventures of a 19th Century James Bond. This is a marvellous story and one I am sure will be enjoyed by many.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Frances Brody - Dying in the Wool

"...a whiff of Wimsey and a touch of Christie..."

It is 1922, and Kate Middleton, whose husband has been missing, presumed dead, for four years, is still relishing the freedom from the social constraints of living with her parents. She has used her independence to track down missing persons and an old friend, Tabitha Braithwaite, contacts her to ask her help in finding out what happened to her missing father. It is important to Tabitha to find him before her imminent wedding. As Tabitha has offered to pay for the information, this becomes Kate's first professional engagement.

The Braithwaites are wealthy Yorkshire mill owners and occupy an important position in the area. Joshua Braithwaite disappeared in mysterious circumstances several years earlier. Nobody is sure if he is alive or dead, and Mrs Braithwaite would rather let sleeping dogs lie than stir up old memories. However, Tabitha's wishes prevail and Kate goes to visit her friend, having obtained the services of ex-policeman to help. Her investigations turn up some interesting characters. Before she finally teases out the truth, someone has killed to keep the past secret...

Kate Middleton is a delightful leading character. The customs and expectations of the times are so very different from our own, but Kate rings true as an independent-minded and sympathetic character. The flavour of post First World War England is beautifully portrayed, both in the comfortable life of the middle classes and the harder lot of the workers in the country and the city. The world of the mill and the mill owner has gone, but in this book it is easy to imagine what it must have been like.

Kate herself is a modern woman, cutting a dash as she drives around the countryside with her camera. Her aristocratic connections give the story a whiff of Wimsey and a touch of Christie, but mostly this is just an enjoyable and gripping mystery story with a nasty sting in the tail.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Twining - The Geneva Deception

"The action races along at the pace you would expect from an author this accomplished..."

A priceless Caravaggio has suddenly surfaced after being stolen 40 years previously... and reformed art thief, Tom Kirk, assists FBI Special Agent Jennifer Browne to recover the painting in Las Vegas. A sniper takes a shot at them and the FBI apprehends Kirk believing he was involved in the shooting.

Kirk escapes to Italy where he meets up with Lieutenant Allegra Damica who is investigating the brutal murder of a mafia enforcer and a highly placed official with a Vatican supported bank. Together they unearth an immense conspiracy which affects the sacred archaeological sites of Italy and many of the worlds leading museums.

They must fight against the conspirators and different factions within the conspiracy as they work to find the truth behind the art thefts. Their quest leads them to discover shocking truths about how both of their situations are linked.

The Geneva Deception is yet another grand style adventure from James Twining. His characters are perfectly suited to the environments he chooses for them and they are all excellently depicted, from the driven Kirk, the tenacious Allegra, the ever dependable Archie, to the youngster Dominique and the villains of the piece such as Gallo, De Luca and Santos among others.

This latest addition to the Kirk series is every bit as good as any of it's predecessors and moves the character forward in a way that you would expect an author's fourth novel to develop a leading chacater's emotions and feelings. The action races along at the pace you would expect from an author this accomplished and comfortable with his chosen genre.

Stepping into the world of Caravaggio, the book educates and enthrals in equal measure whilst never crossing into either a parody or emulation of David Hewson's novels which all have a strong Caravaggio theme.

After reading this book I was left desperately wanting to read more of Kirk's adventures and I personally would love to hear more about Kirk's exploits as an art thief.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Keith Souter - The Fools Folly

" easy read and highly entertaining..."

Set in the short reign of Richard III, this is a tale of the political struggle at the end of the War of the Roses. The King has lost his son and his wife and appointed Jon de la Pole as his successor. The upstart Tudors are pressing hard to gain power. The fate of the two princes in the Tower is unknown. Rumours abound and alliances are constantly changing.

At Sandal Castle John de la Pole is presiding over the Council of the North, when a long-standing member of his household is found dead. De la Pole calls in Sir Giles Beeston, judge of the Manor Court, to investigate. What he uncovers leads to a network of sinister plots and more deaths. The solution can be traced back to the ambitions and plotting of the turbulent times.

There are some strong elements to this book; Sir Giles is intriguing, likeable and an interesting character; the story is good, gripping and the plot is well thought out, with a surprising twist in the tail.

The Fool's Folly is an easy read and highly entertaining. However, I felt that on the historical background the writer was less at home. At the beginning, the unveiling of the background families was a little cumbersome, and I would have welcomed a family tree to refer back to the relationships between the players in the struggle for the throne. Also there was the odd possible incidence of anachronism that I felt I had to check... All told, an entertaining read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Thomas Greanias - The Atlantic Revelation

"...short, terse chapters packed with action and intrigue..."

The 3rd book to feature archaeologist Conrad Yeats sees him discovering the secret to an ancient conspiracy in a submarine that Hitler had charged with finding Atlantis. This has implications for every major government as modern day members of the conspiracy hold office in all of the world's most powerful countries.

A frantic race ensues with Yeats joined by his ex-fiancée Serena Serghetti who is a Vatican linguist. The pair are thrown back together as the battle against the ruthless conspiracy that is set upon creating a global Armageddon so that they can rise from the ashes and revive a fallen race.

This is a very well written book which has short, terse chapters packed with action and intrigue. I particularly enjoyed the way that the author did not over-elaborate the background against which the novel was set. There was enough information to keep the reader in the picture and not so much that you were bogged down in details and history slowing down the action.

The hero, Conrad Yeats, is a carefully crafted character but at times he does seem to be something of a stereotype who could easily fit into the role of an Indiana Jones/James Bond or any one of a dozen characters who populate fictional books, TV shows or blockbuster films. All of the components are there... the sexual tension and history with almost every female mentioned, the dashing good looks, the high intelligence, the troubled background, the conflict with authority, the bravery in the face of danger and of course the ability to escape whatever situation they are faced with. Having said all this, that type of hero works very well in this genre and as long as too many clichés are avoided then they may be considered a necessary evil. Serena Serghetti is a very well depicted character and makes for a perfect foil to display the softer side of Yeats, while the evil Russian born tycoon, Sir Roman Midaslovich, is a most believably immoral protagonist.

This is a wonderful addition to the Conrad Yeats series and yet another author to watch out for.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Baldacci - First Family

"The prose is taut without being tense, yet rarely is a word wasted."

A family birthday party at the presidential retreat, Camp David, turns into a nightmare as the president's pre-teen niece, Willa, is kidnapped hours after the party finishes. The first lady, Jane Cox, enlists private detectives Sean King and Michelle Maxwell to help find the missing girl.

The investigation is hampered by false leads, family secrets and turf wars between competing agencies including the FBI and the Secret Service. Being former members of the Secret Service, King and Maxwell are well acquainted with the kind of battle required to access information held by other agencies.

When Willa's kidnapper finally makes contact with the first lady, havoc ensues and it becomes clear to both King and Maxwell that there are some dark secrets which they will have to uncover before they can mount any serious investigation into the girls whereabouts.

Once again Baldacci sets a turbulent pace throughout his novel as he intersperses action sequences, moralistic values, family tragedies and an intricate plot. The prose is taut without being tense, yet rarely is a word wasted. Do not pick this book up in the adverts on TV, as you will surely miss the end of the show.

The fourth book to feature Sean King and Michelle Maxwell is of the same high calibre as the previous novels and continues to explore their relationship with each other as they examine the evidence and mistruths that are given to them. A family tragedy threatens Maxwell's sanity but with King's help she gets through the turmoil and escorts him on the quest to find young Willa.

One of the highlights of the book has to be the way the “villain” of the piece, Sam Quarry, is humanised by his deeply held beliefs and convictions. He is a man who, having lost his moral rudder, retains enough decency to make you want him to succeed to a certain degree. Other peripheral characters are drawn with the author's usual panache whilst never detracting from the lead roles.

The key element of this novel is the way that, whilst you may believe that Quarry's actions are deplorable, you can fully understand why he travels down that road. I, for one, had so much empathy for him that I could see myself taking a similar course in his circumstances. King and Maxwell wrestle with this same moral issue and have to find a solution that they can live with.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffrey Deaver - The Bodies Left Behind

"Deaver, as ever, doesn't disappoint."

A spring night in a small town in Wisconsin.. A call to police emergency from a distant lake house is cut short.. A phone glitch or an aborted report of a crime? Off-duty deputy Brynn leaves her family's dinner table and drives up to deserted Lake Mondac to find out. She stumbles onto the scene of a heinous murder. Before she can call for backup though she finds herself the next potential victim. Deprived of her phone, weapon and car, Brynn and an unlikely ally – a survivor of the carnage – can endure only by fleeing into the dense, deserted woods on a desperate trek to safety and, ultimately, to the choice to fight back. The professional criminals, also strangers to this hostile setting, must forge a tense alliance too, in order to find and kill the two witnesses to the crime...

I guarantee anyone who picks up this book won't be disappointed with the story, but you may be a little surprised... It is certainly not typical of Deaver, in fact in a strange way, more Harlen Coben!

The story is set over a period of 24 hours and sees the two main characters trying to escape the men trying to kill them. The pace is fast and the characters well written. Unlike most other books by Deaver, I think there are a few clues to help the reader work out who the bad guys are, but again Deaver manages to keep the reader in suspense until the end.

Most of the story is located in a National Park, and I wondered how a book could possible be filled and kept interesting just centering on the flight of people trying to escape hit me. Deaver, as ever, doesn't disappoint.

This is a real change from all other Deaver books I have read, lacking any of the forensics or characters that have made him famous, but as usual, Deaver has written a fantastic page turner.

Reviewed by: H.A.

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