February 2010

Mo Hayder - Gone

"...this book by turn encapsulated my worst fears, made me smile, terrified me and almost gave me paper cuts as I was turning the pages so quickly."

Jack Caffrey and Flea Marley return with one of their most complicated cases to date. A car containing a child is stolen from a supermarket car park. When the child is not released after the car jacker finds her then Caffrey is called in to find the missing girl. Flea is meanwhile spiralling downwards as her career suffers from her trying to deal with the events which happened in Hayder's previous novel, Skin. She has to regain her standing not just with her team members but also in the eyes of her police colleagues and most importantly her superiors.

As the book progresses it becomes clear that the kidnapper has their own agenda as more children are taken from their parent's car. What is driving the kidnapper? Is there a pattern between his victims? Are the children still alive and how does the kidnapper know so much about both the investigation and the victims families? These are just some of the quandaries that Caffrey and Flea must deal with as they pursue the kidnapper.

Mo Hayder's creations go from strength to strength with every passing novel. The interplay between Caffrey and Flea becomes more intense with every chapter as they both strive to realise their true feelings for each other and cross the gulf which has opened between them following the events which took place in Skin.

Rarely do you find an author with Hayder's courage. She has tackled an issue which has been in the public conscience since the unfortunate events in the Portuguese Algarve saw Madeleine McCann disappear. Hayder does this thoughtfully and with her usual skill, garnering the correct emotions from the reader at the appropriate times. As a parent there is little that scares one more than the notion of your child needing your help and being unable to be there to help them.

While not as dark and macabre as some of her previous novels, there is enough darkness in the kidnapping theme to carry the consistency of her trademark sinister style. Caffrey is filled with self doubt as he is one step behind the kidnapper throughout the novel. Flea is battling the demons she carries with her from her actions in Skin. The Walking Man yet again makes his presence felt and other peripheral characters are created with an understanding of people and emotions which many better selling authors must envy.

There are clues throughout the book as to the identity of “The Jacker” as the police have dubbed him. I guessed correctly as will many others, however Hayder is too skilled an author to let this be easy and there are red herrings and false leads which made me doubt my assumptions as to The Jacker's identity. As a crime thriller reader there are few things that give the satisfaction of being able to identify the criminal before the cops or the hero has done so. The page when you finally find out if you are right generally gives me a warm smug feeling or makes my kick myself for not realising “whodunit”

As a parent this book by turn encapsulated my worst fears, made me smile, terrified me and almost gave me paper cuts as I was turning the pages so quickly.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - The Last 10 Seconds

"His thriller writing is not just good, its fan-bloody-tastic!"

Having worked undercover for the last ten years, Sean Egan is used to life on the edge. He's recently infiltrated one of London's most dangerous criminal gangs, and they've just informed him that they want him for a very special job: the daring abduction from police custody of a serial killer known as The Night Creeper.

Brutally violent, yet highly intelligent, The Night Creeper has earned his reputation by torturing five young women to death. Arrested the previous night, he claims that he has a cast-iron alibi for one of the murders, and some highly important information that can prove his innocence – and implicates someone else.

DI Tina Boyd has an instinct for trouble and a past that continues to haunt her. She was the policewoman who charged The Night Creeper. Now he's been kidnapped, and it's Tina's task to find him. And find him fast, because it's clear that some very dangerous people want to silence him permanently.

A man, a woman and a sadistic killer. As they race towards a terrifying confrontation only one thing is certain: they're all going to have to fight very hard just to stay alive.

Some authors produce an explosive debut then begin to fizzle out. Kernick however seems to surpass each previous book by writing something even better. His thriller writing is not just good, its fan-bloody-tastic!

The last 10 Seconds had the plot twisting and unravelling with every page, leaving the reader wondering where the story is going to next. At one point I was almost disappointed as I thought Kernick had reverted to using a well-worn motive, but, of course, I judged too soon...

Both main characters were similar yet diverse at the same time. Boyd and Egan are both willing to break the rules, often to the point of extreme, but ultimately for the right reason. I did find myself torn - as I liked both of them. They are supposedly on the right side of the law (although some times it is a fine line) and for one to succeed the other had to fail.

This is an excellent read that has it all - great characters, intricate plot and an ending that won't disappoint.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.R. Hall - The Disappeared

"...make me want to come back to the book time and again until that last satisfying page was turned."

Two young British students, Nazim Jamal and Rafi Hassan disappear leaving no clues as to where they might have gone. The police tell their parents that the boys had been in contact with a group suspected of recruiting martyrs for the jihad and had consequently been under surveillance. The police view therefore was that it was likely they had left the country to pursue dangerous new ideals. Seven years later, Nazim's grief-stricken mother is still unconvinced. Jenny Cooper is her last hope.

Jenny is finally beginning to feel comfortable in her position as Coroner for the Severn Valley; the ghosts of her past that threatened to spill over into her present were banished to her sub-conscious once more.

Her confidence is eroded as the inquest into Nazim's disappearance gets underway. There are mysterious characters and government lawyers who are as desperate to hide the truth as she is to uncover it. The stench of corruption, conspiracy and cover-up becomes painfully apparent. As the pressure from above heightens, a code of silence is forced on the inquest and events begin to spiral out of all control. Jenny is pushed to breaking point. Not only is her professional life under threat but the events from her past begin to leak into the present and she becomes more and more reliant on her doctor's prescription. How could she have possibly known that by unravelling the mysteries of the disappeared, she would begin to unearth her own buried secrets?

As I began this book I worried that having not read the first might spoil my reading pleasure. I needn't have worried. M.R. Hall proves himself adept at writing a follow-up book that can stand on its own, while skilfully sowing in details from the previous story so that any new-comers are not left scratching their heads.

Also, fans of the first book – of whom there were many – will be delighted to see that Hall is back and is in excellent form with that all-important second book. The Disappeared will no doubt secure his position as a go-to writer for fans of courtroom dramas.

Jenny Cooper is a character I feel who would translate easily to the small-screen, which is perhaps M.R. Hall's objective given that is where his writing roots lie. She is troubled on a number of fronts: her work, family and love life are all affected by her ongoing neuroses and Hall paints a sympathetic picture of someone who is suffering from poor mental health. My one criticism here is that perhaps Jenny might have been a little more engaging. A third dimension to her personality would have drawn me closer to her and her troubles. A glimpse now and again of a sense of humour perhaps? This quibble aside, the investigation, the government agency's ham-fisted attempts at a cover up and the pain of the parents at the loss of their son's gripped my attention. These factors allied to Hall's unobtrusive writing style and his plotting skills was enough to make me want to come back to the book time and again until that last satisfying page was turned.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Glenn Cooper - Book Of Lost Souls

"The knowledge of everybody’s date of death is a very unsettling concept..."

A mysterious ancient book filled with names and dates turns up at auction in London and sparks a furious bidding war between an American agent and a telephone bidder. The telephone bidder enlists the help of former FBI agent Will Piper to uncover all of the book's secrets and its origins.

The book is a list of dates of birth and dates of death for the year 1527 and is part of a secret collection of books now held at a US naval base in Nevada. The books end on February the 9th 2027 and there is no reason or documentation for this. Does this mean that the savants who originally wrote the books could only see so far or were stopped in their task? Or does it mean that life on earth will cease on that fateful day.

Piper is charged with uncovering the reason the books end on this date whilst uncovering the origins of the books. His quest leads him to investigate the family history of the family who had guarded the book for generations. During his investigation he has to battle against the government keepers of the vast library who want to keep it secret for their own political gain.

This is the second book featuring Will Piper and although I had not read the first book, Library of the Dead, which this is obviously a sequel to, I found it an excellent read. Although I would urge readers to read Library of the Dead first if at all possible.

The basic proposition of this book is terrifying in it's depiction of a pre-ordained destiny for all of mankind. The knowledge of everybody's date of death is a very unsettling concept yet near to the heart and minds of all.

Cooper tackles this issue very competently and his skilful storytelling makes the preposterous seem very believable. Will Piper is a fantastic lead character if a little clichéd. The supporting cast are all well drawn and each adds their own part to the story. Some famous historical people pop up in the novel from time to time and play an integral part in the story as it winds its way to a dramatic conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Book of Souls which I found a perfect antidote to all the reality TV my wife watches and I'll be going out to buy The Library of the Dead at the first opportunity.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Ellis - The Hidden Man

"If you enjoyed Grisham, you will love Ellis. "

Jason Kolarich is a midwestern Everyman with a lineman's build and an easy smart-ass remark. He's a young, intelligent maverick, but he's also struggling with an overwhelming emotional burden - one that threatens to unravel his own life, and possibly the lives of those around him.

Twenty-seven years ago, two-year-old Audrey Cutler disappeared from her home in the middle of the night. She was never found. All the detectives had to go on were vague eyewitness accounts of a man running down the Cutlers' street, apparently carrying someone. Without enough evidence to suggest otherwise, Griffin Perlini - a neighbor with prior offenses against minors - was arrested, but never convicted.

The case is long closed when Perlini is murdered nearly thirty years later. Now a man named Mr. Smith appears in Jason Kolarich's office, saying only that he represents a third party who wants the man charged with murder off the hook and that Kolarich is perfect for the job. The new client: Audrey Cutler's older brother, Sammy-Kolarich's estranged childhood best friend - a man he hasn't seen in nearly twenty years.

But when Kolarich starts receiving violent threats from Mr. Smith's enigmatic employer, he figures out that the secrecy behind this nameless third party - and the key to winning Sammy's case - is entangled with the mystery of Audrey's disappearance. With his own life and Sammy's in the balance, Kolarich has to put aside not only the mounting anxiety of the job but also a heart-wrenching personal tragedy in order to find out what really happened to Audrey all those years ago.

If you enjoyed Grisham, you will love Ellis. The Hidden Man is a tense legal thriller with the added element of 'average guy trying to save the day'.

Kolarich is a character I immediately warmed to. He is slightly belligerent and abrasive, but deep-down a decent man.

I found the book very up and down to begin with, with the writing drifting from past to present and then back again. I was unsure as to where the story was going but was pleased I persevered through this stage as the plot soon developed into something I was unable to put down and certainly not a plot I was able to guess the ending to.

I enjoyed the mix of courtroom battles and thriller, which worked very well. A couple of the characters were possibly a little steroetypical, and the plot a little far fetched, but I still thoroughly enjoyed The Hidden Man.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Edward Wilson - The Envoy

"...the effects of one moment in time reverberate down the generations."

In 1950s London, Kit Fournier is both diplomat at the US embassy and CIA Chief of Station. At a time of rising tension with Russia, London is awash with KGB, CIA and its own home grown agents.

When Kit is asked by his KGB contact to help them in a plot to undermine the work of MI6 he readily agrees. Not only are alliances forged to reflect what will best advance the interests of the Unites States, the lines of sexual and personal morality are so blurred that Kit does not have the inclination to refuse anything that will help his career. This personal vacuum is most obvious when dealing with his cousin Jennifer. Jealous of her English husband and her obvious contentment he contemplates pulling them into his subterfuge to further his own ends.

But Jennifer has a few surprises up her sleeve and soon it is not a case of whose side you are on, but how much of your soul you are prepared to sacrifice.

This is an excellent spy novel full of period detail.

Edward Wilson writes well about both American culture and English life, reflecting perhaps his own background. Readedrs will get a strong sense of the paranoia of the time and of the amorality existing alongside apparent conformity.

The character of Kit Fournier is satisfyingly complex. His obsession with his beautiful cousin is both romantic and pathetic and it provides an excellent backdrop to the story. The character of Jennifer is harder to grasp, but in fact this is an essential element of the story, given how the narrative develops.

You are left with a sense of ruined lives and secrets that have been buried so deep that the truth is unfathomable. It is a stroke of genius by the author to continue the narrative to the present day. It allows the reader to see how the effects of one moment in time reverberate down the generations.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Paul Sussman - The Hidden Oasis

"...a grand and stylish adventure..."

Three seemingly unconnected events taking place over 4000 years apart set the scene for this novel. Firstly in 2153BC a group of eighty Egyptian priests sneak into the western desert under the cover of night burdened with a mysterious cloth-swaddled object, a month later after reaching their destination they line up to have their throats cut with the executioner taking his own life...

Secondly a plane leaves an Albanian airfield in 1986 with a cargo which will change the Middle East forever, however the plane disappears over the Sahara desert...

Finally, in the present day a party of Bedouin traders discover a half buried mummified corpse with a camera, film and a strange obelisk in the sand dunes.

Professional climber Freya Hannen flies to Egypt for her sister Alex's funeral after her explorer sister had taken her own life. Freya does not believe her sister would commit suicide and investigates her death. This leads to her teaming up with the Egyptologist, Professor Flin Brodie, as the pair hunted whilst trying to find out the truth behind Alex's death. During the course of their search they meet with various characters who may be friend or foe. Among these are Zahir, a desert guide, Cy Angleton, a US embassy employee, and Romani Girgis, a multimillionaire criminal.

Among Alex's possessions they find the camera's film and the obelisk which the other parties are desperate to obtain, by fair means or foul.

Sussman's third book is a little masterpiece which grabs the reader and drags you through the pages at breakneck speed. The characters are all well depicted and the plotline is sufficiently complex to keep you guessing but not so intricate that you have to flick back through previous pages just to understand developments.

The author uses descriptive phrases sparingly yet you have enough information to form your own imagination of settings, characters and locations. The interplay between the various protagonists is written in such a way that it can feel as if you are in the room watching them have the conversations which you are reading.

As the novel progresses there are twists and turns which make the story more than just a straightforward race between the good guys and the bad guys. There are some spectacular passages of action which would have many a Hollywood director salivating... yet the sense of emotion is never far from the surface as Freya battles to overcome her grief at her sister's death and the rift which had kept them apart for 7 years. Brodie also has a hidden past which both helps Freya and humanises his “Indiana Jones” style even though it is a little clichéd for both the main characters to have a secret past. The other characters such as Girgis, however, are much more straightforward and his henchmen, the “twins”, are a wonderfully amoral invention.

The Hidden Oasis is which thunders across Egypt taking in both urban and rural landscapes in the quest for the legendary Zerzura “the hidden oasis”. With all action set pieces linked together with a tight plot this novel makes for an excellent read.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: