July 2010

Imogen Robertson - Anatomy of Murder

"Mrs Westerman is a satisfyingly forceful heroine..."

This historical novel, set mainly in the Georgian London of 1781, but also encompassing the high seas off Newfoundland, is the second in the series featuring the determined and unconventional Mrs Westerman and her companion with a taste for anatomical dissection and investigation, Mr Crowther. Mrs Westerman's husband, Captain James Westerman, is suffering from a critical head wound and is confined to an asylum as his behaviour is erratic and potentially dangerous.

The discovery of a body floating in the Thames is the start of an investigation which includes every stratum of society from the aristocratic and fashionable to the poor, the devious and the villainous. An insight into the strange world of the castrati and the entertainments enjoyed by the populus develops the rich atmosphere that is the backdrop to a fast moving and complex tale.

Mrs Westerman's determination to discover the truth leads her into many situations not normally encountered by a lady of her social class, but her feisty resolve and disregard for the conventions, together with Mr Crowther's obsessive interest in all things anatomical, mean that in the end the complex plot is unravelled.

The fine details of this novel describing life amongst the coffee shops of London and aboard one of His Majesty's ships of the line point to a deal of focused research which provides a satisfying and even educative environment in which to place an excellent and gripping plot. The contrasts between the horrific sheds where dead bodies are brought and the ornate and sparkling opera-goers are beautifully made. Life was like that in Georgian London.

Mrs Westerman is a satisfyingly forceful heroine who manages to overcome society's disapproval of her actions, partly through support from high places and partly because her unfortunate husband is too ill to remonstrate. Mr Crowther is an odd character with hidden depths and a history not yet fully revealed. Bit by bit a little more is uncovered. His peculiar passion for dissection is, however, crucial to the plot. Mrs Westerman's family and friends are an interesting addition to the characters and provide a group of people whose story adds to the total rich tapestry of the book. Treason and psychic powers intertwine to culminate in an exciting denouement.

This is a substantial and extremely satisfying read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Linwood Barclay - Fear The Worst

"...probably his best yet..."

Car salesman Tim Blake returns home from work to find his 17year old daughter, Sydney, has not come back from her job at the Just Inn Time hotel. Naturally, he assumes that she is meeting friends and has not told him because of a breakfast time spat.

However, the longer she is out and not answering her mobile the more he starts to worry. Eventually, when he goes to her place of work to try and find her, the staff he meets with deny all knowledge of her and claim she has never worked there. Panic starts to set in as he desperately tries to find his missing daughter

After spending days frantically searching for her Blake and his ex-wife, Susanne have to face the truth that she may have ran away of her own accord as she cannot be found. Blake and his wife do not give up the search and Blake's investigations lead him into areas of his own and his daughter's life that he does not want to think about. As leads develop he comes up against a mysterious group who are also hunting his daughter...

Now it is a race to who can find her first, will it be her family, the police or the violent group who are pursuing her?

Linwood Barclay's latest book is probably his best yet as he deals with what will be a sensitive issue for many in a very accomplished story.

The fallout of Syd's disappearance and the effect it has on Blake, Syd's best friend Patty, Blake's his ex-wife and her new partner are portrayed with terrific aplomb by a highly skilled author. Blake's anguish at their loss is excellently depicted along with his anger at people whose lies hinder his quest for the missing daughter.

Blake is a wonderful creation who does not seek violence or harm and is happy plodding along with his life until he is forced to look for Syd. This sees a transformation in him that would please any reasonable guy. One of the standout things about the book was the way that Barclay made a used car salesman likeable despite giving away a few tricks of the trade. What will his next lead character do for a living? Will they be a traffic warden, VAT inspector or an estate agent? Linwood Barclay has the literary skill to make them fun characters.

The tale writhes and turns as various leads on Syd are explored and discarded along the way as Sydney's life is delved into by her despairing parents. Events darken as the reader is led into a climactic finish which astounded me... and I can usually work out what will happen. Barclay must now be considered a heavyweight among crime writers and if you are a Harlan Coben fan then you will surely enjoy Linwood Barclay.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Meg Gardiner - The Memory Collector

"...plummets you through page after page of sheer excitement."

Jo Beckett is called to an incident on a plane at San Francisco just landed from London. Jo's 'victims' are usually dead but this one is very much alive and upset. Ian Kanan believes his family is being held captive – but how can anyone believe him when he knows his name, his address, his history and yet cannot recall a conversation he had five minutes ago?

In the local hospital, Jo looks at Kanan's x-rays to see that something is eating his brain, stopping him from forming new memories. Whatever could this man have in his possession or been in contact with to cause this catastrophic affliction? Kanan escapes the hospital to find his family. However, Jo has one more encounter with his to see that he has names written on his arm and the words, 'They die'.

Chasing this man and his deteriorating brain, Jo must try and piece together with her new beau, Gabe, and quirky sidekick, Tang, to find out what chemical menace is threatening the streets and stop a killer who doesn't even recall what he has done or where he is going in a night where time is short…

Gardiner has been away for a while but she is back with Jo Beckett in what can only be described as a thumping good read.

The full-on pace is set from page one when Kanan is apprehended on the plane for trying to open the plane door whilst still in the air. The moment when Kanan escapes the hospital is when the book really shifts in to fifth gear and revs up, feeling somewhat like a runaway car without any brakes!

Gardiner keeps her foot on the throttle or on your throat – take your pick! – and plummets you through page after page of sheer excitement. This is one of those books that makes you sit down - and when you next look up hours have passed. All the action is very filmic and this novel brings you a film in your mind via the page.

By the end of The Memory Collector I felt physically exhausted having mentally run through the whole of San Francisco with Jo Beckett. Boy! She's one fit gal! Meg is being touted as the female Lee Child – I definitely believe she could give him a run for his money.

Meg is back! And she's definitely in the driving seat!!!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Walter Mosely - Known To Evil

"Threaded through the plotting like delicate strands of silk Mosely offers up themes of guilt, atonement and ultimately, dissatisfaction."

Leonid McGill, P.I. is struggling to stick to his reformed ways while the people around him pull him in every direction. He has split up with the only woman he has ever loved, Aura, because his conscience won't let him leave his wife. Meanwhile, one of his sons seems to have found true love - but the girl has dangerous men in her past who are now threatening the whole McGill family. And his other son, the charming rogue Twilliam, is doing nothing but facilitating the crisis.

Most worryingly of all, Alfonse Rinaldo, the mysterious power behind the throne at City Hall, the fixer who seems to control every little thing that happens in New York City, has a problem that even he can't fix - and he's come to Leonid for help. It seems a young woman has disappeared, leaving murder in her wake, and it means everything to Rinaldo to track her down. He won't tell McGill his motives - but turning down Rinaldo is almost impossible to even contemplate. To make matters even worse important people at the NYC police department want McGill to pay for past demeanours and it doesn't matter how they get to put him behind bars, so long as that's where he ends up.

Leonid McGill is an anti-hero, a fallen man who is working to redeem himself, but is constantly held back by the murk of his past. This is a device that has been worked well in the past by other writers and this does nothing to detract from Walter Mosely's achievement with Known to Evil.

McGill's actions were not mere misdemeanours but serious crimes against his fellow man that should earn our opprobrium, but because McGill is such an engaging character and because he is so serious in his intention to repent we are not only pulled onside, we are there with him shouting into his ear.

Of course we want McGill to find the girl and then save her life, but we also want him to make the right choice between his wife and his mistress, to resolve matters with the men he has wronged in the past and to be there to be a positive influence on his children.

Following on from the much loved Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosely has created another serial character of complexity who, I'm certain, continued to breathe out of sight whenever I closed the book, which I did often as I was keen to savour every sentence. For many writers I greedily consume their words as I anxiously race to the end, but with Mosely I find that I consciously slow down so that every insight, each description, every word is rubbed against the microscope of my thoughts.

Known to Evil has three plot strands and each one is worked with virtuosity. Threaded through the plotting like delicate strands of silk Mosely offers up themes of guilt, atonement and ultimately, dissatisfaction. McGill deflects his own sense of this on to his fellow passengers on the New York underground describing them as going to a job they don't want to do and leading a life they never wanted. As for McGill himself, no matter if he is making a choice that will lead to an unhappier existence, he will do whatever he thinks sits well with his strict moral code.

And then there are the words on the page. Mosely is keenly aware that a good story also has to be well written and his prose manages to be textured, rich, energetic... and at the same time economical. Descriptions are brief, layered with meaning and on the button; his dialogue has all the musicality of a jazz musician riffing among friends in a smoky filled club. There is no doubt about it, Walter Mosely has earned his place among the greats of modern fiction and Known to Evil is yet another work of excellence to cement his position there.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael R. Stevens - Fortuna

"Fortuna is a perfect crime/thriller for the electronic gaming generation."

Jason Lind signs up for the online role playing game, Fortuna, as an escape from his mundane existence studying computer science at Stanford. The game is set in Renaissance Florence and Jason transforms from a casual gamer to an addict who can think of little else except the game. From the off it embroiles him in a quest set in the opulent, vibrant and anonymous world of Fortuna, where he battles for fame, fortune and power.

A tangled online love triangle has him fighting for status as well as trying to finance his obsession. When ingame debts transfer into real life he has to leverage his family to bail him out, yet he does not stop there and plunges headlong into the game which teaches him some shocking truths about both the virtual and real worlds he inhabits.

This is a very entertaining debut from Stevens and his writing style is wonderfully descriptive whether he is describing people, places or events both in the 'real' world or in the game. Fortuna is a perfect crime/thriller for the electronic gaming generation. Stevens has mixed the technical aspects into the novel well to avoid it reading like a science manual yet gives enough information to educate the reader of facts relevant to plot and character.

Jason Lind is a well balanced character who has been carefully crafted by the author and his surrounding cast are all depicted with the same obvious attention to detail. Some of my favourite characters were actually ingame and the whole idea of Fortuna itself is fantastic. Whilst Fortuna is not initially the paciest of books, the story gathers momentum like a snowball on an ever steepening slope.

I spent most of the early part of this book wondering where the crime was, as there were no gruesome murders, abductions or grand scale robberies in the first few pages to grab your interest. Boy did the end of the book change that, as Jason uncovered a crime, which was unimaginable in scale and complexity and caught me totally unawares, although thinking back all the clues were there for me to pick up on.

This is a fine example of the way that a good crime novel can give you the same information as the hero and then amaze you by showing you how everything fits together. I did guess one or two bits but was completely caught out by the major plot revelation at the end of the book.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Hamilton - The Lock Artist

"...can he finally unlock the secret that has kept him silent for so long?"

Marked by tragedy, traumatized at the age of eight, Michael, now eighteen, is no ordinary young man. Besides not uttering a single word in ten years, he discovers the one thing he can somehow do better than anyone else. Whether it's a locked door without a key, a padlock with no combination, or even an eight-hundred pound safe... he can open them all.

It's an unforgivable talent. A talent that will make young Michael a hot commodity with the wrong people and, whether he likes it or not, push him ever close to a life of crime. Until he finally sees his chance to escape, and with one desperate gamble risks everything to come back home to the only person he ever loved, and to discover.... can he finally unlock the secret that has kept him silent for so long?

Mike is the first main character I have come across that does not speak a word, and yet I did not feel as though he needed to. And even though the character did not speak, nothing was missed in the story by the reader.

Mike is a strange boy and isolated from his peers due to his inability to speak, he has no real malice about him so he immidiately wins empathy for his situation and makes the reader care about what happens to him. To have a 17 year old cracking safes was a unexplored format, and one that really worked for Hamilton. The Lock Artist had a great mix of characters with an excellent new plot, executed and written in a wonderful style.

Despite enjoying this book so much, there was something, although I don't know what, that was missing, which gave me a feeling of something being slightly unfinished. This could just be due to some of the characters returning in a later novel, although I am not privy to that information.

Either way, it is a great read and had a feeling of Koontz's character Odd Thomas about it without it having any of the supernatural feel to it.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Kilgallon - The Prophecy

"...straight into the big league with a masterful tale of international intrigue and espionage. "

Aspiring author Sam Tynnan's manuscript is stolen from him in a violent attack and his back-up copies are wiped from his computer. Less than 2 years later he watches the news and sees events unfolding in the same manner as his stolen book.

Nostradamus scholar Jean-Pierre comes across uncovered quatrains which he suspects hold the key to catastrophic world events.

MI5 spook Adel Al-Shaffir is head of a language 'activity' tracking centre in the front lines of the war against terror. New enemies have appeared upon his radar, they have a master plan for destruction. Timing is everything as long as the sacrifices do not rise above levels Adel finds acceptable.

A tightly written novel from new author Kilgallon sees him walk straight into the big league with a masterful tale of international intrigue and espionage.

The plot is intricate with many convolutions, yet it can still be followed without too much difficulty. Rather than a set pace, Kilgallon delivers bursts of pace with each ensuing spurt faster than the previous one, before culminating in a final standoff.

The characters are all well depicted and the switching back and forth between the 2 main characters of Sam and Adel is skilfully done. I particularly liked the way each referred to the other in turn. Jean-Pierre's part as the eccentric scholar was a joy to read and Lorrena fulfilled a vital role amply. The forces of evil were suitably despicable and their identities were kept secret for much of the novel.

The basic premise of the novel is enough to give real life security services nightmares as it depicts a grand master plan to escalate tension in the Middle East for nefarious purposes. I enjoyed the read but I think it may have benefited from a little sharper editing to maintain the pace better. Where the pace was slow it dragged and we were told information about peripheral characters we could have easily managed without.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Berry - The Paris Vendetta

" intelligent thriller..."

Former US government agent Cotton Malone returns to help his closest friend Henrik Thorvaldsen who is in serious trouble. Thorvaldsen has been worming his way into The Paris Club who are a group of multimillionaires who are set upon financial manipulation of the western world. The only reason he wants in is so that he can get close one of the members, Lord Graham Ashby who he holds responsible for the death of his beloved son Cai.

Cotton is dragged into the conflict and acts to save his friend whilst being pressurised by his old employers to stop both his friend and The Paris Club. The Paris Club members are also desperate to find the mythical treasure known as Napoleon's Cache...

Once again Steve Berry has produced a grand scale novel, sweeping back and forth between the present and the past. The Paris Vendetta has all of his trademarks namely historical fact, modern detail and non-stop suspense. Cotton Malone is now a familiar hero and he is at his scintillating best as he plays both ends against the middle in a bid to save his friend and defeat The Paris Club.

Malone is the type of reluctant hero who never looks for trouble but deals with it when it comes calling. A fully rounded character with morality and courage in abundance he never allows his guard to drop which saves him and others. Thorvaldsen is his usual determined self and does not heed Malone's entreaties not to avenge his son.

Some excellent new characters make their first appearances and I can see them joining Malone on futures escapades. Stephanie Nelle has a larger presence than usual in this novel and I think she may well try to recruit Malone back to the service in the future.

The prose is very taut and the suspense is palpable throughout the book with events ricocheting the reader across both Europe and history. The historical elements of this story are excellently depicted and obviously thorough research creates a marvellous background for the sub-plot.

The Paris Vendetta works on a new premise of the consequences of terrorism and The Paris Club's efforts to capitalise on this presumption make for an intelligent thriller which manages to throw up new ideas for a subject which is being played to death by some authors. This only goes to show how in the correct hands a well worn subject can be re-invigorated with a new slant or twist. The end of the book will leave you desperate for the next instalment so you can discover what lasting effects the events of The Paris Vendetta has on much loved characters.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: