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Reviews

August 2010

Stephen King - Under the Dome

"King slowly unravels this epic story without losing any of its inherent energy or dramatic tension...already one of the best books I have read this year! "

Synopsis:
Chester's Mill is your typical 'run of the mill' town. There are people who like the relaxing, smooth side of country life and there are others who crave domination of such a small population. These people are normally very clever about how they go about getting what they want and controlling the masses without their knowledge - but then the 'dome' cuts Chester's Mill off from the rest of the world and 'normal' is no longer an option.

In only a few days the unity of the town is fractured by the manipulation of certain individuals who preach that they are only looking for peace and order in a society which is running on limited supplies. The truth is that all the townspeople are being guided by the actions of others through devious means. It is within days that all-out war is declared with blood curdling and violent results: and can the few that remain save the day?

Review:
Firstly, as this is a Stephen King story do not reject this novel out of hand. This isn't a book populated with monsters, giant spiders or rabid dogs. All the monsters in this book are very much human – if you can call them that! I have to admit that I haven't read Mr. King's work for some time as I have been disappointed by recent works of his. However, this epic which runs to 877 pages intrigued me – and had me gripped from page one right through to the end!

I would say that this is King's version of 'Lord of the Flies', a terrifying tale of what can happen when panic sets in - and how through desperation people lose their inhibitions and become animals. Again, like the aforementioned classic, people strive to dominate the others and install a staunch hierarchy which wasn't there before the dome arrived. King's villain of the piece, Big Jim Rennie, is a master manipulator and a man with many secrets he will go to any length to keep hidden. When the new 'police state' is initiated there becomes a definite divide between the community. With admirable stealth, King slowly unravels this epic story without losing any of its inherent energy or dramatic tension.

I could write reams of copy about this novel but I won't. I will let you decide. But for me, it was an epic tale that I couldn't put down and when life interrupted, I would race back to it to find out what happened to the good (and bad) people of Chester's Mill. King is ruthless and has no problems despatching main characters – about forty people die by page 50! This is a novel only an author of King's standing could have produced – and he has written a blinder. A truly brilliant book of epic proportions (and I don't just mean the size of the book!) that will stay with me for a long time and is already one of the best books I have read this year! Phenomenal!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Janet Evanovich - Sizzling Sixteen

"The outrageous storylines and way over-the-top characters just keep getting better, despite this being the 16th book in the series."

Synopsis:
Trenton, New Jersey. Bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, has inherited a lucky bottle from her Uncle Pip. Problem is, Uncle Pip didn't specify if the bottle brought good luck or bad luck. Vinnie, of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, has run up a gambling debt of $786,000 with mobster Bobby Sunflower and is being held until the cash can be produced. Nobody else will pay to get Vinnie back, leaving it up to Stephanie, office manager Connie and file clerk Lula to raise the money if they want to save their jobs. Being in the business of tracking down people, Stephanie, Lula, and Connie have an advantage in finding Vinnie. If they can rescue him it will buy them some time to raise the cash.
Finding a safe place to hide Vinnie turns out to be harder than raising $786,000. Vinnie's messing up Mooner's vibe, running up pay-per-view porn charges in Ranger's apartment, and making Stephanie question genetics.
Between a bonds office yard sale that has the entire Burg turning out, Mooner's Hobbit-Con charity event, and Uncle Pip's lucky bottle, they just might raise enough money to save the business, and Vinnie, from ruin.
Saving Vincent Plum Bail Bonds means Stephanie can keep being a bounty hunter. In Trenton this involves hunting down a man wanted for polygamy, a turnpike toilet paper bandit and a drug dealer with a pet alligator named Mr. Jingles.

The job of bounty hunter comes with perks in the guise of Trenton's hottest cop, Joe Morelli, and the dark and dangerous security expert, Ranger. With any luck at all, Uncle Pip's lucky bottle will have Stephanie getting lucky - the only question is... with whom?

Review:
Evanovich is back with situations and characters that can only be found surrounding Stephanie Plum in Tenton. Plum and Lula are keeping the local fast food restaurants and bakeries in the black with their constant eating. Grandma Mazur is keeping busy visiting the funeral homes. And Ranger is keeping busy supplying Stephanie with vehicles. Rex, the longest living hamster in history, is still going strong and the general mayhem you expect to follow Stephanie and her cohorts is as evident in Sizzling Sixteen as in all her previous books. The outrageous storylines and way over-the-top characters just keep getting better, despite this being the 16th book in the series. And some of the regular characters from previous books, such as Connie, get a bigger look-in and larger part in this story.

Plum is still a hapless bounty hunter, trying to capture her prey with an empty gun and a can of hairspray. Evanovich never fails to delivery a hilarious, fun-filled story. You know disaster is looming when Plum is on the case, and you are filled with dread at what might (and probably will happen!

Simply brilliant.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeff Lindsay - Dexter is Delicious

"...no-one else even comes close to the oxymoron that is Dexter Morgan."

Synopsis:
Miami blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan hunts killers by night, but he only kills those who deserve it. However, the birth of his daughter, Lily Anne, forces him to reasess his ways and he tries to change for the better. Can he cast his dark urges aside and become a normal, paranoid and overprotective father? Can he exchange his killing tools for nappies and teddy bears? What's a serial killer to do?

Dexter is strong armed into helping his bullish and belligerent Sergeant sister Deborah as she investigates the disappearance of an eighteen year old girl who may have been abducted by a group of wannabe vampires. The monotony of his day job is cast aside and his dark urges satiated as they pursue the abductors into a truly disturbing scenario.

His estranged brother, Brian, who was last seen attempting to kill Deborah, reappears in Dexter's life and quickly bonds with his wife and her 2 children from a previous relationship. Dexter recognises the same animalistic tendencies in his brother as flow through his veins and he fears his brother's motives.

Review:
Dexter is an absolutely unique character in crime fiction as no-one else even comes close to the oxymoron that is Dexter Morgan. By day his job is to catch murderers and see them face the judicial system, by night he hunts them down and personally exterminates them. His knowledge of crime scene forensics has thus far kept him out of jail.

Another marvellous outing sees Dexter trying to change his ways after the birth of his daughter. Family ties are a very strong theme for this book and the emotions they raise enable Lindsay to wax lyrical about family values as seen through Dexter's distorted vision. The emergence of his brother, the joy of his new daughter and the needs of his sister weigh heavily on our anti-antihero. Lindsay depicts these emotions beautifully in the way that only a wonderful wordsmith of his calibre can. Deborah is strangely vulnerable for a single minded powerhouse of the type who the phrase “bull in a china shop” was coined for. Brian his brother is quietly creepy as depicted through Dexter's eyes.

The plot is carefully conceived and has some gaspingly horrific ideas which disgust even the serial killer Dexter. The pace is steady throughout with a frenetic climax which sees Dexter encounter someone who terrifies even him. Some of the plot twists at the end can be seen a mile off, yet are rewarding, even if the satisfaction is mostly in knowing you were right.

The prose and choice of vocabulary is outstanding throughout, with Dexter's thoughts and observations delivered with a dry wit and sardonic slant to the reader in a first person perspective. Few can rival Lindsay at this talent. If you like the Lennox books by Craig Russell or the observation skill of Christopher Brookmyre then rush out and buy this book. You will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Quentin Jardine - A Rush of Blood

"...a Scottish version of a Reginald Hill..."

Synopsis:
The beginning starts with the discovery of the body of a well known gangster and entrepreneur, Tommy Zale (real name Tomas Zaliukas). He is found on Arthur's Seat, an obvious suicide – his head blown off, the 'smoking' gun at his side. But this death begins a chain of events that will reap many lives along the way. Whilst Skinner and his team dig to find out what made this man take his own life, a Romanian girl is dropped off at the local hospital – still under the influence of drugs - by a man described as looking exactly like 'Desperate Dan' from the comic.

As the body count rises, each death is questionable. Skinner and his team accidentally find that two different cases are actually related. As Skinner's personal life appears to get more and more entangled, Skinner finds that family means everything and that he will do what is necessary to protect those he loves. Elsewhere someone is doing exactly the same thing – but not being quite as forgiving as Skinner. It is a race against time to make sure that all this bloodshed doesn't become a gushing river.

Review:
This is my first foray into the Jardine/Skinner world. Obviously the author is steeped in his Scottish ancestry and has a great fascination for his country – even the dark side of it. He also appears to have great respect for his 'tartan' cohorts in crime writing and has named a few of his characters after them!

I found Jardine's writing very easy to get into and settled into the story very quickly. My only minus would be when Jardine gets on his soap box about a certain subject and gives his characters great long speeches... I feel that an author can always introduce such topics subliminally in to any conversation without having someone ranting for half a page... Rant over! Besides that small niggle I was very impressed by the way that the different strands of the story took off quickly and were interwoven - smooth as silk - the sign of a writer who has learned his craft over many years. For me, the central theme that runs through this book is 'family' and what people will do to protect their loved ones - a very intriguing concept.

Whilst reading 'A Rush of Blood' I did feel as though I was reading a Scottish version of a Reginald Hill, another author I admire, who always juggles many balls without dropping a single one. There is a vast cast of characters which could possibly have been refined a little as I did have to flick back now and again to remind myself who they all were – no bad thing as it shows the story was definitely worth staying faithful to. All in all I would definitely put Jardine and Skinner on my 'must read' list. And I will be dipping in to his previous books – a sure sign that an author has got me 'hooked'.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Meg Gardiner - The Liar's Lullaby

"...another high octane thriller to add to Gardiner’s growing and very accomplished body of work. "

Synopsis:
Tasia McFarland is a washed-up singer who has been through the mill and seems to be making it in the big time once more. At the start of a big concert, Tasia is seen by her entourage waving a real gun around. As the smoke thickens a shot rings out in the stadium. At the same time two helicopters involved in the show collide and bring chaos to the proceedings. Jo, who is at the concert with her sister, is quickly scooped up by Tang who wants her to compile a psychological autopsy as her death cannot be attributed to either suicide or homicide.

Within hours Jo is immersed in Tasia's rock lifestyle and her music. Are some of the haunting lyrics from her songs telling a totally different story? Just before she died Tasia was screaming that she was being spied on by agents working for her ex-husband who just happens to be the President of the United States. Is there corruption at the very top of American politics – was the President willing to silence Tasia who was writing an autobiography about her life and their marriage and had threatened to expose everything? Very soon Jo will be doing everything in her power to stay alive long enough to find out what exactly happened to Tasia in a crowded stadium.

Review:
Although I enjoyed this novel, it didn't grip me as much as her previous, The Memory Collector, which I absolutely loved and relished in one sitting. I can't quite put my finger on what didn't sit right with me – was it because Tasia McFarland wasn't a particularly sympathetic character that I couldn't quite relate to? Or was it the White House connection? I cannot say (it is just a personal/individual thing) – although I thought the premise of the plot was quite ingenious.

It took a while for the plot to really get going but the second half of the novel is then stamped with Gardiner's typical rush of adrenaline and poor Jo is running the length and breadth of San Francisco, jumping in cars whilst being shot at. This part I loved, and Gardiner is extremely competent at writing in 'real time' and making the reader race through those pages.

The climax and ultimate summary is satisfying although with the White House being involved you rather know that there will be a cover up of some kind. I very much enjoy is development of Jo's relationship with Gabriel Quintana. I do hope that we can expect a happy ending there – too many novelists lately seem to derive some pleasure from killing off their main protagonist's partners to the horror of their readers! I shall name no names!

This new Jo Beckett novel is yet another high octane thriller to add to Gardiner's growing and very accomplished body of work.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stuart Neville - The Twelve

"...quite simply one of the books of the year."

Synopsis:
Former paramilitary killer, Irishman Gerry Fegan is haunted by his victims, twelve souls who shadow his every waking day and howl through every drunken night. Just as he reaches the edge of sanity they reveal why they have been troubling him. They demand revenge on those who engineered their deaths. From the greedy politicians to the corrupt security forces, the street thugs to the complacent bystanders who let it happen... everyone must pay the price.

When Fegan's vendetta threatens to derail Northern Ireland's peace process and destabilise its fledgling government, old comrades and enemies alike want him gone. David Campbell, a double agent lost between the forces of law and terror, takes the job. But he has his own reasons for eliminating Fegan; the secrets of a dirty war should stay buried, even if its ghosts do not.

Review:
If there is an award going that this excellent debut novel hasn't been nominated for in 2010 it's in the minority. Published elsewhere in the world as The Ghosts of Belfast, Twelve is quite simply one of the books of the year.

Gerry Fegan is a wonderful invention who will test your sympathies as he attempts to atone for his past sins whilst being driven on by the twelve ghosts of the title. No matter that he is aiming for redemption he is nonetheless a killer and it is to the author's credit that as you read you have to remind yourself that this is the case.

Neville has a light but firm touch that avoids the traps of introducing a supernatural element to a crime novel. The situation is outlined with crisp, unemotional prose that allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusion; are these creatures really ghosts or are they the bleak imaginings of a tortured and driven man? Which answer you provide is up to you, but what is undeniable is this element is so well done that it adds a chill to the proceedings and another level to your reading pleasure.

The more conscionable among you will wonder that you can take entertainment from a subject like this, but surely such is the world that the regular reader of crime fiction inhabits. Whatever your view, Neville has carefully set out the issues that continue to face post-ceasefire Northern Ireland. He displays it as a confused land; a country working to create a future amid a peace recognised by its people as duplicitous, but accepted as better than a continued struggle.

Politics aside, The Twelve is a brilliant thriller, an exciting and - at times - unbearably tense read. Be warned; pick it up and you won't be able to place it aside until you turn over that last satisfying page.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Daniel Blake - Soul Murder

"...a sizzling thriller..."

Synopsis:
Someone is going around torching people. A brain surgeon and a priest are the first to be despatched in a most vicious way. Franco Patrese is just getting over his own loss when both parents are killed in a car accident when the killings begin. As Patrese battles with his own faith, feeling let down by the god he has revered all his life, he launches into an investigation that appears to be full of religious connotations.

As more victims fall to the killer the press are calling 'The Human Torch', Patrese and his partner Beradino must track down this killer who is on a mission. But before the case is solved Patrese will discover that those he holds closest and dearest are not always those who can be trusted the most. It is going to take all his faith to come to terms with the truth.

Review:
Soul Murder is a sizzling thriller, the first in a new series. The writing is hot and the short chapters (always fatal for any reader who thinks they're going to read a few pages!) fly by so you've read half the book in short time. But the difference here is that Blake has given his characters personality, lives, difficulties, emotional problems that layer the story and lift this story from the normal humdrum thriller when you couldn't care less who dies or who doesn't. Here you can feel Patrese's pain at his recent bereavement and when he gets emotionally involved with one of the suspects in the case you know that this detective is going to get seriously burnt by the end of the case.

There are a lot of religious references and a few 'rants' about how different religions and beliefs have to live side by side, especially now that much of the world is multi-cultural... and suggesting that some of the hatred can spill over onto other beliefs. There are large parts of the bible and Koran in the book which may put some off, but it does all have its place in the novel. Soul Murder is a chilling and real novel that ignites what can possibly be a very exciting series indeed. A real scorcher!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Harvey - A Darker Shade of Blue

"Harvey is simply a master wordsmith..."

Synopsis:
One of the true masters of British crime writing returns with a collection of short stories. Featuring much beloved characters such as Frank Elder, who just couldn't stay away from police work; Jack Kiley The ex-footballer and ex-copper who is now a London based PI; and of course the renowned DI Charlie Resnick with his penchant for jazz.

The action ranges from the killing fields of the East Midlands to the mean streets of London, jazz clubs, clip joints in Soho and the barren fenlands of East Anglia. There are broken families, sink estates, revenge killings, prostitution, drugs, guns and corruption. Overstretched police forces and underpaid detectives must trawl these murky waters in the hope of bring about some level of justice in areas where even friendship has a price tag.

Review:
John Harvey serves up a delicious smorgasbord of short stories from his past writings. With A Darker Shade of Blue he has picked some of his finest work and brought them all together. In his introduction he extolls the virtues of short stories and their uses as a sounding board for new characters and situations. He also mentions the way that the writer has to work harder to say more with less while keeping the reader hooked.

I'll be perfectly honest and say that the short story is not my favourite medium as I can easily devour three or four stories a day. This has on many occasions in the past left me bewildered as to which character is in which tale. John Harvey has changed my opinion as I raced through this collection faster than any other group of short stories I have read before. The eighteen vignettes featured are centred around Jack Kiley, Charlie Resnick, Frank Elder and two other characters. Resnick and Elder are old friends of mine and I was delighted to meet Jack Kiley. The other two were enjoyable company for a while, but would not be first on my list of people to look for in a crowded pub. Sixteen successes from eighteen short stories read by a person who does not care for short stories, is one hell of an achievement in my book as I thought that the sixteen were all brilliant and the two merely very good.

Harvey is simply a master wordsmith and his use of the language in scene setting, applying pace, atmosphere, humour and emotion is exemplary. Each tale is clearly mapped out and comes to a satisfying conclusion in a timely and concise manner. The characters are drawn with the expertise expected from John Harvey and each plot is a good one. I would like to make an appeal to bring Jack Kiley a book of his own, as he allows a sublimely skilled author the opportunity to stretch his literary wings in a different manner.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R.S. Downie - Ruso and the Root of All Evils

"Ruso is a gem of a character..."

Synopsis:
Gaius Petreius Ruso has spent many years as Medicus to Twentieth legion in northern Britain. He has acquired a British housekeeper/girlfriend, Tilla, with whom he has a turbulent relationship. When he receives an urgent message from his brother he returns to Gaul, along with Tilla, to take on some of his familial responsibilities. There he finds that the message has been forged and his family owe a huge amount to Severus.

When he is found murdered in the Ruso family home, the obvious suspects are the Ruso's. Added to that, Ruso's half sisters are pressurising him to arrange dowries to enable them to get married, and his brother and sister-in –law have several grievances, mainly about money. His relationship with Tilla causes a few raised eyebrows as well. He comes across the new religion of Christianity and is dubious of the effect it has on Tilla.

Severus turns out to have been involved in crimes involving trade and money, and there is someone out there who doesn't want the truth to come out-to the point of murder. Ruso is in danger.

Review:
This is one of those books that you know will provide hours of entertainment and fun without taxing the brain too much. Ruso is a very laid back, good hearted character who has to deal with the responsibility of his family with resignation and frustration, but essentially with consideration. The life style of the well-to-do Roman is described from the viewpoint of one who has been away for some time. Tilla's view of some of the behaviour is always interesting and amusing. I quite enjoyed the description of the very new Christan group and Ruso's and Tilla's attitude to it.

Ruso is a gem of a character and I look forward to reading his views on his travels around the Roman Empire.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Brad Meltzer - Book of Lies

"A thrill-a-minute page turner..."

Synopsis:
The world's first recorded murder was Cain killing Abel. Cal Harper, a social worker with the homeless, is thrust into a race to discover the murder weapon from this iconic event. He is first reunited with his long-lost father who has been shot with a gun which has only ever been linked to one other crime, an unsolved killing dating back to 1932. Father and son are propelled into a sprint to find the weapon and the secrets which lie with it which others have died trying to uncover.

A mysterious man with a tattoo depicting the mark of Cain is also racing to find the truth and events in the thirties hold the key to this trove which he believes is his birthright. Who will win the race, will it be the Harpers or the murderous Ellis Belasco.

Review:
A thrill-a-minute page turner has our reluctant hero teaming up with the father he has not seen for nineteen years to battle for something he knows nothing about. The plot is furiously paced with never a moment's delay as events and revelations come thick and fast. The prose is tightly wound and the whole feel of the book is such that it made me feel like I was reading a better-written Da Vinci Code.

The fractured relationship between Cal Harper and his estranged father Lloyd is beautifully portrayed despite it being a cliché as old as time itself. The sequence of puzzles they have to overcome in their quest are brilliant in their simplicity when explained yet are unfathomable beforehand. The mixing of historical fact and fiction shows some excellent research and the practised hand of a skilled author.

This is the second book where Meltzer has stepped away from his comfort zone and crossed into a different sub-genre and he does so with such aplomb that you begin to think that if he wrote a shopping list it would make for a good read.

There is no stand out character that carries the story as the action and puzzles do that for them yet each person has a vital role to fulfil. Each is well rounded and portrayed in such a way that you are made to feel the correct emotions at the required times.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jack Henderson - 7 Seconds

"...a very modern conspiracy thriller..."

Synopsis:
2003 – A weapons inspector is assassinated. Tales tell, that he had uncovered terrifying proof, a global cabal had engineered a catastrophic endgame which would be triggered by the coming war in Iraq. The staple of the wildest conspiracies would see a murdered man discredited and vital evidence destroyed.

Two halves of a hidden message remain, and as one come into the possession of a young government employee who is trying to escape her past, and the other lands in the hand of the one man who can decipher the riddle, it becomes evident that the knowledge can either save or destroy the world.

Review:
Jack Henderson once again travels into the grand conspiracy territory, which is the home of such authors as Ludlum, Clancy and Higgins. Bringing a fresh twist to age-old theories, Henderson sidesteps the usual suspects from this genre and creates his own protagonists who are both immoral and ruthless.

The plot is pacy, whilst the characterisation is descriptive and sparse depending upon the role of the character. Jeanie Reese and the character formerly known as FR33K are the mainstays of the novel and this shows throughout, although Kate deserves a mention for her detached view on events. Readers of Maximum Impact will appreciate this comment better than newcomers to Henderson's work although both will understand my point upon completion of the novel.

All in all 7 Seconds is a very modern conspiracy thriller, written for the reader to devour at a single serving. This novel will not suit all crime fans but is a partial throwback to the days when “James Bond” and other like minded people took on the might of deluded individuals and groups who threatened world domination.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lindsey Davis - Nemesis

"...a good fast, amusing historical thriller."

Synopsis:
Marcus Didius Falco, investigator of first-century Rome, has experienced a change of fortune on his return from Alexandria. On the down side he and Helena are grieving at the death of their new-born son, and although he has not been close to his father, Geminus, his death has also affected him. Falco finds himself head of the family with responsibilities to which he is unaccustomed. On the plus side, Falco has inherited his father's estate and has access to funds for the first time.

When he goes to visit his father's country estate and tries to straighten out some business affairs he is drawn into investigating the mysterious disappearance of a couple who had supplied statuary to Geminus. The mystery is rooted in the Pontine Marshes and has strong connections to a notorious family of freedmen - the Claudii. A body turns up in Rome and Falco and his friend Petronius are charged with investigating. More bodies turn up and all clues lead back to the Claudii and the Pontine marshes. Enter the old enemy, Anacrites, the Chief Spy. Whilst appearing to offer friendship, Anacrites is plotting against Falco and Petronius. There is some secret that he is hiding from Falco.

Danger haunts Falco and Petronius and their families. No-one will protect them. They are driven to take urgent and shocking action.

Review:
It is always reassuring to see a new Lindsey Davis novel. You know that there will be an exciting story, placed in a well-researched setting with an update on a group of likeable characters who grow and develop in each novel. This latest book, Nemesis, is no exception to the rule. I particularly enjoyed the last book in the series set in Alexandria, but I found it comfortable to be back in Rome and in Falco's comfort zone, where he knows all the territory and the inhabitants. A new twist keeps the interest alive as his new found wealth gives us a different perspective. His love and respect for Helena only grows as they come to terms with the death of their young son.

As always, Marcus Didius Falco is the fast talking master of the one liner and provides an amusing commentary on life and morals in first century Rome. An American private eye translated into Latin!

Falco's amazing relations all add to the fun of the story and I would recommend this to all who enjoy a good fast, amusing historical thriller.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susanna Gregory - The Killer of Pilgrims

"...a satisfying and enjoyable read."

Synopsis:
This is the sixteenth book about Matthew Bartholomew, a physician and teacher at Michaelhouse, one of the poorer Cambridge colleges. An unorthodox exponent of the medicine of the day (although he always seems to take a sensible view in modern eyes), he is faced with helping Brother Michael to uncover the identity of the thief who is stealing pilgrim badges and holy relics all over Cambridge and the murderer who has a growing number of corpses for which he is responsible. Are they one and the same, or is there more than one villain at large?

Trouble is brewing between the University Colleges and the poorer hostels. Brother Michael is kept on his toes keeping a relative peace but things come to a head at a game of camp-ball-a vicious and popular excuse for an out and out brawl. Bartholomew walks a tightrope between being in demand for practising effective medicine and being accused of witchcraft for curing people whilst ignoring the accepted remedies of the day.

Review:
As always, Susanna Gregory provides a satisfying mystery set within a knowledgeable and convincing mediaeval background. Mathew Bartholomew is an island of sanity amongst a cast of curious and fascinating characters.

Brother Michael continues to defend the University and maintain the peace whilst pursuing his life's main pleasure of food. He is the ultimate self delusionist, believing he is a fine body of a man, attractive to women and at the same time loyal to and protective of his friend Mathew Bartholomew.
Harsh living conditions and extreme superstitious beliefs are brought vividly to life.

This book brings old friends back to life and can be relied on to provide a satisfying and enjoyable read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Grimsdale - Just Watch Me

"...each new turn taking you in an unexpected direction..."

Synopsis:
Dan Carter is an ex-Army strongman who has just returned from active service in Afghanistan. He is working for an organisation that provides back-up for those who need protection. He brings a lot of baggage with him from the army and his previous life, so when he meets and marries Sara he is happy to start anew. Part of that unfinished business means that he and Sara end up in a protection scheme. All goes well for a few years and they have twin children who are very much loved.. When the relationship between Dan and Sara begins to deteriorate they arrange for a holiday in the Caribbean to clear the air. At the airport Dan's passport disappears and he convinces a reluctant Sara to go on with the children whilst he sorts it out. Then the plane crashes over the Atlantic with all on board lost!

From then on nothing is as it seems. Carter's past keeps coming back to him and he is threatened by the unknown and also those closer to home. When he finally unravels the tangled plot, he is left with few to trust. He can only rely on himself and his training to escape from the nightmare.

Review:
This is a very exciting thriller with all the components of a compulsive action movie. The hard man who relies on his own inner strength and finely honed physique fights on his own against nefarious forces. Spies, terrorism, greed and exotic locations combine to give more than a hint of Bond.

Although who exactly is the good guy is not always clear! The plot develops slowly, with each new turn taking you in an unexpected direction, right up to the very end. An excellent story.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gladys Mitchell - Hangman's Curfew

"Hurrah for Gladys Mitchell and Mrs. Bradley."

Synopsis:
Whilst on a holiday prescribed by Dame Adela to overcome the heartache of a broken relationship, Gillian she meets a strange man with whom she shelters in a ruined castle while the rain pours and listens to a very strange tale indeed.

In a large house a series of unfortunate incidents have happened leading to rumours of poisoning. Now the man of the house is spoken of as paranoid and still has episodes where he believes he has been poisoned.

Gillian is intrigued by this story and writes to Adela sharing her concerns and wondering if her aunt is interested in finding out about the strange events. Within days, Mrs. Bradley is deeply involved in a case that is as bizarre as it is strange. She needs all her stealth and ingenuity to keep her and Gillian alive from the men who are determined to stop them and keep both ladies alive.

Review:
There is nothing better on a summers day than settling down with a Gladys Mitchell. You can tell through her writing that she had a great respect and love for the British countryside which she describes beautifully as Mrs. Bradley, Gillian and Adela's chauffeur, George charge through ruined castle and winding lanes thwarting criminals as they search for the truth.

The truth lies in old ballads which Mitchell takes us through, sometimes confusingly so, but Mitchell can always tell a good, if slightly hectic story. This is another wonderful thriller from the Mitchell canon and excellent that Minnow Press have re-printed another unavailable gem that has been forgotten for too long.

Hurrah for Gladys Mitchell and Mrs. Bradley. They always make for a nostalgic and exciting team.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Levenson - Justice in June

"...has the reader playing the old 'just one more page' game."

Synopsis:
Criminal defence attorney Mary Magruder Katz returns with a bulging caseload. Judge Liz Maxwell is accused of favouring certain defendants on drug-related cases. The accusation threatens not just her career and reputation but also her sanity. There are perils in ferreting out the truth as to the accusations levelled against her, yet Mary takes the case regardless. Luis Corona is a family friend of Mary's boyfriend Carlos who is arrested on charges of terrorism and before long Mary gets sucked into trying to defend him as much against public opinion as against American security forces. To top it off Carlos faces a lawsuit which could ruin him and Mary has to juggle his case along with her others.

There is only one Mary yet there are three cases and she has to manage the three simultaneously while trying to maintain her romance with Carlos - as well as trying to defend and restore the reputations of both Judge Maxwell and Luis Corona...

Review:
Levenson weaves a fantastic portrayal of what a lawyer's life must really be like, as she has Mary dashing from pillar to post frantically trying to manage the three separate cases. Many lawyer or courtroom novels concentrate solely on the one case whereas poor Mary has three diverse, yet individually demanding cases and clients to deal with. I found this a refreshing change and thought that the book was all the better for this compelling caseload.

Never was the action slowed down by over-elaborate legalese, as there simply wasn't space or time in Mary's day for her to get drawn into the long haul tennis match, that is a feature of some courtroom based novels, Instead she fights each battle in turn and then quickly moves onto the next.

Liz Maxwell is excellently depicted as the wrongly accused, Luis Corona's family are the kind of people who you would want in your corner and Carlos is a fascinating character who puts up with a lot more than Mary realises. Catherine, Mary's assistant, is an asset not just to Mary but to the novel as a whole as her work makes Mary's story all the more believable.

The whole story is tightly packaged with the same demands upon the prose and pace as there is upon Mary herself. This means that there are few wasted words as Levenson has crafted an excellently paced legal thriller, which has the reader playing the old 'just one more page' game.

Justice in June will appeal to fans of Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller, yet it does not carry the same heavyweight courtroom drama that you will experience from John Grisham, Scott Turow or Steve Martini.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jon Trace - The Venice Conspiracy

"A spectacular debut..."

Synopsis:
Tom Shaman is an ex-priest from the LA ghetto who left the clergy after failing to prevent a girl from being raped. His last minute decision to take a trip to Venice sees him become embroiled in a series of brutal slayings which have all the markings of ritualistic sacrifice.

Shaman is enlisted by the Venetian police and teams up with Valentina Morassi to dig into the city's murky history from the ancient Etruscan civilisation in 700bc to eighteenth century debauchery. Valentina and Tom uncover deadly secrets and the trail of the priceless Etruscan tableaux known as the Gates of Destiny.

Review:
Step right up fans of Will Adams, Chris Kuznetski and Dan Brown et al; this novel has 'buy me' written all over it. A spectacular debut from Jon Trace into the historical events and modern findings crime genre sees him switch seamlessly between modern day Venice, ancient times in Etruria and 18th century Venice.

The Venice Conspiracy is written in a tight, taut manner which lets the reader enjoy the seductive tug of a well crafted story set against a horrific premise which really has you guessing as to the outcome. The characterisation of the main players is wonderfully done with good and evil clearly demarcated yet massively accurate in the portrayals of their hopes, goals and ambitions. Stand out characters would have to be the netsvis Teucer, the evil Larth and of course Tom Shaman.

The pace of the novel throughout is steady and while never being breakneck is so enticing that time flies by unnoticed. You are drawn in by the story until the only thought that shares the reading pleasure is the familiar refrain of “just one more chapter then I'll...”

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: