October 2011

Lee Child - The Affair

"The Affair is set days before he leaves the army and, for me, it is about the birth of the man we all know simply as “Reacher”. "

Mississippi March '97. A young woman is found behind a bar with her throat slit. A large army base is in the local area. Is the murderer a soldier or a civilian?

Jack Reacher is still a Military Police major and is sent in undercover. The town's sheriff is a former U.S. Marine who also happens to be a drop-dead gorgeous woman. Her investigation into the murder has ground to a halt. Are Pentagon powers stonewalling her? Or is she unwilling to unmask the killer?

Anyone who has read all of the previous Reacher books as I have will know full well that they are all, with the exception of The Enemy, about Reacher's life after leaving the military police. The Affair is set days before he leaves the army and, for me, it is about the birth of the man we all know simply as “Reacher”.

The Enemy must have been the conception and the others the life story. Heaven forbid that Lee Child is ticking the boxes and preparing us for Reacher riding off into the sunset?

What can one say about Lee Child and Reacher than has not been said many times before, by myself and others? Lots I think. This is actually an atypical Reacher novel as he uses friends to help him solve this particular puzzle and his involvement with and understanding of others is a side rarely seen before. His manner with Frances Neagley in particular was especially circumspect and compassionate, yet totally in character. All of us long-time fans feel we know him very well and can almost predict his movements and actions at times. Personally, I feel very in tune with his morals and principles.

Other characters in a Reacher tale are usually there to be bedded, saved or beaten up and while there is still the required quota of these, there is no obvious villain here and characters like Deveraux, Munro, Garber, and Neagley who generally inspire respect and liking.

The tale has Reacher in full 'detective mode' and he tends to use his brain rather more than his fists, although there is action enough to satisfy the blood thirstier fans and this also helps to keep the novel rattling along like an unstoppable freight train.

The plotting is of the highest standard - as it always is whenever Lee Child puts pen to paper - and the prose is a technical delight as the reader is given enough information and detail to form mental images and opinions but not so much that the pleasure of our own imaginings is robbed from us.

There are a few moments regular readers will recognise as the making of the legend, such as the buying of his first folding toothbrush and more than enough of the typical brilliance from author and character to satisfy the newcomer.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Ellis - Princes Gate

" I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere and feeling of being out and about during those early days of the war. "

Set in the London of 1940, this story tells of the struggles of Detective Chief Inspector Frank Merlin as he investigates the deaths both of a brilliant scientist in a hit and run accident and of a young attractive woman working for the American embassy. He is hampered by the reluctance of the powers that be to upset any members of the American embassy at a time when support from the USA is vital to the war effort. He is convinced, however, that the solution lies within the walls of the embassy.

The Ambassador, Joseph Kennedy, is well known for his belief that it would be a mistake for the USA to be dragged into a war that he feels Britain will inevitably lose. He would not therefore be amenable to Merlin investigating his staff and questioning their relationship with known appeasers within the British government. Likewise, those known appeasers are unwilling to be very co-operative.

Merlin carries on without a lot of support from his superiors who are also being pressurised to find solutions without involving any sensitive issues.

'Princes Gate' is a memorable trip down history's lane. The descriptions of the looting and black market dealing after bomb attacks reveal that the recent riots and looting in London and other major cities are nothing new. I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere and feeling of being out and about during those early days of the war. The attitudes of those in power and those just struggling to survive are very true to life and help to bring home how much some things have changed.

The attitude of the American ambassador was made much clearer to me and I now understand more why my father had no time at all for Joseph Kennedy!

There are parallels with Laura Wilson's D.I. Stratton as Merlin struggles with life and bureaucracy in Forties London and the implication of some of the British aristocracy in avoiding war with Germany reminded me of the Stephen Poliakoff's film “Glorious 39”.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Shona MacLean - Crucible of Secrets

" MacLean has a PhD in History and her knowledge of the period shines through the book. "

In seventeenth century Aberdeen, the University librarian Robert Sim is found murdered in the college courtyard. He was last seen sorting through a collection of books recently donated by a graduate of the college, who spent most of his life in the Low Countries.

Alexander Seaton is charged by the Principal to investigate the murder in a manner that protects the University's reputation. However Alexander is soon drawn into a web of intrigue that extends beyond the country's borders.

The motive of the killing appears to lie in the pursuit of ancient knowledge and alchemic practices undertaken by some of the city's residents. However Alexander's investigation uncovers some of the secrets of the stonemasons' society and his life is put in danger.

Can Alexander conquer his jealously of his wife's previous suitor and rise above the artisans' squabbles to unmask the true murderer?

Although her last book was set in Northern Ireland, Alexander Seaton is now back in Scotland and the novel is better for it. MacLean has a PhD in History and her knowledge of the period shines through the book. Particularly interesting are her depictions of the working life of the city's artisans. Petty jealousies, long held secrets and suspicion of strangers give a satisfyingly juicy read. The book also reveals the long held links that Scotland had with the academic centres of northern Europe. You are transported to a time of trade, of learning and of intrigue.

With Alexander Seaton, Shona MacLean has developed a robust and well developed character. He loves his wife and children but is driven by his passionate nature which results in misunderstandings and danger. The villain of the book is kept secret until the very end, a plot device that doesn't always work, but in this case the story holds the suspense very well. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sean Black - Grid Lock

"...excites, enthralls and entertains..."

Porn actress Raven Lane is one of the most lusted after women in the USA with a fanbase numbering millions. Finding a headless corpse in the boot of her car make her realise the terrible price that is attached to fame.

Terrified for her safety she turns to bodyguard Ryan Lock when the LAPD do not inspire her with confidence about their ability to protect her. Lock is the go-to guy when you need to prevent bad things happening to good people. Can one man stop the tide of violence that threatens to engulf her and her family?

As events escalate then Lock is drawn into a world where money rules, sex is a commodity and human beings are nothing more than pawns to be sacrificed for the evil-doers own ends.

This is my first meeting with Sean Black and Ryan Lock but it certainly won't be my last. I'm a big fan of crime action thrillers and now I have a new hero to champion. With the writing style of Matt Hilton and the panache of Zoe Sharp, Black excites, enthralls and entertains with the confident aplomb of an author with far more experience under his belt.

Lock is not a new creation in any way, but he does have his individual quirks which single him out and make him his own man. The client, Raven Lane, is a complicated conundrum and she brings much to the novel in a cleverly understated manner. Lock's fiancée, Carrie, and Ty, his partner, provide ample support, although for me Kevin was the best of the support cast.

The pace is as punchy as any of the many fine novels in the genre and the short terse chapters escalate pace and tension in the reader. The plot is nicely laid out and provides more than one shock as the body count steadily rises.

If you are a fan of the genre and are looking for a fast paced, thrilling romp, then Grid Lock is the book for you.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Isabelle Grey - Out of Sight

"It is a credit to this debut novel that the plot, involving a tricky subject for a new writer, never falls into cliché. "

Patrick Hinde is a loving husband and father whose life takes a tragic turn. A visit from his parents provoke tensions within the family and resurrects long-forgotten memories. As his parents prepare to depart, the last conscious memory of Patrick is of strapping his young son into the family car to take him to the childminders. There follows an event that will shatter the lives of Patrick and his family.

Five years later, a man known as Patrice is practising as a homeopath in a small village in south-west France. He attracts the attention of a young English woman, desperate to settle down and have a child. But Patrice, although obviously attracted to Leonie, seems unwilling to commit to a relationship and evades questions about his past. Soon events reach a crisis and old tragedies resurface.

Although not a traditional crime novel, this book is a psychological portrait of a deeply damaged man. The shattering event is detailed early on in the book and is done in a calm and dispassionate way. This allows the reader to imagine the full horror of what has happened and maintains the suspense as the plot moves forward five years.

When the location moves to France it is made clear that Partick and Patrice are the same person and the book becomes a portrait of a damaged man.

It is a credit to this debut novel that the plot, involving a tricky subject for a new writer, never falls into cliché. It is not a redemption love story and Patrick is still making choices – for right or wrong – up until the end of the book. As the author makes clear, there are no easily solutions in this type of situation.

The clear prose and complex subject make this a thought provoking debut novel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Craig Russell - The Deep Dark Sleep

"This book is so noir, the pictures in my head were in black and white!"

When human remains are recovered from the bottom of the river Clyde by a dredger it is not that unusual an event; however these remains have been there for eighteen years and are suspected to belong to missing gangster, Gentleman Joe Strachan, who was once Glasgow's most successful and ruthless armed robber.

Isa and Violet, Strachan's daughters, turn to Lennox for help in finding out who has been sending them bundles of cash on the anniversary of their father's largest job. Lennox' instincts and experience tell him that the pursuit of the girl's benefactor will once again plunge him into the world of the three kings who rule the Glaswegian crime community.

He takes the job regardless and soon learns that ignoring his instincts may very well cost him his life.

Once again, we are plunged into the murky 'noir' world of Lennox, the three kings and Glasgow in the mid fifties. This book is so noir, the pictures in my head were in black and white!

Lennox is again at his sardonic best, yet there is a slightly vulnerable air to him which is always at its greatest in the company of a particular lady. Jock Ferguson is a fine foil for Lennox, along with Archie, Lennox's hired help. Leonora Bryson had a marvellous input as well. Although the real star of the novel is Lennox there is a fantastic Cameo from Mr Simpson to rival the impact of “Tony the Pole” in The Long Glasgow Kiss.

One of Russell's greatest skills is being able to give such fantastic characterisations with such little dialogue and commentary. Mr Simpson had about five lines and he is still in my head days after finishing the novel.

The plot is intelligently intricate without being complicated and carries the novel along like a river in the days following a flood - with rapids, whirlpools and enough eddies to catch your breath without ever feeling totally safe. Prose is a malleable tool to an author of this quality and I can but envy at his talent for creating atmosphere, characters and mental images.

Do yourself a favour and go back 60 years with Lennox. You'll be in excellent company!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Asa Larsson - Until Thy Wrath Be Past

" It is a strange world where it is not too impossible to believe that ghosts can speak and even influence the actions of the living."

Rebecka Martinsson is a prosecutor working in the far north of Sweden, having returned to the area from Stockholm. When a young woman's body is discovered in the spring as the ice in the rivers begins to melt she connects the disappearance with the feelings she has had of a ghost watching her.

Martinsson works with the Police Inspector, Anna-Maria Mella, on investigating what has happened to the girl and where her boyfriend, who disappeared at the same time, could possibly be.

The two mysteries appear to be linked to the past and to the relationships of some of the inhabitants to the Germans who were working in Sweden during the Second World War. Sweden was neutral but many Swedes were unhappy at the behaviour of the Nazi troops and supported their occupied neighbour, Norway, in any way they could. Not everyone did, however, and the actions of some people at that time come back to haunt them in the present.

Many of the Scandinavian writers of crime fiction use the reactions to the Nazis in the war and the small section of the community who still support extreme views as a backdrop or instigator of the crimes they write about - Henning Mankel and newcomer Thomas Enger amongst others. It seems apposite in the light of the recent horrific acts in Norway.

In this case, shame over early collaboration is what drives on the plot. There is an exploration of the way the early act of betrayal preys on minds and actions and poisons the lives of several generations.

The atmosphere of the remote, beautiful and harsh countryside is lovingly portrayed and something of the remoteness and mysterious appeal is brought to life. It is a strange world where it is not too impossible to believe that ghosts can speak and even influence the actions of the living.

There is a wave of Nordic writers being introduced to the English-speaking world, particularly after the success of Stieg Larsson. Asa Larsson has her own voice and I did enjoy the book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Oliver Stark - 88 Killer

"...bleak, disturbing and strangely captivating..."

When a teenage girl is abducted, a woman is shot dead during a robbery and a young man's body is discovered wrapped in barbed wire the three crimes seem unconnected. However, when NYPD detective Tom Harper and psychologist Denise Levene start to investigate the young man's tortuous death they begin to piece together a series of horrific crimes.

They are up against a killer who has nothing to lose and they are given only one chance to snare the monster for who hate is just the beginning.

I was intrigued by this book from the very first moment I received it. The title and cover are very evocative and what lies beneath the cover is a dark descent into racial hatred of the worst kind.

This novel is bleak, disturbing and strangely captivating as both Harper and Levene try to understand the incredibly twisted mind of the killer.

The absence of condemnation for the killer's thought processes and motivation is a nice touch as any sane reader would feel repulsion for the motives. Not ramming it down our throats shows the author respects the reader to come to the right conclusions regardless of their race.

Harper makes an interesting lead although slightly clichéd. Eddie Kasper works well as the comedy sidekick who leavens the action and depravity with gentle humour. Levene is a complex character who I can see growing more and more into the role as future novels are written. The villains of the piece were suitably noxious with none more so than Sturbe. The enigmatic character Mac is a fantastic addition.

The pace is steady throughout before the final reveal sets off a rollercoaster finale. The prose is direct and to the point with little room for unnecessary witterings.

All told, 88 Killer is a fine read from an author who will probably go on to win much acclaim, both professional and public. However the subject matter here is a strong one and may distress fainter hearts.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Casey - The Reckoning

"...hard to put down."

To the public, he's a hero: a killer who targets convicted paedophiles.

Two men are dead already - tortured to death.

Even the police don't regard the cases as a priority. Most feel that two dead paedophiles is a step in the right direction.

But to DC Maeve Kerrigan, no one should be allowed to take the law into their own hands. Young and inexperienced, Kerrigan wants to believe that murder is murder no matter what the sins of the victim. However, as the killer's violence begins to escalate, she is forced to confront exactly how far she's prepared to go to ensure justice is served.

Although part of a series featuring DC Maeve Kerrigan, the Reckoning is the first book I have read by this author.

Throughout the book there are numerous references to previous events and I feel I would have appreciated the story and characters more had I have read the books in sequence as there was a lot of history I had no knowledge of, and, unlike some other authors, Casesy makes reference to these events without giving any further explanations.

The main character, Maeve Kerrigan, was quite hard to like at times. I found her to be rather too dogmatic, stubborn, and in some ways emotionally immature. Maybe this made her more 'life like' but I found her obstinance to be rather irritating. That said, the other characters did not have this effect on me.

The plot was rather clever and moved from one story to another, with many different threads and events, makng for a thriller with a different take on it.

Although I enjoyed the author's style of writing, I was confused when three quarters of the way through the book, instead of it being written from Maeve's perpective in the first person suddenly shifted to another character. I felt this was too far into the book to work and found it hard to follow which character was narrating.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy this book and found it hard to put down.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alafair Burke - Long Gone

"... some beautiful twists to prevent the reader from guessing too much too soon. "

After being unemployed for several months, Alice Humphrey gets her dream job as manager of a Manhattan art gallery in a trendy district. Her recruiter, Drew Campbell, informs her the gallery is a passion for the reclusive and nameless owner.

Arriving for work one morning Alice walks unaware into a nightmare. The gallery is deserted apart from Drew Campbell. However, he is dead. Murdered by foes unknown and before she knows it Alice is at the centre of the police's investigation as every last piece of evidence points to her being the culprit.

This book is the kind written by authors such as Simon Kernick and Linwood Barclay where the hero is an innocent caught up in events which are out of their control. Burke has a sublime knack of making you like her characters whether they are good or evil and you can really empathise with her lead, Alice.

There is a long build-up to the moment when Alice discovers the body and some may criticise the long delay when other authors would have had the find on page 2 not some hundred pages later. However, the decision to hold off with the murder which precipitates the headlong adventure gives the author room to flex her literary muscle and draw out the characters and their respective relationships, dispensing with the need for pace-slowing flashbacks or explanations.

Each character is drawn with a consummate skill, although none other than Alice and Jeff really got under my skin. The plot is straightforward enough with some beautiful twists to prevent the reader from guessing too much too soon. The prose is a joy to behold and the simple sub-plot of Alice standing on her own feet without her father's help is one which speaks volume for the author and her own determination not to trade on her father's name. (Her father is the internationally acclaimed author James Lee Burke!)

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Linda Castillo - Breaking Silence

"The plot is fast-moving and I really enjoy Castillo's writing."

When Chief of Police, Kate Burkholder, is called to a farm in the Amish community of Painter's Creek, nothing could prepare her for the horror and tragedy she encounters. Solly and Rachel Slabaugh, and his brother Abel, have drowned in the hog pit leaving the four children as orphans. As the investigation progresses, it seems that the Slabaugh deaths were not an accident and the case suddenly becomes a murder enquiry.

Agent John Tomasetti and Kate have worked together before and now he is called back to Painter's Creek to help seek out the perpetrators of what appear to be serious hate crimes against the Amish. Whether these crimes and the Slabaugh murders are linked is hard to establish because the Amish are very proud and private people who do not enjoy involvement from outside.

As the case deepens, Kate develops a bond with the children, particularly the 15-year-old daughter, Solome. Maybe she is reminded of herself at that age, and maybe there's something about this case which stirs up memories for her. The events surrounding the deaths puzzle her – something doesn't feel right. As more information comes to light a tragic incident turns into something much more shocking...

Breaking Silence, as with Castillo's previous two books are based around an ex-Amish Chief of Police and crimes within and against the Amish community.

Chief Kate Burkholder is a good lead character. Strong, but not without her flaws. Whilst I found the previous two novels interesting, being set in the Amish community, I found the third one a little too similar and would like to see Kate working on non-Amish crimes.

The plot is fast-moving and I really enjoy Castillo's writing. I find there is the right amount of information and description without being superfluous or repetitive. There are two crimes being investigated simultaneously, a spate of hate-crimes and a triple death which is soon discovered to be murder.

With a few suspects, Kate's investigations eventually track down the murderer, but motives and the person behind the crimes is not fully revealed until later in the book.

Overall an enjoyable read - perhaps losing some of the impetus from the first book but still a great plot.

Reviewed by: H.A.

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