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Reviews

December 2011

Sheila Quigley - Nowhere Man

"...packs a punch that Ali himself would be wary of!"

Synopsis:
DI Mike Yorke is not a man to blur the lines between work and play. When a mysterious group of families influence world events, a separate group of women oppose them. With a teen diabetic called Shelly roaming the streets intent on revenge, all these factors in his life lead Yorke to set off on his own private investigation. To make matters worse his beloved Aunt May lies in a coma and his two adoptive brothers David and Tony are also mixed up in the grand conspiracy. Not daring to trust anyone, including Smiler the psychic kid he rescued from the streets of London.

With the drug factory now redundant and a whole host of enslaved children returned to their families he should be moving onto his next case. However the horrors won't leave him and just when he thinks he has seen the worst, he discovers more horrific goings on.

Review:
With Nowhere Man, Quigley has picked up mere hours after where Thorn in My Side finished. There may have been a year between releases but the transition is seamless as the author moves into new chapters.

The lead of Mike Yorke has progressed as a character as I thought he was rather weak and clichéd in “Thorn”. However he is a much stronger lead this time out and manages to hold his own among such fantastically strong characters as Aunt May and the almost legendary Smiler (becoming a legend in two outings is quite an achievement) Rita, too deserves a mention as does the distraught Danny.

There are a multitude of different threads running throughout the fabric of the novel and Quigley's adroit switching between various characters creates tightrope levels of tension every step of the way. The pace varies between frantic and manic to such extent, that my page turning finger now sports a blister. The twists and convolutions of the plot are easily enough followed without ever being patronising to the reader and the underlying message of media manipulation strengthens as the book approaches a reveal worthy of David Blaine.

You'll be left counting down the days until the third and final part of the trilogy is released next year. Together Sheila Quigley and Smiler pack a punch that Ali himself would be wary of!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Smith - 11 The Hard Way

"’11 The Hard Way’ is a marvellous and eclectic mix"

Synopsis:
11 The Hard Way is an e-book containing eleven crime short stories by new writer Graham Smith. The settings are eclectic, ranging from small town Scotland to the US Presidential office. You see crime within the home, outside on the streets and at high policy level.

What links these stories is that crime and mayhem abounds in these vignettes of modern life, embracing age-old themes such as betrayal, retribution and political intrigue.

Review:
I'm a big fan of crime short stories and always get excited when a new writer appears. The e-publishing world has expanded over the last couple of years and seems particularly suited to short stories which can be picked up and put down at leisure. '11 The Hard Way' gives eleven slices of modern crime and draws you into the narrative particularly from the victim's point of view.

Graham Smith has used the book to show his range of writing styles, featuring stories written in the first and third person. A couple of the stories ('There Goes the Bride' and 'Under the Cover of the Streets') feature policemen and are interesting whodunnits. Others ('Shooting Stars' and 'Adult Education') are more thrillers with a macabre and wry feel to the writing. I liked the stories that take place within the home. These can be the most uncomfortable to read, when fear enters the comfort of your own abode and these stories I thought worked particularly well. '11 The Hard Way' is a marvellous and eclectic mix and one that gives us a taste of things to come as this new author branches out in his chosen genre. An assured debut of stories and I am convinced we will see more from Graham Smith as he develops his talent even further.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R. J. Ellory - Bad Signs

"This is a stellar work of fiction that deserves to be on everyone’s reading list."

Synopsis:
Orphaned by an act of senseless violence that took their mother from them, half-brothers Clarence Luckman and Elliott Danziger have been raised in state institutions, unaware of any world outside.
Their lives take a sudden turn when they are seized as hostages by a convicted killer en route to death row. Earl Sheridan is a psychopath of the worst kind, but he has the potential to change the boys' lives forever. As the trio set off on a frenetic escape from the law through California and Texas, the two brothers must come to terms with the ever-growing tide of violence that follows in their wake - something that forces them to make a choice about their lives, and their relationship to one another.

Review:
Bad Signs is a road trip novel that sweeps you up and haunts you long after you have finished the book and set it aside. As with all of Ellory's oeuvre, we are treated to an experience that is rich with detail and heightened with emotion. In fact, so convincing is his sense of time and place that you feel you are holding a chunk of 60's Americana in your hand.

The two brothers are an examination of our best and worst impulses. Why do we act the way we do? Nature or nurture? Are some people really born under a bad sign, or are those who give in to their darkest inclinations forced to do so by circumstance?

The boys share different fathers, but the same mother. One brother maintains his innocence despite all of the external and internal pressures, while the other travels down a path that has only two destinations at the end: a chair wired to the national grid or a bullet.
Here, in this brother's gradual deterioration, R J Ellory displays his skill as a writer. We experience the boy's influences, his neurosis and his insecurities and we are there as fully engaged observers while he takes his first tentative step into violence and his shaking, puking, terrified delight. From there, he simply can't turn back.
The other brother's journey is equally compelling and the writer racks up the tension by the simple but hugely effective expedient of introducing a mix-up of identities. The “good” brother becomes the guileless prey hunted by every law-enforcement agency in the country, while his brother glee-fully goes on the hunt and punishes every imagined slight in increasingly violent ways. Will the truth become known before a “shoot to kill” order is carried out?

Will your fingernails ever grow back? Maybe I'm becoming a wimp as I grow older, but there were several times during the race to the end that the tension became too much for me and I had to set the book aside for a few minutes. Now, that is good writing. This is a stellar work of fiction that deserves to be on everyone's reading list. Loved it.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Bale - Blood Falls

"...Bale has produced a high octane thriller where the stranger rides into town and saves the day."

Synopsis:
Joe Clayton mistakenly assumed he'd escaped the dangers of his former career as an undercover policeman. One grey October morning, while working in a quiet Bristol suburb he overheard the voice of the man who had sworn to kill him. Within minutes Joe is running for his life.

He decides to go to the Cornish town of Trelennan, where an old colleague's widow now lives. However when he arrives at her door Diane Bamber reacts oddly to his arrival. Before long Joe has discovers that all is not what it seems in sleepy Trelennan.

One man controls the town and Leon Race does not welcome strangers who may upset his applecart: especially ex-cops who start investigating the disappearance of young women. Soon Joe finds himself going undercover once more, but as he delves into the secrets of Trelennan his own dark secret edges closer to catching up with him.

Review:
Tom Bale writes excellent old style thrillers which do what they say on the tin – they thrill! 'Blood Falls' is an enthralling tale which sees Joe Clayton step into a Reacher type role when he turns up in a town and ends up helping the townsfolk at great risk to himself.

What makes 'Blood Falls' stand apart, is the way that Joe himself is estranged from his wife and family simply because he did the right thing. This allows the author to play with his character's emotions without ever letting the action decrease. On the opposite side of the coin are Leon Race and his array of henchmen. Race is a formidable opponent for Joe and his deviously evil scheming ramp up the tension.

The pace starts off fast and increases steadily throughout the novel before culminating in a fantastic finale. The prose is accomplished and one or two phrases are so deft they will remain in the readers mind for days. All in all Bale has produced a high octane thriller where the stranger rides into town and saves the day.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kate Ellis - Kissing the Demons

"A marvellous little Gothic cracker. "

Synopsis:
When a DNA match is found relating to a twelve year old disappearance Joe Plantagenet and his superior officer, DCI Emily Thwaite are put on the case which is of a sensitive nature. The match comes from a handkerchief found at the scene where two fifteen year old girls went missing. The man who is a match? A local, high profile politician, Barrington Jenks. Their soft enquiries lead them to 13 Torland Place, a house full of students – one of them missing since the previous day. And so the pair step right in to an investigation, one that echoes from the past for the house is the same place Obediah Shrowton slaughtered his family and servants over a hundred years ago. And are the sounds being made in the house the killer back from the dead? Or is it a killer who is now mutilating young girls? And what is the meaning of 'Kissing the Demons'?

The mystery gets deeper and deeper as they explore the life of the first murdered girl with the death of the sister of one of the suspects. Meanwhile, Plantagenet must deal with his own personal demons in the form of his sister-in-law who accuses him of murder. As the net closes round their quarry they realise that death has been stalking the streets of Eborby for many, many years and that nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Review:
'Kissing the Demons' is a quasi-mix of murder mystery and Gothic horror. All her characters seem in someway ephemeral and I presume that this is in keeping with the Gothic side of the coin where haunted houses and Deliverance Ministers add an extra dimension to what could have been a 'normal' police procedural in another author's hands. However, with Ellis she uses the haunted house theme well, and with Plantagenet's ecclesiastical past there is also the question of do ghosts really exist or is there a natural explanation to these phenomena? I won't divulge, but what I will say is this is a very competent mystery that had extremely interesting characters, some I would have liked to be a bit more 'fleshed out'.

I have never read any of Ellis' work before but I will definitely go back and catch up on the rest of the Plantagenet series. 'Kissing the Demons' is an extremely well written novel that had shots of Christie entwined with moments of M. R. James. A marvellous little Gothic cracker.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

H. Terrell Griffin - Collateral Damage

"The plot is as twisted and tangled as the extension lead at the back of my garage..."

Synopsis:
The tranquil beauty of Longbeach Key is destroyed when a sniper's bullet kills a young groom one day after his wedding. The man's father is an old army buddy of Matt Royal, and when he asks for help Matt immediately agrees to help track down the murderer.

Matt's investigation has added difficulty when there appears to be a link between this murder and three unrelated murders which took place on the same day aboard a cruiser.

Logan Hamilton, Jock Algren and J.D. Duncan are there to lend a hand as the mystery deepens and gets ever more dangerous for Matt.

Review:
Matt Logan is the unlikely hero once again as his lifestyle which is only one step above that of a beach bum is interrupted and he rides to his friend's rescue. Matt entertains the reader with both brains and brawn and is most ably assisted by Jock, Logan and J.D. For me it is J.D. who is the character who best compliments Logan. The interplay and budding romance between the two saves him from caricature and adds necessary depth.

The plot is as twisted and tangled as the extension lead at the back of my garage and the reader has to pay increasing attention lest they become lost. The pace snowballs from a fairly sedentary start to an explosive finish where the final reveal comes with stunning reasoning.

The prose is tender and tough as required and maintains atmosphere, dialogue or suspense. All in all Collateral Damage is a fine read which questions the actions taken during war.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hakan Nesser - The Unlucky Lottery

"...an excellent and absorbing read."

Synopsis:
Four friends win 20,000 euros on the lottery and have an evening out to celebrate. Hours later, one of them is found stabbed to death in his home. With Chief Inspector Van Veeteren on sabbatical, the murder investigation is led by Inspector Munster and his team. Suspicion initially falls on the other members of the syndicate – with one of them out of the way the prize is now divisible by three. However when one of the victim's neighbours is reported missing and another member of the lottery group disappears, the case threatens to implode.

Munster is forced to delve into the secrets of a family who would prefer to forget the past. A surprise confession seemingly brings the case to its conclusion but loose ends remain tantalisingly unanswered.

Review:
Hakan Nesser's Van Veeteren books have a loyal following in the UK. This new offering has many of the elements that we have come to expect from Nesser's books – a complex plot, multiple points of view and a wry narrative voice. This is one of his best books yet. Despite the initial murder being connected with a lottery win, the plot in fact revolves around family secrets. Nesser deals with this well-worn subject adeptly and in a sensitive way. The relative absence of Van Veeteren could have been a downside of this book but in fact the character of Munster holds up very well. His relationship with his wife Synn is touchingly narrated as is the temptation of the attractive Ewa Moreno.

The book was published in the 1990s and most of the action hasn't really dated. They have left the dates in the narrative so it can come as a surprise to the reader to find out that the action isn't taking place in the present day. I thought the book an excellent and absorbing read.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chevy Stevens - Never Knowing

"Once you have started a book like this there is no way you can put it down until the last page has been finished."

Synopsis:
At thirty-four Sara Gallagher is finally happy. Her antique furniture restoration business is taking off and she's engaged to a wonderful man. But there's one big question that still haunts her — who are her birth parents? Sara is finally ready to find out. Some questions are better left unanswered.

Sara's birth mother rejects her—again. Then she discovers her biological father is an infamous killer who's been hunting women every summer for over thirty years. Sara tries to come to terms with her horrifying parentage — and her fears that she's inherited more than his looks — with her therapist, Nadine, who we first met in Still Missing. But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out your father is a killer is him finding out about you.

Review:
Steven's has written another excellent psychological thriller with a new and different plot angle. Sara is looking for her birth parents after being adopted, only to find that her father is an infamous serial killer. He finds out that he has a daughter and wants contact with her. I found the numerous conversations between father and daughter at times to be somewhat tedious, and Sara could also be rather too dogmatic and pig-headed to be totally likeable.

Stevens has a great ability to really get into someone's mind and together with writing an excellent thriller, she also brings the human and emotional element to the page. I did find the 'sessions' with the therapist did not work as well as they did in her first book, the fantastic 'Still Missing', (which I am still recommending to people). Whether this was due to the different plot or just because the idea was no longer novel I am not sure.

However, this was a really great read and I am glad not all books are as good as this one or I would be reading when I need to be doing other things. Once you have started a book like this there is no way you can put it down until the last page has been finished.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

J. B. Hughes - The Glass Tower

"...in the book each person’s narrative was equally interesting and gave the reader a different view of the ‘glass tower.’"

Synopsis:
Sino and Gideon are Chinese and African graduates who have been taken on at a multi-national corporation. They go through the motions required by the corporate world but both are jaded by business jargon and sick of participating in the culture that is required in the glass tower that houses the Corporate HQ. But they are also both aware that multi-nationalism is the only way to escape their respective countries' grinding poverty, even if it means sacrificing their traditional family ties.

Meanwhile, Sam the Chairman of the company and his step-mother in law, Catherine lock horns over the future of the company. In order to survive, they must look at their traditional business practices and find new ways of operating in twenty first century corporate life. However, a family tragedy means that all protagonists have to reassess their attitude to the world around them.

Review:
The Glass Tower is an interesting book that shifts between countries and multiple character points of view to create a story of modern corporate life. In essence everyone is connected in some way to the huge organisation whether they are owner, employee, relative or customer. The company is not viewed in this book as an entity in itself but as a construction where all people are complicit in its identity. I liked the fact that in the book each person's narrative was equally interesting and gave the reader a different view of the 'glass tower.'

Although not a crime novel, there is a crime at the heart of the book that affects the course of the narrative. At times, this killing I felt got lost in the overall emphasis of the corporate rather than the personal, although I thought the writing was particularly good around the setting of South Africa.

The author has obviously travelled the world and is comfortable describing countries on four continents. It is an interesting book and would particularly appeal to those who have ever come into contact with the paradoxes of multinational life.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lindsay Ashford - The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen

"...you will certainly enjoy this different slant on an intriguing mystery."

Synopsis:
In 1805 Anne Sharp goes to be governess to the children of Edward Austen, brother to the celebrated novelist, Jane. During that summer Anne gets to know the family and begins to notice that there are unusual emotions and relationships just under the surface. Outwardly a close family, the Austen's seem to be hiding a secret that cannot be divulged, yet perhaps Jane describes events and characters in her novels that will reveal too much for those closely involved. At the same time Anne and Jane develop a strong friendship that on Anne's part becomes something much more heartfelt.

As summer progresses, Anne notices more and more and believes she has detected something unthinkable. Jane seems to agree with her. When Anne oversteps the mark she is asked to leave and goes to be companion to an elderly lady in the north. She hears less and less from Jane and is shocked to hear of her death. When the circumstances are described to her, her suspicions are aroused. Was Jane's death entirely natural?

Review:
Starting from Jane Austen's early death and the unsatisfactory explanation of it, Lindsay Ashford weaves a tale describing a possible scenario. Using her novelist's imagination, the author develops the characters of the time and puts passionate flesh on the bones of the Austen family and their household. Factual information and research contribute to the realism of the book and make for a fascinating interpretation of the facts. It provides an insight into the life of a middle class family in early nineteenth century England, whilst describing a mystery that takes time and intellect to unravel.

If you are a fan of Jane Austen and like something a little quirky, you will certainly enjoy this different slant on an intriguing mystery.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kjell Eriksson - The Hand That Trembles

"...Kjell Eriksson is a worthy addition to the list of ‘Nordic Crime’."

Synopsis:
When Sven-Arne Persson walks out of a business meeting in Uppsala, Sweden, and never returns, it is assumed that he has committed suicide. However, eighteen years later an old neighbour spots him in a Delhi restaurant and Persson's secret identity falls apart.

Meanwhile in Sweden, Ann Lindell is investigating the discovery of a foot washed up on the beach. It seems to be related to a Thai girl that went missing from a remote village. Ann's boss Berglund is recovering from surgery and to keep his mind occupied, he delves into an unsolved murder involving a man beaten to death. Something connects all three cases and Ann Lindell and her team work to solve these decade's old mysteries.

Review:
'The Hand that Trembles' is an excellent follow-up to Eriksson's previous book 'The Princess of Burundi'. The novel has multiple narratives and is written from a range of points of view. This can initially be a bit confusing but once the plot gets going, the reader is drawn into the excellent mystery. Of the three strands of the book, all are equally compelling and the link between the different narratives isn't at all clear until the denouement which is quite an achievement. Ann Lindell is a much more sympathetic character in this book than the previous novel and I liked the way she reacts emotionally to the people around her.

There is plenty of Swedish fiction to choose from but if this book is anything to go by then Kjell Eriksson is a worthy addition to the list of 'Nordic Crime'.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Waters - Trust No One

"...Walters nails it every time."

Synopsis:
Undercover police officer Marie Donovan is working among some of Manchester's most perilous criminals. It's a dangerous life that has Marie on the edge of the law. She begins an affair with Jake Morton, an informer due to give evidence against her main target – Jeff Kerridge. She knows she's breaking a cardinal rule but has fallen for the man.

Just as she's coming to her senses and is about to end the affair Morton is brutally murdered. With her undercover role in jeopardy and not knowing who she can trust Marie has to operate on instinct alone as she is certain of only one thing: there's no one she can trust.

Review:
This is a new series created by an author who already has books published under a different name (Alex Walters is the pseudonym). There is a magnificent attention to detail throughout and a wonderful sense of place. Marie is a strong feisty character who is thrust into a whole new undercover world. With Hugh Salter and Keith Welsby as her handlers she has to infiltrate the dealings of Kerridge and his associates.

Marie is left adrift when things turn bad, with the enigmatic Salter and ageing Welsby possibly being the ones to betray her. Friends and foes alike exchange places leaving her alone. Many other female characters would have either cried for help or broke out the guns. Instead Marie remains calm and tries to untangle the twisted tale. Her ill partner, Liam creates an excellent balance to her situation and shows where priorities really lie.

Without massive amounts of action or detection, the author does well to drive the novel forward at such a pace. It is one of those novels where you go to put it down and find yourself an hour later still reading away. For me the strongest feature was the atmosphere created by the wonderfully descriptive prose. Whether talking about an event or the Manchester skyline Walters nails it every time.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Baty - Vintage Connor (The Blonde in the Lotus Elise)

"...Vintage Connor was a fine read..."

Synopsis:
Ray Connor once wore a badge but now he has left the force and taken up a life where he finds classic cars for collectors. He has swapped the Crown Vic of the police for a vintage Alfa Romeo. Life couldn't be much sweeter for him until his ex Evie comes calling with a tale of woe.

Before he knows it, he is drawn into an ever more complicated and dangerous scenario as he investigates the death of Evie's daughter which police have ruled as a suicide. Old school detective methods collide with a tale of intrigue and suspense.

Review:
Baty has created a typically neo-noir LA detective thriller which ticks all the requisite boxes: loner detective, damsel in distress, nefarious felons and the sprawling backdrop of LA. Except that this is set in the modern day and the only 50's characters are the vintage cars which Connor both sells and drives.

With old cars playing such a large part of the novel – in much the way that horseracing featured in any Dick Francis novel – I found myself hoping and praying for a decent car chase between two of yesteryears stars. Sadly this was not to be, I reckon the author couldn't bear the thought of trashing two old beauties even if it was just across a page.

Connor is a capable lead without bringing much new to the role and the other main characters all fit nicely into their allotted roles. It is the evil Nash Wagner who most caught my attention. The prose is short and punchy, with just enough description to give a flavour instead of an overpowering taste. While the plot is nothing new, neither is it formulaic. Instead it provides the framework for the author to display his excellent dialogue skills and his obvious love of classic cars.

Altogether Vintage Connor was a fine read without blazing any new ground. I'm just pleased that I managed to write the review without making any kind of Top Gear type remark about the classic cars role play. And on that bombshell…

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating: