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Reviews

March 2011

Simon Beckett - Calling to the Grave

"The plot swirls the reader back and forth like tendrils of moor mist caught in a breeze..."

Synopsis:
Eight years ago, a buried body was discovered on Dartmoor. Police were certain that the body belonged to a victim of the rapist and psychotic serial killer Jerome Monk. There were still 2 victim's bodies to be found and an ill-conceived search ended badly. Life moved on for forensic anthropologist David Hunter and the rest of the team as momentum waned and the bodies were left unfound.

Fast-forward to the present day and Monk has escaped from prison and appears to be targeting anyone connected with the ill-fated search operation. Lured back to the moors by a cry for help, Hunter realises that things are not what they seem now, and they weren't eight years ago either.

As Monk's violent spree moves ever closer to him, the past is suddenly anything but dead and buried...

Review:
I have never before read any of Simon Beckett's books, which is very strange as he is one of the very few crime authors who my wife reads and raves about. I have always meant to read one and never gotten around to it yet. This next statement hurts; I wish I'd listened to her and read a Simon Beckett book years ago, as I loved this book!

There are more than a few layers to this book; with the past and present colliding and the overwhelming desire to find the bodies of Monk's last two victims casting an eerie spell over the book. The setting of Dartmoor is a masterstroke and its open spaces, combined with the all encompassing thick mists make for a very dark place indeed at times. The pacing is initially un-remarkable until suddenly what started out as a routine forensics case becomes a fully blown action piece manhunt. The combining of these styles works incredibly well due in no small part to the authors tight, tense prose and deftness of touch with the emotive reactions of both character and reader.

Hunter is a fine creation and his thoughts and explanations of forensic details make for interesting and informative narration. Police officers play their part in the story with the usual mix of ambition, incompetence and integrity. The most notable of these are Roper, Simms, Naysmith and Connors. Another wonderful character who deserves a mention for the way she is stunningly depicted is Sophie Keller. I cannot praise the creation of Jerome Monk highly enough as he is a masterpiece of malignancy who impacts the story harder than any wrecking ball has ever hit a building.

The plot swirls the reader back and forth like tendrils of moor mist caught in a breeze, before the final stand-off reveals all the hidden truths. There is much to hold a reader's attention and while reading this in the bath I twice added more hot water because I didn't want to stop reading. I did make a couple of the connections and guess ahead correctly, but this is one of the joys of reading such books. If you can get something right once in a while then not only are you being entertained by the story, you are also subconsciously patting yourself on the back.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Carl Hiaasen - Star Island

"Newbies to Hiaasen, I envy you; familiars, you are in for more wonders."

Synopsis:
Twenty-two-year-old pop star Cherry Pye is attempting a comeback from her latest drug and alcohol disaster. Ann DeLusia is Cherry's 'undercover stunt double', standing in for Cherry whenever the singer is too wasted to go out in public. But, one night, Ann-as-Cherry is mistakenly kidnapped from a Miami hotel by an obsessed paparazzo named Bang Abbott.

Cherry's entourage comprise of the world's pushiest stage mother; a perverted record producer; nipped-and-tucked twin publicists; and a bodyguard who has a weed-strimmer as a part of his prosthetic arm. The task for this collective is to rescue Ann while keeping her existence secret from the public.

Will Bang achieve his fantasy of a private photo session – a la Marilyn Monroe - with Cherry? Will Cherry sober up in time to lip-synch her concert tour and promote her new album, Skantily Klad? And will Ann escape from Bang Abbott and Cherry's shadow?

Review:
Nobody does it quite like Hiaasen and in Star Island he carries on his tradition of making his reader laugh while tweaking their conscience. This is a book I would have loved to have the wit and intelligence to write.

Star Island is a laugh-a-paragraph romp through South Beach, Florida, but it is much, much more than that. It is a great big V-sign to the celebrity culture that seems to fill our every waking moment. You want to see the paparazzi get their comeuppance? Get yourself down to your local bookshop and pick up a copy of this book.

Crime fiction as a genre is one that normally trades on a realism that's sharp enough to cut your nails with, but with Hiaasen you have to set that notion aside as soon as he starts describing his characters. Kooky, is only half of it. Chief nut-job this time round is Bang Abbott; the depiction of a character so vile he will have every paparazzi dialling their lawyer. He's fat and rancid (washing gets in the way of stalking time, dontcha know?) and his moral condition is permanently dialled to “Couldn't Give A Flying F---”. He has only one thought in his mind: to get the one photo that will ensure his fortune.

We first meet Cherry Pye, the star of the story when she is vomiting into a silver-­plated ice bucket, en route to hospital after swallowing vodka, Red Bull, hydrocodone, birdseed and stool softener in the drug-enthused belief that she might be reborn as a cockatoo. Getting the picture? But not to worry. Ann DeLusia, Cherry's “undercover stunt double,” is already on the job, impersonating the dozy diva while Ms Pye is driven off to rehab.

Given the larger-than-life aspect of most of his characters, Hiaasen could be accused of assembling a cast of caricatures, but he is so deliciously funny, as a reader you really don't care. The satire and the humour is all. I could go on... and on and frequently do when I'm talking about a Carl Hiassen novel, but you should really find out for yourself. Newbies to Hiaasen, I envy you; familiars, you are in for more wonders.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Crais - The Sentry

"...a good mix of corruption, betrayal and revenge... "

Synopsis:
Five years ago, Dru Rayne and her uncle fled from Louisiana to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina hit, but now they face a different kind of danger. A neighborhood protection gang savagely beats Dru's uncle, but Pike witnesses it and offers his own brand of protection. Oddly enough, neither of them seems to want it -- and neither do the federal agents mysteriously watching their storefront, men who appear quite willing to let the gang have its way.

None of that deters Pike -- there's something about Dru that touches him and he won't back away, whether she wants his help or not -- but as the level of violence escalates, and Pike himself becomes a target, he and Elvis Cole begin to discover some things. Dru and her uncle are not who they seem, and everything Pike thought he knew about them, their relationship to the gang, and the reasons they fled New Orleans -- it's all been lies. A vengeful and murderous force is catching up to them... and it's perfectly happy to sweep Pike and Cole up in its wake.

Review:
The rather laconic Pike returns with his best friend and assistant, Elvis Cole, to tackle and solve a crime which at first seems pretty straightforward. But the deeper the pair of them dig, the more complex things become. As ever, Pike and Cole are exceedingly resourceful and Pike in particular seems to have a sixth sense (in most matters) to help him with his job.

Despite Pike saying so little, he is a character who it is impossible to dislike (or maybe this is why he is impossible to dislike!). Both Pike and Cole are those types of characters that seem to have been born as adults as none, or very little is ever mentioned about their earlier lives.

I found Pike's attraction and devotion to Dru rather unlikely after knowing her such a short amount of time and also with Pike being sensitive to anyone trying to pull the wool over his eyes, was disbelieving that he would take others at face value.

The Sentry has a good mix of corruption, betrayal and revenge and is well worth a read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Priscilla Masters - Frozen Charlotte

"‘Frozen Charlotte’ is a neat little puzzle..."

Synopsis:
On a freezing, snowy Shrewsbury night in January, a woman sits in a hospital hour upon hour without being seen by a doctor. It isn't until a conscientious nurse just about to clock off from her lengthy shift decides to see if the woman is alright when she notices her cradling something within a pink blanket. As the nurse questions the woman, she is worried at how fragile this woman seems to be, physically and mentally. It isn't until she sees inside the blanket that the nightmare becomes all too real.

The woman is called Alice Sedgewick and she claims to have found the body of a new-born baby behind the wall in her attic. She says the mummified baby is called Poppy. The mystery deepens when the baby is found to be a boy. Who is Poppy and is there any connection with the dead child? Why is Alice so mentally fragile? Is it because of her husband's domineering personality or something else? Why is there a huge doll's house in the home of a middle-aged couple with grown up children? The case falls to Detective Inspector Alex Randall and coroner, Martha Gunn to sift through the half truths and outright lies to try and bring justice for a boy who may have live only hours.

Review:
You can tell that Masters, being a nurse herself, is in comfortable surroundings when describing with precision the hospital, its hierarchy and the orderly way procedures are followed. It is here that Masters excels as there is nothing like using your experience and putting it to good use on the page, especially in a crime novel.

What follows the grisly discovery in the hospital reception is a case that could have been mapped out by some of the greats, notably Celia Fremlin who so wonderfully held up a cracked mirror to the simple domesticity of many households. Masters does this with the Sedgewicks and you can feel the underlying tensions in such a fractured family. Also, Masters mirrors Gunn's own domestic set up and her constant concerns with regards to her own children. 'Frozen Charlotte' is a tale all about children, those wanted and those not.

Taking Randall from Shrewsbury to Spain and back again, Masters weaves a tidy little conundrum that keeps you entranced. 'Frozen Charlotte' is a neat little puzzle from an author I have greatly enjoyed over the years and one reader's should discover if they haven't already done so.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Rosenheim - Fear Itself

"Fans of Le Carre, Deighton and all the other great spy masters will thoroughly enjoy Fear Itself."

Synopsis:
A young special agent in the fledgling FBI, Jimmy Nessheim, is tasked with infiltrating a new German-American organisation known as the Bund. The pro-Nazi group are planning the disruption of President Roosevelt's efforts in halting Hitler's march across Europe.

As Nessheims's investigation takes him into the bosom of the Bund, it becomes ever more apparent that something more sinister is afoot, which leads directly to the White House.

Drawn into the heart of Washington's high society, Nessheim becomes entangled in a web of political intrigue and secret lives and discovers a plot which could change history as we know it in the most dramatic fashion.

Review:
An espionage thriller from the word go, Fear Itself is also a thought provoking tome on the divided loyalties of the many Germans who migrated to the land of the free. Set in the days when the cold war was little more than a chill spat, the authors clever use of setting and prose invoke the arguments for and against American participation in World War 2.

Against this atmospheric backdrop is an intricate story of betrayal, loyalty and a desire for the truth as Nessheim unearths some unsavoury facts. There is the mysterious Dreilander who is a deep cover agent of the Wehrmacht, there is an event planned to rally the German immigrants and there is the ever present turf wars within the newly founded FBI.

Nessheim is a strong central character and is most believable apart from the fact that almost every woman he meets ends up in his bed. Guttman, J Edgar Hoover and others all add to the story with their input, yet it all falls down to Nessheim in the end and he has it all to do. While the pace is steady it is never overly ambitious with its intentions and the book benefits from this fact. Other authors would have turned this same story into a more action based thriller whereas Rosenheim has gone for atmosphere and an almost introspective air as well as the action sequences.

Fans of Le Carre, Deighton and all the other great spy masters will thoroughly enjoy Fear Itself.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kevin Brooks - A Dance of Ghosts

"...superb plot, fantastic characters and brilliant writing."

Synopsis:
PI John Craine is struggling to cope with the weight of his past. Sixteen years ago his wife, Stacy, was brutally murdered. Craine found her body in their bed. And since then, to escape the pain and the unanswered questions, he has buried himself in work by day, and whisky by night.

But one phone call changes everything. The mother of missing young woman Anna Gerrish calls on his services, and Craine soon finds himself at the centre of a sinister web of corruption and lies that leads back into the murky waters of the past – and to the night that Craine has spent over a decade trying to forget. As he delves deeper and deeper into the case everything gets increasingly, terrifyingly, personal. And it's down to Craine to stop history from repeating itself.

Review:
An author already established in a different genre, Brooks makes the transition over to crime thrillers quite faultlessly and establishes a firm foothold with a strong lead character that will be easy to develop and feature in future books. It is reading authors such as Brooks that makes me wonder why I usually favour authors from the States, as I couldn't put this book down and found it to be engrossing from the moment I read the first line (although I am still wondering what happened with the insurance claim!).

The only weak part of the plot is it all hinges on a letter sent in 1993. There are also quite a few 'coincidences' in the book, either people that John Craine knows that have been able to help him, or just being in the right place at the right time sort of coincidences, but I didn't let these spoil my enjoyment of the book and thoroughly enjoyed reading A Dance of Ghosts, with my favourite part being the interview with the Sky reporter. Justice served.

A fantastic book from an author why has successfully managed to make the move into the world of crime fiction with a superb plot, fantastic characters and brilliant writing.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Dennis Lehane - Moonlight Mile

"Moonlight Mile is the work of a man confident in his skill-set and willing to both use and flout the conventions of modern crime writing. "

Synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Amanda McCready has gone missing. Her worried aunt contacts Patrick Kenzie to investigate. It is not the first time she has disappeared, as Patrick well knows - he investigated on her case when she was kidnapped before, as a four-year-old.

This is not however, a simple case of a runaway girl. In fact, nothing in Amanda's life has been simple: brought up by someone who would easily qualify as the world's worst mother, neglected throughout her childhood, she has nonetheless grown into a formidably intelligent young woman. A young woman so bright that she can seemingly out-think and out-manoeuvre her teachers, the authorities and the Russian Mafia.

For Patrick, the case leads him down Boston's darkest, most dangerous streets and into a world of shocking secrets that will threaten not only Amanda's life, but also his own and that of his partner Angie Gennaro.

Review:
Those of you familiar with Dennis Lehane's work will instantly recognise the case of the young child who went missing as described in Gone Baby Gone: the book that was made into a movie by Ben Affleck. Lehane brings these characters bang up to date in Moonlight Mile and as luck - and life - would have it, the happy-ever-after ending has been somewhat derailed.

For newbies, there is no need to worry about not having read previous books in the series, as Lehane cleverly gets you up to speed without allowing the possible drag of backstory.

Patrick and Angie have aged in real time and the life issues they face are the same ones as the rest of us at that stage of your life. Issues that are of course heightened by the presence of some very dangerous people. Doing the Right Thing is very much the setting for Patrick's moral compass: a character trait that allows Lehane to manipulate his reader and have them internally debate the shades of gray this ethical stance produces. Patrick continually justifies his actions of more than a decade ago, but the presence of Amanda and how her life has progressed flies in the face of this.

Setting the book in the present day also allows Lehane the opportunity to partake in a bout of social commentary. The aftermath of the credit crunch has left a lot of people disorientated and fearful. This situation is highlighted beautifully in a scene where Patrick and Angie go looking for Amanda and stakeout a local dog-park: the reactions to them by the dog-owners perhaps symptomatic of the viewpoint of America's silent majority.

Moonlight Mile is the work of a man confident in his skill-set and willing to both use and flout the conventions of modern crime writing. While providing issues for you to get your teeth into, the pace never sags, the prose is as tasty as your favourite cup-cake and the dialogue is a continual delight. What's keeping you? Go buy a copy, already.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jon Osborne - Kill Me Once

"Osborne seems very comfortable in his writing style..."

Synopsis:
Nathan Stiedowe is seeking perfection – and he has been learning from the best. Recreating some of the most sickening murders in history, his objective appears chillingly simple, but his true motive remains unclear.

On the trail of this sadistic monster is FBI Special Agent Dana Whitestone. Driven by the brutal childhood slaying of her parents, Dana's relentless pursuit of the most evil and twisted criminals has seen her profile many violent cases. But never has she encountered a maniac as demented as Stiedowe, or a mind as horrifyingly disturbed

Review:
Kill Me Once is the debut novel from Osborne. As with many protagonists, Special Agent Dana Whitestone has her own personal reasons for wanting to join the FBI - the murder of her parents when she was only 4 years old. With the murder still unsolved, it would seem that the most recent case she is working on is somehow linked to her parent's murders.

Despite being a brand new character, Whitestone has a familiar feel to her. With plenty of imperfections and problems of her own, the reader is able to relate and identify with her, and she is a character that is both realistic and easy to like. Assertive without being arrogant.

The plot is pretty complicated and one that probably wont be solved by guesswork by the reader. However, it is still very well written and Osborne seems very comfortable in his writing style and writes like a seasoned professional. The ending is left with the possibility that Whitestone may not return to the FBI, but I am hoping that she will return to law enforcement on some level as I would like to see her return and explore how her character grows and progesses.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - Sleep Like the Dead

"...if you enjoy books by Mark Billingham, Craig Russell, Peter James and their contemporaries then it’s time you added Alex Gray to the list."

Synopsis:
A hitman in Glasgow goes unpaid and his anger compels him to settle his own debts. Elsewhere Marianne Brogan is having nightmares about being stalked by a mysterious shadowy figure. To escalate her tension her brother Billy has disappeared. Billy has connections to Glasgow's criminal underbelly and has always been there for her – until now!

DCI Lorimer and his team are confronted with a string of murders which have no connection other than the professional manner of each victim's execution. Without witnesses or forensic evidence to build a case their investigation is going nowhere. Budget cuts have taken criminal psychologist Solly Brightman away from Lorimer, yet he is more involved than anyone suspects.

As the hitman hatches a gruesome plot to get his money, then the race begins to find out who hired him and who his next target is.

Review:
Yet again Gray plunges deep into Glasgow's underbelly and emerges victorious. This book is an excellent outing for Lorimer and Co. While I'm relatively new to their company having only previously read Five Ways To Kill A Man, I am firmly of the opinion that for both the author and the characters new heights are being scaled with this utterly engrossing novel.

Lorimer's role is almost understated, due to the pitching of the plot as the novel follows the police, Solly, Marianne, Billy and the hitman, yet Lorimer's presence hangs over events even when he is not directly involved. One of the greatest strengths of the writing and the prose is the way that emotions are tackled head on whether they be jealousy, rage, fear, pity or understanding. Few other authors can emote to this level as accurately without losing some of the tension and pace which is needed to drive the novel.


The convolutions of the plot are subtle yet astounding in their believability and the main characters all play vital roles while some fringe characters to the essential plot are there for the purpose of allowing feelings and emotions to be displayed. One person's plight is particularly heart rending and will strike many a chord among readers.

All I can say is, that if you enjoy books by Mark Billingham, Craig Russell, Peter James and their contemporaries then it's time you added Alex Gray to the list.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Adrian Dawson - Codex

"...an epic tale of biblical proportions and consequences. "

Synopsis:
Jack Bernstein's prodigal daughter is killed when Flight 320 fell victim to a bombing in Belgian airspace. The chess grandmaster is told by the authorities it was a terrorist attack and no individual was targeted. This information is wrong.

Bernstein receives a coded message summoning him to a meeting with a mystery man who introduces himself simply as Simon. Jack learns from Simon that Lara had left behind far more than her new life. She had left a secret which had been building for centuries and was under the protection of a global group of corporations.

It soon becomes apparent that Lara's life and death was orchestrated by the shadowy group. Her selection was due to the fact that her father's company Intellisoft led the way in artificial intelligence and was an asset which the group's leader wanted under his control.

Jack Bernstein is drawn inexorably into a global game of chess where the stakes are the survival of mankind as we know it.

Review:
Many readers will draw parallels between Codex and The Da Vinci Code,.Some will say Codex is riding on the shirt tails of Dan Brown's work, but this is not so, Codex was written before Angels and Demons. The only real connection between the 2 books is that both authors have chosen to explode Christian beliefs to further their story.

Adrian Dawson shoots for the stars with his debut; historical events, Christian beliefs, modern terrorism and state of the art computing all play a large and relevant part of the plot. Action takes place in Europe and the USA with a slight detour to Peru. The melange of different ideas used could all have warranted a decent book each. Instead Dawson has chosen to give readers an epic tale of biblical proportions and consequences. The plot is as tight as a snare drum and as each snippet of information is uncovered or revealed you are left sated by the logical conclusion yet eager for the next bite of intrigue.

Each character plays a vital part in furthering the tale although the standout character has to be Jack Bernstein who whilst overwhelmed with grief has to deal with massive professional responsibilities as well as trying to uncover the reason for his daughter's murder. The shadowy Simon, dogged FBI agent Jack Warner, loyal MaryBeth and best friend Andy are all depicted brilliantly as they aid Bernstein in his quest. On the opposing side are The Abraham and his followers of which Nebulum is particularly dastardly.

The prose is a joy to behold in the early chapters as the author exercises his literary muscle and produces some of the best crafted sentences I have read this year. As the story progresses these sentences feature less as they are replaced with either explanation or action as the final denouement is depicted.

Being honest about this book, it took me a hundred or so pages before I was thoroughly hooked and it was only the author's prose that got me that far. After this it went from average to top-drawer in a couple of chapters. Those who persevere will be rewarded, those who don't will be the poorer for missing the rest of Codex.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Doug Johnstone - Smokeheads

"The action comes hard and fast and you’ll find the pages turn at a fair lick."

Synopsis:
Four friends, one weekend, gallons of whisky. What could go wrong?

Driven by amateur whisky-nut Adam, four late-thirties ex-university mates are heading to Islay - the remote Scottish island world famous for its single malts - with a wallet full of cash, a stash of coke and a serious thirst. Over a weekend soaked in the finest cask strength spirit, they meet young divorcee Molly, who Adam has a soft spot for, her little sister Ash who has all sorts of problems and Molly's ex-husband Joe, an abusive over-sized bully who also happens to be a member of the local police force.

As events spiral out of control, they are all thrown into a nightmare that gets worse at every turn.

Review:
Smokeheads, in case you are wondering, is a name that refers to fans of the whisky of the Scottish island of Islay, given its smokiness. And you were going somewhere else with the title, weren't you?

There you have an interesting aside to what really is a very good book from Doug Johnstone. Smokeheads is a book about friendship, loyalty and in particular that point when you realise the glue that held your friendship together has dried to a crust. To add a little spice to this realisation for our characters, Doug Johnson also puts them in mortal danger. All that and the added benefit of a palatable amount of detail about whisky.

The four main characters are fairly normal blokes all out to indulge in the national pastime of binge-drinking. They are mostly root-less, with little control of their lives and their interaction is on the button and an uncomfortably honest comment on the state of men in the new century. My only gripe is that the main character, Adam, is a little too wimpish for much of the book.

All of that gives the book depth, but if you are of a more shallow persuasion, worry not. The action comes hard and fast and you'll find the pages turn at a fair lick.

In his third novel, Doug Johnstone shows he is a skilled writer. His prose is pared down, highly effective and at times dips into the poetic and the world he creates on the island of Islay is deeply convincing. This book has cult movie adaptation written all over it.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Scott Mariani - The Lost Relic

"The helter-skelter pace kept me hooked like a prize catch."

Synopsis:
While visiting a former colleague in Italy, Ben Hope almost mows down a young boy. Returning the child to his parents plunges Ben into a brutal heist at the art gallery they are visiting. A seemingly worthless Goya sketch was the target of the robbery and millions of pounds worth of art was left untouched.

Intrigued, Ben pursues the thieves until he is accused of murder and forced to go on the run. Left with no alternative but to bring the conspirators to justice Ben Hope sets about doing what he does best.

Review:
Ben Hope is fast becoming one of the leading lights of the action thriller genre and here Mariani adds more than a few watts to his bulb. This sub-genre of British crime fiction is enjoying a massive high with characters such as Joe Hunter, Jack Reacher, Sam Carver and Charlie Fox all battling for supremacy. I've said it before and will say it again. “The readers are the winners”

Hope is thrust into a situation not of his making and the fight in the art gallery is one which had me thinking of Die Hard (one of my favourite movies). This however was merely a device to set Hope off hurtling around Europe in search of the people behind the heist and the secret hidden behind the Goya sketch. If Mariani can type at the pace his novels move then his PC must have breathed a sigh of relief every time he finished work for the day. The helter-skelter pace kept me hooked like a prize catch.

Hope is pretty much your standard character found in these novels: an ex-special forces soldier who has retired to a quieter life. However Mariani pulls the rabbit from the hat in his depiction of Hope's relationship with girlfriend, Brooke Marcel. The SOCA agent sent to help bring Hope in, Darcey Kane, is well depicted, as are the odious Grigori & Anatoly Shikov along with their murderous man, Spartak Gourko.

Prose can sometimes be a victim of pace & setting in novels such as these, however I am a firm believer in the theory that without good prose then the author will struggle to inject any empathy, pace, revulsion or any of the other emotions the author needs to invoke in the reader. Scott Mariani has no such failings.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rebecca Jenkins - Death of a Radical

"Lovers of historical drama will enjoy the background details and well-drawn characters."

Synopsis:
Set in 1812, the story is told against the backdrop of the introduction of machinery into the local woolen mills and the consequent loss of employment for the skilled weavers. Unrest is just below the surface and Raif Jarrett has to keep an eye on what is happening in the course of his job as agent to the Duke of Penrith. Jarrett is an experienced soldier and has some sympathy for the plight of the weavers. His cousin, the Marquess of Earewith, keeps himself aloof but another younger cousin, known as “Grub”, is very sympathetic to the radicals and finds himself embroiled in a plot. One of the local judges brings in the military to prevent any riots.

A salesman is found murdered in his bed with no-one willing to shed any light on what has happened. When one of the radicals is murdered out on the moors, tension rises; something has to happen soon before a major revolt takes place.

A little romantic interest is introduced as Raif meets up again both with a former lover, actress Beth, and an attractive and confident young lady, Henrietta Lonsdale. Complications arise! Raif tries to make sense of what has happened , with both opponents and supporters making their contribution. After another murder closer to home, Jarrett finally unravels the various strands to unmask the killer and his motives.

Review:
This is a tale of historical interest as it unveils many of the tensions and rivalries of the countryside in the early nineteenth century. Lovers of historical drama will enjoy the background details and well-drawn characters. Insights into the characters show that in many ways they are similar to people today: some are narrow minded, some are broad minded. In those days women were second class citizens, but some still asserted their independence. The plot describes the fear of radical thought by those who had much to lose if the status quo should change. It is the beginning of organised opposition to unfair practices.

There is much human interest as well as Raif Jarrett is a romantic hero who attracts many of the ladies without committing himself in any way. Perhaps that will change in the next book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Richard Montanari - The Devil's Garden

"Montanari has a great writing style..."

Synopsis:
Michael Roman is finally living the peaceful life he has so long desired. But his idyllic life in upstate New York is about to come crashing down around him because Michael is a man with a past.

Three years ago, when working for the New York District Attorney, Michael's successful life was shattered when he was viciously attacked and left for dead. After a painful recuperation, he pieced together his ruined life, married, and adopted twin girls. But under suspicion for a crime he did not commit, his world is about to be devastated all over again - and this time, Michael's life is not the only one at risk. He must find the psychopath who is targeting his family or he and his girls will be the next victims.

In a desperate fight for the truth and survival, Michael must confront the life he left behind in order to save his family from a depraved madman who will stop at nothing.

Review:
Montanari gives his usual characters, Balzano and Byrne, a rest for this standalone novel with a slight supernatural element to it, which is new for this author.

The story took some while to start and began very slowly. The pace did pick up somewhat although there was no mystery and I felt the ending was a little predictable. Also, because none of the characters was blameless, it was hard to feel any empathy towards any of them. Many characters were introduced at various points throughout the book that seemed to have little relevance later on.

That said, the Devil's Garden was still an enjoyable read, more so if you like books with a supernatural feel to them, but also gruesome crimes and murder. Montanari has a great writing style and even though this was slow off the mark, once it did get going, it couldn't be put down.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Connor - The Rembrandt Secret

"A marvelous twist at the end caught me by surprise. "

Synopsis:
An ancient conspiracy is uncovered which may devastate lives across the globe. A serial killer is striking all over the world and although his victims have a tenuous connection nobody can figure out what they knew or who will be next.

The first was forced to swallow consecutively larger stones until he choked.
The second was whipped to death.
The thirds was stabbed in the heart whilst sleeping.

Deadly murder and hidden truths are wrapped up in the hunt for Rembrandts Secret.

Review:
Marshall Zeigler is an interpreter living in Holland who is thrust into his father's world of art galleries and old masters when he returns home on a routine visit. Marshall is an ordinary man thrown into an extraordinary situation in the same style as many of Dick Francis' protagonists. He is a reasonable man living a normal life until he learns of the Rembrandt Secret. Then he is forced to suspect all around him as he tries to uncover the killer who has attacked his family and threatened the art world with a damaging disclosure.

Samuel Hemmings, Teddy Jack, Lillian Kauffman and Nicolai Kapinski are just some of the characters who fall under the broad net of Marshall's suspicions yet each help him in their own ways. An ex-wife and former lover make their presence felt and Marshall is left reeling with indecision.

The plotting is complex enough to keep the reader guessing but no so twisted as to lose the reader. A marvelous twist at the end caught me by surprise. Meanwhile the pace is steady with spikes of frantic action before the final reveal.

A deep knowledge of the art world is displayed by Conner and the research behind the novel must have been intense. The premise of the plot is sound and although I expected another Da Vinci Code type novel that is far from what The Rembrandt Secret is about. It is more in keeping with the work of Steve Berry or Glenn Cooper than Dan Brown.

Overall I enjoyed this book and would certainly read another Alex Connor novel.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Ewan - The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas

"Written entirely in the first person, this book charms from the outset..."

Synopsis:
Mystery writer and thief, Charlie Howard, is in Vegas with his literary agent, Victoria. He can handle a big loss at the table, but doesn't like the way the casino's star magician is charming Victoria. He takes his revenge in the way he knows best. He helps himself to the magician's wallet and then proceeds to burgle his room.

The problem is Sin City does everything bigger than the rest of the world, including the fall-out from petty crimes. Before long Charlie and Victoria have to find a small fortune or face a one way trip into the Nevada desert. Charlie decides to pull off as many jobs as he can before their 24-hour deadline expires, whilst Victoria tries her hand at the tables. Their task would be a lot simpler if Charlie hadn't found a dead body in a room and the magician had finished his act instead of vanishing halfway through.

Review:
I'll be honest from the start here. I came into possession of this book at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in July where I shared a table with Chris Ewan among others at the Come Dine With Me event. The book has been in my “to read” pile since then and books I have been sent for review were given priority. I enjoyed The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas so much I thought I'd review it.

Written entirely in the first person, this book charms from the outset using Ewan's tinder dry wit, strong characters and a tight plot set against the glittering backdrop of Las Vegas to entertain the reader.

Charlie is a petty thief who believes himself to be a “gentleman thief” He has a strong attraction to Victoria which he does not yet seem to realise. Seeing the world from his optimistic but honest point of view is a marvelous experience. He is ably accompanied by Victoria who proves to have more layers than a Russian doll. The baddies are portrayed in a rather clichéd fashion as the Fisher twins but it works, so why not.

The pace builds steadily as the end of the deadline approaches and the plotting is intricate enough to astound the reader when the killer's identity is revealed. The prose is perfect for the style of writing and the oftentimes jaded and droll thoughts shared by Charlie had me laughing aloud at some points. This is not an easy trick to pull off, yet Ewan manages it with aplomb, finely balancing humour, violent scenes and plot related information.

Would I bet on Charlie & Victoria? No. Would I bet on Chris Ewan writing another great book? Yes.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stella Rimington - Present Danger

"Plenty of action ensures that this is a book that is difficult to put down."

Synopsis:
MI5 officer Liz Carlyle is sent off to Northern Ireland, in part to keep her away from the recently widowed Charles Wetherby with whom she has had a close friendship. She is a little disappointed to be sent away from the centre of things in London, but soon finds that Northern Ireland is anything but a quiet backwater. The troubles may be over, but there are still discontents plotting and causing trouble.

The centre of the trouble seems to be an Irish-American, Seamus Piggott, who has had a past connected to gun running and who has developed a Northern Ireland organisation that employs former Provisional IRA men. There are also links with a former French intelligence officer who cleverly works with anyone who will help him turn a profit.

As Liz goes off to France to follow leads there, her assistant in Northern Ireland disappears under suspicious circumstances. Everything builds up to a fast and furious climax, when the separate strands all come together.

Review:
It is always a pleasure to open a new book by Stella Rimington as you know that you are in for a treat. There is a good story line, engaging characters and above all an insight into the ways of MI5 that you can rely on for accuracy and insider knowledge. Liz Carlyle is an impressive heroine; both highly competent and at the same time sympathetic to her colleagues. You want her to succeed not only in trouncing the spies and charming her difficult boss, but also in finding a companion and lover worthy of her.

As in life, she manages to achieve some but not all of these aspirations.
Plenty of action ensures that this is a book that is difficult to put down.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: