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Reviews

April 2011

Zoe Sharp - Fifth Victim

"Why an author as talented as Zoë Sharp is not much more publicly known and lauded is a mystery to me. "

Synopsis:
Charlie Fox the body guard and ex-Special Forces soldier will do anything to take her mind off the fact that her partner Sean Meyer is lying in a hospital bed. He was shot in the head and left in a coma. She needs a job to centre her focus as she can no longer bear the pain of being alone in their empty apartment.

Along comes a job; a teenage daughter of a rich investment banker requires protection from a gang of kidnappers who are preying on the children of the mega rich Long Island clique. The ransoming of these teens is very profitable for those who have the nerve to carry out the abductions.

A straightforward enough seeming task becomes ever more onerous as the client she is guarding seems intent on putting herself into harms way. From the relatively safe locations of yacht parties and charity auctions the action moves into darker areas as she discovers that not all the jet-setters are as innocent as their personas portray.

Review:
Sharp's heroine Charlie Fox has to be one of the best characters in the crime action thriller genre which is enjoying a massive high these days. Hard as nails, confident as can be and living proof that the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

However - and it is a big however - she does not use deadly force unless necessary, unlike many of her contempories who kill frequently. She firmly believes in justice and would sooner bring someone in than kill them. Her moral code is very strong and at times it keeps her from becoming as bad as any of the monsters she is faces. Yet when push comes to shove, she never flinches from the task at hand regardless of the risk to herself.

Fifth Victim sees her in turmoil as she has lost the steadying influence of her partner Sean. Outwardly calm and together she is hiding her true feelings away although her friend and boss Parker knows what she is suffering. Despite being in a coma, Sean's part in the novel is by no means diminished, although Parker takes his place in certain respects. The client, Dina Willner, is carefully crafted as are all her friends. The odious Tor is the kind of person you would never dare raise your hands to, as once started you wouldn't be able to stop yourself.

The plot is very cleverly constructed and you are kept guessing until the end as to just who is really behind the kidnappings. The prose is as sumptuous as ever and yet it was not the most impressive part of the novel. For me the best part of Fifth Victim is the grammatical excellence displayed in Sharp's sentences. (After failing English exams on two separate occasions many years ago I speak from a position of no authority but plenty of experience!)

I read one hell of a lot of these types of novels featuring fights, gunfights, explosions, car chases and more close shaves than a razor salesman. Very, very few of them get so many details right about the mundane details which set the scene, create the atmosphere, manage the pace or deal with the mechanics of the characters actions and thought processes. Zoë Sharp and Charlie Fox tick more boxes than most with her first person viewpoint and oftentimes caustic wit.

Why an author as talented as Zoë Sharp is not much more publicly known and lauded is a mystery to me. My own first introduction to her work was when I met her by chance at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival last year. (I had seen her on a panel the previous year and made a mental note to buy one of her books. I was then welcomed into Crimesquad Towers and never got around to buying that book.) As we talked I mentioned that I was with Crimesquad.com and she asked me why her books had never been reviewed. Unable to answer I had to quickly change the subject. Upon my return home I arranged for a copy of Fourth Day which I reviewed and raved about. Which brings me to Fifth Victim, an absolutely brilliant novel which will have this review hound forever chasing the Fox?

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - Silent Voices

"Ann Cleeves has a great understanding of people and her cast of characters are totally believable and fascinating."

Synopsis:
DI Vera Stanhope is valiantly trying to get fitter and is quietly visiting a gym in order to do so. When she comes across the body of a woman in the sauna she initially believes that it is an innocent death. However that hope doesn't last for long and Vera is soon off on the hunt for the killer, using her team of detectives to track the movements of the victim.

Vera is totally devoted to the job in hand and relishes the excitement in her life. Colleague Sergeant Joe Ashworth has to balance his devotion to the job with his commitment to his family - a nice twist in the usual pattern of things. The investigation leads to the victim's involvement in social services and a past case of child death that interconnects with other characters in the area.

Review:
Vera Stanhope is a very real character. Not perfect by any means, she does convince you that she is very good at her job, totally committed and able to understand the motives and foibles of her suspects. I like the idea that she is the detective with the tunnel vision concentrating on solving the case, whilst her male sergeant is the one who has to balance home and work commitments. Even when reading this fourth book in the series without knowing the previous books, Vera's character is beautifully described and the way her background and personality affect the way she behaves is very clear.

Ann Cleeves has a great understanding of people and her cast of characters are totally believable and fascinating. The outcome is a surprise but makes absolute sense. The way in which she weaves the many and varied characters into a complex plot is both professional and a joy to read. I look forward to seeing Vera Stanhope on the small screen soon. I'm sure she will become a firm favourite.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Connelly - The Fifth Witness

"This is Connolly at his best. "

Synopsis:
In tough times, crime is one of the few things that still pays, but if defense attorney Mickey Haller was expecting an uptick in business during the economic downturn, the reality is a different story. Even people needing legal representation to keep them out of jail are having to make cutbacks, it seems. In fact, the most significant part of Mickey's business right now is not about keeping clients out of jail but about keeping a roof over their heads, as the foreclosure boom hits thousands of people who were granted unrealistic mortgages in the good times and now face being kicked to the curb in the bad times.

Lisa Trammel has been a client of Mickey's for eight months — his very first foreclosure case, in fact — and although so far he's managed to stop the bank from taking her house, the strain and sense of injustice have taken a toll. The bank recently got a restraining order to prevent her from protesting against their practices. Now, a high level bank employee, Mitchell Bondurant, has been found dead in the bank's parking lot and Lisa is about to be indicted for murder.

For Mickey, it's back to what he does best on the biggest stage of all, but if he thought defending Lisa Trammel was going to be a walk in the park, he'd be wrong. Not only is he about to learn some startling truths about his client, but also about himself, and by the time the verdict is in, Mickey's whole world will have been turned upside down.

Review:
After reading so many crime thrillers, returning to a legal thriller, especially one that is so well written, reminds me why I enjoy a tense and exciting courtroom drama.This is Connolly at his best. Not until the last page will you know if his client is not only guilty or not but whether they are found guilty by the court.

In the meantime, there are plenty of ups and downs in the court room with the prosecution and defense scoring points off each other and the reader not knowing who is winning the game. It is hard to know whether the defendant is guilty or not, and if so, whether her lawyer will ensure that justice is served. But very cleverly written with a sting in its tail. Just when you think it is over, there is more to come.

A good author will always enable you to empathise with the protagonist of the story, in this case, defense lawyer Mickey Haller, and feel frustrated with the opposition. Whereas when written from the other side, the tricks played by Mickey Haller would be seen as underhand, but the reader is so keen to see him win, that win he must and at any cost. It is books such as these that serve as an excellent reminder as to just how good and enjoyable a well written legal thriller can really be and I had forgotten just how much I had enjoyed being back in the courtroom. A great read seeing Connelly on top form.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mo Hayder - Hanging Hill

"Mo Hayder is one of the country’s finest crime authors..."

Synopsis:
Two sisters, two tales intertwining with each other and the past.

On is penniless, divorced and bringing up a teenage daughter. The other is a DI with a crippling secret dating back twenty years which if exposed could destroy her.

The only way they'll get through this is if they do something so terrifying that there will be no way for them ever to come back.

Review:
The mistress of macabre is back with a new standalone thriller which will cause many a person to have a sleepless night. My first night with the sisters saw me reading until well after three am, and then I could not sleep for thinking through the story I had read so far.

While there is less of a supernatural feel to Hanging Hill than Hayder's previous novels, it is every bit as gruesome and harrowing as her back catalogue. Some of the scenes depicted will haunt my thoughts for days to come such is Hayder's skill in depicting truly horrific events. The plot is devious and despicable as always, and while it is by no means straightforward, there are enough twists, turns and red herrings to satisfy even hard boiled crime fiction readers like myself.

One of the strongest points of any Mo Hayder book is her ability to get under the skin of her characters and yet again she nails it. Dead. Her tight rope taut prose draws out fear, cowardice, acceptance, hate, rage, envy and any other emotion she cares to make the reader feel. This is best shown with the two lead characters of Zoe and Sally who personality-wise are polar opposites. Throw in boyfriends, children, friends and the odious Goldrab and you have a well populated novel centring around the lives of two estranged sisters.

I found the whole book to be totally engrossing, from the scientific details used, to the action sequences, to the mundane every-dayness of some parts, and for one simple reason. Mo Hayder is one of the country's finest crime authors who deserves far more recognition the she currently enjoy, be it book sales or awards.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Richard Montanari - The Echo Man

"A very well written book, with a great plot and great characters that become more likeable with every outing."

Synopsis:
It is fall in Philadelphia and the mutilated body of a man is found in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the city. The victim has been viciously tortured to death. It's the work of a sadistic mind in free fall.
When homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano investigate, they soon realise that their crime scene is linked to the past. Eight years ago, another body was found in the same place, in the same position, killed in the same manner. That case was never closed. Apart from their killer's unusual calling cards, the crime scene photos – past and present – are identical.
As another brutalised body appears, then another, it becomes horrifyingly clear that someone is recreating unsolved murders from Philadelphia's past in the most sinister of ways. And the killer is closer than they think.

Review:
Montanari delivers another superb book with a twisting plot which I was convinced I had worked out, until I was proven wrong in the last few pages. Whilst not being a particular lover of knowing too much about the characters' personal lives, Montanari does this in such a way that it only enchances the story, rather than bores the reader. Byrne is suffering from personal isues, but the support and closeness he shares with Balzano is evident.

There are a host of characters in The Echo Man, some old, some new, but all brought to life and given dimension by the author in a believable way. The book is extremely well written although at times it would appear that the stories do not appear to be connected. There are murders a plenty, however one cannot always feel sympathy for the victims on this occasion.

A very well written book, with a great plot and great characters that become more likeable with every outing.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

S. J. Parris - Prophecy

"...an enlightening, entertaining and enthralling tome on what is possible with enough research, literary skill and imagination. "

Synopsis:
In the autumn of 1583 Queen Elizabeth I is the ruling monarch yet she is under threat from usurpers. Plans for an invasion with the goal of placing Mary Stuart (Mary Queen Of Scots) on the throne and restoring the Catholic faith in England are being laid into place. An astrological phenomenon believed to signify the death of one age and herald in another has led to wild speculation.

Giordano Bruno, the maverick and endearing agent of Sir Francis Walsingham - the Queen's spymaster – has infiltrated the ranks of dissenters within the French embassy with the aim of securing enough evidence to ensure the execution of Mary Stuart and her co-conspirators.

Meanwhile within the palace walls a maid of honour is murdered and her body defaced with symbols of the occult. Is black magic afoot or are there even more sinister forces at work?

Review:
Spying in the middle ages is a new twist on the spy story and Parris handles the convolutions of a tale which involves agents, double agents and honest men with an endearing alacrity. The plot is very well thought out and scripted in such a way as to constantly alter the reader's opinion as to who is the guilty party and just who is the villain.

With a myriad of important characters, sub plots and historical data to factor into the story this is not what I would class as an easy read. Rather it is an enlightening, entertaining and enthralling tome on what is possible with enough research, literary skill and imagination. If you cannot devote an un-interrupted hour when reading Prophecy then wait until you can give it the attention it both deserves and demands.

Chief among the characters is Bruno the seer, diplomat, jester and academic and he carries the story excellently although he has many roles to fulfil. Other significant characters are Howard, Sidney, Castelnau, Dumas, Walsingham, Marie, Fowler, Douglas who all make fine contributions in their respective roles. Some characters such as Mary Stuart, Queen Elizabeth, King James, and others hand heavy throughout the novel despite their having no actual dialogue.

Once I first got into this novel I was a little confused as to why I ( A Scotsman) was siding with Bruno's attempts to keep Elizabeth I on the throne when she could have been deposed by Mary Queen Of Scots. In the end I put it down to the pitch of the tight prose and the atmosphere created in Parris's depiction of medieval England. I was transported back and merely wanted the person depicted as the good guy to win. Although I did find myself questioning my own recollection of a history lesson taught long ago, to the extent that I had to fire up the PC and ask Mr Google as to who reigned after Queen Elizabeth. This somewhat detracted from certain plot ideas as I kind of knew that they would or wouldn't succeed. However though, if you want a cracking read and have time to enjoy it then you won't go far wrong with Prophecy.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - Payback

"Kernick writes at breathtaking speed..."

Synopsis:
Dennis Milne is a man with a past, and a past that involves murder. A former cop, he's earned his living killing the bad guys – drug-dealers, corrupt business men - people who, in his opinion, deserve to die. For the past two days, he's been in Manila, waiting for his next target: a young woman who's made herself some poor life-choices, and some even worse enemies.
DI Tina Boyd is a woman on a mission. Tough, spiky and determined, she's looking for the man she holds responsible for the death of her lover. She knows he's ruthless. She knows he's dangerous. But he's in Manila, and she's determined to find and kill him – before he kills her.
Two cops with pasts that haunt them - and a present that could see them both dead. They are about to meet. And when they do, it's payback time...

Review:
Kernick is one of those authors who with each book, page and word, manages to start with a fast pace that is maintained at the same level throughout. Payback is not exception Tina Boyd is still chasing her nemisis, Wise, after the murder of her ex-lover and the plot taker her to the Far-East, seeing her work in collaboration with Dennis Milne. Milne is an ex-copper who is on the run and working as a hit man. Together they try to work out who is behind the killing of Boyd's ex-lover and who is after Boyd herself.

Despite Milne being a hitman, he does have some morals and endearing qualites and you cannot help but feel some empathy for his predicament. Kernick writes at breathtaking speed, and even though it is gang/crime related in this novel, which is not my favourite type of plot, it did not spoil my enjoyment. Boyd, is true to form and living close to the edge, and testing her own morals and values, seeing how far she will go in the form of revenge.

The climax of the book did seem to finish with all loose ends being tied off but I would not be surprised to see a twist in the tale in future books.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - Five Ways to Kill a Man

"Five Ways To Kill A Man is a properly good read for fans of serial killer novels..."

Synopsis:
A killer strikes on the streets of Glasgow in an unpredictable spree which begins with brute force and quickly moves onto poison and drowning as well. As new method of murder are sought by an unknown killer.

Faced with the string of unconnected victims, DCI Lorimer turns to his psychologist friend Solomon Brightman for his insights into the mind of the killer. Lorimer has also to review the investigation of a fatal house fire. His probing leads him to discover some shocking omissions from the original investigation. Uncomfortable questions have gone unanswered and Lorimer has to have the answers.

As the killer closes in on Lorimer's nearest and dearest, Lorimer has a race to unmask the killer before he loses someone close.

Review:
Alex Gray is another rising star of the Tartan Noir nightscape and here she rubs shoulders with many much more established authors. The plot of the book is intricate without being convoluted, yet has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing right until the last pages. I did manage to eventually guess the killer's identity but only after a few false starts and red herrings were bypassed.

The writing style is a tight, yet sparse prose which says little more than is necessary and leaves the reader to fill in the blanks, although Glasgow is beautifully portrayed in the way that only a city's native can do. Pace and tension mount steadily throughout the story as the killings escalate and Lorimer closes in on the killer.

DCI Lorimer is an engaging character who feels the loneliness of rank when transferred as acting Superintendant away from his team and the bond with the young DC's Clark and Dawson is finely sculpted. DI Martin and Flynn are also powerful characters whose presence lifts the story and the killer is beautifully described in the first person.

Five Ways To Kill A Man is a properly good read for fans of serial killer novels and I for one will be prowling bookshops for Alex Gray's next offering.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Hewson - The Fallen Angel

"Above all, this is a rattling good story..."

Synopsis:
Detective Nic Costa is on enforced leave after his return from duty in Calabria. He meets up again with Agata who is now no longer a Sister but is an assistant professor at a school for foreign students in Rome, teaching the history of art. Their conversation is disturbed by a commotion which turns out to be as a result of the apparent suicide of a British academic, Malise Gabriel. Costa meets his family, wife Cecilia, mysterious daughter Mina and son Robert, who is involved in the drug scene.

The family have connection to old Rome and it's history, particularly that of the sixteenth century legend, Beatrice Cenci. Costa begins to believe that Malise's death is not straightforward and becomes more and more obsessed with finding out what has happened. The truth, when he finally understands it, is not as he imagined and is much darker and unsettling than he could have thought.

Review:
Above all, this is a rattling good story that is completely absorbing, fast moving and grips the attention from beginning to end. It is escapism of the best sort and you lose all your outside concerns whilst involved in the action of the story. At the same time, the eternal city is there as an endlessly fascinating backdrop. The wonderful history and the sleazy underworld both make their appearance and add to the enjoyable pattern of the book.

Nic Costa is still a satisfying hero who teases with his fascination with Mina and his attraction to Agata. The different strands of the city intertwine to provide an intricate and exciting plot.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Mosby - Black Flowers

"...was unable to put the book down..."

Synopsis:
This is not a story about a girl who disappears. This is the story of a little girl who comes back. As if from nowhere, she appears one day on a seaside promenade, with a black flower and a horrifying story about where she's been. But telling that story will start a chain reaction of dangerous lies and deadly illusions that will claim many more victims in the years to come. Neil Dawson has grown up wanting to be like his father - a writer. When his father commits suicide, he is devastated. But through his grief, Neil knows something isn't right.

Looking through his father's papers, he finds a copy of an old novel, The Black Flower. Opening it will take Neil into an investigation full of danger, pain and subterfuge. Hannah Price is also mourning her father. She followed his footsteps into the police force, and knows she has a big reputation to live up to. When she gets assigned to Neil's father's case, it will lead her on a journey into her own past and to the heart of a shattering secret.

Review:
Black Flowers is a real change from Mosby's usual standard murder/thrillers that I have been used to from him. This is much more of a psychological thriller.

I found it a little confusing as it kept referring back to the fictional works of the book ' The Black Flowers' so not only did I have all the characters in the book I was reading, I also have the characters within the book in the book to marry up. In some ways it was almost too far-fetched and gruesome that it seemed like a horror film and rather than focusing on a few crimes, Mosby went for quantity over quality and this took away the believability factor for me, which in all honesty took the edge off my enjoyment.

However, other than this, I found the plot in general to be novel and was unable to put the book down, although in parts the plot was a little predictable.

Whilst I did enjoy this book, I feel Mosby's strengths lay with the more traditional crime novel rather than suspense thriller.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Laura Lippman - Don't Look Back

"...a marvellously crafted novel full of excellent human insights, perfectly explained in a delicious prose."

Synopsis:
Summer 1985, Elizabeth Lerner is the innocent fifteen year old girl abducted by serial killer Walter Bowman. Twenty five years later she is married with children, lives in a Washington suburb and is known as Eliza Benedict.

Eliza cherishes her life and her role as a wife and mother until a letter brings back her terrifying past and haunts her. Now on death row Walter wants to make amends for his transgressions and once again his malignant power takes control of Eliza she must work to stop history repeating itself as predator and prey once more come face to face.

Review:
I found Don't Look Back to be a marvellously crafted novel full of excellent human insights, perfectly explained in a delicious prose. The characters of both young Elizabeth and her older self Eliza had such realism and believability I wanted to reach into the pages and give them a hug to reassure them that everything was going to be alright.

Walter Bowman is an excellent aggressor whose actions and thought processes are almost childlike at times. Yet he comes across as a dark, brooding and sociopathic force when things don't go his way. Other characters of note are Eliza's sister Vonnie, Eliza's daughter Iso, and the bereaved mother Trudy Tackett. All are depicted with extreme competence by an author who really gets into her character's heads.

This was a different kind of crime novel for me as there is no gunfight, car chases or any of the other pace generators which drive a story forward. Instead Lippman uses flashbacks to Eliza's kidnapping to progress the tale and concentrates more on the victims families suffering along with Eliza's trauma to weave a fantastic story.

Is this my kind of book? Not really to be honest as I prefer more action and detection. Is it a good story well told? I have to take my hat off to an author who can make me like something away from my usual fare and make me think about what I've read.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Catriona McPherson - Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder

"I love the style of the writing."

Synopsis:
This time the action moves to Dunfermline, an ancient seat of Kings and full of history. As a relatively small town it also has its fair share of family feuds and fascinating gossip. Dandy Gilver is requested to attend one of the well established business families where the heiress has vanished. Nothing is as it seems, however, and all starts with a misunderstanding about dates. Dandy is somewhat unwilling to proceed with what she believes to be simply a runaway bride, but is brought down to earth when first one and then another body appears. Rather like Miss Marple's St Mary Mead, Dunfermline has its share of wickedness, jealously, revenge and interesting sexual politics. The family tree at the beginning is an absolute essential, and what appears to be a very obvious cause of family problems proves to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Review:
I love the style of the writing. Dandy Gilver is beautifully portrayed as an upper class lady involving herself in the wholly unsuitable task of private investigation. Her long suffering husband is the epitome of correct behaviour but tolerates Dandy's idiosyncrasies as he has discovered that the financial reward is useful.

The witty comments and down-to-earth viewpoint Dandy puts across are delightful. The description of the characters and their interaction is so true and brings the life of the town over the years vividly to mind.

The plot is complicated and at one level highly unlikely, but on the other hand,”there's nowt so queer as folk” and so could quite well happen. There was some clever manipulation of the reader as the explanation appeared obvious quite near the beginning. This clue, however, was just the start of a very clever, convoluted story.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating: