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Reviews

August 2011

Karen Campbell - Proof of Life

" Pick a page, any page and you’ll find an arresting phrase (pun intended) or a sentence that makes you go ahhh. "

Synopsis:
“The girl in the foyer could not hear them, could not possibly have heard Anna, or know that she was there through two thick doors, but her pale neck flexed and her head came up, longer and higher as her profile turned , as her face took form to stare directly at the camera.

And Anna's life, her future, froze.”

Chief Inspector Anna Cameron is a woman with everything to lose. Her life is finally back on track, but the mistakes she made in the past are about to come back to haunt her.

When a body is discovered in a Glasgow canal, the death proves to have an unexpected link to something Anna wants desperately to forget. As Glasgow pulses with the threat of terrorist attack and growing civil discontent, she realises everything she holds dear is at risk.

Review:
Verisimilitude is a very big word – but this book, and all the work of Karen Campbell, just sings of it. You want to really know how a police investigation is carried out? Look no further than Ms Campbell if it is this kind of detail that sends your boat into a spin.

As well as all that detail you'll get as fine a prose stylist as you'll read this side of a poetry collection. Pick a page, any page and you'll find an arresting phrase (pun intended) or a sentence that makes you go ahhh. And then there's the actual investigation, the need to know that carries the reader forward, and again with this element of fiction Karen Campbell comes up trumps. Simply said, she offers everything this reviewer looks for in a novel.

In Proof of Life we have multiple points of view, each invested with care and attention, each crucial to the story and each moving it on with delicious reveals at just the right point. And on this occasion Campbell works the successful trope of the detective and her loved ones being at risk, because of something she did in her past, providing a full-circle link to the first book in the series.

There's an element to the story that I'm dying to talk about, but that would spoil it for you – I may just have to accost a total stranger in the street and demand they listen to me. Suffice to say when I finished the book and set it to the side, I said one word out loud... 'Wow!'

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joseph Finder - Buried Secrets

" From the flying start to the eventual standoff, I simply did not want to tear my eyes away from this book for one moment such is the relentless pace."

Synopsis:
Private investigator, Nick Heller, has just set up his own agency in Boston and lands a big case which is a lot closer to home than he would like. Alexandra the teenaged daughter of billionaire hedge fund tycoon Marshall Marcus has vanished and Heller is called upon to investigate her disappearance. It soon turns out to be and extra-ordinary kidnapping case which will test all of Heller's mettle.

Alexa has been buried alive in a coffin which has linked video feeds streaming her entreaties over the internet. With only a limited supply of food and water the clock is ticking as Heller races to save her.

Being a close family friend only increases Heller's determination to save the girl but he is up against some heavyweight opponents whose reach extends both into the American government and organised crime on a global scale. Heller has to battle his way through the duplicity, secrets and varying factions to save the girl.

Review:
The second outing for Nick Heller is a rip-roaringly suspenseful espionage thriller that made this reviewer cringe, shudder and laugh all on the one page. From the flying start to the eventual standoff, I simply did not want to tear my eyes away from this book for one moment such is the relentless pace.

Nick Heller is your typically atypical lead with a military background, strong moral sense and stunning intellect which allows him to stay ahead of a very dangerous game. Alexa and her terror evoke great empathy in the reader while Diana, Dorothy and Jillian among others provide a support network for Heller. The villains of the piece are marvellously nefarious.

As with all good authors writing this kind of novel, Finder sets up various characters as suspects one by one before knocking them over and blindsiding the reader with a reveal worthy of David Blaine. The whole feel of the story is endearing to the reader. You cannot help but like Heller, feel for Alexa stuck underground, mistrust Belinda and actively dislike Snyder. Hell, I even want to visit Boston after reading his description of the city, which is somewhat brighter than Dennis Lehane's depiction.

The prose used is delightfully sparse even when detailing high-tech spyware or laying out plot twists. The reader is treated as an adult and should appreciate the way that Finder has created a relatively complex plot which will engage the reader's interest without ever giving them cause for confusion.

I attended a writing course Joe Finder took at the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival where he taught budding writers how to create suspense. The course was very informative and I found it particularly enthralling the way he could dissect passages, to explain the mechanics behind the emotions they created. Buried Secrets, though, is the masterclass!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Billingham - Good As Dead

"...confirms Billingham’s standing as one of the best authors the UK has to offer."

Synopsis:
The Hostage
Police officer Helen Weeks is in her local newsagent while heading to work. This is the last place she expects violence to rear its ugly head until she is confronted by a gunman.

The Demand
The insane hostage taker is desperate to uncover the truth behind his son's death while in a young offender's institution. By holding a police officer hostage the gunman forces his son's arresting officer to re-investigate his son's death. The officer is DI Tom Thorne.

The Twist
Helen is fighting to survive as the body count rises and Thorne has to race against the clock to bring the killer to justice and save the life of a young mother.

Review:
Billingham brings back Helen Weeks from his standalone “In The Dark” to join in the latest Tom Thorne case. She gives another dimension to the book in that she adds the female perspective to events and as a police hostage provides insights into both the role of the hostage and that of a police officer trying to keep their captor calm.

As ever, Tom Thorne is the real star of the book and he brings his usual caring and unflinching attitude to the fore as Billingham once again puts him through hell. Javed Akhtar, Sue Pascoe, Bob Chivers and the usual cast members are all drawn with the same excellent skill we have grown used to, but Thorne and Helen are the characters who really draw the reader into the story. Over the years as I have followed Tom Thorne's adventures I have found myself really caring for him in a way that few other characters evoke. As a reviewer I feel I should be able to pinpoint the reason for this in a sharp succinct way. Sadly all I can say is he is made so real by the author's consummate penmanship that he feels more like a friend than anything else.

The pace has been ramped up in comparison to other of Thorne's cases and Billingham manages to achieve a much faster adrenaline-filled novel which has a marvellously simple structure that becomes more twisted as every chapter goes by and as Thorne follows down each lead. The ending is a masterpiece of crime fiction writing and confirms Billingham's standing as one of the best authors the UK has to offer.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Baldacci - The Sixth Man

"I devoured the last 150 odd pages in one “don’t you dare interrupt me” sitting."

Synopsis:
Private investigators are brought in by the lawyer representing the alleged serial killer Edgar Roy who is currently incarcerated in Cutter's Rock psychiatric unit. Their investigation gets derailed when the lawyer is found dead in his car beside the highway.

Before they know it they become embroiled in terrifying events while trying to discover the lawyer's murderer as well as attempting to determine Roy's innocence or guilt. The FBI are soon involved and other shadowy government agencies along with private security firms. Nothing and nobody is what they first appear to be and the more they learn about Roy then the more obstacles are set in their way.

Every new revelation pushes them and their abilities to the maximum. Could this be the case which finally gets the better of them?

Review:
Maxwell and King are one of the best crime fighting pairs in the business and once again Baldacci provides readers with a real treat. Everything you could ask for in a crime novel is here in spades, loveable heroes, intrigue, shadowy forces, solid plotting, and more red herrings than Billingsgate fish market.

As ever with a Baldacci novel the plotting is as intricate as a Faberge egg. Events unfold with rapid precision as facts are discovered, red herrings are discounted and allegiances change. The pace this creates is nothing short of breath-taking and while I have previously said of some novels, that to get the best of them you have to read them in large sections at a time. The Sixth Man is different to those novels in that you want to just keep reading, I devoured the last 150 odd pages in one “don't you dare interrupt me” sitting.

Michelle Maxwell is definitely the more aggressive of the two leads while Sean King is the more cerebral of the two but both can interchange and this gives extra depth to the novel as well as the personal interplay between the pair. Edgar Roy and Kelly Paul are intriguing creations and the baddies are ably represented by Peter Bunting, Mason Quantrell and Ellen Foster.

To sum up, I would have to say this is and edge of the seat thriller written by a modern master

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Janet Evanovich - Smokin' Seventeen

"Despite being on book number seventeen, she is still coming up with new and ingenious situations for Stephanie Plum to find herself in, and for some reason these never seem to tire. "

Synopsis:
Dead bodies are showing up in shallow graves on the empty construction lot of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. No one is sure who the killer is, or why the victims have been offed, but what is clear is that Stephanie's name is on the killer's list.

Short on time to find evidence proving the killer's identity, things get even more complicated for Stephanie when family and friends decide it's time for her to decide between long-time off-again-on-again boyfriend, Trenton cop, Joe Morelli, and the bad boy in her life, security expert, Ranger. Stephanie's mom is encouraging Stephanie to dump them both, and choose a former high school football star who has just returned to town. Stephanie's sidekick, Lula, is encouraging Stephanie to have a red-hot boudoir "bake-off". And Grandma Bella, Morelli's old world grandmother, is encouraging Stephanie to move to a new state when she puts "the eye" on Stephanie.

With a cold-blooded killer after her, a handful of hot men and a capture list that includes a dancing bear and a senior citizen vampire, Stephanie's life looks like it's about to go up in smoke.

Review:
Evanovich always delivers a high standard. Despite being on book number seventeen, she is still coming up with new and ingenious situations for Stephanie Plum to find herself in, and for some reason these never seem to tire. The books are very light hearted and the crimes totally unrealistic, but this seems to make them even more appealing for some reason. Plum continues to live a charmed life, avoiding all those wanting to kill her, struggling to survive as an exceptionally poor bounty hunter and still torn between Morelli and Ranger.

Her family, Granda Mazur in particular, are fantastic characters, although even with her parents not playing major parts, they have priceless reactions to many situations. Lula, as ever, is the literally larger than life sidekick.

Evanovich is one of the few authors who manages to keep me smiling right the way through the book. Even small things such as the names of restaurants have been given a lot of thought and are completely fitting for this style of book (Cluck in a Bucket).

As usual, Stepehanie and Lula are chasing after a few bond hoppers with some rather strange characteristics whilst also trying to avoid at least one person who is trying to kill Stephanie. Added to this is Stephanie's complicated love life. Yet throughout all of these there is an obvious absence of any gratuitous violence, swearing or anything overtly sexual which seems a rare occurrence these days, but works perfectly without any of these.

Another great plot and book from Evanovich. She has really put Trenton on the map!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Declan Burke - Down These Green Streets

""

Synopsis:
A generation of Irish crime writers has emerged onto the international stage in the last decade, among them John Connolly, Tana French, Eoin McNamee, Gene Kerrigan, Arlene Hunt, Alan Glynn, Declan Hughes, Jane Casey and Ken Bruen. Down These Green Streets: Irish crime writing in the 21st Century charts the evolution of the Irish crime novel since the inception of the Irish state through a series of essays, interviews, personal testimonies and short stories, offering the writers' perspective on Irish crime writing in fiction, non-fiction, film and theatre.

Review:
John Connolly was my introduction to Irish crime fiction some ten years ago – my gateway drug if you will, and he offers a fascinating essay detailing among other things, why he chose to set his novels in the US. Adrian McKinty and Brian McGilloway offer views from the north and the impact of the troubles on their desire to write. Declan Hughes talks about Irish identity and links with America. Ken Bruen in “The Houston Room” has delivered a short story which will be an emotional punch in the gut to devotees of the genre.

There is however, more ...much more.

Throughout this process Declan Burke displays himself to be a very generous fellow indeed. A writer with talent to match anyone in the book, with his only contribution to the collection (introduction aside) he gives John Banville an opportunity to answer his critics who have accused him of literary snobbery. As a follower of his excellent blog, Crime Always Pays, I know Declan to be an articulate and thoughtful advocate of the genre and I would have enjoyed some of his own thoughts to be included in the book (but then that's the problem with being the editor).

Down these Green Streets is not a book to gallop through. It's one to savour and ponder the points raised by some of the keenest minds writing in fiction today. It is in turns discursive, instructive and entertaining and is never less than fascinating. This needs to be in every crime writing fan's library, regardless of the hue of their preferences. The Scandinavians need to have a good look at their royalty statements; the Irish are here!

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.J. Box - Back of Beyond

"A very exciting read!"

Synopsis:
Twilight falls on a cold, wet spring day in the mountains of Montana. A cabin smolders in the forest. In the remains of the kitchen, a table set for two; next door, the remains of a single body. Alerted by hikers, Detective Cody Hoyt is called to the scene. While a brilliant cop, Cody is also an alcoholic struggling with two months of sobriety and it doesn't help that the body in the cabin is his AA sponsor, Hank Winters. It looks like the suicide of a man who's fallen off the wagon, but Cody knows Hank better than that. He's convinced its foul play. But after years of bad behaviour directly related to his drinking, Cody has few friends left in the department. And when he shoots and wounds the county coroner in a botched stakeout he is suspended from duty. But Hank was one of the few friends Cody had left and he's determined to find his killer, badge or no badge.

Who was at Hank's cabin? Data pulled from Hank's fire-damaged hard drive leads Cody to a website running wilderness adventures deep into the most remote parts of Yellowstone National Park. Their big trip of year has just left - a two-week horseback journey into the wild. The very same trip that Cody's estranged teenage son, Justin, has signed up for. Cody has no choice but to trek deep into the wild himself in pursuit of his son and the truth about Hank. In America's greatest wilderness, Cody is on his own, he's out of time, he's in too deep, he's in the Back of Beyond.

Review:
Not thinking I would enjoy this, I started this book with little expectations, which I find are often the books that are enjoyed the most. Cody Hoyt is an alcoholic, and not even a recovering alcoholic at that. He is frequently falling off the wagon and would do anything for a drink, and can justify his actions, and to me, this made him human and real (if also slightly annoying for being so weak for being so reliant on the drink).

But for once he is putting his child first and forgoing alcohol to save his son by venturing into the depths of Yellowstone Park, chasing after a group of unpleasant characters who have signed up on a wilderness tour and most of whom could be a murderer.

Humourous in parts, although I have to be honest, I still don't understand the cow licence jokes, but also plenty of depth to the characters.

Cody Hoyt is a character I would like to see again although I think I would rapidly dislike him if he continued to carry on drinking. His fight with the bottle makes him more interesting sober than it does drunk.

Drunken policemen on hunting expeditions are not usually my forte, but this one took me by surprise and kept me so engrossed that I could not put it down. A very exciting read!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth Haynes - Into the Darkest Corner

"A fascinating and gripping read."

Synopsis:
Catherine has been enjoying the single life for long enough to know a good catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic, spontaneous – Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell.

But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape. Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything.

Review:
At first I struggled with the sudden changing timeline between past and present but once I got to grips with that I was torn between wanting to know what happened to Catherine in the past that made her into the person she was today, and what was going to happen to her.

The change in Catherine was quite dramatic yet it was not until some way into the book that the reader got to find out what caused her to become this person. Her relationship with Lee goes from being perfect and all consuming to too consuming and suffocating and over time the book reads almost as a diary of what happens. Slowly Catherine changes as Lee takes control of her and her life until the only thing she can do is try and escape. Whilst all of this is going on, the story fast forwards to the present time and to how Catherine is dealing with life after her ordeal and how it has affected her. Often with thrillers, this is a side that is not seen as the focus is on searching for a killer rather than the psychological effects of a victim, which brought an interesting perspective to the book.

I found this impossible to put down. A fascinating and gripping read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Gardner - Love You More

""

Synopsis:
Who do you love? One question, a split-second decision, and Brian Darby lies dead on the kitchen floor. His wife, state police trooper Tessa Leoni, claims to have shot him in self-defence, and bears the bruises to back up her tale. For veteran detective D. D. Warren it should be an open-and-shut case. But where is their six-year-old daughter? And how far would you go? As the homicide investigation ratchets into a frantic statewide search for a missing child, D. D. Warren must partner with former lover Bobby Dodge to break through the blue wall of police brotherhood, seeking to understand the inner workings of a trooper's mind while also unearthing family secrets.

Would a trained police officer truly shoot her own husband? And would a mother harm her own child? . . . To save her?

For Tessa Leoni, the worst has not yet happened. She is walking a tightrope, with nowhere to turn, no one to trust, as the clock ticks down to a terrifying deadline. She has one goal in sight and she will use every ounce of her training, every trick at her disposal, to do what must be done. No sacrifice is too great, no action unthinkable. A mother knows who she loves. And all others will be made to pay.

Review:
DD Warren teams up with her former partner and lover Bobby Dodge. DD is has some very hard traits to her personality, but there is also a softer side too, and generally her heart is in the right place. Dody is quite affable for a detective and remains positive and open minded, definitely the more easy-going of the partnership.

This book make me feel as though I was being pulled in two directions - supporting both DD as she is a retruning character so I know she is a fair and just detective, if somewhat blinkered at times, but also on the side of Tessa Leoni. Leoni is a State Trooper who has been charged with the murder of her husband and is also suspected of murdering her daughter. Yet there is something throughout the book that makes you feel she may be innocent.

Gardner keeps the reader guessing if this is the case until the last page when all is revealed and it is a page turner from start to finish which one has come to expect from this author. She really gets into the mind of her characters and that of the reader. She is one of my favourite authors and although this book in my opinion is not one of her best books, it is still a great read and one that can't be put down.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gene Kerrigan - Rage

"Read this and I can guarantee you’ll be seeking out everything he’s ever done."

Synopsis:
Vincent Naylor is a professional thief, as confident as he is reckless. He's been released from jail for just ten days and he's preparing a robbery, but already his great plans are unravelling.

While investigating the murder of a crooked banker, D.S. Bob Tidey gets a call from an old acquaintance, ex-nun Maura Coady. The old lady thinks there's something suspicious happening on her street.

Maura's call inadvertently unleashes a storm of violence that will engulf Vincent Naylor, threaten Coady herself and force Tidey to make a deadly choice.

Review:
Gene Kerrigan. If you haven't heard of him, now is the time to get familiar with his work. Read this and I can guarantee you'll be seeking out everything he's ever done.

There are several set-pieces throughout the novel that are beautifully orchestrated and utterly gripping. There were times the old cliché “edge of my seat” were never more apt.

Yes, this is a thriller but Kerrigan lifts it beyond the ordinary by highlighting issues that blight both past and present Ireland. From the controversy and power of the Catholic Church to the financial problems the modern Ireland is beset with.


Bob Tidey is your archetypal determined detective, suffering flawed relationships with both his family and his superiors.None of this however wears the stench of cliché, given the layers he is invested with. With Tidey, Kerrigan has created a hugely empathic character, conflicted and driven in equal measure. The levels through which this character is worked are not limited to him.

Maura Coady is not just a retired nun, she was charged with abusing her charges. Vincent Naylor is a vicious thug but his affection for his brother and his girl-friend suggest he's not a lost cause. No one is all good and no one is all bad, according to the author.

Kerrigan's prose is tight, his dialogue sharp and effective and his plotting sweeps you up in a convincing and thoroughly entertaining page-turner.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Howard Linsky - The Drop

"Linskey has a knack of expressing a mindset with clarity, humour and realism which along with the earthy vocabulary combines to create a marvellous tale."

Synopsis:
David Blake is not a gangster. Or so he kids himself. He works as a white collar criminal for gang boss Bobby Mahoney. He enjoys the money and the good life but that comes to a juddering halt when both Geordie Cartwright and the bag of money he was carrying go missing.

Mahoney blames Blake and gives him only a couple of days to find them both or face the consequences. The search takes him deep into the underbelly of Newcastle's society where he visits lap dancing clubs, brothels, nightclubs and bars. His investigations unearth two horrible truths. There is a grass inside Mahoney's organisation and the Serious Organised Crime Agency are focussing their attentions on the firm too.

To make matters worse his heart is caught between two women; the first is Laura - a beautiful lawyer who is living with him, the second is Bobby Mahoney's only daughter who is utterly fixated with him. However it would be tantamount to suicide for him to start fooling around with the apple of his boss's eye.

Review:
This book is markedly different from a lot of crime thrillers as it is written from the criminal perspective and it's first person viewpoint through David Blake's eyes create what gives almost an autobiographical feel to the novel. This makes it seem as if you are being told the story by the character themselves. While not a new idea it works exceptionally well in Linskey's hands as he robs the tale of good and evil. He simply tells a story where the police are impotent and a very small part of proceedings.

There is no white knight riding into town to rescue the populace from the villains hands, instead it is a gritty account of criminal derring do.

Blake is a good lead with a wry outlook on life and a certain arrogance as he knows he is cleverer than all around him. Mahoney is the archetypal gang leader and the various henchmen are all standard fare for such a novel, although Finney does deserve a special mention for his brutishness. Other characters which add much to the tale are Sarah, Laura and Blake's brother Danny who is drawn with a particular skill and understanding.

The plot is none too complicated yet does not disappoint, instead it is the narrative and greater understanding of local environment and mentality which is the real star of the show. Linskey has a knack of expressing a mindset with clarity, humour and realism which along with the earthy vocabulary combines to create a marvellous tale.

Personally I loved the book and its escalating pace which gripped me tighter and tighter as the final standoff grew ever closer. Linskey is writing a follow up which features some of the characters, I for one will go out and buy it after reading this stunning debut.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R. S. Downie - Ruso and the River of Darkness

"It is very reassuring to be back again with Ruso."

Synopsis:
Ruso is back in Britain with his wife, Tilla, looking for a job as medicus. His long time friend and colleague, Valens, offers a short term alternative-investigating the disappearance of a taxman and the money he was carrying to Londinium.

This involves Ruso travelling to Verulamium to find out what happened, and Tilla also arrives there in the company of the taxman's girlfriend and son.

When the taxman, Julius Asper is discovered murdered, Ruso comes up against a number of the townspeople of Verulamium with their own interests to pursue. When Ruso gets in their way he finds himself and Tilla in danger.

With his usual stubbornness and Tilla's disregard for danger they find themselves in some very sticky situations, before coming to an arrangement that keeps all parties happy.

Review:
It is very reassuring to be back again with Ruso. He is a pragmatic and good-hearted hero who looks after the weak and opposes corruption where he finds it. At the same time he does not pretend to be the great hero, but a simple man following his own path. His wife complicates things for him but together they are a force for good.

Ruso is a character who looks at life with a comic viewpoint and this results in an amusing story. Even his errors contribute to the humour and to his portrayal as a very real and likeable character. Tilla is right when she describes him as man who tries to do the right thing even when it is foolish.

The background details are fascinating particularly as this time it is set close to home. I delight with the author in obscure facts and particularly liked the survey of British milestones! Now there's a job!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

P. J. Tracy - Play To Kill

"Throughout, the prose is taut, tense and interspersed with some wonderfully comic lines. "

Synopsis:
Minneapolis homicide cops Gino Rolseth and Leo Magozzi are called to fish a body from the Mississippi. They expect it to be just another day at the office and do not think of it as anything other than routine, until a video appears on the internet of the murder. Further investigation reveals that there are other murders posted on the web as well. Before they know it they are embroiled in a case which may be a serial killer or a group of killers working together.

Desperate to make a breakthrough or connection they turn to computer genius and maverick Grace MacBride and her friends at Monkeewrench for help. But as the videos and bodies stack up the team moves ever closer they uncover terrifying news that could spell grave consequences for all concerned.

Review:
This is the fifth and best in the series by mother and daughter P.J and Traci Lambrecht. Together they weave a fascinating tale of intrigue, suspense and murder which holds the reader's attention in a vice like grip. There is a strong sense of place throughout along with the background theme that the Internet is a breeding ground for all kinds of misanthropes.

The novel is centred on the two detectives, yet is as much about the four Monkeewrench members as well. Rolseth and his partner Magozzi are typical homicide detectives and could be picked up and put down in any major city worldwide. Rolseth is a family man who barters his wife's lasagnes for favours, while Magozzi is a bachelor lusting after Grace MacBride. MacBride along with Annie and the improbably named Roadrunner and Harley Davidson make up Monkeewrench a computer software firm that can do almost anything. The four misfits are drafted in to help the FBI trace the web posts and agent John Smith is sent to work with them. Underplayed in this novel compared to previous ones the Monkeewrench team are a joy to behold and stick together in the way that any dysfunctional family would.

Throughout, the prose is taut, tense and interspersed with some wonderfully comic lines. The tension is ramped up with a clever use of drip feeding information and clues whilst proceeding with events. I absolutely loved the way the authors brought a whole different twist to the serial killer/multiple killers theme with nobody ever knowing how many killers there were.

The Internet gives us all so much enjoyment, entertainment and information that as with all fun things, somebody would always go too far and it would end in tears. I'm just glad that it was P.J Tracy who was on hand to wipe those tears away.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Becker - The Messiah Secret

"The Messiah Secret stands alone among its contemporaries for one simple reason. It breaks new ground and hypothesizes new ideas."

Synopsis:
A band of warriors march across a mountainous wasteland in AD 72.

AD 2010: A piece of an ancient parchment is found in a crumbling mansion deep in the English countryside. Written in arcane code is the answer to a mystery which has momentous implications.

Enter Chris Bronson and Angela Lewis. Determined to solve a puzzle which has mystified scholars and theologians for almost two millennia, they embark on a journey to one of the most remote and inhospitable places in the world. Yet they are not alone in their quest, as there are forces who want to protect the secret and others who want to claim the prize for themselves.

Review:
This is a superbly crafted novel which follows in the footsteps of The Da Vinci Code and many others in the sub genre of the biblical quest/ancient mystery/action adventure/crime thriller (If anybody knows the correct title for this sub genre – if there is one - then please let ume know!) However, The Messiah Secret stands alone among its contemporaries for one simple reason. It breaks new ground and hypothesizes new ideas. Are they true or false? It is not for me to pass judgement, I was merely entertained, enlightened and made to think by the ideas and evidence put in front of me.

Becker has written a tightly worded, sharply written thriller in which a pair of intrepid ex's set out to catch a thief and end up globe trotting in a search for the Ark of the Covenant. The action ranges across three continents before a final stand off between the three different bands of treasure hunters. There is only one major twist in the plot, which admittedly I didn't see coming, but there are many little turns as the story unfolds, with one excellent “oh sh*t, what now?” moment.

The characters are all as you would expect from this type of novel with no real surprises in the cast list. You have Chris Bronson and his Ex-wife Angela Lewis who have remained very good friends after their divorce. The relationship between the pair was a little too twee for my taste but The Messiah Secret was more about action and intrigue than tangled lives. JJ Donovan the ruthless businessman; and the sinister Priest, Father Michael Killian who had his unique weapon recouped any perceived shortfall from the two lead characters.

This is the third novel by James Becker to feature Chris Bronson and I hope that one day, I'll have time to read the first two as I thoroughly enjoyed The Messiah Secret.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Luis Miguel Rocha - The Holy Assassin

"...give The Holy Assassin the attention it deserves, you will be rewarded with a complex and engaging story which blurs the margins between fact and fiction."

Synopsis:
Pope John Paul I died in 1978 amidst mysterious circumstances. John Paul II succeeds him only to place himself in mortal peril he is completely unaware of. Only the actions of a few loyal operatives prevent his assassination.

Thirty years later Sarah Monteiro, a rising journalistic star, begins to unearth the sinister plots of a covert agency who spin a web of lies and injustices to deceive people about who really is the power behind the holy throne.

The dark forces are still at large and Sarah faces a life and death struggle in the name of faith and the truth.

Review:
This second novel from Rocha picks up where the previous book “The Last Pope” left off. The Holy Assassin is definitely a book that benefits from having a predecessor as newcomers who picked this up first may struggle following the intricacies of the plot. At heart this tome is a good old fashioned spy novel, which gives Rocha room to play with the reader by using double crosses, alternate identities and more twists than a rope convention. This gives rise to a myriad of complexities and details which force the reader to give the book 110% concentration lest they be bewildered beyond recall.

The Holy Assassin is not a book for the kind of reader who snatches a few pages at a time. It is a more thought provoking novel for a discerning and intelligent audience. The Da Vinci Code it is not! Yet if you hunker down and give The Holy Assassin the attention it deserves, you will be rewarded with a complex and engaging story which blurs the margins between fact and fiction.

Each character is constructed with a graceful touch although none are more engaging than Abu Rashid, JC and the pope who is often referred to as The Pole. There is a driven ambition in each character whether they are on the side of The Church, Opus Dei, Truth or the CIA. Sarah Monteiro may be given the lead role but in my head she gets a best supporting actress award as the story is the real star here.

The pace is steady throughout without lighting any bonfires, yet I feel it is as fast as the story allows. If you can follow the book as the author intends, then you will fully appreciate what an intelligent spy thriller The Holy Assassin is.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: