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Reviews

May 2012

Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl

"‘Gone Girl’ is a strong, stand-out novel..."

Synopsis:
'What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions storm cloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?' Just how well can you ever know the person you love?

This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren't his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what really did happen to Nick's beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war.

Review:
Without giving too much away, what is read in the opening chapters is not all as it appears to be. The story is very cleverly written with sympathy swaying to whoever's part of the story is being told, and dislike is felt towards the other person at that time. Yet this changes when you get to see the other side of the coin and read the parallel narrative, but as the writing is so well done it is hard to fathom who really the victim is and who is the perpetrator.

I did struggle at times as the flow of the writing is not easy but I would recommend any reader to persevere as the book as a whole, far outweighs this minor criticism. Neither of the main characters is particularly stable or easy to like. One is exceptionally manipulative, the other is weak with many faults. Although this makes them the opposite of the typical all round, near perfect protagonist found in many novels, I found Flynn's characters to be more realistic because of them.

As the book progresses, one character becomes more and more disturbed, and the other character almost lowers themselves to their level leaving a very bitter taste in the mouth. The story has an ending without an end that will leave the reader with a few unanswered questions. Whilst some times this is frustrating, on this occasion, to me it felt appropriate. 'Gone Girl' in my opinion is not a 'happy ever after' kind of book but definitely an unusually written novel and one that certainly got me thinking about marriage. 'Gone Girl' is a strong, stand-out novel and for me, a contender for best crime novel of the year. Not bad as we're only in May!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matthew Quirk - The 500

"...I bet you’ll be seeing a mass of this book on many a sandy beach this summer."

Synopsis:
Mike Ford was following in his deadbeat father's footsteps, embarking on a young life of crime, when he turned himself around and worked his way into Harvard Law School. Now the reformed con man has landed a plum job at the Davies Group, Washington's most high-powered and well-respected strategic consulting firm. Their specialty: pulling strings and peddling influence for the five hundred most powerful people inside the Beltway, the men and women who really run Washington—and by extension the country, and the world.

Henry Davies, Mike's boss, knows everyone who matters—and he knows their secrets. Now he's looking for a protégé to tackle his most high-stakes deal yet, and Mike fits the bill. Quickly pulled into a seductive, dangerous web of power and corruption, Mike struggles to find his way out. But how do you save your soul when you've made a deal with the devil?

Review:
With any debut novel, the author is an unknown quantity, but I felt when I was reading 'The 500' I was reading a book by an accomplish author. From page one I was immediately hooked, and Quirk gave the characters enough depth to enable the reader to identify and empathise with them to ensure that not only was there an interest in what happened to them, but also that you were rooting for them as well. Quirk also managed to weave a little intrigue into some of the other characters so that it was hard to know whose side each person was on, making the plot a little more unpredictable, although there were of course some characters firmly entrenched on either side.

Despite this being based around politics, I found this was a different side of politics, perhaps dealing more with blackmail and persuasion rather than the inner workings of Washington. 'The 500' is a mix of the great legal novel (think Grisham at his finest) combined with an action thriller in the vein of Lee Child. 'The 500' is fast paced, and whilst the plot may be a little fantastic, this only made it all the more enjoyable for me.

'The 500' is a great read from a new and exciting author and I bet you'll be seeing a mass of this book on many a sandy beach this summer. I am very sure we will be hearing a whole lot more of Quirk in the future.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tony Black - Murder Mile

"This is for those discerning readers who want more than a puzzle..."

Synopsis:
In a cold, exposed field on the fringes of Edinburgh lies the viciously mutilated body of a young woman. As DI Rob Brennan looks at the tangled mass of limbs and blood, he feels his blood freeze. Like Fiona Gow five years earlier, this girl has been strangled with her own stockings, sexually mutilated and her eyes have been gouged out. Is this the work of an Edinburgh Ripper?

The press certainly think so. Rob Brennan is determined to uncover the truth - however painful that might be. But truth is hard to come by in a world of police rivalries, media hysteria and copycat crime.

Review:
Tony Black has conjured up all the elements one would look for in a police procedural and enhanced it with his take on the sub-genre. Conflicted detective? For sure. Internal politics? By the bucket load. A fascinating and thrilling ride? Hell yeah. Where Black also excels however, is in his depiction of the darker side of human nature. Anybody familiar with his oeuvre will know that nobody writes about society's “underclass” like he does. Their actions and motivations are clearly and painfully drawn and given a veracity that haunts and disturbs.

Then there's Brennan. The glue that holds a cleverly constructed plot together. He's a fascinating character, full of doubts, questioning his place with family and friends and even with the job. He's a man given to philosophy and his dark ruminations provide a fascinating window on his world, while demonstrating Black's quality as a writer: this is no ordinary police procedural, folks. This is for those discerning readers who want more than a puzzle, it's for those readers who want their intellect nudged while they plunge headlong into the 'whodunit'. 'Murder Mile' is a hugely satisfying read on all levels and comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jason Dean - The Wrong Man

"...an author who has the necessary skills to entertain readers for many years to come."

Synopsis:
Ex-Marine James Bishop will only get one chance to escape from prison and prove that he isn't responsible for the murders which saw him jailed. Three years previously he was leading a close protection team whose clients were a millionaire and his daughter.

Bishop was knocked unconscious and when he came to he found that not only were his team slain but both his clients had also been slaughtered. Littered around the millionaire's mansion was enough damning evidence to seal his conviction. Should Bishop make his escape from prison then he will have to evade capture while hunting down the people who set him up.

Review:
'The Wrong Man' is a modern day thriller packed with both up to date technology and methodology, yet it retains one of the oldest storylines in the genre – namely an innocent man framed for a crime he didn't commit seeking out the person who framed him.

Bishop is the typical straight arrow lead who is principled, honest and yet unafraid of the dirtier aspects of his job. His name is synonymous with his thought processes and actions as he often seems to shoot off on the diagonal rather than the obvious straight route. Other characters of note are Jenna, Art Mandrake and the dastardly Danny.

The plot as a whole is never overly complex or simple and serves the authors purpose exactingly as he either ramps up tension or settles things down with explanation before the next action sequence. The prose is pitch perfect for the genre and there are many ingenious new concepts to further the reader's enjoyment.

'The Wrong Man' is a thrilling debut from an author who has the necessary skills to entertain readers for many years to come.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rory Clements - Traitor

"...'Traitor' is another sumptuous feast that will leave you sated – but craving for the next helping! "

Synopsis:
John Shakespeare works for Sir Robert Cecil, Minister to Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare is first officer in Cecil's intelligence network and is trusted to help maintain the safety of the Queen in a time when many plot against her. His latest task is to protect the optical instrument, devised by the curious Dr Dee, which provides the English navy with an overwhelming advantage against the threatening Spanish. To do this, he travels to Lancashire where Dr Dee is lodged with the Earl of Derby, cousin to the Queen. Lancashire is a hotbed of catholic sympathisers, and suspicion is levelled at the Earl himself. When he is taken ill suddenly, possibly poisoned, Shakespeare is puzzled. Other strange events such as the death of a catholic priest and the behaviour of the exotic Lady Eliska indicate that there is some plotting afoot.

Shakespeare's adopted son Andrew, now student at Oxford, finds himself fleeing for his life and Shakespeare is desperate to rescue him. Andrew finds himself living with a band of vagabonds and learns quickly how to survive in alien and dangerous circumstances. Both plots interlink and Shakespeare arrives in France where Admiral Frobisher is attacking a Spanish held fort off the Brittany coast.

Review:
I think that this is the best one yet in Rory Clement's magnificent series about John Shakespeare. The tension builds up gradually throughout the book and culminates in some very exciting scenes. Shakespeare battles with forces determined to undo him and he comes across his old enemy, Topcliffe who uses all his nefarious arts against Shakespeare. Andrew, John's son, develops throughout the book and becomes a very attractive character who I would guess will play an important part in future books. By the end of the book there are several gripping stories going on at the same time and it was very difficult to put this book down.

As always, the historical detail is fascinating and sometimes delightfully obscure. The atmosphere of Elizabethan time when spies are everywhere and there are few you can trust is brilliantly portrayed. The characters have developed throughout the series and continue to do so. Part of the enjoyment is the familiarity with the characters and the anticipation of where they will go next. 'Traitor' is a brilliant book which stands as a good read on its own, but for those with a penchant for historical crime of the Tudor era I recommend starting at the beginning of the series with Clements' gripping debut, 'Martyr'. But for those of us who follow Shakespeare's adventures avidly – 'Traitor' is another sumptuous feast that will leave you sated – but craving for the next helping!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Lyndon - Hawk Quest

"...fans of historical fiction will love ‘Hawk Quest’ and it is well worth the lengthy read."

Synopsis:
In eleventh century Europe, Vallon, a Frankish knight with a troubled past, and Hero, a Sicilian scholar, meet unexpectedly and Vallon is persuaded to take on the quest begun by Hero's patron. A Norman nobleman, Walter, has been imprisoned in Anatolia by Seljuk Turks and to secure his release his family have to pay the ransom of four white gyrfalcons. Found only in Iceland and Greenland the mission involves great danger by ship to capture the falcons and transport them safely to the captors. But Vallon, lured by the promise of money, assembles a disparate band of Englishmen for the mission.

The journey takes them through Norman England to Scandinavia, Russia and down to Turkey. Hardship and violence mar the journey although friendships and love affairs are also ignited. Can the ransom be found and paid before Walter's life is forfeited?

Review:
This is a huge book around 700 pages long and most of the narrative is densely written. There is a strong sense of impetus in the book as the assembled band go about fulfilling their quest. Lyndon is excellent at characterisation. The disparate members of the group jump out of the page as allegiances and partnerships are formed. As you would expect of a book of such length some parts work better than others. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Norman England and the journey to Scandinavia. Lyndon has obviously done a huge amount of research on the period and the reader is transported to early medieval Europe.

As the quest is partially fulfilled and the group makes its slow way to Anatolia I found some of the romantic parts of the book slightly irritating but this didn't detract from the overall story. I'm sure that fans of historical fiction will love 'Hawk Quest' and it is well worth the lengthy read.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nick Santora - 15 Digits

"This is an excellent read from a newly discovered author that shouldn't be missed by any crime fiction fan."

Synopsis:
Five men - five walks of life. Every day they come together at the white shoe law firm Olmstead & Taft. But they're not lawyers. They're "Printers": blue-collar guys consigned to the dark basement of the firm charged with copying, collating and delivering the mountains of paperwork that document millions of dollars of sensitive legal secrets.

Until the five are approached by an ambitious young attorney who teaches them what they have: insider information. Together they make a plan: take the classified documents that pass through their hands every day and use them to get rich. They create a joint account to deposit the spoils. An account with a safeguard-each one only knows one section of the access code. Which means that for all five conspirators, there's no way out. But as too much money piles up to go unnoticed, the Printers will discover there's one thing even worse than being an outsider: being in too deep.

Review:
This novel opens by giving the reader an insight as to what will happen at the end of the story. With five man characters, the author shares a main part of the plot that some of these people will not be alive by the end of the book. But far from spoiling the enjoyment or giving too much away, and before knowing anything about any of the characters, I was hooked, wanting to know who was going to be the ones that survived and who wasn't. And the more I got to know each character, the less I wanted it to be them that lost their life. Although it is known that some characters die, which ones, how and why, is only explained later on in the book.

I found the title of the book to be unappealing, nor indicative as to what the story was going to be about, but once I got started I simply couldn't put this book down. The main characters are very mixed in backgrounds, motives and traits. They are an unlikely motley crew but one that works very well together. 'Fifteen Digits' is a book that can be very dark and violent at times, but lightened with some great moments from Eddie. This is an excellent read from a newly discovered author that shouldn't be missed by any true crime fan.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Doug Johnstone - Hit and Run

"‘Hit and Run’ is a hugely entertaining slice of noir that is certainly worth your hard-earned. "

Synopsis:
Returning home late in the wee, small hours from a party with his girlfriend and brother, all of them drunk and high on stolen pills, Billy Blackmore accidentally hits someone with his car. In a panic, they stop and check the victim. He is dead.

They then make a decision that comes back to haunt them. The unanimous decision is that it is too late to help the deceased and that they should think of their own futures and they therefore decide to drive off and pretend it never happened.

But the next day Billy wakes to find he has to cover the story for the local paper. It turns out the dead man was Edinburgh's biggest crime lord and, as Billy struggles with what he's done, he is sucked into a nightmare of guilt, retribution and violence.

Review:
'Hit and Run' is an excellent, 'read it all in one gulp' kinda book. The premise wears the genius of simplicity and begs the question: what would you do? And this provides the driver for you as you race through the book.

What would you do, is the question you are faced with time and time again as Billy, wracked with guilt, pushes at events, picks at them like you would a scab and plummets into paranoia ... and as such is a hugely engaging character.

Indeed, all of the characters are well drawn and play their part handsomely; my favourite being Billy's boss, Rose – a time served, hard-living journalist with a penchant for policeman. Her relationship with Billy provided ongoing warmth and humour throughout the book, at just the right times providing a short spell of lightness in the race to the conclusion.

The plot rips along aided and abetted by the author's pared down prose and sharp dialogue. The sense of place is also a strong element of Johnstone's story-telling, proving once again how the city of Edinburgh is a boon to the novelist.

'Hit and Run' is a hugely entertaining slice of noir that is certainly worth your hard-earned.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Maxine Chattam - Carnage

"This is an unusual book, but an absorbing read..."

Synopsis:
When a massacre takes place at a Harlem school, Lamar a New York detective is sent to investigate the killings. Fourteen students have died and the killer has then committed suicide an act witnessed by a terrified student, Chris de Roy. When another atrocity is committed at a school in Queens, Lamar mentally files the case as a bizarre coincidence. But a third massacre in another school, following the pattern of the previous two, makes it clear that these are not random events. Someone appears to be guiding the hands of the killers and Lamar must unearth a suspect before another mass murder occurs.

Review:
This is a very short book, only 100 pages long but manages to pack in three high school massacres with scores of deaths. The narrative is written in a neutral way which is effective in conveying both the horror of the situations but also the methodical way in which the crimes are investigated.

The character of Lamar is a strong portrayal of a New York detective who has been on the force long enough to be the first port of call for a difficult case but is unlikely ever to fit in with the other detectives. It is Lamar who is the catalyst in this book, doggedly following up clues until a ballistics result gives him the connection he is looking for. This is an unusual book, but an absorbing read with an ending which is neither predictable nor trite. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Gardner - Catch Me

"...a great read and one readers will greatly enjoy."

Synopsis:
D.D. Warren, the relentless Boston investigator must solve a coldly calculated murder - before it happens. D.D. is hard to surprise. But a lone woman outside D.D.'s latest crime scene shocks her with a remarkable proposition: Charlene Rosalind Carter Grant believes she will be murdered in four days. And she wants Boston's top detective to handle the death investigation.

'It will be up close and personal. No evidence of forced entry, no sign of struggle'. Charlie tells a chilling story: Each year at 8:00 p.m. on January 21st, a woman has died. The victims have been childhood best friends from a small town in New Hampshire; the motive remains unknown. Now only one friend, Charlie, remains to count down her final hours.

Review:
Gardner's latest book has D.D. Warren as the main character investigating the crimes. D.D. is a very strong, pragmatic person, who, since having her baby has softened somewhat. There are also brief appearances from Gardner's other regular characters, Quincy and his daughter, Kimberly.

'Catch Me' has three plots running simultaniuously; Charlie, who believes she only has 4 days left to live before she will be murdered, a child pornography investigation, and the murder of two paedophiles. And whilst all seemingly disconnected, there is a common thread that needs to be identified.

The book opens with a scene where the characters are not identified, although further on through the book it is possible to guess a little what happened, but a full explanation is not given until the end. 'Catch Me' seemed to give a lot more personal information on D.D., and as with all Gardner novels, the reader will feel that they really get to know the characters. This latest is missing the edge of Gardner's best, but it is still a great read and one readers will greatly enjoy.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Various - Radgepacket Vol. 6

"...‘Radgepacket’ is a great collection of new talent."

Synopsis:
'Radgepacket – Tales from the Inner Cities' is a collection of short stories from the darkest parts of society and is the sixth in the Radgepacket series. There are tales of crimes, misery, redemption and retribution. Dare you enter the inner city world with all its quirks, weirdo's and chancers? This is a place where crime is rife and the atmosphere is bleak on a good day.

There are twenty two contributing authors who offer a variety of writing styles for your enjoyment.

Review:
Let me be honest from the start, 'Radgepacket – Tales from the Inner Cities' is not all crime short stories. Rather they are a series of vignettes about the type of people, situations and locales which are regularly featured in crime novels.

There are one or two weaker stories which didn't sit too well against the others but overall the collection was full of strong writing and powerful voices. The bleakness is regularly lifted with a witty aside or nod inducing realism. On more than one occasion I could relate to the characters and on others I could think of people I know who resemble the characters within.

Nick Quantrill is probably the best known name to feature, although there are a good number of up and coming heavyweights in this collection. Writers such as Col Bury, Paul D Brazill, Darren Sant, Luca Veste have been around for years and are well established on the crime fiction blogs.

Crimesquad.com has always supported new and upcoming authors. 'Radgepacket – Tales from the Inner Cities' gives you a sneak peak at the next wave of British authors. You'll be seeing some of these guys on the shelves of your local bookshops in the next few years. Get on the bus early. You won't be disappointed as 'Radgepacket' is a great collection of new talent.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: