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Reviews

June 2012

Penny Hancock - Tideline

"‘Tideline’ swept me away like the tide of the Thames."

Synopsis:
Sonia lives in a grand house on the River Thames. The river has been a part of her life since childhood and nothing will take her away from the unpredictable tides that map her days. But her entire existence is being threatened by her husband's insistence that they sell the house she was born in and move away. Nothing will make her leave the River House.

And then Jez enters Sonia's life solely to collect a CD and soon the past and the present blur and the possibility of igniting a love from her past is embodied in the innocence of the youthful Jez and before he knows it, Jez is held captive in Sonia's music room, drugged and tied up. He reminds Sonia of her own youth and the love that ended tragically long ago: Sebastian. Jez has all the attributes that she loved in Sebastian and now she wants to capture Jez's youth and in her warped mind bring about Sonia's own youth once again. But once she makes Jez hers, matters take a turn for the worse and The River House that stands on the shifting tide of the River Thames becomes a venue for deceit, kidnap, murder and madness.

Review:
This debut crime novel from Hancock felt like a book of two halves for me. The premise of a young, strong teenager being held captive by a middle-aged woman and kept prisoner in her ivory tower took a little bit of mind bending and a good dose of imagination. It wasn't until a third of the way through that Hancock's story appeared to change gear and flowed a lot more freely and became a more plausible story of obsession and the craving of youth.

For me, Hancock felt more comfortable as the story progressed and Jez became more ill and less able to defend himself to the paranoia and obsessive nature of Sonia. Although the narrative is divided between Jez's aunt, Helen and his captor, Sonia, it is mainly Sonia's story that is told. The last two thirds of 'Tideline' was spot on and Hancock's description and narrative of Sonia's decline in to madness was horrific and compelling. With rhythmic prose Hancock echoes the ebb and flow of the Thames to the passions and desires of Sonia. The final 'reveal' about Sebastian was a shocker and certainly wrong-footed me which is admirable when I think of the amount of crime novels I've read for this website alone.

'Tideline' swept me away like the tide of the Thames. It has also been chosen for the Richard and Judy Book Club and I say it is well deserved. I would advise anyone starting this title that you may have to persevere – but you will be rewarded come the end.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Wood - The Enemy

"‘The Enemy’ is a first class action thriller which will have readers on the edge of their seats."

Synopsis:
Meet Victor. He's the world's deadliest assassin, locked in an uneasy alliance with the CIA. And he has a list: three names, three victims. But with each name he crosses off, the game grows far more complex - and far more lethal.

With a woman to protect and a conspiracy to unravel, the perfect assassin is now the perfect target. Zooming from Moscow to London to Washington, Victor has to make his way through a mission loaded with suspense, twists and sex appeal.

Review:
Having voted Tom Wood's previous book into the Crimesquad Top Ten for 2011, there was a heightened sense of excitement in my household when 'The Enemy' dropped through my door. Not once was I disappointed as I raced my way through this book. From start to finish there is gunplay, action, intrigue and more than enough twists to keep the reader guessing.

Victor is slowly and steadily being fleshed out by Wood into one of the stars of the action thriller. The highly skilled assassin would give Reacher, Hunter or Fox a real run for their money. He also has a fine brain as well as a range of murderous skills. Adrianna does a fine job of humanising Victor with her presence and the opposing forces of Kasakov, Clarke, and Yarmout all add to the novel in different ways.

With short sharp sentences Wood drives the novel forward at an ever escalating pace until the final scene which would be worthy of inclusion in any of this summer's action blockbuster movies. Throughout the novel the style of writing is very visual and cinematic. The plot is basically straightforward but has been given layers and twists to elevate the story and keep the reader turning those pages. All in all 'The Enemy' is a first class action thriller which will have readers on the edge of their seats.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Zoe Ferraris - Kingdom of Strangers

"‘Kingdom of Strangers’ pulled me in and educated me as well. "

Synopsis:
A secret grave is unearthed in the desert revealing the bodies of 19 women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade.

However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women in the police department. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own.

Review:
Despite being a fan of thrillers set in present time with modern technology used to solve crimes, scientific advances together with interagency and international co-operation implemented to catch a killer, I did have reservations about a thriller that was set in Saudi Arabia. A country, even in the present day, where in the most part the men are still segregated from the women, and the women have no rights. Where a woman has to cover herself from head to toe or be accused of indecency, where she is not allowed to drive or where a man can be executed for adultery.

However, once I started 'Kingdom of Strangers' any reservations I may have had were allayed by this spellbinding novel. This book was a fascinating insight to another culture. Half of me was taken with the plot of the murder, whilst the other half was intrigued with the way of life, some of which I was aware of, some of which is almost impossible to believe. The book was at times very brutal, not necessarily just because of the plot, but also because of the extreme culture one is not familiar with.

'Kingdom of Strangers' pulled me in and educated me as well. For me, that is always a bonus when reading any book. Ferraris is now an author whose books I will be reading in the future as well as now going back and reading her previous novels, too.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt Hilton (ed) - Action - Vol.1

"This book should not be purchased by asthmatics or heavy smokers as it leaves a fit person breathless with excitement."

Synopsis:
Think back to the days when heroes were heroes and the action was furious and full-blooded. When often as not, the hero was quite the opposite: an anti-hero - but he needed to be, to bring the kind of violent justice to villains worse than him. When political correctness took a back seat, even as the bullets and karate chops were flying. Basically it was good old harmless fun. It was a case of disengaging your moral compass and getting down with the hero as they took on all comers, and with balletic grace and uncompromising violence.

Then fast forward to today: What if the current action and thriller authors set their minds to bringing back the action genres of old? Well, that question is answered here. You will find secret agents, vigilantes (both just and insane), cops, villains, soldiers, veterans, gangsters, swordsmen, privateers, Ninja and even a crypto-zoological beast you might recognise.

Review:
The title of this book says it all really. From page one the pace is turned up and as the pages turn it never threatens to let up. There are more killers in Action PPT than have ever walked through the door of any prison. Yet each story stands alone as a vignette which harks back to the vintage action thrillers of the seventies.

The line up includes some of the finest thriller writers the UK has to offer. Established stars such as the editor of this collection, Matt Hilton, Stephen Leather, Adrian Magson, Stephen Savile and Richard Godwin along with a whole raft of emerging international talent such as Paul D. Brazill, James Oliver Hilton, Col Bury, David Barber, Pete Sortwell and Absolutely Kate. I'm also proud to say that I too have a story in this most exciting anthology. Naturally I shall refrain from commenting on my own story.

This book should not be purchased by asthmatics or heavy smokers as it leaves a fit person breathless with excitement. The differing backgrounds and settings keep the reader turning as no two stories are the same and the open mandate means we have assassins, police, tribesmen and vigilante's to entertain us.

Reading through Action – PPT the biggest thing that struck me was the quality of the writing from the lesser known writers. They all managed to match the detail, plotting and excitement factor of the “names”. The best ways I can think of to explain the consistent quality comes in two parts. Firstly if you removed the author's names from the stories then I would defy anyone without inside knowledge to identify which stories were by the published authors. Secondly I can only think of Lee Child, David Morrell, Tom Cain and Matthew Riley as authors whose work would fit the mould and maintain the quality.

The quality level is down mainly to the individual writers, although the editor and compiler Matt Hilton has of course tweaked, advised and formatted all the submissions. It is a measure of the man behind the curtain that Hilton has also pledged a portion of every sale in the first month will go to Help for Heroes. If you like big budget action films like Die Hard, Rambo (the first 3 anyway), Bourne and Bond films then you'll love Action – Pulse Pounding Tales.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin O'Brien - The Dying Minutes

"Once more the flavour of rough and ready Marseilles shone through..."

Synopsis:
In 1978, a gold bullion robbery takes place near Marseilles. Both the gold and the thieves disappear. Twenty years later, Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot unexpectedly receives the gift of a boat from an old friend of his father's, a fisherman whose income could not have stretched to the purchase of such a fine vessel. Meanwhile, lawyer Claude Dupont is summoned to visit a dying client, a gangland boss languishing in a Marseilles jail. He is given access to a secret cache of papers and must now set about his appointed task.

As deaths begin to scar the Marseilles landscape, it is clear that old debts are being settled and new wounds are appearing. Jacquot, assisted by his old lover, Isabelle Cassier, has to uncover the complex trail of the missing gold to bring an end to the murders.

Review:
This is the seventh book in the Jacquot series and all the characters have settled down into solid and interesting personalities. Jacquot has changed slightly from the pot smoking detective of the early books and his partner Claudine is expecting his baby. However, his essence as the burly ex-rugby playing policeman in still there. In this book, the return of his former policewoman lover gave an extra frisson to the narrative as she made a determined play to remove Jacquot from the clutches of his pregnant partner.

The crime plot was well thought out although bodies did appear at an alarming rate. However, fans of Martin O'Brien's books will know that violent death often features heavily in them without being too gruesome. Fortunately, many of the victims were unsavoury characters with many of them getting their comeuppance for past misdemeanours. Once more the flavour of rough and ready Marseilles shone through and I'm sure this book will delight fans of the Jacquot series.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Shamini Flint - A Curious Indian Cadaver

"...especially for those looking for a touch of the exotic with their crime."

Synopsis:
Inspector Singh is not the all-action hero. He is rather overweight, asthmatic and fond of his wife's cooking. He struggles with the heat and officialdom that gets in his way, but is a caring cop who uses his intellect and sympathy with the human condition to track down the culprits. He is based in Singapore, but manages to find himself in various Eastern countries investigating crime. This latest story is based in Mumbai where he goes with his wife to attend a family wedding. When the bride goes missing shortly before the big day, and then a young woman's body is found, Inspector Singh is called in by the family to investigate. He is supposedly still on sick leave and very much not part of the Indian Police investigation, but when he is able to suggest possible lines of enquiry to one of the Indian officers he is allowed very unofficial access to some of their resources.

The family in Mumbai is large and dependent on the patriarch, Tara Singh, for their prosperity. He has a large business in chemicals that provides the money and prospects for the family. His word is law and the tensions arising from this as the younger family members grow up and develop their own viewpoints are the starting point for the web of lies and violence that is the backdrop for this story.

Review:
Like all the Inspector Singh novels one of the fascinating aspects is the insight into different cultures. In this case the complicated relationships of the close knit Sikh family are described with humour and understanding. The vibrant business community of Mumbai, cheek by jowl in horrendous slums, is vividly brought to life. The story has parallels with real-life chemical leaks in India, but is something that has happened in several places round the world.

The meat of the book is, of course, the story and this one is a clever mystery with various strands that converge in the end to a give a very satisfying ending. Inspector Singh never gives up. Inspector Singh is an original and lovable creation and the books are an extremely good read, especially for those looking for a touch of the exotic with their crime.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Charlotte Link - The Other Child

"...kept me riveted to this book. "

Synopsis:
In the seaside town of Scarborough two women are murdered, first a young student and then an elderly woman who is a family friend of Gwen Beckett. Plain Gwen, who has a dreadful dress-sense, has recently become engaged to Dave Tanner a good looking charmer and many of Gwen's friends fear he is taking advantage of her.

Valerie Almond is an ambitious detective who sees the roots of the second murder in the opposition of Gwen's family and friends to the engagement. However she struggles to find a link to the first killing with most of the suspects having good alibis. However, a break appears in the case when the story of young evacuees from London to Scarborough emerges and hidden secrets are revealed.

Review:
Charlotte Link is a hugely successful writer in her native Germany and this book has been translated from the German. Her grasp of the English landscape is impressive and the town and surrounds of Scarborough vividly come to life. The sections detailing the story of the wartime evacuees is interesting and believable, as locals struggle to integrate the bedraggled children from London. The link between the past and present doesn't become clear until the end of the book and it is quite a distressing story.

I found the present day murder investigation interesting, particularly the character of Dave Tanner. I couldn't quite believe his attraction for the women in the book, especially the more sophisticated Jennifer but he was certainly an interesting character that kept me riveted to this book. This is an unusual book that will appeal to fans of psychological thrillers and I would certainly read more translations of this authors novels.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lawrence O'Bryan - The Istanbul Puzzle

"...a strong debt which entertains throughout."

Synopsis:
Sean Ryan's friend and colleague Alek Zegliwski is murdered in Istanbul so Sean flies out to identify the body and make preparations for bringing Alek back. Alek was beheaded and his body found at a sacred archaeological site.

Enlisting the help of British diplomat Isabel Sharp, Sean digs into the events surrounding and leading to his friend's death. As he nears his friends assassin he turns from hunter to hunted and time is fast running out for him as the assassin is mixed up in a plot to spread a deadly virus.

Review:
O'Bryan is the latest novelist to venture into the historical artefact find sub-genre of crime and he gives a good account of himself. The pace of the novel escalates steadily with peaks and troughs throughout for adventure and exposition before the final set piece. The plot is complex enough to grip yet not so intertwined upon itself as to dull the reader's appetite.

The lead characters of Sean and Isabel interact well and both have a history which is gently unfurled as the novel progresses. Sean's history goes a long way to explaining his drive and is a wonderful piece of characterisation for a debut novel. The evil Malach provides a strong counterpoint in what is overall a strong debt which entertains throughout.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Leigh Russell - Death Bed

"Russell’s strength as a writer is her ability to portray believable characters."

Synopsis:
When the bodies of two black girls are found within days of each other, the police fear an adverse reaction from the local black community. Each of the girls had the same two teeth removed and suffered other mutilations. One of the girls worked in a massage parlour and police suspicion immediately falls on one of her clients who is a known racist.

Geraldine Steel has relocated to London and is handed the job of tracking down the twisted killer before he kills again. To increase the pressure on Steel a third young woman has gone missing.

Review:
Russell's strength as a writer is her ability to portray believable characters. A clever use of just enough description coupled with a flair for dialogue gives us the fantastic Geraldine Steel and the young Sam Haley. Geraldine has past issues to resolve and these hang heavy on her while acting as a catalyst to drive her forward.

The prose is as neat as you would expect from an English teacher with nary a word out of place. Pace is injected with a steady feed of information and a ramping up of tension by also featuring the victim's plight. Sadly the plot is the weakest link in 'Death Bed'. The reveal of the killer's identity left me cold and for that reason I have given it a lower rating than normal for what was otherwise an excellent novel.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cath Staincliffe - Dead To Me

"No frills or gimmicks, just solid characters, well thought out plot and intelligent writing."

Synopsis:
A daughter's death. A teenage girl is found brutally murdered in her squalid flat. A mother's love. Her mother is devastated. She gave her child up to the care system, only to lose her again, and is convinced that the low-life boyfriend is to blame.

Two ordinary women, one extraordinary job. DC Rachel Bailey has dragged herself up from a deprived childhood and joined the Manchester Police. Rachel's boss thinks her new recruit has bags of raw talent but straight-laced DC Janet Scott, her reluctant partner, has her doubts. Together Scott and Bailey must hunt a killer, but a life fighting crime can be no life at all.

Review:
Based on the T.V. series of 'Scott and Bailey' this adds some more background to the hugely popular show. DC Rachel Bailey took some warming to as she is easy to irritate whereas the other characters are appealing in their simplicity. There is very little of major note of any of the main characters which, for me, made them more realistic. It was interesting watching the relationships, both new and existing, develop, both in and out of the office. Often, the personal lives of characters can be superfluous to a plot, but Staincliffe has managed to seamlessly link both of these together.

The plot centres on the hunt of the killer of Lisa Flynn, a victim who will garner little sympathy from the reader, but again, despite having a connection with the victim, Staincliffe manages to keep the reader interested. I found this novel an almost 'back to basics' novels. No frills or gimmicks, just solid characters, well thought out plot and intelligent writing. It was a steady, rather than heady pace that I found 'Dead To Me' to be an enjoyable change.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Paul Brazill - 13 Shots of Noir

"...prose that is tighter than a snare drum."

Synopsis:
13 Shots Of Noir is a collection of flash fiction and short stories in the vein of Roald Dahl, The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The first story, "The Tut", was nominated for a 2010 Spinetingler Award, while the story "Anger Management" was chosen as one of the Predators and Editors top twenty crime stories.

Crime, horror and dark fiction are contained within the pages of 13 Shots Of Noir.

Review:
Paul D. Brazill is often referred to as one of the leading lights of the Brit Grit scene which populates blogs and ezines. This collection of short stories highlights just why he is held in such high regard by so many.

'The Tut' is a marvellous tale of repetition breeding contempt and even psychosis as the Oliver Robinson is driven crazy by the ever present “tut” in his ears. Mental illness is again tackled with the disturbing 'Anger Management'. My favourite was 'The Man Behind the Curtain' which tapped into everyday life in the blackest way imaginable.

Some of the stories dip their toes into horror and while I didn't enjoy them as much as the crime based ones they were still excellently written. Each of the stories though displays a knack for realism and brevity which entertains the reader with carefully conjured images and prose that is tighter than a snare drum. I loved '13 Shots of Noir' for the way Brazill condensed so much story into such short tales. Grab a copy and let your imagination be taken on an exhilarating ride.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Beverly Barton - Don't Cry

"...I found ‘Don’t Cry’ to be a fascinating story which has been carefully plotted. "

Synopsis:
Victims are posed in macabre positions at crime scenes. They appear to be still alive but are merely arranged to satisfy a twisted killer's delusions.

Grief counsellor Audrey Sherrod soon realises the killings are the work of a deranged serial killer. The first link is the victims' physical similarities but soon another stronger link emerges and it's one which hits horrifyingly close to home for Dr Sherrod. As the truth is discovered by Agent J.D. Cass of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, things become more twisted and terrifying than anyone dare imagine.

Review:
This book evoked mixed feelings in me as I read it. I loved the mystery and intrigue which Barton laid out for my enjoyment. What I didn't enjoy so much was the detailed romantic interludes. Now don't get me wrong I'm not made of stone and I like it when a hero or heroine finds love. There was just too much focus on personal relationships for my tastes, although in fairness to the author I have to say that these interludes were very well done.

Putting that aside, I found 'Don't Cry' to be a fascinating story which has been carefully plotted. Barton gives you enough information for the amateur detective to kick in and start suspecting various characters. One by one the suspect list grows and changes as the ever shifting focus keeps you guessing. The final reveal was almost unexpected to me and I thoroughly enjoyed the way the plot gripped me.

Dr Sherrod, J.D. and J.D.'s daughter Zoe are all very well drawn characters although a part of me wonders if the leads were a little clichéd as they ticked all the right boxes for crime and romance novels.

To sum up, this was an overall enjoyable read which entertained me. Any failings I found in the novel are nothing more than a reflection of my personal tastes. I would read another book by Barton as the positives far outweighed the negatives.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Crais - Taken

"...very well written and comes highly recommended."

Synopsis:
When Nita Morales hires Elvis Cole to find her missing adult daughter, she isn't afraid, even though she's received a phone call asking for ransom. She knows it's a fake, that her daughter is off with the guy Nita will only call “that boy,” and that they need money: 'Even smart girls do stupid things when they think a boy loves them.'

But Nita is wrong. The girl and her boyfriend have been taken by bandits who prey on other bandits, border professionals who prey not only on innocent victims, but on each other. They steal drugs, guns, and people – buying and selling victims like commodities, and killing the ones they can't get a price for.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike find the spot where they were taken. There are tire tracks, bullet casings, and bloodstains. They know things look as bad as possible. But they are wrong - it is about to get worse. Going undercover to find the two young people and buy them back, Cole himself is taken, and now it is up to Joe Pike to retrace Cole's steps, burning through the hard and murderous world of human traffickers to find his friend. But he may already be too late.

Review:
I have greatly enjoyed Crais' previous Cole/Pike novels but had found that the most recent ones, whilst easy to read, had lost their edge a little. 'Taken' brings Crais back to his best and delivers a story that is fast paced and one that I was unable to put down. Maybe at times it was aimed more at the American market with some of the language and dialect used it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the story.

I would like Crais to let the reader get to know Cole and Pike more - their history, childhood, personal lives, but there is also the saying less is more and a lot is said about the relationship between the two friends without the need for words. But I feel some background on the two men would help build these characters even more. 'Taken' is told over various timelines and from different peoples' perspectives and was easy to follow.

'Taken' is the best Crais book I have read for some time and I had to read it in one sitting. No real major twists or thrills as such, just a fast pace book filled with great characters, that is very well written and comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elly Griffiths - A Room Full of Bones

"‘A Room Full of Bones’ is the perfect instalment to a gripping series that is seriously becoming ‘a must-read’."

Synopsis:
The discovery of the mediaeval coffin of a Norfolk Bishop, Augustine, excites the interest of archaeologists, including Dr Ruth Galloway, and the family of Lord Danforth Smith who are descended from the prelate. Before the coffin can be opened however, the curator of the Smith museum, Neil Topham, is found dead next to the ancient sarcophagus. Although death is ruled the result of natural causes, DCI Harry Nelson's interest is sufficiently piqued to look into the background of all the Smith family. When a second person connected to the mediaeval bishop is found murdered, rumours circulate of an ancient curse that is affecting all those who come into contact with the body.

Meanwhile a group of people are pressurising the museum to return the aboriginal skulls that have been languishing in the museum's store. Led by the druid Cathbad, he once more plays a catalytic role when danger comes to both Ruth and Nelson.

Review:
This is the fourth book in the series featuring Ruth Galloway and the characters are now settling down into their respective roles. Many of the subsidiary characters of the previous books appear, including Shona, now pregnant and Nelson's wife Michelle, who is given a much sympathetic portrayal as the betrayed wife struggling to come to terms with Nelson and Ruth's previous relationship.

The actual murder investigation was interesting and became more complex than it initially appeared. But the true strength of Elly Griffith's writing is her focus on the characters and the relationships that interweave between them. She effectively conveys the hurt and complex feelings that can result from unthinking indiscretions and somehow these become integral to the narrative. 'A Room Full of Bones' is the perfect instalment to a gripping series that is seriously becoming 'a must-read'.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: