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Reviews

July 2012

Ruth Rendell - The Saint Zita Society

"‘The Saint Zita Society’ is Ruth Rendell hitting the bulls-eye."

Synopsis:
The Saint Zita Society convene in the Dugong at the end of Hexam Place. It consists of the folk who live and work for those privileged enough to own a place in Hexam Place, Pimlico. Saint Zita was the patron saint of domestic servants and their meetings allow them to voice their concerns for the local area and their disapproval of the way they are treated by their employers. They wish to make changes that will allow them more privileges and to stop people taking advantage of them: but the residents of Hexam Place, above and below stairs have their secrets and soon both worlds will collide when murder and subterfuge touches them all.

One such Saint Zita member, Dex works as a gardener for the kindly Dr. Jefferson and receives messages from his 'God' – his mobile phone service provider, 'Peach'. It is when Dex begins to receive calls from 'Peach' instructing him to rid the world of certain evil spirits that Hexam Place becomes the centre of destructive forces hidden behind the respectable facades.

Review:
'The Saint Zita Society' is Ruth Rendell hitting the bulls-eye. It showcases what Rendell does so well – takes a respectable part of London where people lead innocuous lives and then picks their lives and psyche apart to show the monster beneath. As with many of Rendell's novels her characters are hardly loveable, in fact the people who live in Hexam Place could be described as a crowd of grotesques but Rendell still makes you feel some empathy for them which is her metier.

The cast is vast, but Rendell expertly manages with short sharp bursts to involve everyone who lives within the chosen houses of Hexam Place. As always, her acerbic, ironic humour is threaded within her prose as she highlights the absurdity of some people. What I thought Rendell did well was to highlight the ever increasing chasm between the 'have' and the 'have nots' which is a factor you read about everyday in the newspapers. 'The Saint Zita Society' had the feel of one of my favourite novels of Rendell's 'The Killing Doll' and for me this novel is back to what Rendell does best. As always, the ending wasn't an ending but showed that life and death go on and for the people within this drama there is no finale, no wrapping up with paper and a nice bow. It was an ending that made me read the last paragraph several times. Rendell is a consummate professional of her chosen genre and this latest shows that with nearly fifty years experience under her belt Rendell can still significantly stake her claim amongst the new blood of crime fiction.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Harlan Coben - Stay Close

"‘Stay Close’ is a brilliant read which is dark, thrilling and thoroughly entertaining."

Synopsis:
Megan is the typical suburban soccer mom with two kids and a doting husband. Her new family have no idea that she used to walk on the wild side of life. Ray was once a talented documentary photographer, who as he approaches his fortieth birthday works as a fake paparazzo, snapping away at fame obsessed rich kids. Broome is a detective who is driven to solve a cold case – the disappearance of a local husband and father seventeen years ago.

As the past comes back to haunt the present, the three people who have hidden secrets from those closest to them come to learn that the past never lets go. As they battle to confront their own demons and find a resolution their idyllic all American dreams may just end in tatters.

Review:
Bringing the past lives of his characters into a modern mystery is what Harlan Coben does best and he reaches new heights with 'Stay Close'. The tale starts off fast and gets quicker and more compelling with every passing chapter. The prose is as neat as you would expect from an author of Coben's stature and is interspersed with some wonderful passages and his trademark witty asides. The plot is nicely convoluted without being over complicated and it also carries a strong message which will be bang on track with all right thinking people.

It is however with characterisation where Coben's light shines brightest for me. The trio of damaged leads evoked sympathy, understanding and respect from me. Ray has a marvellously sardonic wit, Megan hides nothing about her past and Broome is a caring detective who goes the extra mile. Also worth a mention are Lorraine and the murderous couple who are the best baddies I have read this year. 'Stay Close' is a brilliant read which is dark, thrilling and thoroughly entertaining.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anne Zouroudi - The Bull of Mithros

"...Zouroudi is excellent at showing what lies beneath the apparent tranquillity of the blue skies and whitewashed houses."

Synopsis:
A vicious burglary takes place and although the criminals manage to flee, an islander disappears as he tries to apprehend them. Seventeen years later, a stranger is tossed overboard from a commercial vessel and is picked up by a local navy boat. The victim, without papers or money, is desperate not to be landed on the island of Mithros and when he is put ashore, it becomes clear that he is being recognised by various islanders.

Meanwhile, a boat carrying Hermes Diaktoros, a portly, immaculately dressed detective, needs repairs and he lands on the island and becomes sucked into a decades old tragedy. Central to the mystery appears to be the disappearance of both the original and a copy of the island's famous artefact: 'The Bull of Mithros'.

Review:
'The Bull of Mithros' is the sixth book in the Greek detective series. When you read fiction set in Greece, there is a tendency for books to polarise between the urban – which often depicts the underbelly of Greek life, and the rural, where particularly on the islands there can be a 'cosiness' to the murders. However, as those who have lived in Greece know, the islands can be a place of violence and deceit and Zouroudi is excellent at showing what lies beneath the apparent tranquillity of the blue skies and whitewashed houses.

Zouroudi's books often have an other-worldly feel about them which works so well in relation to the central character. She adds to this feel with small touches, such as retaining the drachma as the currency on the island and by placing parts of the plots in the old fashioned 'kafenions'. The island has a wealthy patron, Vassilis Eliadis, who has made his fortune through shady business dealings and has naturally picked up enemies along the way. Zouroudi portrays well these benefactors in Greek society whose riches are used to control and obfuscate others.

'The Bull of Mithros' is a great and enthralling read which can be thoroughly enjoyed whether sitting on a Greek island or stuck in rainy Britain.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Booth - Dead and Buried

"Booth's books, in my opinion, have got better and better..."

Synopsis:
In the Peak District, fires are sweeping across the moorlands and the police and fire-fighters battle to keep everyone safe. When rucksacks are discovered buried amongst the peat, they are identified as belonging to a couple who went missing two years earlier after setting off in the snow. The police are unable to decide whether the couple simply got lost in the harsh landscape or whether they staged their disappearance to escape their debts.

When a local man's body is discovered, DS Ben Cooper and DI Diane Fry struggle to work together once more whilst trying to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together. Fry has moved on to bigger and better things and resents being back working with her old Derbyshire constabulary colleagues.

Review:
Stephen Booth has developed a huge following for his books set in Derbyshire's Peak district. Booth's books, in my opinion, have got better and better as characters have settled down and the plots have become more intricate. In this latest book, a couple of strands are woven together from the recent past. Although the actual culprit isn't a huge surprise, the twists and turns that get you to the denouement mean that you are eager to keep turning the pages.

Booth excels at describing the Peak countryside and in particular how it is changing over time. Particularly poignant in this book is the closure of a roadside inn that has failed to thrive as changes have taken place.

DI Diane Fry is as prickly as usual and we are still only given glimpses into her past to explain why she is such a difficult character, which is very tantalising for the reader. Her relationship with Ben Cooper works well as usual although Cooper's character, I suspect, will be changing slightly in future books.

'Dead and Buried' is an excellent read and will appeal to both existing fans of Stephen Booth and also to readers new to the series.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Howard Linskey - The Damage

"...a hard hitting crime caper which will leave the reader desperate for the next instalment."

Synopsis:
Now that David Blake is 'Top Boy' of the Newcastle underworld his life is full of worry. He controls everything worth controlling while living a life of exiled luxury. His brother Danny along with two trusted right-hand men, Palmer and Kinane manage day to day affairs.

Blake had never harboured ambitions of being the boss but when the position became vacant he was the only man savvy enough to deal with all the firm's problems. An assassin putting two bullets into the back of one of his men and an attempt on his own life draws him into a fight for both his life and kingdom.

Moving between the back streets of Bangkok and the heroin addled high rises of Newcastle Blake has to deal with contract killers, bent coppers, corrupt politicians and coke snorting footballers.

Review:
Once again Linskey takes us on a journey through the seedy underbelly of organised crime. The bird's eye view given by the first person narrative of David Blake allows him to create a masterful depiction gangland life. The strong language and brutal nature of criminal life are handled with consummate care as Linskey weaves a tough gritty tale into the fabric of his novel.

David Blake is a strong lead and carries 'The Damage' almost single handed. He is tough and tender by rote, but it is his calculating brain which impressed me most. He sees schemes and angles few others do and that is why he is 'the man'. Palmer and Kinane are well drawn through Blake's eyes but neither could steal his thunder.

With sharp pointed prose Linskey gets his point across and then moves onto the next scene with the restlessness of a shark. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments when Linskey leavens the brutal story line with some well timed comic lines. You won't so much read 'The Damage' as be hauled into the story and dragged along by the ever unfolding events.

All in all 'The Damage' is a hard hitting crime caper which will leave the reader desperate for the next instalment. I loved the tough talking Blake and the earthy grittiness of the whole story and predict big things for Howard Linskey.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kevin Brooks - Until the Darkness Comes

"‘Until the Darkness Comes’ is a strong second book in a series that holds much promise... "

Synopsis:
PI John Craine has come to Hale Island to get away from it all - the memories and the guilt, and a past that just won't let go. But within hours he stumbles across the dead body of a young girl on the beach. When the police arrive the body has inexplicably disappeared. Or - in his already tormented state - did Craine imagine it in the first place? Determined to get at the truth, Craine starts asking questions. But it seems no one on the island is talking. Everyone has an answer or a reason to doubt him, yet Craine is determined to find out what really happened. To complicate matters, he has a personal interest in one of the residents on the island. And all too soon he finds himself tangled up in a deadly network of fear and violence. Someone has a dark secret to keep, and Craine is getting in the way.

Review:
Craine paints a rather sad and unfortunate man who still misses his wife, despite her being dead for 17 years, and has imaginary conversations with her. The amount he smoke and drank made me feel ill just thinking about it, such was the volume. But he does not appear as a particularly depressive character, more an emotional one.

Brooks is well known for his 'Young Adult' novels and has only started to branch out in adult crime fiction. In 'Until the Darkness Comes' Brooks perfectly evokes a small community cut off from the rest of civilisation. With a skilled hand, Brooks introduces a cast of characters but doesn't reveal until later their true nature and what side each person is on. Much reference is made to events in the previous book, the brilliant 'A Dance of Ghosts'. I feel it would be beneficial to anyone new to read that book before Brooks' latest. I thoroughly enjoyed 'Until the Darkness Comes' although I didn't feel it had the edge as the first Craine novel, nor did it grip me as much. However, I still kept with the book until the conclusion and believe that Brooks is an astounding writer who invokes atmosphere and who clearly has a remarkable understanding of the human condition.

It would be interesting to see if Craine can kick any or all his vices (but he may not be quite so interesting then) and how Craine develops. 'Until the Darkness Comes' is a strong second book in a series that holds much promise and I am sure will become very popular as Craine and his trials unfold. I look forward to seeing where Brooks takes Craine next.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Greg Rucka - Alpha

"...an accomplished author with the ability to keep the reader involved and interested from start to finish."

Synopsis:
Jonathan 'Jad' Bell has spent a lifetime in the US army. He can be relied on to get the job done, whatever happens, whatever the cost. So when someone needs to go undercover at the nation's biggest amusement park, Jad is the obvious choice. Aside from dealing with fights and missing children, his main responsibility is to prevent the nightmare scenario from coming to pass.

This is the nightmare scenario: A group of well-trained, highly motivated terrorists infiltrate the park. They cut off all escape routes. They take hostages. They ensure every camera in the world is trained on Wilsonville...and then they turn it into a bloodbath.

And on the day the nightmare becomes real, Jad and his team are all that stands between a band of ruthless killers and thousands of innocent people... including Jad's estranged wife and daughter.

Review:
My first introduction to Rucka gives me the impression that he is an accomplished author with the ability to keep the reader involved and interested from start to finish. However, whilst I fully enjoyed the writing and plot, I did find the seemingly constant references to the theme park's characters' actions and dialogue somewhat unnecessary. I was expecting some twist at the end that would have explained this superfluous information but this was lacking.

The protagonist, Jad Bell is an interesting character. Enough information is given about his past and history to feel a connection but not so much that he became more important than the plot and supporting characters. I did find that the summary of the book and why everyone took the actions they did and the aftermath of the attack was hurried and not fully explained, but as the book is the first in a new series I am hoping more information will be forthcoming in future books.

There are a few unlikely coincidences in the book, and these together with the overuse of the theme park characters took the edge off an otherwise excellent book. However, 'Alpha' still comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

G. W. Kent - One Blood

"...more of a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll than a Saturday night rave. "

Synopsis:
The second in a delightfully exotic new crime series set in the Solomon Islands featuring Sergeant Kella and Sister Conchita. It is 1960 and Sister Conchita, the young nun with a flair for detection, has been forced to leave her beloved Malaita and assume reluctant command of a run-down mission in the lush, primitive Western District of the Solomon Islands. The group of three elderly sisters currently there are rumoured to have 'gone native' and Conchita tries to grapple with these eccentric, tough-mind insurgents and the secrets they are keeping when an American tourist is murdered in their mission church but perplexingly, the colonial authorities want nothing to do with this bizarre crime.

Help is at hand for Sister Conchita in the shape of her friend Sergeant Ben Kella, the local police officer but also the 'aofia', the traditional law-bringer of the islands. Together, the idealistic young nun and practical witch doctor set out to solve the mystery. In the process they discover links to a local independence organisation, a powerful international logging company, and, most puzzling of all, to John F. Kennedy, a former wartime US naval officer in the area but now, thousands of miles away, about to become the 35th president of the USA.

Review:
'One Blood' is a gently rambling novel full of descriptive language about the Solomon Islands and how they would have been like in the 1960's just after the War that changed so many people's lives. The plot is based around Sister Conchita's perseverance in investigating the death of an American tourist during the mission's open day, which correlates with that of Sergeant Kella who is looking into incidents at a logging company that has taken over one of the other Islands. The link to John F Kennedy and the real life actual occurrence of him being ship wrecked in the Islands, gives a feel of a factual novel rather than fiction, as much of the premise was based on what is known.

Set in a time where people canoed between the Islands, had no computers or phones and the Islands were pretty native, the interesting investigative technique is quite different from more modern methods. There is also a lot of information on the beliefs of the natives and therefore Kella's role as 'aofia', which brings an additional slant to the overall story, along with the rather gung-ho Conchita trying to change the three nuns she has been charged with.

I am going to admit that I did not know the story of Kennedy's ship being destroyed by a Japanese submarine in the Solomon Islands and his subsequent rescue, aided by the natives, until discussing the book with another crime fiction reader, who has an amazing knowledge of these things. That did give me an extra interest in the novel and increased my enjoyment, which had been waning, because it is not my type of novel, not that there is anything wrong with it. It's a bit too over-descriptive and slow paced for my personal taste, but I really did learn something from the narrative about the area, the war and native beliefs. Overall it was enjoyable, but is more of a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll than a Saturday night rave.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Linda Stratmann - The Daughters of Gentlemen

"The atmosphere and picture of Victorian London is vivid and beautifully portrayed."

Synopsis:
It is Victorian London and Frances Doughty who, having achieved some success in tracking down a murderer is now left the option of moving in with her uncle or trying to establish some independence, along with her maid. When she is approached by the governors of a small school for the education of young ladies, who require some discrete enquiries to be made about activities in the school, she is delighted, as this will give her the opportunity for setting up her own establishment. She joins the school as a teacher of science and carries on her own investigation into the secret distribution of feminist pamphlets that seem truly shocking to the headmistress.
All is not as it seems at the school and Frances soon discovers that many people, staff and students, parents and governors, are hiding the truth. When the maid goes missing and is then found dead, Frances' investigation becomes more urgent.

At the same time an election has been called and a hotly disputed issue is that of women's suffrage. With the help of friends made in the movement Frances exposes the root of the evil done at the school. Her private detective business is establishing a reputation for success.

Review:
It is refreshing to hear again about the position of women in Victorian society. Even though the mind recognises the fact, it takes a sympathetic and atmospheric novel to bring home the iniquities and frustration that many women had to endure. Frances is a wonderful heroine because she is confident in her own equality with men but prepared to work with the system and prove her worth on her own merits.

It is difficult now to appreciate the furore caused by a pamphlet that merely advised young women against rushing into marriage until they were sure of the good character of the man involved, but anything that implied that women were not naturally subservient to men was a shocking thing in some circles. Frances is a more modern woman and uses her intellect and common sense to unravel the strands of deceit.

The atmosphere and picture of Victorian London is vivid and beautifully portrayed. The excitement and enthusiasm of the suffragettes as well as the indignation and disgust of the traditionalists is described in detail and propels the story along with verve. Stratmann has started an intriguing series and I look forward to hearing more about Miss Frances Doughty.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Raymond Benson - Stiletto: Black and White

"...a rollercoasting romp which entertains, exhilarates and educates."

Synopsis:
It's now 1959 and Judy Cooper AKA 'The Black Stiletto' decides to confront a dangerous gangster who has kidnapped the daughter of a friend. Carl Purdy is no ordinary gangster he is also one of the main heroin suppliers in New York. Judy has other troubles to contend with as she is at risk of having her identity as 'The Black Stiletto' revealed by a shady filmmaker, she has fallen for the FBI agent – John Richardson – who is tasked with tracking down 'The Black Stiletto' and a close friend of her landlord / substitute father has connections with the gangster she's pursuing. To top it all off she also finds herself fighting for racial equality.

Meanwhile in the present her son Martin is facing his own blackmail crisis as the filmmaker's son has a copy of the 8mm tape showing Judy removing the Stiletto mask.

Review:
Having loved the first instalment of 'The Black Stiletto', I approached this sequel with some caution. Too often I have been let down by a follow up that doesn't deliver the goods. I needn't have worried as 'Black and White' is actually a better read than its predecessor. The pace is higher and Judy has grown wiser and more daring as she grows into her new alias.

The plot weaves cleverly back and forth and while there is little mystery to be solved, the ever present threat of exposure in both the past and the present drives the story forward as both Martin and Judy battle blackmailers.

The characters are all beautifully constructed with the lead of Judy shining out like a beacon. John Richardson is carefully drawn and Martin is much rounder in this instalment. The sub plot of racial tension provides a perfect backdrop and Judy's thoughts and feelings are way ahead of her time. To sum up, 'The Black Stiletto: Black and White' is a rollercoasting romp which entertains, exhilarates and educates.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Giorgio Faletti - Killer In My Eyes

"...the title comes from a paranormal angle that threw an interesting twist into the story. "

Synopsis:
A murderer obsessed with comic strips...

When Mayor Marsalis's son, Gerald, is found dead in his studio, his body is stained red and arranged like the cartoon character Linus - with a blanket next to his ear and his thumb stuck in his mouth. Desperate, Marsalis asks his ex-cop brother, Jordan, to investigate the murder. Yet the killer strikes again. This time Chandelle Stuart, a film producer with strange sexual predilections, is found leant against a piano like Lucy, listening to Shroeder playing.

Meanwhile, a beautiful young detective Maureen Martini has moved from Rome to New York to forget the brutal murder of her boyfriend. After undergoing a corneal transplant, she starts having distressing visions that somehow seem connected with the grisly murders. Thrown together, Maureen and Jordan race against time to unmask this killer. But who is Snoopy? And who is Pig Pen? And why does this killer find pleasure in arranging his victims like comic-strip characters? In New York nothing is ever quite what it seems...

Review:
I have not previously read any of Faletti's novels and think 'Killer in My Eyes' is one that you will either like or hate. To be honest I enjoyed it. Although the overall plot is not particularly original, it is fairly cleverly done and the title comes from a paranormal angle that threw an interesting twist into the story. The pace is steady and there is focus on the main characters that provides an interest outside of the murders, which for me meant it didn't get overly stale.

Not being a fan of overly descriptive graphic scenes of violence, I also liked that 'Killer in My Eyes' didn't fall into that category and focussed on the reasoning, being more deductive based on human fallibility than gore. Not everyone will like this, but for me it was an interesting take on that type of crime, with interweaving side elements that made me thoroughly enjoy this book.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sara Paretsky - Breakdown

"...this latest book is as satisfying a read as ever."

Synopsis:
This latest book by Sara Paretsky starts with V.I. Warshawski looking out for a bunch of teenage girls intent on performing an initiation ceremony to the Carmilla Club at night in a deserted cemetery. Carmilla is the heroine of a series of cult books about a shapeshifter Queen who turns into a raven at will. The girls are the protégés of V.I.'s niece. Petra, who has turned to her aunt for help when she learns of the meeting in the cemetery. To add to the horror of the situation, a body is discovered on a nearby gravestone. Two of the girls have very influential parents; one is a Democratic candidate for Illinois, one is one of the world's wealthiest men. All parents are concerned about their daughters' safety.

Several complicated strands run through the story; an old friend from Vic's university days gets back in touch. She is in the midst of a manic phase of her bipolar disorder, but she alerts V.I. to her concern about happenings in the local Mental Hospital, before falling from a balcony at the University.
A right wing TV presenter appears to be determined to undermine the campaign of the Democratic candidate. Warshawski's ex husband has hired the private eye whose body is found in the cemetery. Somehow, V.I.'s dogged persistence unravels the various plots and culminates in a rather public and melodramatic finale. P.S. The old favourites, Contreras, Jake, Petra, and above all, the dogs, remain to delight.

Review:
Sara Paretsky is one of those authors whose latest book I greet with great delight. V.I. Warshawski is a feisty Private Investigator who defies the passing of years and approaches all her cases with a burning desire to see justice done and a determination to follow all clues to the end, no matter how much physical, emotional and financial damage it does to her. She has slowed down a little but her conviction that the truth must come out remains.

'Breakdown' has a plot that is involved (you need to keep your wits about you), fast moving, never boring and with a cast of new and old favourite characters, this latest book is as satisfying a read as ever. Sara Paretsky in the guise of V.I. Warshawski, is still a great campaigner for the underdog and those at the losing end of society. Long may that continue.

I'm not sure about the ending. On the one hand there is a surprising twist, but on the other it is not entirely convincing. Nevertheless, despite this small niggle I have still rated her latest book highly. The arrival of a new Paretsky will delight her ardent readers like me who remains a great fan of the author and her creation, V.I. Warshawski!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mari Jungstedt - Dark Angel

"The psychologically wounding trauma of the killer’s family is sensitively and intuitively dealt with by Junstedt. "

Synopsis:
Set in Gotland, an island off the coast of mainland Sweden, not too far from Stockholm, this book explores the psychological influences of the family on the well being of the family members. It starts with the murder of a successful businessman in Visby at the launching of his ambitious and controversial new conference centre. As he has embarked on a secret and passionate affair and is in the middle of a divorce, suspicion falls on his abandoned wife. However, when Viktor's mistress is targeted, suspicions that this is not a straightforward case are confirmed. Interwoven with the investigation by Inspector Anders Knutas of the Gotland Police Force is an account of the harrowing upbringing of a small boy and his devotion to his mother. All gradually unfolds and the damage done to family members in the killer's family underlines the trouble Knutas is having relating to his own teenage children.

Review:
Mari Jungsted beautifully conveys the emotions of her characters and the reason why they take such actions. Jungstedt describes perfectly the not so unusual problems of teenage children that Knutas is experiencing and the deep seated loss that troubles his deputy and affects her judgement. The psychologically wounding trauma of the killer's family is sensitively and intuitively dealt with by Junstedt. Sweden is an interesting country. Logical, practical, liberal and egalitarian on the surface, but underneath there are passionate and sinister motives to be found anywhere in the world. I have enjoyed the other books by this author which I felt were better. However, for ardent fans of Scandinavian crime this is a book that will certainly entertain them.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

S. J. Parris - Sacrilege

"The details and the historical accuracy in ‘Sacrilege’ are so potent they bring Bruno and the places he visits immediately to me in my armchair. "

Synopsis:
In this, the third book of S.J.Parris' series about Bruno, spy for Walsingham and Elizabeth I, the tension and nervousness around the Queen is heightened by the attempted assassination of the Protestant Prince William of Orange. There is a genuine fear that the militant Catholics in the realm will plot for the downfall of Elizabeth. Add to that the threat of the plague hitting the streets of London and you have a very uneasy city.

Bruno finds that he is being followed around the streets and he is worried. When he finds the tracker is Sophia, a woman for whom he has a strong attraction, he is both relieved and troubled. She wants him to visit Canterbury, where she is suspected of murdering her husband, in order to clear her name. Walsingham is happy for him to travel to Canterbury as Bruno can take the opportunity to investigate rumours of possible Catholic plotting in the heart of the cathedral city.

What he finds is that there are some who are faithful to the memory of the murdered saint Thomas Beckett and who are prepared to go to any lengths to restore his shrine and Catholicism to England. Moreover, his investigation into the death of Sophia's husband, and her own motives are anything but straightforward.

Review:
The outstanding merit of these books to me is the immediacy and vividness of the writing. The details and the historical accuracy in 'Sacrilege' are so potent they bring Bruno and the places he visits immediately to me in my armchair. I am there in the smells, the sounds and the sights of Elizabethan England.

Add to that, the exciting and terrifying plot which takes you back to a time when the simplest things can make you vulnerable to accusations of treachery, and suspicion alone is enough to lead you to imprisonment or death, and you have the recipe for an utterly thrilling and gripping story. The fact that Bruno was indeed a real person who negotiated the troubled times only adds to the enjoyment.

Tudor England is a fascinating and favourite period of history and Bruno, who stands apart from the sectarian parties of the time is an ideal commentator on the era. To some he is Catholic; to others he is Protestant. To himself he is a philosopher who appreciates England, as Elizabeth professes a more liberal approach to religion than some of her counterparts on the continent. This book is a considered and accomplished work that should stands on its own merit.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matt McGuire - Dark Dawn

"The writing is tight and I instantly got the ‘feel’ of the oppressive atmosphere of a cold, rainy January..."

Synopsis:
Belfast, 2005. Overlooking the River Lagan is a new property development being built called Laganview. Acting Detective Sergeant John O'Neill has been called out to the murder scene of a teenage boy. It appears to be a punishment beating, the boy's body broken, shattered. But the usual perpetrators of this kind of beating at now living under a fragile peace process, the Troubles a thing of the past. So who would want to deal with this kid in such a horrific manner?

Joe Lynch has a very ugly past, indeed. Now back in Belfast after a spell in London, Lynch wants nothing to do with his 'previous' life. He takes a shine to the young single mother across the street and dreams of living a simple life with her and the new bairn – but Lynch's old ways won't let him go so easily. The ghosts of his victims keep him from sleep, and his old colleagues who unfortunately are still very much alive are asking favours from him. And it can only be a matter of time before his path crosses with O'Neill's.

Review:
'Dark Dawn' is the debut from a very promising writer. The writing is tight and I instantly got the 'feel' of the oppressive atmosphere of a cold, rainy January – dark, dismal and claustrophobic. The plot has three strands – O'Neill's investigation, ex-con Lynch and a couple of youngsters who are magnets for trouble - Petey and Marty although for me the latter of the trilogy could have been dispensed with as they tended to grate and also for me, stopped the story from flowing . Despite O'Neill being a great character with the usual mentally of cop first, husband and father being well down the list I actually enjoyed more the parts featuring Lynch, where he came from, how he coped with his past misdemeanours, etc. For me, I would have preferred a lot more on Joe Lynch.

My other niggle was the number of times the upper strata of the police force were referred to as a load of 'bean counters'. It is necessary to recap the plot especially in an investigation, to remind the reader of clues gathered and the avenues so far pursued. However, one of my pet hates is being told several times something that obviously grates with the author. I am all for the author getting it out of his/her system, but only the once and then get on with the main plot, but by page one hundred and several references later I was beginning to get weary of the point. I hope that with McGuire's high standard of writing this is something he will be able to work round and will then deliver even more impressive novels. I felt that work can be done on this series and O'Neill certainly shows plenty of promise. McGuire is a talent to keep an eye on in the future.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrea Maria Schenkel - Bunker

"...you have to applaud Schenkel as a grand and audacious illusionist ..."

Synopsis:
Monika is locking up the office, ready to go home. Sorting papers at her desk she doesn't take much notice of the man walking to her desk – until it is too late. The fist that flies at her knocks her out. Coming round he is asking constantly for the key. Monika does not know what he is talking about. As she slips in to unconsciousness Monika does not realise the nightmare she is about to enter.

Monika wakes up in a dark cabin out in the woods. She is locked in and guarded by the big man with the severe haircut. What does he want with her? Why is there a photograph of her and her dead brother in a drawer in the room? As Monika descends in to pain and madness not everything is as looks upon the surface.

Review:
This is a strange slim novel from the author of the brilliant 'The Murder Farm'. Now as then the story is told from the perspectives of different people although 'Bunker' is only from the viewpoint of the abductor and the abducted, which I felt limited Schenkel somewhat. As a 'two-hander', 'Bunker' flows along but the dialogue does get slightly repetitive as when Monika refers a number of times to insects licking salt off her skin with their proboscis. Plus, despite two attempts from Monika to escape, she actually goes back to her prison of her own will. Schenkel mentions 'Stockholm Syndrome' but this is not explored any further.

I felt the two main characters didn't come to life for me and there is a very bizarre instance involving Monika's boss towards the end of the novel which again didn't sit right with me. However, I have to admire Schenkel's trickery with her spare narrative that the play she has been directing from the very start is turned on its head and you have to applaud Schenkel as a grand and audacious illusionist and a confident artist in the slight of hand. So, despite my negatives, 'Bunker' was a diverting few hours and is satisfying simply for the wonderful way the author turns the whole drama upside down and inside out with dexterity and panache.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: