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Reviews

August 2012

Cathi Unsworth - Weirdo

"If you buy only one book this year – make it ‘Weirdo’. "

Synopsis:
2003: Sean Ward travels to Ernemouth to investigate a murder that tore down the sleepy façade of a seaside town twenty years ago. New DNA shows that another person was present during the killing and that Corinne Woodrow who has languished in a high security facility all those years may not have acted alone.

1983: A new classmate arrives in Ernemouth and soon old allegiances and friendships become strained and broken. As the year fades and 1984 begins, a year many thought would end as Orwell predicted in his novel, for some it will certainly be the case of lives ending when petty jealousies and rivalries spill over and culminates in murder.

Review:
'All hail! The Queen of Noir has arrived!' I have been waiting years for 'Weirdo' to be published and finally it has arrived – and arrived in style. Was it worth the wait? You can bet your last arcade token it was! Unsworth brings us a well-rounded novel that belies the fact this is only her fourth publication. It feels as though it was written by a writer with twenty years experience under their belt. Unsworth's metier is evoking the past and with such delicious evocative prose, she paints a picture of early 80's Ernemouth that makes you feel the harsh sea against your face, breathe in the salty seafront air and squint at the street lamps along the promenade.

Wonderfully layering her story, each chapter alternates between the 80's and 2003. With panache, Unsworth unfolds the tale of those trapped within the confines of Ernemouth, not the part the tourists see, but the daily struggle with prostitution, molestation and rape. Unsworth shows Ernemouth as a fusty serpent, writhing and slithering amongst the wreckage of a town past its prime. Beautifully handled are the relationships between Corrine, Debbie and Samantha and how jealousy and rivalry can warp and distort the merest gesture, the smallest word.

And yet Unsworth is not merely toying with the young in 'Weirdo'. She has also created the sublimely hideous Rivett. The insidious and insinuating Rivett is a malevolent puppet master and Unsworth manages to control him so that he does not become a caricature but under his own cloak of understatement does Rivett become such an evil presence. Even Unsworth describes him as someone who fades in to the background, giving him ample opportunity to operate those he controls from deep within the Ernemouth shadows.

'Weirdo' is full of strong images. Her description of the funfair out of season is sublime: '…this place of smoke and mirrors, this land of delusion and deception, lying silent and sinister without the coins of the tourists to work its fancy lights and cheap thrills'. 'Weirdo' twists and turns right up to and including the last page which was a shocker but bought everything full circle. The ending left Goosebumps on my arms. If you buy only one book this year – make it 'Weirdo'.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Ewan - Safe House

"...the relentless pace almost strained my page turning finger."

Synopsis:
Rob Hale wakes up in an Isle of Man hospital after a motorcycle accident. He is told that Lena, the woman he was travelling with doesn't exist. The woman he describes bears a strong resemblance to his recently deceased, Laura. Has he imagined Lena as part of the grieving process?

Convinced Lena is real Rob determines to find out who she is and who is behind her disappearance. Aided by London PI Rebecca Lewis who was hired by his parents to investigate Laura's suicide, Rob begins his quest.

Together they soon learn that even on an island where almost everyone knows the others business, there are still some deeply buried secrets. As things progress they have to decide between flight or fight if they plan to survive.

Review:
Best known for his 'Good Thief's Guide' series, Ewan has stepped away from his comfort zone and tackled an entirely different style of novel. With his debut everyman novel Ewan has ticked all the boxes and created a barnstorming tale of mystery and intrigue.

Rob and Rebecca are perfectly drawn and their characters draw the reader into the tale so completely that I was left wondering if I needed a passport to get back to the mainland. Grandpa was a strong character and I think Shimmin is strong enough to carry a novel on his own.

The plot was subtly clever and the relentless pace almost strained my page turning finger. This is a novel which gets better with every passing page. In my opinion this thriller is every bit as good as any Linwood Barclay. I never thought I'd say this, but if this is what Ewan can do as a standalone then I don't want him to write anymore “Good Thief's” books!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Billingham - Rush of Blood

"‘Rush of Blood’ is an excellent read which gripped me throughout."

Synopsis:
Three couples become friends while on holiday in Florida. On the last night of their perfect holiday, the teenage daughter of a fellow holidaymaker goes missing. Some weeks later her body is found floating in the mangroves.

The couples remain in contact when they return to the UK and before long they are hosting dinner parties for each other. Each party is more fraught than the previous one as the twisted, kinky and hidden details of their lives emerge.

Review:
Once again Billingham has stepped away from his series character (Tom Thorne) and produced a different kind of novel. 'Rush of Blood' is not a hard boiled police procedural. Instead it is a look behind the curtain of suburban life and the lies therein.

The six main characters were all drawn with an artists' eye for detail and never once did Billingham allow one person to dominate the story. Each was displayed in all their glory and failings for the reader to pass judgement upon. Jenny the trainee DC was a fine creation and her enthusiasm for her new role shone through. I am confident enough in her to predict that at some point in the future she will share space with Tom Thorne or carry a novel herself.

Billingham is a master of prose and with a well chosen word or two he paints a scene, a character or leads the reader a merry dance. The plotting is where 'Rush of Blood' will succeed or fail. Personally I loved the way Billingham shifted suspicion back and forth among the three male leads to keep the reader guessing. 'Rush of Blood' is an excellent read which gripped me throughout.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Mosby - Dark Room

"‘Dark Room' is dark, winding and oblique."

Synopsis:
DI Andrew Hicks thinks he knows all about murder, but however horrific the act, the reasons behind killing are ultimately all too explicable for him, something that annoys his colleagues. So when a woman is found bludgeoned to death, he suspects a crime of passion and focuses on her possessive ex-husband until a second body is found, similarly beaten. Hicks needs to think again and quickly when more murders take place in rapid succession.

Hicks realises he is dealing with a type of killer he has never faced before - one who fits nowhere within his logic - meaning he must face not only a killer obsessed with randomness and chaos, but also the secret in his own past. If he is to stop the killings, he must confront the truth about himself and the fact that some murders begin in much darker places than he ever imagined.

Review:
Mosby effortlessly draws you into the lives of his characters and pulls you through the dark twists in their minds, giving hints of their ultimate personality whilst providing a solid unpredictable plot. 'Dark Room' is not a fast paced roller coaster ride, despite being set over a period of days, but a spiralling psychological drama that keeps you guessing whilst rounding every corner.

Hicks has trauma in his past, which whilst he has mostly learned to live with, has never fully healed. The sub plot that pushes this to the forefront of his mind whilst trying to deal with a crazed killer adds rather than detracts to the book. The twining of the two is done so seamlessly and smoothly that it slid into place and added to the brilliance of the climax. A climax which made perfect sense when you got there but would not have been foreseen due to the focus on the illogical actions of a demented murderer.

No characters are useless; all of them have a purpose in bringing the story together and that is something often missing from some books. Mosby's people are real because he digs into human nature and psyche using it to explain how something can happen and you believe it – because you personally will have had some similar thoughts at some point (not the killers hopefully!). It is that understanding and what the results of taking those thoughts further can or could be that gives realism and a knowledgeable aspect that takes a book beyond good in my opinion.

I always really enjoy Mosby's work and 'Dark Room' is no exception. 'Dark Room is dark, winding and oblique. It pulls human nature into a psychological chronicle that you just cannot put down as its keeps pulling you through the twists.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - A Private Business

"Another Nadel winner in my book. "

Synopsis:
P.I. Lee Arnold and his new assistant, Mumtaz Hakim have a new client. She is a female stand-up comedian returning to the business after being away for some time. Her routine is very near the bone and will offend some people. When she begins to feel that she is being followed and watched she calls in Arnold and Hakim to help. Lee Arnold, as an ex-policeman, is not an unusual person to find as a private investigator, but his assistant is a rarer character to find in such a job. She is an Asian woman, a psychology graduate and a widow with a teenaged stepdaughter. She dresses smartly and with a sense of style, including headscarf.

Either one brings a different strength to the business. As Mumtaz settles in, she finds that her background opens up new clientele and her expertise in psychology is a definite plus. Living and working close to the Olympic Park in 2012 they are aware of the focus of attention of the world being on the area, but it still remains a place where crime is high and some people are desperate for money.

The client, Maria Peters, supports a Christian church, the pastor of which wants Maria to stop the comedy act as he feels it is sinful. Her friend, Betty, also wants her to give it up. As her producer is strongly urging her to continue Maria is pulled in two directions. As Lee and Mumtaz investigate the stalker, they find that there are many sinister influences at work and many people with vested interests in Maria's future.

Review:
This is a new series for Barbara Nadel with two bright new investigators. They are great characters and I particularly liked Mumtaz Hakim. She is a very modern woman who is working out her position as an Asian woman in the society of East London where she lives. She has her own complicated life to follow and that provides a great deal of interest, but the way in which she moulds her new job is fascinating. Lee Arnold is a strong personality with a very British take on the hard boiled P.I.

Setting the story in the East End, so well known to Barbara Nadel, is authentic and up to date as the newest wave of immigrants to the UK bed down and interacts with the old stagers. Anyone visiting the Olympics will be close at hand to all the action in the story.

As always, Nadel brings the characters vividly to life and what's more makes you care about what happens to them. There are many in this book that I will want to follow up in the next instalment. Both Lee and Mumtaz have unfinished business in their private lives and the future of the business is also left at a crossroads. 'A Private Business' heralds a fresh and new direction for this diverse and extremely engaging author. Another Nadel winner in my book.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Casey - The Last Girl

"In summary, ‘The Last Girl’ is a first class read."

Synopsis:
It is Wimbledon in high summer. 14-year-old Lydia Kennford returns home to discover the bodies of her mother and twin sister in the family living room, while her father, Philip, lies unconscious and bleeding in an upstairs bedroom.

DC Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent begin to investigate, discounting a burglary quickly and focusing instead on Philip Kennford QC himself. There is no easy explanation for why he survived when the others were shown no mercy, and they suspect he might have staged the attack on himself after killing his wife and daughter. But Kennford is a self-possessed, intelligent man who knows criminal law inside out so that proving his guilt will be difficult.

Review:
Both of the main characters, Derwent and Kerrigan work well together. Kerrigan is a little flighty but generally sound, whereas Derwent is chauvinistic, a bigot, outspoken, over-opinionated but brilliant and impossible to dislike.

Casey has a real flair at being able to describe people and events in great detail, making them feel realistic without making the reader having to plough through pages of deep text. So good is the writing, and vivid the descriptions, that the book read like a film in my mind.

There is some level of humour in the book; both in the dialogue and Kerrigan's thoughts as 'The Last Girl' it is written from her perspective. The plot is quite complex but despite this I identified the killer, although it was still extremely enjoyable reading the whole book to find out if I was right. The supporting characters also had enough depth to ensure the reader wanted justice for them or not as the case may be. In summary, 'The Last Girl' is a first class read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tim Weaver - Vanished

"‘Vanished’ was a thoroughly gripping read that had me ignoring certain chores."

Synopsis:
For millions of Londoners, the morning of 17 December is just like any other: but not for Sam Wren. An hour after leaving home, he gets onto a tube train - and never gets off again. No eyewitnesses. No trace of him on security cameras. Six months later, he's still missing.

Out of options and desperate for answers, Sam's wife, Julia hires David Raker to track him down. Raker has made a career out of finding the lost. He knows how they think. And, in missing person cases, the only certainty is that everyone has something to hide. But in this case the secrets go deeper than anyone imagined.

As Raker starts to suspect that even the police are lying to him, someone is watching. Someone who knows what happened on the tube that day. And, with Raker in their sights, Sam's secrets must be kept in the dark at any cost.

Review:
Both Raker and Healy, the two main characters in 'Vanished' have appeared in Weaver's previous novels, and although references were made to previous storylines I do feel I would have benefitted from reading the books in sequence as the relationship dynamics have been laid out in these earlier books.

Whilst Raker is a character a reader will warm to, Healy is rather angry and jagged, yet together they both work well together. The story opens very quickly and develops with many layers, with the disappearance of Sam being the epicentre of the plot and involving different people. There was a great mix of characters, some openly antagonistic while others were not so easy to read.

The killer isn't revealed until much later in the book and there is a twist at the end that I am not convinced is a twist; a rather ambiguous ending that will leave the reader waiting eagerly for the next book. 'Vanished' was a thoroughly gripping read that had me ignoring certain chores. It was my introduction to Weaver and I look forward to reading more from this promising thriller writer.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Karin Slaughter - Criminal

"...Slaughter is such a consummate storyteller..."

Synopsis:
Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Trent cannot begin to fathom Amanda's motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before—when Will's father was imprisoned for murder—this was his home.

Flash back nearly forty years. In the summer Will Trent was born, Amanda Wagner is going to college, making Sunday dinners for her father, taking her first steps in the boys' club that is the Atlanta Police Department. One of her first cases is to investigate a brutal crime in one of the city's worst neighbourhoods. Amanda and her partner, Evelyn, are the only ones who seem to care if an arrest is ever made.

Review:
Criminal takes Amanda Wagner back to the 1970s, when her career in law enforcement was only beginning, and sexism and racism was rife in the police force during that time. It was strange to see a youthful Wagner lacking in confidence and experience, contrasting the traits she displays in previous novels. It was also good to find out the basis of her relationship with Will Trent which has been alluded to in previous story lines and only now fully explored.

On a critical level, I found the continual moving back and forth from time only just manageable. This is done from a number of character's perspectives and I, at times found it difficult to keep track of who was who, and also at what point in time as many feature in both past and present. Regardless of this small niggle the plot, as you would expect from Slaughter, was excellent, if not rather gruesome at times.

Sara Linton, who started as a whining and complaining character has now gone completely full circle and has turned into a veritable saint that says and does nothing to upset or annoy anyone (although for this reader some things she says and does still rankle!) I cannot help but have sympathy for Will who on one side has a harpy such as Angie and on the other, a sap like Sara. That is a real Hobson's choice. That said, Angie came some way to redeeming herself in 'Criminal'. Yet again, Slaughter is willing to put her neck out and write a book that taxes the mind of the reader. It doesn't always pay off, but Slaughter is such a consummate storyteller that you simply enjoy the unfolding story. 'Criminal' is a great addition to this series.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Asa Larsson - The Black Path

"Powerful psychological insights underpin this book."

Synopsis:
Rebecka Martinsson is a top rank lawyer. She moved from Stockholm to her roots in Northern Sweden and in the course of a murder investigation witnessed her dead friend lying in the river. She suffered a severe breakdown and was sectioned to remain in psychiatric care. She is slowly recovering and returning to work. Two years later she is called in to help Inspector Anna-Maria Mella in her investigation of a murder of a woman found in a fishing arc on the ice near Tornetrask in northern Sweden.

The dead woman, Inna Wattring, worked for a large mining corporation. The head of the business, Mauri Kallis, is a single minded and driven individual who overcomes his difficult childhood to establish a hugely successful business. Along with him are brother and sister, Diddi and Inna Wattring, who bring their experience of the higher social life to build up the business and change Mauri into a smooth businessman.

The body has been dumped in the fishing arc and is initially thought to be a suicide. However, evidence discovered by Mella and Martinsson prove that it is otherwise. The investigation leads to discoveries of corruption within the business and powerful forces aiming to bring Kallis down.

Review:
Powerful psychological insights underpin this book. The actions of the entrepreneur, Kallis, in particular stem from the childhood influences of family, and related family tensions all contribute to the destruction of the world which has been built up. Rebekka Martinsson is slowly recovering from a breakdown and the understanding of her mind processes and her gradual recovery is beautifully drawn by Larsson.

'The Black Path' is meant to make you consider the influences of childhood trauma and the contrast with Mella's happy family life is obvious. Somewhat dark, the story is gripping and the unravelling of the complicated actions of others was totally fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Black Path' and can see from reading her previous novels that Asa Larsson is growing stronger with each book she writes. Enthralling.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Mark - The Dark Winter

"With fascinating characters and a sense of the Gothic this is a bright arrival to get a hold of. "

Synopsis:
DS Aector McAvoy survived a brutal attack from a killer beneath the Humber Bridge. He is also dedicated to his 'calling' to help those victims who deserve an avenging angel of justice. However, McAvoy's latest case will bring him closer than he ever imagined to a killer who kills without compunction, who is on his own mission of mercy.

A murder in the church and a chance encounter with the killer place McAvoy in the middle of what appears a senseless killing but as he gets involved with another unexplained death that seems totally unrelated and other killings are meted out, McAvoy discovers a connection between the cases that even he is not sure if he is on the right path or seeing something that simply isn't there. As McAvoy digs deeper and begins to peel back the layers he uncovers a case that is desperate as it is painful – and soon his family is embroiled in the killers' bizarre mission.

Review:
This is a stunning debut that brings us a new and exciting series based in Hull. DS Aector (Hector) McAvoy is not your usual copper – he does have his demons but they appear more psychological than at the bottom of a pint glass. McAvoy takes every case as personal but thankfully the author doesn't make McAvoy either a superman or 'holier than thou'. He is simply human who feels the injustices of the world more than your average cop.

The investigation is quirky and populated with a motley crew of characters that include McAvoy's colleagues. I greatly enjoyed the scenes involving his superior, Trish Pharoah and I feel Helen Tremberg should be given a greater part in subsequent cases. The conclusion to the case is quite sad and highlights how desperate some people will go to change the past and fate. The perpetrator, I felt, was telegraphed quite early in the book but 'The Dark Winter' shows plenty of promise from this new talent and I for one will be adding David Mark to my (ever growing) list of crime writers. With fascinating characters and a sense of the Gothic this is a bright arrival to get a hold of. I assure you, like me a weekend will vanish with your nose stuck in to this particular addictive novel.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sandra Brown - Lethal

"‘Lethal’ is a great read that will keep the reader gripped..."

Synopsis:
When her four year old daughter informs her a sick man is in their yard, Honor Gillette rushes out to help him. But that "sick" man turns out to be Lee Coburn, the man accused of murdering seven people the night before. Dangerous, desperate, and armed, he promises Honor that she and her daughter won't be hurt as long as she does everything he asks. She has no choice but to accept him at his word.

But Honor soon discovers that even those close to her can't be trusted. Coburn claims that her beloved late husband possessed something extremely valuable that places Honor and her daughter in grave danger. Coburn is there to retrieve it -- at any cost. From FBI offices in Washington, D.C. to a rundown shrimp boat in coastal Louisiana, Coburn and Honor run for their lives from the very people sworn to protect them, and unravel a web of corruption and depravity that threatens not only them, but the very fabric of society.

Review:
The story opens with a man being found in widow Honor's garden, and her and her child being threatened. What follows is a plot that leaves Honor, and the reader, unsure who to trust and trying to work out who has done what. Determined to find out the truth about her deceased husband, and also to protect her daughter, Honor's actions are realistic and believable.

I wasn't a big fan of the romantic element in the book, but the rest of the story was so good that I was able to overlook this small criticism. The romance may appeal to other readers but I felt this book did not require this element to make it a success and indeed took away the edge of a book that otherwise would have received top marks. I also felt the person who was revealed to be 'The Bookkeeper' was somewhat implausible given the resources and contacts required for them to be in this position.

Coburn was a great lead character without any roots, connections or conscience yet still very easy to like as he was so honest and direct. 'Lethal' is a great read that will keep the reader gripped, with suspense and some romance (although not so much that I would class it as a romantic thriller) this book is sure to please many.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R. D. Ronald - The Zombie Room

"...most suited to those who like a touch of stretching the imagination science wise or enjoy the paranormal... "

Synopsis:
An unlikely bond is forged between three men from very different backgrounds when they serve time together in prison. A series of wrong turns and disastrous life choices has led to their incarceration. Following their release, Mangle, Decker and Tazeem stick together as they return to a life of crime, embarking on a lucrative scam.

But when they stumble upon a sophisticated sex-trafficking operation, they soon realise they are in mortal danger. The disappearance of a family member and the murder of a dear friend lead the three to delve deeper into a world of violence and deception. In their quest for retribution and justice, they put their lives on the line.

Their paths cross with that of Tatiana, who has left her home country for a better life in the West - or so she thinks. She soon realises she is in the hands of ruthless, violent people, who run an operation supplying girls to meet the most deviant desires of rich and powerful men. Will she survive the horrors of The Zombie Room? Are Mangle, Decker and Tazeem brave enough to follow her there, in an attempt to set her free?

Review:
'The Zombie Room' follows the lives of three men who meet in prison and a young girl from an Eastern European country, being used in a multitude of ways to pay her travel debt. In all honesty, I am not quite sure what to say about the book. I didn't hate it and although not completely an original premise, albeit I have seen it on film rather than books, the plot itself was fairly sound. The characters were believable although stereotypical in some instances and the writing style was certainly fluid.

However, the initial timeline was confusing because it commenced by giving the background to each character, which you thought was all happening at the same time. It turns out that was not the case as Decker was imprisoned before the other two and had spent some time in jail before meeting Mangle and Tazeem. I also think Tatiana's problems were out of synch with the guys meeting. In addition, on a few occasions, the story appeared to jump ahead, rather than explain what had happened in the present. To be fair, I often find it annoying when some events are spelt out in the present at great length when it is peripheral to the story, but in some cases it would have enhanced the book. There was a definite air of unrealism, especially in the concluding scenes when the three heroes fought the bad guys – you don't just pick up a gun and fire it – and fire it well. This contradicted the realism from other parts of the book and, for me, did not make it cohesive.

As stated, I did not hate it. I found it easy and quick to read and enjoyed the discussion I had on it with various friends whilst talking about the overall premise. It would be most suited to those who like a touch of stretching the imagination science wise or enjoy the paranormal I think, although it does have a thriller type stance as well.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Jackson - The Helper

"Doyle is a great lead character..."

Synopsis:
A grisly murder in a shabby New York bookstore seems to hold a special significance for Detective Callum Doyle: the victim's been marked with a message that could have been left especially for him. But why? Then the sinister phone calls start. Doyle is told more deaths are planned but the caller will give him clues – on condition he keeps them to himself.

So begins his dilemma. If he turns the offer down he will have nothing to go on. But if he accepts and gets it wrong, he will have concealed knowledge that could have stopped a killer. As more deaths follow, increasingly vicious and apparently random, the pressure on Doyle to find a link becomes unbearable. Does he continue to gamble with people's lives? Or must he sacrifice everything to defeat a ruthless and manipulative enemy?

Review:
Jackson's sequel to 'Pariah' sees the return of Doyle trying to reinstate his status within the homicide department, and this case may be the one that can do it. Doyle is a great lead character but I felt he was let down by a plot that tried to be too clever. The killer contacting Doyle, giving him 'clues' before each murder occurred was believable, yet after having all the information and with hindsight, very few would have been able to collate this to work out who the next victim would be. The clues are often convoluted but the information is there, but these in my opinion were impossible to guess which slightly spoiled the book for me. The connection between the killers was in some ways obvious but the how and why was never really explained which again was a bit of a disappointment and left too many questions unanswered.

Overall I enjoyed the book and although my review pulls the negatives from the story, I still feel it deserved a high rating as it kept me interested and turning the pages. That said, I will still be looking forward to Jackson's next book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: