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Reviews

January 2013

Libby Fischer Hellmann - A Bitter Veil

"This for me was where the book really shone as the details and personal tragedies of the Iranian Revolution brought the book to life. "

Synopsis:
It all began with a line of Persian poetry . . . Anna and Nouri, both studying in Chicago, fall in love despite their very different backgrounds. Anna, who has never been close to her parents, is more than happy to return with Nouri to his native Iran, to be embraced by his wealthy family. Beginning their married life together in 1978, their world is abruptly turned upside down by the overthrow of the Shah, and the rise of the Islamic Republic.

Under the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Republican Guard, life becomes increasingly restricted and Anna must learn to exist in a transformed world, where none of the familiar Western rules apply. Random arrests and torture become the norm, women are required to wear hijab, and Anna discovers that she is no longer free to leave the country.

As events reach a fevered pitch, Anna realizes that nothing is as she thought, and no one can be trusted…not even her husband.

Review:
'A Bitter Veil' is not in the strictest sense a crime novel. Instead it is a story about what happens when people are forced to change their beliefs as the very fabric of their society crumbles.

The story starts with Anna being arrested for Nouri's murder and then steps back to show how they met and moved to Iran. What follows is a love story set against a political background which details the overthrowing of the Shah and the ascension to power of Ayatollah Khomeni. This for me was where the book really shone as the details and personal tragedies of the Iranian Revolution brought the book to life.

Reading this book allows you to watch as political unrest drives a wedge between husband and wife in one of the worst ways possible. What unfolds is a marvellous tale of soured love trying to cling to former glories as Anna descends into a personal hell.

The depiction of events through Anna's eyes gives great depth to her character and the entire supporting cast of Nouri, Hassan, Lelah, Roya and others are all strong characters expertly created.

The neat prose allows the tale to unfold steadily and when reading 'A Bitter Veil' I was right there in the moment with Anna. The author has obviously done a great deal of research to get the nuances and attitudes right as well as the political details and while this shone through on every page it never once stepped out from the background to interfere with the story. While the crime element may be light, it is certainly there and on this showing I can't wait to read more of this author's work.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Barclay - Blood Loss

"...Ren is an excellent character with a great deal of wit..."

Synopsis:
When a teenage girl is found beaten and raped in the grounds of a derelict asylum, FBI agent Ren Bryce is called in to assist. But she is soon diverted to a missing persons' case when an eleven-year-old girl and her teenage babysitter vanish without a trace from their hotel room.

Faced with conflicting evidence and inconsistent witnesses, Ren works obsessively to unravel the dark family secrets at the heart of the case, before it's too late. Determined to uncover the truth, Ren's behaviour becomes increasingly reckless. Putting her own safety at risk, she enters a world where innocent lives are ruined for profit … and kidnap, rape and murder are all part of the deal.

Review:
A while has passed since Barclay's previous novel featuring Ren and therefore a lot of detail about the character had been forgotten. When reading 'Blood Loss', it was easy to remember that Ren had certain issues however, Barclay makes no reference in any depth to earlier situations, leaving this reader feeling slightly disconnected from the main protagonist. Ren is easy to like - definitely not a sycophant or stable person, but because of all her faults this makes her more human and realistic.

I did enjoy reading 'Blood Loss' and Ren is an excellent character with a great deal of wit, but there was something unidentifiable that was lacking from this book that kept me from being one hundred percent committed. The plot started off with the disappearance of two young girls. This quickly changed to a much more intense story. Scenarios were introduced when explaining certain behaviour but one of these explanations was left unanswered which I found frustrating. Overall, I would say 'Blood Loss' was an enjoyable book which was easy to read but for me lacked any real oomph.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rosemary and Larry Mild - Death Goes Postal

"...the development of the plot is clever."

Synopsis:
Edith Fraume is the owner of The Olde Victorian Bookshop in Annapolis, Maryland. She is dying of cancer and wants to hand over the bookshop into the capable hands of Dan and Rivka Sherman, a couple currently in well paid jobs but with a yen to try something new.

Professor Abner Fraume, brother of Edith, has been murdered in Bath because he possesses some rare fifteenth century type setting artefacts. He has sent secret messages as to their whereabouts to his sister in the States. The search for these valuable items and the nefarious doings of Fraume's acquaintance, Emil Kravitz, is the nub of the story. The Shermans are dragged into detective work and some very dangerous situations as a result.

Review:
I don't quite know what to say about this book. There are some interesting ideas and the development of the plot is clever. The two main characters are quite sympathetic if a little cosy in their relationship - perhaps a little too much information on their private lives.

However I found that the way in which the English side of the story was written lacked any authenticity and basic research. The policeman was titled Constable Sergeant - a new rank on me. The teacher at a boys' school was a Professor, the supposed work of the young boy seemed unlikely, even for a prodigy.

Some of the writing was far too detailed - as in the explanation of how to escape from tie straps. All in all, a little more editing would probably have improved the feel of the writing but if you enjoy a little whimsy with your crime then this first in a series is a good place to start.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sheila Quigley - The Final Countdown

"...had me turning pages so quickly I almost ended up with blisters."

Synopsis:
The Families continue to manipulate world events but the Keepers of the Book are stronger than they have been for centuries. Led by Aunt May, Smiler and co look to usurp the Families from their powerful position.

What ensues is a breakneck tale of good versus evil, but will the Keepers be successful?

Review:
This third novel in Quigley's 'Holy Island' series is the final part of the trilogy and to get the best from 'The Final Countdown', I would urge readers to make sure that they have read the first two instalments before picking this one up.

I have waxed long and lyrical about Smiler and Aunt May in previous reviews so I am going to simply say that they are as brilliant as ever. Danny makes a fine contribution as does Shelly, but nothing can steal the limelight from the two aforementioned characters.

The plot ties up all the loose ends at a breakneck pace which had me turning pages so quickly I almost ended up with blisters. I loved this book and wanted it to be at least twice as long.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Simms - Scratch Deeper

"...tension runs through the novel like a major artery."

Synopsis:
In sun-soaked Mauritius, a retired Law Lord is brutally murdered, while in rain-sodden Manchester, the Labour Party conference is beginning.

Promoted to Greater Manchester Police's Counter Terrorism Unit, Detective Constable Iona Khan's first case appears to be a trivial use of false identity regarding a Sri Lankan student asking suspicious questions about Manchester's tunnel system. When she learns the identity of the conference's guest speaker, Iona realizes it may not be so trivial after all, and she must enter the dark world beneath the city to prevent a possible catastrophe.

Review:
It has been eighteen long months since I last read a new Chris Simms novel and when 'Scratch Deeper' arrived it was immediately placed very near the summit of 'Mount To Be Read'.

The tale is fraught with tension and there are wonderful twists throughout to keep the reader guessing. The best of these is the final one which made me realise just how far down the garden path I had been led. The plotting is tight and tension runs through the novel like a major artery.

Many authors try and create a real sense of place and give an identity to the locations in their novels, but few achieve it as accurately as Simms does with this Manchester based novel.

Iona Khan is a great lead with her mixed parentage and new position in the CTU giving Simms plenty of ammunition to fire at her. Never once does he miss the target and the way Wallace manipulates her is nothing short of masterful. Jim is a great foil for her and the baddies of Bhujun and Ranjit are drawn with such care as to almost elicit empathy for their cause.

Simms' prose is faultless and there are no unnecessary words or overly flowery descriptions. Everything is to the point and a full part of the story.

All in all 'Scratch Deeper' is a taut, tense and thrilling novel which demanded my attention from first page to last. Let's just hope he doesn't make us wait another eighteen months for the next masterpiece.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Boyd Morrison - The Roswell Conspiracy

"...action extravaganzas which steal your breath quicker than a punch to the solar plexus."

Synopsis:
In 1947 ten year-old Fay Allen witnesses a fiery crash at Roswell, New Mexico. The craft is unlike anything she's ever seen or heard about.

Sixty-five years later in 2012, former army engineer Tyler Locke rescues Fay from a pair of assassins. According to Fay the assassins were after a piece of the wreckage she retrieved from the downed craft at Roswell. She also hints that she knows details about Roswell which have never been revealed. Initially sceptical, Tyler comes to believe Fay when he is kidnapped by a band of mercenaries. He has to race against the mercenaries to prevent them from unleashing a terrible weapon upon the USA.

Review:
I have come to really enjoy Morrison's daring Tyler Locke and his sidekick Grant Westfield and their buddy/buddy relationship filled with wisecracks is always fun to read. In this novel though, Morrison has taken the brave step of separating the two men and pairing them with a duo of feisty women who are a match for their characters. While some may not like the separation, I thought it was a bold and invigorating move which keeps the books fresh while allowing the characters to grow. Fay, Jess and Morgan are fine additions to the main pairing yet the evil Colchev was a real scene stealer throughout the book.

The pace starts off frantic and then oscillates from breakneck chases to action extravaganzas which steal your breath quicker than a punch to the solar plexus. A plot which spans the globe and has enough twists and red herrings to keep the reader guessing enables the action to unfold with only minor delays for exposition. To sum up 'The Roswell Conspiracy' is a helter-skelter ride of a novel which will leave you out there…with the truth!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Barber - From a Crowded Mind

"...the eclectic thoughts of a master short story teller"

Synopsis:
This collection includes a variation of short stories which include a psychiatrist having a bad day, a school teacher being pushed over the edge, a conspiracy to defraud a spouse and other tales from the darker side of life.

Review:
'From A Crowded Mind' is one hell of a debut collection from one of the blogging scene's most respected writers. There is pathos, enmity, observation and reality oozing from every passage as the reader is treated to the eclectic thoughts of a master short story teller.

With neat prose and perfectly set scenes each tale draws you into its world and stuns you with its masterful twists and sparkling dialogue. If you like short stories then you'll love this eBook.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Val McDermid - Christmas Is Murder

"These stories will receive a warm welcome from fans and are an excellent aperitif before the next McDermid novel. "

Synopsis:
These two short stories feature DS Maggie Staniforth both of which centre on crimes around the festive season. 'A Wife in a Million' was the first short story McDermid had published. This involves the story of a killer who is tampering with foodstuffs from local supermarkets. The other, 'A Traditional Christmas' follows a family's celebrations at Amberley. One of the family members is killed under mysterious circumstances and Staniforth is once again called in to investigate.

Review:
I originally read both these stories in the nineties and though it is a shame not to have anything new from McDermid's pen, these two bite-sized tales will more than suffice. It is a good sign that when I started 'A Traditional Christmas' I remembered it despite many years since reading it. The solution is very smart and memorable. 'A Wife in a Million' is also very competent and both stories are great reminders of a time when McDermid was sharpening her teeth on the crime fiction genre and the great writer she was to become. These stories will receive a warm welcome from fans and are an excellent aperitif before the next McDermid novel.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Patricia Cornwell - The Bone Bed

"...one to entertain those readers that aren’t too bothered not having their crime delivered at a breakneck speed."

Synopsis:
Kay Scarpetta has received an e-mail showing the last possible sighting of Emma Schubert, a palaeontologist who has been missing for several months. On the same day a woman's body is discovered weighed down in the bay, the ropes around her body caught up with a large leatherback, a giant turtle. Scarpetta ventures to the bay to rescue the body without causing it any more harm.

On the same day Scarpetta is summoned to court in the case of Channing Lott who is being tried for the murder of his wife, Mildred although there is no body. Scarpetta's crime is for stating in an email that Lott's wife could well turn to soap if left in the water long enough. And now there is a woman found floating not far from Lott's house. Is this new body in the bay Mildred Lott? Could the speculation cause Channing's acquittal? But Kay Scarpetta is to receive a few more unpleasantries before she can close this case.

Review:
Firstly, I would advise not to read the flyleaf of this book. Why? I feel it is slightly misleading and does not encompass the true central part of this novel. Despite the tenuous link with the palaeontologist, this character is mentioned at the beginning and near the end of this book and that is about it. The main thrust of the story is dealing with the body in the bay. However, for me I felt that Cornwell has slowed down time and strings out events at a very leisurely pace. The 'floater' is mentioned on page twenty-eight but Scarpetta doesn't even deal with the body until page one hundred and nine! During that time we have in-depth details on Scarpetta's paranoia about her staff, her relationships with Marino, Benton and Lucy (again) plus a lot of detailed information about procedure, etc. I did get annoyed with the amount of times Cornwell mentioned 'iPad' and wondered if she is sponsored to put in as many Apple products in her novels as possible. Despite these negatives I did persist and I became intrigued by the plot although it didn't quite get my juices flowing as I found I could easily put the book down but I did finish it so it must have caught my attention in some way.

'The Bone Bed' does have flashes of the old Cornwell novels. I remember reading 'Postmortem' in one gulp over twenty years ago and being amazed. It was like looking at a whole new landscape in crime fiction. I wish Cornwell would trim her novels and give them the punch they used to deliver rather than meandering over nearly five hundred pages. That said, this is a competent book and one to entertain those readers that aren't too bothered not having their crime delivered at a breakneck speed.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stephen Leather - False Friends

"An author of Leather’s experience should deliver tight prose which pulls the reader in and this is delivered in spades..."

Synopsis:
When Navy Seals find and kill Osama Bin Laden it is obvious that there has been a traitor. The false friends are revealed to be two British students – Malik and Chaudhry who are former Islamic fundamentalists recruited by MI5 – they become targets themselves.

Dan 'Spider' Shepherd must now teach the two young men how to survive undercover as al-Qaeda close in. Unused to playing the handler, Shepherd finds the line between mentor and friend blurring. With a terrorist plot threatening thousands of lives can he protect everyone before it's too late?

Review:
An awful lot of things have been written about Stephen Leather on the internet of late. Very few of them have actually commented on his writing which is what I'm going to do. 'False Friends' starts off with Spider being seconded to join the Navy Seal team who are after Bin Laden. It is a massively entertaining piece of gung-ho action which puts Spider in the role of moral conscience.

One of the best things for me was the way that Leather re-invented his hero's role to that of mentor and handler. It allowed him to really expose and discuss both the tradecraft and the clinical distance handlers must have. The way Spider's boss coldly behaved was a chilling insight into the secret life of MI5 agents.

Leather can write a strong story and the terrorist plot was a very clever idea. The sub plot of Spider going undercover to elicit an arms deal made for fine reading and it also allowed Leather to use the wonderful character who is Sharpe. Spider Shepherd has been around for a while now, yet Leather handles his hero carefully and still surprises the reader with little reveals about his home life. Malik and Chaudhry are drawn with an expert eye and their interplay and fears are beautifully drawn.

An author of Leather's experience should deliver tight prose which pulls the reader in and this is delivered in spades although most of the best lines fall from Sharpe's mouth. All in all it is a great novel which will entertain readers with a tight plot, realistic action and believable characters.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Hill - Dolly

"...Hill’s description of the Fens brings that part of the world to life. "

Synopsis:
On hearing of his Aunt Kestrel's death, Edward Cayley returns to her home, Iyot House where over thirty years previously he had spent the summer with his elder cousin, Leonora. Over several weeks the two children overcome the boredom of the Fens and try to form some semblance of a friendship. However, spoilt Leonora's temper is contemptuous at best and absolutely vile when in an utter rage. Events culminate when Aunt Kestrel buys Leonora a dolly and the girl's wrath shows it has no bounds. Decades later the events of that night will come back to haunt both adults with devastating consequences of a macabre nature.

Review:
I have enjoyed all of Susan Hill's ghost stories, her most well-known obviously being 'The Woman in Black' although I believe 'The Mist in the Mirror' to be just as good. 'The Man in the Picture' although not as haunting was a cruel and macabre tale with 'The Small Hand' being particularly haunting and eerie in the telling. However, with 'Dolly' I felt that Hill's talent to deliver a sense of unease and building the tension to a horrific climax were sadly missing from her latest. Hill is a marvellous wordsmith and able to conjure a scene with a few sentences. However, 'Dolly' was lacking in what I call 'hiding under the bed sheets' factor with this sorry tale.

One thing that did annoy me was that Hill gives a potted history of the three sisters, Kestrel, Dora and Violet (born in that order). Later, Leonora, Violet's daughter says less than seventy-five pages later that she is older than her cousin, Edward (correct) and because her mother was older than his (totally incorrect) that she should inherit the lion's share of Iyot House. How can an author of Hill's standing get such a fundamental and simple fact like that wrong, especially with a novella coming in at only one hundred and fifty-three pages? Surely the editor should have noticed such a huge blooper. A few other small mistakes also turned me off this story. If you like an engaging spooky story at this time of the year read any of Hill's previous ghostly offerings. Despite the disappointment you can see flashes of brilliance shine through and Hill's description of the Fens brings that part of the world to life.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Ellis - The Wrong Man

"Kolarich is definitely a great protagonist."

Synopsis:
A young girl is murdered with a single bullet through her skull. A homeless man is arrested, and as the evidence against him stacks up, everyone thinks he's guilty except lawyer, Jason Kolarich. Jason can't resist the urge to dig deeper, and begins to uncover a much darker reason for her death. What he finds will crack the case wide open. An army is training for a war against the government and everyone is going to pay for what they did.

Review:
Kolarich is definitely a great protagonist. He has morals yet also has a maverick streak, a hard worker but with some great one liners to add humour. He is arrogant but also able to see his own faults and whilst I felt this character worked, I thought there were some flaws in the plot. One of the major flaws in my opinion is that the solution is too obvious. The only factor that would have surprised me is if my suspicions were not correct. I also thought that Ellis, to accommodate this 'twist' was trying to be too clever with the plot and added a thread that was quite superfluous.

Kolarich is struggling to move on with his life after a personal tragedy and although this is fully explored in previous novels, it is only merely mentioned in 'The Wrong Man' so I feel it would be beneficial to read Ellis' books in order as it will give the reader a better understanding of this great character. In summary this book was let down by the convoluted plot but saved by Kolarich and some great writing by Ellis.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: