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Reviews

May 2013

Howard Linskey - The Dead

"Grittier than a barbecue held during a Saharan sandstorm..."

Synopsis:
David Blake is back in Newcastle, running his empire which now makes him top boy of three cities. Life is sweet for him until his tame accountant is arrested for murder. The duplicitous money man is certain to receive a life sentence until he reveals that he has £5,000,000 of Blake's money stashed away. To get his money back Blake has to free the bent accountant.

Meanwhile Serbian gangsters are slowly encroaching onto Blake's territory and a crazed Russian Oligarch has designs on using Blake's drug supply line for his own twisted purpose.

Back at home the police are closing in and his girl Sarah is asking Blake about the death of her father. Blake has to juggle all these balls while running his empire and fighting to stay alive.

Review:
I have followed the travails of David Blake with relish since Linskey's first book 'The Drop'. As Linskey grows as an author, David Blake's life becomes ever harder – there are more problems to solve, more enemies to face and more personal issues to resolve. In 'The Dead', life couldn't be more complicated for Blake as Linskey weaves a mesmerising tapestry of trouble for his protagonist.

Grittier than a barbecue held during a Saharan sandstorm, 'The Dead' takes the reader right into the underbelly of gangland life shattering illusions and preconceptions along the way. The plotting is tighter than a snare drum and it has to be as Linskey has so many threads going that any dropped stitch could cause the whole novel to unravel. As each problem arises for Blake the pace increases and by the end of the novel it is positively frantic.

With David Blake, Linskey has a lead character you want to hate but can't help liking and that says a lot for his skill as an author. All of the supporting characters are well drawn but it is David Blake's story and none of the others are given permission to tell it.

All in all I would have to say 'The Dead' is brutal, bloody and brilliant.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nora Roberts - Whiskey Beach

"...she does manage to weave murder and intrigue into a plot with an effortless ease..."

Synopsis:
Eli Landon had the perfect life; a beautiful wife, a wonderful house, a dazzling legal career, but suddenly his wife is brutally murdered after confessing to an affair and he becomes the prime suspect. After a year-long ordeal when nearly everyone turns against him, the case is dropped, leaving him and his world in tatters.

After having been given a push by his beloved grandmother, Eli retreats to the small-town sanctuary of Whiskey Beach and Bluff House which is her home by the sea and somewhere he'd previously loved. Bluff House has belonged to the Landon's for generations and is the perfect place for Eli to regain his strength and rediscover his first love - writing.

Along comes Abra Walsh to help him, whether he wants it or not. Nurturing, courageous and a survivor herself, she slowly draws him out of himself and as Eli heals, he begins to open his heart to her, and for the first time, dares to dream of a future. But as they take their first steps towards each other, a dangerous enemy is watching from the shadows, one who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

Review:
I am a fan of Nora Roberts, especially her alter ego JD Robb, but would make it clear that I don't really consider her a crime writer. Having said that she does manage to weave murder and intrigue into a plot with an effortless ease and provide an excellent romantic suspense novel. 'Whiskey Beach' is no exception.

The romance between Eli and Abra is as much a part of the book as the crime, but the two are entwined beautifully; making you keep turning the pages from both perspectives. Nora has the skill of making you invest in characters and easily draws you into the tale she spins whilst keeping it sharp and edgy, drawing out the conclusion to its climax.

If you really don't like romance with your crime, this book is not for you, but for those who do enjoy it and also the pleasure of well written characters making you part of their lives, then I would highly recommend it.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rory Clements - The Heretics

"...Rory Clements really makes the Elizabethan age come alive for me. "

Synopsis:
It is Elizabethan England and rumours of treachery are rife. John Shakespeare, intelligencer to Robert Cecil and thus to the Queen , is approached by a desperate actor seeking reward for information about a plot based in the east of England but leading to the Jesuit college in Seville. Shakespeare delays following up this information only to find the actor has disappeared.

At the same time the Queen encourages him to follow up a request from the condemned priest, Robert Southwell, to look after a young woman named Thomasyn Jade, badly treated by those seeking to exorcise devils from her. This leads Shakespeare to Wisbech where a group of priests and followers of the old religion are imprisoned under a somewhat lax regime. In pursuit of a woman closely linked to the treachery Shakespeare travels to Cornwall, only to be tied up with a raid on the Cornish coast by Spanish galleons. The Queen is furious and demands to know why the Cornishmen did not put up a valiant defence. As Shakespeare fights for his life and the safety of his family, he is immersed in a passion for a beautiful and puzzling woman.

Review:
This is an absolutely gripping and exciting tale, with enough intrigue and swashbuckling excitement for everyone. The dangerous plots and intrigues of the times are boldly and vividly described. The characters drawn from life are so extreme that it is difficult to understand that, at the time, Tudor citizens could be passionately involved in their religion to the detriment of what we now think of as Christian values. I'm not sure who is worse - the fiercely Protestant Topcliffe or the unrelenting Inquisition. Rory Clements gives us a very fair and balanced set of characters that portray the best and the worst of both sides. At the top is Elizabeth, keeping an impossible balance between the two.

I absolutely love this period of history and Rory Clements really makes the Elizabethan age come alive for me. This is a brilliant series and in my opinion equals the marvellous Tudor novels by C.J. Sansom.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Julia Crouch - Tarnished

"My personal opinion would be to put ‘Tarnished’ on your reading list. "

Synopsis:
Peg has always felt a little different and yet is never sure why. Her mother died when she was six, her father simply disappeared and she was brought up by her grandparents and her obese, bedridden aunt in old world quirkiness. But she never developed the habit of asking questions.

At least, not until she met Loz, her straight-talking, psychotherapeutically literate girlfriend, who urges her to confront her demons. Not something that Peg has ever wanted to do and not shown any enthusiasm for, until suddenly her grandmother's health suffers a downturn and she must make some decisions.

As the skeletons begin tumbling out of the family closet and the full horror of the past begins to reveal itself, Peg starts to wonder whether her youthful lack of curiosity might not have been a good thing. Does she really want to know?

Review:
From her first novel, 'Cuckoo', Julia Crouch grabbed my attention and has never let go. Whilst each book demonstrates originality, she is the total master of slowly unravelling a complex, twisted plot whist weaving it all into a marvellously suspenseful tale. 'Tarnished' is no exception and yet again a page turner is revealed in a dramatic flamboyance.

The incongruous heroine of Peg; an almost mousy, issue ridden, Amazonian lesbian librarian seemingly from a sleepy seaside town, leads the way of realistic and intense characters who may or may not be what they seem. As she struggles to understand who she is and what she wants, she has to start trying to remember her past and deal with what she's finding out in the present day. Grandmother Doll and Aunty Jeanie have always been there and her memories are full of the life she shared with them but are they what they seem? As the truth starts to come out everything seems to unwind until the full depravity is revealed and she must decide what to do.

Black humour mingles with pathos and interlaces with shock as events begin to unravel slowly at first before building the pace to a stunning climax. A book full of suspense that demonstrates the depravity human nature can be and the impossibility of some choices or the reasons for which they were made. My personal opinion would be to put 'Tarnished' on your reading list.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Col Bury - Cops of Manchester

"…thoroughly entertaining and great value for money."

Synopsis:
Ever fancied being a cop?

Could you handle the pressure of hunting down a vigilante who is killing criminals at a ferocious rate? Consider how you would deliver a death message to a distraught parent. Would you protect the public by tailing a gangster's vehicle, knowing the occupants were armed? Or follow a suspect into a dark alley? How would years of dealing with society's appalling, and often violent, underbelly affect you? And, does anyone really like a bent cop?

Love them or loathe them, cops run toward danger as everyone else flees.

Review:
Col Bury returns to our kindles with a second collection of tightly written short stories and flash fiction pieces. Each one is a masterpiece of brevity which hurtles the reader along his narrative at warp speed. Take it from me: Col Bury could inject pace and urgency into a tortoise derby.

The reader is treated to an eclectic mix of stories which are neatly tied together by the common threads of Manchester and the police. While the one or two which contained elements of horror weren't exactly to my taste, I found the collection thoroughly entertaining and great value for money.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Anna Smith - Screams In The Dark

"...well written, fast paced novel full of action and of the quality expected from Smith."

Synopsis:
Glasgow is seething with resentment over the growing immigration issues and treatment of refugees, but when Rosie Gilmour goes out to cover a demonstration what she finds sends her on an investigation with far reaching consequences.

Refugees are disappearing and when asylum seekers have no roots or families how does anyone know? Mutilated bodies and murdered lawyers are entwined and slowly the horror starts to unfold, giving Rosie a choice; which is more important the story or her life?

Review:
This is the third novel featuring Rosie Gilmour and having been a fan of the previous two I was looking forward to 'Screams In The Dark'. Was I disappointed? No. It is a well written, fast paced novel full of action and of the quality expected from Smith.

For me, Smith's books stand out because they are written from a journalist perspective - something she knows a lot about - giving a different viewpoint to that of the detectives, which many books are written from. For example; how a reporter finds out about something, what they do to look into it, the liaison with the Police, the lawyers on both sides, how everyone works together and the reasoning behind what can and cannot be printed. A total fascination for me and I find myself wondering how much of the story is based on reality. Something I will be asking Anna when I next see her!

'Screams in the Dark' is based around refugees and asylum seekers disappearing, which leads into human trafficking and war criminals. Both are current and emotive subjects, which whilst are not original plot lines, benefit from the different view point from which Ms Smith comes at her story. If you have read previous books, you'll be pleased to see characters returning and a continuation of previous story lines. On a critical note, care will have to be taken not to repeat a formula but keep it fresh as there have now been three books on large cases which only Rosie can find details about on and nearly gets killed, but just (almost miraculously) escapes. That's not a complaint, but a comment on ensuring that the eminence of work Ms Smith does continues.

An action packed novel with current political undertones that made for a riveting read.

Reviewed by: K.L.

CrimeSquad Rating:

S.G. MacLean - The Devil's Recruit

"...amounts to an intriguing and addictive read."

Synopsis:
Seaton is happily married and expecting shortly to take up a position as a minister in the church, something that he has desired for some years but has been prevented from doing, largely because of his own behaviour. He is still teaching at the university and two of his students cause anxiety and trouble: one is missing, feared dead and the other found having obviously been in a brawl. Seaton feels that there is something more than the obvious conclusion. The recruiting forces are in the town and pressing men to sign up to fight in what will become known as the Thirty Years War.

As Alexander investigates what has happened to the missing student he becomes aware of a mysterious figure watching him. A young woman dies and still Seaton doesn't know what is happening. As the truth slowly emerges he realises that his past has come back to haunt him. He is drawn into plots and schemes that lead to tragic events.

Review:
This is the fourth book featuring Alexander Seaton, set in seventeenth century Aberdeen. S.G. MacLean has a deep and considerable grounding in the history of the time and this is clearly demonstrated in this book. The background of the Thirty Years War and the involvement of Scots on both sides drive the plot. There are many who sign up to help the Protestant armies of the Swedish King and others who sign up to fight on the side of the Catholic cause under the Hapsburgs. The underground support for the Catholic cause is woven into the plot.

The history of religion and the various factions in Scotland is as fascinating as the more well known struggles south of the border. S.G. MacLean writes about it in a wholly gripping and convincing way. The character of Alexander Seaton is a complex one; an open minded man with a strong faith, he is also driven by a passionate nature. This leads him into many difficult situations and it appears that his previous misdemeanours come back to haunt him.

I loved the description of life at that time and the strong characters MacLean portrays. With a detailed and compelling plot this all amounts to an intriguing and addictive read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

R.C. Bridgestock - White Lilies

"As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is a masterfully executed whodunit..."

Synopsis:
Two separate road accidents leaving three people dead are a cause for concern. Then the body of an elderly woman is found with signs of a suspicious death. Two girls are attacked in different locations and local rouges are the prime suspects. A newly promoted DS arrives but proves to be more of a distraction than an asset.

With work once again dictating DI Dylan's life, he struggles to find time for a heavily pregnant Jen. As he confronts a crazed offender who is holding a pensioner at knifepoint Jen goes into labour and collapses unconscious.

Review:
While the third in the series this is the first book by RC Bridgestock to cross my path so I was unfamiliar with the established relationships in the series. However the story is told in a way that brought me up to speed. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is a masterfully executed whodunit with a killer twist which caught me unawares. Without giving too much away, the reader is introduced to the killer but not the murderer.

I liked the character of Jack Dylan and his relationship with Jen rang very true. Vicky Dawn, Taylor and Tim were all well crafted without being overbearing but for me it was the unconscionable Danny and Billy who shined brightest.

All in all 'White Lilies' is an emotionally charged novel with a strong plot and believable characters.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Donna Leon - The Golden Egg

"...the final twist is satisfyingly Italian!"

Synopsis:
Brunetti has been asked to investigate a case of possible bribery involving the mayor's family but his heart is not in it. When his wife, Paula, raises concern about the apparent suicide of a handicapped man working at the local dry cleaners, Brunetti finds it quite easy to be distracted. As he delves deeper into what has happened he becomes convinced that something very strange indeed has been going on.

Review:
This latest book from Donna Leon returns to Comissario Brunetti after a brief absence and I for one am very pleased to see him back!

I have read all Leon's books and reviewed many for Crimesquad.com so I feel I am running out of original comments to write about this fantastic series.

Leon's loving descriptions of Venice and her inhabitants are the bedrock of these books. She describes the venality and corruption that seem to be at the heart of Venetian life through the eyes of the humane and sympathetic Brunetti and his family. He takes for granted that politicians and the petty officials of the administration will be lining their own pockets and yet he still remains deeply devoted to the Venice that is his home. The crime that he uncovers is hauntingly disturbing and encompasses all the greed and plotting that Leon describes so well and the final twist is satisfyingly Italian!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Harlan Coben - Six Years

"I found the story to be almost a romantic thriller rather than a fully fledged crime tale..."

Synopsis:
Six years ago Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of keeping his promise to leave her alone. Six years of imagining her with her new husband, Todd.

When Jake stumbles across Todd's obituary, he can't stop himself attending the funeral. Hoping for a glimpse of Natalie he is startled to see another woman is Todd's widow. Everything he thought he knew about the best time of his life is turned inside out.

As he searches for the truth, Jake's memories of Natalie begin to unravel. Mutual friends either can't be found or feign a lack of memory. No one has seen Natalie for years. Soon Jake's enquiries put his like at risk as he uncovers a conspiracy based on a carefully constructed fiction.

Review:
With a Harlan Coben novel you are always treated to interesting characters, tight plotting and wonderful prose. 'Six Years' has all of these in abundance but for once they didn't sparkle as brightly as usual. I found the story to be almost a romantic thriller rather than a fully fledged crime tale and while I appreciated the quality of the writing it didn't quite work for me.

Fisher's quest gives a nod to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as there are elements of forbidden love as everyone he turns to warns him away from his Capulet love. While the plotting is tight, there is a degree of predictability about the outcome which saw both my wife and I guess the ending correctly.

Benedict was a fine character to support Fisher but I found myself warming most to the absent mentor of Malcolm Hume than any of the other supporting cast. Fisher himself was adroitly assembled as a lead whose buttons the author could push.

While the story was not really my cup of tea, I enjoyed the tight prose and trademark humour Coben inserts into his novels. To sum up 'Six Years' I would have to say that while it isn't my favourite Harlan Coben novel, it is a well told tale of undying love.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ed. by Craig Douglas and Darren Sant - Gloves Off

"...this collection of excellent short stories will break your heart, make you flinch and leave you grateful for the punishment you’ve just absorbed."

Synopsis:
These stories have one thing in common: they will come at you, all guns blazing. There's a story lurking down every dark alley. Just when your back is turned a plot-twist is ready to attack.

The stories in this anthology are mainly crime, but there is also grim humour and the supernatural; dark tales for an adult audience featuring hit men, mobsters, bikers and stalkers. Are you prepared for the bloody scenes within?

Review:
This anthology has been compiled by the joint editors of the only short story site – Near to the Knuckle. As the title of the site suggests, these stories are not for the faint of heart or easily upset reader. However as one of the contributors to this anthology the subject matter is obviously close to my heart. As usual I shall refrain from commenting on my own story.

Each story in 'Gloves Off' is a microcosm which focuses on specific events or characters. As you turn the pages you get the feeling that you are watching the seediest darkest elements of human behaviour like an omniscient presence. There is pathos, humour and enough grit replenish Brighton beach. Particular standouts stories came from Richard Godwin, David Barber Paul D. Brazill, Peter Sortwell and Allen Miles although there is no weak story in this debut collection from one of the internet's finest champions of short fiction.

With tight prose and vivid descriptions this collection of excellent short stories will break your heart, make you flinch and leave you grateful for the punishment you've just absorbed.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Christie - Good Deed

"What Christie has achieved with this debut is a fast paced thriller which rockets the reader along. "

Synopsis:
A drugs courier is robbed halfway to her destination. The thieves abscond with the drugs which they set about auctioning to the highest bidder. Meanwhile the man behind it all goes on the rampage leaving a trail of dead bodies in his pursuit of the cocaine.

DI Buchanan moves from Aberdeen to Edinburgh as he follows the path of destruction, but will he find the drugs before the crazed Vince catches up with the three men in possession?

Review:
Being honest from the start, the version of 'Good Deed' I read was an early draft, so I shall not pass comment on the finer details as they will have changed in the editing process.

What Christie has achieved with this debut is a fast paced thriller which rockets the reader along. Sure you know who has the drugs and there is little real mystery in the novel for us amateur sleuths. Instead it is a chase novel where the police are chasing the murderous Vince who in turn is chasing the thieves. The characters of all the criminals were a little one dimensional for my tastes but I grew to love Buchanan. The DI who polices in much the same fashion as Gene Hunt or Jack Regan is good in my book! Political correctness be damned!

While the plot is laid out early on there are enough twists and red herrings to keep any reader interested.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: