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August 2013

Thomas H. Cook - Sandrine

"‘Sandrine’ is a novel that demonstrates that the modern crime novel has a reach and scope denied to most other genres. "

When Sam met Sandrine, a fellow doctorate student in New York, he couldn't believe his luck. She was beautiful, bohemian and daring - everything he wasn't. Together anything seemed possible.

However, time glides on and what a casual observer might have witnessed as a gilded life was not what it seemed. Sandrine had been stockpiling prescription drugs. She is found dead, laid out on their marital bed, a glass of vodka by her side and a fistful of painkillers in her stomach. The coroner says suicide. The District Attorney is certain it wasn't and he can't see past the husband.

As the book begins, Sam must face a town's justice officials convinced of his guilt and a daughter whose faith in her father has been rocked to its core.

If you prefer books with a large body count and/or high voltage action set pieces, then move along quietly, this book isn't for you. However, if you like to mix it up, or read books with a thoughtful edge then I can thoroughly recommend 'Sandrine'.

The action for this book takes place mostly in a court room. And normally this would mean a “pass” from me. I'm not usually a fan, but something about this book caught me quickly and kept me reading. A master crime writer, regardless of his subject matter will set up a question or series of questions that get wriggling you on the hook – and Thomas H Cook does that wonderfully with his “guilty or not guilty” scenario.

This is not a gorge-yourself-read-it-all-in-one-sitting kind of book, but one with a measured pace, full of insight and pin-point poetic prose. At one moment near the end, Sam Madison, the “voice” of the book muses – “The hinge that swings us towards calamity rarely squeaks, I thought as the jury foreman rose to deliver the verdict in my case. Life should fill our ears with warnings, but it falls silent at our infant cry.”

Words tasty enough to eat or what?

Sam Madison is a fascinating character. Pedantry appears to be his default reaction, failed ambition hangs over him like a cloud and solipsism his raison d'etre. And yet he has a vulnerability that reminds us he is unfailingly human. All in all, the most unusual main character I've come across in a crime novel in a long time.

'Sandrine' is a novel that demonstrates that the modern crime novel has a reach and scope denied to most other genres. It's a dissection of a marriage. It's an investigation of the layers of the human heart. And make no mistake; it's a book where Sam Madison isn't the only one on trial. Who out there has not allowed the tread of the years to wither their early ambitions, or their better selves? Who among us hasn't saved the worst of themselves for the ones they love the most? It's not just Sam Madison on trial in 'Sandrine', we all are and there resides the quiet power and beauty of this book.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Luke Delaney - The Keeper

"A brilliant read from a writer who is already showing his writing potential."

Thomas Keller knows exactly who he's looking for. They tried to keep them apart, but when he finds her, he's going to keep her. Just like he knows she wants him to.

DI Sean Corrigan is not like other detectives. His dark past has given him the ability to step into a crime scene and see it through the offender's eyes. He understands what drives a person to commit terrible acts – but sometimes his gift feels more like a curse.

When women start disappearing from their homes in broad daylight, Corrigan's Murder Investigation Team is reluctant to take on a missing person's case. But then the first body turns up, and Corrigan knows he must quickly get into the mind of the murderer because this killer knows exactly who he wants. And he won't stop until he finds her.

DI Corrigan is chasing a man who abducts women and DS Sally Jones is back on the team after being brutally attacked on the last case. There is a lot of reference to the last killer in Delaney's debut novel, 'Cold Killing'. Also, Sally has been greatly affected due to the attack. Although 'The Keeper' can be read as a standalone book, it reads better in sequence so that the character relationships and traits will make more sense if read in order.

'The Keeper' had me hooked from the first word and kept me until the very last. Not only is Delaney able to give the reader the forensic element of the investigation from the perspective of the police, but he is also able set the scene from that of the victim and the criminal. By writing it this way, not only does the suspense build, but it also gives insight into each of the characters. Despite 'The Keeper' being a sadistic brutal killer, with Delaney's insight of the criminal, Delaney allows the reader to understanding or empathise as to why he behaves in this way. This second novel by Delaney is absolutely gripping and gruesome. A brilliant read from a writer who is already showing his writing potential.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Child - Never Go Back

"All in all, I loved it!"

After an interrupted journey from South Dakota, Jack Reacher has finally made it to his destination. Virginia, headquarters of his old unit – the 110th MP. The closest thing he ever had to a home.

Why go back? Reacher wants to meet the new commanding officer, Major Susan Turner. He liked her voice on the phone. But the officer sitting behind the desk isn't Turner. Will he be sorry he went back? Or will someone else?

After writing seventeen previous Reacher novels, you'd think Lee Child would be starting to run out of ideas for ways to get the best from his creation. Trust me, it appears he has got loads up his sleeve as 'Never Go Back' puts Reacher against people he's never met or crossed. Child's plotting skills are given a thorough workout as Reacher is forced to re-evaluate his own lifestyle and his past.

The pace increases nicely as the page numbers increase and the prose is as recognisably Child as ever. I'm not going to mention Reacher too much as almost every regular visitor will be well familiar with my feelings on the big man. For once though, Reacher was forced to share the limelight with another. Susan Turner was every bit as Reacher-ish as a woman could be, and the interplay between the two was quite fascinating to observe. Samantha Dayton was another who caught my eye, albeit for reasons of familiarity.

'Never Go Back' is not one of the more physical Reacher novels, it is very much his brain which dominates the storyline. All in all, I loved it!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael J Malone - A Taste For Malice

"...Malone’s prose is honey for the eyes..."

DI Ray McBain is back at work, albeit on filing duty. Desperate for something to do, he becomes enthralled by a pair of old files. In the first, a woman pushes her way into a vulnerable family. The children love her until the violence starts. The woman vanishes.

Meanwhile another young family is relieved when a stranger enters their lives and starts helping them out. Then things start to go wrong. McBain makes the link, but nobody wants to listen. Is it the same woman? And how many more children are at risk? Someone has to find out before it's too late.

Reviewing a fellow reviewer is a tricky business. I want to be fair to a good friend and colleague, yet our loyal readers deserve an impartial review. The upshot is that I read his book with a harsher more critical eye than usual, to ensure the aforementioned fairness and impartiality.

Let me start by saying that Malone's prose is honey for the eyes, passage after passage is crammed with marvellously deft penmanship which balms the iris after a hard day at work. Accompanying the prose is a well-constructed plot which drives the novel forward with increasing pace.

Ray McBain makes for an intriguing lead as he battles superiors, his personal demons and tries to solve a case which no one else believes exists. Moira is nastily evil and all the other peripheral characters are drawn with the eye of an expert people-watcher, yet never once does Malone allow thunder to be stolen from McBain, who dominated the novel's skyline with his trademark black humour.

Overall 'A Taste For Malice', taps into the reader's fear of their homes being invaded and their children harmed. At times it scared me, but never once did it stop entertaining me.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Oswald - The Book of Souls

"...DI Tony McLean could well be a John Rebus in the making."

Every Christmas a young woman is found murdered in Edinburgh. She is naked, washed and had her throat cut. The Christmas Killer stalked the city for ten years, claiming ten victims.

Twelve years later and the killer is murdered in prison by a fellow inmate in a targeted attack. For DI Tony McLean this is the end of a personal and difficult chapter in his life; the final victim was his fiancée Kirsty Summers. He found her body, he found the killer's torture chamber and he put the killer behind bars.

As Christmastime approaches, not a good time of the year for DI McLean, the body of a young woman, naked, washed and with her throat cut, is found. Is this the work of the Christmas killer? Was the real killer found or is there a copycat picking up the baton?

DI McLean must face demons from his past and present in order to find a killer and remain professional before the hunt consumes his sanity.

'The Book of Souls' is James Oswald's second novel released in paperback this year and the introduction of his protagonist, DI Tony McLean, continues. In the first book, 'Natural Causes', we learned of Tony's difficult family life and troubled childhood. This time his hostile love life is played out in glorious Technicolor.

There are strong echoes of John Rebus in Tony McLean; a dour Edinburgh detective, a loner who lives for the job and, although he gets results, his methods are not always popular with his superior officers. Oswald, however, has a long way to go before he reaches the heights of Ian Rankin's famous creation. While McLean's past has not been a pleasant one I feel we have learned everything about him in the first two novels and any other tragedies which may be revealed in subsequent books could descend into far-fetched melodrama.

McLean's nemesis within the force is the interminably jealous DCI Duguid. We don't know much about him yet so the reason for his dislike of McLean is unclear and his constant sniping does tend to grate after a while.

The supporting cast which make up McLean's team are the usual bunch of crime fiction staples; the female sidekick, the rookie and the grumpy one who has seen it all. However, what stops 'The Book of Souls' turning into a litany of clichés is the tight, fast-paced story telling of Oswald whose strong descriptive powers make you actually smell Edinburgh.

James Oswald is obviously a lover of his genre; two characters are named after well-known crime fiction writers and there are nods to Rebus and Morse. Book three, 'The Hangman's Song' is released next spring and I am eagerly awaiting this next case for McLean. He is a detective with the drive and determination to keep Edinburgh safe for years to come. 'The Book of Souls' is a welcome return for DI Tony McLean who could well be a John Rebus in the making.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nick Rennison - Carver's Quest

"There have been several books out recently set in the Victorian era and this is definitely one of the best. "

Set in 1870, this book tells the tale of Adam Carver, a young man forced to leave his university studies early, with an interest in classical Greece, in modern photography, and with no clear idea where his future will lie. Alongside him is his servant Quint, a very awkward and curmudgeonly individual with a very chequered history.

They are visited in their London lodgings by a mysterious and beautiful young woman whose behaviour is intriguing and who leaves them with a puzzling problem. There is the possibility of great treasure hidden in Greece whose whereabouts is described in a lost Greek manuscript.

In following up this visit Carver and Quint find themselves dragged into a web of intrigue where nothing is quite as it seems. Two of the individuals most involved are murdered, and Carver joins up with his erstwhile mentor from school and university to travel to Greece in search of the lost document. All is finally and surprisingly revealed against the amazing background of the monasteries of Meteora.

There have been several books out recently set in the Victorian era and this is definitely one of the best. I particularly enjoyed the two main characters of Carver and Quint. Quint is part of a fictional cohort of manservants who are the foil for their employer and manage the necessary bloodletting without sullying the hero's hands.

The background of classical knowledge, learnt at school and perhaps at university, is a yardstick for class in this book and I imagine in Victorian society. Where someone is not up to speed - like Creech - it is an indication that something is not quite right. Having said that, there are several villains in the story with impeccable classical credentials.

Victorian society and the limiting social restrictions on women are described as a backdrop to the story and add to the interest. The descriptions of the amazing monasteries at Meteora are fascinating and form an ideal exotic ending for the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to hearing more about Carver and Quint.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gary Dolman - Red Dragon, White Dragon

"...Dolman has penned a great novel which lays an icy grasp around the reader."

Commissioned Investigators Atticus and Lucie Fox are summoned to an estate in remote Northumberland where a series of bizarre, grisly deaths appear to centre on the delusions of a madman who lives alone on the edge of the moors.

Close-by are the remains of a long-vanished castle where local legends say King Arthur still lies in an enchanted sleep, waiting to be awoken at a time of great need. The killings have all been committed using Arthurian artefacts and the locals swear that they have seen a ghostly knight in armour roaming the moors. But how can that be? This is 1890 and King Arthur died over thirteen-hundred years before.

This second outing for the Victoria detectives is a remarkable novel which delves even deeper into history than its own setting. The Arthurian connection runs through the story like a major artery, giving life while passing by.

I once again warmed to the joint leads of Atticus and Lucie Fox. They are fine characters who are on the edge of breaking technology (for the Victorian age) and their various strengths are very complimentary. For me it was Sir Hugh Lowther's character which dominated the landscape and I found myself ever more drawn to his bombastic if misguided opinions.

The plot develops nicely with certain characters falling under my suspicion before another took precedence. Yes, I did guess who the killer was before the reveal, but often that's one of the best parts about crime fiction – beating the detective to the correct answer. The pace increases as the number of bodies piles up and Dolman's final scenes will stay long in my memory.

Once again Dolman has penned a great novel which lays an icy grasp around the reader. The period details and language are both spot on, and the sense of madness driving the murderer on is truly haunting.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Damien Seaman - The Killing of Emma Gross

"The author stitches fiction seamlessly into fact, creating a convincing atmosphere of the era. "

Düsseldorf, 1 March 1929, the dying days of the Weimar Republic. A prostitute is found dead in a cheap hotel room, brutally murdered. But her death is soon forgotten as the city's police hunt a maniac attacking innocent women and children. A killer the press has dubbed the Düsseldorf Ripper.

Detective Thomas Klein's career is going nowhere until he gets a tip off leading to the Ripper's arrest. But the killer's confession to the hooker's murder is full of holes, and Klein soon comes to believe this is one murder the killer didn't commit. Motivated by spite, ambition, or maybe even a long-buried sense of justice, finding out who really killed Emma Gross becomes Klein's obsession. Particularly when the evidence begins to point closer to home…

This novel is based on the true story of notorious serial killer Peter Kürten and the unsolved murder of Düsseldorf prostitute Emma Gross.

Released as an e-book with Blasted Heath in 2012, this classy novel has found its way on to paper courtesy of those clever people at Five Leaves Crime.

This is a book with quality written all over it – and what makes that statement more impressive is that this is Damien Seaman's debut novel. All the elements we look for in a police procedural are there – a fascinating puzzle, a plotline that zips along and prose where not a word is wasted. To add flavour to all of that is an historical setting that is drawn with care. It is clear that Seaman carried out an impressive amount of research and he cleverly avoids the trap of loading the novel with too much detail, meaning the pace is never allowed to slow.

The people we meet in the book are fleshed out and credible, and Klein is a particularly engaging character who carries the story well. His methods are harsh, but what else would you expect in an era when Nazism was rife?

The author stitches fiction seamlessly into fact, creating a convincing atmosphere of the era. The style of the book gives a tip of the hat to the noir writings of Chandler et al, but without ever feeling derivative or falling into cliché.

From the arresting and blood-chilling beginning to the exiting conclusion, 'The Killing of Emma Gross' is an excellent read. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gregg Hurwitz - Tell No Lies

"...constantly delivers fast-paced thrillers that keep this reader on the edge of my seat. "

Daniel Brasher has always been something of a disappointment to his old-money aristocratic San Franciscan mother. Daniel left his high-paying job as a money manager to marry his community organizer wife and work at a job he loves, leading group counselling sessions with recently paroled ex-cons. Now he's ready to move on and start a private practice.

But before he leaves, he finds an envelope in his department mailbox—one intended for someone else that was placed in his slot by accident. Inside is an unsigned piece of paper, a note that says only 'Admit what you've done or you will bleed for it. You have 'til November 15 at midnite.' The deadline has already passed and the person to whom the envelope was addressed was brutally murdered. But this first warning is only the beginning.

Soon, Daniel finds more warnings in his office mail, to people that the police cannot track down, and to victims that cannot be saved. Daniel's efforts, however, have alerted the killer to his involvement and next he gets a threat of his own. Now, with the clock ticking, Daniel—with no clue what he's supposed to have done or to what action he must confess—must somehow appease, or outwit, a seemingly unstoppable killer.

Hurwitz is one of my favourite authors as he constantly delivers fast-paced thrillers that keep this reader on the edge of my seat.

Hurwitz gives a lot of misdirection and clues, keeping the reader guessing as to which of the group is guilty, who is helping them, and why the crimes were being committed. Well written as can be expected by an accomplished author such as Hurwitz, 'Tell No Lies' weaves an intricate plot that keeps the suspense going until the end. Daniel's relationship with his wife and mother makes him more dimensional as a character.

I did find that the end was if not predictable, then perhaps a little 'happy ever after'. But all in all, another great read from a great author.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tony Black - Hard Truths

"...essential reading for any crime fiction fan."

Award-winning journalist and acclaimed crime writer, Tony Black cross-examines some of crime fiction's bestselling authors. Names like Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh, Andrew Vachss and William McIlvanney reveal the secrets of their craft in a series of interviews conducted over the last five years.

Names like Edgerton, MacBride, Kernick, Linskey, Unsworth and MacLean and many others are quizzed on a wide variety of writing related topics by the intrepid interviewer.

Having conducted interviews with some of these names myself as well as striking up friendships either online or in the real world, I was very keen to see what gems Black could uncover.

Each interview provides a masterclass in putting the interviewee at ease so nuggets of information can be mined by an inquisitive mind. Black teases admissions from each writer on a wide range of subjects. The authors being interviewed all made interesting reading with accounts of their writing and life experiences. Particular highlights for me were Les Edgerton for his frankness, Shona MacLean for the way she emerged from underneath a famous family name to strike out by herself. Irvine Welsh for his contrariness and Stuart MacBride for his ever ready wit.

All in all 'Hard Truths' is a fantastic opportunity to get to know your favourite authors that little bit better. Stylishly compiled and searingly honest from the get-go it is essential reading for any crime fiction fan.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffery Deaver - The Kill Room

"...faultlessly written and presented, but I felt it lacked the killer punch that Deaver is renowned for. "

Robert Moreno, an American citizen living in South America, is shot in the Bahamas by a sniper. The killing was commissioned by the U.S. government, who received a tip-off that Moreno was planning a terrorist attack on a U.S. oil company headquarters. But this intelligence was fatally incorrect: anti-American Moreno ordered a protest at the oil company, not an attack.

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are drafted in to investigate. While Sachs traces Moreno's steps in New York, Rhyme travels to the scene of the crime in Nassau, where he finds himself on a dangerous path trailed by the sniper himself. As details of the case start to emerge, the pair discover that not all is what it seemed. Can they achieve justice and escape with their lives intact?

Lincoln Rhyme has always been a favourite character of mine. He is pedantic, acerbic but still impossible to dislike. Over the years he has been struggling with his disability following an accident at work and has overcome obstacles and health issues. His relationship with Sachs forms a large part of this series of books, as do the friendships between these two characters and Siletto, Dellray and Ron the Rookie.

But, and this is a very big 'but', I was very disappointed with 'The Kill Room' and I am sad to say I found this to be Deaver's worst book to date. It was espionage meets Come Dine with Me, with definitely too much emphasis on the cookery. I much prefer the forensic clues that Deaver's books work around but this plot was based more on Government departments that carry out special operations.

As ever, the book was faultlessly written and presented, but I felt it lacked the killer punch that Deaver is renowned for. When killers were revealed I took it with a pinch of salt as nothing is straight forward in a Deaver novel, but I almost felt that it was somehow contrived and included because it was expected, not because it actually fitted in with the story.

This latest certainly won't put me off returning to Deaver (who is one of the best living crime writers in my opinion) but I hope next time he keeps to his forensics and leaves the conspiracies to others.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: