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Reviews

December 2014

Jim Gallows - The Christmas Killer

"‘The Christmas Killer’ is very much in the same vein as a James Patterson."

Synopsis:
The 12th December and Littleton, Indiana is getting ready for Christmas. However, they do not plan to have a serial killer running amok. The first victim is a young single mother. She is found on a construction site, mutilated. This murder unsettles a town in turmoil as it watches the old asylum and the local church, the latter causing protests from the locals, ripped down to make way for a new highway. Then there is another killing and soon after others making the whole town nervous. What links these victims who all came from different backgrounds and led very different lives? The solution is in the past, revealing a killer who has been living amongst the residents of Littleton for many years.

Review:
This debut from Gallows started well and held my attention and although I persevered with it, I did feel as though this new author was throwing everything, including the kitchen sink at this plot to keep it alive. 'The Christmas Killer' is very much in the same vein as a James Patterson. You have the short, sharp chapters that give you the feel of watching a movie via the written word. However, I couldn't shake off the feeling that this novel is a patchwork quilt of other thrillers I have read before, sewn together to give us 'The Christmas Killer'.

Whereas Gallows does have the knack of writing a good level of suspense, I did think he needs to flesh out his characters a bit more. Even his lead character, Jake Austin is not described with others being given only a pencil outline. I continued to the end although quite early on I had a sense of where Gallows was taking me. And despite doing it competently, Gallows then reveals the killer with a 120 pages to go! So I felt, what's the point of continuing? Due to this unmasking of the killer far too early, the other revelations felt a little deflated. Plus, none of Gallows' characters, Jake included were particularly engaging, so I wouldn't have been fussed if the whole town had gone up in smoke. Gallows shows promise but he needs to learn his craft first and make his characters believable rather than just disposable plot devices. A shame as I had high hopes for this book when started.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ed. by Otto Penzler - The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries

"This is a gorgeous buffet of criminal nibbles to dip in and out of over the coming festive holidays."

Synopsis:
This is a mammoth collection of yuletide mysteries from the cream of crime fiction. Names include from 'Crime Christmas Past' Agatha Christie (of course!), Mary Roberts Rinehart, Ellery Queen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Cyril Hare, Ngaio Marsh, Ed McBain, Edgar Wallace and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Christmas Present consists of Peter Lovesey, Catherine Aird, Mary Higgins Clark, Andrew Klavan, Sara Paretsky and Colin Dexter plus many, many others!

Review:
This is a proverbial feast of delights for the festive season. If you love to read a crime based around Christmas then this behemoth of a book is for you! Head of Zeus, who have published this tome, have yet again delivered a sumptuous book that looks and feels a lot more than the twenty pounds price tag (and you'll get it for even less online!).

This is a 'Who's Who' of crime fiction featuring many of the greats from the past, far too many to list here, alongside those still entertaining their readers today. All the great detectives are at work here from Morse to Rebus to Holmes and Cadfael. This collection is top and tailed by Christie beginning with Poirot and fittingly finishing with Marple. What more could a lover of crime fiction want? This is a gorgeous buffet of criminal nibbles to dip in and out of over the coming festive holidays. This can be your guilty pleasure – and unlike the copious amounts of rich food, this will more than fill your needy diet for crime fiction – but without the calories! Enjoy!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jill McGown - Redemption

"If you love a Christmas mystery during the festive season then I strongly recommend this."

Synopsis:
It is Christmas Eve and neither Lloyd nor his sergeant, Judy Hill are looking forward to their respective Christmas'. Lloyd usually spends his alone and Judy wants to work rather than put on a brave face in front of her visiting in-laws to cover the fact that her marriage to their son, Michael is crumbling beyond repair.

Christmas Eve and the body of the vicar's son-in-law is found bludgeoned. Married just over a year to the vicar's daughter and already he was getting heavy handed with her. Was this why he had been despatched or was there another secret that Lloyd and Hill have to find and uncover? As the Christmas woes continue Lloyd and Hill discover that maybe their feelings for each other can no longer be kept restrained.

Review:
This is the second novel in the Lloyd and Hill series and originally published in 1988, it has been recently re-issued by Bello Books.

'Redemption' – or giving it the US title, 'Murder at the Old Vicarage' gives you an idea that this is a definite homage to Christie herself. McGown was brilliant at plotting the cases she handed to Lloyd and Hill and this one is exceptional. Suspicion shifts from suspect to suspect and she gives her reader plenty to think about before arriving at her solution. Unlike Christie, McGown restrains herself (this was 1988 after all) and does not do the grand 'reveal' in the library. In fact, it is more potent as it brings reality crashing around Lloyd as he realises he can't live without Judy.

This is a great little festive mystery and well-worth investigating. I am so pleased that Bello Books have re-issued the Lloyd and Hill series as they are brilliant cases as well as chronicling the developing relationship between the two main protagonists. Currently this title is on Amazon Kindle for 59p – yes, 59p. If you love a Christmas mystery during the festive season then I strongly recommend this. And I bet you will then go on and read the other twelve. Go on! Treat yourself!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tammy Cohen - Dying for Christmas

"...a fantastic read that will keep you on the edge of your seat."

Synopsis:
I am missing, held captive by a blue-eyed stranger. To mark the twelve days of Christmas, he gives me a gift every day, each more horrible than the last. The twelfth day is getting closer. After that, there'll be no more Christmas cheer for me. No mince pies, no carols. No way out …

But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will you?

Review:
'Dying for Christmas' tells the story of Jessica who has been abducted by Dominic Lacey whilst she was Christmas shopping. Dominic is a sadistic man intent on hurting and destroying Jessica. The narrative shows him as a narcissistic, cruel and controlling man, and Jessica as an absent minded, naive, unhappy and slightly quirky young woman.

Part of me struggled to believe that Jessica could be so stupid as to get in the car with a strange man without telling anyone where she was going and not to fight back at every opportunity. The first half of the book depicted Jessica as a broken woman with little chance of surviving.

However, the second half changed my perspective of most of the characters and I was soon unable to put the book down. What started as a 'simple' abduction turns into something more complex and sinister. Few of Cohen's characters are particularly nice and I struggled to sympathise with any of them as the majority of them have major faults.

The plot continued to get more twisted as the story went on, and Jessica's secret certainly wasn't something that I guessed. 'Dying for Christmas' is a fantastic read that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Mitchell - The Bone Clocks

"Every narrator perfectly pulled me in to the story and made this novel so entertaining."

Synopsis:
Holly Sykes is a young girl who has run away from home after an argument about a boy. She goes to the boy in question only to find he has been doing the dirty on Holly with her supposed best friend. Hurt but also defiant, Holly refuses to go back home and be subject to her mother's wilting gaze of 'I told you so…' and she decides to run away. Where? Not even she knows but what does happen even Holly could never have even dreamed of in her wildest imaginings – and she has some imaginings.

Along the way Holly will face goodness, evil personified and even murder. Who is the being that appears to be after her?

Review:
I have deliberately not said much in the synopsis because this is one of those books that you can't say too much about without giving it away. I don't feel I am being derogatory if I say this is a Frankenstein of a book – parts from different genres sewn together to bring together a weird and wonderful tale.

When I read 'Cloud Atlas' it nearly defeated me but I could see the intelligence of the writing and the structure of his novel, but for this new one I accepted the offer of the complete book on CD. And for me, it transformed the novel. Mitchell's writing running parallel with the marvellous acting of the different narrators brought the characters, especially Holly Sykes right in to my living room. She was there and every teenage anxiety was felt through Mitchell's poignant words. The novel starts in 1984, a time when I myself was fifteen and some of the things Mitchell was issuing out of Holly's mouth transported me straight back to my own days in the 80's! I couldn't ask for more than that.

Matters get much darker when Holly hitches a lift with a young couple and is taken to their home. This part literally sent shivers down my spine. This unabridged version from Whole Story Audiobooks spans 21 CD's. It may cost more than the book but the audio experience is second to none. Every narrator perfectly pulled me in to the story and made this novel so entertaining. It may not be crime per se, but I felt that I got more out of this book through the different actors than reading it myself. This would make a wonderful Christmas present for anyone who loves a good story whilst on the move.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jonathan Aycliffe - Naomi's Room

"...the first of Aycliffe’s ghost stories and one of the scariest. "

Synopsis:
It is Christmas Eve and Charles takes his young daughter, Naomi to London to see the lights and do some last minute shopping. What should have been a heart-warming experience turns in to horror as Naomi goes missing in the busy streets of London. All Charles and his wife, Laura can do is hope for her safe return. A few days later Naomi's body is found.

Returning to the family home, Charles begins to hear noises in the family home. Naomi's body was found, but is she really dead? As reality begins to shift Charles cannot but help himself feel as though something momentous is about to happen that will consume his whole family.

Review:
This title was the first of Aycliffe's ghost stories and one of the scariest. I read this back in 1991 when it first came out and boy, did it frighten the bejeezus out of me! This is that marvel, the classic ghost story written in modern times. This does have the feel of a du Maurier who herself was adept at writing a chilling tale. Over less than two hundred pages, Aycliffe takes us to the precipice and shows us the tormented and dark depths of madness and possession.

I really cannot say much more without spoiling the whole thing for you. All I can say is if you enjoy more of a chilling ghost story during your festive season, then this one is a tale I feel you would enjoy. It is short and sharp which I feel is perfect for the ghost story genre as it is just long enough to sustain that much needed suspense of impending dread. As always, this is best read with all the lights on and preferably someone else in the house – someone living that is!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jill McGown - Scene of Crime

"...a clever little mystery..."

Synopsis:
It is three days before Christmas and the local amateur dramatic society's rehearsal of 'Cinderella', directed by GP Carl Bignall is not going well due to a flu epidemic spreading through the company like wildfire. As the gathered company begin rehearsals, police are breaking in to Carl Bignall's house after a call about a possible burglary only to find his wife, Estelle dead.

But why was Bignall late for rehearsal and why is his work colleague, Dr. Denis Leeward sitting in his car with bruises? It is down to DCI Lloyd who is a member of the cast of Bignall's pantomime, to find the killer. Was it a burglary gone wrong or is Lloyd being deliberately misdirected?

Review:
This is the eleventh case for Lloyd and his sergeant, Judy Hill so many who have not read the previous cases may not wish to start here as McGown does slowly show their relationship developing over this series. However, having said that, being heavily pregnant and on maternity leave, Judy Hill is not an active part of this investigation, so you feel that despite Lloyd making a good job of the case there is one half of this crime duo missing which slightly deflates the book.

Here, after the epic that was her previous book, 'Plots and Errors', McGown pares back her story to bring this brief but enjoyable case. Again, this is very along the lines of a Christie and McGown was a mistress at plotting. In fact, a part of the case does hinge on a Christie device that was used in an early and very famous book of hers. However, this is an updated version and very competent and full of the festive season despite the subject matter. This is a clever little mystery and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matthew Pritchard - Werewolf

"‘Werewolf’ is so rich in atmosphere that you can feel the sense of fear, uncertainty, and destruction crackle on every page. "

Synopsis:
Germany. August 1945. The Allies have won the war. Now they have to win the peace.

Detective Inspector Silas Payne is a Scotland Yard officer seconded to Germany to help implement the Allied policy of 'denazification'. When a former Waffen SS soldier is found murdered in the cellar of a requisitioned house, Payne begins an investigation that leads him on a tortuous path of discovery through the chaos of post-war Germany and pits him against a depraved killer who will stop at nothing to protect his secret.

Review:
When setting a novel in a well-documented period of history you need to do your research and have respect for the time in question. Matthew Pritchard certainly knows his post-war Germany. 'Werewolf' is so rich in atmosphere that you can feel the sense of fear, uncertainty, and destruction crackle on every page.

The aftermath of the Second World War is not an easy topic to write (or even read) about. Pritchard has carefully recreated the deflated feeling of a future and hope within the pages of this highly intellectual and thought-provoking thriller.

The brutal and harrowing crime of a soulless and chilling killer almost takes second place to the mixed-up lives of the characters that have survived the war and are worried for the future of their country and their lives. However, that is no bad thing as Pritchard has filled his second novel with a mixed cast of well-rounded characters; each of them haunted and tormented in some way.

The main protagonist, a British detective named Silas Payne, is the most detached of them all. We don't learn much about him but tantalising snippets are gently released throughout the book. Payne is a complex character, and if this is to be a series, I think we're going to be in for a treat as we get to know the history of Silas Payne (great name too).

The story gains pace with every chapter, most of them ending in a way to keep you turning the pages long into the night. However, as you can expect, some details of war are not easy to read but this adds to the realism of the time and characters.

Matthew Pritchard is a writer with class; he knows how to hook the reader and he does so slowly and with precision. In lesser hands the plot could have been voyeuristic and crass. Once you start reading you're going to find it difficult to put this book down; harm may come to those who try to stop you.

This may only be Pritchard's second novel but it reads like he's been writing professionally for years. He is definitely a writer to watch; I feel he's going to have a long and successful career ahead of him.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - Poisoned Ground

"...another masterpiece from Barbara Nadel. "

Synopsis:
Another case for the unusual couple of Hakim and Arnold, private detectives in London's East End. Mumtaz Hakim is a clever, educated Muslim woman struggling with a debt incurred by her dead husband and trying to protect her teenage daughter from the nasty gang to whom the debt is owed. Lee Arnold is an experienced ex-cop, with an unsatisfactory love life, a few good contacts both with the law and the underworld, and the proverbial heart of gold. Together they provide a user-friendly service for the multicultural inhabitants of the East End.

Mumtaz is contacted by the Egyptian wife of a criminal convicted of storing materials for a bomb. Salwa is convinced that her husband Hatem is not guilty and wants Mumtaz to prove it. To do this Mumtaz has to infiltrate the mental hospital where Hatem worked and puts herself at risk. What she discovers there is much more complicated and sinister than she expected. Lee's background knowledge and contacts come in handy in protecting Mumtaz. Along with the main story, Mumtaz is haunted by the ghosts of her husband's past and that threat is as bad as the immediate one she faces.

Review:
Grounded in the East End, which Barbara Nadel knows very well, this series is completely believable and timely, as terrorist threats are always in the news. Her two main characters are engaging and involve you in their lives to the extent that you want to shout encouragement and advice from the sidelines - “Don't do it Mumtaz!”. The warmth and care as well as the criminal underground suffusing the area are beautifully described.

The plot is intricate and keeps you guessing until the very last minute, with even a threat hanging over to a later book. Nadel's personal knowledge and her contacts in the mental health service provide a chilling picture of what could happen. I say 'could' as I am hoping Nadel is using some literacy licence as the situation is extremely scary. This series has brilliantly established itself and this latest is another masterpiece from Barbara Nadel. Long may it continue!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Pinborough - Murder

"...the most chilling story I've read since ‘Silence of the Lambs’."

Synopsis:
Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, thinks he has finally recovered from the terrible events of years before. He no longer has nightmares about Jack the Ripper - or the other monster, an enemy even more malign who hid in Jack's shadow and haunted the streets of London at the end of the 1880s. He has made his peace with his part in bringing calm back to the East End.

His fame as a profiler of criminals is increasing, his practice is steady, and Dr Bond is beginning to dream or marriage, and children. Life is good.

But when a woman's body is found brutally beaten to death in a railway carriage and a letter written years before is discovered by the police, the past he has fought so hard to put behind him begins to taint the present, and he can no longer fight his new suspicions.

Just when he thought life had returned to normal, Dr Bond is about to discover that something will not remain buried: once again his uncanny enemy is loose on the streets of London...and this time Dr Bond is alone.

Review:
If I was asked to list the ingredients of my ideal crime novel they would read Victorian London, gruesome murders, a haunted protagonist, and a chilling finale. Sarah Pinborough has obviously read my mind; in fact I checked the dedication page just to see if 'Murder' was written specifically for me! (It's not).

Pinborough has ticked all the boxes on my wish list and then some in a gripping thriller that grabs you by the throat from the first page and refuses to release you from its grasp until the final sentence.

'Murder' is the second book to feature eminent Dr Thomas Bond. The first, 'Mayhem', is just as chilling and effective. If you've yet to read it I suggest you read them one after the other; they're addictive and a real tour de force.

Sarah Pinborough has written a prose so deliciously descriptive and atmospheric you expect to look out of the window and see gas lamps, Hansom cabs and smog rolling in from the work houses of Victorian London. Her protagonist, Dr Thomas Bond, is a wonderfully created character; he's tortured and his brilliant mind works against him as he descends into an old age of loneliness. You feel a great deal of sympathy for him and it's Pinborough's excellent story-telling prowess that gives such a haunted man an air of tragic humanity.

Murder is genuinely frightening, and the most chilling story I've read since 'Silence of the Lambs'. This kept me awake at night and I know I'll long be thinking of Dr Thomas Bond now I've finished. The ending is touching and just as eerily horrific as the rest of the book. I sincerely hope Sarah Pinborough has more like this up her sleeve.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

L.C. Tyler - Crooked Herring

"This is a delightfully witty read that will pull you in with its charm, keep you hooked with its humour, and insist you don't put it down until you are done."

Synopsis:
Ethelred Tressider, mid-list crime writer, is surprised when fellow author Henry Holiday unexpectedly turns up on his doorstep. He's even more surprised when Henry confesses that he may have committed murder while drunk on New Year's Eve. Though he has little recollection of the night, Henry fears he may have killed drinking companion and fellow crime writer, Crispin Vynall, and asks Ethelred to discreetly make enquiries in order to discover the truth. As Ethelred and his trusty agent, Elsie begin to investigate, they discover that Henry has been set up, and now all that remains is for them to find out why and, more importantly... whodunit?

Review:
'Crooked Herring' is one of those books that I have been looking forward to for some time, as it has been three years since the last outing for Ethelred and Elsie and I'm delighted to say it was well worth the wait. If you're a fan of humourous crime fiction you'll love it, you don't need to have read any of the previous novels to enjoy it and if you haven't, after reading this I promise you'll be looking for them all.

As an added bonus if you're someone who has ever attended CrimeFest or Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate you'll love it even more, as both are namechecked several times throughout the course of the book. Each are mentioned in such a way that anyone who's enjoyed the festivals will know what Tyler is referring.

So just what is the collective noun for a group of crime writers? Who knows, here we have three, like witches round the cauldron in a certain Scottish play, one is missing, another believes he has killed him and he asks a third to help. The plotting is as brilliant as the previous novels and the titular 'herrings' will ensure you keep second guessing yourself as to what really happened to whom. This is a delightfully witty read that will pull you in with its charm, keep you hooked with its humour, and insist you don't put it down until you are done.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chevy Stevens - That Night

"...an enthralling and well-written read..."

Synopsis:
They said she was a murderer. They said she killed her sister. But they lied.

As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn't relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren't easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night. Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she's doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy - not with Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night. But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

Review:
This story is set both in the present and past tense, telling of Toni's time in prison, and the events that led to her incarceration. As always, Stevens writes well about the emotions of her characters, expressing Toni's anger and disappointment with the system that let her down, and also her teenage emotions that she has for her parents and boyfriend.

Although the emotions and the background were interesting and did add to the book, I felt that at times, especially during the first half of the book, they were overdone and I began to lose interest. Knowing that Toni was going to be convicted of the crime, I just wanted to get to the main event. I guessed who the killer was and the motive behind the crime but still wanted to read the book as I wanted to see if they would be getting away with their crime or if Toni was going to carry the blame.

As often with Stevens, the loose ends were not all tied at the end and didn't bring a 'happy ever after' for everyone. Over all, 'That Night' was an enthralling and well-written read, just let down slightly by the predictable ending.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Douglas Lindsay - The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson

"To call the humour in this belly-laugh book ‘dark’ is like calling Macbeth mildly dramatic."

Synopsis:
Barney Thomson is a none-too-talented barber who leads a life of mediocrity in a dreary, always-raining Glasgow. His wife Agnes constantly watches TV soaps, and his mother Cemolina is addicted to TV game shows such as 'Name That Stain', where contestants have to guess which celebrity owns a pair of used underpants or knickers. At the same time, a crazed serial killer is on the loose, killing men and mailing various body parts to their relatives. In charge of the investigation is Detective Chief Inspector Robert Holdall, a morose, disillusioned copper who eschews optimism, and wonders why he ever joined the force in the first place.

Inevitably, Barney and Robert's worlds collide, and Barney is sucked into a maelstrom of blood, corpses, external body parts and viscera. The police are getting nowhere with the investigation, while Barney discovers who the serial killer is. But, for a very good reason, he cannot go to the police and reveal all.

The denouement is mad, bad, bloody, yet laugh-out-loud funny. Scores are settled, and Barney emerges from it all with a new-found reputation for his artistry in haircuts.

Review:
This book has become a cult classic. First published in 1999, it was reissued in 2003 and 2008. Now Robert Carlyle is turning it into a film, so this book deserves to be revisited. To call the humour in this belly-laugh book 'dark' is like calling Macbeth mildly dramatic. It is darker than dark. It is pitch black, and all the more enjoyable for it. Both Barney and DCI Holdall are men to whom things happen. They have no control over their lives. When Barney tries to extricate himself from a situation, he becomes more embroiled, and the more DCI Holdall investigates the killings, the more mired he becomes in the mystery.

I read this book in two late-night sessions, chortling to myself and on occasion laughing out loud. The prose is simple and direct while at the same time being surreal, and the plotting is precise and satisfying. It is undoubtedly a tour-de-force of midnight-black comedy, and I look forward to reading the other Barney Thomson books in the series.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Caroline Kepnes - You

"‘You’ is one of those books that you read quickly as you want to know what happens, and then regret reading it so quickly as you want to continue reading it."

Synopsis:
When aspiring writer Guinevere Beck strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe works, he's instantly smitten. Beck is everything Joe has ever wanted: she's gorgeous, tough, razor-smart, and as sexy as his wildest dreams.

Beck doesn't know it yet, but she's perfect for him, and soon she can't resist her feelings for a guy who seems custom made for her. But there's more to Joe than Beck realizes, and much more to Beck than her oh-so-perfect façade. Their mutual obsession quickly spirals into a whirlwind of deadly consequences.

Review:
'You' is written from Joe's perspective, almost as a letter to Beck. His comments and thoughts are directed or based around Beck and his relationship/obsession with her. He is a cold, calculating character who sees no wrong with any of his actions and only sees fault in the actions of others.

At first I found the repetitive use of the word 'you' to be a little grating. However, as the story progressed I was hooked and this small annoyance was quickly forgotten.

At times I found the plot a little far-fetched, and that Joe was able to get away with his crimes with maybe a little too much luck and some poetic licence. But because his crimes were against some rather unsavoury characters, there was also a part of me that wanted him to get away with them! In fact, none of the main characters were particularly nice and towards the end I wasn't really rooting for anyone in particular and wouldn't have been too disappointed to see the demise of all of them.

'You' is one of those books that you read quickly as you want to know what happens, and then regret reading it so quickly as you want to continue reading it. This is a very cleverly written book that took some effort to get started but was definitely worth persevering.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stella Rimington - Close Call

"A brilliant and enthralling read for any lover of the well-written espionage novel."

Synopsis:
In 2012 in a Middle Eastern souk, a young American CIA agent is badly injured after being targeted by an assassin with a knife. Miles Brookhaven has been investigating rebel groups in the area and there may be a connection.
Some time later, Liz Carlyle and her Counter espionage group in London are asked to take a watching brief on possible gun running to al-Qaeda groups from a Western source. Originally low key, this brief suddenly escalates into a desperate manhunt, involving Liz's boyfriend in French security, Martin Seurat, and several nasty characters from both their pasts. Liz is linked up again with Miles Brookhaven who is now on the trail of arms deals in Yemen, whilst trying to recruit the Yemeni Minister of Trade. Money and power are the driving forces for the fast and merciless action that then ensues, culminating in a bitter struggle.

Review:
The success of these novels is bound up in three things: a fast, furious and exciting plot, characters who are interesting, amusing and catch the imagination, and the genuine knowledge of the author and the insight into the ways of the Secret Service and its relationships with other services.
The plot ranges from London to the Midlands to Paris and to the hotbed of terrorism that is the Middle East. The hi-jacking of the Arab Spring by al-Qaeda groups is foreseen in this novel and the relationship to seedy crime is beautifully described.

Liz Carlyle is a feisty modern woman and holds her own with the men in a very macho world. Her emotional life is complicated and adds to the desperation of the plot. Above all, there is a voyeurism in looking at the workings of the Secret Service as described by an ex-member that has proved entrancing in the works of Stella Rimington. They make you feel like an insider without any of the danger and that is very beguiling. A brilliant and enthralling read for any lover of the well-written espionage novel.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - Gray Mountain

"...people from a small town with their everyday problems made Grisham’s tale feel very realistic."

Synopsis:
One week ago, Samantha Kofer was a third-year associate at New York City's largest law firm. Now she is an unpaid intern in a legal aid clinic deep in small-town Appalachia.
When Lehman Brothers collapsed, she lost her job, her security, her future.

As she confronts real clients with real problems, she finds herself a world away from her past life of corporate fat cats and fatter bonuses. But this is coal country, meth country and the law is different here.

Review:
Samantha Kofer is a lawyer working in a big law firm in New York. With the global recession her job is in jeopardy and to keep her health benefits, she is working for free at a legal clinic until the economy recovers. The clinic is based in the Appalachians, where the coal companies and money can dictate the law. Samantha is there to help the local residents who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.

The plot had a personal touch to it, people from a small town with their everyday problems made Grisham's tale feel very realistic. The battles with the big coal companies gave it the legal and courtroom excitement that Grisham is renowned for. And the more I read, the more I waited for the legal and courtroom excitement… and I waited and waited. And then the book was finished and I felt slightly cheated. I wanted to know what would happen when the coal companies were taken to court. I wanted to know if they would be made to pay. I am only hoping that there is a sequel that continues Samantha's journey.

The other small cases dealt with by Samantha at the clinic felt more like page fillers and I would have enjoyed the book more by being given a proper conclusion to the open cases or for the story to have concentrated on the big legal battle with the coal company. Very little felt finished about this book and I was left in the lurch, feeling somewhat disappointed. What could have been another great legal thriller from Grisham unfortunately missed the mark.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - Thin Air

"This is another quality offering in this very engaging series."

Synopsis:
Three university friends plus other halves are in Shetland for the 'hamefarin' of local lad Lowrie, recently married to Caroline, one of the friends. After the party, the other two girls and their partners retire to the cottage they are renting for a few days. The next morning they discover that Eleanor, last seen sitting on the veranda when the others retired to bed, has disappeared. Polly gets an email from Eleanor suggesting that she may not be alive any more. Then Eleanor's body is discovered.

Local detective Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves from the mainland are in charge of the investigation. Underlying the story is the legend of the ghost of a young girl who appears on the shore and is only seen to the childless. The interest that Eleanor and Polly have in the tale runs parallel to the investigation. Both of them had apparently seen a young girl in a white dress who fitted the description of Peerie Lizzie.

Undercover emotions are rife. Jealousy, loss and greed influence the characters. Perez uses his local knowledge and intuition with people to track down the killer.

Review:
The skill that Ann Cleeves has par excellence is the ability to contrive characters that are entirely believable, utterly engaging and whose strengths and weaknesses drive the plot. Eleanor's murder results from her own particular character and the fatal flaw in the character of the murderer. Eleanor used her knowledge of her companions' character to manipulate events for her own interest. As always, Jimmy Perez is a complex and likeable man, and his struggles with his recent past continue to absorb.
Willow Reeves is another solid well-rounded individual, and Sandy is developing into maturity.

The background of Shetland life continues to fascinate, so far away from the great metropolis and almost a foreign land to the incomers from the south. The strength of the community and its weaknesses are beautifully portrayed.

I'm glad that there is Shetland life after the original quartet. It would have been a shame to lose touch with Jimmy. This is another quality offering in this very engaging series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ben Aaronovitch - Foxglove Summer

"...highly original and engaging with memorable characters and intricate plots. I cannot recommend them enough."

Synopsis:
When two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It is purely routine and Nightingale thinks he will be done in less than a day. But Peter's never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing overtly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

However, because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets underlay the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain's most junior wizard after all.

Soon he is in a vicious race against time in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear.

Review:
'Foxglove Summer' marks a change in the Peter Grant series. As a fan of Ben Aaronovich's magical crime novels I've considered London to be a main character in itself. However, the fifth novel has dumped the capital for rural Herefordshire, and taken our protagonist out of his comfort zone.

As fans of the crime genre know, moving an established character away from their home ground does not always work (remember Cracker in Australia?). Here, Peter Grant seems to flourish away from under the microscope of his superiors.

I've described the Peter Grant series to many people, to pass on a literary triumph, but many are put off by the mention of magic and wizards. At the hands of a lesser writer these books could be over-the-top and almost unreadable, but Aaronovich has created a wonderful and real main character, so that when confronted by a unicorn, his reader doesn't even raise an eyebrow!

The first person narrative works well. Peter Grant is an everyman; likeable, with a cynical mind and a dry sense of humour. He almost fits the bill for the target reader. The previous book, 'Broken Homes', ended on a cliffhanger, and we lost a main character. Here the mystery continues and sets up book six very nicely.

Ben Aaronovich's series is highly original and engaging with memorable characters and intricate plots. I cannot recommend them enough. Buy the collection and devour. Enjoy!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: