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Reviews

June 2014

Ruth Rendell - From Doon With Death

"...Rendell’s debut shows a glimmer of the amazing novels that were yet to come..."

Synopsis:
Margaret Parsons life was as prosaic as her name. She was a woman who was hardly ever noticed. That was until her husband reports her missing and is soon found in a wood, murdered. Margaret's life consisted of keeping the cold and rickety house clean and feeding her husband the simple meals they were able to afford on such a tight budget. So what was it that Margaret could have done that made someone wish to kill her?

With nothing for Wexford to grasp in her present life, the tenacious Inspector delves back in to Margaret's past in the hope of finding out more about this woman who lived life under the radar. Gently peeling back the many layers of Margaret's past, Wexford soon comes to an astonishing conclusion that is difficult to associate with the bland Margaret Parsons.

Review:
Not many authors have the pleasure of celebrating fifty years in this industry, and certainly only a handful of writers are credited with playing such a huge role. Rendell is possibly THE most highly respected author in crime fiction, a writer who has pushed and pushed against the boundaries and has produced some of the most stunning novels of modern time. But as any author worth their salt will tell you, someone has to start somewhere and although Rendell's debut shows a glimmer of the amazing novels that were yet to come, there is definitely an air here of a writer just starting out on a very long journey.

Even Rendell in her afterword in this new edition says that her first novel should be viewed as an historical piece of work. I love the fact that in the early 60's one could leave houses and garages unlocked without fear of being burgled. Something nobody would ever do in this day and age. For those of us who have read all the Wexford novels, here the great man appears easily impatient, something he manages to reign in as the books progress. And Burden here appears positively youthful and optimistic. How that was to change down the line! The denouement, as Rendell herself confesses, is not as shocking now as it was back in 1964, but it does show that this writing force was willing to go out on a limb, even with her first book. It may not be your favourite Rendell novel, but we should still raise a glass, celebrate the beginning of her career and the wonderful novels she has produced since. Baroness Rendell – we salute you!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jake Woodhouse - After The Silence

"Prepare yourself for a long night; this is definitely a 'one-sitting' read."

Synopsis:
A body is found hanging on a hook above the canals of Amsterdam's old town, a mobile phone forced into the victim's mouth.

In a remote coastal village, a doll lies in the ashes of a burnt-down house, but the couple who died in the fire had no children of their own. Did the little girl escape the blaze? And, if so, who is she and where is she now?

Inspector Jaap Rykel knows that he's hunting a clever and brutal murderer. Still grieving from the violent death of his last partner, Rykel must work alongside a junior out-of-town detective with her own demons to face, if he has any hope of stopping the killer from striking again.

Their investigation reveals two dark truths: everybody in this city harbours secrets - and hearing those secrets comes at a terrible price.

Review:
Debut novelist Jake Woodhouse introduces Inspector Jaap Rykel in this dark thriller that is so fast it leaves tyre tracks. From the shocking first pages to the final paragraph the tension remains and never lets up for a single moment.

Although Rykel is the main character his subordinates share a great deal of page time so this definitely feels like an ensemble piece rather than a lone voice playing outside the rules. It's very refreshing to see a disparate cast of characters and their own take on the case. They all have their own back stories, their own dark secrets and their own demons. As these back stories are revealed the book could have descended into melodrama and detracted from the many element of the story, the crime, but Woodhouse has deftly entwined the crime with his characters and releases certain information with perfect timing.

The gruesome killings read like the finest Nordic Noir and Rykel and his houseboat could rival Morse and his Jaguar for a trademark. The chapters are short, the story is engaging and the characters are all hideously likeable in their own flawed way.

'After the Silence' is the first in a quartet and I cannot wait for rest in the series. This is a disturbing and claustrophobic story and utterly thrilling. Prepare yourself for a long night; this is definitely a one-sitting read.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Patrick Lee - Runner

"...on page one I was intrigued, by page two I was hooked!"

Synopsis:
Sam Dryden, retired special forces, lives a quiet life in a small town on the coast of Southern California. While out on a run in the middle of the night, a young girl runs into him on the seaside boardwalk. Barefoot and terrified, she's running from a group of heavily armed men with one clear goal - to kill the fleeing child. After Dryden helps her evade her pursuers, he learns that the eleven year old, for as long as she can remember, has been kept in a secret prison by forces within the government. But she doesn't know much beyond her own name, Rachel. She only remembers the past two months of her life and that she has a skill that makes her very dangerous to the hidden men in charge.

Dryden, who lost his wife and young daughter in an accident five years ago, agrees to help her try to unravel her own past and make sense of it, to protect her from the people who are moving heaven and earth to find them both. Although Dryden is only one man, he's a man with the extraordinary skills and experience as a Ranger, a Delta, and five years doing off-the-book black ops with an elite team. Dryden slowly discovers the highly trained paramilitary forces on their heels are only part of the danger they must face. Will Rachel's own unremembered past be the most deadly of them all?

Review:
After reading another book by a favourite author I was expecting to struggle to get into this book. To pick up a new book written by an author not known to me did not fill me with any expectations. However, on page one I was intrigued, by page two I was hooked! Sam Dryden is the type of protagonist that I immediately connect with. He has a strong character with a slight edge making him interesting and leaving this reader wanting him to succeed and survive.

Dryden is essentially a good man who has fallen on hard times and losing interest in life. Meeting Rachel gives him back his life as he tries to help her escape from those who are trying to kill her. The plot itself seemed in my mind somewhat far-fetched, although with further thought the sort of research being carried out in the book could well be happening in real life, far from public knowledge.

The pace of the book is set within the first few pages and doesn't let off until the end. With lots of twists and people moving sides, it left me unable to know the agendas of each of the characters. The ending itself is a little predictable, but I assure you it doesn't detract from the rest of this blindingly brilliant book. Patrick Lee now joins my list of 'authors to watch' and I can't wait for the next one!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Matthew Frank - If I Should Die

"...I expect many more good things to come from the pen of Mr. Franks."

Synopsis:
Trainee Investigator Joseph Stark is an Afghan veteran who literally bears the scars of his last 'tour'. Ambushed by enemy fire, Stark thought his good luck had run out, but then instinct kicked in. After a year of convalescence Stark is about to embark on a new tour – one with the police force.

There have been recent assaults on the homeless with a gang that enjoys handing out 'happy-slapping' to those living on the streets of London. Then the treatment becomes more violent and one of the homeless is found and soon dies in hospital from his brutal beating. Now it is murder. The team have a gang in their sights but their wall of silence is impenetrable, but like the proverbial pack of rats it isn't too long before they turn upon each other and more bodies are uncovered.

As Stark tries to keep his nightmares and the never ending pain at bay with painkillers and drink, he becomes involved in a case that resonates with his time as a soldier. But which will be broken first? Stark or the case?

Review:
This is one of those crime novels which grabbed me. 'If I Should Die' does not have a great mystery at its nucleus, so if you are expecting some great 'reveal' or denouement, then move along, please. What Franks does deliver is a steady police drama which is as human as it is factual. Franks highlights the frustration felt by the police when evidence is scarce and when legalities cast a shadow over an investigation. Many times the word 'circumstantial' rears its ugly head when you know full well they have the right culprit for the crime. The gang of 'happy-slappers' are introduced early on and I quickly became involved with the team to bring this gang to justice.

This book has a very human side to it and I cared for those entangled in the investigation. Being a war veteran, Stark is emotionally complex and Frank is extremely adept at bringing him to life and showing us a vulnerable man without making you pity him. His superior, DS Fran Millhaven shows great promise although I felt that here she had been slightly side-lined and was no more than a constant stream of witty or snide remarks. I hope Franks will make more use of her in his next book. Stark is likeable, although by the end of the book it did become slightly wearing that he alone had all these 'light bulb' moments. Franks even has other officers joking about it, but even so, it did stretch the boundaries of reality with Stark becoming a one-man police force from day one. Again, next time the author could use someone like Dixon as a very good foil for Stark. But that is my one and only gripe. Aside from that, this debut is a very strong and well-written crime novel and I expect many more good things to come from the pen of Mr. Franks.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Craig Robertson - The Last Refuge

"...crackles on every page. "

Synopsis:
When John Callum arrives on the wild and desolate Faroe Islands, he vows to sever all ties with his previous life. He desperately wants to make a new life, and is surprised by how quickly he is welcomed into the close-knit community. But still, the terrifying, debilitating nightmares just won't stop.

Then the solitude is shattered by an almost unheard of crime on the islands: murder.

A specialist team of detectives arrives from Denmark to help the local police, who seem ill-equipped for an investigation of this scale. But as tensions rise, and the community closes ranks to protect its own, John has to watch his back. But far more disquieting than that, John's nightmares have taken an even more disturbing turn, and he can't be certain about the one thing he needs to know above all else; whether he is the killer.

Review:
'The Last Refuge' is a dark and atmospheric tale of revenge, redemption and secrets. Craig Robertson has excelled himself by writing a truly twisted psychological thriller full of deeply flawed yet believable characters.

Robertson's description of the wild landscape of the Faroe Islands, the rapidly changing climate and the isolation of a baron community crackles on every page. He has chosen each and every word precisely to convey the desperation, the starkness and the claustrophobia of a small community forced to live together in such close proximities.

With Craig Robertson's first novel, 'Random', there is a gruesomely chilling murder scene, so richly depicted that is has remained in my mind ever since. What he has done with this novel has left a lasting impression of a dark cast of characters and a challenging story on an island I'm now itching to visit.

I honestly cannot find a single fault with this novel. The story builds at a steady pace and the crime itself is chilling and the varying secrets and lies are revealed in exactly the right places to keep you intrigued until the final thrilling denouement.

Now I've finished I want to turn back to page one and start all over again. More like this please, Mr. Robertson – and soon!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jorn Lier Horst - The Hunting Dogs

"I hope all of Horst’s books will very soon be translated in to English."

Synopsis:
As well as his police job, Wisting is lecturing at the police college and passing on to his students his values of honesty and integrity whilst carrying out police duties. Ironically, shortly afterwards he finds himself suspended for allegedly supervising the falsification of evidence in a seventeen year old murder case.

With the help of his investigative journalist daughter, and strictly off the record, Wisting tries to find out what really happened. This involves him in some rather unconventional practices. At the same time his relationship with his partner becomes rather distant and needs to be resolved. As he slowly realises that one of his colleagues has manipulated the evidence, another disappearance of a young girl puts more pressure on him to find the real killer.

Review:
This is the third book about William Wisting, a Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of Larvik police in South West Norway. We join the series after several books but there is a useful update at the beginning which sets everything into context.

Written from the viewpoint of a recently serving police officer, this book cannot be faulted for authenticity and gives a true flavour of the search for a dangerous criminal. Jorn Lier Horst knows the background inside out and so can effortlessly concentrate on building up a strong story line and sympathetic characters. Wisting is a genuine policeman looking for honest answers but he is also a man emerging from emotional heartache and finding his way in new relationships both with his daughter and his new partner. All this adds to a satisfying whole. I very much enjoyed this title and I hope all of Horst's books will very soon be translated in to English.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Neil Broadfoot - Falling Fast

"I have no compunction whatsoever in recommending this superb debut..."

Synopsis:
Story-hungry journalist Doug McGregor is out to track down a convicted rapist and on the run after being hounded out of his home by a lynch mob. But a grisly suicide in the heart of tourist Edinburgh piques Doug's curiosity and diverts his attention - especially once his police contact and occasional drinking partner, DS Susie Drummond, reveals that the victim is connected to a high-profile and controversial politician. Together, they find themselves unravelling a story of secrets, drug abuse, violence, murder...and the ultimate taboo.

Review:
Neil Broadfoot is a new boy on the crime fiction scene and he has delivered this ripping tale of capital high jinks. There's no question – Broadfoot is the real deal. He writes with flow and pace, employs a nice touch in misdirection and his story snares you from the off.

I enjoyed spending time with his protagonists McGregor and Drummond. The journalist and copper twosome is a well-used trope in crime fiction – for good reason, it works. And in 'Falling Fast', Broadfoot continues that tradition to great effect. For a nice change, he was not tempted to suggest sexual tension between them, simply making them pals who do each other a favour now and again - most likely, getting the other into trouble with their respective bosses. I have to admit a fondness for Susie Drummond. I do like a strong kick-ass woman in my crime reads.

I have no compunction whatsoever in recommending this superb debut to all you crime fiction fans out there. You will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ursula P. Archer - Five

"...pages passed rapidly through my fingers..."

Synopsis:
A woman is found murdered in a field. Tattooed on her feet is a strange combination of numbers and letters.

Detective Beatrice Kaspary quickly identifies these as map co-ordinates, which lead the police to a 'treasure box' containing several body parts, and a note from the killer containing a series of cryptic clues to the identity of the next victim.

What follows is a desperate scavenger hunt in which Beatrice herself becomes a pawn in the killer's game of cat and mouse, as she risks all to uncover the murderer.

Review:
I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this book as previous novels I've read that have been translated from German have proven to be clunky and awkward, but not so with 'Five'. It was a really easy book to read and I enjoyed it immensely. Divorced with an angry ex-husband, children she hardly sees and an unspoken attraction to her partner Florin, I initially felt that Ursula P. Archer was trying a little too hard to make me like Kaspary, but by the end of the novel the character had spoken for herself.

I really engaged with the premise of 'Five' too, the idea of taking a fabulous. A hobby like geocaching, a search for treasure which is all about the hunt was excellent, because although it meant a slower pace for a thriller novel, it made me feel like I was following the case develop in 'real time', consequently feeling the frustration of the investigators. At the same time I was hungry for the chase and I found pages and pages passed rapidly through my fingers as I urged the police on, like a racegoer, with a million pound bet, cheering on the second place horse in the final furlong.

There's a popular phrase amongst geocachers, that is used often in 'Five' and sums up well my thoughts of the book as a whole... 'Thanks for the hunt'!

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Priscilla Masters - The Final Curtain

"...Masters loves the vast and empty landscape of the Staffordshire moorlands and brings it chillingly to life..."

Synopsis:
It all started with a few trivial incidents. A watch left on a bed, a dead mouse in the bread bin, cigarette smoke through an open kitchen window. The house is large but remote, the owner an actress from a successful sixties soap that only a few remember. Currently writing her memoirs, Joanna Piercy wonders if Timony Weeks is making things up, instigating these 'incidents' just to get some publicity for her autobiography. In two weeks she has contacted the Leek Police Station nearly every day. Joanna, fresh from her honeymoon, is extremely sceptical of Timony Weeks living alone in the remote house that is an exact replica of the farm from the sixties series Weeks starred in.

And then the 'incidents' start to escalate. A burglary, a few pieces of jewellery stolen, something found down the well outside her house and then, the ultimate tragedy. With a feeling of guilt Joanna heads an investigation that will take her back to the prime-time sixties soap and uncover the disturbing truth behind the idyll that was 'Butterfield Farm'.

Review:
I have read all of Priscilla Masters' books and have been a great fan of the Joanna Piercy series from the moment I read her first, 'Winding up the Serpent'. I have watched Joanna's relationship with Matthew turn from an illicit affair, through engagement and then on to marriage. I have seen the highs and lows of her career and always greatly enjoyed this series.

'The Final Curtain' has a very intriguing premise, but unfortunately I felt that the plot was stretched a little thin and the whole theory of 'less is more' should have been adhered to in this case. Although the trail of incidents was intriguing, the main cause of the case (i.e. the murder) doesn't happen until page 148. This leaves the case itself only 85 pages to be investigated and solved, which I felt was a little rushed. I am going to be honest, and it pains me, that this isn't Piercy's best case. Piercy herself doesn't seem engaged until guilt makes her determined to find the killer, but by then I felt it was all a little too late in the day. Where Masters' art lies is with the characterisation and the landscape. Each person in Masters' novels has an individual voice and you can tell that Masters loves the vast and empty landscape of the Staffordshire moorlands and brings it chillingly to life so it becomes part of the whole story. While for completists I would advise reading this, I wouldn't recommend anyone new to this series to start with this one. To get the full effect you need to literally go back to the beginning. For those of you getting started you have a treat in store!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Oliver Harris - Deep Shelter

"There have been many claiming to be the next Tom Ripley, Highsmith’s famous amoral creation, but to me Belsey is the great pretender to this particular throne... "

Synopsis:
London is steaming under a summer of filthy heat and sudden storms - and Detective Nick Belsey of Hampstead CID, is trying to stay out of trouble. But then somebody sets him a riddle. How does a man walk into a dead-end alley and never come out? How does he disappear? And then reappear to snatch a girl, to dump a body beneath a London skyscraper and send Belsey a package of human hair. The answer lies underground, where the secrets degenerating beneath the city's sickly glitter are about to see the light of day.

Review:
By some miracle, DC Nick Belsey is still working as a police officer. Belsey is a corrupt police officer who, despite his own criminal activities, still works at solving other crimes - and if he can make some money for himself along the way, all the better.

The plot spans back a number of decades to the peak of the Cold War. Some other historical facts are included in the book around a number of buildings in London and the rumours that have surrounded these buildings. The plot itself is very involved with a vast number of players which I found at times to be confusing. Also, not being a great fan of Cold War trivia, at times I found the story a little intense. However, my apathy to the Cold War was over-ridden by my liking of Belsey who is a man with no regard for anyone but himself. A man to whom laws don't apply. He is beyond a maverick and is more a loose cannon. There have been many claiming to be the next Tom Ripley, Highsmith's famous amoral creation, but to me Belsey is the great pretender to this particular throne and has that marvellous way of blurring the lines between right and wrong.

I loved Harris' debut novel, and this second is well written and will appeal to fans of both the author and those who enjoy books packed with history and intrigue.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay - First Rule of Ten

"From the first paragraph I was hooked."

Synopsis:
Tenzing Norbu (“Ten” for short)-ex-monk and soon-to-be ex-cop-is a spiritual warrior who is singularly equipped, if not occasionally ill-equipped, as he takes on his first case as a private investigator in Los Angeles.

Growing up in a Tibetan Monastery, Ten dreamed of becoming a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. So when he was sent to Los Angeles to teach meditation, he joined the LAPD instead. But as the Buddha says, change is inevitable; and ten years later, everything is about to change, big-time for Ten. One resignation from the police force, two bullet-wounds, three suspicious deaths, and a beautiful woman later, he quickly learns that whenever he breaks his first rule, mayhem follows.

Review:
Hay House are publishers that describe themselves as being a New Thought and self-help publisher, so what are they doing in the world of mystery fiction and would the book be a bit, well, lecturing? I was, to be honest, sceptical, but I was having one of those weeks when nothing I picked up from my massive to be read pile was drawing me in. Till I picked up 'The First Rule of Ten'. From the first paragraph I was hooked.

Ten is one of the most fascinating protagonists I've come across in crime fiction in recent times. His spiritual learnings have equipped him well for a life of contemplation, but get him in among other human beings - especially the opposite sex and he is as flawed as the rest of us.

Yes, there are moments when the text gets into Buddhist teachings but this never comes across as preaching and in fact provides an interesting flavour and works well in providing character insight.

Set in the modern-day streets of Los Angeles, 'The First Rule of Ten' is a joy to read - at turns funny, insightful and captivating. The authors provide their readers with an exciting mystery as well as offering moments when you can reflect alongside one of the most charming and humourous detectives you will meet between the pages of a book. Can you tell that Hendricks and Lindsay have a new fan?

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Grieves - A Cry In The Night

"...Grieves elegantly shows how the mind can play cruel tricks on us. "

Synopsis:
The Lake District: a wild landscape, rife with stories. Detectives Zoe Barnes and Sam Taylor are called in to investigate the disappearance of two children.

The deeper they dig, the more complex and unnerving the case becomes. It seems as though the village is hiding a deadly secret. Even more unsettling is the talk of witches, the like of which hasn't been heard of since the seventeenth century.

Zoe and Sam will have to work fast to save more lives. But in this atmosphere of fear and mistrust, can they even rely on each other?

Review:
Novels involving the disappearance of small children are never going to be easy to read. At times the reader can feel almost voyeuristic if the kids are in serious peril from their kidnappers. However, Tom Grieves doesn't let us meet the children and the focus is on the detectives leading the case. It is a long time before we even get to know the parents fully.

At the start I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book; a plotted history if witchcraft and no parental characters to sympathise with. However, once the detectives started their investigation the pace quickens as does the hectic maze of a plot.

Barnes and Taylor are a brilliantly flawed double act. They both have their demons they're trying to battle as well as solve a difficult and challenging case. At first as they work together the story can be described as run of the mill but as they pull away from each other and allow their own fragile minds to take over, the story takes a darker, more sinister tone.

There are plenty of characters to loathe and you'll find yourself changing your mind to the possible kidnapper with each chapter. Grieves really keeps you on the edge of your seat causing you to suspect one character then feeling sympathy for them just a few pages later. As the final chapter looms you'll still be in the dark but the ending, despite being a simple one, does not disappoint. The locale is key to the misinterpretation and when placed in nightmare scenarios Grieves elegantly shows how the mind can play cruel tricks on us.

I hope to see Barnes and Taylor again as long as the fragile relationship and chilling tension remains between them. Sparks are sure to fly.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King - Crime and Thriller Writing

"...if your ambition is to write crime fiction, then this the best book on the market at present that will help you achieve this..."

Synopsis:
I know from experience that many aficionados of crime fiction would love to write it as well, if only they had the necessary skills. There are quite a few books on the market which purport to explain how to go about it, from the good, to the not-so-good, to the downright useless (and I must have read them all). However, this is by far the best. Written by two highly-regarded practitioners of the craft – Michelle Spring and Laurie R King - and, while taking some necessary detours along the philosophical corridors of crime writing, concentrates on the practical skills needed to become a successful crime writer. They also enlist the help of such writers as Ian Rankin, George Pelicanos, Tess Gerritsen, Andrew Taylor et al.

Review:
The book is in three parts. The first, 'On a Life of Crime', deals with topics such as ways of writing (organic v. planned v a mixture of both), research, getting ideas, plotting, and so on. The second, 'Tips and Tales', consists of essays from a long list of famous writers who offer advice garnered from their own varied writing experiences. The third is 'Write On; Getting the Story Across', and here the book deals with the more mundane but important elements of the craft, such as language, rewriting, promotion of your book after it has been published and taking criticism.

The essays by established writers are possibly the most interesting part of the book, giving an insight into their writing habits and preoccupations. Sophie Hannah, for instance, defends the 'puzzle' element in crime fiction, which nowadays seems to be of secondary importance. Val McDermid considers series versus standalone books. And Yrsa Sigurðardóttir writes about the importance of location.

Even if you just want to read crime novels rather than write them, this is still an intriguing book. But if your ambition is to write them, then this the best book on the market at present that will help you achieve this ambition.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Bruce Holsinger - A Burnable Book

"I loved this book."

Synopsis:
Set in the 14th century, the time of Chaucer and the young King Richard II, of factions in the Court and unrest amongst the people. John Gower is a poet, philosopher and someone who makes it his business to find out the secrets of the Court.

At the heart is 'the burnable book', a book which describes the deaths of previous monarchs and, more dangerously, predicts the death of King Richard. Written in code and originally simply an entertaining device, it becomes significant when different factions employ it to promote sedition. Gower is employed by his fellow poet and colleague, Geoffrey Chaucer, to find the book before any more deaths occur. A young girl was murdered for it and it means danger for anyone who holds it.

Review:
I loved this book. The flavour of life, the smells, the earthy sex and the hypocritical morals are beautifully described with an immediacy that is very compelling. The contemporaneous dialogue helps bring the 14th century to life. As the author is a scholar of this period of history, the flavour is accurate and authentic.

The writer cleverly alters the style of writing to match the story teller, particularly the story of the girl in Spain. What is surprising is that some of the characters such as Eleanor/ Edgar have their counterparts in today's society. Eleanor/ Edgar is a prostitute who swings from male to female as circumstances suit and is based on a true life character recorded in documents of the time. John Gower was also an historical figure who was a friend of Geoffrey Chaucer.

There is a caveat. If you like a simple and racy tale, well told but with little emphasis on atmosphere and detail, this is not for you. It is a densely packed atmospheric novel, full of detailed background and knowledge of the times.

The story of the book is complex and detailed and its journey around some of the grimmest parts of Westminster and Southwark provides a jaw dropping insight into life in 14th century England. The different strands interweave and disentangle to provide an excellent plot and the characters have interesting lives that drew me in. As I stated at the beginning of this review - I loved it.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cathy Ace - The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb

"...a rattling good story with lots of clues and numerous suspects. "

Synopsis:
Cait Morgan, Canadian with Welsh roots, is holidaying in Mexico with Bud, a retired cop with some interesting extra-curricular history. Just arrived and settling in, Cait is plunged into a nightmare situation where Bud is charged with murdering a woman in a flower shop in front of the apartment where Cait is watching through the window. She only has the chance for a few words with Bud and those words lead her back to Jack, Bud's ex colleague, and some shocking revelations about Bud's past. Convinced of his innocence, Cait wants to prove that Bud is only a victim of circumstances. The local police chief is aware of Cait's reputation as Professor of Criminology at the prestigious Vancouver University and wants to use her expertise to solve the crime quickly before the national police get involved.

As she gradually discovers the background to the apparently idyllic holiday spot, the jealousies and greed of the inhabitants begin to emerge. All is not as it seems on the surface and her particular gift of being able to recall events vividly comes in very useful.

Review:
I really enjoyed this book. It is a rattling good story with lots of clues and numerous suspects. As others have said, there is a touch of Agatha Christie in the way that the lone detective works out the puzzles using her own knowledge and intuition, whilst hiding her gifts from the rest of the characters. In this way it comes to a very satisfying ending with all the red herrings and clues tied up. This comes highly recommended for a non-threatening evening of comfortable reading.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.L. Taylor - The Accident

"...a highly entertaining read..."

Synopsis:
Sue Jackson has the perfect family but when her teenage daughter Charlotte deliberately steps in front of a bus and ends up in a coma she is forced to face a very dark reality. Retracing her daughter's steps she finds a horrifying entry in Charlotte's diary and is forced to head deep into Charlotte's private world. In her hunt for evidence, Sue begins to mistrust everyone close to her daughter and she's forced to look further, into the depths of her own past. Sue will do anything to protect her daughter. But what if she is the reason that Charlotte is in danger?

Review:
The book is mostly set in the present, with excerpts of Sue's past interspersing the chapters. Sue's previous relationship was with a violent and controlling man and Sue is convinced that he has found her after she left him many years ago.

The relationship between Brian and Sue left me exasperated at times. Brian has, in the past, been unfaithful. And whilst the relationship was portrayed as solid and loving, Sue was expected to forgive him and move on from past transgressions. When needing support Brian disregards Sue's needs. Brian also lied about his whereabouts which was picked up on by Sue, but this point was never explained as to why he lied or what happened during this time. The author tries to make each character suspicious whether it is down to something they may know, or something they have done.

At the time of reading I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wanted to know what happened and why. Yet once I had finished it and starting thinking about the events within the story, I found lots of holes and unanswered questions. Some events that had happened were not properly explained nor the reasons why people behaved the way they did. By thinking too deeply, the edge of my enjoyment was taken away. Had I to simply rate this book it would have been a 'five'. Upon analysis this highlighted its weaknesses. However, despite my points of concern, 'The Accident' was still a highly entertaining read and my thoughts on Taylor's debut will not put me off reading this author in the future.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Berry - The King's Deception

"...like all the best conspiracy theories, it has a wonderful ring of truth about it. "

Synopsis:
There is a secret from our history - 500 years old - startling in its revelations and devastating in its political impact. A secret that has thankfully stayed hidden - until now.

Former Justice Department agent, Cotton Malone, travels to England and finds himself caught in a dark conspiracy born long ago, in the time of the Tudors.

Now both the CIA and MI6 seem to be competing to uncover the mystery and, for Malone, supposedly on holiday with his son, Gary, it's not just the action which comes thick and fast. When Gary disappears, Malone is forced into a race against time, as he battles to decipher a puzzle that leads him from the Middle Temple to the chapel at Windsor Castle, from an Oxford college to the sewers beneath Hampton Court.

With assassins, traitors, spies, and dangerous disciples of a secret society closing in, Malone discovers that the solution to the mystery will not only draw him into a lethal trap, but force him closer to his own troubling past. And a shocking revelation.

Review:
I have always been a sucker for a good conspiracy theory and with 'The King's Deception', Berry has delivered a fantastic alternative reality. Set dually in the middle ages and contemporary times, the stories which unfold are complex and earth-shattering should the ancient secrets be revealed.

Cotton Malone is as well drawn as ever, but the characters I was most drawn to were Miss Mary and Ian. Other character's fulfilled their roles amply, but it was these three who were the stars.

The pace of the novel was slowed somewhat by the large amounts of information the author needed to share, but even where the pace was slowed by exposition it was soon recovered due to new developments affecting the story.

The plotting was sublime and I cannot comment too deeply on it as it'll spoil the read for others. All I'll say is that like all the best conspiracy theories, it has a wonderful ring of truth about it. Cotton Malone's personal life reflects this same drama in a separate way.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeanine Pirro - Clever Fox

"...it kept me reading to the end."

Synopsis:
Prosecutor Dani Fox gets caught up in a Mafia war and begins trailing a serial killer, all while facing challenges like a dishonest boyfriend and occasional mortal peril. Dani Fox is called on to investigate a gruesome and mysterious murder scene.

When she learns that the victim has family ties to the New Jersey Mafia, as well as a possible illicit affair with a member of a New York crime family, the case goes from tricky to downright dangerous.

Review:
I found 'Clever Fox' to be a well written but predictable tale. The lead is an interesting if rather clichéd character who carries the novel very well.

Dani Fox's job as a prosecutor leads her into all kinds of trouble while her love life is the usual tangled mess we'd expect from a workaholic. The struggles against a male dominated world is familiar, yet with the book being set in the seventies it is more believable than it would be if the novel were more contemporary.

The prose was neat without any distinct flaws or highlights and the pacing was good but overall I found too much of the plotting to be too predictable for my tastes. I just feel the book will work better for other readers although it kept me reading to the end.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Robert Crais - Suspect

"...Crais’ talent as an author shines through..."

Synopsis:
LAPD cop Scott James is not doing so well. Eight months ago, a shocking night-time assault by unidentified men killed his partner Stephanie, nearly killed him, and left him enraged, ashamed, and ready to explode. He is unfit for duty—until he meets his new partner.

Maggie is not doing so well, either. A German shepherd who survived three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan sniffing explosives before losing her handler to an IED.

They are each other's last chance. Shunned and shunted to the side, they set out to investigate the one case that no one wants them to touch: the identity of the men who murdered Stephanie. What they begin to find is nothing like what Scott has been told, and the journey will take them both through the darkest moments of their own personal hells. Whether they will make it out again, no one can say.

Review:
'Suspect' seems less of a crime thriller and more of an emotional thriller as a lot of the book is based on the relationship James has with those he works with and those he is partnered with.

The story itself was an easy enough read, not in my opinion one of Crais' best. However, I do feel I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I had an interest in dogs as Crais has written part of the story from the perspective of the dog, and bases much of the emphasis on the relationship between Maggie and James.

I would say that even if you are not a fan of dogs, Crais' talent as an author shines through to ensure that the book is enjoyed by anyone who reads it.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: