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Reviews

January 2016

Eva Dolan - After You Die

"...a crime fiction novel of the highest standard. "

Synopsis:
A gas leak in a picturesque Fenlands village leads to the discovery of two bodies - a mother brutally murdered and her severely disabled teenage daughter left to die of neglect.

Dawn Prentice was already known to the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. The previous summer she had logged a number of calls detailing the harassment she and her daughter were undergoing. Now she is dead - stabbed to death whilst Holly Prentice has been left to starve upstairs. DS Ferreira, only recently back serving on the force after being severely injured in the line of duty, had met with Dawn that summer. Was she negligent in not taking Dawn's accusations more seriously? Did the murderer even know that Holly was helpless upstairs while her mother bled to death?

Whilst Ferreira battles her demons, determined to prove she's up to the frontline, DI Zigic is drawn into conflict with an official seemingly resolved to hide the truth about one of his main suspects. Can either officer unpick the truth about mother and daughter and bring their killer to justice?

Review:
A new novel by Eva Dolan is always one to look forward to and put straight to the top of the reading pile. She has carved a new niche in the crime fiction genre, focussing on a Hate Crime Unit and created two leading detectives the reader instantly cares about. Dolan is a crime writer of literary prowess. Her prose is smooth and elegant, her descriptive powers deftly rich and exciting.

The crime is brutal and shocking - one can hardly expect anything else for a Hate Crimes Unit. Yet Dolan never gives in to sensationalism and treats the victims with the respect they deserve. This is why the reader is drawn into the story. With the flow of the story and the detailed scenes you believe you're amongst the characters and you feel what they feel.

Zigic and Ferreira are a wonderful partnership. They're well-rounded, intelligent, and dedicated to their job. It is difficult to believe this is only the third novel to feature the pair. I feel like I've been reading them for years.

As the story progresses and the plot unfolds, we're teasingly drip-fed nuggets of information and left on cliff-hangers to entice is to read long into the night. Dolan doesn't just know her characters, she knows her readers too. I'm sure she delights in the knowledge we'll be screaming at the pages when we're left on a knife-edge at the end of each chapter.

'After You Die' is a crime fiction novel of the highest standard. If you haven't discovered Zigic and Ferreira yet, then I urge you to do so immediately. You're missing out on a real gem.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Stuart MacBride - In the Cold Dark Ground

"...fan-flipping-tastic!"

Synopsis:
Sergeant Logan McRae is in trouble…

His missing-persons investigation has just turned up a body in the woods – naked, hands tied behind its back, and a bin bag duct-taped over its head. The Major Investigation Team charges up from Aberdeen, under the beady eye of Logan's ex-boss, Detective Chief Inspector Steel. And as usual, she wants him to do her job for her.
But it's not going to be easy: a new Superintendent is on her way up from the Serious Organised Crime Task Force, hell-bent on making Logan's life miserable; Professional Standards are gunning for Steel; and Wee Hamish Mowat, head of Aberdeen's criminal underbelly, is dying – leaving rival gangs from all over the UK eying his territory.

There's a war brewing and Logan's trapped right in the middle, whether he likes it or not.

Review:
Regular readers of Crimesquad.com may well be aware of my love for MacBride's books. The issue when reviewing favoured authors for the umpteenth time is that I feel I owe to the readers to say something different about an author or series I've already waxed lyrical on. Sorry, but I can't, simply because 'In the Cold Dark Ground' is absolutely brilliant.

From witty lines to gruesome murders, sublime plotting to larger-than-life characters everything I expected was there in abundance. Logan and Steel have their usual banter although MacBride ratchets things up to new levels as he toys with the lives of his characters. To be a character in a MacBride novel must surely be a fate worse than death, such is his manipulation of both their personal and professional lives.

The plot may seem complicated with hindsight, but while reading never once did I feel overwhelmed by the multiple threads. I even managed to guess the killer before being told. If you enjoy dark fiction shot through with humour, 'In the Cold Dark Ground' will be your kind of book. Trust me, it's fan-flipping-tastic!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Fiona Barton - The Widow

"...a well-thought out plot and a very engaging read..."

Synopsis:
Jean Taylor is now the widow of Glen Taylor, recently killed in a bus accident. Glen has been hounded by the police in recent years by both the police and the press after being accused of the abduction of two year old Bella. Jean was his long suffering wife, forever supportive and completely downtrodden.

The Widow centres around Jean Taylor, whose husband was accused of a terrible crime. They've been haunted ever since by the weight of condemnation but now he's dead and she's preparing to tell her story. For the reporter who has secured the exclusive interview, this is the scoop of a lifetime. For the detective who has lived a half-life since he failed to get justice for the crime, it is a chance to get at the truth that has eluded and obsessed him for so long.

Review:
The narratives in 'The Widow' span several years, flitting back and forth to when Bella went missing, to the time after Glen's death. The story is written from the perspective of the wife, then and now, the detective leading the investigation, and the reporter keen to get her story for the paper she works for. 'The Widow' paints a picture of the lives of those affected when accused of a crime, whether guilty or not, and how they are also tried and convicted by the public. Barton examines the way the press and public can destroy lives. It was hard to feel much empathy or sympathy for Jean as at times she was irritating and weak and I was finding myself wanting to tell her to grow a backbone and stop dithering! Her dead husband, Glen is also not a particularly nice character, so there is an element of 'did he, didn't he' throughout the book. Neither the press, the police or the suspects are portrayed in a particularly good light.

I was expecting a slightly different ending, or if the author went with the ending she chose, to have thrown in a twist, but I was slightly disappointed that Barton played a little safe in my opinion. The story is extremely well-written. 'The Widow' is a well-thought out plot and a very engaging read, just slightly weakened with its lack of unpredictability.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ragnar Jónasson - Nightblind

"Any serious crime fiction fan needs these books on their shelves."

Synopsis:
Siglufjördur: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northern most tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.

Ari Thór Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him.

The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman - shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will.

Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all.

Review:
The first novel in the Dark Iceland series, 'Snowblind', was one of my top reads of 2015. I was thoroughly looking forward to this second novel and hoped it would be just as good. I was not disappointed. 'Nightblind' is a chilling, complex, tightly written novel that transforms the reader into the deep arctic winter. You may want to wear extra layers when reading this novel.

Ari Thór is an expertly drawn protagonist; complicated and distant yet likeable and intriguing. Ragnar Jónasson is proving himself to be a writer to be reckoned with. His writing is so fresh and very welcome. He can fit into a single paragraph what lesser writers need a whole page to describe.

The beauty of a harsh Icelandic winter against the horrors of a brutal crime make for a wonderful contrast and Jónasson uses his setting perfectly which adds to the chilling atmosphere.

The plot is electric and pacy and keeps the reader gripped throughout. It's not a long novel but Jónasson packs in plot and subplots without it feeling like overkill.

If you have yet to discover the Dark Iceland series you're seriously missing a major new talent in Nordic Noir. Any serious crime fiction fan needs these books on their shelves.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jason Dean - The Outsider

"Every page is action packed..."

Synopsis:
The Victim - John Strickland's life is in tatters. An integral part of a high-profile federal murder case, Strickland and his son are deep in witness protection following a hit in which his wife died. With seven days to go until he testifies, all he needs to do is survive.

The Protector - US Marshal Angela Delaney is in charge of Strickland's new protection team. Convinced there will be another attempt on his life, and fearing an inside leak, Delaney knows she needs outside help and there's only one person she wants.

The Outsider - Former Marine James Bishop has worked close protection and is intimately acquainted with Delaney. He never expected to see her again but when she re-appears, and he meets Strickland and his son, Bishop knows he has to help protect them. Can this outsider make the difference or are all their lives about to get a whole lot tougher?

Review:
Having not read a book for a month or so I needed one that grabbed my attention from the first page, and 'The Outsider' certainly fitted the bill. James Bishop is a hired help, ex-military body guard. Perhaps less moral and altruistic than Child's Jack Reacher (and it's impossible not to compare these two characters), Bishop still remains principled and honest. With his experience and knowledge, Bishop is the man to have your back. He is quick thinking, knows lots of people and seems to have the luck of the devil.

Dean writes extremely well - engaging the reader from the start. Every page is action packed, and just when one obstacle has been overcome by Bishop, Dean seamlessly manages to throw the next one at him, never losing his pace. As a fan of this genre of writing (David against Goliath type of plot), I may have found another favourite author in Dean to add to my ever growing list of those that can't be missed. Excellent.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Debbie Howells - The Bones of You

"‘The Bones of You’ isn't just a story to read, it's a story to live through."

Synopsis:
A community in shock. When eighteen-year-old Rosie Anderson disappears, the idyllic village where she lived with never be the same again. Local gardener Kate is struck with guilt. She'd come to know Rosie well, and thought she understood her - perhaps even better than Rosie's own mother.

A family torn apart. Rosie was beautiful, kind and gentle. She came from a loving family and she had her whole life ahead of her. Who could possibly want to harm her? And why?

A keeper of secrets. Kate is convinced the police are missing something. She's certain that someone in the village knows more than they're letting on. As the investigation deepens, so does Kate's obsession with solving the mystery of what happened to Rosie.

Review:
This debut novel from Debbie Howells is a gripping and original take on the death of a child as we see the mystery unfold from the outside; through the eyes of a family friend rather than a detective.

'The Bones of You' is reminiscent of 'The Lovely Bones' as we find out about this family and their secrets through the eyes of the murdered girl. There is one chapter in particular where the dead girl, Rosie is watching her younger sister, Delphine wanting to reach out and talk to her that is so expertly written it will thaw the coldest of hearts.

The depiction of the grieving mother is spot on - the raw emotion and the descent into depression is handled with great professionalism and heart-breaking accuracy. The family secrets, as they are slowly revealed, are deeply disturbing but not voyeuristic in their telling.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book but found the middle class characters difficult to warm to in the beginning. However, the first person narrative by Kate is truly absorbing; her genuine caring nature balances out the pretentiousness of the murdered girl's parents.

The twist in the tale is a shock when it comes but the finale is satisfying. By the end you feel like you've been through a myriad of emotions with these characters as 'The Bones of You' isn't just a story to read, it's a story to live through.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Hurley - The Order of Things

"Hurley gets better and better with every new title. "

Synopsis:
D/S Jimmy Suttle has settled into life in the Major Crimes Investigation Team in Devon without his estranged wife. He likes his new flat and relishes his independence but is growing increasingly close to his new partner, Oona. He is called to a horrendous crime scene where he finds the body of a local GP, Harriet Reilly. She is in the house of her partner, eco scientist Alois Bentner who has disappeared.

Meanwhile Suttle's estranged wife, Lizzie, is investigating possible stories of a local GP who is facilitating early deaths of some terminally ill patients. The paths of the two investigations cross and Jimmy finds himself close to Lizzie again, but she has developed and grown away since their split and he is not sure he knows who she is anymore. Concern for the environment and the future of the world, plus a view of the rights and wrongs of mercy killings form the background to this exciting and well-plotted novel.

Review:
As always with Graham Hurley, the story provokes deep thoughts about life and people's relationships as well as being a tale with an exciting and complex plot. Jimmy Suttle is growing in complexity, and even more so, Lizzie has become hardened by the death of her daughter and is developing into a driven journalist with something to prove. I loved the back-story of the environmental scientist and the insight into what is becoming one of the most important issues of our time. It is also fascinating to see the downside of an obsessive interest as the passion is taken to the extreme. Having said all that, this is an excellent police procedural mystery with an intricate plot. Having read all his books, Hurley gets better and better with every new title. Superb.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Phil Rickman - Friends of the Dusk

"...will keep you entranced until the final page."

Synopsis:
A vicious storm one night brings down trees and power lines. Under one particular tree, exposed amongst the roots is found human bones. Merrily Watkins is experiencing her own storm with the arrival of a new bishop who is a modernist and believes irrelevant archaic practices need to be stopped. With this news, Merrily is subtly approached by a couple who believe their new home is not exactly haunted, but has some form of 'spiritual darkness' inside it. Without telling the bishop, Merrily delves in to the history of the house, revealing links back to a medieval legend involving immortality.

Review:
If like me, you were glued to your TV sets with the recent screen outing of Merrily Watkins, wonderfully played by Anna Maxwell Martin, then you will definitely have sought out Rickman's books. However, as always with TV, much has to be cut out, which is why Rickman's novels will always be so much richer. Huw is here, gruff and cantankerous as always along with daughter, Jane, secretary, Sophie, detective Frannie Bliss and the others who give Rickman's novels such depth. What I love about these books is Rickman has a wonderful ear for dialogue and each character has their own individual voice. As always, there is a crime at the heart of the book with a splash of the supernatural, which will raise the hairs on the back of your neck! This novel arrives directly from his novella, 'The House of Susan Lulham', and there is a reference here, so if you haven't read his novella yet, then best read that first as it does mention the aftermath which could spoil it for you. I do feel as though Merrily is always embattled from all sides, but finds her inner strength when necessary (even vaping like crazy after finally trying to kick the cigs!). For me Huw is the one who stands out as her brusque guardian angel. Rickman's series is gaining a mass of fans with each book – and it is understandable why. This one will keep you entranced until the final page.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barry Forshaw - Detective

"...if you enjoy getting the psychological ‘lowdown’ on Rebus, Van Veeteran et al. then this interesting book is for you. "

Synopsis:
This is, in turns, a celebration and examination of the most iconic police detectives in crime fiction, film and television. Forshaw explores both authors and their creations from Simenon to Jules Maigret, Adam Dalgliesh to P.D. James, Kurt Wallander to Henning Mankell. With the help of contributors, Forshaw investigates these creations that have captured the imagination of millions of readers across the world.

Review:
Collecting different papers written by academics (there is a plethora of PhD's here), Forshaw pulls on his mackintosh and fedora to investigate the above mentioned detectives and their creators. This is an eclectic array of writers and there doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to their selection. However, there are some noteworthy pieces here on such notables as the brilliant strategist, Robert Wilson and his creation, Chief Inspector Javier Falcon. As always, Forshaw can't help himself being pulled into the world of Scandinavian crime with the focus on Jo Nesbo and the recently departed Henning Mankell as well as a quick soiree with Sarah Lund. Martin Beck quite rightly takes his place within this collection. However, if like me Scandinavian crime leaves you cold (pardon the pun) then this may not be for you. There is also the danger that some will ask why their favourite detective has not been included here? No Poirot? No Wexford? And so the list goes on… However, if you enjoy getting the psychological 'lowdown' on Rebus, Van Veeteran et al. then this interesting book is for you. There are also some very interesting 'interrogations' with such stars as Robert Wilson, Ian Rankin, P.D. James and Henning Mankell – the latter two having made their indelible mark forever on the world of crime fiction.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jackson Sharp - Twelve Deaths of Christmas

"...kept me hanging on at the end of each chapter..."

Synopsis:
It's Christmas, but Detective Inspector Kerry Cox is not celebrating. The holiday season is usually tough for Cox, but this year she's preparing to face down the ramifications of her most recent investigation: a fumbled child trafficking case.

Distraction comes when the body of a retired ex-policeman is found, and DI Cox refuses to buy that it's a suicide. Despite warnings and pressures, she follows the trail stubbornly. Teaming up with the journalist and ex-lover who almost ruined her career, their investigations uncover a sinister network of paedophiles operating many years. The killer they are hunting is desperate for revenge against those who evaded punishment all those years before.

And as the bodies and historical evidence mount up, DI Cox's focus is torn between tracking down the serial killer, and bringing the upper echelons of British society to justice.

Review:
With the story set both in the present and back in the eighties, 'The Twelve Deaths of Christmas' tells the tale of abuse and revenge.

As a mother unable to spend much time with her son due to her job in the police, it was easy to empathise with Cox. Yet she is also inherently selfish, leaving me feeling that the way her life had turned out was mainly down to her. Despite this, Cox is a strong lead character that I could see having many more miles left in her.

Sharp is a great author who kept me hanging on at the end of each chapter, leaving me wanting to read 'just one more' before reluctantly putting the book down. The plot itself isn't too original, but this was balanced with good, solid characters and writing resulting in a gripping read that I finished in two days.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating: