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Reviews

March 2016

James Oswald - The Damage Done

"The intricate plot is gripping and fraught with tension..."

Synopsis:
When an Edinburgh Police Vice Squad raid goes embarrassingly awry, Inspector Tony McLean is confronted by something he had thought long buried.

Haunted by the echoes of an old case, the memories won't fade as McLean struggles to piece together the elusive connections between a series of strange and gruesome deaths shocking the city. The investigation draws him ever deeper into the upper echelons of Edinburgh society: powerful people who do not take kindly to being asked questions.

McLean never was one to toe the line, and his stubborn refusal to do so bring into play shadowy forces that put not only his career, but his life in grave danger. In chasing the monsters of the present, McLean must confront shadows of the past - but at what cost? Is it too late to undo the damage that has been done...?

Review:
This is my 100th book to review for Crimesquad.com. Coincidently, my first book was James' debut, 'The Book of Souls'. I've been a fan of Oswald's writing since then. It has been interesting watching his meteoric rise to become a Sunday Times bestseller. 'Natural Causes' was an original and taut debut. His sixth in the DI McLean series is just as original. Oswald has created a cleverly woven plot with exciting characterisation that grips you from cover to cover.

DI Tony McLean is a wonderful protagonist. He cares about his cases and he fights for what he believes in. When a case of a seemingly tragic death occurs it is McLean and his sense of something not-quite-right, that causes him to dig deeper for the truth.

With his beloved Emma still off on her travels it is lovely to see best friend Phil and his wife Rachel to return from abroad. I like the relationship between McLean and Phil. They're good friends and McLean certainly needs a rock to lean on (Mrs McCutcheon's cat aside).

The intricate plot is gripping and fraught with tension and the energy continues throughout. I'm not sure what Oswald's trick is but he always manages to draw you in from the first page and not release you until you reach the end. That is the power of his writing.

It is a curse for all Scottish crime writers to be compared to Ian Rankin. However, in James Oswald's case it is a worthy comparison. Even after only six novels, in my opinion DI Tony McLean is right up there with John Rebus.

I expect a long and successful future for the McLean series and great things from James Oswald. He's a superb writer of immense talent. Now, is it too much for me to ask when can we expect book seven...?

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Videcette - The Theseus Paradox

"Videcette has the hallmarks of being a dangerous storyteller."

Synopsis:
July 2005 - the aftermath of the London bombings.

In the midst of Operation Theseus, the largest terrorist investigation the UK has even known, DI Jake Flanagan begins to ask difficult questions that lead to the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend and his sudden suspension from the Metropolitan Police.

Who masterminded London's summer of terror? Why can't Jake make headway in the sprawling investigation? Is his girlfriend really who she claims to be? Are the bombings the perfect ploy for a different plot entirely? As Jake begins to uncover the dangerous truth he is often left with more questions than answers.

Terror, extremism, fear of the unknown - sometimes the answer is much closer to home.

Review:
This is a gripping police procedural written by a former Scotland Yard detective who was a lead investigator in the July 7 bombings in London. The fact the author was so closely involved in the real life subject matter of this debut novel adds a sense of realism and horror which ramps up the tension making this a blistering read.

We all know where we were and what we were doing on the morning of July 7, 2005 and it is an event that will remain in all of our minds. 'The Theseus Paradox' is not an easy read as it taps into the fear and panic we all felt on that day but it's written with such passion and drama that you will want to continue reading to uncover the truth.

Our protagonist is the brilliant but flawed DI Jake Flanagan. He has been deeply affected by recent tragedies in his personal life and the 7/7 bombings send him over the edge. Flanagan is difficult to like, but also difficult to hate. He's a regular, hard-working copper in a violent and dangerous world.

Videcette must have been privy to information about the case that wasn't released to the press and public. There is new information in this book about the bombings and the bombers - but how much is real and what is fiction? How much of himself has Videcette put into this book and how much of the case has he included?

The chapters are short and the pace is fast. I had difficulty in stopping reading this book as it grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go. Even when I wasn't reading it I was thinking about it. This is a well-written and assured debut thriller by a professional who knows how the police work and the criminal thinks. Videcette has the hallmarks of being a dangerous storyteller.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Freeman Wills Crofts - Antidote to Venom

"...extremely well-written..."

Synopsis:
George Surridge is an unhappy and desperate man. He is trapped in a loveless marriage and has gambling debts. His only passion is his work as a Director for the Birmington Zoo. It is a position he enjoys – he simply wishes he had more money. The only way George's money worries will be alleviated is if his rich elderly aunt dies. She isn't at all well and her doctor says she doesn't have long left, but can George wait that long. Then George meets Nancy and begins to live a double life – one that incurs even more expenses. Finally, George's aunt dies and he is left her fortune – but that is when the real trouble begins and soon murder is the only way out of this mess. Things become even more complicated when French of the Yard begins to poke his nose in to the matter.

Review:
Crofts begin his book with an explanation that this is an 'experiment'. The experiment I believe is to show the crime first, knowing who the perpetrator is and then show the 'how' later rather than the 'who' and/or 'why'. So I guess 'Antidote to Venom' is more a 'howdunit' which is where French comes in to it. However, I felt that the 'experiment' didn't quite pay off. If you are a fan of Inspector French, then you are in for a long wait as Crofts' detective steps onstage less than a hundred pages from the end. If, like me, this is your first experience of Crofts books, then maybe this isn't the best one to start with. For me, although I enjoyed George Surridge's dilemmas, I felt that introducing French, albeit late in the book, was the weakest and least interesting part of this narrative. This book would have worked much better if it had been left as a psychological drama, rather than flip it over late in the day and turn it in to a police procedural.

To be honest not much really happens and Crofts does rather over-explain George's turbulent emotions about his liaison with Nancy, (I wouldn't call it an affair as they never seem to do more than drink tea and eat sandwiches in a rented car!), but I was compelled to continue as I wanted to know what Crofts had in store for George Surridge. Just as it was getting interesting as George made an even bigger hole for himself, the spotlight swings from George to Inspector French and that was when my interest waned. When French arrives, Crofts dumps George and for me, it didn't work. The 'how' is positively outlandish and it did feel as though Crofts really wasn't sure how he was going to get out of the situation he had created. Despite my coolness about this title, it does have merit in that it is extremely well-written and although published in 1938 during the Golden Age when characters were sacrificed over plot, Crofts delivers believable characters. I did feel quite endeared towards Surridge. It is just a shame that Crofts felt French needed to be here when really he is quite superfluous. This hasn't put me off this author as I have 'The Hog's Back Mystery' lined up which I have been told is a much better example of Crofts' work.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael J. Malone - Bad Samaritan

"As you’d expect from someone who also writes poetry, the prose is sublime."

Synopsis:
A helping hand? Or the grip of a murderer? A Glasgow student is found dead in a city centre alley, kick-starting a trail of brutality that drives DI Ray McBain to the very edge, staring into the abyss.

The victim's family and friends are all under suspicion and McBain has to untangle a sordid web of lies, blackmail, infidelity and cyberstalking. When Stigmata, a deranged serial killer from McBain's tortured past, starts taking out new victims - with the suspects and McBain himself in his sights - the case becomes ever more treacherous.

The pressure intensifies until McBain calls on Kenny O'Neill, his old underworld crony, to help watch his back. Will that be enough to stop the killing?

Review:
There are times in our life when we all get a little bit jealous of our friends. Such is Michael J. Malone's authorial panache, my respect for him rises in direct proportion to the growing sense of envy. If I was the hat wearing type, I'd be taking it off in admiration.

McBain is beautifully created and Malone doesn't miss an opportunity to torment his long-suffering lead. Kenny, Maggie and Alessandra Rossi provide ample support to the beleaguered hero, while the return of Stigmata gives us an odious murderer to despise.

The plot gripped me from start to finish and there were one or two shocking twists which kicked the living crap from me. As you'd expect from someone who also writes poetry, the prose is sublime.

If I had to pick a fault with this book, it would be that it finished too soon and I now have to wait a year to read his next novel. However, everyone else has a treat awaiting them as 'Bad Samaritan' is a wonderful novel, beautifully crafted by a master artisan.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elly Griffiths - The Woman in Blue

"Griffiths keeps you guessing all the way through with her red herrings and plot twists."

Synopsis:
The appearance of a strange vision in Norfolk draws Dr Ruth Galloway into an investigation where female priests are being murdered.

When Ruth's friend, Cathbad sees a vision of the Virgin Mary in a white gown and blue cloak in the graveyard next to the cottage where he is house-sitting, he takes it in his stride. Walsingham has strong connections to Mary and Cathbad is a Druid after all; visions come with the job. But when the body of a woman in a blue dressing gown is found dead the next day in a nearby ditch, it is clear Cathbad's vision was all too human and that a horrible crime has been committed. DCI Nelson and his team are called in for the murder investigation, and soon establish that the dead woman was a recovering addict being treated at a nearby private hospital.

Ruth, a devout atheist, has managed to avoid Walsingham during her seventeen years in Norfolk. Then an old university friend, Hilary Smithson, asks to meet her in the village, and Ruth is amazed to discover that her friend is now a priest. Hilary has been receiving vitriolic anonymous letters containing references to local archaeology and a striking phrase about a woman 'clad in blue, weeping for the world'. Then another woman is murdered - a priest. As Walsingham prepares for its annual Easter re-enactment of the Crucifixion, the race is on to unmask the killer.

Review:
A new novel by Elly Griffiths featuring Dr Ruth Galloway is like a visit from an old friend you haven't seen in a while and who you're incredibly pleased to see. Ruth is a well-created character who I'm slightly in love with - strong, independent, self-conscious, and brilliant. Griffiths has created a wonderful and highly original series - well written stories and gripping mysteries that educate as well as entertain.

The relationship between Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson is fraught and, despite me not being a fan of happy endings, I really do want Ruth and Harry to become a couple. Their personal lives are tested here and a happy ending does seem a long way off.

My favourite character is the unconventional Druid, Cathbad. He's a wonderful creation and has some great lines. I'd like to see him used more in future novels as he works well as a sounding board for both Ruth and Harry but in completely different ways.

The finale is satisfying and unpredictable. Griffiths keeps you guessing all the way through with her red herrings and plot twists. I'm always sad when I've finished reading a Ruth Galloway novel. It'll be a while before I see her again. Long may she keep returning!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steven Dunne - A Killing Moon

"...several interconnecting strands which kept me firmly glued to this book."

Synopsis:
Caitlin Kinnear, a student at Derby University, disappears after a night of celebration in a local pub. Detective Inspector Damon Brook is on the case and suspects that it is in some way connected to several missing young girls who have been highlighted by Interpol. It is difficult to tell if these girls are really missing or whether they have just slipped under the radar as they travel around.

As he delves further, Brook suspects that there may be several common factors in the girl's lives and as he narrows down the single most important factor he discovers a horrific and brutal truth.

Migrant labour, insanity masquerading under the guise of religious fervour, family loyalties and responsibilities are all explored before the final exciting denouement.

Review:
Sometimes it is refreshing to begin a book and realise that it is a straightforward detective story with a crime, detectives and a solution. 'A Killing Moon' is one of these. Having said that, 'A Killing Moon' has an original slant on the plot with several interconnecting strands which kept me firmly glued to this book. DI Damon Brook is not a straightforward copper but one who has his own demons from the past that influence both his actions and the opinions of his colleagues. He is a deep thinker who is open to all possibilities. He is definitely a conflicted character and I enjoyed the way Dunne reveals a little about his character and history slowly as the book goes on.

I also appreciated the view of modern Britain that this book presents. It looks at some of the current issues within the framework of a detective novel and this outlook provides an interesting twist to the story. This was the first of Dunne's books I have read, but I shall definitely be looking out for his next book, as well as going back to Dunne's previous ones. Definitely highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Wood - The Darkest Day

"...a high octane plot which races both character and reader along in a global game of wits."

Synopsis:
She moves like a shadow; she kills silently: Raven. This elegant assassin has been on the run for years. This time though, she has picked the wrong target.

The hitman known only as 'Victor' is as paranoid as he is merciless, and is no stranger to being hunted. He tracks his would-be killer across the globe, aiming not only to neutralise the threat, but to discover who wants him dead. The trail leads to New York... and then the lights go out.

Over twelve hours of unremitting darkness, Manhattan dissolves into chaos. Amid looting, conspiracy and blackout, Victor and Raven play a vicious game of cat and mouse that the city will never forget.

Review:
There's something about Wood's anti-hero Victor which has got under my skin. He's a stone cold killer with a clinical detachment. I shouldn't like him, want him to succeed or be happy when he does. But I do and I am.

Such is the author's skill at characterisation he has me loving someone I should hate. Twice if you count Raven. Yes she's the baddie, but the way Wood introduces her character shows her to be nothing but a female version of Victor. (I was going to make some kind of Victor/Victoria wisecrack here but the editor in me, well… edited.)

The plot is neither straightforward nor overly laden with twists. Instead it's a vehicle for a high octane plot which races both character and reader along in a global game of wits. The one thing I've learned from reading this magnificent novel is that while I might miss Victor, he wouldn't miss me!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hakan Nesser - The Summer of Kim Novak

"The whole story is a brilliant read..."

Synopsis:
“This story is going to be about the Incident, and of course it will be, but there's so much more to it. That fateful event is why I remember the summer of 1962 more clearly than any other summer of my youth. It cast its dismal pall over so many things. Over me and Edmund. Over my poor parents, my brother, and that entire time of my life. My memories of that town out on the plain - the people, our experiences and the particular circumstances of our lives - would have been lost to the well of time if it weren't for that grisly act. 'The Incident'.”

Fourteen-year old Erik and his friend Edmund spend their summer vacation in 1962 by a Swedish lake, daydreaming about Ewa, a young teacher who looks just like the actress, Kim Novak. When Ewa's fiance is found dead, Erik's brother is the prime suspect at first, but the actual killer is never found. Twenty-five years later, when Erik happens to find an article about unsolved crimes, he is overwhelmed by memories about that summer. What really happened back then? And why was Ewa's fiance murdered?

Review:
Erik and Edmund, relatively unknown to each other at school, are sent by their fathers who are work colleagues to spend the summer with Erik's brother at the families lakeside villa. Over the weeks of the summer a close friendship forges between the two.

Most of the action takes place in the first of three sections of the story, 'Before The Incident'. As the boys' friendship develops through their shared experiences of the joys of infatuation, love, and sex, alongside the darkness of loss, and domestic violence, and finally with 'The Incident', murder and its aftermath. 'After The Incident' takes us through the life of Erik in the decades after as he marries, has children and once again meets up with Edmund.

The whole story is a brilliant read that is at times melancholy, touching, creepy, carefree and surprising. With his usual brevity of language, in 'A Summer With Kim Novak', Nesser paints a stunning picture of the coming of age of two teenage boys during a sixties Swedish summer, and its impact on their later lives. This is a slim classic tale from one of my favourite authors currently writing.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Barclay - Killing Ways

"Every page brought another revelation and another surprise."

Synopsis:
FBI Agent Ren Bryce takes on a depraved serial killer fuelled by a warped sense of justice. A master of evasion, each life he takes ramps up Ren's obsession with finding him.

Then one victim changes everything and brings Ren face to face with a detective whose life was destroyed by the same pursuit.

Together, can they defeat this monster? Or will he bring them both down?

Review:
Ren Bryce is still struggling to control her bipolar disorder. Written from her perspective, Ren feels she has her bipolar under control, but her mental ramblings would suggest otherwise. Ren featured in an earlier novel, 'Blood Loss', where I struggled to connect with Ren. However, this time round Barclay has made (to me) this character more endearing and I felt more empathy towards Ren.

'Killing Ways' had me hooked from the first page, when a woman who had been tortured over a period of time manages to escape. This thread is forgotten as other threads develop, but it does tie into the story later on in the book. The main focus on the story is the hunt for a serial killer. Barclay doesn't soften any punches when describing the murders or crimes of this killer, or his reasons for his behaviour.

Unlike many thrillers, the identity of the killer is revealed early on. The rest of the book is spent investigating and tracking him down. I also liked that at the end of book, when all was revealed it wasn't dealt with in just a couple of pages. The author spent time drawing this out, making sure all questions had been answered, but at the same time managing to leave a cliff-hanger ending. Every page brought another revelation and another surprise. 'Killing Ways' is not a book for the feint-hearted and I suggest you keep your windows and doors locked when reading this one!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Eva Dolan - After You Die

"A new novel by Eva Dolan is always one to put straight to the top of the reading pile."

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 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. 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 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 has created two leading detectives the reader can instantly like and care 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. 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 I've been reading them for years.

As the story progresses and the plot unfold, we're teasingly drip-fed nuggets of information and left on cliff-hangers. I'm sure Dolan 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.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Carla Norton - Hunted

"A cracking read."

Synopsis:
'You live nearby? You need a ride?'

She stopped and looked at him: a chubby guy with a beard, younger than her father, but older than a teenager. She could never guess the ages of adults.

'You need some help?' the man asked again. 'I can't fix your bike, but I can give you a lift. It's no trouble.'

'Uh, no thanks. I better not.'

He looked nice enough, and in all her twelve years she'd never met anyone dangerous or crazy, but she'd been warned many times about strangers...

Reeve LeClaire is not a victim. Not anymore.

It's been seven years since she escaped from evil psychopath, Daryl Wayne Flint. He held her captive for four of her precious teenage years, and now she's finally getting her life back.

But Flint, imprisoned in a top psychiatric hospital, has been watching and waiting -meticulously planning his getaway. And now his chance has finally come.

His escape is Reeve's worst nightmare. As he persistently evades capture, baffling authorities and leaving a bloody trail through the forests of Washington State, Reeve is hit by a fearful realization: She will have to face her kidnapper one last time.

His perfect victim. His 'little cricket'.

Review:
Carla Norton's 'Hunted' sees us back with protagonist 'Edgy Reggie' just a few months after the action in 'The Edge Of Normal', though you don't need to have read the previous novel to enjoy this one, there is enough spoiler free detail to fill in anything you need to know.
After years in captivity with Daryl Wayne Flint, Reeve LeClair has developed a sixth sense, a natural instinct or feeling for where he might go, an insight that is far better than those hunting him down. With the help of her old case agent, Reeve confronts more of her past, unlocking the hidden memories that will ultimately bring her face to face with Flint once more.

What I love about Norton's protagonist is the feeling of realistic recovery, she hasn't suddenly become all big brave and strong, and yet she hasn't locked herself away from the world and become scared of everything around her. Her recovery has been steady, showing a great level of determination and strength of character which constantly has you rooting for her all the way. Flint is also as excellently written, making you squirm as you discover the level of planning that went into his 'hobby' before he was caught, into his escape plan, and his remaining free.

'Hunted' is well-written, well-paced, and delivers everything it promises. A cracking read.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Robotham - Close Your Eyes

"...extremely well-written book with plenty of twists..."

Synopsis:
A mother and her teenage daughter are found murdered in a remote farmhouse, one defiled by multiple stab wounds and the other left lying like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince to kiss her awake. Reluctantly, clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin is drawn into the investigation when a former student, calling himself 'the Mindhunter', jeopardises the police inquiry by leaking details to the media and stirring up public anger.

With no shortage of suspects and tempers beginning to fray, Joe discover links between these murders and a series of brutal attacks where his victims have been choked unconscious and had the letter 'A' carved into their foreheads.

As the case becomes ever more complex, nothing is quite what it seems and soon Joe's fate, and that of those closest to him, become intertwined with a merciless, unpredictable killer.

Review:
Joe O'Loughlin is Robotham's long standing protagonist. Joe has his own problems: the estrangement from his wife and his battle with Parkinsons, Joe now has more on his plate with this case and issues at home.

Robotham manages to introduce an array of suspects, all with opportunity, leaving the reader guessing until the very end. Throughout the book Robotham builds up the motive and reasoning behind the killers' actions so that once all is revealed there are no questions left unanswered.

There is a good balance of plot and personal lives of the main characters which brings them to life and gives them an extra dimension. 'Close Your Eyes' is an extremely well-written book with plenty of twists, but don't expect a happy ever after! One of the best thrillers I have read in a long time.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - Rogue Lawyer

"The cases and legal information is fascinating..."

Synopsis:
Sebastian Rudd takes the cases no one else wants to take: the drug-addled punk accused of murdering two little girls; a crime lord on death row; a homeowner who shot at a SWAT team.

Rudd believes that every person accused of a crime is entitled to a fair trial - even if he has to cheat to get one. He antagonises people from both sides of the law: his last office was firebombed, either by drug dealers or cops. He doesn't know or care which.

But things are about to get more complicated for Sebastian. Carl Swanger is the prime suspect in the abduction and presumed murder of 21-year-old Jillian Kemp, the daughter of the assistant chief of police. When Swanger asks Sebastian to represent him, he lets Sebastian in on a terrible secret...one that will threaten everything Sebastian holds dear.

Review:
I always look forward to the new John Grisham novel. I know I'm going to be entertained by a gripping court case and learn something about the American justice system. 'Rogue Lawyer' is a departure from the usual Grisham novels and is split into six parts which, at times, read like six short stories - with one central character: the rogue lawyer himself, Sebastian Rudd.

I found it hard to like Sebastian at the beginning. The narrative is told in the first person and the first case is of a double murder of two girls. While this is shocking we're meant to sympathise with the man on trial who is obviously not guilty. However, seen through the eyes of the tough Mr Rudd, this doesn't happen and the conclusion lacks heart. The second part about a prison break borders on the farcical. It isn't until part three that I started to warm to Sebastian Rudd.

From then on we see a softer side to the lawyer as he represents a man whose world was destroyed by a trigger-happy SWAT team. It is from this point onwards where the story picks up.

One plus point for the individual cases is we see different aspects of the American justice system at work - the man on death row, the selection of a jury, the trial of a SWAT team. It is all very interesting and doesn't get too heavy with legal detail. Some of the cases are fascinating and could have been fleshed out to an entire novel. In this format the cases seem rushed.

It is interesting to see a seasoned writer play around with his tried and tested format but in this instance it didn't work. The cases and legal information is fascinating - there just aren't enough characters to bond with.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating: