October 2017

Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None

"To my mind, this is the creepiest story Christie ever produced. "

Ten strangers, apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by the mysterious U.N.Owen. Over dinner, a record begins to play, and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. As the 'guests' begin to suspect they have been lured to the island for another reason than to party, the killings begin. The tension escalates as the survivors realise the killer is not only on the island with them, but is one of them, a predator among them who is preparing to strike again… and again… and again…

This title was voted the best Christie of all time a few years back and you can see why. First published in 1939, this is one of the few books Christie herself was satisfied with. It is also a huge departure from her normal body of work. Here, there is no sense of justice being done, no order at the end to combat and defeat the chaos. Here, there is simply chaos. To my mind, this is the creepiest story Christie ever produced.

Why has it stuck in the minds of her readers? I imagine it is a number of factors – the starkness and bleakness of Soldier Island, the imagery of being cut off physically and psychologically on this remote island, a cold killer picking off his or her victims one by one in a calm and planned manner. By the end of the novel you can feel the hysteria leap off the page as the majority of the group are picked off, leaving the few who await death, whilst trying to avoid it as they keep a keen eye on their fellow survivors, knowing one of them is the killer.

'And Then There Were None' is a virtuoso performance from Christie's pen. I think what makes this even more dramatic is the fact that it came from Christie at all as it is in no way similar to anything she had written before, or was to repeat. It stands out as a breath-taking novel of stunning originality. Now, her most famous tale has been given the five star treatment by The Folio Society with illustrations by David Lupton which wonderfully captures the feel of Christie's novel. This will make a marvellous Christmas present for any true Christie fan.

Folio Society – Agatha Christie: 'And Then There Were None'.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Neil White - From the Shadows

"White... has excelled even his own high standards."

Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered. Robert Carter stands accused of killing her.
According to Mary's friends, Robert watched her, harassed her, and stalked her. But did he kill her?

Dan Grant is Robert's lawyer. He and his investigator, Jayne Brett have two weeks before Robert Carter goes to trial. Two weeks to prove whether or not he killed Mary.

Neil White has always delivered great characters, but with 'From the Shadows' he's excelled even his own high standards. Dan Grant is a wonderful creation and I love the refreshing honesty he looks at his job with. White has also penned a wonderful support character in Jayne as the feisty victim-turned-aggressor-turned-investigator.

The plot is suitably convoluted without ever being either straightforward or unnecessarily labyrinthine. Rather it is compelling, direct and enthralling.

As a former lawyer, White continues to use words as his weapons and like all good lawyers, he has you right in the palm of his hand.

'From the Shadows' is a riveting read that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to any reader.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lilja Sigurđardóttir - Snare

"This dark, tension-packed debut novel is a sure fire hit."

After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonja is struggling to provide for herself and win full custody of her son. With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world. As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies.

Things are even more complicated by the fact that Sonja is in a relationship with a woman, Agla. Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial crash.

'Snare' is the first part of the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy and if parts two and three are anything like part one then this has the hallmarks are being one of the best crime writing trilogies of all time.

Sigurđardóttir has created a wonderful trio of characters in Sonja, Agla and Bragi. All are richly drawn, spectacularly flawed and although they come into conflict with each other, we want them all to succeed.

The level of detail and research that has gone into 'Snare' shows what a class act Sigurđardóttir is. This almost reads like a true life story as we can the minutiae of illegal drug shipments but it's wrapped up in thrilling entertainment. She can write in one paragraph what most writers need a whole page to say.

'Snare' is a delight to read. At one point I thought I knew how it was going to end and was happy with my guesswork but Lilja pulled the rug out from under me with a delightful twist I did not see coming and delivered an even more dramatic ending than I hoped for.

This dark, tension-packed debut novel is a sure fire hit. Take a bow Lilja.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mike Craven - Body Breaker

"...draws you in from the first line. "

Investigating a severed hand found on the third green of a Cumbrian golf course was not how Detective Inspector Avison Fluke had planned to spend his Saturday. So when a secretive unit from London swoop in quoting national security, he's secretly pleased.

But trouble is never far away. A young woman arrives at his lakeside cabin with a cryptic message: a code known to only a handful of people and it forces Fluke back into the investigation he's just been barred from.

In a case that will change his life forever, Fluke immerses himself in a world of new age travellers, corrupt cops and domestic extremists. Before long he's alienated his entire team, made a pact with the devil and been arrested under the terrorism act.

But Fluke is only getting started. A voice has called out to him from beyond the grave and he has no intention of ignoring it.

'Body Breaker' is a fantastic read which draws you in from the first line. Its narrative is written with such skill that I challenge any reader to deny its siren call.

Avison Fluke is a genius at work and a fool at home as he constantly outwits departmental foes and criminals while being blind to what's happening in his personal life. His support cast are all well created but for me it's Bridie and Towler who stand out the most.

Craven's plotting kept me guessing and I'm very unhappy to report that I was unable to guess the killer's identity before being “told”.

With sumptuous prose, great characters and a labyrinthine plot, 'Body Breaker' has everything you need in a police thriller.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

A.A. Dhand - Girl Zero

"...‘Girl Zero’ really is one in a million."

There are some surprises that no-one should ever have to experience. Standing over the body of your beloved – and murdered – niece is one of them. For Detective Inspector Harry Virdee, a man perilously close to the edge, it feels like the beginning of the end.

His boss may be telling him he's too close to work the case, but this isn't something that Harry can just let lie. He needs to dive into the murky depths of the Bradford underworld and find the monster that lurks there who killed his flesh and blood.

But before he can, he must tell his brother, Ron, the terrible news. And there is no predicting how he will react. Impulsive, dangerous and alarmingly well connected, Ron will act first and think later. Harry may have a murderer to find but if he isn't careful, he may also have a murder to prevent.

A.A. Dhand's debut novel 'Streets of Darkness' was my book of the year for 2016 so I had great expectations when I picked up 'Girl Zero'. None of my expectations went un-met as Dhand has delivered a masterpiece in crime fiction which leaches into your soul and captivates your very being.

Harry Virdee is the ultimate renegade cop who tries to uphold the law only to find family ties have him crossing far too many lines. While the support characters are all excellent, Virdee commands centre stage and never relinquishes his grip on either the reader or the spotlight.

The plot has just enough complications to dumbfound the reader without confusing them and the setting of Bradford is breathed to life by Dhand's insightful commentary into the city and its people.

Trust me, 'Girl Zero' really is one in a million.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Walker - The Templar's Last Secret

"...another thoroughly enjoyable book in the series from Martin Walker."

Bruno Courreges, Chief of Police of the small French town of St. Denis, has been called to the site of an unexpected death. The woman has been found at the foot of the cliffs leading up to the ancient chateau of Commarque in the Dordogne. Circumstances are such that Bruno believes there is something suspicious about the death and sets into motion the wheels of the investigative process. To his displeasure, he is instructed to welcome a bureaucrat from Paris who is looking at the workings of the local French police and their relationships with the gendarmerie. Although reluctant to begin with, Bruno comes to welcome Amelie Plessis as she can provide an insight into the world of information available on the web.

The centre of the quest is the 11th century chateau of Commarque, ancient sight and closely connected to the fabulously rich Templars. Rumours abound about what the mysterious dead woman was searching for, and pressure mounts when a famous scholar of the Templars is tortured and found close to death.

Bruno meets up again with the love of his life, Isobel, and even the security services become involved.

Although the focus of these books is crime and the solving of it, there is a degree of comfort in picking up a new Bruno Courreges book. Bruno is a wonderful character, compassionate, resourceful, full of common sense and above all, someone who is in love with the countryside where he lives and works. Add a large amount of culinary heaven washed down with a selection of wonderful wines and it is a treat to be savoured.

The characters of St Denis are a quirky lot and the bond between them is beautifully described. This time, Bruno is yet again involved with the security services and the action becomes fast and furious at the end. This is another thoroughly enjoyable book in the series from Martin Walker. I have loved them all.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joseph Finder - The Switch

"...a fantastic read and I can’t think of a superlative that’s adequate to describe its brilliance."

Michael Tanner is heading home from a business trip when he accidentally picks up the wrong laptop from security. What he doesn't know is that the owner is US senator Susan Robbins, and her laptop contains top secret files that should never have been on there in the first place.

And Senator Robbins is not the only one who wants the laptop back... Suddenly, Tanner is a hunted man. On the run, terrified for the safety of his family – he is in desperate need of a plan – but who can he trust?

I'm a huge fan of Joseph Finder and as such I always expect more from him than other authors. With 'The Switch' he more than delivered against my expectations.

The plotting is first class, the characterisation is sublime and the way Finder injects pace into a story about nothing more than an absent-minded mistake is a masterclass.

For me though, the best part of the novel was the way the author set up a wonderful moral conundrum for the reader. I found myself wanting Michael Tanner to triumph which is natural. What is not so natural, is the way I also wanted Will Abbott to succeed when his success would mean Tanner's failure.

'The Switch' is a fantastic read and I can't think of a superlative that's adequate to describe its brilliance.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: