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Reviews

November 2018

Elly Griffiths - The Stranger Diaries

"I love everything about this book..."

Synopsis:
Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer R M Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare's life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an R M Holland story by her body.

The investigating police detective is convinced the writer's works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confuses her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then, one day, she noticed some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...

Review:
Elly Griffiths is, for me, a writer who can do no wrong. Author of the contemporary Dr Ruth Galloway series and the gripping post war Mephisto and Stephens series, Elly has created a chilling gothic thriller that will stay with you long after the final page. With two contrasting series and now this original standalone, she is showing her creative genius and cementing her position as one of this country's leading crime writers.

'The Stranger Diaries' is written from the perspective of the three main characters. We see what they see and how they interpret the shocking events as they unfold. The standout character for me is Detective Harbinder Kaur who needs to have her own series - hard working, dedicated, unique and witty. All three characters are richly drawn and diverse and the interchangeable use of the first-person narrative is something only a confident author would attempt.

The story is a genuine page turner and the short story referred to throughout (the full version of which is at the end of the book) is positively chilling. This book alone proves what an immense talent Elly Griffiths is.

I love everything about this book from the creepy haunted school to Harbinder's mother's home cooking and people's obsession with Strictly Come Dancing. It's human and real and the ending in Holland's study is almost heartbreaking.

Griffiths has her own blend of storytelling that pulls you in immediately. I've enjoyed every one of her novels and from the first page I'm hooked. I used to say she is one of my favourite crime writers. Now, I'm saying Griffiths is my all-time favourite crime writer.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Wood - The Hangman's Hold

"Matilda Darke is a very well-drawn character with strengths that make her a convincing DI..."

Synopsis:
The book opens with Darke's close friend Adele, going on a date via an internet site and meeting Brian, a man with whom she feels a real connection. But Brian has a secret – he is a sex offender who served time in prison and is on the sex offenders' register. Brian is found hanged the next day. At first, the police are unable to account for his death, but as the body count mounts, it becomes clear that there is a vigilante killer at work who believes he is administering justice to his victims.

Matilda Darke and her team take on the case. Matilda becomes the focus of intense publicity as the case develops. She is already struggling with new members of her team, self-doubt, her unresolved grief and guilt over the death of her husband, and guilt over a case where, through decisions she made, she failed to find a young boy. Her stability is in jeopardy as the killer starts targeting her by direct communication both with her and with local media. An ambitious young reporter pursues the case single-mindedly, using the killer's supposed connection with Matilda to produce sensational headlines that hit the front pages both locally, and eventually, nationally. The narrative is complex – those readers who like twists and turns will appreciate this as Matilda and her team pursue, and are constantly out-thought by, this very dangerous killer. It soon becomes clear he must be getting information from a source within the police force.

Review:
'The Hangman's Hold' is number four in Michael Wood's Sheffield-based Matilda Darke series. A serial killer is at work in the city, someone who identifies those who have committed, in the eyes of the killer, serious crimes in the past for which they have not been sufficiently punished. And for this killer, only one sentence is appropriate – death.

With each death – and Wood is adept at presenting an everyday scenario that twists suddenly into a nightmare – the pressure on Matilda is ratcheted up. This is not helped by the guilt she feels when she finds herself drawn to the profiler who is helping the police with the case. So soon after her husband's death, how can she feel like this? And then the killer moves even closer.

Matilda Darke is a very well-drawn character with strengths that make her a convincing DI, but with weaknesses that can put this role at risk. Wood has shown in the past that he intends to give his heroine no quarter, and in 'The Hangman's Hold', Matilda is once again put through Wood's metaphorical wringer. It is probably no spoiler to say that she survives - intact, but not unscathed.

This is a satisfying thriller, and for many readers, this is enough. However, Wood also addresses important current issues – the nature of justice, vigilantism, the role of the media and the willingness of people to blame monsters rather than look for solutions.

This book is a worthy follow-up to the three previous books in the series. It works as a standalone, but new readers might be better advised to start at the beginning to appreciate all the subtleties of the story arcs Wood is developing.

And, no doubt, he is currently sitting over his cauldron heating up the metaphorical boiling oil in which he plans to immerse Matilda next time through. Can't wait!

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael J. Malone - After He Died

"...a dark and twisty thriller that drew me in..."

Synopsis:
When Paula Gadd's husband of almost thirty years dies, just days away from the seventh anniversary of their son, Christopher's death, her world falls apart. Grieving and bereft, she is stunned when a young woman approaches her at the funeral service, and slips something into her pocket. A note suggesting that Paula's husband was not all he seemed…

When the two women eventually meet, a series of revelations challenges everything Paula thought they knew, and it becomes immediately clear that both women's lives are in very real danger.

Review:
Malone's latest standalone is a dark and twisty thriller that drew me in with beautiful writing, slowly dripped revelations and seeringly beautiful understanding of grief and loss.

While regular readers will know I'm a fan of Malone's writing, they'll also know that I expect the highest of standards from my favourites. Malone doesn't disappoint on any level. Paula Gadd's plight is terrible to behold as she learns secret after secret while grieving for the loss of her husband. I think the author's decision for Paula's marriage not to have been perfect is a genius touch that adds a depth of realism to the story.

With his ever-exacting prose driving the story forward through revelations and twists, 'After he Died' is a fantastic read packed with engaging characters and a compelling narrative. If Malone was a chef, he'd have at least 2 Michelin stars and a meal for two would cost a week's wages. His books are as good as any culinary recpe. Now go and buy his book.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Robinson - Careless Love

"...another superbly plotted tale of mystery and suspense which is Robinson’s forte.."

Synopsis:
DCI Banks is called out to see the body of a young woman found incongruously in a crashed car abandoned on the moors and marked by Police signs of Police Aware. Investigations seem to indicate that she has committed suicide, unlikely as that seems to her friends. Shortly afterwards another body is found in odd circumstances: a well-dressed businessman discovered at the foot of a ravine on the moors, with no apparent means of accessing the isolated spot.

Both deaths could be innocent but both have elements that make Banks uneasy. As the investigations continue, a disturbing set of circumstances lead to a frightening reminder of past encounters. Underneath the façade of respectability and calm lies a murky and unsavoury truth.

Review:
This is another superbly plotted tale of mystery and suspense which is Robinson's forte. Apparently 'straightforward' crimes take on another dimension that leads far away from the Yorkshire moors and characters emerge with a frighteningly evil and amoral agenda.

At the heart of the enjoyment is the cast of familiar and loved characters that have developed over the series. In each book they develop; no one is perfect, each has his own human failings and they behave as ordinary people do, warts and all. A long running series like this one has some of the appeal of a soap opera as you wait to see how the lives of the characters develop. A new character, Zelda, appears in this book who promises to add a touch of the exotic to the mix. This is another excellent read from Peter Robinson.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Zoë Sharp - Dancing on the Grave

"Sharp’s plotting skills are sublime..."

Synopsis:
There's a killer on the loose in the Lake District, and the calm of an English summer is shattered.

For newly qualified crime-scene investigator, Grace McColl, it's both the start of a nightmare and the chance to prove herself after a mistake that cost a life.

For Detective Constable Nick Weston, recently transferred from London, it's an opportunity to recover his nerve after a disastrous undercover operation that left him for dead.

And for a lonely, loveless teenage girl, Edith, it's the start of a twisted fantasy—one she never dreamed might come true.

Review:
Long time readers of this site will know of my love of Sharp's writing, and also of the high expectations I have of my favourite authors. With 'Dancing on the Grave', Sharp has not only delivered her best book yet, she's also written a thoroughly gripping thriller which redefines the term unputdownable.

The twin leads of Grace and Nick are wonderfully drawn and the interplay between them and the supporting characters is never less than engrossing. Each has their own agenda and back story, but it is the way they work together while dealing with their separate issues which kept me turning the pages. All of the support characters were expertly created, none more so than Edith.

Sharp's plotting skills are sublime as she caught me time and again with the various twists and revelation that were seeded throughout the story. There was also a fair amount of social commentary interwoven into the plot and I have to say that I agree with the points Sharp was trying to make.

'Dancing on the Grave' is the kind of book which makes the bath water go cold around you and hours fly by as you inhabit the world of Grace and Nick.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Ward - The Shrouded Path

"A beautifully written and understated thriller..."

Synopsis:
November 1957. Six teenage girls walk in the churning Derbyshire mists, the first chills of winter in the air. Their voices carrying across the fields, they follow the old train tracks into the dark tunnel of the Cutting. Only five reappear on the other side.

OCTOBER 2017. Feverishly fixated on a childhood friend, Nina's dying mother makes a plea: 'Find Valerie'.

DC Connie Childs - off balance after her last big case - is partnered with a new arrival to Brampton, DC Peter Dahl. Following up on what seems like a routing death by natural causes, DC Childs' old instincts kick in, pointing her right back to one cold evening in 1957. As Connie starts to broaden her enquiries, the investigation begins to move increasingly close to home.

Review:
DC Connie Childs takes a step back and her boss, DI Francis Sadler takes centre stage as a suspicious death has echoes of a disappearance in 1957.

I'm a big fan of Sarah Ward's crime fiction series. They're subtle, character driven novels which rely heavily on the interaction between the detectives rather than car chases and explosions of city-set fiction. It's this beautifully written prose with the stunning Derbyshire scenery and the darkness of human behaviour that Ward captures so well making this series a joy to read. I'm often reminded of Ann Cleeves' Shetland novels when I read a book by Sarah Ward. They both use the location to dramatic effect, and understand the psyche of the everyday people who litter their novels. Every character, every chapter, every line of dialogue has a purpose, and nothing is included for sensationalism.

Childs and Sadler are a formidable double act. They work well together and have their own personal idiosyncrasies making them appear as real detectives rather than two-dimensional characters. All the players in Ward's books are well-drawn and used to perfection.

I'd like to see Sadler and Childs work together more as they naturally spark each other off. Childs seemed rather lost at times in 'The Shrouded Path' until Sadler returned to work.

A beautifully written and understated thriller, the Connie Childs series is going from strength to strength and Sarah Ward is a talented and natural storyteller.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alan Glynn - Under the Night

"...a fast-paced, intelligent thriller that packs a real punch."

Synopsis:
In 1950s Manhattan, the CIA carry out a covert study of psychoactive drugs. When ad man Ned Sweeney accidentally takes a dose of MDT-48, he finds his horizons dramatically expand, and he is hurtled towards the corridors of the rich and powerful, all the way to the government's nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll.

Just months later, Ned plunges to his death from a fourteenth-floor window of the Fairbrook Hotel in midtown Manhattan. The official story is that he jumped.

Over 60 years later, Ned's grandson, Ray, meets a retired government official who claims he can illuminate not only Ned's life and death, but also the truth behind the mysterious drug MDT-48.

Review:
Described as both a sequel and prequel to his debut novel, 'The Dark Fields', Glynn's latest novel is another clever political thriller. The story is told from the points of view of the two main characters: ad man Ned Sweeney in the 1950s, and his grandson, Ray, an oppo researcher living in contemporary Manhattan. (In US politics, an oppo researcher is someone employed to collect information on a political opponent or other adversary that can be used to discredit or weaken them).

On a night out after work, Ned and his boss, Matt Drake end up in the apartment of a man called Mike Sutton. After drinking a Martini, prepared by Sutton, something happens to Ned. His brain speeds up and he becomes hyper aware.

Leaving Sutton's apartment, Ned spends the rest of the evening moving from bar to bar, at one point, Ned even finds himself in a hotel suite with Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.

'Under the Night' is a welcome addition to Glynn's growing body of work. This is a fast-paced, intelligent thriller that packs a real punch. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - Wild Fire

"...a very satisfying conclusion to an immensely enjoyable series. "

Synopsis:
Jimmy Perez is called in when the body of a young girl, nanny to the local doctor's family, is found hanging in the barn of an English family. The family have moved to Shetland hoping to provide a better life for their autistic son, but stresses and strains have meant that all is not well within the family. Daniel Fleming, father of the family, is rumoured to have been having an affair with the young girl and suspicion falls on him in local eyes.

The suspicious death means that Perez' boss and sometime lover is called in to oversee the investigation. Tensions exist between the two and relations start off on a rather frosty footing.

The victim proves to have had an unhappy history in Orkney and her interaction with the Shetlanders has had repercussions that lead to her death. Others are also drawn in, and it takes a combination of local knowledge and a detached viewpoint to uncover the murderer.

Review:
This is the last book of the Shetland series, and based on previous dramatic events happening to the main characters, I approached this final one with some trepidation!

This is a very satisfying conclusion to an immensely enjoyable series. As always, the way of life in these remote islands is sympathetically portrayed and enhances the enjoyment and interest. Cleeves is able to use her gifts to portray people who behave as people do everywhere but with the overlay of the different way of life in a remote community. She understands how the characters think and behave and this is intrinsic to the success of the books. We also want to know how they will react and perhaps empathise with the circumstances in which they find themselves.

I hope that we have not lost contact with the many interesting characters in these books and we may find passing references to them in future novels.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah J. Naughton - The Other Couple

"The book was really easy and enjoyable to read..."

Synopsis:
It was meant to be the perfect honeymoon. A five-star resort in paradise. White sands, a private villa and world-class cuisine.

A chance for newlyweds Asha and Ollie Graveney to recover from a recent tragedy, and enjoy the holiday of their dreams.

Except someone has other plans... and paradise has turned into a nightmare.

Review:
Asha is on a dream honeymoon with her very wealthy new husband. Brought up by a working class single mother, Asha's life has changed beyond recognition. After celebrating her recent marriage with an expensive honeymoon to an exclusive resort the book tells the story of her and Ollie's life together… and the more the story continues, the more flaws are revealed in their relationship. At first it appears that Ollie is to blame for the problems they have but it becomes more apparent that Asha also has some responsibility for the problems they are having.

The book is well written, which left me wanting to know what had happened to each of the characters and what events in the past has resulted in them being where they are now. With every character having a little bit of mystery it will leave you guessing who is after Ollie and Asha, although I found this part to be a little obvious. There is the motive which again is obvious as the tale unfolds.

All of the characters appear to be self-absorbed and not particularly likeable, but with some more abhorrent than others it did at least leave me with having someone to root for!

The book was really easy and enjoyable to read and even if the attacker was easy to guess it didn't stop me from enjoying this gripping book.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hannah Dennison - Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall

"...should appeal to people who, like me, enjoy a cosy mystery..."

Synopsis:
Things are happening in deepest Devon. For a start, the manuscript for Iris Stanford's latest novel, 'Ravished' fails to arrive at her publisher's. Her daughter Kate discovers that it never left the local post office, run by the recently-widowed Muriel Jarvis, so what has happened to it? Then a skeleton is dug up - but it dates from the 17th century, and is that of a woman wearing a scold's bridal. But what woman?

This is against the background of a yearly event known as 'The Skirmish', when two local families, the Carews, who supported the Roundheads during the Civil War, and the Honeychurches, titled the Earls of Grenville, who were Royalists, re-enact a Civil War battle. Then a real, modern-day murder is committed....

The present-day Carews and Honeychurches settled their differences years ago, and now they have intermarried and inter-bred. But for all that, Kate is caught up in a web of intrigue, adultery, death, theft and blackmail, all within a bucolic part of England.

Review:
This book has all the hallmarks of a village cosy, though there are some modern twists that make it stand apart from the Miss Marple/Agatha Raisin books. Though there are some stock characters in it, English village life is carefully dissected in a way that Agatha Christie would never have attempted to do. The dichotomy between the aristos in the big houses and the ordinary people of the village, for instance, is played down to a certain extent.

My one criticism is that there is, sometimes, just too much happening. The story races along, piling event on event until I found myself turning back a few pages and re-reading just to keep up. A few quiet moments in the plot would have been very welcome so that I could catch my breath and work out the unfolding relationships between the characters.

But all in all, it's an enjoyable read, and should appeal to people who, like me, enjoy a cosy mystery set among England's green fields and quaint villages.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret's Secret

"...told with Simenon's usual understanding of plot, harmony and language."

Synopsis:
Chief Inspector Maigret and Madame Maigret are dining with their old friends, Dr and Mrs Pardon and during the after-dinner conversation Maigret recounts a case of his from fifteen years ago, where a man called Adrien Josset is accused of murdering his wife, Christine. The investigations are controlled by Coméliau, an examining magistrate of whom Maigret has a low opinion, and who is utterly convinced of Josset's guilt, especially as Josset is having an affair with his twenty-year-old secretary. There are other complications, such as the fact that Christine had invested some money in a pharmaceutical company owned by a man who took no interest in it. She appointed Josset as its managing director, and he turned the business around. Was he resentful of Christine's involvement in his success? However, all in all, the evidence seems overwhelming, and Josset is executed. And yet Maigret has always had his doubts about the verdict. He had interviewed the man, and from this alone considered him innocent.

Review:
This novel has also been published under the name 'Maigret's Doubts'. It seems to be a simple, straightforward story, told in flashback form and indeed it is, but it goes deep into what Maigret considers to be the flaws and setbacks of France's legal and criminal investigation systems.

There is the usual tension between Coméliau and Maigret - something which is almost as interesting as the story itself. Maigret is of the old school, cautious and thorough, while Coméliau, who is young and looking towards promotion, wants instant results to help him achieve this.

A superb story, told with Simenon's usual understanding of plot, harmony and language.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Granger - An Unfinished Murder

"Granger is one of those authors whom you can rely upon to provide a jolly good read ..."

Synopsis:
Retired Superintendent Markby finds himself the recipient of confidences from Josh Browning who helps him out in the garden. In his childhood, Josh and his sister, Dilys, came across the body of a young girl in a small copse of trees. When Josh goes back to check up on the body it has disappeared. For twenty years he has said nothing about this but when he discovers the dead girl's charm bracelet in his sister's possession he feels the need to unburden his secret.

The timing of the children's discovery chimes in with an unsolved case of Markby's and he is called in to assist the local Superintendent. He liaises with Superintendent Ian Carter and Inspector Jess Campbell from the force that investigated the disappearance of a young student twenty years ago. Together they investigate in their respective areas and trace those people who were involved at the time. Many lives are touched by the renewed investigation before the murderer is finally found.

Review:
Having just revisited the legendary Markby and Mitchell stories I was delighted to catch up with one of my favourite police detectives. Suitably aged but still sharp and on the ball, Markby relishes a little exercise of his old skills and Meredith Mitchell, now Markby, still supplies informed support. Meeting up with Carter and Campbell as well gives you the best of both worlds.

As always, Ann Granger draws clever and insightful pictures of her characters who come alive as you read. She is very good at describing the situations surrounding those people. Reading her prose makes you remember details that you subconsciously notice without really registering and which bring her scenarios vividly to life.

Granger is one of those authors whom you can rely upon to provide a jolly good read and this latest novel is another excellent and enjoyable read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Hill - The Comforts of Home

"A superior crime series by a superior writer."

Synopsis:
Simon Serrailler's last, devastating case was nearly the death of him and left him confronting a new reality.

Recovering on a remote Scottish island, his peace doesn't last long. He is pulled into a murder inquiry by the overstretched local police. A newcomer, popular with the islanders, has died in perplexing circumstances. The community's reactions are complicated and fragile.

It's good to be back on the job. And when Simon returns to Lafferton, an arsonist is on the rampage and a woman whose daughter disappeared some years before is haunting the police station seeking closure. She will not let it rest, and Simon is called in to do a cold-case review.

At home, Simon is starting to get used to having a new brother-in-law - in the form of his Chief Constable Kieron Bright. His sister Cat has embarked on a new way of practising medicine, and his nephew Sam is trying to work out what to do with his life. And then their tricky father, Richard, turns up again like a bad penny.

Review:
'The Comforts of Home' is the first full length Simon Serrailler novel for four years. I've been a fan since book one, 'The Various Haunts of Men', and couldn't wait to get back to reading about the lives of the Serrailler dynasty.

The opening chapter packs a massive punch and we're left with a broken protagonist facing a life changing condition. I've read a great deal of crime fiction and never come across a lead character having to adapt in such a way. His recovery, both physical and mental, is beautifully handled and we see glimpses of a more vulnerable Simon we've not experienced before.

To recover, Simon leaves Lafferton for a Scottish island where he is soon caught up in a murder investigation. The case doesn't stretch his abilities and the murderer is quickly revealed. I would have liked to have seen Simon stranded on this island for the whole book, away from his colleagues and family, wrestling with his conscience more. It would have revealed more of Simon the person than Simon the detective.

Susan Hill is a phenomenal writer who can write any genre she puts her mind to. Her crime books are original and addictive. 'The Comforts of Home' isn't a long novel (just over 300 pages), but Hill packs in so much that lesser authors would need 500 pages to tell the same story. Richard's return to England with his tail between his legs, Cat's new marriage and new job, Sam questioning his future, a spate of arson attacks, a cold case of a missing woman - all written with the depth and detail we expect from Hill.

I'm looking forward to the tenth book in the series, and hoping I don't have to wait four more years. A superior crime series by a superior writer.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Oswald - No Time To Cry

"One of Scotland’s most exciting crime writers introduces a new character and a new series..."

Synopsis:
Undercover operations are always dangerous, but DC Constance Fairchild never expected things to go this wrong.

Returning to their base of operations, an anonymous office in a shabby neighbourhood, she finds the bloodied body of her boss, and friend, DI Pete Copperthwaite. He's been executed - a single shot to the head.

In the aftermath, it seems someone in the Met is determined to make sure that blame for the wrecked operation falls squarely on Con's shoulders. She is cut loose and cast out, angry and alone with her grief ... right until the moment someone also tries to put a bullet through her head.

Review:
One of Scotland's most exciting crime writers introduces a new character and a new series, and it's a far cry from what he's known for - showing off his talent as a truly gifted writer and a master of the genre.

I've been a fan of James Oswald since his first DI Tony McLean novel, 'Natural Causes', was launched back in 2012. A blistering series blending hard-boiled crime with a hint of supernatural. The series has grown in strength with each novel and now we have another series to enjoy.

Meet DC Constance Fairchild. A titled lady from a well to do background who has shunned the aristocratic background to forge a career in the Metropolitan Police. She's determined, intelligent and is not afraid to take risks.

Knowing Oswald's work, nothing is as simple with his new gutsy female protagonist. Written in the first person so we get all of Con's angst and emotional stresses, she is also having conversations with her dead boss. In a lesser writer's hands this could have been embarrassing and sloppy writing, but Oswald knows how to create characters and build them with layers. Con talking to her murdered boss seems perfectly natural.

There is a neat nod to the Tony McLean series as a regular character pops up (fingers crossed for a Tony and Con cross over one day).

As the plot thickens and the story takes on a disturbing and dangerous turn, the tension mounts and you won't be able to turn the pages fast enough. This is a terrific start to a new series. Con Fairchild is a complex character. Only one book in and I already love her.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - The Reckoning

"This is raw and unflinching storytelling by one of the world’s most accomplished writers. "

Synopsis:
Pete Banning was Clanton's favourite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbour, and a faithful member of the Methodist church. Then one cool October morning in 1946, he rose early, drove into town, walked into the church, and calmly shot and killed the Reverend Dexter Bell.

As if the murder wasn't shocking enough, it was even more baffling that Pete's only statement about it - to the sheriff, to his defence attorney, to the judge, to his family and friends, and to the people of Clanton - was 'I have nothing to say'.

And so the murder of the esteemed Reverend Bell became the most mysterious and unforgettable crime Ford County has ever known.

Review:
John Grisham takes us back to Ford County, the setting for 'A Time to Kill' and 'Sycamore Row' to tell the story of a bizarre murder, the unusual trial that follows and its devastating aftermath felt for years to come.

I have read the majority of Grisham's legal thrillers and I've found this to be the most entertaining yet darkest of his books in recent years.

Told in three parts, the reader is taken on a very personal journey in the life of Pete Banning who is a war hero, a family man, a farmer and much respected member of the community. Just what would drive him to commit a seemingly senseless murder in broad daylight?

Grisham has thoroughly researched the hell of war, the horror prisoners of war had to endure including the shocking Bataan Death March. This is raw and unflinching storytelling by one of the world's most accomplished writers. His sense of atmosphere and detail makes this a novel that will stay with you long after the final page.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse

"...Simenon knows that it is character, not incident, which drives a plot. "

Synopsis:
After returning to Paris after three week's holiday, Maigret receives a phone call in the middle of the night telling him there has been a murder in an apartment in Montparnasse. The victim is René Josselin, a retired businessman, who has been shot. Maigret attends and discovers that Josselin lived with his wife, who had gone to the theatre with their daughter Véronique Fabre when the murder took place. The last person to see him alive was the daughter's husband, Dr Fabre, a dedicated paediatrician who had been playing chess with him before being called away to an urgent case. He was therefore the main suspect.

Soon after beginning his investigation, Maigret is confused. Everyone in the case seems so good. Not one of them could have been responsible for the crime.. And yet the murderer must have known the apartment well, and known that Josselin kept a gun in a certain drawer. But as the investigation continues, Maigret realises that everyone connected with Josselin shares a secret that they wish to keep hidden. If Maigret can uncover this secret, he knows he can crack the case.

Review:
Maigret is nearing retirement age, and yet this book shows that his ability to seek out and understand what motivates people - both victim and criminal - has not diminished. In fact, it's this ability which has, over the years, helped him solve many sordid crimes. This book is not just about a murder investigation - a whodunit if you like (though it is that) - but a vehicle for exploring its characters. In fact, when the puzzle is solved, it seems almost like an ant-climax. But this doesn't diminish the tautness of the plot and the intriguing mystery, as Simenon knows that it is character, not incident, which drives a plot. He feels a sense of guilt at the way he has to interrogate Madame Josselin, as he knows that she is an inherently good person. He sympathises with Véronique, who has married a man who is more married to his job than to her, and he sympathises with Dr Fabre, who is dedicated to his work among sick children. But he has a job to do - solve the crime - and he eventually does it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating: