December 2018

Celia Fremlin - The Long Shadow

"Welcome to the deliciously dark world called ‘Fremlinland’!"

Jolted from sleep by the ringing of the telephone, Imogen stumbles through the dark, empty house to answer it. At first, she can't quite understand the man on the other end of the line. Surely, he can't honestly be accusing her of killing her husband, Ivor, who died in a car crash barely two months ago.

As the nights draw in, Imogen finds her home filling up with unexpected Christmas guests, who may be looking for more than simple festive cheer. Has someone been rifling through Ivor's papers? Who left the half-drunk whiskey bottle beside his favourite chair? And why won't that man stop phoning, insisting he can prove Imogen's guilt?

It is a fine Christmas when not one, but two great authors who have been out of print for far too many years, suddenly get the renaissance they deserve! The first is Margaret Millar, the second is Celia Fremlin. As with Millar, I have been giving away as presents Fremlin's books for years when discovered by chance in a second-hand bookshop. Now, having re-issued a few years back her entire catalogue, then given her most famous (and Edgar winning novel), The Hours Before Dawn a shiny cover, 'The Long Shadow' now gets its turn. Described as 'a Christmas story with a difference', this book is not your classic whodunit in a manor house in the snow! Oh, no! Welcome to the deliciously dark world called 'Fremlinland'!

If, like me you have read all Fremlin's novels and short stories, you know there will be a slow increase of claustrophobia with every turning page. As small truths are uncovered, the mood becomes even more darker rather than lighter. Her handling of family relationships is sublime and to my knowledge second to none. No other writer has encapsulated the dynamics between family members, especially between mother and daughter, better. Do not despair about all this darkness, as it is shot through with delicious acidic barbs from Fremlin's pen that will sometimes make you laugh out loud at the most inappropriate times. She knows exactly when to inject a bit of levity to dilute the darkness. Fremlin is excellent at injecting just the right amount of the supernatural and the macabre.

If you have a full house this Christmas, then you will completely understand what Imogen is going through as visitor after visitor turns up at her door. Where Fremlin is concerned you will not get much in the way of festive cheer… however, Fremlin here delivers a cracking Domestic Noir tale that will keep you rooted to the spot until the final page. This is one of my big recommendations for this Christmas. Enjoy!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ed. by Martin Edwards - Crimson Snow

"A superb buffet for Christmas!"

'Crimson Snow' brings together eleven vintage crime stories set in winter. Welcome to a world of Father Christmases behaving oddly, a famous fictional detective in a Yuletide drama, mysterious tracks in the snow----, and some very unpleasant carol singers. The mysterious events chronicled by a distinguished array of contributors in this volume frequently take place at Christmas. There's no denying that the supposed season of goodwill is a time of year that lends itself to detective fiction. On a cold night, it's tempting to curl up by the fireside with a good mystery. And more than that, claustrophobic house parties, when people may be cooped up with long-estranged relatives, can provide plenty of motives for murder. including forgotten stories by great writers such as Margery Allingham, as well as classic tales by less familiar crime novelists, each story in this selection is introduced by the great expert on classic crime, Martin Edwards. The resulting volume is an entertaining and atmospheric compendium of wintry delights.

It is great to see the Christmas anthology, which in past years had gone by the wayside, flourishing now under the British Library Classic Crime series. As always, Edwards has been diligent in bringing not just the usual suspects, Christie, Sayers, Allingham, et al. but many of those who are not so well known and have sadly drifted into the no man's land of out-of-print.

Whilst it is always a pleasure to be re-acquainted with Albert Campion in 'The Man with the Sack' which is a pleasing mystery for our charming detective, I really enjoyed the others by lesser known authors. I am a huge fan of the forgotten writer, and so I was in my element with stories by Fergus Hume, which although doesn't have a major twist, was a great pleasure to read. Edgar Wallace is classed as crime's errand younger son, a bit like those who look down their nose at Jeffrey Archer. However, what these two men have in common is that even though neither may be Shakespeare, in their lifetimes they sold millions of books. Wallace delivers a clever little tale which was great entertainment, which both Wallace and Archer excel at.

Julian Symons delivers a clever mystery which wasn't his usual fare as he preferred the psychological thriller and Ianthe Jerrold serves a delicious morsel with her short, 'Off the Tiles'. As with all anthologies, some stories are stronger than others, but what I love about these short stories is that with all the chaos that Christmas brings, it is beneficial to be able to sit down for twenty minutes and feel you have at least read something, even if it is only a small entrée! Edwards delivers something a little different here, and for me, I have found a few authors I will be researching thanks to his very fine detection work on seeking out these lost classics. A superb buffet for Christmas!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

W.C. Ryan - A House of Ghosts

"‘A House of Ghosts’ ticks all the boxes and is a stonking good read!"

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.

At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.

For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one...

An unrelentingly gripping mystery packed with twists and turns, A House of Ghosts is the perfect chilling read this winter.

As Agatha Christie herself knew, if you really want to crank up the suspense, put a small cast of characters on an island, cut them off from civilisation with a storm raging, then sit back and watch the madness descend! That is what Ryan does here with his new Christmas taster, 'A House of Ghosts'. However, despite my analogy with Christie, this is not just a crime thriller/whodunit. Oh no! 'A House of Ghosts' could have been written by the lovechild of Agatha Christie and James Herbert. There are twists and turns here and lots of running about and chasing shadowy people down dark corridors and hidden tunnels. Ryan really pulls out all the stops to give his novel a feel of the Golden Age of crime with a dash of Edgar Wallace and some Sapper thrown in for piquancy! And then we have the ghosts. Not only do we have a séance with chilling messages, but Kate Cartwright can see ghosts everywhere in Blackwater Abbey. Ryan touches on the history of the house, but it would possibly have added another layer of suspense if we had known a bit more of its dark background. After all, having once been occupied by monks, there are literally dead bodies in the cellar!

Ryan perfectly sets the scene with the driving snow, the biting wind and the waves crashing against the island cliffs, like some sea creature, snarling at its inhabitants, waiting for them to become its prey. It is all highly atmospheric and the remoteness of the 'guests' is palpable. Despite being far away, the traumas of the ongoing Great War, even on such a Hellish remote island, can still be felt by those stranded there. I was engrossed in this tale, and for once I could have done with more story, rather than less which is not something I say lightly. I really do hope that we see more of Donovan and Kate who are two strong protagonists, especially Donovan who, I am sure, has a whole back story waiting to be uncovered. I can see this book as a TV adaptation at Christmas, with all the spooks. This would be a great present for the one you love… and who you want sitting quietly immersed in this gripping, ghostly tale for a few hours! 'A House of Ghosts' ticks all the boxes and is a stonking good read!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Chris Mooney - The Snow Girls

"...Mooney has yet again written a book which was a huge struggle to put down..."

It's been eleven years since Claire Flynn disappeared - abducted without trace from a snowy hillside, leaving her parents heartbroken.

Investigator Darby McCormick remembers the case. She knows there's only ever been one suspect, Father Richard Byrne, linked inconclusively to two similar disappearances.

Finally, terminally ill, Byrne is willing to talk. But he'll only talk to Darby. She's expecting a confession - but what she hears is far more disturbing. And it soon becomes clear that someone is willing to kill to keep this cold case on ice.

Based around an earlier novel from Mooney, 'The Snow Girls' reworks the earlier book bringing in Mooney's favourite protagonist, Darby McCormick to help investigate.

'The Snow Girls' is a book of two parts; the part of the cold case investigation from the perspective of Darby and the impact on a family of a crime. Mooney has really managed to capture the feeling and emotion of Flynn. How he has become a shell of the man he used to be and how nothing else matters, but finding out what happened to his daughter.

As the plot continues lots of secrets from different families are revealed which muddy the water. Mooney manages to throw in a few red herrings to keep you guessing as to who and why.

It would be interesting to read the earlier book to see how different it was to having Darby enter the case. All I can say is that with 'The Snow Girls', Mooney has yet again written a book which was a huge struggle to put down as those pages appeared to flip themselves over at a rapid pace. Once again, Mooney establishes himself as a thriller writer of books that keep you up all night!

Click on the link to read a short Q&A with Chris Mooney on the Penguin Microsite about The Snow Girls.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sara Paretsky - Shell Game

"Stay on board and enjoy the ride."

Paretsky turns her forensic gaze on the antiquities market that has arisen from the wars that have torn the Middle East apart, the excesses of ICE, the US Department of Customs and Immigration Enforcement, and the shenanigans of companies that get rich by offering loans to the poor, exploiting both their customers and their staff.

V. I. is drawn into this world when an unidentified body is found in the wilds. The dead man is carrying a piece of paper with a phone number on it, a number that belongs to Felix Herschel, a relative of V. I.'s long-time and closest friend, Lotty Herschel. Felix finds himself facing a murder charge, and V I steps in at Lotty's request to try and find evidence that will clear the young man.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, another piece of V. I.'s past arrives on her doorstep: Harmony Seale, the niece of her ex-husband, Richard Yarborough who is trying to find her sister, Reno, who has been missing for some time. The sisters are close, but no one will help her, including her uncle.

V. I. embarks on what looks like two separate investigations. Reno worked for an unscrupulous payday loan company and was conned into attending a luxury weekend for high-paying executives where she may have been expected to provide sex for their entertainment. As V.I. digs deeper, it begins to look as though her weak and venal, but not previously criminal, ex may be deeply involved.

Her second investigation into the accusations against Felix Herschel begin to show unnerving links to her investigation into Reno's disappearance. Add to the mix the theft of a priceless antiquity, a pair of gigantic and obdurate heavies who keep popping out of the woodwork to attack V I, financial fraud, and, of course, the always enjoyable cast of characters that inhabit V I's world – Mr Contreras, her elderly, tenacious neighbour, her dogs, the police with whom she has cooperated and opposed, and all the ingredients are here for a vintage Warshawski story, and this is what Shell game provides. It is complex, gripping and fast-moving novel, that ticks all the boxes for V I fans.

Paretsky's V I Warshawski series is located firmly in 21st Century America, in Chicago, confronting the issues and social problems that arise from events on the world stage, and from power-broking politicians and corporations at home as they fight for power and wealth. 'Shell Game', the latest addition to the V I Warshawski series, is no different.

If there is a weakness here, it is the ending. Paretsky opts for drawing things together with a public denouncement of the perpetrators, a type of ending she has used before. It smacks rather of an updated version of Poirot gathering his suspects into the drawing room to explain his findings, and, as one of the police officers involved in the case suggests, rather offers a potential get out to the accused.

Even so, 'Shell Game' is an excellent addition to the V. I. Warshawski canon. This series is never predictable. With 'Shell Game', Paretsky gives us an all-out, fast-moving thriller. Sometimes, her explorations of the injustices of 21st Century America can be visceral in their impact, making the books a tough but compelling read, as when she turns her gaze on impoverished women imprisoned in the US justice system in 'Hard Time', or 'Hardball', which explores the racism and corruption endemic in the Chicago police force in the 60s, in a world where the evil done by your own side can outmatch any evil done by the enemy. It isn't hard to see that Paretsky shares her hero's passion for law and justice.

Despite a plot that is labyrinthine in its complexity, 'Shell Game' is a real page-turner with Paretsky keeping firm control of the various plot strands. On the odd occasion the reader might be given to a 'Hang on, that didn't…' the plot is over the horizon and accelerating. Stay on board and enjoy the ride.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Tom Bale - One Dark Night

"Grab a copy of ‘One Dark Night’ and you’ll never suffer from road rage again!"

After a day in the countryside with his wife, Katy, and their two kids, doting father Adam Parr wants nothing more than to get home for a roast dinner and a cold beer.

But when a speeding silver car cuts him up on the drive back, nearly causing him to crash, he can't help but pull over and give the driver a piece of his mind. His kids could've been killed.

And then he sees a struggling woman in the back seat, her eyes pleading for help, and he realises he and his family are in terrible danger. In the blink of an eye, their ordinary lives have been plunged into an unimaginable nightmare.

Can Adam find the strength, intelligence and bravery to keep his family safe?

Once again Bale has penned a wonderful tale about everyday people in an extra-ordinary situation. When it comes to the everyman thriller there few who can rival Bale's eye for detail, fantastic characterisation or sublime plotting skills.

I was hooked from the first page and kept glued to the book as I followed the Parr family through a series of nightmarish situations. Each character was beautifully created and utterly believable.

Best of all was the plotting as Bale amped up the tension on every page while still blindsiding me with his plot twists.

Grab a copy of 'One Dark Night' and you'll never suffer from road rage again!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mark Edwards - In Her Shadow

"...Edwards is no ordinary writer. He’s in an elite class of his own."

Isabel's life seemed perfect. Successful business, beautiful house, adoring husband. And then she was dead.

For four years Jessica has never doubted that her sister Isabel's death was an accident. But when Jessica's young daughter seems to know long-forgotten details about her aunt's past, Jessica can't shake the feeling that there's a more sinister truth behind the tragedy.

As Jessica unearths disturbing revelations about her sister, and about the people she loved and trusted most, it becomes clear Isabel's life was less than perfect and that Jessica's might also be at risk.

Did someone murder Isabel? Are they now after Jessica and her family? The key seems to lie in the hands of a child. Can Isabel reveal the truth from beyond the grave, or is the answer closer to home?

It is not difficult to see why Mark Edwards has sold more than two million books. He's an unpredictable master storyteller. Just when you think you have a handle on the plot, he slaps you with a twist to keep you turning the pages.

Edwards is also a writer with his finger on the pulse and this novel is timely written given the current #MeToo campaign to highlight sexual exploitation. Not many authors can seamlessly weave a topical and sensitive subject with a tense and riveting thriller, but, as I've said, Edwards is no ordinary writer. He's in an elite class of his own.

'In Her Shadow' is a dark psychological chiller with hints of the supernatural and some genuinely creepy moments. It'll be a while before I look a stuffed toy in the eyes again.

What I enjoy most about Mark's novels is how each one is completely different. All you know when you pick up one of his books is that your life will be on hold until you've finished it. I read this in two sittings, and that's only because I had to stop for work.

More like this and it won't be long before Mark's sales hit three million.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - We Can See You

"Kernick has the ability to draw you in and keep you there from start to finish."

You have it all. Success, a beautiful home, a happy family. Until, in a heartbeat, it's gone.

We've kidnapped your daughter, and we know everything about you. Including the dark secrets from your past you thought were forgotten.

We tell you not to contact the police – and that we'll know if you do. Because 'we can see you'.

And now you know this is no ordinary abduction. It's worse. Within hours you're on the run, with only one thought in your head:

That you will stop at nothing to get your daughter back. Even murder.

Kernick has left his regular character Tina Boyd and taken this story to America. Usually Kernick bases his books in the UK but has set 'We Can See You' in California. He has made this move with little effort and I felt as though I was reading a book written by an American author.

Brook seems to have the perfect life. A loving family, a career that is moving fast and a beautiful home. But all of this is taken away with phone call. Brook is then in a race against time to get her daughter back after she had been abducted. Brook has to use her skills and knowledge to stay one step ahead of those that have her daughter and it seems are out to get her.

Kernick, as always, has managed to write a book that needs to be read in one sitting. It is not a book that can be put down as you will be hooked from the first page. Kernick has the ability to draw you in and keep you there from start to finish. Although the plot was a little unbelievable at times, Kernick has written it in such a way that it seems perfectly feasible.

Set in the present and a few days previously, it is based around Brook and her search for her daughter and fight for survival. With lots of interesting characters thrown in along the way, Kernick kept me guessing with plenty of red herrings and suspicious behaviour.
With Kernick writing all of his books to such a high standard, it is no wonder he remains one of my favourite authors.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Guzlowski - Suitcase Charlie

"...a true noir book with a convincing 50s setting and characters. "

Set in the mid-1950s in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago, the book is loosely based on a real-life murder, the Schuessler-Peterson murders, which were not solved for 40 years.

One night, a suitcase is found, dumped in the street. Inside is the dismembered and exsanguinated body of a child.

The case comes to detectives Hank Purcell and Martin Bondarowicz, both experienced police officers – Purcell, a married veteran of the recent war, Bondarowicz a chance-taking, heavy-drinking man, very much in the style of the traditional noir detective.

As further suitcases with their gruesome cargoes turn up on the streets, people become more and more terrified. Purcell and Bondarowicz are determined to find this killer, though the city authorities are more interested in making a quick arrest than coming up with a real solution.

The tropes of noir crime are well known to the point where they can easily be parodied or satirised, but Guzlowski plays is straight. This is a true noir book with a convincing 50s setting and characters. It is also a dark book with dark happenings among a poor and deprived population. This darkness is relieved by touches of real humour, and by the life-affirming portrayal of Purcell's dedication, his home life and his marriage.

Guzlowski portrays with real conviction the social deprivation and racial prejudices that plagued 1950s America – the racism that allows the murder of a black girl child to be ignored, the anti-Semitism that has followed the wartime refugees to their new home. He has a clear eye for the grotesque, and his depictions of nuns in a nearby convent, and a professor locked away in fear behind his own front door from marauding neighbourhood children create a vivid and convincing world. These people are served by a corrupt and inefficient law enforcement regime where men like Purcell have to fight not only the criminal world, but all too often their superior officers in order to do the work they are supposed to do. The combinations of horrific murders, the social upheaval of 50s Chicago and strong characterisation make this book a real page-turner.

Guzlowski presents the horror of his story without any grand guignol embellishment. The story he has to tell is dreadful enough, and Guzlowski wisely allows it to stand on its own. Those readers who are familiar with his poetry, will know that he is a writer well-able to record the worst that humans can do to each other, as well as the factors that lead to redemption and hope.

The ending is unusual – this may be the one place where Guzlowski moves away from the tropes of noir fiction. He also leaves the possibility open that Purcell and Bondarowicz may investigate again – if so, it will be a book worth waiting for.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret in Court

"...while being great mysteries that are founded on solid police procedure, also tackle issues that are of relevance even today."

Maigret takes the stand in court, where he is giving evidence in the trial of Gaston Meurant, a picture-framer, who is charged with murdering his aunt, Léontine Faverges, and a four-year-old girl who is in her care. The motive is robbery, as the aunt kept gold coins in a vase in her apartment. Meurant maintains his innocence, and was not even a suspect until an anonymous tip-off suggested that the police examine a blood-stained blue suit in Meurant's closet. Maigret is not convinced of Meurant's guilt, however, and because of his evidence, is found not guilty. So who was the murderer? Was it Ginette, his wife. who was having an affair? Was it the man she was having an affair with? Was it someone else? Maigret starts investigating, and puts both Gaston and Ginette under observation.

As with all Maigret books, this is not just a whodunit (though the whodunit puzzle is intriguing). In this case it highlights the failings of France's judicial system. The cold detached way in which courtrooms conduct their business; the trappings of robes and gowns; the offhand way in which guilt is presumed before a trial begins; the language; and the eagerness to find guilt so that impressive conviction figures can be maintained. Jules Maigret is 53 years old in this book - two years away from retirement. He and his wife have just returned from a holiday in Meung-sur-Loire, and while there they bought a retirement home. All this crystallised a vague feeling he has had for some time - the world of policing and justice has moved on, and he is no longer fully part of it. Simenon, in my view, never disappoints. His Maigret books, while being great mysteries that are founded on solid police procedure, also tackle issues that are of relevance even today.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

C.J. Sansom - Tombland

"...a gripping and engrossing book. "

The series is moving into the turbulent period post the reign of Henry VII. Henry's son, the child Edward VI is on the throne. Catherine Parr is dead. Shardlake has, he hopes, moved away from the dangerous waters his political work drew him into. He is now involved in legal work for Henry's younger daughter, the Princess Elizabeth. Shardlake is estranged from his former assistant, Jack Barak, and is starting to find his new, safe life a bit dull.

But those who live too close to the throne are never truly safe. Being part of Elizabeth's retinue is likely to draw the enmity of her elder sister, Mary. There is unrest in the country over the imposition of a new prayer book by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset who has established himself as Protector. The Protector is also pursuing a pointless and increasingly costly war against Scotland, the coinage is being devalued, and the people are being pushed deeper into poverty by the ongoing enclosures that is depriving them of land.

Against this background, Shardlake is instructed by Elizabeth to investigate a murder charge that has been brought against one of her Boleyn relatives. Anne Boleyn remains a target of intense dislike, and Shardlake fears that any intervention by Elizabeth could have serious consequences. Nevertheless, he takes on the task, and travels to Norwich accompanied by his assistant Nicholas. Barak is involved with the courts there and soon gets drawn in to Shardlake's mission which becomes, of course, complex, political and dangerous.

The investigation becomes inextricably entangled with the Norfolk rebellion led by Robert Kett against the social and economic injustices caused by the land enclosure. Shardlake finds himself acting as a legal advisor for the rebels. Barak becomes an open supporter, and Nicholas, proud of his status as a gentleman, originally reviles them but gradually comes to understand the nature of the injustices that have been carried out against these people. Eventually, the murder is solved and the rebellion is bloodily suppressed, and once again, Shardlake returns to his legal practice certainly older – but wiser? This remains to be seen.

C J Sansom does a good job of presenting the minutiae of Tudor life, along with more obscure aspects of history, meticulously researched and convincingly presented. He does not step back from the darker aspects of Tudor life, with scenes of execution, rape and cruel violence.

This world is peopled with grotesques, monsters and victims through which Shardlake and his retinue often move like a bull at a domino-toppling rally. Shardlake's investigation, and later his involvement with the rebellion brings chaos and disaster in its wake. Twenty-first century readers might well sympathise with the idealistic Robert Kett, but they also know from the start this rebellion is not going to end well. The bleakness of this world foreshadows the turbulence and suffering that is to come to the country before Elizabeth's accession to the throne.

The book is very long – the longest Shardlake yet – and sometimes the narrative momentum gets lost in the story of Kett's rebellion, its betrayal and its ultimate fate. This is a tragic and little-known story, but the telling of it often buries completely the crime investigation that brought Shardlake to Norwich in the first place.

Sansom is a master story-teller, and in 'Tombland' he gives us a gripping narrative of the Tudor world. The usual suspects are meticulously lined up: Barak, Tamasin, the physician, Guy, now suffering poor health, the endlessly scheming Richard Rich; and at the end of the book, Shardlake's world has moved on in an interesting and unexpected way.

Sansom knows how to please his audience. The pageantry is rich, the murder is macabre, the deaths portrayed are often brutal and violent. Despite its structural flaws, 'Tombland' is a gripping and engrossing book.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Old People

"This, to me, is one of the most satisfying of Simenon’s novels."

Armand de Saint-Hilaire, a former diplomat, is found shot dead one morning in his study by his housekeeper Jaquette Larrieu, and Maigret is called in to investigate. However, he can make no headway. The man has no enemies as far as he can make out, and has lived a quiet life writing his memoirs since his retirement. An autopsy reveals that he had been shot through the head, along with several shots to the body. And even though he was in his 70s, he was in remarkably good health.

There is a dearth of suspects. Was the murderer Saint-Hilaire's nephew Alain Marazon? Jaquette Larrieu herself? Then Maigret discovers a cache of letters written over the last fifty years between Saint-Hilaire and a recently-widowed princess - Isabelle of V— (her full name isn't revealed) who is in her 70s as well. The diplomat has had a platonic relationship with her for the fifty years that they had been communicating. Now that Isabelle's husband has died, the pair were planning to marry.

Based on the letters, a solution presents itself to Maigret. A solution so simple that it had been overlooked by everyone, including me.

This, to me, is one of the most satisfying of Simenon's novels. There is certainly a mystery to solve, but much more interesting is Maigret's take on age as he continues his investigations. It was first published in 1960, when Simenon was fifty-seven years old, and possibly contemplating his own age. The writing as usual is superb - straightforward, sharp and lucid. His use of 'dialogue as action' is impeccable, and carries the story forward at a calm yet intriguing pace. Throughout it all, we find Maigret in pensive mood, and, unusually, at an initial loss as to how to continue the investigation. Yet again, a stunning novel in the Maigret series.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Penny - Kingdom of the Blind

"...a welcome addition to the Gamache series..."

Summoned to a ramshackle house deep in the woods, Gamache finds that he and his friend Myrna have been named as executors in the will of a woman who died six months previously.

Neither Myrna nor Gamache have any knowledge of this woman and cannot explain why she should have chosen them for this role. When the will turns out to carry bequests of several million dollars, the puzzle deepens.

But this is not the only matter troubling Gamache. He is suspended from his post as Head of the Sûreté du Québec in the wake of events in the previous novel, 'Glass Houses', as is his son-in-law and second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir. A huge shipment of opioid drugs was allowed to slip through into Montreal as part of a risky policy by Gamache, and is about to hit the streets. The human cost will be terrible.

To add to Gamache's woes, events force him to expel from the Sûreté Academy his protégé, the troubled and damaged cadet, Amelia Choquet, who has apparently returned to her habit of drug taking and drug dealing. She leaves the academy and returns to her old life and her old ways, putting herself at serious risk of harm. Gamache knows this, but orders she remain only under observation. He wants no intervention. Is Gamache prepared to risk a young woman's life for the greater good?

And then a man is killed. Once again, Gamache and Beauvoir are in home territory, investigating a murder.

'Kingdom of the Blind' presents the reader with a complex mix of moral dilemmas, the impossibility sometimes of making a truly moral decision, a murder mystery and, of course, Three Pines and its inhabitants.
Louise Penny set herself a difficult task when she created Gamache, and when she made her decision to set so many of her books in the isolated village of Three Pines. In the first book, 'Still Life', Gamache is a mature man and a senior officer in the Sûreté. By the thirteenth book, he is the head. In his career, there is nowhere else for him to go.
Three Pines is a tiny settlement, so isolated it is not to be found on any map, and yet it nonetheless contains a thriving B&B and a well-frequented bistro that reads as though it should be clocking up the Michelin stars; a rather unhealthy number of residents who are either intent on murder and mayhem, or who become victims of same. It seems to be a magnet for international criminals, drug cartels and conspirators. It's a reflection of Penny's skills as a writer that Three Pines has not segued into a Quebecois Midsomer.

'Kingdom of the Blind' offers the Gamache tropes that readers expect. Louise Penny moves deftly through the complexity of her plot lines, weaving them but keeping them distinct until the time comes for them to merge. Gamache must find the missing opioids, but what is he prepared to sacrifice along the way? Why has he been named in this mysterious will, and what is the true identity of the dead woman who worked in menial jobs but insisted on being called The Baroness, and who left a legacy of millions of dollars? What role is Amelia Choquet playing, and will she survive it? The narrative builds up into an ending that crackles with tension.

But there is a sense of ground that is already well-trodden. Gamache is faced with a dilemma that is not dissimilar to one he faced in 'Glass Houses'. He has to balance evil against evil to choose the lesser of the two, face the consequences himself, and watch others face them.

There is some reprise of previously explored narrative lines: Gamache making dangerous decisions he does not share with his colleagues, Gamache at odds with the authorities, Jean Guy caught between the pressures of betraying his father-in-law or of damaging his career. Even Amelia Choquet carries echoes of the earlier morally ambiguous agent, Yvette Nichol.

There is not really a role for the Three Pines characters in this story, and some of the tropes seem a bit bolted-on to fulfil readers' expectations. Gabri and Olivier create amazing food and bicker, Rosa the duck duly pronounces fuck, fuck, fuck, Clara gets paint in her hair, Ruth drinks, swears and insults people. Occasionally, this part of the narrative treads water.

The book ends with several of the characters facing new beginnings, including Gamache himself. There is a sense of this world moving on. This is welcome as it would be a pity if this excellent series were to fade into a replay of what has gone before.

Despite some issues, 'Kingdom of the Blind' is a welcome addition to the Gamache series, and it will be interesting see where Louise Penny takes her world next.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Lazy Burglar

"...a simple tale, told superbly and with an underlying meaning. "

A body is discovered in the Bois de Boulogne, and Maigret's old friend Inspector Fumel of the 16th arrondissement asks him to attend. To Maigret's regret, the body is that of Honoré Cuendet, a quiet, unassuming burglar known to Maigret, and for whom he has a certain respect. Cuendet's modus operandi was to keep watch on his next burglary target, either from a rented room on the other side of the street, or from a cafê, and then entering the premises quietly and efficiently.

However, Maigret is working on a series of robberies in Paris by a ruthless gang led by a man called Fernand, and he is told by the public prosecutor not to get involved in Cuendet's murder. He becomes involved unofficially, as he is not convinced that it is a gangland killing, which is what the public prosecutor assumes. So he is investigating two contrasting cases - one involving a quiet, traditional burglar who never used violence, and a modern gang that routinely uses violence during their robberies. Then a traced phone call sets things in motion to capture the Fernand gang, and the Cuendet murder is eventually resolved, though Maigret is, frustratingly, not allowed to make an arrest.

Maigret is two years away from retirement when investigating these two cases, and he is frustrated by the new rules and regulations that have been introduced into police work. So again, we have a contrast - the old way of doing things as exemplified by Cuendet, and the modern use of violence as exemplified by the Fernand gang.

This is, like many Maigret novels, a simple tale, told superbly and with an underlying meaning. The detective dreads and looks forward to his retirement, as do many people in real life, and in this it rings true. It is eminently readable, and short enough to be read within a day.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Scarrow - The Blood of Rome

"...Scarrow delivers with the thrust of a Roman sword, a novel that deals blow after blow..."

It is AD 55. As trouble brews on the eastern fringes of the Roman Empire, Tribune Cato and Centurion Macro must prepare for war...

The wily Parthian Empire has invaded Armenia, a frontier territory claimed by Rome, ousting King Rhadamistus. The king is ambitious and ruthless, but he is vital to Rome's strategic interests. General Corbulo must restore him to power, while also readying the troops for war with the powerful Parthian Empire. Corbulo orders new arrivals Cato and Macro, and their elite cohort of Praetorian Guards, to carry out the task.

Marching into unmapped and unfamiliar terrain to restore an unpopular king is a perilous mission. Allies cannot be trusted and foes lurk on all sides. The bravery and skill of the Roman army will be tested to the limit…

This is book 17 of the 'Eagles of the Empire' series that features Cato and Macro. What I love about this series is the developing chemistry between the two main protagonists. Scarrow never rests on his laurels (pardon the pun) and maps out his battles with precision so you feel that you could be one of the soldiers. There is definitely a great sense of place and you cannot help but become immersed in the storyline. There is a real sense of blood and guts to Scarrow's descriptions of the battles as well as the male bonding/competition that goes on.

Again, Scarrow delivers with the thrust of a Roman sword, a novel that deals blow after blow, leaving you breathless by the time you reach the end. 'The Blood of Rome' would make a perfect present for any reader who loves the scent of men at war. A remarkable read.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Bernard Cornwell - War of the Wolf

"Cornwell is a master storyteller."

Uhtred of Bebbanburg has won back his ancestral home but, threatened from all sides by enemies both old and new, he doesn't have long to enjoy the victory.

In Mercia, rebellion is in the air as King Edward tries to seize control. In Wessex, rival parties scramble to settle on the identity of the next king. And across the country invading Norsemen continue their relentless incursion, ever hungry for land.

Uhtred – a legendary warrior, admired and sought as an ally, feared as an adversary – finds himself once again torn between his two heritages: fighting on what he considers the wrong side, cursed by misfortune and tragedy and facing one of his most formidable enemies. Only the most astute cunning, the greatest loyalty and the most spectacular courage can save him.

For decades, Uhtred has stood at the intersection between Pagan and Christian, between Saxon and Viking, between the old world he was born into and the new world being forged around him. But as the winds of change gather pace, the pressure on Uhtred as father, as politician and as warrior grows as never before.

If like me you are riveted by the TV series, 'The Last Kingdom', then this is surely the book for you! Uhtred of Bebbanburg is now over sixty and here seems to take on the role of observer. Maybe his fighting days are over. This new book is much more advanced than the TV series, but still well worth the read down to Cornwell's great strokes painting his canvas and bringing alive this particular time period.

The in-fighting and politics are equally fascinating and keep the momentum of Cornwell's story rolling. There really isn't much more for me to say, as the great man's mountain of readers will surely all stampede to the shops like a flock of Vikings and buy this new instalment. Cornwell is a master storyteller.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: