Reviews

December 2019

Christopher Fowler - Bryant and May: England's Finest

"This luxury selection box of Bryant and May intrigue will make your Christmas sparkle!"

Synopsis:
The second compendium of the cases of Bryant & May collects cases undertaken by Arthur Bryant and John May from the years since the Peculiar Crime Unit's inception, under a Wartime directive from Winston Churchill, in 1939. With a detailed introduction that outlines the history of the clandestine department and some of the staff who have graced its ranks during that time, as well as a memo from long-suffering chief of department Raymond Land and a note from Bryant's biographer, the scene is set for a series of compelling curios, twisted mysteries and insights into the methodology employed by London's most eccentric detectives. Dating back to the immediate post-War period, when the duo need to find a murderer amid the teeming sun-worshippers on the crowded Tower Beach, and offering a further hilarious vintage snapshot of Swinging London, these are 12 cases in short story form of investigations running concurrent to the main B&M series. All but one take place in, above or underneath the endlessly fascinating London streets that constitute their patch. When they do roam further afield, regular readers will be gratified to learn, it is to Count Dracula's Castle in Transylvania they are summoned…

Review:
Each of these stories is a perfectly crafted intrigue that hones in on a different angle of the PCU's investigative expertise. As well as demonstrating the contrasting yet complimentary skills of Bryant and May themselves, it also allows other members of the department to take the spotlight and solve the case – particularly effectively when Operations Director Janice Longbright calls on all her insights to prove the seemingly impossible in 'The Best of Friends'. The Two Daves come into their own in the book's centerpiece, the dazzling double-bluff of 'The Consul's Son', which works in the geography of London's underground rivers into a dazzling portrait of contemporary, hipster Shoreditch and its devious denizens.

It's Fowler's endless fascination with the folks and folklore of the Capital, and its many representations on the silver screen – especially in the fertile post-War, pre-Swinging era – that infuses each mystery, as he goes on to explain in his fascinating, contextualising end-notes. A real-life tragedy from cinematic history informs the opening 'The Seventh Reindeer'; and the most hilarious turn comes in the star-studded 'Up The Tower', which resembles a scene from the classic Sixties satire 'Smashing Time' and contains a truly Clifftastic joke. This luxury selection box of Bryant and May intrigue will make your Christmas sparkle!

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Syd Moore - The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas

"I am completely bewitched by this marvelous series!"

Synopsis:
Who better to revive the grand tradition of the Christmas Ghost Story, inaugurated by that Master of the Miasma MR James, than the Keeper of the Essex Witch Museum herself, Syd Moore? This beautiful little tome contains 12 sinister stories that mainly revolve around the characters that populate Moore's wonderful series about Rosie Strange and her intriguing inheritance, the many-roomed, skull-shaped depository of occult learning in the mist-filled, not-so-sleepy hollow of Adder's Fork. Rightfully shortlisted for a Dagger, the collection opens with a tour-de-force tale of Rosie's grandfather-benefactor, Septimus partaking in some undercover work in Iceland during World War II and finishes with a homage to Charles Dickens' seasonal classic and Adder's Fork's very own tetchy tightwad, Carole Christmas. In between, Moore travels in time and space, with witches, demons, shamans and even aboard a ghost ship, to fashion a perfectly pitched chiller for you to read aloud each night round a roaring fire, with some fortifying mulled wine to hand. If you look very carefully, you will notice she has fashioned the 12 gifts from the eponymous carol into each tale.

Review:
Whether you are already a fan of the Essex Witch Museum series or someone has presented you a copy of this as a spooky stocking-filler then you won't fail to be enchanted. Moore's word magic is always clever and thought provoking, luring you into the belief that there must be something more to ancient customs and folklore, whether her setting be the snow-capped Icelandic volcanoes of 'Septimus and the Shaman', the remote Cornish village of 'I Saw Three Ships', or the blazing Spanish heat of 'Madness in A Coruña'. She uses each of these stories not just to thrill and amaze but also to question our notions about 'witches' themselves, most shrewdly – and movingly – in the depiction of isolated 'cat lady' Norah in 'Snowy'.

There are glimmers of what might have been here – Septimus' Wartime mission echoes the real-life exploits of Boscastle Museum of Magic and Witchcraft founder, former MI6 operative Cecil Williamson; while Rosie and Sam are interrupted from an assignation under the mistletoe in 'Christmas Eve at The Witch Museum' by the reappearance of Spring-Heeled Jack, the bouncing, flame-breathing monster who terrorized London and most of the rest of England in the 19th century. There are also divinations of what it might feel like to be a psychic policewoman, a fearsome cannibal who lives down the lane, and even, in another very poignant vignette, a ghost for whom realisation of their altered state has yet to dawn. All are rendered with a mastery of the mystery form that wears its sparkling cloak of knowledge very lightly. I am completely bewitched by this marvelous series!

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barry Forshaw - Crime Fiction: A Reader's Guide

"Forshaw delivers a platter that will get any crime buff salivating and their juices running!"

Synopsis:
There are few contemporary crime fiction guides that cover everything from the golden age to current bestselling writers from America, Britain and all across the world, but the award-winning Barry Forshaw, one of the UK's leading experts in the field, has provided a truly comprehensive survey with definitive coverage in this expanded new edition of the much admired 'Rough Guide to Crime Fiction'.

Review:
As described on the cover, this book is 'an undisputed guided tour of the mean streets and blind alleys…', and this is a comprehensive guide from Mr Crime Fiction himself, Barry Forshaw.

From the gorgeous cover reminiscent of the old Pan crime books of yesteryear to the mountain of crime fact inside, Forshaw wends his way through all the sub-genre of the crime landscape, from cosy crime to the harsh back streets of New York. From Christie to McBain to Rendell, Forshaw delivers a platter that will get any crime buff salivating and their juices running! This is one of those dip in and out books that will acquaint you with authors you know and love, re-acquaint you with ones you haven't read for years and introduce you to a plethora of writers you didn't know about. I strongly suggest, that as with alcohol this festive season, you will need to limit yourself because if you're like me, then reading this guide will be a costly experience as you will want to push that online buy button on a number of books highlighted between these covers! With 'Crime Fiction', Forshaw has produced the bible of this thrilling genre.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - Die Alone

"Prepare to take a deep breath, dive in and not surface for a good number of hours!"

Synopsis:
Alastair Sheridan has it all. Wealth, good looks, a beautiful wife and children and, in the chaotic world of British politics, a real chance of becoming Prime Minister… but Alastair also has a secret. He's a serial killer with a taste for young women.

Only a handful of people know what kind of monster he is, and disgraced detective Ray Mason is one of them.

Awaiting trial for murder, Ray is unexpectedly broken free by armed men and given an offer: assassinate Alastair Sheridan and begin a new life abroad with a new identity. The men claim to be from MI6. They say that Sheridan is a threat to national security and needs to be neutralised. Ray knows they are not who they say they are and that their real motives are far darker.

The only person Ray trusts is ex-cop and former lover Tina Boyd, who's keen to settle her own scores with Sheridan. With enemies on every side, only one thing is certain. No one wants them to get out alive.

Review:
'Die Alone' has Mason warding off threats from many, many angles. I am not sure if he is the luckiest man ever to have survived so many attempts on his life, or the unluckiest ever to have so many people wanting him dead. But with intuition, luck and sometimes a little help from friends, Mason keep disappointing his attackers.

This is the last book in the Bone Field trilogy. Whilst there are plenty of references and summaries to what has happened in the previous two books, it is definitely worth reading them in order. It was good to see the case finally settled for Mason but I am now wanting to know if the lead characters will be retired as I'm not sure how or if they can come back from this case.

As with all of Kernick's previous books, 'Die Alone' will reel you in from the first sentence and not let you go until you have finished it. The plot moves quickly from page to page with something happening in every sentence. Kernick always manages to write books with incredibly fast-paced plots and 'Die Alone' is no exception. Prepare to take a deep breath, dive in and not surface for a good number of hours! Excellent, as always, from Mr. Kernick.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Angela Marsons - First Blood

"...propels you through the book like Stone’s very own Kawasaki Ninja!"

Synopsis:
In the darkness of a cold December morning, Detective Kim Stone steps through the doors of Halesowen Police Station. She's about to meet her team for the first time. The victim of her next case is about to meet his killer…

When the body of a young man is found beheaded and staked to the ground in a secluded woodland area of the Clent Hills, Kim and her new squad rush to the crime scene.

Searching the victim's home, Kim finds a little girl's bedroom and a hidden laptop, but where is the child? And why does the man's own sister seem relieved that he's dead?

As Kim begins to unearth the shocking truth about the victim, a disturbing resemblance is spotted with the recent murder of a man found beneath the staircase of Redland Hall with multiple stab wounds. Both these men had dark secrets and Kim discovers a link to a women's shelter.

Review:
Angela Marsons' thrilling Kim Stone series is a phenomenon of recent years. With sales many can only dream of, many readers, mainly e-readers have been following this team's progress as they solve case after case. Thankfully, Marsons is productive, producing two to three Stone novels per year to sate the appetites of her fans. This latest, 'First Blood' is the perfect jumping on point as Marsons brings us this 'prequel', taking her reader back to before 'Silent Scream' and how the team came into being.

It was nice to see how the team got together and how the dynamics of this quartet began. Marsons paints in the blanks nicely on her characters however, it is the speed that she delivers her plot that propels you through the book like Stone's very own Kawasaki Ninja! Breakneck simply doesn't come in to it! Marsons is sublime at misdirection and delivers a twist that feels like a punch to the solar plexus. This series is begging to be on the small screen and 'First Blood' will thrill all who open its pages!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ed. by Cecily Gayford - Murder at Christmas

"...a collection for any reader who loves the Golden Age of crime fiction. "

Synopsis:
Christmas is a season of overindulgence. For most of us, that means an extra mince pie, a second helping of turkey, or perhaps a third glass of mulled wine. But for some among us, the festive season is a time to settle old scores, dispatch new enemies and indulge ... in murder.

Here, ten masters of the genre serve up mystery and mayhem aplenty. From a dowager's missing diamonds to a Christmas party gone horribly wrong, these classic crime stories will delight, puzzle and satisfy long after the last strands of tinsel have been packed away.

Review:
This is the fourth anthology in this series. The other three mixed contemporary authors with the old, whereas here Gayford highlights stories mainly from the Golden Age. These stories have been in other anthologies, but it is always a pleasure to re-read these short classics from the likes of Sayers, Allingham, Julian Symons, Ellis Peters, Nicholas Blake and Edmund Crispin. One of my favourites is included here from the long-neglected Ethel Lina White who is best known for 'The Lady Vanishes' a.k.a. 'the Wheel Spins'. “Waxwork' is a creepy little tale and one that White herself expanded years later into a novel in its own right. Another Mortimer tale featuring Rumpole is also included here. As with all anthologies some are great and some just miss the mark, but what I enjoyed about this series is the feeling of sitting down and being re-acquainted with old friends. Definitely a collection for any reader who loves the Golden Age of crime fiction.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Scarrow - Traitors of Rome

"...Scarrow brings this time period to my mind in glorious technicolour..."

Synopsis:
AD 56. Battle-hardened veterans of the Roman army Tribune Cato and Centurion Macro are garrisoned at the eastern border, aware that their movements are constantly monitored by spies from dangerous, mysterious Parthia. But the enemy within could be the deadliest threat to the Legion ... and the Empire.

There's a traitor in the ranks. Rome shows no mercy to those who betray their comrades, and the Empire. But first the guilty man must be discovered. Cato and Macro are in a race against time to expose the truth, while the powerful enemy over the border waits to exploit any weaknesses in the Legion. The traitor must die.

Review:
Despite this being the 18th book, there is certainly plenty of life in this series, or is there? Scarrow is a remarkable storyteller and the twists and turns he delivers compels his reader onwards – just as Scarrow does with his Roman army. There seems to be life in the old dogs, Cato and Macro, although at the end it appears they are at a crossroads. Where Scarrow will take them can only be revealed in the next book.

To be honest, there is little more I can say about this exceptional series as Scarrow already has an army of devoted readers who will more than likely devour this book over the festive season, like the proverbial oven-ready turkey! That's if they haven't already read it because they couldn't wait! Again, Scarrow brings this time period to my mind in glorious technicolour, the sights, sounds and smells bombarding you as each page is turned. This is a masterclass in storytelling. I am sure his legion of followers is already baying for the next book!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Bernard Cornwell - Sword of Kings

"...another bloodcurdling episode in this remarkable series. "

Synopsis:
Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a man of his word.

An oath bound him to King Alfred. An oath bound him to Æthelflaed. And now an oath will wrench him away from the ancestral home he fought so hard to regain. For Uhtred has sworn that on King Edward's death, he will kill two men. And now Edward is dying.

A violent attack drives Uhtred south with a small band of warriors, and headlong into the battle for kingship. Plunged into a world of shifting alliances and uncertain loyalties, he will need all his strength and guile to overcome the fiercest warrior of them all.

As two opposing Kings gather their armies, fate drags Uhtred to London, and a struggle for control that must leave one King victorious, and one dead. But fate – as Uhtred has learned to his cost – is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful ãræd. And Uhtred's destiny is to stand at the heart of the shield wall once again…

Review:
Uhtred is good as shouting out oaths, but they invariably get him in to trouble. Now at an age when others would retire, Uhtred is still cutting down many who are years younger then him.

Most of 'Sword of Kings' is one huge battle between Unhtred's tiny force and two massive armies, climaxing in a bloodbath battle within the city of London. The scene is nicely set up for the next battle as the new king, Aethelstan will undoubtedly travel north to try to take Northumbria to unify England. You wonder if the poor Uhtred ever gets a rest day!

Although the story is not as polished as Cornwell's earlier books, he still injects the frisson of excitement of battle that he is world-renowned for. His sense of time and place is impeccable which in turn lends impetus to Uhtred's latest trial. What makes Cornwell so popular is that he is so readable and it is his talent as a supreme teller of tales that makes many buy his books as soon as it is published. 'Sword of Kings' is another bloodcurdling episode in this remarkable series.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gladys Mitchell - Death Comes At Christmas

"Mitchell’s books are light-hearted and enchanting reads."

Synopsis:
It is December and Mrs Bradley has left London behind for a relaxing visit to the Oxfordshire countryside.

Then, on Christmas Eve, a local solicitor is found dead by the river. Everyone believes that he suffered a heart attack – but Mrs Bradley is suspicious, and is soon investigating a series of disturbing clues.

As the frost thaws and spring begins, the inimitable detective must work fast if she is to protect the people close to her from a resourceful killer…

Review:
This is sadly not a newly discovered Gladys Mitchell, but one originally published as 'Dead Men's Morris'. Regardless of the title, it is always great to see 'The Great Gladys' in print in her usual bonkers style… and I say that as a fan of her work. If you hanker for something with the precision of Christie, then this is not for you. Mitchell's novels were a mile apart from that other great writer.

When Mrs Bradley is involved, you know it will have some form of smuggler or thief, or some maniac on the loose, picking off victims willy-nilly! There most likely will be a revolver involved as well. Mitchell wrote adventure books for adults, peppered with the most eccentric characters you will ever meet between the covers of a book. Mitchell's plots may go a little haywire on occasion, but she is so adept at painting a picture of those times in great detail (this was published in 1936). Mitchell also splashes humour around in all her books, especially with the caustic Mrs Bradley in attendance. These are simply wonderful reads and if you haven't sampled Gladys Mitchell yet, then I suggest you have a go. Mitchell's books are light-hearted and enchanting reads.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mary Kelly - The Christmas Egg

"A strong addition to this remarkable series..."

Synopsis:
London. 22nd December. Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale and Sergeant Beddoes have been called to a gloomy flat off Islington High Street. An elderly woman lies dead on the bed, and her trunk has been looted. The woman is Princess Olga Karukhin - an emigrant of Civil War Russia - and her trunk is missing its glittering treasure...

Out in the dizzying neon and festive chaos of the capital a colourful cast of suspects abound: the downtrodden grandson, a plutocratic jeweller, Bolsheviks with unfinished business? Beddoes and Nightingale have their work cut out in this highly enjoyable jewel of the mystery genre.

Review:
In his introduction to this new addition to the British Library Crime Classics series, Martin Edwards pins Mary Kelly as the P.D. James of the 50's. This is the series' Christmas edition which they have done every year since the success of their re-issue of Farjeon's forgotten book, 'Mystery In White' which had the typical remote mansion in a snow swept countryside.

Here, Kelly's novel is based firmly in the London she grew up and lived in, but the dark side is prevalent here. There are shady characters galore here, although some appear at first with a personable veneer. Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale is a man who feels emotionally distant with his wife, quite conflicted inside. Where the P.D. James comparison comes in is Kelly's focus on her characters, how they work and behave however, it did start to impinge on the case in hand, which seemed to be very much left in the background. It isn't until half way that Kelly appears to start handling the case of Princess Olga's death and theft of her treasure.

This is definitely a slow burn, but what Kelly lacks in impetus with her plot, she more than makes up for painting a lavish vivid picture of London in the 1950's. It will amaze young readers how crime was solved when the SIO had to find a working telephone box to contact Scotland Yard. This is a dark London that many may not know about. A strong addition to this remarkable series that has brought many lost authors back into print.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Celia Fremlin - Ghostly Stories

"Only 42 pages long, these two stories still pack a punch."

Synopsis:
Faber Stories, a landmark series of individual volumes, presents masters of the short story form at work in a range of genres and styles.
'Be sure you don't answer the door to anyone you don't know.'

A little Patricia Highsmith, a touch of Shirley Jackson: the long-neglected Celia Fremlin wrote short, sharp stories that threw women's lives into shiver-inducing relief.

In each of these twinned tales, a mother and daughter meet again, and an ordinary home becomes the setting for a return of the repressed.

Review:
This series highlights two short spooky stories by Fremlin. I have been a massive cheerleader of Fremlin's since I bought two battered paperbacks on a market stall in the 90's. Back then, besides the usual couple of titles, the main body of her work was out of print. Although I love her novels, mainly 'The Trouble Makers' and 'Uncle Paul' (if you want any recommendations), her short stories are the ones I go back to time and again.

Fremlin had such an acute and precise eye that she could deliver a sting in the tail every time and many have landed in different anthologies. These two are sterling examples of Fremlin's work. She usually deals with the mother/daughter complex relationship which she does excellently. Only 42 pages long, these two stories still pack a punch. Then I suggest you go and buy one of her collections. I am certain you won't be disappointed. It is a joy to see Fremlin back in print!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ed. by Cecily Gayford - A Very Murderous Christmas

"...as with all Christmas morsels, once tasted you can’t stop until you’ve finished the lot! "

Synopsis:
The Christmas season is one of comfort and joy, sparkling lights and steam rising from cups of mulled wine at frosty carol services. A season of goodwill to all men, as families and friends come together to forget their differences and celebrate the year together.

Unless, of course, you happen to be harbouring a grudge. Or hiding a guilty secret. Or you want something so much you just have to have it - whatever the cost. In 'A Very Murderous Christmas', ten of the best classic crime writers come together to unleash festive havoc, with murder, mayhem and twists aplenty.

Review:
It appears that after many years of being out of fashion, the crime anthology (especially at Christmas) is back!

Here we have a collection of stories, some from Golden Age writers like Margery Allingham and Gladys Mitchell to contemporary writers like Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter. Some tales are very loosely based around Christmas, so not every murdered body found is placed directly under the Christmas Tree!

As with all anthologies, some stories have been included in other collections, so one will always have read them before, in my case it was the Nicholas Blake, collected here, but I enjoyed re-reading it. I was pleased to see one of my favourite Rendell shorts, 'Loopy' which is wonderfully bizarre. I am also a fan of the great Gladys, who was not always disciplined with her Mrs Bradley mysteries, however in 'The Jar of Ginger' she is very much on point with this witty little tale. For me, the most enjoyable is Anthony Horowitz's 'Camberwell Crackers' which is divinely tongue in cheek! This collection was published in 2018, so I have only just got around to it, but as with all Christmas morsels, once tasted you can't stop until you've finished the lot! The same goes with this little taster of crime delights!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Agatha Christie - Murder, She Said: The Quotable Miss Marple

"...a great little stocking filler for the Christie fan in your life."

Synopsis:
Did you know that one of the world's sharpest and most forensic minds inhabited the persona of an attractive old lady, with pink cheeks and blue eyes, and a gentle, rather fussy manner? Discover the secrets of Miss Marple in this gorgeous book of her quotes and sayings, and an essay by Agatha Christie appearing for the first time in any book!

Review:
This is one of those dip in and out books with a Marple quote on each page. Here you can remind yourself of Jane Marple's pearls of wisdom given her by the many years of life waiting to be constantly disappointed by others. This is a follow-up to the Poirot book of quotes. Having been re-reading Christie this year, these quotes make me want to read the Marple books (for the umpteenth time). This is a great little stocking filler for the Christie fan in your life.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ed. by Cecily Gayford - Murder Under the Christmas Tree

"...a collection that will appeal to any lover of the festive thriller."

Synopsis:
A locked room mystery solved with a flourish on Boxing Day.
Blackmail on Christmas Eve.
A missing jewel discovered in a very festive hiding place.
A body slumped in a chair on Christmas morning, still listening to carols.
The midnight theft of a gift intended for a saint.

Crime doesn't take a holiday, so these - and many more - are the puzzles that make up 'Murder under the Christmas Tree', a collection of festive mysteries featuring fictional sleuths from Lord Peter Wimsey to Sherlock Holmes, Cadfael to Father Brown. This is the very best of Christmas murder and mayhem - so settle into your armchair, put another log on the fire and take a bite of your mince pie. Just make sure it's not poisoned...

Review:
The lead up to this festive season has been so busy that I have turned to these anthologies as they give me a bite-sized hit of crime fiction. This one was published in 2016, but is crowded with a Who's Who of crime. In attendance is Ellis Peters, Allingham and Sayers, Crispin and Conan Doyle. My favourites here come from Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, both producing cracking tales of murder during the Christmas festivities. Rankin's Rebus story, 'Cinders' deals with a murder at the local theatre during Panto season. I loved this story and it had the theatrical feel of a Ngaio Marsh about it. 'A Traditional Christmas' from McDermid is one of my all-time favourite short stories I read years ago and it stayed in my mind due to the cracking twist she delivers. Also present, is 'Death on the Air' from the brilliant Ngaio Marsh, another firm favourite of mine I have read and enjoyed time and again.

This is a very strong cast here and is a collection that will appeal to any lover of the festive thriller.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Kate Jackson - The Pocket Detective 2

"A great stocking filler for any crime fan of yesteryear."

Synopsis:
In these pages lie the clues you will need to crack the most impenetrable of cases. Culprits lurk between the lines of word searches. Imposters are unearthed in anagrams. A keen eye and a quick wit are your best tools for eliminating the suspects in a range of puzzles, suitable for all ages and levels.

Review:
For seven years, the British Library has brought neglected crime fiction writers into the spotlight in a series of republished novels and anthologies. Updated with brand new puzzle styles and including the very latest British Library Crime Classics titles, there are even more ways to solve the mystery in this sequel to 'The Pocket Detective'.

All of these puzzles are based around the now celebrated and successful series of crime classics published by The British Library. It does help to know the series, but not a necessity as any crime buff will be able to solve many of these wonderful puzzles. A great stocking filler for any crime fan of yesteryear.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael J. Malone - In the Absence of Miracles

"Malone’s prose is a delight and the plotting exemplary."

Synopsis:
John Docherty's mother has just been taken into a nursing home following a massive stroke and she's unlikely to be able to live independently again. With no other option than to sell the family home, John sets about packing up everything in the house. In sifting through the detritus of his family's past he's forced to revisit, and revise his childhood.

For in a box, in the attic, he finds undeniable truth that he had a brother who disappeared when he himself was only a toddler. A brother no one ever mentioned. A brother he knew absolutely nothing about. A discovery that sets John on a journey from which he may never recover.

For sometimes in that space where memory should reside there is nothing but silence, smoke and ash. And in the absence of truth, in the absence of a miracle, we turn to prayer… and to violence.

Review:
There's always something special about a Michael J. Malone book. With his name on the cover you just know it's going to be well written, emotive and sure to evoke enough of your senses to have you right in the moment with the characters. 'In the Absence of Miracles' ticks every one of these boxes and many more as Malone explores secrets that have been hidden by the sands of time and quirks of his characters' psyche.

The narrative is by turn compelling and heart-rending. As more pages turned, my emotions were put through a meat grinder as I followed the story to its heart-rending conclusion.

Each of the characters was drawn with a sympathetic eye, but for all the author's skill in depicting the supporting cast, none of them could compare to John Docherty. I really don't want to say too much and give spoilers, so I'm going to say that he's a good man who life has dealt a very bad hand and leave it at that.

Malone's prose is a delight and the plotting exemplary. Yes, I did guess one facet of the story, but another revelation (I should have seen coming) side-swiped me without warning.

'In the Absence of Miracles' is entrancing, emotive and a must read for all crime fiction fans.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Bonnie MacBird - The Devil's Due

"...none have come close to capturing the atmosphere of Conan Doyle’s original works as these books."

Synopsis:
London, 1890. A freezing November.

As anarchists terrorize the city, a series of gruesome murders strikes deeper into its heart. Leading philanthropists are being slaughtered in alphabetical order, all members of a secret club, the Luminarians. And with each victim, a loved one mysteriously dies as well.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson embark on a race to stop this self-styled 'Lucifer' whose motives are mysterious but whose methods are increasingly diabolical. Hampered by a new head of Scotland Yard and a vengeful journalist and distracted by a beautiful socialite with her own agenda, they attempt to close in on the killer.

As the murders continue, the letter 'H' climbs closer to the top of the list – and then Mycroft Holmes disappears. Must Sherlock Holmes himself cross to the dark side to take down this devil? Even John Watson, the man who knows him best, can only watch and wonder.

Review:
Every crime fiction fan knows of Sherlock Holmes; his powers of deduction, his dogged determination and his ability to read people and situations easily. One of the greatest crime writers of all time created a figure synonymous with London who forever will live on in film and TV adaptations and further books written by writers around the world. 'The Devil's Due' is Bonnie MacBird's third Sherlock novel and she writes with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the forefront of her mind as her style mirrors his. Her literary technique flows perfectly as she gets inside the head of narrator John Watson to see the great man through his eyes.

The problem with writing a character like Sherlock Holmes is that he can take on the role of a comic book superhero as he dashes around London solving crimes the police can't and seemingly able to spot a murderer at a hundred paces. He can become almost a pastiche and it takes a confident writer to keep Sherlock grounded. While Conan Doyle was the master at this, MacBird doesn't always achieve it with Sherlock getting beaten up, having his wrist painfully broken and suffering first degree burns within a couple of days, yet still be able to confront the killer at the end with a body full of morphine and cocaine.

The plot surrounded philanthropes being murdered in alphabetical order has all the hallmarks of Agatha Christie's delightfully original 'The ABC Murders' and it was difficult to get the famous Poirot story out of my mind when reading this, but the darkness of the murders, the twist and turns of the labyrinthine plot make this a far cry from the world of Christie, and while MacBird doesn't detail the gruesome murders to give the reader nightmares, she is certainly adept at writing a chilling crime scene.

I have read other books featuring Sherlock Holmes and John Watson written by other writers, and none have come close to capturing the atmosphere of Conan Doyle's original works. MacBird could have been looking over Sir Arthur's shoulder and watching him work, she's that close. With a fourth book scheduled for release next year, I hope this is a series that can delight readers with new adventures for everyone's favourite crime fighting duo.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elly Griffiths - Now You See Them

"Elly Griffiths is my favourite crime writer."

Synopsis:
Three girls have left. None have come back.

Brighton, 1963. Edgar Stephens, now Superintendent, is married to his former sergeant, Emma Holmes. Edgar's wartime partner in arms, magician Max Mephisto is a movie star in Hollywood, while his daughter Ruby has her own TV show.

The funeral of an old friend highlights just how much the gang's lives have changed in the last ten years. Edgar is struggling with fresh responsibilities and the new swinging Brighton of rioting mods and rockers. Emma is chafing against the restrictions of life as a housewife.

Meanwhile, a schoolgirl has gone missing from high-class boarding school Roedean. It looks like she's run away, but there are disturbing similarities to the disappearances of a young local nurse and a tearaway Modette, neither of whom have been seen or heard from since.

Review:
One of my favourite crime fiction series returns after a short break, but in the fictional world of Stephens and Mephisto, more than ten years have passed since the previous book, and a great deal has changed. If you're new to the series and only know writer Elly Griffiths for her Ruth Galloway series, then this is the perfect place to begin. The series has been given an overhaul. No longer called the Stephens and Mephisto series, they're now The Brighton Mysteries.

Stephens' wife, Emma Holmes, has a greater role to play in this book as we see the desperation of a career woman forced to give up the job she loved (for some reason, a married woman with children couldn't be a police officer in 60's Britain) and she's become disillusioned with being a stay-at-home mother. Emma's character has breathed new life into the series and her ending to 'Now You See Them' is sure to set up an added dimension and internal conflict with her husband in future editions.

Occasionally in a series when there's a time jump, it doesn't always work, and there was a point where I worried Max Mephisto (possibly my favourite character in all of crime fiction) would be relegated to a mere background player and simply there for nostalgia purposes. However, I should have more faith in Griffiths. As the plot thickens, Max is once again drawn into the criminal world and does what he does best.

Elly Griffiths is my favourite crime writer. It isn't just the well-crafted characters and twisted plotlines she creates but her research and sense of place. She has tapped into the uncertainty of 1960's Britain with the impending clash of the Mods and Rockers as if she was among them in 1963 and giving an eye-witness account of the crackling atmosphere. It is this sublime attention to detail that makes Griffiths one of this country's leading crime writers.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mikita Brottman - An Unexplained Death

"Buy this intriguing book..."

Synopsis:
This is a true crime story with a mystery at its heart. Mikita Brottman, a professor at the Maryland Institute Collage of Art, lives in an apartment within what was, before conversion, the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore. Her attention was taken by a poster for a missing person, Ray Rivera. She was intrigued, and found out that Ray and his wife lived in an apartment in the Belvedere. His body was eventually found in an office that had been converted from the former hotel's swimming pool. He had plunged from the apartment block's roof, and crashed through the office roof. Brottman, consumed with an almost morbid curiosity, sets out to discover what had happened. Had he committed suicide? Had he fallen accidentally? Had he been pushed? It was a quest that eventually turned into an obsession.

Review:
Brottman seems to be driven by an almost insatiable curiosity about the motive behind Rivera's death. She goes over the circumstances again and again, seeking different angles and possibilities. Who would have wanted to murder him? How could it have been an accident when there was a low wall surrounding the roof area? Why would he commit suicide when he seemed to be a settled newlywed who was in love with his wife? Were there skeletons in his cupboard?

She also studies other similar suicides to find out about motivation and state of mind, and pours over police reports and newspaper cuttings. She interviews people, including the widow of Ray Rivera, though the police are not as forthcoming Her researches are meticulously laid out so that we can form our own opinions. As she digs deeper into the motivations for suicide, we are bewildered, puzzled and sometimes repelled, while at the same time feeling great sympathy for a person who sees suicide as the only way out.

It is a book that asks questions, not just about Ray Rivera, but about the ending of a life which offered so much. Does Brottman reach a conclusion about his death? Was it suicide, murder or accident? Buy this intriguing book and find out.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Daniel Cole - Hangman

"...faultless writing, great characters, a twisting plot, and crimes that are so dark they could keep you awake at night."

Synopsis:
Eighteen months have passed, but the scars the Ragdoll murders left behind are reopened on a daily basis, the legacy of the infamous investigation infecting all aspects of daily life. Despite the media's best efforts, copycat murders all over the planet have proven to be nothing more than violent mutilations by the unimaginative and deranged. Andrea Hall's memoirs are topping the charts while Hallowe'en saw children all over the country distastefully donning grotesque costumes of the real-life monster in their midst. The Ragdoll, apparently, was here to stay.

Over-promoted into the role of Chief Inspector following her work on the case, Emily Baxter is ill-suited to her new bureaucratic posting. Alex Edmunds won't admit it, but he is bored too, having returned to his monotonous job in Fraud after fighting so hard to escape.

When Baxter is summoned to a meeting with Special Agents Elliot Curtis of the FBI and Damien Rouche of the CIA, she is presented with graphic photographs of the latest copycat murder: a body contorted into a familiar pose, strung up impossibly across the Brooklyn Bridge, the word BAIT carved deep into its chest. The victim's name: William Fawkes, a Wall Street banker and a very clear message that this murder is different to the others.

Baxter is ordered to assist the unrelentingly professional Curtis and the charmingly eccentric Rouche with their investigation, another PR exercise to appease the ever-demanding public. Accompanying them to New York and the scene of another murder, they find the same word scrawled across the victim, torn into the assailant – the word PUPPET.

The team helplessly play catch up as the murders continue to grow in both spectacle and depravity on both sides of the Atlantic, building towards a devastating crescendo. Their only hope: to work out who the bait is intended for, how the Puppets are chosen but, most importantly of all, who is holding the strings.

Review:
'Hangman' is the second in the trilogy from Daniel Cole featuring Baxter and Edmunds. Baxter and Edmunds have a very close relationship. In 'Ragdoll' Baxter was Edmunds mentor and her lack of patience and tolerance for him was palpable. But as the two have got to know each other, they have grown closer and he is probably Baxter's only friend. Baxter is a very hard and emotionless character. But Cole has managed to build in a level of vulnerability which softens her edges.

As with 'Ragdoll', 'Hangman' has an intricate plot with extremely gruesome depictions of the crimes. Cole to me is the UKs version of Chris Carter; faultless writing, great characters, a twisting plot, and crimes that are so dark they could keep you awake at night. Despite all the murders, Cole still manages to interject humour in his writing.

The only thing missing was Wolf - one of the main characters from Coles previous novel, although I am looking forward to becoming reacquainted in the final instalment of the trilogy – 'Endgame'.

Cole is one of those writers that goes with the biggest impact rather than a happy ending. His writing is as ruthless as the crimes he writes about so don't expect just the bad guys to not make it.

These books can be read as a standalone novel but to really get to know the characters - their strengths and weaknesses, and how they and their relationships have developed, I would really recommend reading them in order as I feel you will get so much more from the books.

'Hangman' is another great book from this author who has firmly made it on my list of favourite writers.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ruth Ware - The Turn of the Key

"Ware is very good at creating atmosphere and tension. "

Synopsis:
When Rowan stumbles across the advert, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a very generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious 'smart' home fitted out with all modern conveniences by a picture-perfect family.

What she doesn't know is that she's stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she's made mistakes. But she's not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is…

Review:
Ware's latest has obvious connotations with James' infamous ghost story, 'The Turn of the Screw', but for the 21st Century. Heatherbrae House is not a rambling shack, but a state-of-the-art installation envisaged by her new employers, Sandra and Bill Elincourt who are architects. An app wired in to the house controls temperature, opens the front door and even makes you coffee! There are also cameras so Sandra can remotely watch what is going on. So, what could go wrong in this idyllic setting? As it is so idyllic, why have there been so many nannies before Rowan?

We know from the beginning that Rowan is writing from a prison cell, so something has happened to get her there. Ware is very good at creating atmosphere and tension, although I felt at times it was stretched too much and the momentum could sometimes suffer. I really did not feel that the many descriptions of the décor of Heatherbrae were entirely needed.

The usual tropes are here with the boarded-up attic (isn't there always a spooky attic?) and the poison garden which ties in with the history of Heatherbrae which involved a mad doctor and a suspicious death. However, as with all fiction, there is a degree of the suspension of belief, but for me I felt that Ware asked a little too much of this reader. Would two architects convert a whole house and leave the attic boarded up? I wasn't convinced. I also felt the poison garden had huge potential, but was not fully explored. However, Ware more than makes up for this niggle with her final twist that does not tie all loose ends, but did make me think about Rowan's predicament long after the last page had been turned. At times there were glimmers of Barbara Vine here, and feel that with more books, Ruth Ware will definitely be a writer to watch.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Peter Robinson - Many Rivers To Cross

"Robinson highlights current issues that are threatening society today."

Synopsis:
Detective Superintendent Alan Banks is called in to lead the investigation into the death of a young man whose body is found unceremoniously dumped in a wheelie bin. He co-ordinates his team into following up the investigation but they have few leads to work on as no-one in the area seems to know who he is. The obvious clues lead to the involvement of the drugs scene or even, as the lad is of Middle Eastern appearance, illegal immigration. Both are a tasty cause for speculation in the press, but there appears little for the police to work on. Another death, this time of an old junkie in his dilapidated flat, appears to have little relation to the young boy's death, but Banks begins to see a thread that connects the two.

Both are part of a recent growth of drug supply out from the capital along so-called County Lines, and the involvement of some serious heavy criminals. Local players in shady dealings are also involved and it is Banks' job to bring those he can to justice.

Meanwhile his friend Zelda, partner to Raymond, father of D.I. Annie Cabbott, is pursuing her own personal hatred of a previous abuser and serial sadist. She also omits to let Banks know of information she has on one of his most wanted criminals. This leads her into a very dangerous situation.

Review:
Robinson highlights current issues that are threatening society today. The County Lines use of young children to spread the provision of more dangerous drugs around the country is of paramount importance to policing today. DCI Banks uses his wealth of local knowledge and his innate humanity to track down the root of the deaths. I found the parallel plot involving Zelda and the Albanian people traffickers somehow separate from the main body of the work and slightly distracting leaving many issues unresolved. I've noticed this recently in one or two books and I feel it is unsettling and I prefer all loose ends to be tied up by the end of a book. This latest is a good read and constantly engaging, but not I think one of his best books.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Susan Hill - The Benefit of Hindsight

"...a multi-layered crime novel of human suffering."

Synopsis:
On the face of it, DCS Simon Serrailler has had time to recuperate after the violent incident that cost him his arm, and nearly his life. He is back in the harness at Lafferton CID but is spending his spare time high up in the cathedral roof, making drawings of the medieval angels which are being restored.

Lafferton is going through a quiet patch, so far as crime is concerned, until one rainy night two local men open their front door to a couple seeking shelter. A serious error of judgement in the investigation puts Simon's reputation on the line and calls into question how full his recovery has really been.

In her new role as a private GP, Simon's sister Cat's medical and counselling skills are tested by terrible and unexpected events at the homes of two very different Lafferton women. Simon and Cat's unreliable father, Richard, has returned to live nearby, in a luxury apartment for the well-heeled over 60s. He's soon up to his usual tricks.

Simon must battle his own demons as Lafferton struggles to cope with a series of crimes that threaten the very sanctity of hearth and home.

Review:
'The Benefit of Hindsight' is the tenth in the Serrailler crime series. I have been a fan from book one and it has been a delightful journey watching the regular characters mature. Her latest is a multi-layered crime novel of human suffering.

Hill writes crime novels like no other crime fiction novelist. This is not a whodunnit, or even a whydunnit, what Hill does is analyses the effects the crime has on those involved. The drama comes from the aftermath and how people adapt in the wake of the appalling brutality people inflict on each other.

A brash, philanthropic businessman is lavishing the attention of his recent donation to the local police only to have his world destroyed in a crime so cruel and pointless. His recovery is raw and heartfelt, and Hill puts so much emotion into it that it is difficult for the reader not to feel the pain with him. A new young mother struggling with attachment issues towards her new baby is sad and intense with dark undertones signalling something is about to go very wrong.

Susan Hill packs great many human stories into her novels. A lesser writer would need five hundred pages to tell the same stories Hill manages to do in three hundred. Her prose is tightly woven, no excessive adverbs or unnecessary adjectives. I'm reminded of some of the greats in crime writing when I read a Susan Hill novel – P.D. James, Reginald Hill, Ruth Rendell. They were craftsmen of their work and Susan is following in their wake.

I confess that I was never a fan of Simon's sister, Cat, in the earlier books, but I've warmed to her, and now, in the tenth instalment, I genuine like her. Her passion for people, the NHS, life as a GP, her family, is admirable. She is doing a difficult job in difficult times and I can think of no other series of books where I've read such real people rather than a set of characters.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.C. Beaton - Beating About the Bush

"There is humour on every page, and the surprises come thick and fast..."

Synopsis:
Agatha Raisin's detective agency in the Cotswolds has been retained by a firm called Morrisons to investigate suspected industrial espionage after a fire on their premises. The firm is developing a revolutionary battery pack for electric cars, so security is vital. Agatha and her employee Toni are on the way back from a meeting with Albert Morrison, and Agatha spots a severed limb in the undergrowth beside the road. It looks very much like the leg of Mrs Dinwiddy, Morrison's secretary. They call the police only to be embarrassed by discovering it is a fake limb.

So what is happening? And on closer inspection, why is Morrison's not all that it seems? Why are the battery packs supposedly made in Eastern Europe and not in England? Agatha decides to investigate. Along the way she meets Wizz-Wazz, a donkey which attacks Toni, and is owned by Morrison's wife. Then a death occurs - that of Mrs Dinwiddy. Agatha is convinced it is murder, though an inquest concludes that she was attacked by the donkey.

Things get complicated, and Agatha is embarrassed on a national scale as she tries to clear the donkey's name. Not only that - as a subplot Agatha feels herself drawn more and more towards Sir Charles Fraith, a friend and occasional sex partner. But even here things become complicated, due to an unexpected turn of events. But eventually, after a tense scene where Agatha's life is in danger, the mystery surrounding Morrisons is solved, and Agatha consoles herself with the new man in her life - Chris Firkin, who converts petrol-driven cars to electricity.

Review:
Once again, M.C. Beaton subverts the cosy English village murder mystery. Agatha is no Miss Jane Marple - she sleeps around, smokes, swears, name-calls and doesn't put up with nonsense from anyone. There is humour on every page, and the surprises come thick and fast as Agatha goes deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding the industrial premises and why there seems to be very little industry taking place. And, of course, the humour is heightened by Agatha's own occasional ineptitudes. The plotting may seem a little contrived from time to time, but don't let that put you off. This is an easy read that will drag you into the world of the Cotswolds, and Agatha's attempts to blend in to the bucolic life, even though she is obviously a city girl at heart, with a love of high fashion and even higher heels.

Many people have declared that reading Agatha Raisin books is a very enjoyable, if secret, vice. I am one of those people, though in my case there is no secrecy about it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Penny - A Better Man

"Simply sit back and enjoy the ride. "

Synopsis:
Armand Gamache, suspended, and now demoted from his role as chief superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, returns to work as head of homicide, reporting to his one-time protégé and now son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Against the turbulent background of a Quebecois spring, as the rivers rise and threaten vast tracts of land, including Gamache's home in the township of Three Pines, Gamache investigates the disappearance of a young, pregnant woman, Vivienne Godin, whose body is found in the river near Three Pines in the aftermath of the floods. Everyone is certain her violent and abusive husband killed her, and the case builds inexorably against him, it seems they are right. Armand Gamache is not sure. Can he solve this brutal and tragic killing as the world, almost literally, falls apart around him?

Disgraced after the events of the previous two books in the series, he has returned to his work as the head of homicide, unsupported by both opportunistic politicians and by his superiors. His return is greeted by a blizzard of social media criticism.

The Quebec landscape and climate play a large part in the narrative as snow and floods force the action along convoluted and sometimes dark routes. The whole complex structure builds up to a tense finale that puts both Gamache and Beauvoir in mortal peril.

Review:
Penny is an accomplished weaver of tales. What may, in stark recounting, seem unlikely – a remote township that is so remote it isn't on any maps and yet supports a thriving guest house, a gourmet bistro, a book store; is inhabited by the greatest poet and the greatest painter of the 21st century; and yet also has levels of crime rate that would make the law enforcement officials of Detroit or Ciudad Juárez wince – becomes believable in the context of her fictional world.

As the narrative moves forward, it is paralleled by the narratives of the familiar inhabitants of Three Pines. The focus this time is on the artist Clara Morrow, as social media attacks on her latest exhibition threaten to destroy her artistic career, another corpse to join the impressive cohort that Three Pines has accumulated; and on the poet Ruth Zardo and her response to this attack on Clara.

The success of Penny's fictional world lies not in its realism but in its use of tropes from myth and folklore. To criticise these books from a viewpoint that says 'This place is impossible,' or 'The police don't work like that,' is to miss the point. Accept it. Gamache is not a modern cop: he is a hero of myth and folktale. Three Pines is Tír na nÓg , it is Annwn, it is the sunless world, it is the land of the young. Anything can happen here, and does. There's no point in fighting it. Simply sit back and enjoy the ride.

Reviewed by: D.K.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jeffrey Archer - Nothing Ventured

"...Archer is always so wonderfully readable."

Synopsis:
William Warwick has always wanted to be a detective, and decides, much to his father's dismay, that rather than become a barrister like his father, Sir Julian Warwick QC, and his sister Grace, he will join London's Metropolitan Police Force.

After graduating from university, William begins a career that will define his life: from his early months on the beat under the watchful eye of his first mentor, Constable Fred Yates, to his first high-stakes case as a fledgling detective in Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques squad. Investigating the theft of a priceless Rembrandt painting from the Fitzmolean Museum, he meets Beth Rainsford, a research assistant at the gallery who he falls hopelessly in love with, even as Beth guards a secret of her own that she's terrified will come to light.

While William follows the trail of the missing masterpiece, he comes up against suave art collector Miles Faulkner and his brilliant lawyer, Booth Watson QC, who are willing to bend the law to breaking point to stay one step ahead of William. Meanwhile, Miles Faulkner's wife, Christina, befriends William, but whose side is she really on?

Review:
William Warwick is the fictional character as created and written by the fictional character, Harry from Archers' Clifton Chronicles. Are you still with me on this one? You don't have to have read the Clifton Chronicles as Archer is clever enough to make this series a springboard for any new reader.

We start with William's beginnings with the police force and his promotion to Scotland Yard, especially due to his studies on art and antiquities. His first case is to track down a Rembrandt and the sly Miles Faulkner.

I really enjoyed reading about Warwick, however I felt that after his visit to Monte Carlo, William sort of blended in to the background, rather than take centre stage, which was a shame. I did enjoy the courtroom dramas, especially the ones involving William's father and sister, but as I said, they seemed to push William out of the picture (pardon the pun!).

Having read Archer's usual fare, 'Nothing Ventured' is quite slight compared to his other books. Even though I enjoyed the cat and mouse case with Faulkner, I didn't really get to know the players in this drama. I hope that over time more will be revealed about these new characters. Regardless of my minor niggles, Archer as always is a fabulous teller of tales and if nothing else, Archer is always so wonderfully readable.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lee Child - Blue Moon

"‘Blue Moon’ is an excellent novel, told by a master storyteller."

Synopsis:
In a nameless city, two ruthless rival criminal gangs, one Albanian, the other Ukrainian, are competing for control. But they hadn't counted on Jack Reacher arriving on their patch.

Reacher is trained to notice things. He's on a Greyhound bus, watching an elderly man sleeping in his seat, with a fat envelope of cash hanging out of his pocket. Another passenger is watching too... obviously hoping to get rich quick.

As the mugger makes his move, Reacher steps in. The old man is grateful, yet he turns down Reacher's offer to help him home. He's vulnerable, scared, and clearly in big, big trouble.

What hold could the gangs possibly have on the old guy? Will Reacher sit back and let bad things happen? Or can he twist the situation to everyone's benefit?

Review:
When Reacher rolls into town, two things always happen, first of all bad people get what's coming to them, and second, a small part of our world has its moral compass reset.

'Blue Moon' is one of the more violent Reacher novels. In fact, I can't remember a previous Reacher story with such a high body count. Don't get me wrong, I loved the story and the action scenes as I always do, I just felt that other Reacher stories have been getting progressively less violent, Child has returned to battle with an unusual lust for blood.

The plot is as tight as you'd expect and bang up-to-date when you learn the final twist. All the reasoning is utterly spot on as always, and there's no mistaking the sparse prose and typical Reacher logic.

Reacher is as Reacher is, he's big, smart and utterly ruthless, although it was nice to see him lean on support characters for help a lot more than he usually does.

'Blue Moon' is an excellent novel, told by a master storyteller.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Scarrow and T.J. Andrews - Pirata

"... he (Scarrow) is simply a bloody good storyteller."

Synopsis:
It is AD 25. Pirate ships strike terror in the hearts of those who brave the seas of the Roman Empire.

When Telemachus joins the crew of the merchant ship Selene, he's glad to escape the rough streets of Piraeus. He knows little of the dangers of life at sea. Even past hardship has not prepared him for the terror on board when a pirate ship appears.

The fight is bloody, but the result is never in doubt. Then the victorious pirate chief, Bulla, offers the beaten men a cruel choice: join us, or die. After surviving a brutal initiation rite, Telemachus impresses his new captain with his resourcefulness and strength, and swiftly rises through the pirate ranks. But dangerous rivals talk of mutiny and murder. While Prefect Canis, notorious commander of the imperial fleet, is relentless in his pursuit of the pirate brotherhood. Could Telemachus be the man to lead the pirates and challenge Rome?

Review:
'Pirata' is the five novellas previously released as e-books in 2019 and now brought together in one book. Not having read these five e-books, I cannot say what extra has been brought to the book, if any.

There wasn't as great a sense of place as his 'Eagle of the Empire' series. However, one thing you can't take away from Scarrow is that he is simply a bloody good storyteller. The adventures of Telemachus may at times feel a little far-fetched, but isn't that what a story is all about? Telemachus is an orphan on the streets of Piraeus AD 25. This is his tale as he boards the Selene to sea. Bulla is the most memorable character in this drama. 'Pirata' is as with Scarrow's other books, quite cinematic so you can envisage it on the big screen. This is the opener as it were, and sets up the rest of the story. By the end you can see that we are not done with reading the adventures of Telemachus by a long stretch. 'Pirata' may not be his best, but it starts a series that promises much.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Felix Francis - Guilty Not Guilty

"‘Guilty Not Guilty’ is a gripping and entertaining read."

Synopsis:
This starts with a nightmare situation. If it's not bad enough to be told that your wife has died suddenly, you are then told that she has been strangled and, the final blow, you are the number one suspect! Bill Russell finds himself in this situation when he is fulfilling his duties as Volunteer Steward at the races at Warwick. Bill's reputation is quickly in tatters as his wife's brother spreads poisonous allegations against him. Many friends and even some family believe that Bill is responsible and this leads to the loss of confidence in his actuarial business. His only escape from the complete destruction of his life is to find the true killer.

Review:
In true Francis style, one calamity after another hits the hero hard, till you despair for him ever overcoming all and emerging at the other side. In this case the struggles are not purely physical onslaughts but are psychological attacks on the very reputation and life of the hero. Few people believe him and even friends forsake him in the belief that he is guilty. This is a true test of resilience.

There is some serious intrigue going on and the end has several unexpected twists and turns. I'm not a hundred per cent sure I liked the final twist, but I will say no more. Do read it for yourself and make your own decision. 'Guilty Not Guilty' is a gripping and entertaining read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martina Cole - No Mercy

"There is no stopping the Martina Cole juggernaut!"

Synopsis:
Diana Davis has been head of the family business since the death of her husband, an infamous bank robber. She's a woman in a man's world, but no one messes with her.

Her only son, Angus, is a natural born villain, but he needs to earn Diana's trust before she'll allow him into the business.

Once he's proved he has the brains to run their clubs in Marbella, he is given what he's always wanted. It's the beginning of a reign of terror that knows no bounds.

But Angus has a blind spot: his wife, Lorna, and their three kids, Angus Junior, Sean and Eilish. And as the next generation enters the business, Angus has a painful truth to learn. Even when it comes to family, he must show no mercy...

Review:
After a two year wait, we have a new Martina Cole novel to devour. As always, Cole does not disappoint as she brings us another sweeping saga of a crime family across the decades. Starting in the 80's, Diana Davis is a woman to be reckoned with. A widow with a young son, Angus who will one day take on her empire. He needs a tough guiding hand that only she can give her son. Despite Diana's best intentions, the apple never falls far from the tree and Angus is very much his old man. Impetuous and arrogant, which can be dangerous. However, he finds his niche in the clubs of Marbella.

Cole again takes us down dark alleyways and into the dark depths of the criminal mind. Her portrayal of those who feel they are indestructible and untouchable is sublime. Cole gives her characters body, they live and breathe on the page, but she is their creator and is not shy of dispatching them without a second glance… and by the end of the book there is a fair pile of bodies! As I write this 'No Mercy' has already shot to No.1! There is no stopping the Martina Cole juggernaut!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - The Guardians

"I am a big fan of John Grisham..."

Synopsis:
Twenty-two years ago, Quincy Miller was sentenced to life without parole. He was accused of killing Keith Russo, a lawyer in a small Florida town. But there were no reliable witnesses and little motive. Just the fact that Russo had botched Quincy's divorce case, that Quincy was black in a largely all-white town and that a blood-splattered torch was found in the boot of Quincy's car. A torch he swore was planted. A torch that was conveniently destroyed in a fire just before his trial.

The lack of evidence made no difference to judge or jury. In the eyes of the law, Quincy was guilty and, no matter how often he protested his innocence, his punishment was life in prison.

Finally, after 22 years, comes Quincy's one and only chance of freedom. An innocence lawyer and minister, Cullen Post, takes on his case. Post has exonerated eight men in the last ten years. He intends to make Quincy the next.

But there were powerful and ruthless people behind Russo's murder. They prefer that an innocent man dies in jail rather than one of them. There's one way to guarantee that. They killed one lawyer 22 years ago, and they'll kill another without a second thought.

Review:
The latest John Grisham legal thriller almost reads like the start of a new series of books. Cullen Post (a minister and a lawyer) along with his colleagues, Frankie (a former prisoner), Mazy and Vicki run a non-profit organisation to help the innocent who are on death row or incarcerated in prison for long sentences. The four are well-rounded characters, each with their own personalities and quirks. Several cases are tackled here for the busy four, some only briefly touched upon. At times I wondered whether this would have made a better anthology of short stories featuring these cases individually, and more in depth, rather than mere subplots to the main story. John Grisham has never written a series of books before (apart from the Theodore Boone series for younger readers) but Cullen Post, especially, is one who it would be interesting to meet again.

The story of Quincy Miller is loosely based on a true story (as is the character of Cullen Post and the business of The Guardians), and while Cullen fights for Miller's freedom and picks away at the meagre evidence that sentenced him and unravels the lies told during the trial, the solution seems rather too easy, especially when you read the lengths the original killers went to in order to frame Miller. There's a scene involving a bask of crocodiles that will make your blood run cold, but while that may have warned off a few people, they didn't do well when it came to hiding evidence. A chapter involving a supposedly cursed house seems like padding.

I am a big fan of John Grisham, and some of his earlier works are phenomenal. 'The Firm' is one of my favourite legal thrillers. However, while 'The Guardians' had some excellent ideas, and I did like the four protagonists, it didn't quite hit the mark of a truly gripping read. As usual with a Grisham novel, the text flows well, but the excitement and danger doesn't really take hold until after the halfway point when Miller is attacked in prison. Following that, the pace rachets up a notch to a satisfying, if rather obvious, conclusion.

I would like to read about Cullen Post and Frankie investigating another case. They made for an original double act, but they require a case that will stretch their intellect, put them in serious danger, and excite the reader.

Reviewed by: M.W.

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