February 2019

Elly Griffiths - The Stone Circle

"The Ruth Galloway series is, by far, my favourite crime series."

DCI Nelson has been receiving threatening letter telling him to 'go to the stone circle and rescue the innocent who is buried there'. He is shaken, not only because children are very much on his mind, with Michelle's baby due to be born, but because although the letters are anonymous, they are somehow familiar. They read like the letters that first drew him into the case of The Crossing Places, and to Ruth. But the author of those letters is dead. Or are they?

Meanwhile, Ruth is working on a dig at the Saltmarsh - another henge known by the archaeologists as the stone circle - trying not to think about the baby. Then bones are found on the site, and identified as those of Margaret Lacey, a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared thirty years ago.

As the Margaret Lacey case progresses, more and more aspects of it begin to hark back to that first case of 'The Crossing Places', and to Scarlett Henderson, the girl Nelson couldn't save. The past is reaching out for Ruth and Nelson, and its grip is deadly.

Visiting Oxford and you think of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse. Edinburgh has Ian Rankin's John Rebus imbedded in its soul. Elly Griffiths has claimed Norfolk and shall forever be assimilated with Dr Ruth Galloway.

'The Stone Circle' is the eleventh novel in the Ruth Galloway series and there really is no sign of author Elly Griffiths running out of steam. In fact, they get better with each one as the regular characters grow and evolve.

These novels are multi-layered. They're modern crime fiction but could also be historical crime, and a slow burning love story between Ruth (who I'm genuinely in love with myself) and DCI Harry Nelson. These two characters are wonderfully created. Their connection is organic and fresh. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have descended into soap opera melodrama, but Elly is one step ahead. I feel like she is teasing the reader, drop feeding them little crumbs of hope that Ruth and Harry will be together, before sweeping them up again.

The main plot of 'The Stone Circle' revolves around a missing girl and a kidnapped baby. It's as dark and as grim as the marshes in winter, but with touches of humour and charming characters like David Clough and Cathbad to provide light relief, Griffiths manages to maintain a steady pace and not let the reader get too bogged down in the grim reality of such a disturbing crime.

The plot twists and turns to a jaw-dropping climax you won't see coming. The Ruth Galloway series is, by far, my favourite crime series.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Hanna Jameson - The Last

"A captivating thriller and one that will be difficult to be beaten this year. Remarkable."

The world has ended. Twenty survivors remain in a hotel. One of them is a killer.

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilisation, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia, and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn't ignored Nadia's last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon's hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive. Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It's clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

It may only be January but 'The Last' is possibly the finest thriller of 2019. This is a tense, dramatic and thoughtfully written novel, that, in the current political climate, could come frighteningly true.

'The Last' is the first Hanna Jameson novel I've read but it won't be the last. Her style of writing is unparalleled as she describes a dystopian world following a nuclear war. She focuses on the survivors; a disparate group thrown together to face an uncertain future. The reader is as much in the dark at the events leading up to the first bomb blast as the characters, and that's what gives the book its weight. Suspicion, paranoia, horror, shock. All the extremes of emotion are felt on every single page.

Told through the eyes of one survivor, historian Jon Keller, we meet the other residents and staff of the hotel and ask the question of which one of them could have murdered the young girl found in the water tank.

The desperation of the survivors, their fear, panic and dread of the unknown is perfectly captured by Jameson. When a small group have to leave the hotel to search for supplies I was genuinely fearful for their safe return, as if I was reading a true-life document. This is fiction but written with heart-stopping reality.

As the book crackles along at an electrifying pace, the tension mounts as cabin fever and paranoia sets in, and there are some truly shocking moments as a once civilised world is forced to rely on basic instinct rather than technology.

I cannot praise this book enough. A captivating thriller and one that will be difficult to be beaten this year. Remarkable.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lizzy Barber - My Name Is Anna

"‘My Name is Anna’ is an excellent read that comes highly recommended."

Anna has been taught that virtue is the path to God. But on her eighteenth birthday she defies her Mamma's rules and visits Florida's biggest theme park.

She has never been allowed to go – so why, when she arrives, does everything seem so familiar? And is there a connection to the mysterious letter she receives on the same day?

Rosie has grown up in the shadow of the missing sister she barely remembers, her family fractured by years of searching without leads. Now, on the fifteenth anniversary of her sister's disappearance, the media circus resumes in full flow, and Rosie vows to uncover the truth.

But will she find the answer before it tears her family apart?

Rosie lives at home with her parents and brother. Her sister has been missing for 15 years since being taken at a theme park when on holiday.

The book goes from Rosie to Anna, both telling their stories and how the events have affected them and their lives. Barber really manages to capture the emotion felt by both families and the despair they are feeling.

Anna's mother is very puritan and lacking any emotion or affection. Whilst she isn't a pleasant character, once the story unfolds there is almost some understanding of why she behaves in this manner. The plot builds with more characters and threads being introduced giving depth and substance to both the characters and the story that is being told. Barber has spent as much time and focus on delivering an exciting story line as she has on characters that as a reader you are rooting for, and actually care what happens to them.

The two girls' stories start on their own, slowly they begin to get closer and closer until they finally converge in a dramatic climax. 'My Name is Anna' is an excellent read that comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Victoria Selman - Blood For Blood

"There’s no doubt about it – ‘Blood for Blood’ is a gripping thriller."

It's rush hour in London. Former Special Forces profiler, Ziba Mackenzie, is on a packed commuter train that's torn apart in a collision. Picking through the carnage, she finds a dying woman, whose last words reveal a cryptic message.
Meanwhile, a body is found, bearing all the hallmarks of a serial killer case that's been dormant for twenty-five years. But what has brought the London Lacerator back after such a long hiatus? Now working as an Offender Profiler, MacKenzie is drawn into the hunt for the killer.
The more she uncovers about the Lacerator's latest victims, the more Ziba realises his killings are - somehow - linked to the dying woman's last words.

There's no doubt about it – 'Blood for Blood' is a gripping thriller. Tense and tightly plotted, the novel grips you from the opening pages.

As a profiler, Ziba automatically makes assessments of the other passengers. These observations add to the growing tension as the train hurtles through the underground tunnels. When the explosion happens, it's dramatic. Selman's description is so good, you could almost imagine she's experienced something like this first hand. It's a cracking opener for a nail-biting thriller that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.

As the body count builds up, it becomes clear to Ziba that the Lacerator's crimes are inextricably linked to the dying woman's final words.

'Blood for Blood' is the first in a proposed series of novels featuring Ziba Mackenzie. She's certainly a strong enough character to carry a series. Like all the best protagonists, she's got her own issues to deal with - coping with the death of her husband, and trying to ignore the growing attraction she feels to his best friend. It's just the right amount of human interest to make you care enough about Ziba to want to see what happens next. There are also enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing - right up until the final pages.

Apart from a few coincidences too many, 'Blood for Blood' is a great start to what promises to be a cracking new series.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Oswald - Cold As The Grave

"The McLean series is going from strength to strength..."

Her mummified body is hidden in the dark corner of a basement room, a room which seems to have been left untouched for decades. A room which feels as cold as the grave.

As a rowdy demonstration makes its slow and vocal way along Edinburgh's Royal Mile, Detective Chief Inspector Tony McLean's team are on stand-by for any trouble. The newly promoted McLean is distracted, inexplicably drawn to a dead-end street ... and a door, slightly ajar, which leads to this poor girl's final resting place.

But how long has she been there, in her sleep of death? The answers are far from what McLean or anyone else could expect. The truth is far more chilling than a simple cold case...

The Tony McLean series is unique that is mixes crime fiction with a hint of the supernatural. The ninth book in the best-selling series is the darkest yet and one that ramps up the involvement of something other-worldly.

James Oswald is in a league of his own as a thriller writer. He has a wonderful turn of phrase and his style of writing is reminiscent of Ian Rankin and the late Reginald Hill. His prose is tight and expertly written; a true wordsmith.

'Cold As The Grave' is a timely novel as it focuses on Syrian refugees, illegal immigrants and how they are exploited when they arrive in a first world country. The treatment they receive is sad but is very real in a seemingly selfish society. It is this angle Oswald has used that makes this book a standout. Fiction is always best when there is an element of truth to it.

The crimes are incredibly dark as two forgotten children are found brutally murdered. Oswald doesn't shy away from their suffering and what is difficult to read is sensitively portrayed by an intelligent writer.

Tony McLean, newly promoted to DCI, is adjusting to his new status, and not enjoying the paperwork side of his role. He takes the case to heart which almost costs him greatly. We see a softened McLean in this novel. He's sympathetic and caring.

The McLean series is going from strength to strength and the supporting characters are just as welcome as the protagonist. He needs Emma, Madame Rose, Dexter, Harrison and Dalgliesh to bounce off and give the stories a sense of reality to them.

I hope there are many more McLean novels to come. It is definitely a superior crime series.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Candice Fox - Gone By Midnight

"I didn’t want to put this book down. "

On the fifth floor of the White Caps Hotel, four young boys are left alone while their parents dine downstairs.

But when one of the parents checks on the children at midnight, they discover one of them is missing.

The boys swear they stayed in their room. CCTV confirms that none of them left the building. No trace of the child is found.

Now the hunt is on to find him, before it's too late – and before the search for a boy becomes a search for a body.

'Gone By Midnight 'continues the series of books featuring Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell. Conkaffey is ex-police, leaving the force following his arrest and investigation into the abduction of a child. Although the accusations were unfounded, Conkaffey has struggled since as mud has a habit of sticking. He now works as a private investigator with his work partner Amanda Pharrell. Amanda is a very unique character and I was unsure as to whether I should like, admire, fear or pity her. With a lot of emotional baggage, which isn't completely explained, she has a knack of upsetting people with her lack of filter.

Ted is portrayed as an easy-going man who has been dealt a pretty rough hand. Trying to salvage what is left of his life but without too much self-pity.

Along with the hunt to find Richie, Conkaffey is fighting his battle to try and lead a normal life and Pharrell is trying to avoid one of the members of the police force who blames her for the death of their partner. All threads overlap and blend well together giving a good mix of both the investigation and personal sides of the characters. Mention was made of previous cases within the book and although I was able to get enough information to work out what had happened I do feel that if I had read the books in order the better understanding would have allowed me to enjoy the book more.

From reading the synopsis I wasn't excited about reading 'Gone By Midnight', but the synopsis missed out so much of what made the book for me. I didn't want to put this book down. Not only did I want to know what had happened to Richie. but I also wanted to know about the other characters. Really well written with interesting characters. I am looking forward to the next instalment.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Jewell - Then She Was Gone

"I was very much intrigued by this novel..."

It's been ten years since Laurel's fifteen-year old daughter Ellie disappeared. Her golden girl, her reason for being – gone. There have been no leads, no answers to her questions, no ideas she can cling to for ten long years.

After years of passing through life Laurel meets charming and outgoing Floyd, who puts that sparkle back into her life. Before too long she is staying the night and introduced to his nine-year old, Poppy – a curious yet delightful child who Laurel can't take her eyes off of. Because Poppy is Ellie or at least her double, she's sure of it.

The questions of ten years past come flooding back, and the past that she has been trying to bury just won't stay behind her. It's time for her to get some answers, what happened to Ellie? Why does Poppy look so much like her? And what secrets is she missing?

I was very much intrigued by this novel; there were several elements to it with questions of why and how these characters are connected, which I couldn't wait to find out. Jewell brilliantly splits this novel into several different points of view, from Laurel, Noelle, Floyd and Ellie with each character offering up their own take on events. There was always something more to find out from each of these characters, their motivations, motives and decisions.

For most of this novel we, the reader, already know what's happened and we're waiting for the characters to catch up. What was insightful was when we reached the character involved we were able to understand their reasons why, and what pushed them to take these actions. Even if they weren't necessarily the right ones. Although there was an occasion when I made the assumption that I knew why or what the next move would be until I reached that character's point of view and they surprised me entirely.

Relationships play a crucial part in this novel, your own knowledge, as well as the characters, belief in some of the characters relationships are tested. Much like the characters, what you think you know about another person and how close they think they are, you can never really tell. From their introduction into the novel you can sense that there is something not quite right about Poppy and Floyd, like Laurel who has spent years of trying to find her in people, you convince yourself there just can't be a connection at all.

The ending for me was very eerie, for some it could appear as a sense of closure, but it is very much hidden behind what if's and a failed sense of hope.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lucy Clarke - You Let Me In

"Perhaps not as fast-paced as other books, but a steady burner."

Nothing has felt right since Elle rented out her house...

I'M IN YOUR HOUSE: There's a new coldness. A shift in the atmosphere. The prickling feeling that someone is watching her every move from the shadows.

I'M IN YOUR HEAD: Maybe it's all in Elle's mind? She's a writer – her imagination, after all, is her strength. And yet every threat seems personal. As if someone has discovered the secrets that keep her awake at night.

AND NOW I KNOW YOUR SECRET: As fear and paranoia close in, Elle's own home becomes a prison. Someone is unlocking her past – and she's given them the key.

Set from Elle's perspective in the present and with flashbacks to Elle's past, 'You Let Me In' manages to pull you in from the start. Based in Cornwall, Elle's house is the perfect writers retreat with a beautiful sea view and extensively modelled inside. So, with money an issue, renting out her house via AirBnB seemed like a good idea. But when the guests have left the house, Elle is left with a feeling that something isn't right. Personal items have gone missing from the house and she is convinced someone is following her movements. Paranoia sets in leaving Elle distrusting everyone and questioning their motives. With insomnia intensifying her paranoia Elle's life slowly begins to unravel.

Plenty of characters, all with an air of suspicion, are introduced as the plot continues, giving the reader plenty of opportunity to work out who is rooting for Elle to fail.

Midway through the book I thought I knew who was terrorising Elle and was disappointed to find I was correct as I was hoping to be surprised. I also found some of the flashbacks unnecessary. Although at the time they added intrigue, once the full story was told I would question the relevance of the sub-plot.

With the more disappointing parts out of the way, 'You Let Me In' was a very easy book to read. With characters having depth, a protagonist you could relate to and a plot full of intrigue and suspense, this was a book I had to finish. Perhaps not as fast-paced as other books, but a steady burner.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Emma Rowley - Where The Missing Go

"The story started slowly but soon picked up pace leaving me unable to put the book down. "

My name is Kate. I volunteer at a missing persons helpline - young people who have run away from home call me and I pass on messages to their loved ones, no questions asked. I don't get many phone calls, and those I do are usually short and vague, or pranks.

But today a girl named Sophie called. I'm supposed to contact her parents to let them know their child is safe.

The problem is, Sophie isn't safe… and Sophie is my daughter.

So, the synopsis sounded promising. A teenage girl who was missing from home and a mum who believed there was more to her daughter's disappearance and refused to give up searching.

The story in the first half is written from Kate's perspective and details her day to day struggles of coping with life since Sophie left. As the book continues, suspects are written into the plot, with a few red herrings thrown in along the way. Although the ending is a little predictable, the read itself is fast-paced, well-written and enjoyable.

Although it is known that Sophie is alive as she has called the missing persons hot line, it is not until the second half of the book that how and why she left is revealed. Again, some of the clues that Kate deciphered are somewhat far-fetched and felt a little too convenient.

The story started slowly but soon picked up pace leaving me unable to put the book down. Stick with it, as this is a really enjoyable read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Gardner - Never Tell

"An interesting enough plot if somewhat unbelievable..."

One death might be an accident. Two deaths look like murder.

A man is shot dead in his own home, and his pregnant wife, Evie, is found with the gun in her hands.

Detective D.D. Warren instantly recognises her. Sixteen years ago, Evie also shot her own father. That killing was ruled an accident.

D.D. doesn't believe in coincidences. But this case isn't as open and shut as it first appears, and her job is to discover the truth.

Evie might be a victim. Or she might be about to get away with murder again.

Investigating the case is DD Warren, one of Gardner's regular characters. In fact, Gardner has three of her regular characters featuring in the book as DD is assisted by abduction survivor Flora Dane and FBI Agent Kimberley Quincey.

Whilst I like getting to know regular characters in any book, for some reason I can't get to like Flora Dane. Surviving her abduction and torture she is now struggling to integrate with life and has become a vigilante to help other victims. Gardner constantly flits back to snapshots of when Flora was with Jacob Ness, but these seem to serve little purpose. Flora's story has already been told and I don't get why there are still constant references to a story that has been told.

Written from the perspective of the three main characters, 'Never Tell' builds a web of deceit and mystery. With much of the investigation taking place on the dark web, DD and Flora work together with Quincey to investigate the murder of Evie's husband and also the death of her father all those years ago.

I found the book a little bit of a slow burner with it taking some time for the story to really get going. An interesting enough plot if somewhat unbelievable and also repetitive at times.

Gardner used to be one of my 'go to' authors but her introduction of Flora Dane has taken away a lot of my enjoyment of her books.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Ghost

"...the usual blend of dialogue, fascinating characters and an intriguing mystery."

Why was Inspector Lognon, married to a sick wife to whom he was devoted, sometimes sharing a fourth-floor apartment on Avenue Junot with a beautiful woman called Marinette Augier? And why was he shot as he left the apartment one night? Now lying in critical danger in hospital, he is unable to offer any explanation. But Maigret knows him as a conscientious, hard-working policeman, even though he had a 'talent for attracting misfortune'.

Maigret soon discovers that Lognon was not having an affair but was, in fact, staking out an apartment on the opposite side of the avenue from Marinette's apartment. He was doing it on his own initiative, so no one knew about it. Which apartment was he staking out? And why? Maybe Marinette Augier can help? But there is a complication: She's disappeared. Maigret calls on Norris Jonker, a rich, arrogant art collector who lives in a grand apartment across from Marinette's apartment with his beautiful wife Mirella, who was formerly married to a ball-bearing manufacturer from Manchester. Is he involved? Is his wife? Maigret discovers a strange room in Jonker's house with a bed and the walls covered in graffiti. This leads him into the dark world of artistic arrogance, art forgery and money.

This is not a murder mystery, as Lognon has not been killed. However, it is a mystery (who shot him?) - and a satisfying one at that. The dialogue crackles, the characterisation is, as usual superb, and the seemingly simple plot keeps the reader guessing. One of the main characters in the book is not a person - it is Paris. Simenon almost always uses real locations (Avenue Junot actually exists) and Maigret's HQ - the Direction Régionale de Police Judiciaire de Paris on the Quai des Orfèvres - was, before 2017, where Parisian detectives worked from.

At 150 pages, this is, like all Maigret mysteries, not a long book. But within these 150 pages is the usual blend of dialogue, fascinating characters and an intriguing mystery.

Reviewed by: J.G..

CrimeSquad Rating:

Fiona Barton - The Suspect

"‘The Suspect’ is well written and really makes you feel for some of the characters. "

When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft, and frantic with worry. What were the girls up to before they disappeared?

Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth--and this time is no exception. But she can't help but think of her own son, whom she hasn't seen in two years, since he left home to go travelling.

As the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think.

Written from the perspective of Kate, one of the mothers of the missing girls and Alex, the story flits from different locations to timelines to tell the story of what happened to the girls and where they are now.

Not just covering the mystery of how the girls disappeared, 'The Suspect' also deals with the raw emotions and the different way the parents deal with their missing daughters. The book also shows how ruthless and tenacious the press is to get a story, in some way forgetting they are dealing with real people. Kate herself always seems to be a reporter first and foremost and a mother second. Despite having no contact with her son for some time she makes no real effort to locate him where he is now living in Thailand. Yet when there is a story that two your girls have gone missing, Kate is on the first plane to Bangkok to investigate. This kind of explains why her son is estranged from her in the first place and leaves me with a lack of empathy for her.

This is a slow burner with the story not really taking off until at least half way through. There was no real explosive revelation at the end and it felt a little predictable. 'The Suspect' is well written and really makes you feel for some of the characters. An enjoyable, if not outstanding read.

Reviewed by: H.A.

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