Reviews

January 2020

Peter May - A Silent Death

"...the exciting finale leads to a satisfying conclusion."

Synopsis:
It is southern Spain, home to both British ex-pats looking to enjoy a sun filled retirement and others looking to escape from justice and living on their ill-gotten games. One of these, a certain Jack Cleland living as Ian Templeton, is caught up in a routine property check by the Spanish police and as a result watches his pregnant girlfriend die. He blames the policewoman, Cristina Sanchez-Pradeep, involved and vows to make her pay.

The investigation reveals the true identity of Jack Cleland and the British authorities send John Mackenzie of the National Crime agency to bring him back. John is an extremely talented man with language skills and maths degrees to prove it. He does, however have one fault: he has few people skills and is inclined to tell people exactly what his thoughts are, usually unfavourable.

Initially he and Cristina do not get on, but slowly he begins to appreciate her dedication to her job and to her family. She is devoted to her deaf/blind aunt, Ana, as well as her ill sister and husband and son. All possible targets for a vengeful Cleland.

The action winds up to an exciting climax on the Rock of Gibraltar.

Review:
One of Peter May's talents is the ability to produce characters who draw one into their lives. John Mackenzie is a new character with unusual skills and predictable faults. But I definitely wanted to know how he dealt with the problems life sent him and found him an endearing personality despite his flaws.

This is set in yet another part of the world that seems familiar to May and he has insight into the way of life and procedures there. Cristina is battling not only the malevolence of Jack Cleland but the attitude to women of many of her male colleagues. She also struggles with the care she gives to her ill sister and her multi-disabled aunt. Life continues to deal her blow after blow but she emerges the stronger at the end; another admirable character. After a corkscrew plot where Mackenzie cleverly second guesses Cleland, the exciting finale leads to a satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Humphrey Hawksley - Man On Ice

"...while reading the book, I could almost feel the biting cold... "

Synopsis:
This action thriller takes place during winter in the Diomede Islands in the Bering Sea, and in Washington DC. Little Diomede is in the USA, while Big Diomede is in Russia, with only 2.4 miles separating them.

A pregnant 15 year-old girl needs urgent medical attention, which is unavailable in Little Diomede. The Russians agree to take her to their hospital on Big Diomede by one of their helicopters. This is overseen by Dr Carrie Walker and her fiancé, Rake Ozenna, a native of Little Diomede and a soldier with the Eskimo Scouts. However, it soon turns out that this is a whole lot more that a humanitarian gesture - it is the start of an invasion of Little Diomede by Russia, which wants to claim the island as its own.

Meanwhile, in Washington, newly-elected Bob Holland is two days away from taking over from outgoing US president, Christopher Swain. High-powered crisis meetings are held which involves the British ambassador, Stephanie Lucas to decide on the appropriate action to take. Swain is a pragmatist and wants to hold fire, while Holland is gung-ho, and wants to bomb Russia. But the main question is: has this invasion been hatched in Moscow, or is it the work of a lone, ambitious, renegade Russian commander called Vitruk.

On Little Diomede, Ozenna has only two days to use all his military skills and tactics to avoid nuclear war.

Review:
Calling a thriller 'tense' and 'action-packed' may seem like another airing for three clichéd words, but in this case they are justified. Tensions between Russia and America move from the usual European front to the Bering Sea, where the two countries are no more than two miles and a half miles apart.

This is not a crime book. It is a good, old-fashioned thriller with an intriguing plot, well-drawn characters and ice-covered landscapes that test to breaking point the mettle of the protagonists. In fact, while reading the book, I could almost feel the biting cold, the driven snow and the labouring of the ice-covered helicopters. There is blood and guts aplenty, and Rake takes no prisoners as he carves his way onto Big Diomede. The dialogue in some places seemed strained however, but this can be forgiven when the action is relentless and time and the odds seem stacked against him. Double-dealing also plays its part in the plot, and a good many of the Americans and the Russians are not portrayed in a flattering manner. Whether the international plotting and posturing is as shown in the book is immaterial - this is fiction, and it adds to the book's appeal.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Rachel Sargeant - The Room Mates

"...Sargeant has more red herrings up her sleeve than a fish monger. "

Synopsis:
THEY LIVE IN YOUR HOUSE

University is supposed to be the best time of your life. But Imo's first week is quickly going from bad to worse.

YOU SHARE EVERYTHING

A stalker is watching her flat, following her every move, and Imo suspects that her new roommates are hiding dark secrets…

BUT DO YOU TRUST THEM?

When one of them suddenly disappears, the trauma of Imo's recent past comes hurtling back to haunt her. And she begins to realise just how little she knows about the people she lives with…

Review:
I always measure a good book on how I feel when I've finished and if I'd like to know what the surviving characters do next. If I'm thinking of them long afterwards, then it was definitely a book worth reading and recommending. 'The Room Mates' by Rachel Sargeant is one of those books.

Four students from different backgrounds are thrown together to share a flat at university. They each have their own quirks, backstories and oddities. When one of them goes missing, the others must work together to find out what happened to their new friend.

A story of students investigating a missing person could descend into Enid Blyton territory but Sargeant is too good a writer to give in to cliché. She has created four well-rounded and developed characters, all of whom you care for. They're confident yet vulnerable; happy yet suffering in silence. It's the complexities of the flesh and blood characters that gives 'The Room Mates' an exciting edge that will keep you reading long into the night.

Sargeant is a canny writer. She knows her market and she knows her readers. Fans of psychological thrillers know they're going to be wrong-footed and Sargeant has more red herrings up her sleeve than a fish monger.

The finale is breath taking and fraught with tension. It's human, raw, dark, and bloody brilliant.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

L.K. Chapman - Anything For Him

"‘Anything for Him’ managed to tie off all loose ends but also leave the reader with a cliffhanger..."

Synopsis:
Vulnerable and alone after the tragic loss of her parents Felicity finds herself in a relationship with volatile and troubled Jay.

Reluctantly drawn in to a twisted revenge plan against Jay's former best friend, Felicity soon becomes trapped, and as Jay turns increasingly controlling and abusive she questions everything he has told her about his past and his former girlfriend, Sammie. But when she wants to expose the truth she comes up against an even greater threat: Someone obsessed and dangerous. Someone who has always been in the background of Jay's life. Someone who will do anything for him.

Review:
'Anything For Him' exposes the violence that can happen in a relationship and how the level of violence grows from a small push here and there to extreme levels of abuse. The book doesn't shy away from any aspects of abuse that can be present in a relationship.

The timeline goes from present day Felicity and Jay, to back in time 11 years ago to when Jay was still at school and in a relationship with his ex, Sammie. Something happened when Jay was with Sammie, with Jay's old friend also being involved. As the story from the past unfolds, the level of violence increases in the present time.

At times I found the levels of violence hard to read, mostly because it happens to so many people every day. Chapman has constructed each of the characters well, detailing all of their flaws and vulnerabilities. 'Anything for Him' managed to tie off all loose ends but also leave the reader with a cliffhanger as this is the first book in a trilogy so there is lots more to come and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Paul Grzegorzek - Closer Than Blood

"...more twists and turns than a helter skelter on Brighton pier..."

Synopsis:
The real nightmare begins when the missing person returns…

PC Gareth Bell is about to arrest a cocaine dealer on Brighton Marina, when he makes a shocking discovery that turns his world upside down: the dealer is his long-lost brother, Jake, someone he thought had died years ago.

But their reunion is short lived. For Jake is on the run from a cold-blooded killer, whose network reaches all the way into the police force itself. Now that his brother's life is on the line, Bell has only two choices. Family or duty?

Review:
When you think of a crime fiction series set in Brighton you immediately think of the Roy Grace series by Peter James. He practically owns Brighton. It would take a very skilful writer to muscle in on the seaside town and set up home there. Step forward Paul Grzegorzek and PC Gareth Bell.

'Closer Than Blood' is filled with authenticity when it comes to police procedure and while that could slow the pace or become incredibly tedious, Grzegorzek maintains a punchy narrative throughout, making this second Gareth Bell novel one of the best page-turners of the year.

PC Gareth Bell is a man who has allowed his career to come first at the expense of his private life. While that is nothing new in the world of crime fiction, a glimmer of hope in a reconciliation with his ex-wife opens up great potential for future novels. Bell is a dedicated officer who isn't after glory, doesn't want to climb the promotional ladder, and is happy to remain a PC and catch criminals. He's an everyman, a family man, and that's what makes him so easy to connect with.

The pace of this race-against-time thriller is electric and, no word of a lie, I actually received a paper cut in my eagerness to get to the next page. With more twists and turns than a helter skelter on Brighton pier, this is a novel you won't dare put down until the final page.

For Paul Grzegorzek, this is a personal novel. Writers often write what they know, and Paul has thrown everything into this book. It's heartfelt and written with passion. I hope this series runs and runs.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ambrose Parry - The Art of Dying

"...an elegantly-written, totally readable book which had me reading into the wee small hours."

Synopsis:
It is 1849, and Will Raven has returned to Edinburgh after studying medicine in Europe. He comes back, however, under a cloud, as he has shot and killed a man in Berlin and the Edinburgh he left a few years before is not the Edinburgh to which he has returned. Dr James Simpson, to whom he was formerly apprenticed, is being falsely accused of causing the death of a patient, and Sarah, former housemaid in the Simpson household, is now married, even though Will had previously formed an emotional attachment to her.

Will and Sarah soon join forces to prove Dr Simpson's innocence. However, they also begin investigating a series of unexplained deaths in the city. They discover that they have been committed by a nurse called Mary Dempster (there is no secrecy about the perpetrator) who had been nursing the victims through an illness. But where is she? What poison did she use? And - most importantly - what is her motive? They enlist the help of Mary's sister, Martha and set out to find and stop her. Meanwhile, as a subplot, Dr Simpson has engaged the services of a secretary, James Quintin, to put his affairs in order, and he and Will soon clash.

Will and Sarah uncover the cause of the deaths, and the motive behind them- a motive that shocks them, and Dr Simpson, to the core?

Review:
Ambrose Parry is the pen name of Christopher Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. This is the second of the Will Raven novels, the first one having taken place in 1845. Once again, the feel and atmosphere of Victorian Edinburgh has been captured beautifully in a story that resonates with the great medical strides that were being made in Edinburgh at the time, and also resonates with the dark underbelly of a city where poverty and vice were rife. The novel's plotting is superb, and one of its more unusual joys is the fact that, throughout the book there are short chapters written by Mary Dempster herself.

And as with the last book, many of the characters are real historical figures. Dr James Simpson did indeed live and practise at 52 Queen Street, and was falsely accused of causing the death of a patient, one of the accusers being Dr James Matthews Duncan. And James Quintin was indeed Simpson's secretary.

This is an elegantly-written, totally readable book which had me reading into the wee small hours.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Abir Mukherjee - Death in the East

"A vividly drawn and clever book that will transport you to India..."

Synopsis:
Captain Sam Wyndham, of Calcutta CID, erstwhile of the Metropolitan police, is undergoing a cleansing treatment to rid him of his opium habit, acquired since his move to India. He is in an ashram in the hills. On his way up there he sees a man from his past whom he believed to be dead. He is greatly shocked as it brings back unwelcome memories of a past love and guilty thoughts of how he let her down.

Over the worst of the cure, Sam is recuperating in the local community and knows that the man he remembers, now a wealthy and powerful figure, is planning to kill him. Sam calls for his sergeant , Surendreneth Banargee, to come and help him. Having survived a murderous attack Sam and Suren go to confront the perpetrator only to find him already dead.

The District Superintendent puts Sergeant Banargee in charge of the investigation as an unbiased figure, thus ruffling a few local feathers at the intrusion of a native.

Review:
This latest book in the series breaks new ground as we learn a little more of Sam's past in England.The two time frames are cleverly inter-related and work to break up the description of Sam's struggles with the withdrawal from opium.The emergence of the opposition to the Raj and the waning of the ultimate respect given to the ruling British is cleverly described and highlighted by the emergence of Surendreneth as a power in his own right. By the end of the book he is no longer Surrendernot to Wyndham but given the dignity of his own name. He also feels able to challenge Sam on questions of authority. Likewise Sam recognises the intelligence and strength of his sergeant.

The lingering attitudes and power of the British in India are clearly described, together with the growing unease and spread of a spirit of independence in the land. A vividly drawn and clever book that will transport you to India within a few pages.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mike Ripley - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

"...Ripley writes with such passion, enthusiasm and respect for these thriller writers..."

Synopsis:
WINNER OF THE HRF KEATING AWARD FOR BEST NON-FICTION CRIME BOOK 2018

An entertaining history of British thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed, in which award-winning crime writer Mike Ripley reveals that, though Britain may have lost an empire, her thrillers helped save the world.

From Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean in the 1950s through Desmond Bagley, Dick Francis, Len Deighton and John Le Carré in the 1960s, to Frederick Forsyth and Jack Higgins in the 1970s.

Review:
I admit that this is an area I am unfamiliar with, although I have read a few thrillers in my time by the likes of Gavin Lyall and John Bingham plus others. These were all during my informative years, when I read anything and everything I could get my hands on! I can't explain why I haven't ever read any Alistair MacLean books, although with his books currently being re-issued, that is a wrong I need to right.

What is charming about this book is that Mike Ripley writes with such passion, enthusiasm and respect for these thriller writers, many of whom you may not have heard as despite being big names in their time, they have become forgotten with the decades. Ripley's love for this genre is apparent and you can still feel the schoolboy admiration for these thriller writers. There are plenty here I haven't heard of, but I will be amending that very soon. With a foreword by Lee Child, this will be perfect for anyone who loves a thrilling read from the archives. Be prepared to part with serious money as your TBR pile gets larger!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Michael Robotham - Good Girl, Bad Girl

"I enjoyed this book from start to finish..."

Synopsis:
A young girl is discovered hiding in a secret room, filthy, malnourished and living with a dead body. No one can find any information on her, and she won't talk, who is she and where has she come from?

Jump to six years ahead, still unidentified and with no one coming forward for her, she is living in a secure children's home and renamed Evie Cormac. Claiming to be eighteen and wanting to be released as an adult sees her meet forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven who is brought in to determine her fate.

In the midst of this, Cyrus is involved in investigating the murder of high school student, Jodie, who dies under suspicious circumstances on a lonely footpath close to home. With a tragic past of his own, Cyrus and Evie's lives are brought together, and he strives to solve the cases of both girls, living and dead, but at what cost?

Review:
I enjoyed this book from start to finish as there is a cloud of mystery surrounding Evie and Cyrus. Both of them have suffered with such dark pasts, I just love how the author brought these troubled souls together and lets us watch how it plays out. As a reader, I felt intrigued by them and how they both have led their lives on from what they have dealt, as well as the present day with Cyrus' drive to help her and the bond this creates between them.

Cyrus has this old school nature about him, with him living in his grandparents crumbling house, the lack of phone and only a pager for contact. Which, actually I think Evie needs when being welcomed back into the real world, this eased her into reality without all the wonders of technology and fanciness. As a pairing they balanced each other out, which I found fascinating to keep reading about.

From this, I thought Robotham had created a great side story that splits and runs in parallel to the main event. Aside from the actual crime itself, there were still so many twists and secrets to uncover. Throughout the storyline I had my suspicions to who might be the killer, which changed consistently, I only really realised clues as they were being uncovered in the story. And I did not guess it, even with some obvious hints.

I loved 'Good Girl, Bad Girl' for the relationship Robotham created with Cyrus and Evie, and can't wait to see what the Cyrus Haven series has in store, hopefully delving deeper into Evie's and Cyrus's past and bringing them back together.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Leona Deakin - Gone

"...an easy read and quick to get into..."

Synopsis:
Four strangers are missing. Left at their last-known locations are birthday cards that read:

YOUR GIFT IS THE GAME.
DARE TO PLAY?

The police aren't worried – it's just a game. But the families are frantic. As psychologist and private detective, Dr Augusta Bloom delves into the lives of the missing people, she finds something that binds them all… and that something makes them very dangerous indeed.

As more disappearances are reported and new birthday cards uncovered, Dr Bloom races to unravel the mystery and find the missing people.

But what if, this time, they are the ones she should fear?

Review:
'Gone' started really well and I was hooked. Bloom and Jameson work together as private investigators and are soon asked to help find a friend's mum who has gone missing. As the investigation continues it seems this is not the only person who has disappeared and the total number becomes clearer.

The premise for this plot seems really good. Ordinary people being drawn into playing a game in which no one really knows what the rules or stakes are, but as the story continues I found it to become more and more unlikely and unrealistic.

The book could have done so much more and been so much less predictable but the author played safe and there was no big reveal at the end.

The story was well written and the main characters were both interesting and likeable. But I missed having a book that had lots of twists and red herrings. 'Gone' is an easy read and quick to get into, but for me was missing any real suspense or intrigue.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Lisa Jewell - The Family Upstairs

"A highly enjoyable read..."

Synopsis:
In a large house in London's fashionable Chelsea, a baby is awake in her cot. Well-fed and cared for, she is happily waiting for someone to pick her up.

In the kitchen lie three decomposing corpses. Close to them is a hastily scrawled note. They've been dead for several days. Who has been looking after the baby? And where did they go?

Two entangled families and a house with the darkest of secrets.

Review:
I am always a sucker for a rambling house where deaths have occurred decades ago. With 'The Family Upstairs' there is something slightly Barbara Vine about the scenario that Jewell conjures here – a cross between 'A Fatal Inversion' and 'The House of Stairs', and although not on Rendell's acute psychological level, Lisa Jewell does deliver an enjoyable story.

Jewell weaves three different strands to tell her story, which to begin with could be a little confusing and I wasn't entirely bought on Lucy's story, despite it tying in with the other two. Jewell takes us back to Chelsea in the late '80s/early '90s which was really enjoyable and to be honest I would have liked to read more about the disintegration of this household in Chelsea which had once been one of the jewels of Cheyne Walk.

Out of all who populate Jewell's book, Henry was the most enigmatic and interesting. This is a slow burner to start with, but once it gains momentum, I really couldn't put it down. There is no major twist, but a satisfying ending to a sad series of events. A highly enjoyable read that will keep you entertained till the final page.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Mike Ripley - Mr Campion's Farewell

"...a welcome addition to the canon of the late Margery Allingham. "

Synopsis:
It is 1969. and Albert Campion, now in his mature years, is visiting the small Suffolk town of Lindsay Carfax, purportedly to visit his artist niece, Eliza Jane Fitton. The real reason for his visit, however, is to investigate, on behalf of Detective Superintendent Charles Luke, the mysterious activities of a group of nine people known as The Carders, who run Lindsay Carfax. He soon discovers there are mysteries aplenty in this once a prosperous wool town. Why does the number 'nine' feature so prominently? Why did the local school teacher Lemuel Walker disappear for nine days, only to return, unwilling to talk about what happened to him? What of the underground tunnels connecting various buildings? What of two archaeology students who were killed, or possibly murdered, in the town while on a dig? And what about the 'Humble Box', invented in the town in the 18th century, and which is supposed to accurately predict the weather?

Campion soon discovers that his snooping isn't appreciated. During a shoot someone deliberately peppers his backside with shot. After spending a few days in hospital, he takes himself off to the safety of his old college in Cambridge, from where he conducts his investigations. He sends his son, Rupert and daughter-in-law Perdita off to Monte Carlo to investigate Lady Prunella Redcar, originally from Lindsay Carfax, and what she is up to.

Everything gradually comes together and Campion returns to the village to reveal the truth of what has been going on.

Review:
This is a genuinely funny book, and a welcome addition to the canon of the late Margery Allingham. It is superbly plotted, and the depiction of Albert Campion as a laid-back, genial soul with a gift for convoluted erudition, is superbly offset by the obvious sharpness and shrewdness of his mind.

The plot is ingenious. The identity of the people belonging to the Carders is apparent almost from the start of the book, which detracts in no way from the underlying mystery surrounding the village. Campion's dialogue is laugh-out-loud at times, and his wife's unsympathetic reaction to her husband's various misfortunes is written in such a way that you sense the genuine affection they have for each other.

If you are looking for a genuine English village mystery without the usual clichés that accompany the genre, this is for you. Do some of incidents in the book veer towards the highly-unlikely? Yes, they do - and this too, is part of the book's appeal. I loved it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating: