Reviews

October 2020

Christopher Fowler - Oranges and Lemons

"‘Oranges and Lemons’ is...almost continually laugh-out-loud hilarious. "

Synopsis:
When we left our heroes last time, John May had just taken a bullet, Arthur Bryant had gone AWOL and the Peculiar Crime Unit had been axed in the shocking denouement to 'The Lonely Hour'. What can save the octogenarian sleuths now but a nursery rhyme that's even older than they are, synonymous with the church bells of the ancient city? First they toll for a rare bookshop in Bloomsbury that is torched to the ground, leaving the aroma of citrus in the air and a suicidal proprietor. Then, the controversial Speaker of the House of Commons steps out in the street facing St Clement Dane's church and is speared by a crate of oranges and lemons as a lorry appears to shed its load on top of him. Is his near-death experience a bizarre accident or fiendish design? Needing to keep the press out and the Speaker's secrets schtum, the Home Office – in the hipster form of Timothy Floris – decree there is only one outfit with the necessary unorthodox skills to find out. Summoned by bells, May rises from his hospital bed, Bryant emerges from a religious retreat, Raymond Land comes off gardening leave and the PCU HQ is saved from becoming an artisanal coffee shop.

Review:
'The Lonely Hour' was one of the darkest Bryant and May mysteries, infused with a sense of dread that London itself was changing beyond all recognition, becoming a steel and glass outer shell of vacant oligarch-owned luxury flats atop a nightmarish, teeming underworld of the dispossessed. Now that we find ourselves in a dystopian future nobody predicted, 'Oranges and Lemons' is, by contrast, almost continually laugh-out-loud hilarious. Like his heroes, Fowler draws deep from adversity, and the case he has conjured out of this portentous rhyme arrives with breathtaking timing. Having outwitted death and their detractors, Bryant and May now face-off their most dangerous, shape-shifting opponent yet – one who appears to have the power to act beyond the limitations of any kind of Earthly law. Fresh help comes to the PCU in the form of the luxuriantly bearded Floris and still younger, work experience protégée Sidney Hargreaves, who is proud of her gender-fluid name and seems to have a bead on Bryant. The constant fun of this wonderful and pertinent novel is how Fowler squares up his two extraordinary elderly gentlemen against the thrusting woke world, constantly finding sources of reinvention and rediscovery from the fabric of the city he loves so well. (Old) boys keep ringing!

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Will Carver - Hinton Hollow Death Trip

"All his novels are original, fresh, and exciting."

Synopsis:
It's a small story. A small town with small lives that you would never have heard about if none of this had happened. Hinton Hollow. Population 5,120.

Little Henry Wallace was eight years old and one hundred miles from home before anyone talked to him. His mother placed him on a train with a label around his neck, asking for him to be kept safe for a week, kept away from Hinton Hollow. Because something was coming.

Five days in the history of this small rural town, when darkness paid a visit and infected its residents. A visit that made them act in unnatural ways. Prodding at their insecurities. Nudging at their secrets and desires. Coaxing out the malevolence suppressed within them. Showing their true selves. Making them cheat, steal and kill.

Detective Sergeant Pace had returned to his childhood home. To escape the things he had done in the city. To go back to something simple. But he was not alone. Evil had a plan.

Review:
The first two books in the Detective Sergeant Pace series, 'Good Samaritans' and 'Nothing Important Happened Today' are two wonderfully written and highly original works of crime fiction. You will read no other books like them. Will Carver is a dangerous writer as he creates the dark and frightening out of the ordinary. 'Hinton Hollow Death Trip' is narrated by Evil. It is such an inventive concept and in Carver's talented hands, this is a novel so dark, so creepy, so shocking, that even Stephen King would be envious not having written it himself!

Evil arrives in Hinton Hollow to create mayhem, but, as Evil himself tells us, are these dark deeds already there within people and he's just giving them a nudge to act them out? In a seemingly innocent town where everybody knows everyone else's name and business, where they all look forward to the wedding of two of its residents, and some even leave their doors unlocked, is malevolence, darkness, and murder already lurking in people's minds? This isn't just a novel for you to read, enjoy, then move onto the next one, it gets under your skin and makes you think. Does pure Evil truly exist?

There are some shocking and powerful scenes in 'Hinton Hollow Death Trip' and while writing about the depravities of humans, Carver could easily have descended into gore and slasher horror, but he's far too an intelligent writer for that. The scene in the woods at the beginning of the book is so beautifully realised that not only will it have you weeping for the characters, but it will send chills down your spine as the raw emotions of the survivors are revealed.

I cannot praise 'Hinton Hollow Death Trip' highly enough. He's a literate creative with a dark mind and the powers to pull off an epic novel of this stature. He's also unpredictable. A series can often be samey as a detective investigates a crime and all is right with the world by the final page. Don't expect that here. Carver is not a writer to be pigeon-holed. All his novels are original, fresh, and exciting. I wouldn't even try to guess where he's going next, but I'll be devouring every single word.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Steve Cavanagh - 50/50

"‘50/50’ is another astounding and jaw-dropping read from Cavanagh."

Synopsis:
Two sisters on trial for the murder of their father, Frank Avellino. They accuse each other. Who do YOU believe?

'911 what's your emergency?'

'My dad's dead. My sister Sofia killed him. She's still in the house. Please send help.'

'My dad's dead. My sister Alexandra killed him. She's still in the house. Please send help.'

One of them is a liar and a killer… but which one?

Review:
'50/50' is written from the perspective of Eddie and Kate (who is the lawyer from the opposing counsel), and there is also the third perspective which is that of the killer, although clues are given to either help identify the killer or give false leads to throw you off the scent. At different points I am convinced I know who the killer is, but knowing Cavanagh, he doesn't 'do' predictable plots so I am left waiting until the very end to find out who the murderer is.

Cavanagh has really hit gold with Eddie Flynn. He is slightly maverick and unconventional, without being so different that readers struggle to identify with him. As the series of books continue, the reader is able to get to know both him, and those close to him better.

50/50 has a great mix of well-established characters, a thrilling plot, some gruesome murders and a courtroom thriller all rolled into one. Despite each of Cavanagh's characters being completely different from each other, they all seem to work well together and leaves the reader rooting for them. It has been a while since we had our last Eddie Flynn, but it was well worth the wait and '50/50' is another astounding and jaw-dropping read from Cavanagh.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

K Ferrari - Like Flies from Afar

"The writing is precise, sharp and takes no prisoners."

Synopsis:
Lui Machi is an amoral, grotesquely greedy Argentinian who has earned his vast wealth through graft, corruption, extortion and crime. He flaunts his wealth to impress, is a cocaine addict, and looks upon women as mere sex objects to be used and then discarded. His pride and joy is a top-of-the range BMW, which, he is sure, draws envious looks from those who see him drive past.

Then, one day, a tyre blows, but when he looks in the boot for the spare, he finds something else - a bloody corpse, its face smashed to pulp and unrecognisable. Who could have put it there? Who is this person? Is someone trying to set him up on a murder charge? He has to do something quick - the main one being getting rid of the body. Then he sees that the body's hands are cuffed in distinctive pink handcuffs, which he always uses in his kinky encounters with women. If he dumped the body, this would surely link the body to him. So what is he to do? Over the next 24 hours he devises ways of dumping the body (one involving a hacksaw to cut off the hands), and eventually succeeds. As all this is going on, the narrative jumps to past encounters with people who bear him a grudge, and who may have placed the body in the boot.

Review:
(Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West)
K. Ferrari pulls no punches in this book. The opening scene is typical of the candour that permeates each page of this comedy noir. It is not for the faint-hearted or easily-offended. But it is, in many ways, a truthful book about a man who has everything, and cares not a jot about how he acquires it. At the same time, Lui is insecure, as the scene in the book where his car has a puncture illustrates. His security only comes from material things, and he worries about what passersby will think of a man with an expensive car with a burst tyre.

The writing is precise, sharp and takes no prisoners. Some people may look upon it as a commentary on capitalism and corruption, some may see it as a thriller, and some may see it as a whodunit. The last chapter is a beauty. Everything is explained. Or is it? The question is left open. Or then again indeed, is it? To me, it worked on all levels, and was unputdownable.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Lelic - The Search Party

"Lelic is a true master of the dark psychological thriller, and he’s becoming one of my firm favourite writers."

Synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Sadie Saunders is missing. Despite police efforts, led by Detective Robin Fleet who returns to his hometown to lead the investigation, there is no sign of her.

Five of Sadie's best friends decide to form a search party of their own. They know her. They know the woods where she was last seen. If anyone can find her, they can. As they set out, the five friends uncover the truths and lies of their missing friend.

These five are not just friends, they're suspects. And this is no ordinary search party… it's a witch hunt. And not everyone will make it home alive.

Review:
'The Search Party' is the first novel in an exciting new series featuring Detective Robin Fleet by Lelic who is a master in hooking the reader and drawing them into his work with atmospheric settings, well-drawn characters and tight prose.

'The Search Party' is an original piece. Mixed with the regular third person narrative we get the statements of the surviving members of the search party as they reveal what really happened in the search for their missing friend. But can they be trusted to tell the truth? What is everybody hiding? The book begins on the sixth day of the investigation, so the reader has missed the first five and we have a lot to catch up on that we only learn about through the eye-witness testimonies. This is a clever writing device that most writers wouldn't be able to execute, but Lelic has a reputation as a character-driven author. He knows how to create tension with a single line of dialogue.

Fleet isn't a maverick. He doesn't stand out as having the brain power of a Sherlock or Poirot and he's not a crossword loving opera buff. There are times when he doesn't seem like the central character. He's a regular man doing a regular job to the best of his ability. The story is the main character. The search for the missing girl and its aftermath takes centre stage and that is a brilliant hook to base a series on. We only learn about what the detective is really like through his work and how he conducts the investigation.

Fans of Lelic will know he is a talent in misdirection and misleading the reader into believe something is true only for you to sit up and gasp in the reveal and 'The Search Party' will make you do that. He's a demon for plot and detail and knows how to twist the knife. His writing is subtle, his characters real, his stories are genuine and while 'The Search Party 'has echoes of 'Stand By Me', he has added his own unique style. Lelic is a true master of the dark psychological thriller, and he's becoming one of my firm favourite writers.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Conway - The Stranger

"...a fast moving, thrilling, action packed rollercoaster of a book. "

Synopsis:
Jude Lyon is a MI6 officer currently enjoying using a Russian diplomat's wife in time honoured fashion to find out more about said Russian diplomat. His boss, known as The Queen Bee, then calls him back for a more important mission: trouble is brewing as a terrorist bomber sent to Syria for interrogation with the approval of the then Foreign Secretary has been busted from jail. If he talks it may appear that he in fact was never the terrorist, but a dupe put in place by the real dangerous bomber. Jude is sent to investigate what is happening and remove any embarrassing evidence. What he finds is an even more terrifying scenario. The original terrorist bomber is still alive and with plans that involve a devastating attack on the United Kingdom. This individual becomes known as The Stranger as no-one knows who he is and what are his motives. Highly trained and utterly ruthless he pursues his objectives with vicious and cold efficiency.

Jude is a cool customer who slowly, using past contacts and a keen intellect, works out the identity of the subject. With this knowledge and foolhardy bravery, he rushes to combat the disaster approaching London.

Review:
This is a fast moving, thrilling, action packed rollercoaster of a book. In the best tradition of spy thrillers our hero is supremely confident and able to overcome ridiculous odds to come out on top, albeit with a few casualties along the way. Great escapism, but with sufficient realism to make you think and also worry. For those with a moral compass this was not Britain's finest hour. As always, a little bit of insider knowledge goes down well. A highly exciting read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Vaseem Khan - Midnight at Malabar House

"...a gripping tale... "

Synopsis:
It is 1949, two years after the Sub-continent of India has been divided into Pakistan and India, and the eve of the election which will make India the largest republic in the world. Excitement and emotions are running high. It is at this moment that Inspector Persis Wadia, first female police detective, is in charge at Malabar House, home to those members of the Bombay police force who have blotted their copybook with the powers that be. As a woman. Persis faces opposition that ranges from disbelief that a woman could do the job, to obstruction as she tries to carry out her work, and ultimately to attempted sabotage of her career.

She is called to investigate a steaming hot potato - the murder of a prominent UK diplomat Sir James Herriot at a time when anti British feelings abound. The British connection means that she has to work with Scotland yard criminalist, Archie Finch. They have a rocky relationship but ultimately a positive one. Many secrets are at the heart of this murder and Persis is very persistent indeed in winkling out the truth.

Review:
I loved all Vaseem's previous books featuring Baby Ganesh. They were highly amusing as well as sources of surprising facts about present day India. This however, seems a more grown up offering. The impact of British imperialism, good and bad, is explored, and very relevant it is today in the current climate. The horrendous consequences of the partition in the Punjab is brought clearly to light and I found the evidence of the atrocities carried out by the different factions of the old India as well as the mistakes of the Raj all the more compelling because of the access the author has to those who were there.

The courage of his heroine and her sheer cussedness also rang a very modern bell. Many women in less violent situations today will recognise the attitudes. All in all a gripping tale if not so laugh out loud funny as the author's previous offerings.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Patterson and Adam Hamdy - Private Moscow

"It may be cold in Russia, but you’ll be sweating buckets with excitement."

Synopsis:
An invitation from an old friend draws Jack Morgan into a deadly conspiracy.

On a cold January morning, Jack Morgan stands inside the New York Stock Exchange with his former US Marine comrade whose company is being launched onto the market, eagerly awaiting the opening bell. But before the bell rings, a bullet rips through the air and finds its mark.
In the aftermath of the murder, the victim's wife hires Jack to find the killer. As the head of Private, Jack has at his disposal the world's largest investigation agency. What he discovers shakes him to his core.

Jack identifies another murder in Moscow that appears to be linked. So he heads to Russia, and begins to uncover a conspiracy that could have global consequences. With powerful forces plotting against him, will Jack Morgan make it out alive?

Review:
'Private Moscow' is a breath-taking rollercoaster of a book. I can tell you now that Adam Hamdy fits hand in glove with Patterson. Hamdy really understands the way Patterson's books feel, and it definitely shows and in fact, if anything, Hamdy has made it even better. Well, he has certainly made it more explosive! I can tell you now, once you crack open 'Private Moscow' you will need to hold on to your ushanka hat (fyi: the furry Russian hat), as this is one ride that will take you up, down, sideways, with the odd corkscrew thrown in for good measure. I don't know about poor Jack Morgan and his Private Moscow associates, but I was exhausted with all the running, jumping and fighting Jack and his colleagues went through in just under 450 pages! It may be cold in Russia, but you'll be sweating buckets with excitement. When Patterson gets it right, it is astounding and with Hamdy in the driving seat, Patterson has found a kindred spirit. Hamdy was channelling Patterson. This is one of those thrillers that you let all expectations go and simply enjoy the ride. I loved it and hope Hamdy is put in the driving seat again with Patterson. They make a great team.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John Grisham - Camino Winds

"There are echoes of the legal world Grisham is famous for..."

Synopsis:
When hurricane Leo threatens Florida's Camino islands, the Governor is quick to issue an evacuation order. Most residents flee but a small group of diehards decide to ride it out. Amongst them is Bruce Cable, proprietor of Bay Books in downtown Santa Rosa.

The hurricane is devastating: homes and condos are levelled, hotels and storefronts ruined, streets flooded, and a dozen people are killed. One of the victims is Nelson Kerr, a friend of Bruce's who wrote timely political thrillers. But evidence suggests that the storm wasn't the cause of Nelson's death – he had received several blows to the head.

Who would want Nelson dead? The local people are overwhelmed with the aftermath of the storm and in no condition to handle the case. Bruce begins to wonder if the shady characters in Nelson's novels were more fact than fiction. And somewhere on Nelson's computer is the manuscript of his new novels – could the key to the case be right there, in black and white? Bruce starts to look into it and what he finds between the lines is more shocking than any of Nelson's plot twists – and for more dangerous.

Review:
Grisham introduced us to bookseller and rare book collector Bruce Cable who had an enviable store in the glorious Florida sunshine. 'Camino Islands' was an engaging thriller into the murky world of first editions, private collections, original manuscripts, their worth and the lengths people will go to secure them for themselves. Bruce was shifty and conniving and made for an intelligent and challenging antagonist.

The follow up, 'Camino Winds', sees a very different Bruce Cable. He's not as sharp and devious as in the first book. He has doubts and is constantly asking questions whereas before he had all the answers. In the first book, Bruce was likeable in his Machiavellian ways, but he's become a mediocre shadow. And that's a great shame.

The plot of a writer being killed to cover up something he has written isn't original and although the story is incredibly dark and well-handled, with a few interesting twist and turns, it does tend to sag in the middle and the denouement isn't a surprise.

There are echoes of the legal world Grisham is famous for and had this story been used in a tradition trademark Grisham manner, it would have made for a gripping page turner, but Cable lacks the strength of an amateur detective and the introduction of student bookseller Nick as an amiable sidekick lacked depth.

As enjoyable as the crime and the discovery was, I think two books featuring Bruce Cable is more than enough and I look forward to Grisham returning to the court room.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

David Hewson - A Season for the Dead

"...a fast-paced denouement that grips the reader..."

Synopsis:
Sara Farnese, an expert in early Christianity, is in the Vatican reading room during a searing heat wave, studying a 10th century copy of a Roman cookery book. Not her usual reading matter, but she wants to make an authentic Roman meal for her lover, Hugh Fairchild, who is arriving from London that day. But at that point a crazed professor bursts into the reading room and throws something on the desk before her. It is the skin of a human being - that self-same Hugh Fairchild. The professor is then shot dead by a member of the Swiss Guard.

This is the beginning of a spate of murders in Rome. Nic Costa, a young police detective, is brought in to investigate. Soon Rome is gripped by a series of murders, each death mimicking the death of a Christian martyr, and Nic, to begin with, appears out of his depth. Meanwhile, corrupt Cardinal Michael Denney, who lives in the Vatican, is discovering that the church is about to disown him. He is a womaniser and a manipulator of vast sums of illegal money, and he is on his way out.

Nic soon discovers that Sara is the key to the whole spate of murders, as she knew all the victims. Will she too become a victim?

Review:
This is the first in the Nic Costa crime books, and was previously published in 2004. The book is not a whodunit, as the name of the murderer, and the murderer's modus operandi, are revealed early on. The mystery lies in why the murders mirror the gruesome deaths of Christian martyrs.

Nic is 27 years old, unconventional, and makes mistakes, which is refreshing. He also has a complicated relationship with his father, an old-time Communist, and this has shaped his own character. Sara is complicated as well, and in fact is something of an enigma. Is she holding back on something? Does she know more than she's letting on?

Nic's relationship with his father is gone into in some detail, mainly through dialogue, though there are places where an edit could have slimmed this down without losing any of the impact or subtle nuances of the relationship. But, speaking for myself, I will forgive this, as the book, as a whole, is a rattling good thriller set in a city that Hewson obviously knows well.

The denouement of the book takes place as the heat wave breaks, and rain lashes down. It's a fast-paced denouement that grips the reader and, in my case, made me eager to read more of this series.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

P.D. James - A Taste for Death

"...I can appreciate why crime writers today claim this book as one of James’ finest."

Synopsis:
Two men lie in a welter of blood in the vestry of St Matthew's Church, Paddington, their throats brutally slashed. One is Sir Paul Berowne, a baronet and recently-resigned Minister of the Crown, the other an alcoholic vagrant. Dalgliesh and his team, set up to investigate crimes of particular sensitivity, are faced with a case of extraordinary complexity as they discover the Berowne family's veneer of prosperous gentility conceals ugly and dangerous family secrets.

Review:
It is strange how a thirty year gap will bring an entirely different perspective. When I read this back in the 80s I was in my teens and starting out discovering new crime authors. James was a big name back then, dominating the crime genre alongside Ruth Rendell. James is wonderful at capturing atmosphere and location, transporting you to a cold Norfolk coast, or as described here, a bloodbath in a London church. After ten years away, James was to bring back Dalgliesh with this book that was going to skyrocket her to even greater prominence.

However, when I read this thirty years ago I was intrigued by James' story, although I felt I struggled with her prose which at times can be a bit flowery, and I admit to having to re-read certain paragraphs to take onboard exactly what James is trying to say. Fast forward thirty years and I can now appreciate the slight nuances of James' prose and her marvellous characterisation. There are suspects galore and none of them are particularly pleasant. I did remember the killer, so something must have sunk into my teenage brain, but now I have a newfound appreciation for James who I started re-reading from the beginning of lockdown. This still isn't my favourite, (a close run thing between 'Shroud for a Nightingale' and 'Original Sin'), but I can see how James began her trajectory with this particular book which gathered momentum with each subsequent book. This is an atmospheric story, especially the scenes in the church where the murders happen, which will keep you guessing and I can appreciate why crime writers today claim this book as one of James' finest.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: