Reviews

April 2020

TP Fielden - Died and Gone to Devon

"There is a wit about the characterisation and dialogue..."

Synopsis:
It is 1959, in the small holiday resort of Temple Regis in Devon. Judy Dimont is the chief reporter in the local paper, the Riviera Express. However, she is also a successful amateur detective, and her friend Geraldine Phelps asks her to investigate the death of Pansy Westerham - or was it murder? - many years ago. Though it was a death that may have involved the royal family, Judy has more important things on her mind.

To begin with, there may have been a suspicious death in the local library, and an election is pending. Sir Freddy Hungerford, the sitting MP, is retiring (hopefully to get a seat in the House of Lords), and is being replaced as a candidate by Mirabel Clifford. Then there is the problem of David Renishaw, who has joined the reporting staff of the Riviera Express, and is proving to be the newspaper's star reporter. But is there something fishy about him?

Another murder takes place, this time at the top of Temple Regis lighthouse, And then a third. Temple Regis is becoming known as 'the murder capital of England', something Inspector Topham, Temple Regis's top cop, resents.

As the story unfold, it takes in an irate professor who bears a grudge of some kind against Sir Freddy, and a tantalising connection between Pansy Westerham, a royal lover, and Temple Regis.

Review:
This is the fourth book in a series about Judy Dimont, ace reporter. TP Fielden is, in real life, Christopher Wilson, Fleet Street journalist, TV producer and an expert on the environment. To call it a 'cosy' would be far too easy, though it is an easy read. There is a wit about the characterisation and dialogue, and Fielden's portrayal of Fanny Craddock had me chuckling. The ambience of the reporters' room in a newspaper, with its jealousies, its Underwood typewriters, its disagreements with the editor and its quest for 'scoops' is accurate, even though, being a Scotsman and au fait with Glasgow, the accent of John Ross owes more to Private Fraser from Dad's Army than it does to a citizen of Glasgow, who would say 'ye know' rather than 'ye ken'. But that's a minor point.

Judy is middle-aged, talented, intuitive and resourceful, though she has her insecurities. The plot is well worked out, and the writing is clear and crisp, as is the dialogue. It won't tax you unduly, and offers lots of entertainment.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Walker - The Body in the Castle Well

" I have enjoyed this series very much from the beginning..."

Synopsis:
The body of a young woman is found at the bottom of a well in the grounds of the Chateau Limeuil in the Perigord region of France. She is a wealthy American student pursuing material for her post graduate studies amongst the personal collection of the owner of the Chateau, Monsieur de Bourdeille, an eminent art historian and renowned Resistance hero. Chief of Police Bruno is called in to investigate.

The death could well be an accident but Bruno is not convinced and calls on his experience and long list of contacts at home and abroad to discover the truth. This truth is rooted in the past and ranges the globe from Algeria to Berlin. The victim herself has some very high powered interests in the United States and this results in more pressure on Bruno as the FBI and even the White House are exerting influence. Just as well Bruno's contacts are equally far ranging.

Review:
Bruno, Chief of Police in the Perigord region is a man very much at home in his job and his life. He loves the countryside, food, traditions and people. This love permeates the book and results in an atmosphere that reminds me of going on holiday to France and immersing oneself in the local culture. The delightful food, locally sourced and mouth-watering wines of the region provide the excuse for pure escapism.

This would be enough just on its own but there is the additional delight of a complex puzzle to solve as Bruno is determined to find justice for the poor victim. The characters of the series continue to delight and there is great pleasure in watching their development. Not to mention Bruno's interesting amours. I have enjoyed this series very much from the beginning and my only complaint thus far is that I finish each book too quickly!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Graham Moore - The Holdout

"‘The Holdout’ will keep you guessing until literally the last couple of pages..."

Synopsis:
It's the most sensational case of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar real estate fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher Bobby Nock, a twenty-five-year-old African American man, is the prime suspect after illicit text messages are discovered between them - and Jessica's blood is found in his car. The subsequent trial taps straight into America's most pressing preoccupations: race, class, sex, law enforcement, and the lurid sins of the rich and famous. It's an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed. Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, convinced of Nock's innocence, persuades the rest of the jurors to return the verdict of not guilty, a controversial decision that will change all of their lives.

Flash forward ten years. A true-crime docu-series reassembles the jurors, with particular focus on Maya, now a defence attorney herself. When one of the jurors is found dead in Maya's hotel room, all evidence points to her as the killer. Now, she must prove her own innocence - by getting to the bottom of a case that is far from closed.

As the present-day murder investigation weaves together the story of what really happened during their deliberation, told by each of the jurors in turn, the secrets they have all been keeping threaten to come out - with drastic consequences for all involved.

Review:
'The Holdout' is John Grisham meets Agatha Christie.

With the plot going from present time back to the time of the trial, more and more details are given surrounding the trial of Bobby Nock and also the new murder.

'The Holdout' will keep you guessing until literally the last couple of pages where the last twist is finally revealed. The book was easy enough to read but did drag slightly in some parts. I also found the protagonist difficult to warm to.

However, despite those minor quibbles, 'The Holdout' is a great mix of courtroom thriller, investigation and classic whodunit and will keep you thoroughly engrossed until that final page has been turned. One of the most exciting reads of 2020 so far!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Andrew Taylor - The Last Protector

"‘The Last Protector’ is a wonderful, luscious tapestry that shines. Totally mesmerising."

Synopsis:
On her death bed Mistress Cromwell, widow of Oliver Cromwell, tasks an old friend to deliver a sealed package to her exiled son, Richard, who at that time was in exile in the Low Countries.

James Marwood is a government agent, working for Joseph Williamson, Under Secretary of State, who in turn has close ties to Lord Arlington, Secretary of State and thence to the King himself. When it is discovered that Richard Cromwell has returned to England in disguise, Marwood is set to find out why.

An old acquaintance, Cat Hakesby, is also involved in the secret in some way. Her father had been one of those who had signed the death warrant for King Charles I and as a child she had played with Richard Cromwell's daughter, Elizabeth. This connection draws her unwillingly into some underhand dealings that Richard Cromwell and certain of the King's advisors are pursuing.

The secret that drives them on is hidden under the Palace of Whitehall and Cat's husband is the Surveyor who holds the key to unlocking its whereabouts.

Review:
Andrew Taylor has the touch that convinces you that the events he is describing are fact, rather than fiction. Born from a familiarity with the period and no doubt extensive and painstaking research, this facility enables the story to race along. I love historical fiction and this is a period I am not very familiar with, so I am constantly being surprised by the details that emerge. Names I recognise from history are clothed in reality and become living breathing people. I am grateful for the list of main characters at the beginning. It always helps to refer back to check who is who.

I'm not sure whether there are more books to come in this series but I do hope so. I want to know more about James Marwood and Cat Hakesby from the pen of such a superb writer as Andrew Taylor. 'The Last Protector' is a wonderful, luscious tapestry that shines. Totally mesmerising.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Frances Brody - The Body on the Train

"The 'reveal' at the end of the book took me totally by surprise..."

Synopsis:
Kate Shackleton, a private investigator based in Yorkshire, is asked by the arrogant Cmdr Woodhead of Scotland Yard to investigate the finding of a body on a goods train at Kings Cross. The train had set off from Leeds, and the body was in a sack among a delivery of rhubarb from Yorkshire's 'rhubarb triangle'. The year is 1929, three years after the General Strike, and Woodhead believes that the unknown man was a Bolshevik sent to the UK to foment revolution, as two gold coins—obviously from a stash of money to fund the revolution—were found in the sack as well. But he holds back on any further information as he considers it could affect national security. Kate accepts the case, though this lack of further information hampers her investigations. She heads back to Yorkshire.

Once there, she hears of another murder. A Mrs Farrar has been found dead in her shop, and a young man has been charged with her murder. The more Kate investigates, the more she becomes convinced that the two murders are connected, and that the young man is innocent. Posing as a journalist who is writing an article about the area, she decides to stay with an old upper-class friend called Gertrude, and her husband, near the murder scene. Here she uncovers more mysteries. Why was a children's home demolished due to mining subsidence when there was no subsidence? What happened to the children? Why is Gertrude's butler Raynor following her?

Eventually, through sheer dogged determination, she solves the two murders, and in doing so, consigns Cmdr Woodhead to retirement.

Review:
This is the eleventh Kate Shackelton book. All of them are centred on an actual event in Yorkshire in the 1920s, and this one is no different. One event she mentions is the 1929 Ryder Cup, held at Moorton in Leeds, and the other is the 1926 General Strike, which caused much hardship in the UK's industrial areas.

There must have been a lot of research before the book was written, but it never impinges on the story itself. The plotline is compelling, though in one or two places the book is perhaps a tad overwritten. And Kate herself is a rounded, multi-faceted creation. Feisty, intelligent, diligent while still being vulnerable, she never gives up. Though I've never been to the 'rhubarb triangle' (it really does exist), Frances Brody brings it to life admirably. The 'reveal' at the end of the book took me totally by surprise, though all the signs were there.

I have loved reading this series and would highly recommend these books to any crime fiction lover.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Harlan Coben - The Boy From The Woods

"...‘The Boy from the Woods’ is Coben firing on full cylinders. "

Synopsis:
Thirty years ago, a child was found in the New Jersey backwoods.

He had been living a feral existence, with no memory of how he got there or even who he is. Everyone just calls him Wilde.

Now a former soldier and security expert, he lives off the grid, shunned by the community – until they need him.

A child has gone missing. With her family suspecting she's just playing a disappearing game, nobody seems concerned except for criminal attorney, Hester Crimstein. She contacts Wilde, asking him to use his unique skills to find the girl, Naomi.

But even he can find no trace of her. One day passes, then a second, then a third. On the fourth, a human finger shows up in the mail. And now Wilde knows this is no game. It's a race against time to save the girl's life – and expose the town's dark trove of secrets.

Review:
This is not your usual 'girl goes missing' plotline as Harlan Coben never writes simple plots. Not only has Naomi gone missing, but another classmate disappears.

Together with two missing teenagers, a possible murder, a shady politician, the mystery surrounding Wilde's origins, some missing video tapes this isn't a straight forward plot, but Coben is an expert at seamlessly weaving intricate story lines together in such a way that everything makes sense. Coben has included a huge case of characters, yet makes it easy to follow and all needed for the plot. 'The Boy from the Woods' is a rare book in that there is no superfluous writing. Every word is part of the story.

My only negative about this book was I found Hester to be a little irritating and two of the characters names (Crash and Dash). Apart from those small niggles, 'The Boy from the Woods' is Coben firing on full cylinders. This is another page turner from Coben who every time manages to pull the cat out of the bag and deliver an ending that isn't expected by his reader. Sublime.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth Kay - Seven Lies

"This is Kay's debut novel and has definitely left me wanting to read more from this author."

Synopsis:
Jane and Marnie have been inseparable since they were eleven years old. They have a lot in common. In their early twenties they fell in love with and married handsome young men. But Jane never liked Marnie's husband. He was always so loud and obnoxious, so much larger than life. Which is rather ironic now, of course…. Because if Jane had been honest – if she hadn't lied – then perhaps her best friend's husband might still be alive.

This is Jane's opportunity to tell the truth. The question is, do you believe her?

Review:
The friendship between Jane and Marnie has lasted throughout their childhood and into both Jane and Marnie's marriages. To begin with I felt almost envious at the closeness of their friendship. As the story developed I became relieved that neither of these women were my friends.

'Seven Lies' tells the story of this friendship and leads up to the explanation of how Charles (Marnie's husband) died. Each of the lies is revealed in a chapter. The lies were no huge revelations which probably made them a little more believable. With all characters starting off with a clean slate, as the story progresses so do the flaws and facets of each person which changes your viewpoint on who is at fault and what outcome you want for each of them.

Jane is quite a sad character. With a childhood spent with less than perfect parents, she is rather obsessive and without conscience. Marnie is Jane's complete opposite but still with her imperfections.

Without giving away too much of the plot, 'Seven Lies' follows both girls through school and after, dealing with love and loss. There was no huge culmination to the story but in some ways I preferred this as I didn't feel it had been written to just tie off any loose ends. I wanted to keep reading not just to find out the lies Jane told but also the impact of each of her lies.

This is Kay's debut novel and has definitely left me wanting to read more from this author.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Josephine Tey - The Franchise Affair

"Ask any Tey fan and they will normally nominate ‘The Franchise Affair’ as her best book."

Synopsis:
Marion Sharpe and her mother seem an unlikely duo to be found on the wrong side of the law. Quiet and ordinary, they have led a peaceful and unremarkable life at their country home, The Franchise. Unremarkable that is, until the police turn up with a demure young woman on their doorstep. Not only does Betty Kane accuse them of kidnap and abuse, she can back up her claim with a detailed description of the attic room in which she was kept, right down to the crack in its round window.

But there's something about Betty Kane's story that doesn't quite add up. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard is stumped. And it takes Robert Blair, local solicitor turned amateur detective, to solve the mystery that lies at the heart of The Franchise Affair...

Review:
Ask any Tey fan and they will normally nominate 'The Franchise Affair' as her best book. 'The Franchise Affair' is Tey's most adapted work, the most famous being a 1951 film starring Dulcie Gray. Some may be surprised as there is no body, no murder, just the suspicion as to whom is telling the truth: The Sharpes who live at The Franchise or Betty Kane who accuses the Sharpes of keeping her as a domestic slave in their attic? How would Tey keep the suspense with no body?

Well, Tey does extremely well, slowly winding up the suspense as their solicitor, Robert Blair tries to disprove Kane's testimony. However, Tey makes sure that this case is not easily solved as the evidence mounts up against the Sharpes and Tey's plot cleverly ebbs and flows. Then you have the village locals who take the girl's side. This leads to residents vilifying the mother and daughter, some finding a good excuse to show their violent tendencies. This is a book about prejudice with Tey holding up a mirror to the huge social divide of class.

Tey brings the matter to a satisfactory closure, although, despite being an author who was not known for sentimentality, decided to go for a saccharine finale which did slightly jar with me. However, the case itself is resolved with Tey's usual flair and I can now understand why it is the favoured book out of the few crime novels she wrote.

This review is for the new Folio Society edition of this title. As always, it is an immaculate book peppered with illustrations by Mark Smith that perfectly embody the story and time, (the book was published in 1948). With a foreword by Lady Antonia Fraser, this is the perfect book for any Tey fan or lover of crime fiction to have on their bookshelf.

To order this book from The Folio Society please click on the link: Josephine Tey – The Franchise Affair

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Louise Jensen - The Family

"‘The Family’ is easy enough to read..."

Synopsis:
ONCE YOU'RE IN, THEY'LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

At Oak Leaf Farm you will find a haven…. Welcome to The Family.
Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new 'family', sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren't the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they've been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they'll never let them leave…

Review:
The plot of 'The Family' in theory seemed to work. A mother and daughter being taken in by a group of people that the locals think of as a cult. There is suspicion around the death of Laura's husband, and plenty of secrets within the family. The book is written so that the reader is unsure as to who can be trusted and there are plenty of red herrings and clues to mislead.

But in practice somehow it didn't work as well. The story took a while to get going and lots of the book felt to me superfluous. Also none of the characters were particularly likeable which left me caring little as to what happened to them. After the slow start the pace did pick up, but all the action seemed to take place in the last quarter of the book.

'The Family' is easy enough to read but I found at times the events were too convenient, making them unbelievable. The last part did make up in some part for the first part but it just didn't have the energy to make me want to keep reading and find out what was going on. Promising, but needed to deliver more than what was on offer.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Celia Fremlin - The Jealous One

"‘The Jealous One’ is an outstanding novel of Domestic Noir. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. "

Synopsis:
On the surface, Rosamund and her husband, Geoffrey, are living the suburban dream. Happily married, they've set up home in a safe, middle-class suburb where they keep each other entertained by gossiping about their neighbours, revelling in their flaws and foibles.

When a new neighbour moves in next door, Rosamund's safe world is shattered. Their new neighbour, Lindy, is smart, good-looking, friendly, and delightful in every way. She is nothing like the conventional, respectable neighbours Rosamund and Geoffrey are used to dealing with (and feeling superior to). The only problem is that Geoffrey is a little too delighted with Lindy, and his wife is not happy about it. Rosamund begins to feel isolated.

Then Rosamund falls ill with flu. In her fevered state, she dreams of murdering Lindy. When she wakes up, she's horrified to discover that Lindy has inexplicably disappeared. What could possibly have happened?

Has Rosamund murdered Lindy, or is the real nightmare just beginning?

Review:
'The Jealous One' was my first introduction to the writing of Celia Fremlin. And what an introduction to the Grande Dame of domestic noir. Written in 1964, 'The Jealous One' is a masterpiece of mid-twentieth century noir.

The novel begins with Rosamund waking from a fevered dream. From this point, the story is told in flashbacks, starting with the day Lindy moved in next door, and working up to the moment of her disappearance.

Unlike their other neighbours – upstanding and dull – Lindy is bohemian and unafraid of standing out from the crowd. She also seems determined to steal Geoffrey from under Rosamund's nose. Or is she? The more she gets to know Lindy, the less clear Rosamund becomes about her neighbour's real intentions.

Fremlin clearly enjoyed poking fun at the society she lived in. Lindy's motivations are hidden beneath a veneer of respectability. In that sense, at least, she is no different to Rosamund's other neighbours. In their stifling middle-class, suburban world, polite behaviour hides all sorts of wrong-doings.

Rosamund is constantly reassessing her opinions of Lindy, which makes the reader do the same thing. Is Lindy really manipulative and scheming, or is she simply doing what everyone else is too scared to do – just be herself?

Fremlin creates a terrifying sense of menace and tension as the plot unfolds. When Rosamund falls ill, her sense of disorientation and confusion become almost unbearable. All the reader can do is keep turning the pages in the knowledge that, any moment now, something truly terrible is about to happen.

It's not clear, until the very end, what has happened to Lindy. When the truth is finally revealed, it's done with such a clever twist that I dare any reader to see it coming.

'The Jealous One' is an outstanding novel of Domestic Noir. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Fremlin should be given her due as one of the Godmothers of Domestic Noir and be receive wider recognition. An astonishingly clever little tale.

Reviewed by: S.B.

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