Reviews

May 2020

Ani Katz - A Good Man

"If you’re looking for an intelligent psychological thriller with depth and a compelling central character, then you’ll love this."

Synopsis:
Thomas Martin is everything a man is supposed to be. He has a beautiful wife and a loving daughter, a good house on Long Island, a flourishing career at a prestigious Manhattan advertising firm. He's a good son and brother, taking it upon himself to support his ailing mother and adult sisters. He knows it's his God-given duty to shield them, his girls, from the everyday horrors of the world.

But he has failed, and unspeakable tragedy has befallen his family.

Now, Thomas struggles to come to terms with what has become of his life. If only he can tell the story as he saw it, he believes he might find out how and why things unravelled so horribly; how he failed so disastrously.

Because Thomas Martin is a good man.

Review:
Thomas is a deeply flawed and damaged man, although he wouldn't want you to know that. Instead, Thomas has built the picture of himself, and his perfect life, that he wants you to see. Telling stories is something Thomas is good at. It's what he does for a living, earning 'high five figures' telling stories that sell products.

From the beginning, there are plenty of hints that something is terribly wrong with Thomas's version of his perfect life – most notably his purchase of a billy club made from Ozark red cedar that he's bought for protection.

Little by little, Thomas drops more hints that reveal a darkness beneath the glossy surface he's peddling us. It soon becomes clear that something terrible has happened, and it's not difficult to guess what that is. But knowing – or guessing – simply adds to the tension. Reading this novel is like watching a catastrophe play out in slow motion. It's a nerve-wracking, almost unbearable, experience.

'A Good Man' is a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of toxic masculinity and domestic violence. Katz does an excellent job unpeeling the layers of Thomas's personality, revealing the flawed motivations and reasoning of a man who has done something unspeakable.

If you're looking for an intelligent psychological thriller with depth and a compelling central character, then you'll love this.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Joe Thomas - Bent

"...Thomas captures everything that was so extraordinary about this most oxymoronic heroic anti-hero."

Synopsis:
Detective Sergeant Harold 'Tanky' Challenor is a policeman who has gone down in infamy. The originator of the phrase: “You're nicked, me old beauty!” he styled himself as 'The Scourge of Soho', promising to clean up criminal behavior in London's most notorious den of vice. But his image unraveled when he was accused of planting pieces of brick on several protesters arrested during the state visit of Queen Frederika of Greece in July 1963, in a defence mounted by the Council for Civil Liberties. With the Met on hand to draw the curtains across proceedings, Challenor was declared to be too 'unwell' to take the stand and quietly let away to a retirement of sorts.

But Tanky – whose nickname derives from the life he had before joining the police, working dangerous missions for the SAS during WWII – never left his beat. First he turned up as Inspector Truscott in Joe Orton's 'Loot', then as DI George Mooney in Jake Arnott's 'The Long Firm', then – and I must declare an interest – as DS Harold Wesker in my own 'Bad Penny Blues'. Joe Thomas – whose grandfather worked alongside Tanky in 2SAS – was brought up knowing this enigma as his kindly 'Uncle Harry'. Here he reimagines the experiences that forged the man and led to his downfall.

Review:
Thomas hones in on the two most pivotal interludes in Challenor's life – the lead-up to the 'Brick' trial, in which an increasingly paranoid and delusional DS hunts a protection racket headed by Joseph 'King' Oliva through Soho, calling in at The Geisha Club on Moor Street, Peter Cook's Establishment on Dean Street, The Pheonix on Charing Cross Road and The Marquee on Wardour Street, where the Rolling Stones have just played their first gig. In between the scenes of witness intimidation, bouts of heavy drinking and even heavier manners, we get to see the moment, in 1942 when a legend was born: after getting drunk in Algeria and mislaying his own green beret, he is given a Tank Corps alternative to wear. As 1962 Challenor barrels his way towards disaster, 1942 Tanky bluffs his way through unimaginable terror and hardship, carrying out his missions for 2SAS.

Both are written with stunning verisimilitude, but it is the scenes on the Apennine Mountains, where, having achieved their mission to blow up train tunnels, Tanky and his Scottish Lieutenant Wedderburn must now try and survive behind enemy lines, that linger longest in the mind. The wild, unearthy beauty of the mountains themselves, the friendships with the locals forged along the way – then the capture and torture at the hands of the Germans and Tanky's own Great Escape, dressed as a washerwoman. Perhaps the most stunning scene in this short, sharp, evocative tome is Tanky, still incarcerated in the PoW camp, laughing his way through an RAF bombing raid, willing his boys on as explosives fall around him. Within it, Thomas captures everything that was so extraordinary about this most oxymoronic heroic anti-hero.

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Julie Wassmer - Disappearance at Oare

"...I would recommend it to a reader who loves their cosy crime."

Synopsis:
Pearl Nolan, restaurateur and private detective in Whitstable, Kent, is asked by a woman called Christina Scott to investigate the disappearance of her husband Steven seven years ago. At the time, the police investigated and considered that he had either disappeared for reasons of his own or had committed suicide, as a supposed suicide note had been left in his car, which was abandoned on a slipway in the village of Oare. But Christine was pregnant at the time, and is sure Steven would not have done any of those.

So Pearl begins investigating. After questioning Alan and Linda, Steven's parents, Pearl discovers that they have found God, through a small church founded by the Revd Russell Cameron which Steven was investigating for some reason. Why was Steven so interested in it? Her investigations also takes in to a former children's home, a woman doing up a small boat, a beach party, the owner of a building to be used as a picture gallery, and the Isle of Sheppey. The love of Pearl's life, DCI Mike McGuire, has returned from a posting in London, and he helps her, in an unofficial way, in her investigations. He also supplies an intriguing will-they-won't-they love dimension to the story.

And through it all runs the town of Whitstable and its surrounding towns and villages. I am no expert on this part of Kent, but the places described are no doubt real and can be visited.

Review:
This is the fourth book in the Pearl Nolan series, and the first one I have read. The author, Julie Wassmer, writes for TV and lives in Whitstable. This is not a whodunit, but more of a 'was anything done in the first place?' story. This makes the mystery intriguing and offbeat. It is no crime to disappear, nor is it a crime to leave a false suicide note, so the police were correct in being wary during the original investigation. Pearl herself cannot make up her mind to begin with. The clues are all there, and one in particular is a beauty. I never noticed it, but when it was explained at the end of the book I immediately saw how obvious it was.

Julie Wassmer is obviously in love with Whitstable and the area surrounding it, and it shows on every page. One minor quibble I have is that, because of this, some pages read like a travel guide to the town, and add little to the plot. However, it is an enjoyable read and I would recommend it to a reader who loves their cosy crime.

Reviewed by: J.G..

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alice Feeney - His and Hers

"...a good read that was easy to get into. "

Synopsis:
There are two sides to every story: yours and mine, ours and theirs, His & Hers. Which means someone is always lying.

Anna Andrews finally has what she wants. Almost. She's worked hard to become the main TV presenter of the BBC's lunchtime news, putting work before friends, family, and her now ex-husband. So, when someone threatens to take her dream job away, she'll do almost anything to keep it.

When asked to cover a murder in Blackdown—the sleepy countryside village where she grew up—Anna is reluctant to go. But when the victim turns out to be one of her childhood friends, she can't leave. It soon becomes clear that Anna isn't just covering the story, she's at the heart of it.

DCI Jack Harper left London for a reason, but never thought he'd end up working in a place like Blackdown. When the body of a young woman is discovered, Jack decides not to tell anyone that he knew the victim, until he begins to realise he is a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Review:
'His and Hers' tells the story from both perspectives of Anna and Jack; with the investigation moving forward and memories taking Anna back to the past, giving depth and explanations to the characters and their actions.

Anna at first appears to be weak and self-absorbed but after digging deeper into her character there are reasons for her behaviour and the initial impatience softens a little into empathy. Each of the characters start as one type of person but as more and more layers are revealed few of them are actually who they first appear to be.

Feeney has written the book from a third perspective, that of the killer. These entries give lots of clues as to who the killer is, but I felt there were a lot of obvious red herrings. I wasn't overly surprised by the revelation at the end as I felt the story had been leading up to an ending of this kind. I much preferred reading about the development of the characters rather than the investigation. Despite being able to read Feeney's clues, I found 'His and Hers' a good read that was easy to get into.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles - Shadow Play

"...sparkles with London wit..."

Synopsis:
The body of a well-dressed man is found in a car repair yard in Davey's Lane, Shepherd's Bush. He has no ID, and DCI Bill Slider and his team have little to go on as they start their investigations. But eventually a masseur identifies him as someone called Leo King, and states that he was someone's 'right hand man'. She gives the police an address for King's flat, which Slider's team discover has been methodically turned over in an unsuccessful attempt to find something, unsuccessful. Slider's men eventually find a memory stick with a video of an ex-MP and now London Assembly member called Kevin Rathkeane enjoying himself with two male prostitutes. They also discover that King's real name was Leon Kimmelman, and he worked for a man called Charles Holdsworth.

As Slider's team investigate further, it is drawn into the murky world of property developers, corrupt politicians, rent boys, local government, and dodgy money. Along the way they meet Silverman, who is married to Holdsworth's sister Myra. Are they the murderers? or is it Holdsworth? Or his wife, who has decided to turn the tables on her bullying husband? Or indeed, is it Eli Sampson, who rents the car repair yard in Davey's Lane?

Review:
This is the 20th crime book featuring DCI Bill Slider and his team from Shepherd's Bush nick. It is a straightforward police procedural, and highlights the effort put into investigating a murder by way of sheer hard work. It is a simple story, with just one murder, and Slider's team work as one to solve the case. The writing is sparse and to the point, with few red herrings. There is no sudden, blinding flash of intuition that solves the crime. It is all done by hard work. The dialogue, as spoken by the investigating officers, sparkles with London wit, and adds humour to what is, in reality, a serious investigation. And the officers themselves are all too real, with their dislike of certain suspects, their prejudices, and in one case, a female DC's wiles to make suspects reveal what they don't want to reveal. And Harrod-Eagles doesn't slip into the all too common cliché of making Slider a divorced, recovering alcoholic with problems. He is a hard-working family man who plays by the rules. And in doing so, adds greatly to the enjoyment of the book.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Reginald Hill - Dialogues of the Dead

"I now have a renewed appreciation of how much of a supreme storyteller Reginald Hill was."

Synopsis:
A man drowns. Another dies in a motorbike crash. Two accidents … yet in a pair of so-called Dialogues sent to the Mid-Yorkshire Gazette as entries in a short story competition, someone seems to be taking responsibility for the deaths.

In Mid-Yorkshire CID these claims are greeted with disbelief. But when the story is leaked to television and a third indisputable murder takes place, Dalziel and Pascoe find themselves playing a game no one knows the rules of against an opponent known only as the Wordman.

Review:
It has been some years since I read Reginald Hill, and with the lockdown in full swing I decided it was time to re-visit some old favourites. So, it was a bit like sitting down in the pub with long lost friends in the form of Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe. I had forgotten about Hill's biting humour, mostly coming from the wet lips of the fat man himself, Dalziel which at times made me laugh out loud. Nobody is safe when Andy is about, especially the wet-behind-the-ears newcomer, 'Hat' Bowler.

I must have read 'Dialogues of the Dead' nearly twenty years ago, but was surprised how much of it I remembered, the sure sign of a cracking story. As always, Hill is supreme at the labyrinthine plot and here he doesn't disappoint. You don't only get 'The Wordman' killing random folk, but this killer really knows his literature. For some, the wordiness of Hill's plot may discombobulate, but for me it added to the story as the words themselves obfuscate the investigation and the identity of the madman who is achieving a phenomenal body count. (Can you tell that using obscure words is catching?) However, Hill has a final sly ace up his sleeve which obviously leads into the next book, 'Death's Jest Book'. I now have a renewed appreciation of how much of a supreme storyteller Reginald Hill was.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Georgette Heyer - The Unfinished Clue

"Another clever mystery from this engaging writer."

Synopsis:
The stabbing of irascible General Sir Arthur Billington-Smith fails to stir up grief in anyone - least of all his family, which is no wonder considering the way he had treated them all during the fateful weekend. He had disinherited his son, humiliated his wife, refused to help his financially stricken nephew and made no secret of his loathing for his son's fiancée, a cabaret dancer. Inspector Harding picks his way through a mass of familial discontent to find the culprit - and find much more besides.

Review:
This is another favourite author I have re-visited and allowed me to read that odd novel that I have been meaning to read for years. 'The Unfinished Clue' is one of Heyer's standalones as there is no Hannasyde or Hemmingway in attendance. However, the setting is the same for many of Heyer's novels, the rambling manor in the country with an army of servants to attend to the guests at some ghastly weekend party which always ends up with murder. The same happens here to the old General who being vile is not much missed when he gets what's coming to him.

Cleverly, Heyer has most of her suspects on the patio waiting for lunch (I am amazed these people were not obese back then as they appeared to eat all the time!), with some coming and going, who may or may not be innocent. Heyer, as with many of her books, is sublime at the relationships between people, in particular the huge social gap class issues of the day, which I guess are still around, just not as in your face and with less servants! 'The Unfinished Clue' has a neat little conundrum behind it and is a very clever puzzle. I did guess the murderer, but I have to admit it was more a lucky punt than having deciphered any of Heyer's clues! Heyer is perfect at writing conversations that flow naturally and before you know it you'll be transported back to a hot summer's day in the 1930s. What more could you ask for? Another clever mystery from this engaging writer.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Raymond Chandler - The Big Sleep

"With the pile of bodies mounting up, it can be safe to say that L.A. in the 1930s was a tough town to live in! "

Synopsis:
Los Angeles Private Investigator Philip Marlowe is hired by wheelchair-bound General Sternwood to discover who is blackmailing him. A broken, weary old man, Sternwood just wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. However, with Sternwood's two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA's seedy backstreets, Marlowe's got his work cut out. And that's before he stumbles over the first corpse.

Review:
It has been some years since I read this and it is funny how one comes back to a book and sees things entirely different with a few years tucked under ones belt! What stood out for me was how Marlowe stumbles from one situation after another in what seem to be a series of Noir vignettes. Plus, I did wonder how Marlowe was still standing having consumed so much alcohol in such a small space of time!

With the pile of bodies mounting up, it can be safe to say that L.A. in the 1930s was a tough town to live in! Chandler came from the pool of pulp writers who were big in their day, pushing out books in a matter of days and weeks under different pseudonyms. Chandler confessed to not being the greatest plotter, but kind of just went with the flow which is how 'The Big Sleep' feels like a Virginia Woolf stream of consciousness, but with guns. Despite this, there is something nostalgic and gripping about Marlowe's constant scrapes and how he gets out of them. Marlowe's entrance into the crime fiction hall of fame can raise questions without answers such as the infamous one about who killed the chauffeur, but as with Marlowe, best not ask too many questions. I am not going to argue about this being a classic, but it won't be for everyone, although Chandler certainly brings his detective alive in this tale where nobody is quite the full ticket!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Colin Dexter - The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn

"...it was good to catch up with Morse… just don’t expect him to buy you a round of drinks! "

Synopsis:
Morse had never ceased to wonder why, with the staggering advances in medical science, all pronouncements concerning times of death seemed so disconcertingly vague.

The newly appointed member of the Oxford Examinations Syndicate was deaf, provincial and gifted. Now he is dead.

And his murder, in his north Oxford home, proves to be the start of a formidably labyrinthine case for Chief Inspector Morse, as he tries to track down the killer through the insular and bitchy world of the Oxford Colleges.

Review:
Again, with the lockdown I have reached out for the comfort of those authors I greatly enjoy. For some reason, I hadn't read this early Morse and it was once again a delight to be in Morse's company, even if he is grumpy and sharp towards his second in command, Sergeant Lewis who, despite his boss' manner, has an affection for his boss, making him Morse's perfect foil. I had forgotten how terribly arrogant Morse can be during his moments of frustration, but Dexter was very clever that in pointing out Morse's failings as well as his successes, his readers never could outright dislike his detective, but in a way relate to him.

One thing I had forgotten about these novels is the insertion of humour which is not as ribald as Reginald Hill, but subtle and made me grin as I read on. I was also reminded that Morse did not always get to the right solution on the first go and shown to be scrabbling around in the dark like the rest of us for the murderer. Here, I felt that Dexter only just manages to pin his convoluted solution down which was for a few moments threatening to unravel and become slightly too unbelievable. I warn you that there can be no skipping pages with this case. Your attention is required to get maximum satisfaction from this stimulating case for Morse. However, having said that, I point out that this book was published in 1977 and some of the attitudes will strike some as old-fashioned, including smoking in pubs as well as Dexter's descriptions of his female characters or the delectable talents of Inga Nielsson currently showing at Studio 2 in 'The Nymphomaniac'. Besides these old attitudes, it was good to catch up with Morse… just don't expect him to buy you a round of drinks!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Herbert - Haunted

"...a classic of the genre."

Synopsis:
Three nights of terror at the house called Edbrook.

Three nights in which David Ash, there to investigate a haunting, will be victim of horrifying and maleficent games.

Three nights in which he will face the blood-chilling enigma of his own past.

Three nights before Edbrook's dreadful secret will be revealed, and the true nightmare will begin…

Review:
It is funny that when one is met with a stressful situation, a reader goes for their comfort read whether that be a long-loved Christie or in my case a book by Herbert I read about twenty-odd years ago! So, I thought I'd review it as I love it so much out of Herbert's work. Classed as a horror writer, this is your classic ghost story full of shifting shapes you spot out of the corner of your eye that takes place in a rambling manor house that has seen better days. What more could you want from a ghost story from the master of the genre.

I enjoy how Herbert was so adept at creating a chilling atmosphere and how he embraced the Gothic. With David Ash being such a sceptic of the phenomena of the supernatural, Herbert makes his book even more haunting as Ash tries his best to explain away all that happens during those three chilling days. If you enjoy a good ghost story, then this is one you'll love and definitely worth a re-read by some as it is a classic of the genre.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: