Reviews

July 2020

Charlotte Levin - If I Can't Have You

"This was a book I was unable to put down..."

Synopsis:
Constance is working at a private doctors surgery. She doesn't really enjoy the job. In fact she doesn't really enjoy much about life. After the death of one of the doctors, a new doctor starts and suddenly life begins to look up for Constance. Samuel, the new doctor, in Constance's eyes is perfect, and perfect for her. And when a passionate affair starts Constance couldn't be happier. But then as suddenly as it starts, the affair stops. Constance is devastated. And with this devastation, Constance begins to see things differently. She is still sure Samuel is the one for her, if only he could just see it.

Review:
Often with these types of plot, the stalker or the person who is obsessed, is often depicted as unbalanced, unreasonable and also a little scary. But Constance evoked sympathy from me more than anything else. As the plot developed around her obsession with Samuel, her past was also revealed, giving reason and a believable explanation to her behaviour. And unlike other stalker/victim plots, Samuel himself is without fault, and surprisingly I felt myself wanting Constance to not so much get away without being caught, but at least have a happy ending.

'If I Can't Have You' is one of those books that will really draw you in and brings the characters to life. This has a plot that moves fast enough to keep you interested but one that moves slowly enough to really build up the characters and the setting so that you can get a real feel for what those characters are feeling and see a little into their heads.

This was a book I was unable to put down, and the ending left me feeling satisfied and happy with the outcomes for each of the characters, with each of them getting what they deserved.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Barbara Nadel - Blood Business

"I love this series. A great read as are all Nadel's books."

Synopsis:
Inspector Cetin Ikmen is now retired and grieving for his much-loved wife. He sits at home talking to her ghost and avoiding contact with his old friends. He is tempted into returning to life when he is prompted by his daughter into investigating the disappearance of a once famous actress who is involved in a charity working with the poor and destitute.

His friend and former colleague. Mehmet Suleyman is investigating a strange case where a body has been removed from its grave and replaced with another more recent corpse minus her heart. Both cases seem to have a connection to illegal organ harvesting and the criminal under belly of Istanbul.

Questions of old murders, family secrets and inheritance disputes intertwine with a distinctly supernatural twist to lead Ikmen and Suleyman to find the answers. All life and death are here and people have complex motives that need to be teased out.

Review:
I always love Inspector Ikmen as he struggles to maintain his secular view of life against the developing influence of the Islamic rulers of the state. In this book he is even further adrift from the mainstream as he reverts to his mother's belief in spirits and Djinns. And very matter of fact he is about it too - one lives in his kitchen acknowledged, but largely ignored by Cetin. His innate love for people and a burning desire to find out the truth is what helps him to overcome his grief a move on with his life.

Istanbul and Turkey are changing and Barbara Nadel charts the progression of this change throughout this series. I am tempted to return to the very first one and compare life then and now. Certainly her close contact with the country gives her a very interesting perspective. I love this series. A great read as are all the books in this series.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sharon Bolton - The Split

"'The Split' is multi-layered, dark, visceral, brilliantly written, and is twisted in its twistiness. "

Synopsis:
A year ago, in desperation, Felicity Lloyd signed up for a lengthy research trip to the remote island of South Georgia. It was her only way to escape.

Back in England, Freddie Lloyd has served his time for murder. Free at last, he's looking for Felicity. And he will stop at nothing until he has found her.

As Felicity and Freddie's past unwinds and entwines, a secret darker than anyone could have foreseen is revealed and the icebergs on the edge of antarctica are not the only danger.

Review:
A warning before you begin reading 'The Split'. Cancel all plans. Turn off your phone and forget about the television, this novel will consume you until the very last page. Sharon Bolton, already a well-established and gifted storyteller, has written her darkest and most captivating novel yet.

'The Split' is a standalone psychological thriller and there is crackling tension, misdirection, and plot twists on almost every page. With echoes of Barbara Vine at the height of her literary powers, it is rare to find a novel that will keep your reading into the small hours of the morning, until your eyes are literally hurting, but this is one of them.

Bolton writes Felicity beautifully. She could so easily have been a weak character, but she is strong and faces her demons head-on, to fully understand who she really is. Bolton has fully researched the psychological aspects of trauma and used them to great effect. There are times this is an unsettling read, but the power of the mind to protect a person is such a wonderous phenomenon that to be fully explored, as it is here, the darkness of the trauma needs to be revealed. Bolton could have gone down the route of glorifying senseless violence, but she is too classy a writer for that, and she knows her audience is intelligent enough to read between the lines.

Matching the well-written Felicity, is the equally damaged Joe, who is her therapist, assessing whether Felicity is psychologically fit to take on such a job. As he picks away at her secrets, he becomes embroiled in what lies deep in her psyche, and his own broken past is revealed. My favourite character has to be Joe's mother, Delilah, a level-headed detective with a no-nonsense approach and a cracking hair-do.

'The Split' is multi-layered, dark, visceral, brilliantly written, and is twisted in its twistiness. Don't even try to guess how it will all end, just enjoy this for what it is – one of the finest psychological thrillers written in years.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Alex Gray - When Shadows Fall

"This new Alex Gray novel is definitely one of the highlights of my lockdown reading."

Synopsis:
Detective Superintendent William Lorimer is content in his job as head of the Major Incident Team for Police Scotland. When news comes in of the murder of his erstwhile colleague and friend, George Phillips, he is shocked but able to leave the investigation to the local Detective Inspector. When another retired detective is also murdered pressure is put on Lorimer to take over the case but it is only when a third murder of a police officer occurs that he takes up the reins in charge of the investigations. Several murders, all of police officers, but with no apparent common link or connection to their past, prove a difficult conundrum for Lorimer There is always the niggle that he too might be on the list.

When a twenty year old skeleton is found to have been shot by the same gun as some of the other deaths, Lorimer is taken back to the past to try to work out the reasons for this spate of killings.

Review:
Comfortably set in modern day Glasgow with expeditions into wider Scotland, this series portrays the city as the vibrant, edgy, warm-hearted place it is. Violence is there under the surface and the criminal fraternity has all the feuds and battles as of bygone days. Alex Gray portrays the character of the city in the personalities of the people populating her books. Hard and uncompromising in many ways but often with an understanding of and sympathy with the plight of the less fortunate, her cast of characters represent their city. 'People make Glasgow' is indeed the mantra for these books.

I love Detective Superintendent Lorimer, his wife Maggie and their friends and colleagues, Sol Brightman and Rosie Fergusson. The mundane details of ordinary life contrasted with the extraordinary aspects of their professional careers is reassuring and a contrast to the often depressing lifestyle of many other fictional detectives. This new Alex Gray novel is definitely one of the highlights of my lockdown reading.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Martin Walker - A Shooting at Chateau Rock

"I pick up the latest Bruno, Chief of Police, story with great glee as it is my go-to comfort read."

Synopsis:
An elderly farmer dies of a heart attack and is not discovered in his farmhouse for several days. After the funeral his two children discover that the farm has been sold to purchase an insurance policy which will allow the farmer to spend his retirement years in a luxury retirement home. The children are suspicious as their father has not discussed this with them and has died suddenly at a convenient time for the insurance company. The son comes to Bruno Courreges, Chief of police in St Denis, a town in the middle of the picturesque area of the Dordogne in rural France. Bruno initially thinks that this is a civil matter and not one for the police until he discovers that there are links to a Russian oligarch whose activities have aroused the interest of the police already.

When the daughter of this oligarch turns up as the girlfriend of the son of the British rock star owner of the local chateau things get more complicated.

Review:
I pick up the latest Bruno, Chief of Police, story with great glee as it is my go-to comfort read. Particularly in these times when venturing far from home is discouraged, to sit down with a glass of preferably French wine and transport myself to the beautiful Dordogne and the amazing culinary delights that Bruno and his friends serve up is the ultimate escapism. And there are of course the intricate and intriguing plots with the wonderful characters, mainly French but with a few foreigners thrown in that moves the action along so quickly.

If you haven't yet met Chief Bruno I really recommend you start now, particularly if you are a Francophile or just a foodie. Perfect escapism!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Cora Harrison - A Shameful Murder

"The denouement, when it comes, is totally unexpected and yet totally believable."

Synopsis:
Cork, 1923. The city is flooded and a civil war is petering out, though there was still fighting. Reverend Mother Aquinas the head of a convent school, discovers a dead body washed up at her chapel door. It is that of twenty year-old Angelina Fitzsimon, the daughter of a prosperous Cork merchant called Joseph. She is expensively dressed, and has a ticket for a ship to Liverpool in her possession. Not only that - she is pregnant. Cork is a city that prefers a verdict of suicide to murder in unexplained deaths. But Mother Aquinas and Sergeant Patrick Cashman of the Civic Guard, who was once a pupil of Mother Aquinas, are convinced it was murder, due to strangulation marks on the neck.

They both decide to investigate, and uncover a tale of intrigue, greed, sex and snobbery. On the evening before the discovery of her body, Angelina had attended the Merchant's Ball, and it was there she had been murdered before her body was consigned to the drains beneath the hall and out into the swollen River Lee. They also uncover the fact that she was destined to inherit £10,000 if she remained unmarried until she was twenty-one years of age. If she did marry, her brother Gerald would get the money instead. So had he murdered her for the money? Or was it her father, who had financial difficulties? Or was it one someone else? Was it Nellie O'Sullivan, a pupil of the convent school, or perhaps Professor Lambert of the local university?

Review:
This is the first book in an intended series about the all-too-human Mother Aquinas and her ex-pupil Sergeant Cashman. She is in her early 70s, sharp, worldly-wise, compassionate and slow to judge but quick to accuse. Even though I have no knowledge of the city, Cork of 1923 is beautifully portrayed, which must have meant a prodigious amount of research. I felt as if I was actually there.

The other characters are suitably rounded, and Sergeant Cashman is an intelligent and quick-witted foil to Mother Aquinas. The plot is suitable convoluted and enjoyable, but, by the end of the book, turns out to be completely logical. The denouement, when it comes, is totally unexpected and yet totally believable. The story is straightforward, with a suitable number of red herrings to keep the reader on his or her toes.

I can thoroughly recommend this book to people who enjoy a traditional whodunit laced with a soupçon of political undertones regarding poverty and wealth, and a setting that is as far removed from a Home Counties populated by retired colonels, eccentric vicars and stately piles.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Helen Fitzgerald - Worst Case Scenario

"What a riotous read this novel is. "

Synopsis:
Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow's worst cases, and her job is on the line. Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he's published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men's Rights activists.

Liam is released on licence into Mary's care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam's daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice… with devastating consequences.

Review:
Wow. What a riotous read this novel is. Beyond any doubt 'Worst Case Scenario' is the best crime fiction novel I have read this year. It's dark, shocking and laugh out loud funny. It also has what is possibly the best opening line ever written.

There are so many things to love about this novel – the scene where Mary vomits over Ian Rankin and is later consoled by Margaret Atwood offering oversized glasses of whisky is a particular cracker, as is the one where she recommends various sex toys during a police interview – but at the centre of this wonderful novel is Mary herself. She is sharp, acerbic, damaged, dangerous, and one of the funniest characters I've come across for a long time. She made me laugh, she made me want to hug her and get drunk with her. And when her life starts to go seriously off the rails, I wanted to grab her and shake her by the shoulders and tell her to stop what she was doing before it was too late.

If, like me, you're a menopausal woman in your fifties, you will love this book and you will adore Mary. She may also terrify you, because she is an exaggerated – but only just – mirror version of what life is like for all of us 'women of a certain age'. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sarah Flint - Mummy's Favourite

"...a winner in my eyes. "

Synopsis:
Buried in a woodland grave are a mother and her child. One is alive. One is dead.

It's the most harrowing case to hit DC 'Charlie' Stafford's department, and she's just been assigned to assist with the investigation.

As more pairs of mothers and children go missing, the pressure mounts to find them. They have a lead but are they looking in the wrong place, but if they let the suspect go they are out of leads and running out of time. Can Charlie stop the sadistic killer whose only wish is to punish those he deems to have committed favouritism? Or as they close in, will she find herself becoming a victim?

Review:
The first of the DC Charlie Stafford books has gotten us off to a great start in the series.

I thought the different perspectives from Charlie to the killer were effective, this gives you an insight into the killer's thoughts and an explanation, that doesn't justify it, but gives you, as the reader, a view into their world that the police are unaware of throughout the book. I wasn't sure how to feel about our protagonist, she is somewhat relate-able but you're kept at a distance from her.

I thought Flint wrote well of the relationships she has in the novel, I particularly enjoyed her relationship with her boss, Hunter, he was well portrayed as a father figure to Charlie whilst still holding that level of authority. The other is her connection with Ben, for me it was heart-warming to see her grow closer to him when most people would ignore or disregard him, regardless of his story. It also highlighted the effects of PTSD for soldiers which I think needs to be written about more.

In regards to the big reveal, with no plot spoilers, I thought this was executed well by Flint. I certainly hadn't spotted who the killer would be until the novel wanted me to know, I think if anyone can keep you guessing till that point then it's a winner in my eyes.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

M.J. Arlidge - All Fall Down

"Helen Grace is one of the most well-rounded protagonists in British thriller writing. "

Synopsis:
You have one hour to live. Those are the only words on the phone call. Then, they hang up. Surely, it's a prank. Maybe it's a mistake or even a wrong number. Anything but the chilling truth … that someone is watching, waiting, working to take your life in one hour.

But why? The job of finding out falls to DI Helen Grace: a woman with a track record in hunting killers. However, this is a case where the killer seems to always be one step ahead of the police and the victims.

With no motive, no leads, no clues – nothing but pure fear, an hour can last a lifetime.

Review:
'All Fall Down' is the ninth novel in M J Arlidge's crime fiction series featuring the brilliant, but incredibly complex DI Helen Grace; a woman it is very difficult to get close to, who refuses to expose her feelings and emotions. However, on paper that makes her sound cold and difficult to like, but she's anything but. Helen Grace is one of the most well-rounded protagonists in British thriller writing. In 'All Fall Down', she's trying to make sense of her personal life as she is on the cusp of a new romance, but there is something not quite right. In typical Grace style, she thinks too much, analyses too much and potentially jeopardises her happiness before it has even begun.

Arlidge writes Grace brilliantly. What the character herself sees as individual flaws are, in fact, character traits we all possess. This is what makes her so relatable, and I have enjoyed all previous eight novels in the series, particularly because of Helen. I'd read about her weekly trip to the supermarket.

The crime in 'All Fall Down' is dark and as the layers are peeled away, it gets darker and more disturbing. The story and the relationships between the characters are a joy to read and the story moves on a cracking pace as the plot thickens. However, the reveal of the identity of the killer leaves the reader with more questions than answers and there's a set piece in the finale that requires you to suspend your disbelief. I confess to rolling my eyes a couple of times.

Helen Grace is a thrill-seeker. She purposely puts herself in harms way as if she's punishing herself for wanting to live a normal life. It's this vulnerability the reader enjoys and why these books have sold in their millions. However, she's not a superhero, but she was in danger of becoming one here. The final chapter sets up a potential foe for a tenth book and I hope Arlidge takes Helen back to basics and puts some fear into her life, rather than have her tearing around Southampton on her bike like the Black Widow in the Avengers films.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elizabeth Mundy - A Messy Affair

"...provides lots of satisfying plot twists, mystery and grubby deeds. "

Synopsis:
Lena Szarka has a cleaning business, and a list of clients whose homes she cleans. Her cousin Sarika, who works with her, has fallen in love with Terry, the star of a reality TV show called 'NI Angels'. Sarika fixes up a date for Lena with Raz, another reality show celebrity, in a bar owned by Terry's uncle, Barry. A few days later, Terry is found murdered in a hotel room. And Sarika and Lena start getting threatening letters. Lena decides to investigate, and finds herself in the world of reality TV, with its murky secrets, goings-on. In the reality show, Terry and Marsela are supposed to be an item, something Sarika doesn't believe. But is it Marsela who is sending the notes? If not, who? Is Sarika to be the next victim?

Meanwhile DC Cartwright, to whom Lena is attracted, has his own problems, and he is ignoring her. He has been investigating a mysterious but ruthless and heartless Turkish woman called Yasemin, who eludes every one of his attempts to arrest her. More complications arise. The husbands of some of Lena's clients have subscribed to a website called Bienvenue.com, which fixes up young immigrant women with well-off men. It begins to look as if this fits in with the murder - but how? Gradually Lena begins to make sense of it all, and a picture emerges.

Review:
This is the third in the Lena Szarka books, and one that provides lots of satisfying plot twists, mystery and grubby deeds. The idea of a cleaner being a sleuth is an inspired one. Lena cleans houses, so has access to the private lives and secrets of many people. And being Hungarian brings another element into the books. She takes nothing for granted.

Her cousin Sarika is well-drawn, and, for all her behavioural twists and turns, brings an element of comedy to the storyline. She only believes what she wants to believe, and Lena, level-headed and inquisitive, stoically accepts this. I have no idea what the real world of reality TV is like, but here Elizabeth Mundy has painted a picture which I can well believe and from which a lot of the plot derives. It is a fascinating book, and even though there are elements of the cosy English whodunit of yesteryear within its pages, it is still, in many ways, a thriller set in modern-day London. I thoroughly recommend it.

Reviewed by: J.G.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - Murder in My Back Yard

"...I was pulled in to Cleeves’ plot within the first few pages. "

Synopsis:
No one in Heppleburn has a bad word to say about Alice Parry… but here she is, murdered in her own back yard. When detective Stephen Ramsay starts asking questions in the village, a more ambiguous picture begins to emerge. Yes, old Mrs. Parry was loved by everyone, but sometimes her kindness had caused trouble. Yes, her two nephews were devoted to her, but they didn't really want her interfering in their rather complicated personal lives. Even among her neighbours, Alice Parry's helpfulness had sometimes misfired; and after her death, tensions grip the uneasy village. Meanwhile, the suspects keep rolling in, and Heppleburn's friendly neighbourhood killer continues his nasty piece of work.

Review:
This is the second of the six novels featuring Stephen Ramsay, first published in 1991, which was extremely enjoyable. Even though I started with book two, and there is some vague reference to the previous book (I imagine), I didn't feel as though I missed out starting here. If you have read all Cleeves' latter books with Vera and Perez, then this is a neat little conundrum showing Cleeves' talent in development. Ramsay is not fully rounded and although there is some back story, the main thrust of the book is following the investigation of Alice Parry's murder which was very intriguing.

Cleeves as always is adept at bringing the Northumberland countryside to life and making it part of the book. Cleeves perfectly shows the claustrophobic feel of a small village in turmoil as secrets and liaisons are slowly unearthed. My first brush with Ramsay won't be the last as I was pulled in to Cleeves' plot within the first few pages. Published nearly thirty years ago, this title stands the test of time, although it is a bit of a culture shock when folk light up cigarettes in the middle of a pub or in offices! Thankfully, Ramsay's cases are now back in print and e-book and well worth investigating. Highly entertaining.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Shari Lapena - An Unwanted Guest

"...struck me as a modern day 'The Shining',..."

Synopsis:
Fancy a getaway? Ten guests all head off for their weekend away at a remote lodge in upstate New York but how many will be leaving...?

It's winter and the weather is against them, but Mitchell's Inn is the perfect place to hide out right? Well when the snow and ice sets in, cutting off the power, and any contact to the outside world, that peaceful weekend away turns into a nightmare.

Then the murders start… and there's nothing they can do but huddle down and hope they can survive the night.

Review:
I've read a couple of Lapena books and was keen to start reading this one. This book struck me as a modern day 'The Shining', I say modern day because of the phones and panic that having no electricity brings for the characters.

What I really enjoyed about reading this book was how Lapena tells the story, you are left a breadcrumb trail of information about the characters with more being unveiled as you read on. Just like the characters are trapped and finding out more about one another, so are you as the reader.

There were a few moments in the novel where I thought 'would that really happen?', but then again, I haven't been in that situation, so you never really know. I did guess who the killer was, but it didn't take away from wanting to know why, given there were loads of reasons why other characters could have done it as well. An enjoyable and suspenseful read.

Reviewed by: K.C.

CrimeSquad Rating:

P.D. James - The Part-Time Job

"...in my opinion, this is the best of James’ short stories by far..."

Synopsis:
A written confession is placed in a strongroom with papers to be released to the public the day after his death. When he has died, the whole world will be able to read his confession as to how he killed his arch nemesis, Keith Manston-Green who made his life a misery, bullying him throughout his school years…

Review:
As I read this short story, published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of P.D. James, at least there was one mystery cleared up of my own! Years ago, I remembered reading a brilliant short and was convinced it was by P.D. James. After the two collections were released after her death, I was seriously doubting myself and thought maybe I had got the wrong author! Thankfully, I am not going mad, but that James' publisher, Faber had tucked this short away for a rainy day (or in this case, special occasion) and I was again able to relish this delightful amuse bouche which has the most cunning twist in the tale. It really is a wonderfully, cunning and devilishly clever story. You think you know everything from the first page of this confession to killing Manston-Green and the why… but the how… oh, James keeps that smart little ace firmly up her sleeve just before the final curtain descends. Now I know why this short story stayed in my mind all these years, and in my opinion, this is the best of James' short stories by far and one to race through, then re-read and savour. In only twenty pages you understand why James is so revered within the crime genre.

'The Part-Time Job' is backed up by 'Murder Most Foul', an article that first appeared in 1982 about the crime genre and how, to James, a sense of place and characters are as important to plot.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: