Reviews

December 2021

Martin Walker - Bruno’s Challenge and other Dordogne Tales

"...I found this collection entrancing, probably because they were unified by the persona of Bruno. "

Synopsis:
In this volume we find a superb collection of stories about Bruno, Chief of police for the village of St Dennis. Each story, complete in itself, highlights one of Bruno's adventures in his daily life. Some, like Bruno's Challenge, involve him facing a culinary dilemma that only his skill and his good friends can solve. Others demonstrate his humanity, love for the village of St Dennis, the valley in the Dordogne where it is set and the varied and fascinating characters who live there. Each tale contributes to the rounded loveable character that is Bruno.

Review:
I'm not usually a fan of short stories, but I found this collection entrancing, probably because they were unified by the persona of Bruno. Themes which Martin Walker presents in his full-length stories are still there in this collection Every where is Bruno's love of good food and the produce of the Dordogne. It felt a bit as if these were juicy morsels that didn't particularly fit into the main novels but they were too good to waste. I didn't mind that at all. As always, I spent a few hours escaping from the gloom around in good company and dreams of delicious meals.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Christopher Fowler - Bryant and May: London Bridge Is Falling Down

"...the annals of London will record him as one of the city’s most Capital writers of all. "

Synopsis:
Who are the most invisible people in London? Old ladies. Amelia Hoffman is such one example, dead from malnutrition at 91, her body lying undiscovered for two weeks in her flat near King's Cross. It's only when she ends up on the slab of St Pancras' coroner Giles Kershaw that Amelia's life comes back into focus – and the attention of two relative striplings, octogenarian detectives Arthur Bryant and John May. When we left our heroes last time, at the end of 'Oranges and Lemons', the Peculiar Crimes Unit was about to be closed down, its premises upcycled into an artisanal coffee shop. But Unit Chief Raymond Land's last memo suggests a way of sticking a spanner into the Home Office's works – by having an unsolved case left on the books. When Arthur Bryant chooses to claim Amelia's apparently lonely end as the focus of ongoing investigations, it would seem the hand of fate has been directing him all along. For not only was Amelia's very profession one of invisibility but – as her biography gradually unravels in scenes of diabolical murder and desperate trans-Atlantic espionage – it appears she has been concealing her possession of the upper hand all along…

Review:
Somewhat incredibly, it's 20 years since we were first introduced to Bryant and May – so it seems only appropriate that the secret history of the PCU itself should be woven into the plot of the highest-stakes game they have yet to play. The story of Amelia Hoffman and her two accomplices in state-trained deception, Annie Wynn-Jones and Angela Carey, is the most complex and corkscrew plot their fiendishly clever creator has ever come up with. As devotees have come to expect, it is one that shines its torch of enquiry into the most well-concealed nooks and crannies of London's labyrinthine past, this time in the form of London Bridge itself – a structure that made the Capital's earliest beginnings possible; once displayed the heads of such 'traitors' as Thomas' Moore and Cromwell, hosted the frost fairs caused by the manner of its construction and then disappeared and reappeared again in the unlikeliest of settings.

Tragically, it is also the final case for crime fiction's most brilliantly original dynamic duo, and one that, as has been hinted at in their previous three adventures, takes the series full circle. To do justice to Bryant and May's work, and Christopher Fowler's achievement in getting it all down in print, the annals of London will record him as one of the city's most Capital writers of all.

Reviewed by: C.U.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Kernick - Good Cop, Bad Cop

"As ever, Kernick writes a book that not only has to be read, but has to be read quickly. "

Synopsis:
Undercover cop Chris Sketty became a hero when he almost died trying to stop the most brutal terror attack in UK history. With the suspects either dead or missing, the real motive remains a mystery.

But someone is convinced Sketty is a liar. A criminal mastermind. A murderer.

Blackmailed into revealing the truth, Sketty will share a twisting tale of betrayal, deception and murder, with a revelation so shocking that nothing will be the same again.

Review:
Kernick returns with a new standalone thriller, 'Good Cop Bad Cop'. Chris 'Bonkers' Sketty at one time had it all; a wife, a family and a promising career. But any of those can be taken away from a person at any time. And this book follows the story of Sketty from his time in SO11, to present day.

Sketty's tells a good story, and always has a plausible reason as to why he continually finds himself of the middle of trouble and quite often murder. But although the story is told from Sketty's point of view it is not possible to know whether he is a very good story teller, or a very good liar.

Sketty is presented as quite a broken man and it is impossible not to feel empathy at times for him. He is his own worst enemy and doesn't know when to stop, together with him having quite a lot of self-pity which portrayed him as a little weak at times.

As ever, Kernick writes a book that not only has to be read, but has to be read quickly. The plot runs at breakneck speed, all the time keeping you guessing as to who really is the 'Good Cop, Bad Cop'.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Charles Cumming - Judas 62

"There are not many writers whose latest books go straight to the top of my reading mountain, but Charles Cumming is one of them. "

Synopsis:
1993: Student Lachlan Kite is sent to post-Soviet Russia in the guise of a language teacher. In reality, he is there as a spy. Top secret intelligence agency BOX 88 has ordered Kite to extract a chemical weapons scientist before his ground-breaking research falls into the wrong hands. But Kite's mission soon goes wrong, and he is left stranded in a hostile city with a former KGB officer on his tail.

2020: Now the director of BOX 88 operations in the UK, Kite discovers he has been placed on the 'JUDAS' list – a record of enemies of Russia who have been targeted for assassination. Kite's fight for survival takes him to Dubai, where he must confront the Russian secret state head on.

Review:
There is a danger, when writing flashbacks, of losing a great deal of drama and tension by putting a character in peril the reader knows will survive. In 2020, Lachlan Kite (great name) is reminded of a mission in 1993. We're then transported back in time to live this mission with Kite as he struggles with the Russian lifestyle, the people, and the draconian rules. However, the tension is there on every page as Kite's cover is threatened to be blown. Will he be discovered? Will he be betrayed? Who by? This is where the action and the drama comes from and Charles Cumming masterly creates the fear of what it feels like to be a spy in one of the most secretive and corrupt countries in the world.

In 1993, Kite is naïve, new to the job, eager to please, yet keen to be his own person. Twenty-seven years later, he's grown into a responsible leader. The two versions of the same character, shaped by what he's witnessed over the years, are a joy to read. Cumming has spent time creating Lachlan Kite, and although this is only the second book in the series, the depth and detail in his history is already rich enough for him to rival his fictional contemporaries like George Smiley.

While the Covid pandemic has left many fiction writers scratching their heads wondering if readers want to read about the deadly virus in a fictional world as well as living it in reality, Cumming has used it to great effect. A spy can walk about more freely when having to wear a face mask and the threat of coronavirus adds to the tension of a mission being aborted or a spy failing a PCR test. 'Judas 62' feels very real, frighteningly so, at times with the mention of people assassinated by Russia in the past such as Skripal and Litvinenko, this could be a true crime book rather than a work of fiction.

There are not many writers whose latest books go straight to the top of my reading mountain, but Charles Cumming is one of them. His prose is so elegant, unhurried and seems almost effortless. The plots are always thoroughly researched, that, like I've said, could genuinely happen, another layer to the fear factor. When people think of the great spy writers, they immediately go to John Le Carre, and while he is a master of the genre, in my opinion, Charles Cumming is better. Every page is a joy to read, and every book is one to be devoured and to return to again and again. I hope Kite is around longer than Smiley and we have more gems like 'Judas 62' in the coming years.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Simon Scarrow - The Honour of Rome

"I am running out of superlatives for Mr Scarrow and his amazing ‘Eagles of the Empire’ series"

Synopsis:
A.D. 59. Fifteen years after he fought Britannia's barbarians during the Roman invasion, Centurion Macro is back. The province is tense. There is restlessness amongst the tribes that have supposedly accepted Roman rule, while the atmosphere in Londinium is menacing. Newly discharged from the army, Macro is missing the camaraderie and drama of battle. But soon he will need all his courage and skills to survive.

Gangs of thugs run the city. When Macro resists, a brutal attack serves as punishment and warning. But the mobsters have made a deadly error. Britannia's veterans stand with their own. And Macro will soon have a powerful ally: Prefect Cato. Friends who have battled across the Empire together, Macro and Cato make a formidable team. They will fight to the death to protect the honour of Rome.

Review:
I am running out of superlatives for Mr Scarrow and his amazing 'Eagles of the Empire' series – although I will try my best! I open these books and immediately fall into wherever Scarrow places his latest book. You can sense Scarrow's love of History and his respect for it. I love his characterisation, especially Petronella, Macros' wife who is not the sort of wife to stand on the sidelines when the going gets tough. As she says herself, Petronella is more than happy to feed some upstart his own balls! Cato arrives midway and this Roman dynamic duo are off to sort out the gangs of Londinium. Scarrow finishes this book off with an ellipsis, tantalisingly dangling that there will be more from Marco and Cato in the next instalment. Scarrow is a master storyteller and shows there is more than enough life to bring us book 21 and beyond!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

John le Carré - Silverview

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Synopsis:
Julian Lawndsley has given up his lucrative job in the City to pursue a quieter and he hopes a more fulfilling career as a bookseller in a quiet seaside town. He has the luxury of being able to follow his dreams and set out the shop as he wants it to be. When a visitor from the local landed estate arrives and encourages him to provide a select literary centre, Julian is bemused by this Polish emigre, Edward, with perfect English and an extensive knowledge of esoteric literature.

At the same time Proctor, an old hand in the business of spying, is sent a letter warning of a potential security leak. As both Edward and his dying wife, Deborah, have high powered connections with the Security Service, they become objects of interest. Julian becomes embroiled in the intrigue and becomes more involved with Edward and his daughter, Lily.

Review:
This is the last completed unpublished novel of le Carré and is a reflective piece, a valedictory comment on the Secret Service as he knew it and an acknowledgement that times have changed and new forces are driving the world of counter espionage. The characters representing the Service are old school and whilst up to date, are a little nostalgic about the past. Perhaps this was le Carré's view too.

As always there is a gripping plot and fascinating characters. Le Carré's
strength is in portraying the exotic characters who inhabit the world of spies as just like everyone else with strengths and weaknesses, and with relationship problems, no doubt exacerbated by the life they live. Trust is hard to come by and Proctor, like his predecessor George Smiley, struggles to believe in his wife. The burgeoning love affair between Julian and Lily is a welcome relief.

There is also a hint that those involved in the espionage world may come to question what they did, whether they indeed made a difference. It is sad to read the last book of a master of his craft, but this is a worthy example to end on.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nicola Upson - The Dead of Winter

"Upson delivers a wonderfully festive crime novel that is another classic addition to this excellent series. "

Synopsis:
December 1938, and storm clouds hover once again over Europe. Josephine Tey and Archie Penrose gather with friends for a Cornish Christmas, but two strange and brutal deaths on St Michael's Mount - and the unexpected arrival of a world famous film star, in need of sanctuary - interrupt the festivities. Cut off by the sea and a relentless blizzard, the hunt for a murderer begins.

Pivoting on a real moment in history, the ninth novel in the 'Josephine Tey' series draws on all the much-loved conventions of the Golden Age Christmas mystery, whilst giving them a thrilling contemporary twist.

Review:
There is something enticing about people being cut off from the mainland, that feeling of being isolated and trapped on an island in the midst of a wild storm without any way of communicating to the outside world. As long as it is other peope and not oneself trapped on said isolated island! Throw in a couple of murders, a Hollywood movie star, a celebrated playwright and crime writer at Christmas and you have the perfect book to read by a fireside with a hot toddy while the wind howls away outside.

As Christie perfectly portrayed in her infamous novel, there can be nothing worse than to look forward to some time away, only to find there is a killer on the loose and everyone is looking at each other with deep suspicion. It all adds to the drama here and Upson perfectly brings those emotions to the fore to add spice to Josephine Tey's latest adventure. Upson is wonderful at evoking atmosphere and bringing those times to the one's senses. There is a sense amongst the cast that this will be their last peaceful Christmas for some time as the Nazi's tyranny gains momentum, even with some Nazi's gaining confidence on British soil alongside their British sympathisers. All this Upson adds to the mix to heighten emotions, the sad resignation of the unavoidable compared to those who feel war is justifiable, in some cases to be relished. Upson delivers a wonderfully festive crime novel that is another classic addition to this excellent series.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Marion Todd - Next In Line

"Todd is an author who is definitely on my list of writer’s I look forward to reading. "

Synopsis:
Gaby Fox is known to many due to her successful TV career, so when her brother and his pals hire the salubrious Lamond Lodge for his birthday celebrations, it is noted by the St Andrews locals. A ripple of shock goes round the town when Russell Fox is gunned down on the premises.

DI Clare Mackay is attending a wedding when she sees Gabrielle receive a phone call then flee. Soon after, Clare learns why when the news of the shooting reaches her. Instead of trying to enjoy the day – not easy when the groom is her ex-boyfriend – Clare is preoccupied.

Clare gets to work on uncovering the facts surrounding Russell Fox's death. The guests at the lodge have secrets to hide, but even when Clare begins to unravel the deceit, it doesn't bring the answers. The detective can't help but wonder why no one who knew Russell seems capable of telling the truth, and whether there is more than one person with a reason to want him dead…

Review:
Marion Todd's Mackay series is my new crime fiction fix! This latest I absorbed in less than twenty-four hours. I could not relinquish this book until I had read the final page. Hugely gripping and Mackay is a detective who is relatable, as are all Todd's characters. She really brings them all to life for me and this is part of why I enjoy Todd's books so much. Only drawback, is waiting for the next book! If you haven't read any of Todd's books yet, then I am sure you will race through the five Mackay cases like I have. Todd is an author who is definitely on my list of writer's I look forward to reading. This series is hugely spellbinding.

Reviewed by: H.F.

CrimeSquad Rating:

E.R.C. Lorac - Checkmate To Murder

"...Lorac is a wonderful new find."

Synopsis:
On a dismally foggy night in Hampstead, London, a curious party has gathered in an artist's studio to weather the wartime blackout. A civil servant and a government scientist match wits in a game of chess, while Bruce Manaton paints the portrait of his characterful sitter, the actor Andre Delaunier, bedecked in Cardinal's robes at the other end of the room. In the kitchen, Rosanne Manaton prepares tea for the charlady of Mr. Folliner, the secretive miser next door.

When the brutal murder of the Manaton's miserly landlord, 'Old Mr. F' is discovered by his Canadian infantryman nephew, it's not long before Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called to the scene. But even at first glance the case looks far from black-and-white. Faced with a bevy of perplexing alibis and suspicious circumstances, Macdonald and the C.I.D. set to work separating the players from the pawns to shed light on this toppling of a lonely king in the dead of night.

Review:
I am going through a WWII phase with my crime reading at the moment. This one was particularly enticing as it was written by Lorac during the war years. Having lived in London during the Blitz before moving northwards to be with family, Lorac had experienced the blackouts, the bombings and generally living in the dark London streets where you never ventured out without your torch! Lorac poses a particularly tricky little scenario with a small cast of suspects in the studio, all of whom can give the other an alibi. Or was it the nephew or the suspect Special Constable who conveniently arrested him within moments of allegedly stumbling across the crime scene.

Macdonald is akin to Ngaio Marsh's Alleyn in the fact that he tends to blend into the background, doing his thing, slowly investigating and turning stones whilst the colourful cast (here, like Marsh, theatricals and artists abound who give value for money with their delicate eccentric temperaments). Despite an assured start, I did feel that things did meander a little during the middle, but perked back up towards the end as Lorac began to reveal her solution which was very clever. Lorac may not be as creative as Christie, however, she does produce a solid mystery with a detailed explanation. What really did it for me with this book is how Lorac transported me to the dark streets of war-torn London which was quite fascinating. Again, this is another solid issue from the great partnership of Martin Edwards and the British Library Crime Classic series. For me, Lorac is a wonderful new find.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Nick Louth - The Body on the Moor

"This is a hugely addictive read..."

Synopsis:
After the National Crime Agency cracks a major drug gang, junior barrister Julia McGann finds herself defending the violent enforcer Terrence Bonner. This high-profile case is a coup for her, but almost immediately things start to go wrong. Intruders break into her house and then a young girl turns up at her door with a horrifying story to tell.

Three months later, DCI Craig Gillard and his team struggle with the shocking murder of a much respected local headmaster, found dead in his own car. The baffling crime fills the newspapers but yields few clues. As Gillard sifts the evidence, a pair of blood-spattered gloves seems important.

Why were they used for both the murder, and for the burglary at Julia's house? What secrets is the barrister hiding... and what happened on the Derbyshire Moors two decades ago that could be the key to these shocking events?

Review:
Louth is another Canelo author whose books I have devoured. This is another book I raced through, impatient to see what was going to happen. I really enjoy DCI Gillard's company and he is a good DCI who drives these books. There is much mis-direction here and not everyone is who they say they are, so delivering many surprises along the way. Louth wonderfully sets the scene on the Derbyshire moors and delivers a great twist at the end. This is a hugely addictive read and I look forward to DCI Gillard's next case! Louth is another author I have added to my list of books not to be missed!

Reviewed by: H.F.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Katerina Diamond - Trick or Treat

"This one is a real treat for any crime fiction fan."

Synopsis:
TRICK OR TREAT?

When six-year-old Marcus is taken from outside his house on Halloween it shakes his quiet neighbourhood to the core.
Everyone was ready for a night of trick-or-treating. Now the unthinkable has happened.

TRUTH OR LIES?

As Detective Imogen Grey arrives to question Marcus's parents, they tell her there has been a mistake. Their son is just fine.
But if that's true, where is Marcus?

INNOCENT OR GUILTY?

Imogen becomes locked in a race against time to find the missing child and uncover the truth. Can she discover what's happened to Marcus before it's too late?

Review:
I have been a fan of Diamond's books for some time and 'Trick or Treat' keeps to the high standard I expect from this author. Although the missing boy is the main thrust of the story, there are many other strands played out which all tie up with Grey's investigation, delivering a conclusion that is both thrilling and satisfying. I love Imogen Grey who doesn't suffer fools gladly and is one of the best detective on the scene. She really does know how to 'kick ass'. 'Treat or Treat' is one of those books I could not put down until finished – which for me meant burning the midnight oil well into the early hours! This one is a real treat for any crime fiction fan.

Reviewed by: H.F.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Agatha Christie - The Tuesday Murder Club

"...Christie firing on all cylinders. "

Synopsis:
'Well,' said Joyce, 'it seems to me we are a pretty representative gathering. How would it be if we formed a Club? What is today? Tuesday? We will call it The Tuesday Night Club. It is to meet every week, and each member in turn has to propound a problem. Some mystery of which they have personal knowledge, and to which, of course, they know the answer.'

Here are stories of murder and intrigue told by each member of the Tuesday Night Club. Time and time again, crimes so wicked they have confounded even Scotland Yard's finest are solved by St Mary Mead's sharpest mind and everyone's favourite armchair detective – Miss Marple.

Review:
The latest addition to Harper Collins' hardback series is 'The Thirteen Problems' – or as used here, the American title, 'The Tuesday Club Murders'. I can only imagine that the US title has been used due to a certain bestseller in 2020 debuting 'The Thursday Murder Club'. I don't think it takes Miss Marple to figure that one out! Also, despite the covers of previous hardcovers being eye-catching, this one is quite pedestrian. So, despite the title change and uninspiring cover, I will say this is one of Christie's best short story collection that I have gone back to time and time again over the years. All the stories collected here previously appeared in newspapers and were the introduction of our favourite elderly spinster detective, Miss Marple. Every story here is a gem and not a single one hits a bad note. Each story shows how brilliant Christie was at mis-direction. Everything is there for the reader, but Christie always manages to pull the wool over our eyes at the right moment. This includes the wonderfully spooky, 'The Blue Geranium' and 'The Idol House of Astarte'. This collection of short stories shows Christie firing on all cylinders.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Leigh Russell - Deep Cover

"...Russell again produces a page-turner I could not put aside. "

Synopsis:
When a sex worker dies in suspicious circumstances in York, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel struggles to remain focused on the murder investigation: she is distracted by her worries about her colleague and life partner, Ian Peterson, who has disappeared. As Geraldine becomes close to her new DS, Matthew, she is unaware that Ian is working undercover in London, trying to identify a criminal gang who have been targeting her.

As a second victim is discovered in York, and Ian's life is threatened by a psychopath the tension mounts. If he fails in his mission, both he and Geraldine may die...

Review:
I have been a fan of Geraldine Steel since the beginning. Russell weaves a mesmerising tale which kept me turning those pages. Not only is there the case of the sex worker, but as involving is what has happened to Ian Peterson which runs parallel to Geraldine's case. As with all her books, Russell plunges me into the story, keeping me highly invested in this fast moving book. By the time I finished, I felt I had been on a rollercoaster ride. 'Deep Cover' is another marvellous addition to this addictive series and Russell again produces a page-turner I could not put aside.

Reviewed by: H.F.

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Bernard Cornwell - Sharpe's Assassin

"You will be guaranteed rich entertainment that can only flow from Cornwell’s pen! "

Synopsis:
Lieutenant-Colonel Sharpe is a man with a reputation. Born in the gutter, raised a foundling, he joined the army twenty-one years ago, and it's been his home ever since. He's a loose cannon, but his unconventional methods make him a valuable weapon.

So when, the dust still settling after the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington needs a favour, he turns to Sharpe. For Wellington knows that the end of one war is only the beginning of another. Napoleon's army may be defeated, but another enemy lies waiting in the shadows – a secretive group of fanatical revolutionaries hell-bent on revenge.

Sharpe is dispatched to a new battleground: the maze of Paris streets where lines blur between friend and foe. And in search of a spy, he will have to defeat a lethal assassin determined to kill his target or die trying.

Review:
It has been some years since we have seen Sharpe, but it is a bit like welcoming back an old friend! As with all Cornwell's books, they are wonderfully easy-reads, but Cornwell does evoke the time and place, transporting you to Paris, the French dealing with their defeat at Waterloo. As with all wars, one can lead on to another as one particular can of worms can spill, causing dissent and feelings of revenge. There may not be as much action here as in his previous Sharpe novels, but it is nonetheless great to have Sharpe back in the driving seat. What more can I say that I haven't about this man's books? You will be guaranteed rich entertainment that can only flow from Cornwell's pen!

Reviewed by: C.S.

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