Reviews

April 2021

Femi Kayode - The Lightseekers

"It’s difficult to believe this clever, complex and nuanced novel is Femi Kayode’s first book."

Synopsis:
When three young students are brutally murdered in a Nigerian university town, their killings - and their killers - are caught on social media. The world knows who murdered them; what no one knows is why.

A year after the murders, Emeka Nwamadi - the father of one of the boys - is determined to find out why his son was killed in such a brutal fashion. Through his contacts in the Lagos police force, Emeka gets in touch with Dr Philip Taiwo, a psychologist who specialises in crowd behaviour and violence.

Recently returned to his home country from the US, Taiwo is reluctant to take on the case. But pressure from his father convinces him it's the right thing to do. Leaving his wife and children behind in Lagos, he travels to Okriki to see if he can do what no one else has been able to – uncover the truth about why three young men were murdered in such a brutal and devastating manner.

But Philip is an expert in crowd behaviour and violence, not a detective, and after travelling to the sleepy university town that bore witness to the killings, he soon feels dramatically out of his depth.

Review:
It's difficult to believe this clever, complex and nuanced novel is Femi Kayode's first book. Set in Nigeria, the case of the 'Okriki Three' became a huge story after the three undergraduate boys were beaten and burned to death by an angry mob in the university town of Okriki.

What follows is a wonderful exploration of small town life in modern-day Nigeria. The fraught politics, the careless corruption of state officials, the way a community closes in on itself when it faces condemnation from the outside world are all beautifully portrayed.

Arriving in Okriki, Philip is met by the mysterious Chika, who tells Philip he's there to help with his investigation in any way he can. It soon becomes clear to both men that there's a lot more to the triple murder than they first realised. It's also clear that there are a lot of people in Okriki who aren't happy about Philip and Chika's attempts to investigate a year-old murder case.

'Light Seekers' is a carefully plotted and compelling story that explores some of the darker aspects of Nigerian life. In Philip Taiwo, Kayode has created an immensely likeable character. The novel is the first in a proposed series that looks set to be a huge success.

'Light Seekers' is a fantastic debut and I look forward to seeing what's next in store for Dr Philip Taiwo.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Elly Griffiths - The Night Hawks

"This is a superior series..."

Synopsis:
The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. At first, DCI Nelson thinks that the dead man might be an asylum seeker, but he turns out to be a local boy, Jem Taylor, recently released from prison. Dr Ruth Galloway is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons. Nelson and his team believe the death to be an accidental drowning, but a second death suggests murder.

Nelson is in for a busy time when he is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at an isolate farm house called Black Dog Farm. The house and its occupants are shrouded in mystery and will take all of Nelson detecting skills to unravel what really went on at the time of the shooting.

Local legend talks of a Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die, Nelson ignores this, even when the farm house owner's suicide note points to something buried in the garden and Ruth uncovers the bones of a giant dog.

All roads lead back to this farm in the middle of nowhere, but the place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near.

Review:
The thirteenth novel in the Dr Ruth Galloway series and this is as fresh and original as the first. As well as being a first class writer, there is something comforting in the style of Elly Griffiths. You only need to read the first few pages and it's like meeting up with old friends and you immediately remember everything about Ruth Galloway, Harry Nelson and Cathbad. After thirteen books, these people are not strangers, and it's very easy to get sucked into their world. 'The Night Hawks' is no exception, and it's not just the troublesome personal lives of Ruth and Harry that presents the drama.

A young man washed up on the North Norfolk coastline. A murder-suicide. A suspicious death on the beach and the untimely death of a police officer are woven together in a labyrinthine plot so deftly written you won't be able to turn the pages fast enough to discover what happens next.

The attention to detail and level of research does not feel plucked from a website; when put into the mouth of Galloway it sounds natural as if Ruth is telling the story rather than a writer. The plot races at a break-neck speed and my only fault is that I finished the book too quickly and will have a long wait until Ruth, Harry, Cathbad, Judy, Tanya and Michelle are back in my life again.

The mixture of science and folklore are blended perfectly and Cathbad is a wonderful antithesis for Ruth. We could all do with a Cathbad in our lives. He's a favourite character of mine and I'd love to see him take centre stage in a future book. This is a superior series which should be on the shelves of every crime fiction addict.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Sharon Bolton - The Pact

"...a chilling thriller and will set up home in your head long after the final pages. "

Synopsis:
A golden summer, and six talented friends are looking forward to the brightest of futures as they await their A-Level results until a daredevil game goes horribly wrong and a woman and two children are killed.

Eighteen-year-old Megan takes the blame, leaving the others free to get on with their lives. In return, they agree to a 'favour', payable upon her release from prison.

Twenty years later, Megan is back. It's time to pay up. Let the games begin.

Review:
I was slightly nervous to read this novel. Six school friends on the cusp of a new life at university are involved in a tragedy which returns to haunt them years later. It sounds like the 90s slasher film 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'. I shouldn't have doubted myself. The author of 'The Pact' is Sharon Bolton, a writer of immense talent who can take the ingredients of a revenge thriller and turn them into something fresh, exciting and utterly chilling.

Following the tragic incident which changes the young people's lives, you turn the page and it's twenty years later, and this is where Bolton flexes her writing muscles. She doesn't give us grown-up versions of the same characters, they're completely different, changed by their lifestyles, their experiences, their pasts. The reader is introduced, once more, to these people as if seeing them afresh, making 'The Pact' a multi-layered and nuanced read.

As Megan returns to the group, broken by her experiences in prison, you feel for her and the lack of support she has been given by her so-called friends over the past two decades. As the plot moves on, your allegiances change to the survivors, wishing Megan would just leave them alone, but then your loyalties go back to Megan. There is a hint of something darker at play here, and Bolton wastes no time in ramping up the tension as, one by one, the characters turn on each other, wondering who they can trust, and the reader is right at the centre, as if they're one of the characters themselves.

A wonderfully dark chapter in a pool house with emotions running high and favours no-one should ask for will stay with me for a long time. My jaw was almost on the floor as the details of the pact were laid out. This was a sublime piece of writing and Bolton hit every emotional note.

'The Pact' is a chilling thriller and will set up home in your head long after the final pages. Who can you trust? Who are your real friends? Sharon Bolton is a supremely talented author. Her standalone novels are all completely different. You never know what you're going to get. Only one thing is assured – it's going to be brilliant.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Romy Hausmann - Dear Child

"...one of those books that you want to read without putting it down. "

Synopsis:
A windowless shack in the woods. Lena's life and that of her two children follows the rules set by their captor, the father: meals, bathroom visits, study time are strictly scheduled and meticulously observed. He protects his family from the dangers lurking in the outside world and makes sure that his children will always have a mother to look after them.

One day Lena manages to flee – but the nightmare continues. It seems as if her tormentor wants to get back what belongs to him. And then there is the question whether she really is the woman called 'Lena', who disappeared without a trace over thirteen years ago. The police and Lena's family are all desperately trying to piece together a puzzle that doesn't quite seem to fit.

Review:
I wasn't expecting great things from 'Dear Child' as I tend to choose to read books set in the UK or USA, and this was set in Germany.

Although the concept of the abduction of a young woman had been done many times before, I felt 'Dear Child' looked at the event from a different perspective. Right from the start the author gives away that a woman has escaped from a cabin and her abductor, but not everything is as it seems.

The plot is told by different characters in the story; Lena, who has been abducted; Matthias, Lena's father; and Hannah, Lena's child. The time frame flits from present to past, and deals not just with the physical elements of the abduction and escape, but also the emotional trauma which I felt really made this book different to others. Hausmann really manages to capture not only the raw emotion but also shows how each person is affected differently with the fall out of the abduction.

Each of the characters has their own flaws, making them just that little more realistic. And as the plot continued, so did the depth of each of the characters, with some of them revealing thoughts and actions that better explain how and why the abduction happened.

'Dear Child' is one of those books that you want to read without putting it down. Often a book will end with a big reveal and everyone disappears into the sunset, seemingly unaffected by the events they have just lived through. This book shows that after an abduction, and even if the victim makes it home, there is often no happy ending.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Gytha Lodge - Lie Beside Me

"An excellent read."

Synopsis:
Louise wakes up, suffering the effects of a humdinger of a hangover, turns over to her husband. Only the man beside her is not her husband, nor is he breathing. What should she do?

Louise struggles to remember what actually happened. Subject to lapses of memory following intermittent drinking bouts, she slowly pieces together what has occurred but the truth is only revealed bit by tiny bit.

The police consider Louise to be the most likely suspect but there are other candidates. Many secrets are there to be discovered.

Review:
As well as being a gripping read, full of twists and turns, this book looks at the complex relationships between partners, the importance and depth of friendship, and the aftermath of the ultimate betrayal. Each character contributes a little touch of mystery and confusion to the proceedings.

I loved 'Lie Beside Me'. I found the beginning took a little while to get going as I worked out the relationships and who depended on whom. However, soon the excitement ratcheted up and by half-way I found it impossible to put down Lodge's new book. This is a very original tale, set very much in the today with all the relationships and technology of modern life. An excellent read.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:

James Oswald - What Will Burn

"I am a huge fan of the McLean series."

Synopsis:
The charred remains of an elderly woman are discovered in a burned-out game-keepers cottage, hidden away in woodland to the west of Edinburgh. Clearly no accidental fire, Detective Inspector Tony McLean suspects that neither is this simply a grim arson attack. There is far more to the victim than her humble surroundings might suggest, and something ritualistic to her horrific murder.

Nor will it be the only case of death by fire that Tony and his team will be faced with. This is only the beginning, and with such evil clouding the air, Tony begins to wonder what else will burn.

Review:
James Oswald is in a league of his own. Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, part supernatural fiction, these books have something for everyone to get stuck into. 'What Will Burn' is the eleventh in the series and they are truly masterful.

DI McLean (demoted from DCI) is an everyman. He's hard working, likeable and doesn't suffer fools. Nothing new there in a protagonist, but there is a hint of something deeper within Tony, a sadness, as if there is something missing from his life that he has to fill with work. His past isn't a happy one and he carries the burdens around with him like heavy cloak on his back. It's this added, unspoken layer, that makes him one of the great Scottish fictional detectives of all time.

The opening chapter to 'What Will Burn' is incredibly dark and could almost have come straight out of a horror film. It sets the scene for a brutal series of killings. Oswald, however, is not a writer to shock the reader for the sake of it. It's all part of something bigger, and when it's revealed, the finale will stay with you long after you've finished it.
A supernatural crime thriller isn't everyone's cup of tea. There are some books on the market where the other-worldly aspects are so far-fetched it borders on ridiculous. Oswald knows there's a fine line and he makes sure he doesn't cross it.

McLean's demotion means promotion for another character and he also has a new boss. There's a new hierarchy here and there are hints at sexual harassment in the workplace, people using their positions for their own gratification that is handled in a new and exciting way in fiction. McLean is no longer top dog, and although he says he doesn't mind forfeiting the added responsibility, it's the slipping down in the pecking order he's going to have to get used to. The scenes between McLean and his new boss are uncomfortable at times, but it's the office politics that add spice and excitement during the respite while we're catching our breath after the latest terrifying killing.

I am a huge fan of the McLean series. James Oswald is a fine writer. He can create plot, write natural dialogue, create sympathetic characters and keep us hooked. There are few out there who have mastered the full set required to write an engaging series, but Oswald has managed it, and that is why book eleven is among the best in this series.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Jane Harper - The Survivors

"Harper goes from strength to strength."

Synopsis:
Kieran Elliott's life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran's parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away...

Review:
I have read Harper's previous three novels and have been a fan since finishing 'The Dry'. She delivers fully-fleshed characters and really gets deep down with their emotions. What Harper does so well is build up tension and conflict within a small community or group of people without losing pace or direction. I was enthralled with 'The Survivors' and had the solution sorted in my mind – only for Harper to wrong-foot me at the end. This was an extremely good book which kept me up into the wee small hours of the morning. Harper goes from strength to strength.

Reviewed by: H.F.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Ann Cleeves - The Darkest Evening

"...Cleeves has really delivered an iconic detective who misses nothing..."

Synopsis:
Driving home during a swirling blizzard, Vera Stanhope's only thought is to get there quickly. But the snow is so heavy. Ploughing on, she sees a car slewed off the road ahead of her. With the driver's door open, Vera assumes the driver has sought shelter but when she inspects the car she is shocked to find a young toddler strapped in the back seat.

Afraid they will freeze, Vera takes the child and drives on, arriving at Brockburn, a run-down stately home she immediately recognizes as the house her father Hector grew up in.

Inside Brockburn a party is in full swing, with music and laughter to herald the coming Christmas. But outside in the snow, a young woman lies dead and Vera knows immediately she has a new case. Could this woman be the child's mother, and if so, what happened to her?

Review:
As with many of her novels, Cleeves expertly interweaves the personal with the procedural. Here we find out more about Vera's upbringing and the divide between her father and the rest of the Stanhope family and how it shaped her childhood. Unexpected events bring the family together and Cleeves shows perfectly how 'politeness can be used as a weapon of mass destruction'. After a body is found on the Brockburn estate, the politeness becomes more chipped, strained as the investigation forces Vera to look into all the dark corners, including those of her own family.

As with many of these families with large estates, the house has become jaded, unkempt, a cold mausoleum with rising bills that can only be met by selling land. Despite privilege, it doesn't always bring happiness. As always, Cleeves has a perfect ear for dialogue and knows when to bring in Vera's wit to lift the mood, or when to bring a touch of darkness to the case. With Vera, Cleeves has really delivered an iconic detective who misses nothing, even if she is a shambles with her wellingtons and knitted hat! As is often the case, Vera will put herself in harm's way just to get a case solved. This is another enthralling tale which would be perfect for a evening with a little nip of something to keep out the cold.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating: