Category Archives: Book Review

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

Published by Bantam Press

UnknownThe dead can’t speak to us,’ Professor Madoc had said.

That was a lie.

Because the body Patrick Fort is examining in anatomy class is trying to tell him all kinds of things.

Life is already strange enough for the obsessive Patrick without having to solve a possible murder. Especially when no one believes a crime has even taken place. Now he must stay out of danger long enough to unravel the mystery – while he dissects his own evidence.

But as Patrick learns one truth from a dead man, he discovers there have been many other lies rather closer to home…

I found this a brave change of style from Belinda Bauer, although in many ways it’s a return of sorts to the jigsaw-like plotting of her breakthrough novel, Blacklands, with a crime story told in this case with several almost episodic tales that weave through and against each other to a satisfying conclusion.

The central character of Patrick, who suffers from Aspergers Syndrome is interesting, likeable and, at times, very humorous as he takes much of what he is told exactly on face value whilst, all the while, carrying out his investigation of what, if it is murder, is likely to be the least violent murder to have occurred in crime fiction in some time.

In many ways that’s what I found refreshing about Rubbernecker – it’s a prime example that, to create a great crime fiction novel, there doesn’t have to be a reliance on bloodshed and violence.

With each successive novel, Bauer manages to create fiction that is very easily, and enjoyably, read and absorbed page after finely crafted page. But it does leave the reader with a problem – just how do you remove the dark images and themes therein from your mind afterwards….?

It’s a great problem to have – and a great read.

Keith

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Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Published by Hard Case Crime / Titan Books  – out next month.

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Blazing into bookstores next month, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is a hardboiled detective novel inspired by the 1950s witch-hunt against crime and horror comic books. Written by best-selling novelist Max Allan Collins (author of Road to Perdition and long-time scripter of the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip) and featuring 16 pages of interior illustrations by comic-book artist Terry Beatty (Batman, The Phantom), SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT tells the story of comic book industry troubleshooter Jack Starr and his investigation into the death of a moral crusader out to get violent comics banned.

The book was inspired in part by the real-life crusade of Dr. Fredric Wertham, who in 1954 published a non-fiction book also titled Seduction of the Innocent in which he accused comic books – especially violent ones such as those put out by Tales from the Crypt publisher EC Comics – of corrupting America’s innocent youth.

Hard Case Crime will bring the book out in February 2013, in paperback and e-book editions, with a new cover painting in the classic pulp style by Glen Orbik.

Well, this one pretty much has everything I like in one handsome little package:

Great pulp Hard Case Crime cover?- CHECK.

Great narrative by one of my favourite US authors, Max Allan Collins? – CHECK.

A crime fiction meets the world of comic books theme (including some rather nice internal illustrations between chapters)? – CHECK, CHECK, CHECK.

With a crafty tale wrought with revenge and the fear of the corruption of America’s youth through comic books, Seduction of the Innocent, tells of the worry that a book ‘Ravage of the Lambs’ could stir by declaring the comic book world as one responsible for all of societies ills.  Although set and based on the 1950’s witch hunt against ‘Tales from the Crypt’ publisher EC Comics, it’s a tale that’s ripe for a modern read – whether it’s comic books, movies or video games, there has and always will be areas of culture which some will choose to target as accountable for everything that goes wrong with young people in society.

If you like your crime with a classic tint, Max Allan Collins is just the man to take you back in time.

Keith

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The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

Published by Sphere

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One summer morning, three little girls meet for the first time. By the end of the day, two will be charged with murder.

Twenty-five years later, journalist Kirsty Lindsay is reporting on a series of sickening attacks on young female tourists in a seaside town when her investigation leads her to interview funfair cleaner Amber Gordon. For Kirsty and Amber, it’s the first time they’ve seen each other since that dark day when they were just children. But with new lives – and families – to protect, will they really be able to keep their wicked secret hidden?

I’d been reading the buzz about this debut novel on twitter for a while now and, with the outside world becoming increasingly chilly and deciding to spend some time wrapped up indoors with hot coffee and a chilling read, this seemed to be a suitable choice to tick all the boxes.

It’ll be hard for anyone based in the UK to read this cracker of a novel from Alex Marwood (a pseudonym for a UK press journalist) without reflecting on the tragic case of Jamie Bulger from a few years back – a case which cannot go unmentioned within the  book itself as it treads similar distressing territory.

With the new identities that both girls have been given  and have lived with for twenty five years suddenly threatened and bringing them crashing together again seemingly by chance, this is a book that will surprise the most jaded of crime fiction readers with its superb and skilful plotting.

It’s been a long time since I can remember a crime novel bringing all of the threads together in such a successful and thrilling way in its closing chapters.

You will be led by the hand by Alex Marwood’s characters through this heartbreaking, thought-provoking and chilling thrill-ride through the darkness, but I cannot reveal here just where they are taking you.

Highly recommended.

Keith

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Marked by David Jackson

Published by Macmillan

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In New York’s East Village a young girl is brutally raped, tortured and murdered. Detective Callum Doyle has seen the victim’s remains. He has visited the distraught family. Now he wants justice.

Doyle is convinced he knows who the killer is. The problem is he can’t prove it. And the more he pushes his prime suspect, the more he learns that the man is capable of pushing back in ways more devious and twisted than Doyle could ever have imagined.

Add to that the appearance of an old adversary who has a mission for Doyle and won’t take no for an answer, and soon Doyle finds himself at risk of losing everything he holds dear.

Including his life.

I have to admit to being a little apprehensive about approaching ‘Marked‘, the third in David Jackson’s New York set series featuring Detective Callum Doyle.  The only reason for my concern was that I loved the first two books ‘Pariah‘ and ‘The Helper‘ so much I was dreading a fall or, at the least, a stumble on the sidewalk this time round.

When the jacket image was released, expectations were very high indeed – the previous two novels read like great movies and this one looked like one straight away too, with its very cinematic and striking image.

I closed the book just over an hour ago having started it this weekend for an 80 page session, followed by a tea and biscuits fuelled 290 pages marathon today (coffee and donuts were sadly unavailable) and I’m happy to report that Marked has definitely done its job: A top read, a great addition to the series and one that has left me desperate to read the next in the series to see just what Mr Jackson has in store for Doyle next.

The character of Cal Doyle was pretty well drawn in the first novel and the follow up but, in Marked, the combination of his skills of sometimes unorthodox investigation and negotiation work, a killer sense of humour and his unshifting humanity towards victims and their kin, are all taken to the max – this is a crime fiction character who, as long as his creator allows, has a long future ahead of him.

Background for the earlier novels is well woven into the book – new readers will have no real issue jumping in at this point but, if you do, you’ll be certain to then rush out and buy the first two anyway – so, go on, treat yourself to all three.

I found the plotting within Marked incredibly well handled and played out, with a reveal sequence that was something Keyser Soze would be proud of. If I felt anything was missing in Marked it would have been that I got so caught up with the story and the characters that one of the other main characters, that of New York itself, seemed to step back from the spotlight a little – but I’m sure that it’ll all come to forefront again when we get to see Callum Doyle on the silver screen (come on – make it happen!).

I took the day off from DIY at home today to read Marked but, after closing the book, it may be a while before I can look at my electric drill in the same way again.

It’s with no irony that David Jackson has clearly ‘Marked’ his place firmly on the ‘crime writers to watch’ list with this one. Go get yourself in that New York State of Mind and soon.

And for a great interview with David Jackson by Mel Sherratt – click here.

Keith

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Rough Men by Aric Davis

Published by Thomas & Mercer

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Will Daniels has fought hard to keep his demons at bay; he’s exchanged a shady past for the love of a woman he doesn’t deserve and the dream of becoming an author, all while trying to save his wayward son, Alex, from the same destructive impulses that nearly doomed him.

But the demons come cackling back in the form of a detective on Will’s doorstep, bearing the news that Alex has been killed in a botched bank robbery. Worse, Alex wasn’t an innocent bystander but part of the gang that raided the vault and left behind numerous bodies.

Simmering with rage over his loss, Will tries to let the police handle the matter. But as Alex’s killers remain at large, Will decides that it’s up to him—and a few old friends—to enact revenge in a most brutal manner.

Now he’s calling on dangerous connections that have been buried for years—and should’ve stayed that way. But Will vows to do whatever it takes to see Alex’s killers repay their sins in blood, even if it means his own damnation.

A while back I was introduced to Aric Davis via his superb novel ‘ A Good and Useful Hurt‘ and now he’s back and he blew me away with more of his great hardboiled Americana style in ‘Rough Men’.

His books are true journeys – doing just what books should do, transporting the reader and the characters through a transition – changing them both through the course of the storytelling – and it’s his skills as a modern storyteller that earn Aric Davis a proud spot on my shelves alongside the two authors I feel he bears the most comparison to; John Rector and Ryan David Jahn.

Read in just two furious reading sessions, Rough Men was a wild, tough and rewarding ride – much like life itself can be.

Seek him out – this author deserves greater recognition and soon.

Keith 

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Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes

Published by Myriad Editions (out on Feb 14th)

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Highly intelligent but socially inept, Colin spends his free time collecting academic qualifications and searching for ways to meet women, until he stumbles upon a new technique that proves both potent and deadly. Police analyst Annabel is shocked when she discovers a decomposing body in the house next door and realises that no one, including herself, noticed her neighbour’s absence. At work she finds data showing that such cases are frighteningly common in her own town and sets out to investigate, convinced she is on trail of a killer.

On the second day into 2013 it may seem a little premature to announce that I have already found one of my top ten (and very likely top five) reads of the year already, but I genuinely feel that I have.

Just when you think you’ve read everything that crime fiction has to say, all the crimes it can detail and all the ways it can say it, along comes Elizabeth Haynes with this, her third and, in my opinion, greatest book to date.  I’d looked forward to reading ‘Human Remains’ for quite some time, since chatting to Elizabeth at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival last summer when she mentioned that this novel had links to her own job as a police intelligence analyst and, all of a sudden, spreadsheets became very interesting indeed.

The story is handled expertly as a multi-character narrative from the point of view of Annabel (the police analyst at the centre of what appears to be a dramatic rise in people found dead and alone in their homes), Colin who may just be a criminal who isn’t committing any crime, and the reflective viewpoints of those who have been left behind – the lonely, the dead, and the decomposing, in their own homes.

It’s a very thought-provoking book, which will guarantee that you will take note of your neighbours almost as soon as you commence reading it. It’s a story that could just happen to any one of us on any day – events that happen every day on any street. When you next hear on the news or read in your local paper that a body has been found in your neighbourhood and that person passed from this world without anyone noticing, you’ll think of this book, and then you’ll have pause to wonder ‘what if’.

The best stories, the best thrills, are when writers or directors put us in places that we’ll never feel safe again. William Goldman and John Schlesinger did it with dentists in Marathon Man, Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg caused us distress of beaches and water in Jaws, Robert Bloch and Alfred Hitchcock left us never comfortable in our showers with Psycho and now, with ‘Human Remains’, Elizabeth Haynes has put us in our own homes, alone, and she’s shut the door !

There are few writers who could write such disturbing prose so beautifully.

Get a copy ordered now and, when you’ve read it, why not pop next door to see if they’d like to read it – and, whilst you’re there, you can check that they’re all okay.

Keith

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If Snow Hadn’t Fallen (A Lacey Flint short story) by SJ Bolton

They say that snow covers everything that is mean and sordid and ugly in the world…but beneath the carpet of white, the ugliness remains.

11 November 2012, London. Long-smouldering feelings come to a head in a burst of shocking violence. A young Muslim man is brutally murdered by a masked gang. 

There is just one witness to the horrific crime: DC Lacey Flint. Or at least that’s what she thinks…

5169hhpTlhL._SX35_Looking for another great download for that kindle (or other ereader) that’s about to come your way this Christmas?

Here’s a great one for fans old and new of SJ Bolton’s great crime books.

It features her regular characters but, although regular readers will get an extra kick or two out of that, it reads perfectly as a wintry disturbing crime tale if it’s your first glimpse into her dark world.

Treat yourself this Christmas – download it here.

Keith

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ALL FALL DOWN by Louise Voss & Mark Edwards

Published by Harper (on ebook from 20th December 2012 and in paperback 14th Feb 2013)

UnknownTime to die…
The explosive new thriller featuring Kate Maddox from the writers of Catch Your Death and Killing Cupid.

Two years on from uncovering a terrifying conspiracy of rogue scientists, all Kate Maddox wants is to lead a normal life with her partner Paul and son Jack. But then a face from the past turns up, bringing chilling news.
A devastating new strain of the virus that killed Kate’s parents is loose in L.A. – and when a bomb rips through a hotel killing many top scientists, it becomes clear someone will do anything to stop a cure being found.
While Paul goes on the hunt for answers, Kate finds herself in a secret laboratory in the heart of California, desperately seeking a way to stop the contagion. But time is running out and soon it will be too late to save their loved ones, themselves, and the world…

Any fears I had that the ground-breaking and kindle-smashing writing duo of Voss & Edwards might drop the ball after the tremendous success of Killing Cupid and Catch Your Death were squashed quickly like a virus spreading mosquito within the opening pages of this new novel.

Opening with a powerful prologue which I found akin to Stephen King’s The Stand, the scene is set for a new tale of the heroine from Catch Your Death, Kate Maddox, as she strives to battle a new and horrifying strain of a virus she has faced before. But this is anything but a retread of that previous book. With All Fall Down the writing team have upped the ante on every level with a juggernaut of a thriller, packing action into every page throughout its just over 450 page running time (and I do mean ‘running’ along with jumping, fighting, racing, shooting etc). Imagine that Outbreak movie from a few years back, turned into a road movie, with the action of Die Hard and you’d be about there.

Voss and Edwards manage to juggle multiple scenes of peril, splitting their main character from her partner, Paul, and son, Jack, and placing each one of them in their own adventure in parallel – all facing different dangers, all racing against the same clock.

It’s a timely tale too, with ebook launch on 20th December, just one day before the Mayan prophecy advises we’re all bound for oblivion, as the novel features a cult-like band who are set on a re-start of sorts to the world, believing they will be the only ones immune to the virus and who will do anything to stop anyone with the powers or knowledge to possibly prevent the spread or to find a cure.

With most of the UK currently experiencing symptoms of the annual winter virus at this very moment – it’s also a novel that will have you taking note whenever someone near you on the tube sneezes – will give you that niggling doubt in your mind…

…but don’t doubt for a moment that Voss and Edwards are clearly here to stay and, with such strong writing and stories, they have just unleashed a viral product for which I really hope there is no cure.

Dose yourself up right here.

Keith 

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Christmas is Murder – by Val McDermid

Published by Little Brown

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Available in ebook for the first time ever, this duo of classic Christmas crime short stories by Sunday Times number one bestseller, Val McDermid – A Traditional Christmas and A Wife in a Million – introduces DI Maggie Staniforth.

A perfect pairing of very entertaining crime shorts from an author who has always been top of her game – a perfect pairing to add as a wintery stocking filler to any ebook reader.

In A Traditional Christmas, the peace of a picture perfect Christmas in the Cotswolds is shattered by an unexpected turn of events.

In A Wife in a Million, Maggie Staniforth takes centre stage in a deadly tale of hardship at Christmas.

Keith

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The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

Published by Hodder

imagesIn the past few days I have undertaken quite a surreal experiment.

The last time I can recall reading a book to try and get it under my belt before seeing an adaptation was reading the last pages of Dennis Lehane’s ‘Gone Baby Gone’ whilst in the queue for a preview screening.

When I found out that Erin Kelly’s debut crime novel ‘The Poison Tree’ was about to air in two parts on ITV1 I tried to get it read beforehand, but then work and stuff got in the way so I made sure I was halfway through before watching the first episode, thinking that should put me in about the right place so as not to spoil things.

I watched the first episode, gripped with the knowledge of what I was expecting to happen and, as is often the case with television timings (particularly those which need to cater for advertisement breaks) the pace was changed, the order of events seemed to be swapped around in places and a major scene broke out which I was in no way prepared for with the first half of the novel read.

Then, when the first episode was over, I returned to the book and ploughed through it, finding that although a lot of what I’d just seen on the screen was happening on the page it had been altered to have some characters performing the actions of others and other changes such as where one of the central characters, Rex, worked in prison and what work he was looking for when back in the outside world.

I absolutely loved the book and can only kick myself for not getting around to reading it in its entirety a long time ago, but the television adaptation also seems to be shaping up very nicely with a strong cast and a nice structure to it.

Now, I can’t wait to see the concluding episode this week to see how things tie together in the visual version as, for now, Erin Kelly’s ‘The Poison Tree’ exists in my head like a twisted, haunting dream where the two incarnations share the same themes and major characters and yet each have their own individual lives as though I have walked down two paths of the same dark woodland.

For all those reasons, both the book and the series will remain in my mind for a long long time.

Keith 

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