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Eva Dolan (Essex)

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by Luca Veste
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead Gone, 25 Feb 2014
This review is from: DEAD GONE (Paperback)
There are few things more satisfying for a crime fan than finding a brilliant new author and with his debut novel Luca Veste has announced himself as an exciting and highly capable addition to the ranks. Set in a well realised Liverpool, offering far more than the usual football and Beatles clichés, Dead Gone introduces detective duo DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi as they hunt down the first serial killer to target the city in decades.

Putting a fresh spin on the serial killer thriller is no small ask and Veste has drawn on his psychological expertise to create a villain who mines the darkest corners of the discipline, creating chilling experiments designed to test the limits of not just bodies but minds. As the victims keep coming he taunts the police, alternately boasting of his superiority and trying to justify his actions, as if there might be some small hint of humanity in him still. Do we believe that? Or is it just another gambit to throw them off the scent? With this bad guy the mental gymnastics make you question everything.

Alongside the fiendishly plotted drive to catch the killer Veste presents a heartbreaking study in grief and denial, showing us a man who has lost his soul mate, and who refuses to believe that she would simply up sticks and leave him, despite her family's reports of historical bolting and the disinterest of the police when he reports her missing. Rob's decline is minutely observed, painfully convincing, and illustrates Veste's fine eye for character, as well as a his humane approach; something which is often missing in this genre.

I don't want to give anymore away but suffice to say Dead Gone is an almost indecently accomplished debut, expertly constructed, constantly twisting and flipping your expectations, until the final, taut and terrifying pages. I loved the dynamic between Murphy and Rossi, he's a big Scouse bear with troubled past, she's a fiery Italian who gives as good as she gets, but even within a few pages you can tell these characters are going to work well together and I'm looking forward to seeing how they and the series develops in the coming years, because make no mistake, Luca Veste is a writer with a big career ahead of him.

Black Chalk
Black Chalk
Price: £3.95

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black Chalk, 20 Sep 2013
This review is from: Black Chalk (Kindle Edition)
Puzzle compiler isn't a profession you'll see on many author's CVs, but reading Christopher J Yates' debut Black Chalk shows what perfect preparation it is for twisting readers in knots. This fiendishly clever book follows six students at the fictional Pitt College in Oxford during the 1990s, adjusting to the ego bruising experience of going from smartest kids in school to middling intellectuals in waiting surrounded by much sharper minds.

Lead by American ex-country boy Chad and the gloriously effete Brit Jolyon the group decide to play a game, an initially simple and frivolous one with forfeits served to the loser of each round. It needs to be worthwhile though, these are competitive people, and a large cash pot is provided by the shadowy Game Soc, three older students who are initially treated as laughable weirdos, until the true depth of their involvement emerges.

What starts out as harmless fun quickly escalates into all out psychological warfare. The group dynamics shift, personal relationships lead to destructive alliances and real world betrayals, both romantic and plutonic, which feed back into the game. The forfeits evolve from sniggering, childlike dares to acts of downright sadism, with the players ruthlessly exploiting their growing intimacy to find the soft spots in each others defences.

The parallel narrative skips neatly between the groups time at Pitt College, teasing out the development of the game, and modern day New York where Jolyon is now holed up in his apartment, enduring a hermetic existence structured around a series of OCD rituals; something which seemed like a charming affectation at university now signalling the true scale of his psychological trauma. Quite early on we know that the game has proved destructive but we don't know who is the victim and who the aggressor and Yates skilfully manipulates our impressions of the players, ensuring that just as you get a handle on events another move is made and you're back to square one, questioning everything you thought you knew. Yates is definitely not a man you'd want to play chess with.

Although the entire cast is well drawn and completely credible Jolyon steals the book. Quintessentially English, with a distinctly Waughian vibe, he's the man everyone wants to impress at college, foppish but effortlessly clever, dripping with charisma, the perfect foil for the seemingly plodding Chad, who arrives at Oxford yearning to be part of the world Jolyon represents, and the increasingly toxic nature of their friendship is driving force behind much of the action.

Black Chalk is a tremendously enjoyable novel, elegantly constructured, with lots of mini-twists and cliffhanger chapter endings, so that it is near impossible to put down. Yates writes with confidence and great flair, his prose is crisp, his characterisation beady-eyed, and there is a delightful fizzy wit running through the book. Definitely a writer to watch.

Witness the Dead
Witness the Dead
Price: £2.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witness the Dead, 18 Sep 2013
This review is from: Witness the Dead (Kindle Edition)
Craig Robertson just keeps getting better, which is some achievement when you consider that his first novel, Random, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger and hit the Sunday Times bestseller list. He has made Glasgow's mean streets his own and built a strong ensemble cast, led by the no nonsense DS Rachel Narey and scenes of crime photographer Tony Winter, who plays a central role this time round.

A young woman is found dead in Glasgow's Northern Necropolis, raped, strangled and carefully laid out across a tomb with the word 'SIN' written across her body in red lipstick. When a second woman is killed the next day Narey and her team realise they have a serial murderer on their hands. Which would be bad enough, but Winters uncle and ex-copper Danny Neilson believes the case is even more complex than that.

During the 1970s Danny worked the infamous 'Red Silk' murders, a case which gripped and terrified the city of Glasgow as several women were murdered in quick succession without the police ever managing to catch their killer. And these recent deaths exhibit links to the historical case which no copycat could know. But the man suspected back then is locked up, serving multiple life sentences for a string of murders and can't be responsible, despite the similarities. Archibald Atto is a psychopath who has tortured his victims families for years, refusing to reveal the location of their bodies or the full extent of his crimes, playing with them and the prison authorities and the police for his own amusement. Atto craves attention though and, worryingly for Winter, when the two men meet he seems to believe he's found a kindred spirit.

As Narey and her comrades chase down leads on the street Winter is drawn into an mental chess match with Atto. They know he has information about the killer but he won't give it up easily, not without extracting something from Winter in return; an audience, a sympathetic ear, an admission that the thrill Winter feels in photographing the dead isn't so different to the one Atto feels at killing? No matter how repulsed he is by their encounters the police need Atto and Winter will be forced to confront his own darkest impulses if the murderer is to be caught.

Through dual narratives, one following Danny Neilson and the original Red Silk case during the 1970s and the other the contemporary investigation, Robertson skilfully creates a sense of emotional involvement with the murders as well as a breathless pace which had me whipping through the pages. The team is growing with each book and dynamics becoming more involved; there are some great exchanges between Winter and the gloriously foul-mouthed DI Addison which are a real joy to read, while the relationship between Winter and Narey continues on its complicated way. The scenes with Archibald Atto are the most compelling in the book though, recalling the Starling/Lecter meetings, but with an added frisson created by Winter's own almost-deviant psychology.

Last year I raved about Cold Grave but Craig Robertson has surpassed himself with Witness the Dead, a perfectly constructed police procedural with real psychological depth.

Red Winter
Red Winter
Price: £4.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Red Winter, 16 Sep 2013
This review is from: Red Winter (Kindle Edition)
Dan Smith's previous novel The Child Thief, an intense thriller set among the Bolshevik-infested forests of 1930's Ukraine, was one of my novels of 2012, so I had high expectations for Red Winter. And I'm glad to say that it more than lived up to them. Set in central Russia during the 1920s, an especially tumultuous period for a country which has rarely been settled, it sees Smith reprising some of the themes from his previous novel, the brutality of extreme political ideologies and the power of family ties.

Red Winter opens with a deserting soldier returning home to rejoin his family and bury his fallen brother, but after days of arduous trekking through snowy forests fraught with danger, and with his old life within touching distance, Kolya makes an unsettling discovery. His village is abandoned, his house empty and showing signs of a speedy, possibly forced departure. He is fully aware what the Red Army is capable of, he has worn that uniform and swept through villages like this, and he knows that many of his former comrades do not share his sense of human decency.

A lone woman remains in the village, filthy and emaciated, driven to the point of insanity, and she takes Kolya into the forest to show him the aftermath of the massacre which emptied the village. The men have been killed in unspeakably terrible ways, their corpses left to rot where they fell, bearing star-shaped brands. The old woman claims it is the work of Koschei, The Deathless One, a demonic figure from Russian folklore, but Kolya is a rational man and sees a human hand behind the brutality.

With no trace of his wife and children to be found he clings to the slim hope they have been taken prisoner, bound for the work camps or worse, and resolves to track them down, following the trail of destruction which Koschei has cut through the frozen countryside. He isn't the only person on Koschei's tail though and his status as a deserter makes him a potential target for any soldiers in the area; it's hard to conceal the mark which command leaves on a man, and so he must use all of his guile, and the skills which made him a formidable officer, to maintain his liberty long enough to find his family.

Once again Dan Smith has produced a first class historical thriller, which will satisfy the most demanding of crime fans, while exploring the consequences of unchecked military might and the persistence of the human spirit. Smith's prose is crisp, his sense of pace flawless and his appreciation of the mundane terrors of warfare nothing short of masterly. In Kolya he has created a fascinating character, flawed and conflicted, with dark secrets he isn't ready to face, but from the very first page you will find yourself rooting for him, gasping at his heartbreak and cheering the triumph of his spirit.

I read this book in a single sitting - not something I do very often - because I simply couldn't tear my eyes away from the page. Red Winter is utterly compelling and genuinely unsettling.

Wee Danny
Wee Danny

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wee Danny, 16 Sep 2013
This review is from: Wee Danny (Kindle Edition)
Gerard Brennan's acclaimed novella Wee Rockets was a pulsating slice of Belfast grit, following the lives of a gang of teenagers who spent their time harassing old folks and getting wrecked in parks on cider and weed, a story which hummed with street smart credibility. The recently released Wee Danny is a sequel of sorts and sees one of the main characters, Danny Gibson, now locked up in a young offenders institution.

Danny has worked out how to make it through his stretch and his eyes are fixed firmly on his upcoming release. He knows to keep his head down, avoid trouble and play the reformed character. Maybe he is being rehabilitated, he's certainly behaving better than he did on the outside - making nice with his psychologist and teachers, side stepping the macho crap of his fellow inmates, or at least making sure he looks like the innocent party when the fists start flying.

Then Danny is befriended by Conan Quinlan - The Barbarian, naturally - a gentle giant with learning difficulties who prompts an uncharacteristic protectiveness in Danny. Conan is a big target, physically capable of taking care of himself but lacking in Danny's feral guile. They're an odd double act but their friendship is the kind that develops in harsh situations, sparked at random and tentative to begin with. Danny is initially wary of Conan, not sure if he's a threat or a friend, confused by his strange behaviour and intimidated by his bulk, but he feels protective towards him and when the opportunity to spend some time outside on a work placement arises he talks the prison psychologist into letting Conan out too. A move which will lead to his rehabilitation being tested.

Wee Danny is a much gentler book than Wee Rockets, there's violence but because of the setting it is contained and brief, more a battle of wills than all out warfare, and Brennan does an excellent job of teasing out the small slights and power games which define the hierarchy within a young offenders institution. At the heart of this slim but perfectly formed novella is the relationship between Danny and Conan, and through it we see the tearaway of Wee Rockets in new light, capable of decency and kindness. Maybe he'll be fully reformed in a future book, or maybe it's only his environment which allows him to show this new side to his character, hopefully we'll find out at some point.

Gerard Brennan has always been a writer with a great flair for character and this has come to the fore in Wee Danny, a large hearted character piece which, despite the subject matter, is actually really touching.

Dead Line
Dead Line
Price: £3.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead Line, 16 Sep 2013
This review is from: Dead Line (Kindle Edition)
Earlier this year Chris Ewan's first stand alone thriller Safe House became a runaway success, dominating the Kindle charts for months, and garnering rave reviews from critics and readers alike for its driving pace and twisty narrative. I must admit to having high expectations for Dead Line after being hooked by Safe House. Whilst the setting and subject matter are very different Dead Line once again showcases Ewan's talent for spinning a story which grabs you by the throat and doesn't let up.

Daniel Trent is a hostage negotiation specialist, experienced, highly skilled and absolutely unflappable. So when his fiancée Aimee disappears he has no intention of involving the police. Because Daniel is certain that Aimee has been abducted and he knows who took her from that stretch of winding, mountain road high above Marseilles; Jerome Moreau, a well set up gangster with his fingers in many dirty deals. The plan is simple, grab Moreau and make him talk.

But somebody else gets there first. Swooping in and snatching Moreau from under his nose with well oiled precision which suggests that this team of kidnappers are at the top of their game. Daniel is adaptable though, he has no choice but to be, and he finds himself working with Moreau's beautiful, ballet dancer wife and his feckless son, pulling out all the stops to secure Moreau's release, needing him alive if he's ever going to get Aimee back. Daniel is an emotional wreck though, swinging between hope and despair, trying not to let his ultimate motive show through his professional facade, while Moreau's right-hand man picks away at him, sensing that Daniel might not be quite what he seems.

Meanwhile somebody is watching Daniel very closely, hidden in the shadows, exploiting his compromised state to monitor his movements for some obscure reason, and as the situation within the Moreau household becomes more fraught, with secrets and lies bubbling up through the cracks, demands being made and threats uttered, Daniel will have to use every trick in his arsenal to free Moreau before the kidnappers do something everyone will regret.

Dead Line has all the ingredients for a smash hit poolside thriller, the exotic location, pungently evoked, the steely lead man with a soft core, gangsters, henchmen and a trophy wife with something to hide. It's a more glamorous book than Safe House, has a cinematic scope which makes for very easy reading, and enough twists and turns to ensure your heartbeat doesn't have a chance to settle down until the final, breath taking pages. I literally could not stop reading - even when I was cooking dinner it was in my free hand - and writing this compelling is a rare thing, even in the crime genre. It's more than just crash bang wallop though. Ewan is a technically accomplished writer; his prose is downright silky, his characters memorable and original, and he invests this action packed story with a genuine emotional weight which will leave you feeling wrung out.

With Dead Line Chris Ewan has gone from 'must-watch' author to top flight thriller writer. Make room in your suitcase for this one.

Five stars

Price: £3.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Matador, 1 Aug 2013
This review is from: Matador (Kindle Edition)
Ray Banks is very much a crime writer's crime writer, with a back catalogue full of dark and deviant grit. However, he deserves a much wider audience and his latest, Matador, could be the book which delivers it. Originally published in serial form, one instalment every two weeks sent direct to your Kindle, I can only imagine how readers who picked it up like this must have itched to receive the next part, because it is a real single-sitting novel.

A man wakes up in a shallow grave, trapped, terrified. He screams and dirt fills his mouth, but a survival instinct kicks in through the pain and the fear, and slowly, agonisingly, he digs himself out, and finds that a live burial is the least of his troubles. There's a bullet lodged in his head and another in his body, his memory is gone, and the only clue to his identity is a ticket to a bullfight with a phone number scrawled on the back.

He stumbles into the nearest town and gets patched up by a local vet, finds a dive bar with a dubious clientele who seem to know him better than he knows himself right then. Calls are made, demands are uttered and violence ensues, but the dead man walking now knows his name at least - Rafael - and he's found what looks like friend. The friend asks questions Raf can't answer, before depositing him at a grubby, roadside brothel to recuperate. The girls there seem to know him too and as he rests up Raf begins to wonder what kind of man he is - married but frequenting whorehouses, with a friend who keeps a gun in his glove box. Is he really the innocent victim he'd like to believe he is, or is there a darker motive to his shooting? Did he maybe do something to deserve it?

The ticket to the bullfight leads Raf back into his forgotten life, one of violence, deceit and betrayal, with wide-boy British drug runners gunning for him the loved ones he can no longer remember are in line the of fire - his wife and son, and the man who trained him up into a formidable matador only to see him corrupted by ego. Raf's on borrowed time, bloodied and beaten, and the only thing keeping him going is a desire for revenge on the men who left him for dead.

If you've read any of Banks' previous work you'll already know what an accomplished writer he is, given to dark humour and moments of extreme violence, adept at creating grotesque, memorable characters. It takes true confidence to centre a contemporary crime novel around a matador and talent to make it work, and it's a huge credit to Banks' skills that you never once question the credibility of the situation, or doubt the capabilities of his tough but flawed hero.

Matador is an intense read, by turns hallucinatory and razor sharp, a driving revenge piece tied to a Brit gangster actioner - think Sergio Leone meets Guy Ritchie, with far better dialogue. It's an absolute must read for fans of the hard stuff.

The Never List
The Never List
by Koethi Zan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Never List, 1 Aug 2013
This review is from: The Never List (Hardcover)
"There were four of us down there for the first thirty-two months and eleven days of our captivity. And then, very suddenly, and without warning, there were three." From the very first line of Koethi Zan's hotly tipped debut you know you're in for a terrifying read, made all the more disturbing by recent news stories which have revealed just how credible this story of abduction and torture is.

After a serious car accident during their adolescence best friends Sarah and Jennifer realise what dangers are lurking in the big, bad world. So they create The Never List. Tornados, plane crashes, asteroid strikes; these things are statistically unlikely and take comfort in that. Rape, abduction, murder; these are possibilities, so they take steps to protect themselves. But one moment of inattention leads Sarah and Jennifer into a strange car then a madman's cellar. And they're not the only ones there. Tracy and Christine are long termers and as they reveal what they know of the cellar's previous occupants escape seems unlikely.

But they do escape - we don't know how - and thirteen years on we meet Sarah again, living a reclusive existence, under an assumed name, in a well appointed Upper West Side apartment which she never leaves. While Sarah hides in a prison of her making Christine has reinvented herself as a trophy wife and Tracy, always the most defiant of them, is now a spiky punk. Jennifer, we learn, did not escape. The three women share a complicated history and have no desire to see each other again, but Professor Jack Derber, the man who abducted them is up for parole and their testimony is vital to him being denied it.

During his incarceration Derber has been sending cryptic notes to his victims, trying to draw them back to the town where they were held, playing on Sarah's need to know what happened to Jennifer. Reluctant but determined Sarah returns to Ohio, eventually convincing Tracy to help her, and the two plunge into the murky world of sex clubs and the possibly even murkier one of academia, looking for the truth. But Derber is still playing them and they discover that there may be other victims out there still waiting for release.

Koethi Zan picks up the abduction narrative where most authors leave it, exploring the psychological toll it takes on survivors and skilfully weaves this into a gut-wrenching thriller which will have you double checking the locks before you go to bed. (It will probably put you off taking taxis for awhile too.) At the heart of the book is the relationship between the survivors and it is a fraught one, guilt-laden, antagonistic and downright brutal in places, but slowly Zan exposes the underlying reasons and they are just as twisty and unexpected as the rest of the book.

The Never List is a highly accomplished debut which puts an original spin on the 'girl in the cellar' story and marks Koethi Zan out as an author to watch. I can't wait to see what she does next.

Plan D
Plan D
by Simon Urban
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.94

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plan D, 27 Jun 2013
This review is from: Plan D (Hardcover)
There is something irresistible about 'what if' historical thrillers, and World War Two has provided fertile ground for the likes of Robert Harris and, more recently CJ Sansom with the excellent Dominion. If you enjoyed either of these books then Simon Urban's debut Plan D, set in a modern day East Germany where the Berlin Wall never fell, will be a must.

An elderly man is found hanging from a major East German-Russian pipeline in a secure sector. Suicide is swiftly ruled out by the presence of the eights knots around his neck and the shoelaces tied together; these are the hallmarks of a Stasi execution, one reserved for the worst kind of traitors. But the Stasi was overhauled years earlier and such behaviour is no longer in their make-up. Officially at least. Inspector Martin Wegener knows he isn't really expected to find the killer. In the People's Police Force crimes are rarely solved, only passed up the chain until they disappear into an anonymous filing cabinet, and this one seems more politically sensitive than usual, bound for bureaucratic snarl-up.

As it turns out the case is actually too politicised for a quiet cover-up. A major gas deal is in the offing, one with wide reaching ramifications for the GDR and her position within Europe and they must be seen to be making every effort, prove that the dark days are behind them. The drafting in of suave, West German detective Richard Brendel, only highlights the potential diplomatic tensions around the case, and it is a predictably bumpy ride for Weneger, who can't help but measure himself against the man. It doesn't help that he has the voice of his ex - read dead - partner Fruchtl offering frequent commentary on life, politics and women. Mostly Wegener's ex - read moved on to better things - girlfriend Karolina, whose high flying and possibly rather sleazy job at the Energy Ministry throws some complications into the case, personally and professionally.

The initial murder is only a small part of Plan D. It is, of course, well handled, satisfying the needs of the genre but, being an alternative history thriller, the real pleasure for the reader comes from Urban's flawless construction of an East Berlin which never existed, with all of its social intricacies and political machinations, grinding Communist-era economical constraints slamming against external pressures. Urban has created a densely realised world, hugely atmospheric, grim and grinding, a city dominated by crumbling relics, but with hidden oases of decadence for the wealthy few. Wegener is the city personified, crumbling himself but persisting as people with more power conspire around him, laying one betrayal over another. He isn't instantly attractive, he's far too noirish for that, but he's an intriguingly flawed protagonist, one you're more than happy to sped five hundred pages with.

Plan D is a highly accomplished debut, ambitious, complex and written with great flair. If you're looking for a summer read which will suck you in and hold fast, this the one.

City of Blood
City of Blood
Price: £3.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars City of Blood, 21 Jun 2013
This review is from: City of Blood (Kindle Edition)
South African crime fiction has enjoyed a long-overdue boost of late, with Roger Smith and Lauren Beukes' eye catching, but very different novels, throwing the spotlight on the country. The region has huge potential for crime writers, grinding poverty sitting next to pockets of carefully protected wealth, with corruption rife and violence commonplace. Out of this seething melting pot debut author MD Villiers, a former Johannesburg native, has crafted a dark, complex and often moving novel.

City of Blood opens with the seemingly motiveless stabbing of an elderly mango seller. The market crowd looks on unmoved, the Nigerian killer knows he doesn't need to run, but nineteen year old orphan Siphiwe can't bear to remain uninvolved. He goes to comfort the woman and that simple act of kindness kicks off a chain of events which puts him at the heart of a bitter and bloody turf war.

Gangster McCarthy Letswe has returned to Johannesburg after a forced exile and he wants his business back from the Nigerians who have muscled in during his absence. Their leader, the white suited chameleon Abuju, seems untouchable, surrounded by thugs, protected by corrupt police, but everyone has a weakness and Letswe is determined to find Abuju's soft spot.

Siphiwe is an unwilling player in this web of intrigue; known to Letswe via a criminal cousin, being watched and threatened by the Nigerian who attacked the mango seller, and with the police pressurising him to speak up and help them catch the man. Siphiwe has his own demons too, guilt from the death of his brother when they were boys and a sense of responsibility towards the people at the shelter who took him in, but he's smart, with instincts honed from living on the streets, and with so much at stake he will need every ounce of guile he has to survive.

City of Blood is part crime novel, part coming of age story, and MD Villiers blends the elements very successfully, making it seem inevitable, even natural, that a decent young man like Siphiwe would become entangled with the violent power struggles of gangsters. She writes with a clear, confident voice and the kind of forceful pacing which makes you whip through the pages. It is a striking debut from a writer who promises to become a major talent and I'm looking forward to what she produces next.

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