Reviews

In this section I will include reviews of crime books, fiction and non-fiction, which I've read. Some will be of proofs submitted for review while others will be books I have come across and feel other readers would enjoy (or, occasionally, should avoid).

Spook Street by Mick Herron

Having a bunch of misfits and rejects save the day while the regular folk flounder around is not a new device but Mick Herron, in his Slough House novels, brings it off superbly.

Slough House is the home of the "Slow Horses" - spies who have either screwed up so badly or have such awkward personality defects that they cannot be trusted in mainstream MI5. They are given mindless tasks in the hope that they will resign, a cheaper option than dismissing them. The unit head is Jackson Lamb whose sin is still undisclosed by the end of this book. A repellent personality with weight, hygiene, alcohol and flatulence problems (think Andy Dalziel multiplied by ten but with no charm or redeeming features) Lamb treats his underlings generally with contempt but backs them up tenaciously when it comes to the crunch.

The Gold and Steel Dagger-winning Spook Street, the fourth in the series, starts with a terrorist bomb in a shopping centre and moves on to an apparently unrelated attempt on the life of David Cartwright, a retired senior spook. Cartwright is developing dementia and this is acutely and poignantly detailed by Herron. The issue is not so much what he's forgotten but what he remembers - and whether he will recount it to the wrong people. Cartwright shoots the assassin and his grandson, River, is first on the scene.

River Cartwright is a slow horse keen to get back to proper spook activities. The dead assassin is easily mistaken for River - even more so when River puts another bullet in his face. Using the dead man's passport and train ticket, River disappears to France where he comes upon the smoking ruins of a mysterious establishment called Les Arbres.

More details would spoil the plot but suffice it to say that semi-competent spies, a renegade ex-CIA agent, a relentless assassin and the higher echelons of the Service, where backstabbing is a critical professional skill, coalesce and provide a dramatic finale. Thrills complement dark humour and some guessable public figures have been satirised to within an inch of libel in Herron's books. London in the pouring rain, effectively evoked, also plays a part in the proceedings.

Herron is adept at misdirection and springs surprises throughout. His combination of tense action sequences, hilarious dialogue, quirky characters, sometimes breathtaking use of language and a plot as twisty as a pirouetting whelk makes this an exhilarating and truly satisfying read. And the sequel is just out, too!

This review first appeared in the Dagger Reads section of the Crime Writers Association website.

Snap by Belinda Bauer

A new thriller from Belinda Bauer is always much anticipated and Snap, her latest, doesn't disappoint.

It starts with a nail-biting sequence as two children, one carrying a two year old, walk along the hard shoulder of the M5 in search of their mother who has failed to return to their broken-down car after going for help. 

The action then moves on three years to Tiverton, Devon, where, in a seemingly unrelated strand, we are introduced to Catherine a pregnant woman who becomes increasingly fearful for her life after an intruder breaks into her home. She tells no-one about her stalker and doesn't contact the police.

Also in Tiverton, DCI John Marvel, having moved down from London, is charged with catching the "Goldilocks burglar", a thief who breaks into empty properties, steals food and valuables, sleeps in a bed and then trashes the place.

Jack, the oldest of the children on the M5, is caring for his sisters in the family home, their father having decamped.  Somehow they have escaped the gaze of the authorities and Jack has cleverly convinced the neighbours that their father is at home and is schooling them.

Jack is determined that his mother's killer should be found and has his own suspicions as to the murderer's identity.  Although the police are less than  impressive at times, they are not completely incompetent and their convoluted pursuit of the killer is gripping. The denouement is as satisfying as anyone could want, with a heady mixture of tension, peril and bravery.

Apart from a number of irritating references to a grown woman's "tummy", Bauer's writing is a joy to read and her command of plot and character is flawless.  This is  definitely a book to read in one sitting.  Highly recommended!

No way out by Cara Hunter

Cara Hunter's third DI Fawley novel is well up to the standard of her previous two (Close to Home and In the Dark). A fatal house fire, a missing husband and gradually developing tension, told partly in flashback, make this a compelling read.  Her attention to detail on the fire aspects is impressive. With good characters, a twisty plot and some good, solid detection this is a must-read.

Lost lives by Lisa Cutts

Lisa Cutts has written this book from the heart. It deals with people trafficking in the south of England, the area in which she  works as a detective constable.  The horrors of this dreadful trade are well described as we follow two "workhorses" as they try to escape from their captivity.  In parallel we have the story of an attempted shooting of someone who tried to help an escapee and the police's attempts to protect him.  The effects of government cuts to the police service also feature prominently in the book which is well plotted with credible characters and bursts of nerve-racking tension.  A must read!