This (Prayer for the Dead) will be my last submission to the original MEAN STREETS review blog, and I will be reposting it on a new blog which I hope will be followed by all the old MEAN STREETS devotees. Please give me your comments, both for the reviews and for the blog itself, so that I can get it to a worthwhile standard. There should be more links to showcase the reviewers own work, as well as other sites to advise and solve the problems of budding writers.

Thanks especially to Harry Bingham and the staff at who have established and hosted MEAN STREETS up to the present.

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PRAYER for the DEAD – James Oswald

Reporter Jo Dalgleish is not one of Inspector Tony McLean’s favourite people, but he cannot totally avoid her plea to help find her missing colleague. Then his body is found in a carefully staged and bizarre condition in a cave beneath Edinburgh. The blood has been drained and it lies in a place it would seem to be impossible to reach without being seen.

In a seemingly unconnected case, McLean is begged by a friend, transvestite fortune-teller Madam Rose, to find out who is trying to drive her from her home, by killing one of her cats and stuffing crap through her letterbox. Touches of the supernatural do not detract from this tale, and McLean’s humanity clearly shines through.

Further strange killings occur, seemingly with no connection with one another except for their very oddity.

Being the fifth in the series, McLean’s colleagues reappear and become familiar characters, both loyal friends and annoying superiors, as does McLean, himself.

It is a very readable who-dunnit, although the darkly driven killer seems to stretch the reality of motive and method to the limit.

Thanks once again to Random House Penguin South Africa for sending me this review copy.

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HOPE TO DIE – James Patterson

This is the second half of Cross my Heart, previously reviewed on MEAN STREETS back in March 2014, but a much better piece. It is very much more in line with the nail biting Patterson his many fans remember. Certainly he gave ammunition to those cynics who muttered about the Patterson book factory churning out quantity to the detriment of quality when he gave them Cross My Heart and ended it hanging, with Alex Cross nearly broken by the loss of his nearest and dearest.

Ex-FBI agent, now Detective, Alex Cross fights back in the almost vain hope that he can still save the captive members of his family from the psychopath, Thierry Mulch. The sadistic maniac toys with Cross as he pursues false trails at Mulch’s whim. Every move and counter move is a steel grip on the reader’s throat in the best of the old Patterson tradition.

Some have said that Hope to Die should not be read unless they first have Cross my Heart behind them. Fair enough, but a discerning reader is going to have a problem with the continuity. An adopted daughter changes ethnicity, characters appear and disappear to no obvious purpose… Maybe avoid this confusion and read Hope to Die as a stand-alone. Certainly do not get the order mixed up if you want to read both.

Should Mr Patterson continue the Cross tales, he should be careful not to lower that standard which marked the best of them, or risk losing some of his longstanding fans. Or putting off the newer ones.

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The Ways of the Dead – Neely Tucker

I agree with the assertion by Michael Connelly: “If this is Tucker’s first novel, I can’t wait for what’s coming next.” on the cover of the thriller, The Ways of the Dead.

Probably the most admirable is the author’s protagonist, Sullivan Carter, an investigative journalist for a leading Washington newspaper in the nineties.

“You never stopped moving. That was the thing. You just kept pushing, driving, asking, sticking your nose in people’s faces, taking the shit, the insults, fighting back the depression and the sense of hopelessness and then, out of the void, sometimes somebody told you something.”

The teenage daughter of a federal judge, Sarah Reese, goes into a mini-mart after her dance class and is accosted by three black lads. Her body is found in a dumpster behind the shop. Reporters flock to the scene. Among them is Carter, who calls on Sly Hastings, the local drug lord, to get his take on the killing, rather than jump to the obvious conclusions. Hastings feels that the killer is not among the boys being held for the crime.

Carter begins to question the emergence of a pattern of three murdered women within a few blocks of each other, but his editor, giving more coverage to wealthy white victims, is convinced that it has nothing to do with the case, and demands that he focus on the obvious guilt of the three suspects.

Carter’s character is beautifully unfolded. He is a functioning alcoholic, an ex-war correspondent who has been physically and mentally wounded in Balkan atrocities, but fully versed in digging through the grime to find real answers.

Because of the 90’s setting, reporting involves shoe-leather and contacts, rather than i-pads and cell phones, as the author makes plain.

The dialogue is authentic and gritty. The plot is just acceptably plausible and tight, gripping and releasing in ever mounting waves to a great twisted finale. I certainly hope we see a lot more of Neely Tucker. However, perhaps a more intriguing title would be an improvement.

Thanks to Random House Penguin South Africa for sending me this review copy.

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BURN – James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

Detective Michael Bennett returns to New York City, having spent some time in Witness Protection. He is reassigned to an “Outreach Squad” in Harlem as a spiteful move by his superior, which move, for the reader, is quite intriguing as he sets about turning it from a rudderless group into a useful community tool.

For the purposes of the plot, however, the only result of consequence is the report that someone saw a group of well-dressed gentlemen assemble in a derelict building. Only when the burned body of a woman trussed up like a barbecued chicken in that self-same building, does the significance sink in.

When an old friend lures him back to his old Major Crimes Unit with the case of robbers hitting prestigious jewellery stores, he decides to handle both cases. That not being enough to keep him busy, he has to deal with his huge adopted family, sans the beautiful Irish nanny, with whom he is in love, who has gone back to Ireland to deal with a family matter.

Too much! At times the family problems of health, a paternity claim and just being a single parent, make the reader forget this is supposed to be a crime novel. The problems take chapters, but the solutions are dismissed in a few lines.

The weaving together of a couple of different plots seems to be becoming a habit with Mr Patterson. Not necessarily a bad one, perhaps, if done seamlessly, but all the family padding to bulk it out is confusing, boring, and I was very tempted to give up on it. What is most unfortunate is that if the next offering is in any way similar, I shall be applying less patience than I would have otherwise.

Nevertheless, thanks to Random House Penguin South Africa for sending me this review copy.

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Seven Wonders – Ben Mezrich

Convincingly researched, historically, this tale of pursuing ancient clues is action packed. A headlong sleigh-ride from one Wonder of the World to the next with unerring accuracy, keeping one step ahead of a tribe of Amazons bent on preserving the ancient secrets.

Mathematical research genius, Jeremy Grady, with Asperger social skills ineptitude, discovers a connection between the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World and the Modern Seven Wonders of the World. On the brink of deciphering the possibilities of the mystery, he is murdered.

Fortunately, he leaves a clue for his twin brother, Anthropologist Dr Jack Grady. Jack and his support team of two whizz-kids link up with botanical frontier scientist, Sloane Costa to follow the trail of clues from one Wonder to the next. Da Vinci Code stuff.

As improbable as one suspects this plot might be, the story is immensely readable and exciting to about Wonder no. 4, by which time the conquering of one is much like the next. Press a concealed button and a stone gate grinds open. Avoid booby trap, escape by a hair’s breadth as the Wonder splits open, blows up or bursts into flames on Jacks heels as he escapes with the next Clue.

Between Wonders, they are pursued all over the world by a network of deadly Amazons with martial art skills and ivory spears while a millionaire manipulator hovers in the background.

I enjoyed the first half, but it felt as if the Wonders were eventually being crammed in to make them fit. Consider Indiana Jones, or Lara Croft, losing their pizazz.

Thanks to Random House Penguin South Africa for sending me this review copy.

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An Event in Autumn – Henning Mankell

Considering a move to the country, the Swedish detective, Kurt Wallender, takes a look at a country house that was recommended to him, and comes across a shallow grave in the garden. Which is the start of a half century old cold case, for the seasoned detective to doggedly sink his teeth into.

Wallender quickly becomes an old friend, as familiar as a pair of well-worn boots. This novella, for the newly-introduced, will open up a wonderful new world of crime-reading when we find out that there are ten or so Wallender stories out there to feast on.

For readers and writers alike, there is an enlightening note at the end of this little snack describing how he came to start the series, how the character developed, changing through the years, as we all do change, and why the series had now run its course. If the reader has kept up with the series, that is sad news indeed. If not, it is comforting to know that we have delicious meals to come.

Henning Mankell describes how he started with what was intended as a stand-alone novel – The Faceless Killers – through attempting to shine a spotlight on racism in Sweden, to eventually become the creator of the series of eleven books.

Writer, too, are given the opportunity to understand what might drive a fellow scrivener to awaken their art. The creation of characters that oftentimes become friends and the godlike power to create and eliminate enemies is fascinating.

Thanks to Random House Penguin South Africa for sending me this review copy.

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PRIVATE INDIA – James Patterson & AshwinSanghi

Jack Morgan’s international investigation company has a branch in Mumbai. Headed by Santosh Wagh, Private India is called upon to help the local police chief to investigate the deaths of seemingly unconnected people, strangled in a chilling yellow-scarf ritual with strange objects carefully arranged with the corpses. Besides a puzzling serial killer, Mumbai’s major gang-lord, a powerful godman and a shady politician, somebody out there is intent on igniting strategically placed mammoth bombs in the city of many millions.

That/there is/are the plot/s. Wow.

Then there is the crew: Santosh himself, torn between loyalty between Jack Morgan and Johnny Walker as he deals with the demons of his past, beautiful girl agent, Nisha, Hari Padhi a cyber forensic expert, Muben Yusuf a medical forensic man. Naturally, all are brilliant at their jobs and concerned about their boozy leader.

Of course we do go on a tour of Mumbai’s major attractions as well as a few dives into the underbelly. We get a small introduction to the underlying theme of the Navadurga, as the killer is a hater of Goddess Durga, killing women and decorating them as Durga’s Nine Forms, but perhaps it could be more convincing.

While the rest of the myriad characters are in the third person, the killer is in first person, but his reasons for doing what he does are just words to me. I don’t feel any pain, any real revulsion.

I suspect that this dish would have much more spice and flavour if Ashwin Sanghi had been allowed to add more of his own condiments.
Less critical readers will undoubtedly enjoy another thriller from the Patterson Factory, and since Private Berlin, which I enjoyed, I have tried to remain optimistic about the series’ possibilities.

The physical size of this book looks daunting, but the typeface is large and of the 354 pages, about one third are blank, reducing it to roughly 230 pages of story. So the layout wastes a lot of trees, which is a pity.

My thanks to Random House Penguin South Africa for the opportunity to write this review.

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PERSONAL – Lee Child

He may be a transport system for his wanderlust toothbrush, but ex-Military Policeman Jack Reacher likes to get a look at the obit pages of the Army Times, now and then, to see if any of his old mates feature. On his way there, boxed in the Personals, he sees his own name…

Which is how he gets embroiled in an investigation into an attempted assassination of the French President. By a series of eliminations, the shooter is likely to be someone Reacher knew, and the US Army think Reacher may be the only man who can find him. So, unusually, out of the USA, to Paris, and England…

Already this is a very different Jack Reacher to the one we know pretty well by now. If this was a stand-alone tale, it would be more than readable, alright, and someone would probably publish it. However, the problem is, Lee Child has already set the bar much higher.

Because most, if not all, previous Reacher novels have gained him a huge fan-base, they thought they knew and trusted him to provide a nonstop page-turning orgy. PERSONAL is off key, somehow, and must surely leave a lot of his fans disappointed. Usually an individual in every possible way, Reacher loses himself in a weave of other personalities. The magic that made this character so special is not there.

Fans will hope that either the real Jack Reacher returns, or, if he has run his course, rides off into the sunset. Perhaps Lee Child is at a crossroads and needs a new character to introduce us to, for it would be a pity to see his genius limp to a halt on a spent nag.

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SKINJOB – Bruce McCabe

Take a ringside seat for the fight at the Techno ring. The antagonists are the Porn Biz vs. Big Church Biz, and the fight starts with a bang when a Dollhouse, a new-wave pleasure-palace with lifelike robot prostitutes nicknamed Skin-jobs, disintegrates explosively.

Amongst the referees, the investigators of the Dollhouse deaths, is Madsen, who has a licence to drive the latest in hand-held lie-detecting devices, and access to instant CSI technology and camera-linked ID data-based software. He also has an ability to rub his fellow cops up the wrong way.

Yes, you are entering the brave new world of the Techno-Thriller.

DreamCom builds luscious computerised dolls to suit any desire, promoting sexual de-stress and promising the reduction of abuse, sexually transmitted disease and prostitution. The NeChristo Church denigrates DreamCom and its products from the pulpit, citing its conviction that the Dollhouses inspire sin and depravity of the worst kind. Multi-millions of dollars are at stake as the powerful figures behind both money-making empires clash.

Madsen is likeable, the technology believable. The action is frequent and the plot interesting with an explosive finale. Too many points-of-view from characters we never hear of again is a detraction, and too much tell with not enough show is an irritation that will doubtlessly reduce as Bruce McCabe surges into a promising future.

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