Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver

Tense, dramatic plot with many pacy twists and turns to keep the reader guessing right up to the end.

David Raker finds missing persons – he never gives up, that’s his motivation – but when he takes on an assignment from Emily, a close friend, to track down a missing family, he soon finds himself involved in a sinister cover-up spanning decades and costing countless lives.
The Lings: Carrie, her husband, and two young daughters disappear one evening. Emily (Carrie’s sister) finds their house is unlocked, no one is inside. Dinner’s cooking, the TV’s on, and there’s no sign of a struggle.
The police are baffled, and so is David initially, but he gradually unravels a secret; someone doesn’t want the family found, and that someone will stop at nothing to keep the secret intact.
When he comes closer to the truth, he realises that he just might have made himself the next target, and as the novel races towards a final showdown, it’s clear that Raker needs more than luck to stay alive.
Can he survive?

This is Tim Weaver’s fourth Raker novel, and it’s a complex maze of deceit and deception throughout. Absorbing and entertaining read – a real page-turner that keeps the reader engrossed right to the climatic end. A standard plot, but with a fresh slant that sets it apart from others.
It really is that good.
My main critique (which is easy to remedy) is that I couldn’t form a mental picture of the Raker character – how old he was, his physical attributes, what he looked like, etc. which was disconcerting given that other main characters were more than adequately described. Given that I hadn’t read the previous novels, it was perhaps understandable that the author didn’t feel necessary to regurgitate this – however Lee Child (with every Reacher novel) makes a point to enforce his main character.
Also, place descriptions went on ad-nauseam (the novel is over 500 pages) to the point that I skipped them altogether.
Quibbles; just a few minor ones: there were too many sentences beginning with “…ing” words or “As I, blah, blah” that distracted me to the extent that I found myself looking out for the next one instead of soaking up the story.
My copy was an advanced reading copy and there were several misspellings and typos that need amending before publication.

Bottom line: three national newspaper blurbs are all positive, and I agree with them that Tim Weaver has delivered a cracking crime thriller. Highly recommended. Buy it and enjoy.

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Of COPS & ROBBERS – Mike Nicol

Melting the Ice Unit.

Four Special Forces assassins, known as the Ice Unit, are used by the South African Apartheid regime to rub out various individuals that are in the way of whoever is behind The Voice that gives them their orders. This raw nail-biter kicks off with the killing of a woman in 1977. Present day events are segmented by flashbacks to more assassinations through the intervening years. Until the Ice Unit itself begins to melt, one by one.

Cape Town PI Fish Pescado is surely happiest when he is surfing, maybe almost happier than when he is with Vicki Kahn, a sharp, lovely lawyer fighting a poker addiction. With his bank balance scraping zero, he needs a job. Vicki provides one – find the illegal street drag-racer who hit a spectator and kept going. That should not be a problem, but Fish keeps hitting a brick wall of silence. Then he is pulled off the job as the victim is transferred to a private hospital and the benefactor makes it conditional that the parents no longer pursue the perpetrator. Fish is told to drop his enquiries, but by this time he has met the parents and feels he needs to go to bat for them, regardless. Because it is obvious that someone high up is protecting the racer, someone with enormous power.

A little dissuasion becomes necessary, like slashing the tyres of Fish’s truck and destroying his surfboard. Now Vicki knows that even she can’t ask him to leave off. So maybe someone needs to turn their murderous attention to Vicki to help persuade Fish to let go…

The plot is well researched and has a plausible weave to its threads, including a cave full of rhino-horn, political murder and cover-ups. After a sip, there is a read-in-one-gulp addiction and enough tension to crack a longbow. Descriptively excellent, but the filth is not for the squeamish. Chopped sentences seem to be coming into vogue, and Nicol mostly uses them well.

For South Africans, the slang is juicy, very Cape Town. It is laid on a bit thick, however, and does tend to be inseparable regardless of racial linguistic differences which do not always ring true. Unfortunately, foreigners will sometimes be puzzled which may negatively affect the world market.

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UNTIL YOU’RE MINE – Samantha Hayes.

Watching, patiently waiting, with knife in hand, for the perfect moment…

Claudia, pregnant with a girl and with twin step-sons to look after, has a beautiful home and a loving husband, James, who is often away in a navy submarine. She arranges to employ a nanny to help out. Especially when the baby comes. In first person, present, we follow her preparations for the coming event.

Also in the first person, present, and the first time I have come across two in one story, is the nanny, Zoe. At first, she is the perfect find; all that Claudia could want, but soon, there seems to be something not quite up front about her, and Claudia’s suspicions are prodded into life as she catches Zoe snooping. Her excuses are almost plausible. The tension mounts, so that it is as breath-robbing when about to be caught red-handed looking into a cupboard as it would be at the unseen approach of a knife-wielding fiend…

Zoe, up until moving into Claudia’s home, was living with loopy, dearly beloved, Cecelia, who is obsessed with having a child of her own. Whether Zoe will move heaven and earth to help Cecelia achieve her goal regardless of obstacles, is a gut-twisting question. And Zoe has become friends with Claudia’s friend, Pip, who is also heavily pregnant…

Lorraine and her husband are both detectives, investigating the slaughter of a pregnant woman about to give birth. Then another woman barely survives a similar attack, but her baby does not. Lorraine and Adam’s two teenage daughters are not coping with the strain of their parents’ working hours, nor their constant bickering. Lorraine is not able to come to grips with Adam’s one-off affair with another woman. Their elder teenager threatens to drop out of school and get married, which adds to Lorraine’s bitter internal turmoil. So, what does this have to do with murdered women, or is it a writer’s red herring?

There is no concocted end-story to arrange a neat unexpectedness; the clues are all there. But I didn’t see it coming. What a surprise!

If Samantha Hayes goes from strength to strength, I am looking forward to her next offering.

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ALEX CROSS, RUN – James Patterson.

Murders by the dozen, gore by the score…

As usual, Detective Alex Cross is inundated with murderous puzzles. In Alex Cross, Run, some of the threads come together and some do not. Primarily, three nasty disparate murders and a missing baby keep him occupied, but a social media attack on him and the police induces huge pressure. Someone, whose fiancé was killed in the cross-fire of an operation led by Cross, is out for revenge. Cross’ foster daughter goes missing, too, which drives him as near to the edge as he has ever been.

A perverted plastic surgeon and his lifelong friend take turns in committing murder with a recorder going for the other’s proxy enjoyment. This pair are really too much. Their almost comical absurdity nearly spoils what would have been a cracking Cross novel almost equalling Patterson’s earlier Cross-series quality. A pity this has become a factory and the hand-stitched leather quality touch has become vinyl.

However, in the crime-scene gore and giblet stakes, Patterson holds his own with anyone who feels more is better; and there are many of those around, now.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALEX CROSS – James Patterson.

All on Christmas Day:

 

1.) The first six pages are a short story of Alex Cross and his partner nabbing the man who pinched the money from the church charity boxes.

2.) Dodging his family’s anger at choosing duty over Christmas quality time at home, Cross deals with a hostage situation. This is not particularly convincing or exciting.

His attempt to go home is again dealt a blow when, shucks, he has to sort out an international terrorist.

Except that these three adventures are all crammed into one Christmas day, they have nothing in common. They are cobbled together to make up a book, and it does not work.

3.) That said, the third incident is the most professional, both from Alex Cross’ point of view and from that of author James Patterson. The terrorist, Hala Al Dossari is someone Cross has met before; a worthy adversary. The plot is tense, the writing vintage Patterson and it is a good heart-hammering tale of jihadists at work to divert attention from drums of nerve chemicals on a freight train in the City.

Perhaps it is time for Alex Cross to hang up his boots, but there is still ALEX CROSS, RUN in the pipeline.

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Everyone Lies by A. D. Garrett.

Everyone Lies by A D GarrettA.D. Garrett is the pseudonym for crime writer Margaret Murphy and forensics expert Professor David Barclay’s writing collaboration. This is their first novel and good stuff it is, too.

DCI Kate Simms and Professor Nick Fennimore have a history. They were both involved in a controversial failed investigation into the disappearance of Fennimore’s wife and daughter. Simms was subsequently pushed back down to the bottom of the career ladder and Fennimore retreated to the womb of work.

But Simms, on her way back up the ladder at last, needs Fennimore’s help with the case that involves a string of dead drug addicts. They are soon embroiled in gritty and hard hitting investigation of crime and corruption, vice and murder, which cuts through all strata of society.

Everyone Lies is a tense and engrossing mixture of social realism and fast-paced thriller which is sure to be the start of an interesting and very enjoyable series.

Bio: Paul D. Brazill is the author of Guns Of Brixton and Roman Dalton – Werewolf PI. He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, Polish and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime 8 and 10, alongside the likes of Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman and Lee Child. He has edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. HE BLOGS HERE.

 

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Hell to Pay by George P Pelecanos

Gripping US street-crime noir-thriller set in Washington DC. Multi-layered novel of violence and despair – with dreams of a better future shattered at every turn.

Orion fiction blurb sets the scene: private investigators, Derek Strange and Terry Quinn are used to seeing the darker side of Washington – the runaways, the teenage hookers, the drugs. Strange and Quinn are coaches to a black boys football team, where they try and educate the youngsters to follow a good path and to live good lives. It’s not easy when all around them are young gangsters and drug pushers, some who are also killers without remorse. One of these is Garfield Potter, a particular odious youth with no redeeming features, but also a victim of his upbringing, living in an uncaring society where dog eats dog to survive.

One more senseless death on a sunny afternoon shakes even Derek Strange’s world. A young boy shot down by bullets meant for another; a tragic vengeance that strikes too close to home. Strange’s grief is all-consuming – adversely influencing his tentative relationship with his girlfriend – and he swears to track down and destroy the killers – retribution is a necessity. Quinn has his own problems, but even he is shocked at how far Strange would go.

The story is full of street-cred vocalisms, football, and young black boys treading the thin line between good and evil choices. For all that, there is a gritty realism throughout. The plot is realistic, and grim, and keeps to the point. Scenes are set in DC; where there is an underworld of corruption, violence, social and moral decay that this black community suffers on a daily basis. Ardent US crime readers will be hooked from the off, but it takes a little time to appreciate and understand the motivations of black society in DC. It throws up some interesting challenges to the US government.

The author has written many similar books – he is said to be comparable to the best of Elmore Leonard. Dialogue is crisp and is attuned to Strange’s world. Characters all possess fundamental flaws – especially Strange himself, who indulges himself at whore-houses in an attempt to block out reality. Not for the faint at heart, nor an early Xmas present for your granny. Without being sexist, its market is most likely hardened male readers.

This novel is a page turner, but on a technical point, I do not like POV head-hopping switches in dialogue. Nevertheless, the story exudes energy on every page and I’ll certainly look out for another one of his novels. Three stars ***

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Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French

A man’s naked body is discovered in the flat of a woman too mentally disordered to tell the police who he is or how he got there.

A cool, sophisticated and supremely competent investigation from two-in-one Nicci (Gerrard) and (Sean) French.

Tuesday’s Gone is the second in a series featuring Frieda Klein, a psychiatrist who assisted DCI Karlssohn and his team in the previous novel.  When the mystery corpse turns out to have had a fortune in his bank account, the plot thickens.  Whoever he was, he seems to have had a knack of befriending the lonely – whilst providing those who should have been their source of comfort with a motive for murder.

As Frieda applies her formidable intelligence and intuition to this case, the residue from the earlier, unconnected case continues to haunt her.  Shrinks have a professional interest in how the past never leaves us, but one of the oddest features of the serial sleuth is how little he or she generally seems to be troubled by experience or memory, despite a succession of encounters which would surely be hard to forget.  The reductio ad rock-bottom absurdem is there in Dan Brown’s Inferno, where Robert Langdon has forgotten all about unscrambling that code.  Giving the lead role to Dr Klein allows French to do something new with the serial format.

We’re also promised the unravelling of some mysteries about her to keep us reading, though I found this both over-portentous and unnecessary.  She’s interesting enough without it.  Her problems and idiosyncrasies add up to a plausible character, not just the rag-bag of odd-ball quirks I’ve complained about before.  Her Dickensian knowledge of old London (for example) is a subtle and pleasing way of adding another dimension to the mystery. 

Tuesday’s Gone isn’t for those who like to be spattered.  Its palate is muted but not dull.  Though most of its characters are white middle-class professionals, they are still quite an assortment.  Bodily harm takes place off-stage but madness, squalor, poverty and fear add a good dose of salt to an already tasty mix.

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The Killing House by Chris Mooney; too complicated by half.

Plot 1: a child abducted years ago – super-creepy kidnapper murders parents.
Plot 2: ace escapologist/wronged FBI most-wanted pursues kidnapper.
Plot 3: FBI master-mind pursues pursuer.

Chris Mooney admits that this book was ‘especially difficult’. That should have told him something. While there’s plenty of nasty fun here, a simpler tale stripped of superfluous details would have showed off his talents more effectively.

Take the plot. We lose sight of the child in the first strand after the opening chapter; then we forget about the kidnapper while the evil FBI boss hunts the fugitive with the key to the cover-up. When the dangly bits are joined up in the very last pages we’re left with the kidnapped child [see 1 above] somehow lined up with the villains of the piece, because the kidnappers were avenging the wrongs done to themselves.

Call me old-fashioned but I prefer a quantum of credibility. This is where crime butts up against sci-fi, fantasy and gothic, as if character and plot were driven by a pair of nifty thumbs operating a games-console. Good guys and bad guys alike are super-smart and tooled up to the nines, possessed of unlimited funds and fabulous gear. Need a safe house? There’s one set up and ready just where you need it. Need the right kind of medic? Ditto. Need planes, cars, whizzy gadgets – well, need you ask? When character is outsourced to kit, there’s little room for interesting traits like personal ingenuity and resourcefulness.

In this kind of set up, character attributes are replaced by apps. The Salander-derivative alpha-geek with long legs and odd hair has no more autonomy than an early Bond-girl. We’re told she’s autistic, but she’s not noticeably more emotionally disadvantaged than the fugitive hero, a cold fish with so many sadistic killings to his credit that he would play on the bad guys’ team in most other branches of the genre.

The arch-villain is a good example of why piling on the detail often defeats the purpose. If you want me to shiver, don’t tell me that she looks like Barbara Bush; and don’t call her Clouzot if you don’t want to invoke The Pink Panther. And don’t stop to tell me that Fifth Avenue is ‘the setting of Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence’ if you want to keep up the suspense. The line between authenticity and pedantry is hard to judge but that clunking sound tells you when it’s been missed.

What’s more, over-egging the pudding detracts from the really chilling detail. We all know that you can have your loved one’s cremains shot into space or tuned into a diamond. But did you know that you can have the same useful material packed into a bullet? Surely the ultimate It’s what he would have wanted. Now that IS creepy, but it gets lost. Always remember: Less is More.

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Crocodile Tears by Mark O’Sullivan (Transworld Ireland)

As Dublin braces itself for a blizzard, a wealthy property developer is found murdered.

So far Mark O’Sullivan is best known as a writer for young adults, but that’s going to change. This is a rich beginning.
Both the Republic and Northern Ireland have produced some of the most impressive crime fiction of the last decade. An unforgotten past, a louring climate, an addled church and a boxed set of Celtic hangups give the best of Irish a depth which makes most Scandinavian crime look flimsy and artificial. For the crime writer, the Republic’s financial meltdown is the cherry atop the icing. Prime suspect for Dermot Brennan’s death is a victim of the corrupt consortium of gerry-builders and speculators
O’Sullivan gives great atmosphere; his dialogue is spare, crisp and edgy and his psychological insights are shrewd: he’s specially good at the the excitement of the mental chase. He’s also very mindful of his readers’ needs, with deft reminders of who’s who and where we are, and oh joy! his minor characters – the ‘uniforms’ – are easy to tell apart.
So are the other suspects: the crooked accountant who has the misfortune to be a dead ringer for Berlusconi; the cool, cultivated wife and the drop-out son; the couple driven mad by their son’s suicide; the peevish neighbour and the sculptor with anger-management issues; the son’s aging girl-friend (arsonist and animal-rights campaigner) and the hunky America-returned gardener. Each one’s troubles seems to have its roots in the general collapse. But there’s a problem.
John Crace (digesting The Cuckoo’s Calling in the Guardian this week) identifies two types of detective fiction: ‘In one, the writer keeps the action flowing and the pages turning. In the other, the detective just wanders around aimlessly talking to every character…before announcing who the killer is.’
Unfair, but clever. Crocodile Tears belongs in the second category right enough, but it keeps the pages turning and the reader guessing until the last few pages, when suddenly we’re let down with a dull thump. Sadly, we’ve been led up the garden path. Packed with promise though this debut is, its resolution is a dog’s dinner (and that in a novel which includes a dog’s dinner which – be warned! – you will not forget). The answer turns out to have nothing to do with that brooding background. Instead, a whole bunch of clichés are rushed in to wrap up a plot that comes out of thin air.
At least the detective doesn’t spot the ball either. I like Inspector Leo Woods, but he has a record-breaking tally of flaws to his name. As if it weren’t enough to be facially disfigured by Bell’s Palsy and have an unusual collecting habit, he’s a user with a rotten childhood (his father was a Nazi war criminal) and a long-lost wife. He’s tone deaf, he has bad dreams, he picked up recurrent malaria while serving with the UN in Angola and was kidnapped in Bosnia. Of course he breaks every rule in the book and there are dire hints of a specially tricky history with his boss.
And that’s not all. His side-kick Helen Troy (Helen? Troy?) is equally bereft of meaningful relationships, has a tiresome ex and a wastrel brother; too-perfect rookie Ben Murphy is a single parent with a sick child. It’s too much. O’Sullivan is a dab hand at establishing character and he doesn’t need all these stick-on attributes. It’s as if he’s dangling clues to another story, but it’s not the prospect of discovering how his Nazi parent came to Ireland that’s going to persuade me to buy the next in the series. Do we really keep reading to find out how the detective copes with his/her issues? Isn’t it more that we want to see how he/she solves the next crime despite their shortcomings?

So Four Stars for Crocodile Tears. In contrast, try Tana French’s Broken Harbour – for my money, the real McCoy. A compellingly unpleasant detective narrator who never breaks a rule; a small cast and a simple plot with a devastating dénouement. Fast paced it is not, but still a page-turner. Crime as a whole nation’s bitter tragedy.

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