Review: Save Me From Dangerous Men by S.A. Lelchuk

save-me-from-dangerous-men-9781471183133_lgWith Save Me From Dangerous Men, S.A. Lelchuk puts the rest of the crime-writing world on notice. Packed with plenty of page-turning propulsion, with a swashbuckling, kick-ass heroine destined to be franchised, this series opener piles on the plot twists, false leads, and brutally-choreographed violent encounters. You’ll want to jump on the Nikki Griffin train before it leaves the station.

Nikki owns a small bookshop in Berkley called The Brimstone Magpie. She’s also a private investigator, who handles all the routine cases one would expect — but has developed a reputation for her pro bono work: she is the person to see if you’re a woman being abused. Her solution isn’t as lethal as you might be thinking; no body bag required, at least not during the first visit rather, Nikki believes in “equal justice,” dispensing the same amount of pain on abusers as they inflicted on their victims, demanding they change their ways, or else. Her vigilantism can be traced back to the horrific childhood tragedy that led her beloved younger brother into a life of addiction, which we learn more about throughout the story, when Lelchuk eases off the gas on the ‘A’ plot.

Speaking of the ‘A’ plot: when Nikki is approached by Gregg Gunn CEO of Care4, a child care tech company and is offered $20,000 to follow an employee named Karen Li to determine whether she is selling company secrets, Nikki accepts. But Nikki has read enough crime fiction to know nothing’s ever as simple as it seems; and she quickly discovers Li’s wrapped up in something far more dangerous and deadly than corporate espionage. And Nikki is trapped in this nest of vipers with her.

There’s a lot to like about Save Me From Dangerous Men. It’s pacey and action-packed, littered with bookish references (of which only a few are a little too on-the-nose), and exposes readers to a colourful cast they’ll want to meet again. At times it suffers from the ailments of most series openers, grinding the narrative to a halt in order to reveal more about the protagonist’s origin. It’s not that the genesis of Nikki’s vigilantism is uninspired or uninteresting;it just pulls attention away from the cracking core investigation. But now that’s out of the way for future instalments, I’m delighted to have encountered another private eye I’m ready to follow to hell and back. In a crowded genre, S.A. Lelchuk and his creation, Nikki Griffin, are standouts.

ISBN: 9781471183140
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 336
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 19-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: No Way Out by Cara Hunter

9780241283493.jpgLike its predecessors, Close to Home and In the Dark, the third Adam Fawley mystery, No Way Out, is a frenetically-paced, meticulously crafted whodunit. Compelling and suspenseful, Cara Hunter keeps every stage of an investigation into a deadly house fire clear while peeling back layers of her expansive cast’s personal lives, delivering a novel you’ll devour in hours, with characters and a plot that will linger for days.

No Way Out opens with two children hauled from an inferno that was once their home in North Oxford, their parents undiscovered among the wreckage, which is quickly determined to be an act of arson; therefore, homicide.  Adam Fawley — struggling with a personal crisis — is the leading investigator, but takes more of a backseat this time, sharing the spotlight with various other members of the Thames Valley Police, including DC Quinn, DS Gislingham, DC Erica Somer and DC Everett, as they dig into the lives of Michael and Samantha Esmond, and their two children.

Writing in short, snappy scenes that tick like a time bomb as they flick between characters, and events of the past and present, No Way Out is intricately plotted, fast moving and full of surprises.

ISBN: 9780241283493
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 30-Jan-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Metropolis by Philip Kerr

9781787473201.jpgThe 14th and final Bernie Gunther novel takes the world-weary investigator back to the beginning: Berlin, 1928, the eve of the Nazi rise to power, with Gunther just promoted to the Murder Commission, and two serial killers on the loose.

Published posthumously, Philip Kerr’s swansong, Metropolis, is another masterpiece — which is a word that gets thrown around too easily, but is thoroughly deserved here, and almost an understatement. Kerr created one of crime fiction’s greatest characters in the sardonic anti-hero Bernie Gunther, and by plunging readers backwards and forwards in time through Gunther’s life, exploring his post-war and Nazi era antics, Kerr concocted a thrilling tapestry of a life lived in a time of great turmoil; when Gunther’s moral code, his lethal wisecracks, and the quality of the novels he starred in, were the only guarantees, because you never knew where, and when, Gunther might pop up next.

In his first case for the Berlin Murder Commission, Gunther is plucked from Vice to hunt for a serial killer targeting prostitutes, whose calling card is slicing the scalp from his victims. Then a new killer strikes, who has their sights set on the city’s disabled war veterans, and Gunther is forced undercover as a homeless veteran, which forces him to confront his own memories of the war. But it’s not just the threat of dual murderers that has Berlin on edge; Nazism is on the rise, blackening hearts, stoking violence and anti-Semitism.

You’ll turn the pages as fast as possible to identify the killers; then go back to truly savour Bernie Gunther’s perspective on Berlin in 1928; not to mention his interactions with historical figures such as Thea von Harbou and Lotte Lenya. That’s the beauty of Philip Kerr’s fiction: they’re mesmerizing for both plot and character, and their blurring of truth and fiction, which is often closer than readers might imagine.

Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Dead If You Don’t by Peter James

Dead If You DontThe clock is ticking for Brighton Detective Superintendent Roy Grace — and a teenage kidnap victim plucked from the heaving Amex Stadium on the day of Brighton and Hove Albion’s first match of their debut Premier League season.

Kipp Brown is a successful businessman — and a monstrously compulsive gambler. Accustomed to the volatility of luck, a veteran of riding the waves fortune and misfortune and always coming out on top, for the first time in his life, Kipp is stuck in a seemingly irrevocable losing streak. He’s losing, often and spectacularly. And things are about to get worse.

Within minutes of arriving at the Amex Stadium for Brighton and Hove’s debut match in the Premier League, Kipp’s son, Mungo, disappears. His first thought: Mungo’s stormed off after their argument during the drive to the stadium. Mungo is a capricious teenager; he’s probably blowing off some steam. Kipp’s not too worried. Until he gets a message that his son has been taken, and to get him back alive, Kipp will have to pay. With money he doesn’t have.

Enter: Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Who quickly realises this is no straightforward case of kidnap. In order to return Mungo to his family, Grace and his cohorts will have to dive deep into a dark, violent criminal underbelly, where nobody wants to talk to the cops for fear of retribution. By the time you’ve reached the final page, the events of 48 hours detailed in propulsive, pulse-pounding fashion have turned Brighton into one of the murder capitals of the world.

Dead If You Don’t is a tightly-plotted, fast-paced, addictive page-turner. Vintage Peter James, in other words. He packs half-a-dozen meaty, painstakingly interlinked subplots into his mystery cops, crims and victims all get their chance in the spotlight   but the economy and perceptiveness of his prose shifts these scenes seamlessly. This is another gem in James’s long-running series.

ISBN: 9781509816378
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 512
Imprint: Pan Books
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publish Date: 18-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

9780241372111.jpgFrom Søren Sveistrup — the writer behind the brilliant Scandinavian crime series The Killing — comes The Chestnut Man, his first novel, which probably should’ve skipped straight to its inevitable television adaptation.

Young detective Naia Thulin and burned-out ex Europol investigator Mark Hess are partnered to handle the investigation of a series of murders distinguished by the presence of ‘chestnut men’ small dolls made of chestnuts at each crime scene. They quickly suspect that the murdered women are linked to the missing daughter of the Minister for Social Affairs, and that they’re working against the clock to catch the killer before he strikes again.

Sounds like the perfect setup for a dark, creepy, Scandi-noir thriller; and some readers will likely think so. But The Chestnut Man suffers from a serious case of bloat — the book doesn’t need all of its 500 pages — and coruscates with far too much bloody violence for my tastes. Seriously, if I never read about an amputation again, it’ll be too soon. But even putting this aside, Sveistrup bounces between far too many characters who don’t deserve the spotlight. With a tighter focus on the two investigators, who  share such little chemistry despite the author’s assurance they’ve formed an inseparable bond, The Chestnut Man would’ve been a taut, pacey affair. Instead, its constant jumps to different personnel which works on the screen far better than in prose frustrated me; I could feel the author attempting to orchestrate my enjoyment, and it’s never a good thing when you can detect the presence of the writer.

So, this was a disappointment. The Chestnut Man felt very much a 10 episode television season sculptured into a serviceable prose thriller. It’s got enough thrust to keep the pages turning, but its characters are mere sketches; waiting for skilled actors to give them life on the screen.

ISBN: 9780241372111
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 512
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 26-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

9780733642517.jpgThere are breakneck thrillers — and then there’s The Chain.

Adrian McKinty steps on the gas early in this pulse-pounding, nerve-shredding, high-octane tale — and he doesn’t let up. On a Thursday morning, 7:55am, a teenage girl, Kylie, is sitting at the bus stop checking the likes on her Instagram feed, when a man wearing a black ski mask approaches her, gun pointed at her chest. His instructions are simple: keep calm, wear a blindfold, and behave. Her fate, he explains, depends on what her mother does in the next twenty-four hours.

Kylie’s mother is Rachel, who — when we smash-cut to her in the second chapter — is driving towards her appointment with the oncologist. Just a routine check-up to confirm her breast cancer is still in remission. But she’ll never get there. One phone call is all it takes to derail Rachel’s life. It comes from someone utilising a speech modulation machine. It tells her she’s not the first and she won’t be the last; that it’s not about money, it’s about ‘The Chain;’ and that the call that will follow is the most important of her life. Which it is. Because the next time her phone rings — an ominous Unknown Caller — it’s from a panic-stricken woman with one chilling revelation: she has Kylie. And if she’s to survive, Rachel must accomplish two tasks. The first is relatively straightforward: a ransom. Which is to be expected in the case of a kidnapping. Rachel’s second objective is more puzzling. She must kidnap someone else to replace Kylie in the chain. And with that, the caller hangs up. And McKinty’s mile-a-minute thriller truly begins.

The Chain is turbocharged entertainment; a cinematic blockbuster, full of intriguing characters and violent action. I am a huge admirer of McKinty’s Sean Duffy series  —each one are sophisticated, stylish and engrossing crime thrillers, which rip along at a cracking pace, and pack more twists and turns than a street map of Belfast — but this something else. This is McKinty cut loose; unchained, if you’ll pardon the pun. You won’t read a faster-paced, white-knuckle, lip-chewing thriller this year. Maybe ever. It’s fast, furious and unforgettable. 

ISBN: 9780733642517
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 368
Available: 9th July 2019

Wolf Pack by C.J. Box

y648In his nineteenth Joe Pickett novel, C.J. Box reminds readers that among the weeds of the seemingly idyllic Twelve Sleep County is a world filled with violence, fear and anger. What begins as a routine inquiry into the misuse of an unregistered drone aircraft that terrifies a herd of mule quickly spirals into something far more menacing and deadly, as Joe, Katelyn Hamm and Nate Romanowski, are pitted against a quartet of savage killers.

It is Joe’s counterpart in Shell County, Fish and Game Warden Katelyn Hamm, who spots the massacre of the mules, and urges Joe to aid her investigation when the rogue aircraft heads into his turf. Joe obliges, and traces the aircraft to the compound of the mysterious Bill Hill, whose arrogance astounds Joe; Hill is fearless, and is certain he’ll face no charges for his crime. More worrisome for is his assertion it will be Joe who is reprimanded should he even try. And sure enough, two surly FBI agents from Washington DC soon arrive in town, who first warn off Katelyn, then Joe, who doesn’t take kindly to overzealous officialdom. Rather than accede, Joe’s interest in Bill Hill is piqued; but just as he closes in on the truth about Hill, a kill squad attached to the Sinaloa drug cartel make their own move; and Joe and his allies are caught smack bang in the middle.

Wolf Pack coruscates with everything needed for a humdinger of a thriller: a cast of characters you care for (and have since day dot), a plot that thrums, and a denouement that lands like a gut punch. Joe Pickett’s 20th can’t come soon enough. Somehow, impossibly, this series just keeps improving.

ISBN: 9781788549240
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 5-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom