February 2006 Same Vein


The Reunion by Sue Walker

Fuelled by drink and drugs, what's the worst thing a group of dysfunctional teenagers on a camping trip can do? That is the secret which lies at the heart of Sue Walker's debut novel, the page-turning The Reunion.

The teenagers are members of The Unit, an experimental home for intelligent but disturbed adolescents, which is attached to an Edinburgh hospital.

Twenty-six years later, most of the "inmates" are leading highly successful and well-adjusted lives. But then Innes Haldene, a London lawyer, is reminded of the dark past she has so desperately tried to forget when she hears a desperate message left on her phone. Later on she discovers that at least two members of The Unit have recently died by their own hand.

Convinced that their deaths are linked, Innes risks everything to try and discover whether The Unit is to blame and, in doing so, discovers the dark secret that has laid buried since 1977.

Walker's novel is quite an excellent read. The plot moves along quickly and steadily. Despite the story alternating between the present day and 1977, it never seems confusing. While some of the scenes seemed forced, and the dialogue - at times - did not always ring true, this is still a very good read.

Rampage by William P. Wood

Leisure Books

District Attorney Tony Fraser loves the law, and no one is better at his job. But now he's facing perhaps the most difficult case of his career. He has to prosecute a vicious, amoral killer accused of committing acts so bloodthirsty, so violent, that by their very nature they provide an iron-clad defense: not guilty by reason of insanity. It's up to Fraser to break that defense. But this impossible case keeps getting harder. Key witnesses disappear. Crucial evidence is lost. A psychiatrist with an agenda of his own is out to destroy Fraser's prosecution. And all the while, a cold-blooded butcher sneers at the legal system, waiting patiently to walk free-and kill-again.

This is a high-functioning legal thriller, several cuts above the Grisham level. The central question being, how to convict a spree killer, who may or may not be feigning mental illness. Wood is very good at evoking the separate cultural world of prosecutors, and he conveys some interesting perspectives on the death penalty and the role of psychiatrists in the courtroom. Wood makes it clear he is obviously very pro-death and very anti-shrink, and the crime/killing aspects of the book are not for the squeamish.

If you are partial to crime novels of a bleak and realistic stripe, this is for you.

Fiddlers by Ed McBain

Allen & Unwin

A series of murders keep the detectives of the 8-7 busy in "Fiddlers", the 55th (and final) novel of the 87th Precinct Series by recently-departed Ed McBain.

These murders all have one thing in common: they were committed by someone using a 9mm Glock. The victims however don't seem to have anything in
common: a blind violinist on a smoke break; a woman fixing an omlet in her kitchen; an elderly priest contemplating retirement; and an elderly woman taking her dog for a walk.

McBain brings the usual cast of characters to solve the crime and bring the perpetrator to justice. Sadly, this was Evan Hunter's last novel before his death in July, so readers will be left to wonder the fates of the main cast.
How does Steve Carella deal with the fact his twins are now teenagers going through the angst of adolescence? How will Bert Kling deal with another relationship destroyed? Where does the relationship between Fat Ollie Weeks and Patricia Gomez final end up?

A fitting farewell to a Master of the craft.

Berlin Cross by Greg Flynn

Random House

We begin in May 1948 with Captain Beauchamp and Corporal White, both of the Royal Military Police in Berlin, examining a corpse. There is no identification on the body, which bears evidence of having been tortured pre-mortem. There is an inconsistency in its presentation in that although only an American could afford the expensive clothes, the dental work is European.

Beauchamp, prior to being ordered to pass responsibility for the case to the Americans, is summoned to Spandau by prisoner Albert Speer, former Minister in the Reich. The Nazi implores the Englishman to track down a piece of the True Cross that had been stolen from Speer. In order to ensure the policeman's aid, the German insists that the disappearance of the Cross and the murder are linked.

In New York, former US Army Lieutenant John Docker, also a Military Policeman, has fallen on difficult times and is now working as a private investigator. He receives a commission to obtain possession of the Berlin Cross, that same relic which Beauchamp is seeking, but Docker is told it is being held in New York.

This is a solid tale told against the backdrop of the difficult post-war era when ill-will is manifest between the former allies. The new Deutsche Mark is about to be released, the Soviets are determined to monopolise the new German currency, the partition of Berlin is imminent and lack of cooperation and rivalry between former uneasy friends is manifest.

A great deal of meticulous research has gone into the construction of an entertaining and convoluted read which tastefully combines historical fact with fiction.

An exciting read.


Manitou Blood by Graham Masterton

Leisure Books

Manitou Blood is a first rate thriller, and one of Masterton's finest. Harry Erskine, the hapless anti-hero of the Manitou Series (and of the unrelated novel "The Djinn") is brought in against his will to combat a deadly new plague affecting NYC residents who are now on a murderous blood-drinking rampage.

Aided by the spirit of Indian Medicine Man John Singing Rock, his former girlfriend, the psychic Amelia Sachs, a Romanian scholar/vampire expert and a hardy Doctor who is gradually succumbing to the plague's effects, Harry discovers that he is dealing once again with the wonder worker Misquamacas who is wreaking havoc through the unwilling spirit of Vasile Lup, an infamous vampire gatherer. And, as you can expect from Masterton, then all hell breaks loose...

Masterton's stories never disappoint. He's a master of the horror and thriller geners, and it's terrific to see Leisure printing Manitou Blood.

Buy it. Read it.

Now You See Me
by Margaret Murphy

Hodder Headline

Margaret Murphy's latest in the Rickman / Foster series (following on from The Dispossessed) is easily her best novel to date.

When Megan Ward goes missing, suspicion falls on the stalker seen outside her house. The police would love it to be so simple, but the closer they look, the more mysterious Megan herself becomes. The police find no photos, no passport, no family or friends. Only the corrupted computer files in Megan's strangely impersonal room.

When her landlady is murdered, the shadowy Megan re-merges and the woman who doesn't exist becomes very real, very elusive and very dangerous.

Meanwhile, Patrick Doran, owner of Safe Hands Security, is living his own nightmare. A hacker has breached his computer network, where he thought he had safely buried his past.

Now You See Me is two stories in one, as it follows the hunt for the killer through Sergeant Lee Foster and DC Naomi Hart's efforts, but also sees DCI Jeff Rickman take charge of his first investigation since the traumatic experiences of the year previously. The way Murphy balances the two scenarios and maintains the break-neck pace of the story truly underlines her ability to create menace and compassion in equal measures without ever over-egging either component.

Fast, solid, and believable Margaret Murphy's latest novel is a terrific read.

S is for Silence by Sue Grafton

Pan MacMillan

P.I. Kinsey Millhone has more work than she can handle, but when Daisy Sullivan asks for her help, she can hardly refuse. Daisy wants to know what happened to her mother Violet who disappeared thirty four years ago on July 4, 1953.

Most of the people in the town where she lived regarded her as trailer trash, a married battered wife who would sleep with whoever available.
Opinion is divided between whether she stepped out with a man or someone killed her. She was last seen driving away from a gas station in the flashy new car her husband Foley bought for her. If Violet is dead, most people believe Foley is her killer because he was known to beat her up and the violence escalated the more she stepped out on him. Kinsey's investigation finds more suspects with motives who could have killed Violet and one of them is going out of their way to scare her off the case. A stubborn Kinsey risks her life to unearth the truth.

This is the nineteenth Kinsey Millhone mystery and it is very different from the other books in the series. Chapters switch from the first person with Kinsey as the narrator in the present to the third person for chapters in 1953. Surprisingly, this plot device works smoothly, and this is another thrilling Grafton read.

Secret Gadgets and Strange Gizmos
by Bill Yenne

Capricorn Link

The relationship between war and science entered a whole new realm with the Civil War, the first truly "technological" conflict, as well as in the conflicts that rage across the world today.

Secret Gadgets and Strange Gizmos traces this evolving connection from the deadly innovations of the Union and Confederate forces to the top secret, high-tech inventions that are making military history today. Chronicling the hits, the misses, and the important technological advances produced by the U.S. military, this richly illustrated book takes readers from the ironclads, land mines, and ship-launched hydrogen balloons of the Civil War through to today's advancements.

Luckily, the book doesn't take itself too seriously and features many "technological advances" that are far from it. In fact, there are some inventions featured that will have you shaking your head and thinking, "Just what were they on when they thought of that?"

A fun, coffee-table book... light on any real detail, but certainly a conversation starter that may have you off doing some research of your own.

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