REVIEW: Skim Deep by Max Allan Collins (Nolan #9)

REVIEW: Skim Deep by Max Allan Collins (Nolan #9)

Series: Nolan

Book Number: 9

Read this book for: heist, vintage noir style, action, thriller, adventure

Quick Review: A vintage 70s or 80s heist movie in novel form, complete with all the action, sex, danger, violence and quick twists that the genre holds!

The first new Nolan novel in 33 years from one of the masters of the genre, Max Allan Collins, award-winning author of Road to Perdition.

The onetime world-class thief Nolan – now happily gone straight with his own restaurant/nightclub – whisks his longtime lover Sherry off to Vegas for a trip to a wedding chapel and a honeymoon stay. But an eye-in-the-sky security cam at a casino spots Nolan, whose past catches up with him when he’s thought to be casing the joint. An old “friend” sees Nolan as the perfect patsy for a scheme to heist the weekly skim haul, and when the former thief’s young frequent accomplice, Jon – a musician in the casino’s house band – finds the couple mysteriously, suspiciously missing, it’s up to Nolan’s Best Man to keep wedding bells from tolling a funeral march.

SKIM DEEP is a racy, action-packed heist thriller — a movie on the page. However, it adds flavour with several surprising twists that take it beyond your typical Vegas heist thriller, and a depth of atmosphere that makes it especially visceral.  

This is part of a continuing series featuring Nolan the master thief; the ninth full-length instalment in the set. I have not read any of the other Nolan novels, but that did not impact my enjoyment of this one in any way — there’s more than enough detail to easily follow who the main characters are and what their relationships are to one another. This one can be enjoyed fully as a stand alone piece. 

One of the things any reader of this novel will notice first is the way the atmosphere is finely crafted. The way that Collins captures that gritty, late-Seventies/early-Eighties gritty noir feel is pitch-perfect; you can almost feel the film grain through the page. In fact, I correctly assumed the time period just through the feel of the novel before finding any information in the book that explicitly gave it a date. that kind of atmospheric writing is rare, and Collins does a brilliant job of crafting that dangerous, dirty, organized crime feeling. 

The characters fit perfectly in that vintage movie atmosphere; they’re fairly one dimensional but so richly described that they are very easy to picture. The way that they are written is so visual and visceral, it’s almost impossible not to see them as though they were on film. 

Even the content of the plot makes this feel like a movie, but this is a heist novel with a twist – the thief starts out simply on vacation, and falls victim to the plots of others, rather than proactively trying to launch a heist on his own. When everything else in the novel has the familiarity of an old film, this little change to the way the plot is handled makes the whole thing feel fresh again. 

If you are a fan of some of those vintage heist films, SKIM DEEP is definitely a novel you should check out!

REVIEW: Death of a Messenger by Robert B McCaw (Koa Kane Hawaiian Mysteries #1)

REVIEW: Death of a Messenger by Robert B McCaw (Koa Kane Hawaiian Mysteries #1)

Series: Koa Kane Hawaiian Mysteries

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: Hawaiian mystery, US mystery, whodunnit, police procedural, damaged detective, thriller

Quick Review: Unique setting, interesting topics and a decent plot make this an interesting mystery to pick up, especially if you’re stuck in a reading rut!

On Hawai’i Island, an anonymous 911 caller reports a body at Pohakuloa, the Army’s live-fire training area. Hilo Chief Detective Koa Kane, a cop with his own secret criminal past, finds a mutilated corpse—bearing all the hallmarks of ancient ritual sacrifice. Koa encounters a host of obstacles as he pursues the murderer—an incompetent local medical examiner, hostility from both haoles (Westerners) and sovereignty advocates, and a myriad of lies. Koa races to discover whether the victim stumbled upon a gang of high-tech archaeological thieves, or learned a secret so shocking it cost him his life and put others in mortal danger. Will Hilo’s most respected detective stop this sadistic fiend—or will the Pohakuloa killer strike again, with even deadlier consequences?

DEATH OF A MESSENGER is a Hawaiian police procedural, which ties together a fascinating range of topics and an interesting plot for a solid and unique read.  This is the first novel in the Koa Kane series that centres around Chief Detective Kane, head of the Hilo investigative branch in Hawaii. Kane has a bit of a dark past that is hinted at, and I am looking forward to more novels in this series to see how that develops. It’s also a good starting place for the series; enough setup with the characters without feeling too much like an establishing novel. 

And it has an impressive opening array of topics. This novel ranges from archaeological discoveries to astronomical discoveries. McCaw has clearly done his research on both topics and the portions of the novel that delve into the history and archaeology of the Hawaiian islands are quite fascinating. It’s a unique topic and woven throughout in a way that never feels forced; the book is worth a read just for this bit of history that’s very atypical for this type of novel. The setting also adds an interesting reason to read. The logistics of detective work on the Hawaiian islands lend a special set of challenges to the proceedings, and they add colour to this mystery. From volcanic caves to Naval installations, helicopters to boats, mountain snow to beaches, this mystery is a tour of the islands, outside of the tourist hotspots. 

That backdrop and range of topics makes a decent plot even better. Without spoiling anything, what appears to be a fairly typical thriller plot turns out to be satisfyingly complex, and blends well with the various unique elements of this novel. 

DEATH OF A MESSENGER is an interesting break from the typical dreary, rainy mystery novels, with its own special island flavour. 

REVIEW: Enemy of the Raj by Alec Marsh (Drabble & Harris #2)

REVIEW: Enemy of the Raj by Alec Marsh (Drabble & Harris #2)

Series: Drabble & Harris

Book Number: 2

Read this book for: UK mystery, India mystery, adventure thriller, historical fiction, thriller, amateur investigators

Quick Review: A fun adventure thriller with the added bonus of a sumptuous, detailed and unique setting in India in the late 1930s.  

India, 1937. Intrepid reporter Sir Percival Harris is hunting tigers with his friend, Professor Ernest Drabble. Harris soon bags a man-eater – but later finds himself caught up in a hunt of a different kind…

Harris is due to interview the Maharaja of Bikaner, a friend to the Raj, for his London newspaper – and he and Drabble soon find themselves accompanied by a local journalist, Miss Heinz. But is the lady all she seems? And the Maharaja himself is proving elusive…

Meanwhile, the movement for Indian independence is becoming stronger, and Drabble and Harris witness some of the conflict first-hand. But even more drama comes on arrival at Bikaner when the friends find themselves confined to their quarters… and embroiled in an assassination plot!

Just who is the enemy in the Maharaja’s palace? What is the connection to a mysterious man Drabble meets in Delhi? And what secret plans do the British colonial officers have up their sleeves? 

ENEMY OF THE RAJ is the newest novel from Alec Marsh, which takes Drabble & Harris – a pair of unlikely English heroes – to India that takes them from tiger hunts to attempting to foil assassination plots.  

This is the second novel in the Drabble & Harris series, which is a historical series of adventure thrillers starring an unlikely duo of British history professor and journalist. Check out the review for RULE BRITANNIA, the first novel in the series, to learn more about this English Indiana Jones.  

One of the immense strengths of this novel is the contrast between Drabble — intelligent, driven, physically capable — and Harris, who is a bit hopeless and hedonistic in a very Wodehouse way. It allows Marsh to tell the story from two very different angles, and it’s fascinating to watch how Marsh weaves the two very different threads and experiences together.  

The mystery in itself is not overly complicated, but is incredibly action-packed. A tiger hunt, car chases, bomb plots, physical fights are all found in abundance… this is an adventure thriller to its core. It is also a lot of fun, and sumptuously steeped in the details of dress and atmosphere of the period. 

Marsh’s choice of sending Drabble and Harris to India for this instalment is a refreshing one. Like the previous novel, he explores some of the political tensions and complications of the time, but without bogging the piece down in too much detail. It’s lightly educational, and the setting adds an exciting new element that is not often seen in novels of this type. 

If you are a fan of historical fiction, or fun adventure novels, ENEMY OF THE RAJ is definitely one to pick up! 

REVIEW: The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns edited by Mitzi Szereto (Best New True Crime #2)

REVIEW: The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns edited by Mitzi Szereto (Best New True Crime #2)

Series: The Best New True Crime Stories

Book Number: 2

Read this book for: short stories, true crime stories, little-known true stories, anthology

Quick Review: Unvarnished selection of interesting true crime stories from a wide variety of places and over 150 years. 

A collection of non-fiction accounts by international writers and experts on small town true crime shows readers that the real monsters aren’t hiding in the woods, they’re inside our towns. Small towns aren’t always what they seem. We’ve been told nothing bad happens in small towns. You can leave your doors unlocked, and your windows wide open. We picture peaceful hamlets with a strong sense of community, and everyone knows each other. But what if this wholesome idyllic image doesn’t always square with reality? Small towns might look and feel safe, but statistics show this isn’t really true.

Tiny town, big crime. Whether in Truman Capote’s detailed murder of the Clutter family or Ted Bundy’s small-town charm, criminals have always roamed rural America and towns worldwide. Featuring murder stories, criminal case studies, and more, The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns contains all-new accounts from writers of true crime, crime journalism, and crime fiction. And these entries are not based on a true story―they are true stories. Edited by acclaimed author and anthologist Mitzi Szereto, the stories in this volume span the globe. Discover how unsolved murders, kidnapping, shooting sprees, violent robbery, and other bad things can and do happen in small towns all over the world.  

THE BEST NEW TRUE CRIME STORIES: SMALL TOWNS is a new anthology of short true crime stories, written by various authors and collected by Mitzi Szereto. 

This is the second of Szereto’s anthologies of true crime stories. The first centred around serial killers (THE BEST NEW TRUE CRIME STORIES: SERIAL KILLERS), while this one has a bit of a unique thematic topic: demonstrating that major crimes do happen in idyllic small towns.  

The best descriptor for this particular collection is the word ‘variety’. Each author has their own particular approach and writing style, and takes a slightly different approach to the piece they are covering. Some choose to focus on a simple recitation of facts, while others delve into atmosphere and sentiment more than the actual facts of the crime. The tellings are generally fairly unvarnished and straightforward, and also fairly short; usually you have all of the details you need, but occasionally you want to learn more. 

The variety also extends to the selection of stories, which span 150 years, and at least 3 continents.  The crimes described also show a huge variety: a vigilante mob, a spree killing, single domestic murders, unsolved cases and more all feature in this collection. 

If you are a hardcore true crime fan and looking to learn about a selection of cases you likely have not encountered, this collection is definitely includes some interesting stories! 

REVIEW: No Signal by Jem Tugwell (iMe #2)

REVIEW: No Signal by Jem Tugwell (iMe #2)

Series: iMe
Book Number: 2
Read this book for: futuristic mystery, tech mystery, UK/European mystery, thriller, political thriller
Quick Review: Fast-paced, brilliantly imagined, and thoughtful, this is multiple genres and stories in one; fans of many different genres will enjoy this novel.

Can a game change the world?

The Ten are chosen – they are reckless, driven and strong.
They are tested. Ten become Four.
In a country where everyone is tracked, how can the Four hide from the police?

DI Clive Lussac hates the system that controls everything, but he’s ill and it’s helping him. He must decide: conform or fight.

As Clive’s world unravels, he and his partners DC Ava Miller and DS Zoe Jordan can’t believe the entry price to the game.
They strive to answer the real questions.
Why does the ultimate Augmented Reality game have four different finishes?
And how is a simple game wrapped up in politics, religion and the environment?

NO SIGNAL is the second in the near-future sci fi series by Jem Tugwell that features the ‘iMe’ system – implants for all British citizens that allow continuous tracking and monitoring. Under such a system of surveillance, you would imagine no crime could possibly be committed without those people being immediately caught. But this system has a few holes, as this series fascinatingly explores.

This is the second book in Tugwell’s ingeniously imagined iMe series (check out the review for book one, PROXIMITY, here). You do not necessarily need to read the first instalment to pick this one up, but it does help rather a lot to understand the dynamics on DI Clive Lussac’s team, his standing with the police department, and how the system works. It’s also a very interesting introduction to the world, so it’s worth a look.

It’s also worth a look as the technology/sci fi element to this is one of the best parts of this story; it’s such a believable concept, imagined so vividly with all the little logistics details worked out – immigration, visitors, removal, system failures, and how other countries might interact with a country that has adopted such a system. Then, he goes on to imagine how this would impact the religious and political life in the country in a vivid and real way. And yet, the technology is blended with the world such a way that it never becomes overwhelming for the story.

One of the most interesting parts about this story is the ‘game’ – the selection process and the lengths the players go to are gripping, partly because it’s plausible, and partly because it’s a very interesting concept. Tugwell does a great job of making you care about the way these characters chase across the UK under the eyes of this ubiquitous system, and then horror when you realize what they are doing – both willingly and unwittingly. It gives this story a surprising amount tension in a setup where the entire concept is that nothing can go un-tracked.

Most thrillers would stop with the chase of the game – the thriller element. However, that’s only part of this novel. The rest of it is an interesting discussion of political factors that are relevant to us even outside this sci-fi world, and a hunt to discover which political faction might be behind the attacks. The fact that multiple sides of the spectrum could be responsible for the use of extreme force like this is terrifying and thought provoking.

If you can’t decide what genre you’d like to spend some time in, or if you’re interested in the fusion of technology and detective work — or if you’re just looking for a thriller with a really interesting backdrop — NO SIGNAL is something to check out!

REVIEW: The Venerable Tiger by Sam Siciliano (Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes #17)

REVIEW: The Venerable Tiger by Sam Siciliano (Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes #17)

Series: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Book Number: 17?
Read this book for: Holmes pastiche, Sherlock Holmes, alternate universe Sherlock Holmes, British mystery, Victorian mystery
Quick Review: The successor to the classic Speckled Band, with all the fun of classic Holmes, but tighter plotting; a great addition to the Holmes universe.

Sherlock Holmes acquires a new client when a beautiful young woman, Isabel Stone, faints on the steps of his Baker Street rooms. She has come to beg his assistance in reclaiming the priceless jewels kept from her by her tyrannical stepfather, Captain Grimbold Pratt. But shortly after agreeing to take her case, Captain Pratt comes to Baker Street, furious that Isabel is trying to deprive him of his fortune. Unsure who to believe, Holmes and his cousin, Dr Henry Vernier, must travel to Pratt’s estate, home to tigers, wolves and murderers, to unravel a family mystery dating back to the Indian Mutiny.

THE VENERABLE TIGER is a new Holmes pastiche in a great series from Titan Books that is steadily expanding the universe of Sherlock Holmes.

This is at least the 17th instalment in Titan Books’ “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” series, penned by multiple authors, and at least the sixth Holmes novel written by Siciliano. Like the Holmes stories themselves, chronology does not make much of a difference to your reading enjoyment. However, if you are reading the Further Adventures series, there is a helpful note that places this story after The Moonstone’s Curse but before The Devil and the Four. In fact, there are a few references to the places and characters from The Moonstone’s Curse – including the main character, Dr. Vernier!

Wait – no Watson? Watson is mentioned as Holmes’ occasionally inaccurate biographer in this novel, but his role as narrator is filled by Holmes’ cousin Dr. Vernier. Vernier bears a number of similarities to Watson; he’s a doctor (albeit not one that had fought in the wars), he acts as Holmes’ right hand and offers a bit of physical protection, he follows a little quicker than Watson but he has his own opinions and is also emotional. Other than the name, Vernier’s stand-in for those accustomed to Holmes is not too jarring.

Some elements of the plot will also feel familiar to those who have read the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories – with its dangerous exotic animals, run-down country house, young lady in trouble from her stepfather, and the question of a hidden inheritance, this novel is a different spin on The Adventure of the Speckled Band. I have to admit to some bias here – I have a great fondness for Speckled Band, possibly one of the most ridiculous pieces in the Holmes canon. However, this version is far more tightly plotted, and benefits from that treatment to make it different from the piece that inspired it. In fact, the plot is quite interesting, and the characters are vivid.

And, even better, the spirit and tone of the classic Holmes adventure are alive and well in this instalment. A seemingly impossible problem, clever deductions, the Victorian country house, danger, and hidden treasures are all present here, and told with the same tone, pacing, and slight sense of amazement that Watson’s original narrations always brought.If you are a Holmes fan looking for some new adventures with the Great Detective, THE VENERABLE TIGER is one to pick up!

REVIEW: The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael (Charles Holborne #5)

REVIEW: The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael (Charles Holborne #5)

Series: Charles Holborne
Book Number: 1
Read this book for: legal thriller, 60s London, semi-historical, amateur detective, based on a true story, realistic
Quick Review: A brilliantly written court case, a fascinating whodunnit and interesting circumstances combine for a page-turner that is both sensational and realistic.

London, 1965

Charles Holborne, maverick barrister, will never fit in at the Bar; he is too working-class, too Jewish and too dangerous.

But that makes him the perfect outsider to prosecute a shocking murder case which has already made its way to the press.

By chance, a body was found, dumped in a lake. It had clearly been there for some time, but the conditions in the water have meant that it was nearly perfectly preserved.

The police have managed to match this ‘waxwork corpse’ to a missing woman and if her husband — a senior judge — was the one who killed her, the scandal threatens to rock the British justice to its foundations.

The waxwork corpse is not the only thing to be raised from the past. The investigation also dredges up a violent mistake made by Charles in his youth which, if revealed, could put his own life at stake…

THE WAXWORK CORPSE is the fifth Charles Holborne legal thriller, based on a real Old Bailey case, from Simon Michael. It follows the rest of the series and provides yet another a taut, well-written, and highly believable legal thriller.

This is the fifth novel in the series (you can read the review for the opening novel, THE BRIEF on the blog), and I do recommend reading the other novels before jumping in to this one. This installment contains some spoilers for previous novels. However, you can read it as a stand-alone if you don’t mind the spoilers – everything is self-contained and there’s enough explanation that you aren’t left wondering too much about mentions of prior events.

Even more than the first novel, this book is about the court case. If you want a good legal thriller — tightly procedural, realistic, detailed and interesting — this is the book for you. Michael’s experience at the Bar shines through in the way that he writes courtroom drama, and the little details that can make or break a case. The way the case is written, which comprises the majority of the novel, makes this story well worth the read on its own.

On top of the great legal writing, however, is an interesting case. The high-profile characters, a near-perfect murder, and the details that lead to discoveries are only a small part of the novel, but those bits are enough to satisfy whodunnit fans. The investigation is a minor area of the plot, but still one that keeps you turning pages.

There is also some development and backstory layered in to Holborne’s character in this novel, and Michael does a great job of adding that depth without it feeling forced or too heavy-handed. Holborne actually develops and changes a bit as a character through the course of this novel — a rare feat for a lead in a series that has already stretched to five books, and one that is extremely gratifying to watch.

If you are at all interested in legal thrillers, THE WAXWORK CORPSE is one that you must read. This series is one of the finest examples of the genre.

REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

Series: N/A

Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: classic Holmes pastiche, Sherlock Holmes, cozy mystery, supernatural elements, classic mystery, whodunnit

Quick Review: A classic and seasonal Holmes story, full of brilliant deductions, solid characterization, and a writing so familiar that you could imagine Conan Doyle penning it himself.


It is 1890, and in the days before Christmas Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are visited at Baker Street by a new client. Eve Allerthorpe – eldest daughter of a grand but somewhat eccentric Yorkshire-based dynasty – is greatly distressed, as she believes she is being haunted by a demonic Christmas spirit.

Her late mother told her terrifying tales of the sinister Black Thurrick, and Eve is sure that she has seen the creature from her bedroom window. What is more, she has begun to receive mysterious parcels of birch twigs, the Black Thurrick’s calling card…

Eve stands to inherit a fortune if she is sound in mind, but it seems that something – or someone – is threatening her sanity. Holmes and Watson travel to the Allerthorpe family seat at Fellscar Keep to investigate, but soon discover that there is more to the case than at first appeared. There is another spirit haunting the family, and when a member of the household is found dead, the companions realise that no one is beyond suspicion.

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REVIEW: Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (Drabble & Harris #1)

REVIEW: Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (Drabble & Harris #1)

Series: Drabble & Harris

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: UK mystery, period mystery, historical references, action, adventure, thriller, heroes in danger, amateur investigator

Quick Review: A period, action-packed adventure – the English Indiana Jones.


Ernest Drabble, a Cambridge historian and mountaineer, travels to rural Devon to inspect the decapitated head of Oliver Cromwell a macabre artefact owned by Dr Wilkinson. Drabble only tells one person of his plans Harris, an old school friend and press reporter.

On the train to Devon, Drabble narrowly avoids being murdered, only to reach his destination and find Dr Wilkinson has been killed. Gripped in Wilkinson’s hand is a telegram from Winston Churchill instructing him to bring the head of Oliver Cromwell to London.

Drabble has unwittingly become embroiled in a pro-Nazi conspiracy headed by a high-status Conservative member of the British government.

And so, Drabble teams up with Wilkinson’s secretary, Kate Honeyand, to find the head and rescue Harris who is being tortured for information.

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REVIEW: Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings (Killing Eve #1)

REVIEW: Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings (Killing Eve #1)

Series: Killing Eve

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: female assassin, female investigator, spy thriller, assassin thriller, contemporary and stylish, international locations, UK based

Quick Review: Not long, but a fantastically paced, stylish spy thriller.


She is the perfect assassin.

A Russian orphan, saved from the death penalty for the brutal revenge she took on her gangster father’s killers.

Ruthlessly trained. Given a new life. New names, new faces – whichever fits.

Her paymasters call themselves The Twelve. But she knows nothing of them. Konstantin is the man who saved her and the one she answers to.

She is Villanelle. Without conscience. Without guilt. Without weakness.

Eve Polastri is the woman who hunts her. MI5, until one error of judgment costs her everything.

Then stopping a ruthless assassin becomes more than her job. It becomes personal.

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