Guest Reviewer Johnny Rounds up December 15 - April 2016

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 It's been a while since Johnny has featured but it's time to do a mass catch up and round up his books from December 2015 right the way through to April 2016. As usual his average book rating tends to be middle of the road with a few exceptions. This time around his clear favourites seem to be Dark Matters by Michael Dow, The Dolphin by Craig Bennett Hallenstein, No One Knows by J T Ellison and finally Death in Profile by Guy Fraser-Sampson.

Title: Point of Control by L J Sellers

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: L.J.Sellers is one of my favourite crime novelists, so it is disappointing to be less than fulsome in reviewing her latest tome. As usual it is well written, tightly plotted and very professional in its execution.

Whilst reading I had two major problems with this book. The first is in the basic structure which is built around the main character, a female F.B.I. agent, who is described as " a high functioning sociopath". Having just watched Mr. Cumberbatch and Mr Freeman do their thing as Sherlock and Dr. Watson it is self evident that there must be a humanitarian foil to any respectable " high functioning sociopath" and there is no such character in the book to give it the necessary balance.

Secondly, the villains are very underwritten and come across as cardboard characters. Sorry to be critical. but when you have such regard for an author it is difficult to accept when they don't reach the lofty heights they have achieved in the past..

Title: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: Well written and sharply plotted by an obviously accomplished author.

Very much in the genre of the psychological thriller it deals with identity and self awareness and generates its tension through character development.

Having said that I found the book strangely uninvolving and so whilst I could appreciate the very professional execution of plot and character I found it difficult to empathise with, or care about, what happened to them. If you like books in this genre the it is likely that you will enjoy it . The fact that I didn't is probably a reflection on the reader rather than the writer

Title: Even The Dead by Benjamin Black

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: Another case involving Dublin based pathologist Quirke.. As before a cold and dismal Dublin is a vividly etched background to various crimes. Whilst the mood is gloomy the writing is as good as ever and Quirke is an offbeat, but likeable, character. If you liked previous outings from the series you are sure to enjoy the latest instalment.

Title: The Truth by Jeffry W Johnston

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: An intriguing hypothesis is the basis of this thriller. How far would you go to protect the people closest to you? Whilst the set up is simple , the captor and the captured,

.Mr.Johnson explores the nuances of the situation with a rare degree of skill. Although the main characters are not exactly sympathetic, or particularly likeable, the tension is progressively heightened as the story unfolds.  A neat story from an accomplished author.

Title: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: Story telling on an epic scale. This will certainly appeal to fans of the genre with multiple strands and an army of characters. For G.O.T. fans there is enough action and gore to keep them satisfied whilst for those of a more cerebral nature there is sufficient subtlety in the narrative to retain their interest.

Very well written and imaginative this is a very good start to what might be a "must read " series

Title: Dark Matters by Michael Dow

Johnny's Rating: 4/5

Johnny's Review: Very interesting and well written thriller set late in the 21st.century.

Exciting in its own right it offers plenty of action  and imaginative speculation on technological advances in the next 50+ years elevate it above most crime and SF novels. Some of the story strands are audacious to the point of being far fetched, but are set out in such a confident and business-like fashion that, although stretched, credulity never has to be entirely suspended. A bravura effort and an acceptably ambiguous conclusion mean that I can look forward to the follow up with much anticipation.

Title: Late Harvest Havoc by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: Another charming episode in the series featuring wine expert Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile. The proven formula still works well. Basically a dissertation on the viniculture and gastronomy of a region of France, in this case Alsace. As usual a somewhat perfunctory murder is solved by Benjamin and Virgile, but the real purpose is to take us on an interesting journey through areas of France that many will find unfamiliar. The writing is smooth and never too demanding so really- what's not to like?

Title: Lethal Touch by Tony Clark

Johnny's Rating: 2/5

Johnny's Review: Lethal Touch starts with the discovery of the floating wreck of a ketch assumed lost in a yacht race to Madeira. Inevitably it is soon revealed that murder and skulduggery were  the cause of the wreck. The story then  broadens out into problems at the Cornwall hotel owned by The Cupidi Group. Conveniently on hand in the locality is the group.s financial troubleshooter, Matt Hoyle, who is predictably handsome, bright, tough etc.etc.. The tale unfolds with murder, fraud, drugs and a plethora of suspects appearing at frequent intervals.

From my perspective there were so many characters that they were sketched in very broad strokes which made them all seem so shallow that it was difficult to care what happened to them.

This is not a bad book but I did find it disjointed and the hero was too bland to hold the various strands of the story together.

Difficult to recommend this. It might while away a couple of hours, but I can think of many books to accomplish that more enjoyably.

Title: The Dolphin by Craig Bennett Hallenstein

Johnny's Rating: 4/5

Johnny's Review: On debut Craig Hallenstein  has written a superbly constructed thriller. Cleverly plotted with several storyline threads and a lot of interesting characters, including a deranged villain who's the nastiest I've come across since Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Set in New Orleans, the background details seem very authentic. Ok I've been there once, but its described very much as I remember it and the characters and general landscape are very well realised. Thank goodness there is no square jawed, indestructible hero but a series of well drawn characters, suitably flawed, who are believable and, at times, vulnerable, who carry on until a gripping conclusion.

No spoilers here about the plot and the people, just a suggestion that you should, under no circumstances miss this book. Highly recommended.

Title: Quick and The Dead by Susan Moody

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: Traditional whodunit featuring former policewoman Alex Quick.

Interesting, but hardly compelling, murder mystery with a predictable cast of suspicious characters and plentiful red herrings to divert attention from the culprit.

The central character is well drawn and likeable and the plot proceeds with pace and balance, despite one or two coincidences.

All in all a pleasant, well told,professionally written story that will appeal to those who like there thrillers in the classic style.

Title: Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: The plot of this Japanese crime thriller centres around a fourteen year old , unsolved kidnapping and murder where the culprit has never been apprehended.

Although police press director Mikami is at the centre of the action the novel is as much about Japanese police procedure and  the police's relationship with the press and public.

This is a fine piece of work but many, I suspect, like me will find the funereal pace off putting.

Nevertheless, with that caveat it is worth persevering to the end as it will unfold unlike any other crime novel you have read.

Title: Hold Still by Tim Adler

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: Real page turner, mostly concerning the growth of the Albanian underworld throughout Europe.The plot specjfics are sufficiently labyrinth and coincidences so unlikely to stretch credulity to breaking point. Our heroine suffers such terrible terrible indignities that several "perils of Pauline " stories could be spawned from just one chapter. In all probability it seemed to me that Bourne and Bond, in tandem, would not survive, but our central character is certainly made of the right stuff.

To be honest, there are some inherent inconsistencies in the plot, but the story rattles along, at such a pace, and is written with such brio that it is easy to overlook any drawbacks, large or small. Well worth a try.

Title: No One Knows by J T Ellison

Johnny's Rating: 4/5

Johnny's Review: I confess that I read the opening chapters of this book with some misgivings.

The fact that it dealt , in some depth, with emotion, rather than actions made me wonder if it was the sort of novel that I would like. Fortunately, I persevered and was rewarded with a really good read.. It's very difficult to classify this book, as it has a distinct tendency to switch styles, from psychological thriller, to action to whodunit, but its none the worse for that.  Very well written with great intellectual and emotional integrity, this is significantly different from most crime thrillers. Highly recommended

Title: Death in Profile by Guy Fraser-Sampson

Johnny's Rating: 4/5

Johnny's Review: Very professionally written police procedural with believable characters, sharp dialogue and a densely plotted storyline.. I wasn't overly enamoured with the storyline references to " the golden age" of detectives but, that aside, this is as good  a book, of this type, that I've read for a long time.

The only caveat is that the suitably surprising ending was a little difficult, but far from impossible. to be entirely credible. It would be unfair to go into more detail as it would be a complete spoiler and it should not detract from what is a really good read. Highly recommended and the conclusion gives sufficient hope that a further instalment is on the way.

Title: Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Johnny's Rating: 3/5

Johnny's Review: A good well written thriller concerning a girl called Tessa who was found, nearly dead, in a field in Texas along with the bones of another victim of the murderer. She, unsurprisingly, is traumatised by the event and much of the book revolves around her reactions and relationships with friends, family and doctors. The story shifts in time between the initial event and the present, some 18 years later. I must admit that using flashbacks is a device I find irritating so it did mar my enjoyment of what is a very good book. Obviously that is an individual idiosyncrasy and it could be misleading as this is a fine piece of work and will appeal to many.

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