When the Baxters, newly moved to London, bought the house at 54 Belleview Street, they were ill-prepared for the amount of fixing-up that would be required. They were even less prepared for the body found in one of the boarded up fireplaces.
DCI Isaac Cook and his murder investigation team are then tasked with solving a 30-year-old murder, a challenging case where the witnesses keep dying, and old secrets are well-hidden. Murder House by Phillip Strang is an interesting peek into British social dynamics and police procedure, with plenty of false leads and red herrings that would be an even better mystery if there’d been more showing and less telling. The telling made it a bit of a slog, but on the whole it was rather enjoyable.
I received an advanced review copy of this book. I give it four stars.
Why is the senior detective of the murder squad being assigned to the case of a missing soap opera actress, especially when she has a history of occasionally ‘disappearing?’ DCI Isaac Cook and his partner, DI Farhan Ahmed, are intrigued. Someone high up in the government has an interest in the case, but they have no need to know—or, so they’re told, but the assumption is that she’s been murdered. “Murder is a tricky business,” Cook tells his partner, “When you have no body, no suspects, and no motive.” When more bodies start turning up, though, it gets even trickier.
Murder is a Tricky Business by Phillip Strang follows Cook and Ahmed as they doggedly pursue clues, to one dead end after another. All the while, powerful people are pulling strings to keep them in the dark, and becoming dangerous when they start getting close to the truth. The missing actress has a secret, a secret that threatens someone powerful, and people are dying to keep that secret hidden.
The action moves rapidly in some chapters, but when the author digresses to give back story on a character, primarily Cook and Ahmed, it slows down almost to the point of distraction. While some of these distractions offer tantalizing clues to the mystery, others simply tell us about the things the character fears, having little of nothing to do with the murders they must solve. The book would have been just as interesting without them, or if they’d been shortened considerably.
I must confess that I skipped a lot of these flashbacks, skimming until the author came back to the present and the case at hand. I enjoyed the story, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if there’d been fewer Cook/Ahmed flashbacks.
I received an advance reader copy of this book.
It is a five-star concept, but I can only give it three and a half for execution.
Malika Khalova is a 27-year-old heroin addict and prostitute in a Tajik village near the Afghanistan border that’s used as a transit point for the heroin trade. Her life consists of waiting for the next unwashed heroin smuggler to abuse her in exchange for a fix, until she meets Oleg, a small time Russian gangster who has fled to the region from Moscow, one step ahead of the KGB. Oleg has thrown in with the local Tajik heroin mastermind, and he ends up in the village to do his new master’s bidding. When he meets Malika, his life changes; changes in ways he has no way of anticipating.
Malika’s Revenge by Phillip Strang is a riveting story that could very well have been ripped from the small stories we occasionally see in the back sections of our Western newspapers. The degradation of the drug trade, and the constant state of war among the predators who conduct that trade form the backdrop for a story of survival. For Malika is, if nothing else, a survivor. She’s driven to survive through sheer will power, and the desire to take revenge on those who have abused and dehumanized her.
From the machinations of local warlords to the intrigue of the Russian mafia, Strang has woven a colorful tapestry, in blood-red for all the blood that has been shed, is being shed, and will be shed in the future in this desolate region.
This is a book that will satisfy most adventure junkies, and will delight lovers of contemporary historical fiction.
I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.
I give it four stars.
Hostage of Islam by Phillip Strang is a compelling story of the extremism and violence in Africa brought about by the terrorist group Boko Haram and criminal gangs that prey on foreign workers in Nigeria.
It revolves primarily around the murder of a missionary couple and their friend and co-worker, and the abduction of two young women, an American and a Brit, one of whom is marked for sale to a Saudi prince as a concubine. The book begins rather slowly with historical and biographical background on the murder victims, and then picks up with background on Helen, the British woman who, after leading a trouble life of drug use and prostitution, has decided to redeem herself by devoting her life to missionary work in Africa. It then picks up with the introduction of Kate, a young American woman who is traumatized by the death of her boyfriend in an auto accident.
The overall theme of the book is sound, but it drags in places with the insertion of a lot of background historical, political and personal information that would be better included in smaller amounts or through dialogue. At times, also, because the author has such a large cast of characters, and introduces them with rather fulsome histories, it becomes a bit confusing for the reader to try and keep track of all the comings and goings.
The book does have lots of action and human drama, and is about a subject that is very much currently in the news. It would be a far tauter thriller, though, if it started with the attack on the missionary compound and then all the information on the pages before that was brought out as the story unfolds.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. The theme is definitely five-star quality, but I give it three and a half stars for execution.
Frederick Vane and Andrew Martin, long-time colleagues, are experts at making predictions based on events and trends. When the British government is faced with a crisis in the Middle East, and criminal activity at home, that is hard to get a handle on, the two are brought in to develop predictions to allow a reasoned government response. The Islamic State (IS) is mounting a concentrated bombing campaign in the UK, and the British Prime Minister (PM) is incapable of handling the situation.
Police DCI Isaac Cook, faced with a series of random bombings, is led to the conclusion that the PM is the ultimate target, and Vane and Martin come to the same conclusion. While investigating the bombings, Cook develops a relationship with the ambitious deputy PM. Now, the three men, along with the deputy PM face a moral and ethical challenge, do they allow the planned assassination of the PM to happen, or do they try to stop it. Their futures as well as the future security of the nation and the world rides on the decision they make.
The Vane-Martin Conundrum by Phillip Strang is a tense thriller, with all the elements that make it a potential blockbuster film: romance, politics, terror, and religion, all combined in a story that will grab you by the short hairs and not let go until the end. An in-depth analysis of the possible outcome when an international terrorist organization’s goals happen to coincide with the political desires of certain individuals within the target country. This is a down and dirty thriller that you shouldn’t miss!
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review, and I give it four stars.