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CRIME FOR THE COGNISCENTI!

WELCOME TO FULLY BOOKED! If you are a fan of crime writing – old, new, true or fiction – you should find something to entertain you here. Among the regular features will be a focus on real life crimes, both in the UK and further afield, the classic fiction of The Golden Age, and the latest new releases from top authors and publishers.

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THE LONELY HOUR . . . Between the covers

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The impossibly geriatric constabulary codgers Arthur Bryant and John May return for another journey into London’s darkside in pursuit of those who kill. This time, the killer appears to be armed with a trocar – an obscure but deadly surgical instrument originally intended to penetrate the body allowing gases or fluid to escape. From the undergrowth of a copse on Hampstead Heath, and the unforgiving undertow of the Thames, via an exclusive multi-story apartment complex, to the pedestrian walkway of a Thames bridge, the victims seems to have nothing in common except the time of their demise – the deadly hour of 4.00 am.

Screen Shot 2019-03-22 at 19.10.55Bryant and May – and the rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit – have been threatened with closure before, but this time their impatient and disapproving police bosses mean business. The PCU, both collectively and individually flounder around trying to work out what connects the corpses, and who is expertly wielding the trocar. Like Andrew Marvell’s ‘Time’s Winged Chariot’, the accountants and political schemers of the Metropolitan Police are ‘hurrying near’, and failure to catch this killer will certainly mean that the shambolic HQ of the Peculiar Crimes Unit on Caledonian Road will soon be in need of new tenants.

Don’t be misled by the jokes, delightful cultural references, and Arthur’s frequent put-downs of the PCU’s hapless boss, most of which go over Raymond Land’s head but, fortunately, not ours. Physicists will probably say that their world has different rules, but in literature light can only exist relative to darkness, and Fowler does not allow the chiffon gaiety within the Peculiar Crimes Unit to disguise a dystopian London woven from a much darker thread. He says:

“Approaching midnight, the black and grey striped concourse of King’s Cross Station remained almost as busy as it had been during the day. Some Italian students appeared to be having a picnic under the station canopy. A homeless girl ms on her knees next to a lengthy cardboard message explaining her circumstances. A Jamaican family dressed in home-made ecclesiastical vestments were warning everyone that hell awaited sinners. A phalanx of bachelorettes in tiny silver dresses, strappy shoes and bunny ears marched past, heading to their next destination like soldiers on a final tour of duty. Inside the station, tourists were still lurking round the Harry Potter trolley that had been originally set there as a joke by the station guards, then monetized when queues appeared. As flinty-eyed and mean as it had ever been, London was good at making everyone pay.”

If a better paragraph about London has been written in recent years, I have yet to read it

Fowler’s London is a place where the same streets, courtyards, alleys and highways have been walked for centuries; Roman legionaries, Norman functionaries, medieval merchants, Tudor politicians, Restoration poets, Georgian gamblers, Victorian philanthropists, Great War Tommies, and now City spivs with their dreams and nightmares spinning about in front of them on their smartphones – all have played their part in treading history down beneath their feet into a compressed and powerful seam of memory. This memory, whether they know it or not, affects the lives of those who live, work, lust, learn and – ultimately – die in London. Other writers, notably Peter Ackroyd, have been drawn to this lodestone and tapped into its power. Some authors have taken up the theme but befuddled readers with too much arcane psychogeography. Fowler gets it right. Every single time. With every sentence of every paragraph of every chapter.

Bryant is neither Mr Pastry, Charles Pooter nor Mr Bean. He is as sharp as a tack despite such running gags as his coat pockets being full of fluff covered boiled sweets long since disappeared from English shelves. If we knew no better, we might describe him as having a personality disorder somewhere on the autism spectrum, but there are precious moments in The Lonely Hour where the old man brings himself up short with the realisation that he is, most of the time, chronically selfish.

CF_Thanks to Bryant’s genius, the mystery is solved and the killer brought to justice, but these are certainly the grimmest days ever for the PCU, and as this brilliantly entertaining story reaches its conclusion, Fowler (right) slowly but irrevocably turns the tap marked Darkness to its fully open position. The Lonely Hour is published by Doubleday and is out now.

I have a beautiful hardback copy of this novel to give away. If you want to be in the prize draw, simply click this link.

COMPETITION . . . Win the new Bryant & May novel!

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ON MY SHELF . . . March 2019

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SPRING IN THE EAST OF ENGLAND has been played rather a nasty trick by the weather Gods. February fooled us with its sunshine, gentle breezes and benign temperatures. March is taking its revenge. Blossom, daffodils and narcissi are nodding gamely but only just about holding their own in the teeth of savage winds. Still, indoors is relatively calm, and with a stack of excellent new books to ponder, I think I will make it through to May. Our four authors are all on Twitter, so just click on the little birdy to see what they are all up to.

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by Sara Collins

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square-twitterThis sounds as if it could be one of those bawdy recollections of a Victorian courtesan which passed for erotic literature in pre – 50 Shades days. It is, I am glad to say, nothing of the kind. It is, instead, a literary whodunnit set in early 19th century England. Then, as now, the media love an exotic criminal, no matter what crimes they may have committed. The chattering classes in the London of 1826 are, in turn, horrified and luridly curious about the defendant in a murder trial. The accused is a young woman, brought up on a slave plantation in her native Jamaica, and now she stands in the dock of the Old Bailey, charged with the murder of her employers, Mr and Mrs Benham. The indictment is sensational:

“FRANCES LANGTON, also known as Dusky Fran or Ebony Fran, is indicted for the wilful murder of GEORGE BENHAM and MARGUERITE BENHAM in that she on the 27th day of January in the year of Our Lord 1826 did feloniously and with malice aforethought assault GEORGE BENHAM and MARGUERITE BENHAM, subjects of our lord the King, in tat she did strike and stab them until they were dead, both about the upper and middle chest, their bodies having been discovered by EUSTACIA LINUX, housekeeper of Montfort Street, London.”

Frannie Langton tells her story courtesy of Sara Collins who, after a successful career as a lawyer, took a Masters degree in creative writing at Cambridge. This, her debut novel, is published by Viking/Penguin and will be available on 4th April.

THE LONELY HOUR by Christopher Fowler

square-twitterI have never written anything more eye-catching or erudite than these book reviews, so I don’t really know what real authors use (apart from sales figures) as ‘performance indicators’ for success. I use the speech marks to show that I would never normally use such examples of Management Speak, so it’s irony, OK? I imagine, though, that when you have created a central character, or in this case a duo, that is is so recognisable that it gets a bigger font than both the book title and the author’s name on the dust jacket, then maybe you have made it. Christopher Fowler’s ageless pair of investigators are, in the nicest possible way, an in-joke before the first page is turned. Fowler is second to none in his ability to use obscure British brand names as he puns and funs his way through what are the most irresistibly English novels of our time, and his two constabulary codgers are, for younger readers, named after a brand of British matches which were first sold in the mid nineteenth century. Their latest adventure begins, as ever, in London, with a mysterious death which may be connected to black magic. The book blurb promises “murder, arson, kidnap, blackmail ….. and bats.” Expect brilliant use of language, an eccentric and bewildering plot with a breathtaking resolution  – and many a good joke. The Lonely Hour is out on 21st March and is published by Doubleday. The more perceptive among you might infer that I am a fan of Christopher Fowler. To find out more about his books, click on the gentleman’s image below, and all will be revealed.

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BONES OF THE EARTH by Eliot Pattison

square-twitterEliot Pattison is an American writer who has written a superb series of novels, of which this the tenth, featuring a Chinese detective, Inspector Shan Tao Yun, who has upset the Communist regime by his honesty and single minded integrity. Managing to escape a state firing squad he has, instead, been exiled to the wilds of Tibet where, or so his masters believe, he can do no harm. The Inspector is forced to witness the execution of a Tibetan for corruption, but he can’t shake the suspicion that he has instead witnessed a murder arranged by conspiring officials. As ever, Shan chooses the hard road, and his investigations bring him into contact with the vengeful father of a murdered American archaeologist who is determined to find justice for his dead son. Shan becomes slap dab in the middle of a deathly struggle between the mystical world of Tibetan gods and the implacable bureacrats back in Beijing. Bones Of The Earth is out on 26th March, and is published by Minotaur Books. I’ve reviewed and recommended earlier novels by Eliot Pattison, so click the image below to find out more.

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NO ONE HOME by Tim Weaver

square-twitterIt seems like only the other day that Tim Weaver introduced us to his investigator David Raker, yet No One Home is the tenth novel in the series. Raker has, you might say, a niche talent. He finds missing people. People in whom the police have lost interest, with just their distraught wife, husband, son or daughter left to care. Raker pursues his missing folk to some of the most far-flung parts of the world, but here, the mystery begins close to home. In a baffling disappearance to rival the unsolved mystery of the Marie Celeste, Raker isn’t just chasing one elusive subject – he’s after an entire community. The nine members of a tiny hamlet sit down to eat, drink and have fun on All Hallows Eve. When the grey dawn comes, they are gone. Every single one of them. Is Raker about to unravel a breathtaking conspiracy, or will he just have to settle for corpses? You will have to be patient to read how David Raker tackles this latest challenge, as Michael Joseph will be publishing the book on 16th May. Meanwhile click on the picture below to find out a little more about how Mr R operates.

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THE LEADEN HEART . . . Between the covers

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England, 1899. We are in the city of Leeds and the hottest summer in living memory is taxing the patience of even the most placid citizens. The heavy industry which has transformed the quietly prosperous Yorkshire town continues to clatter and roar, while the smoke from its thousand chimneys coats everything in grime, and the air is thick with soot. Superintendent Tom Harper of the city’s police force has mixed feelings about his recent promotion. The pile of paperwork on his desk adds to the tedium, and he wishes he could be out there on the busy streets doing what he believes to be a copper’s real job.

TLHHarper lives above a city pub, the Victoria. His wife, Annabelle, is the landlady, but she is also a fiercely determined advocate of women’s rights, and she has made waves by being elected to the local Board of Guardians, a largely male-dominated organisation which is tasked with administering what, in the dying years of Queen Victoria’s reign, passed for social care. When the brother of Harper’s one-time colleague, Billy Reed, commits suicide the death is dismissed, albeit sadly, as commonplace, but Reed believes that his brother’s death is due to something more sinister, and he asks Harper to investigate.

Charlie Reed was a small time shop-keeper, but his shop was in an area where large scale commercial developments are being planned, and his premises – along with many others – have been targeted by thugs who are possibly in the pay of two wealthy – but utterly corrupt and ruthless – city councillors. Like a dog with a bone, Harper chews and gnaws away at the shrouds of secrecy with which these men have surrounded themselves, but Charlie Reed’s tragic suicide is eclipsed by a string of savage killings committed by a deranged pair of brothers who are clearly acting at the behest of the two councillors and their lawyer.

Against a background of heartbreaking poverty, where needless deaths and bureaucracy trump common humanity at every turn, Harper eventually gets to come face to face with the killers and their suave masters, but not before his family is put in peril, and his own life comes to hang from a thread.

The most chilling aspect of The Leaden Heart is that it is brutally contemporary. Town and City councillors might, these days, be seen as bumbling and pompous local jobsworths, full of piss and wind, but relatively harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Now, as in 1899, such people have huge power over planning applications and budgets which are in the millions. Now, as then, the corrupt and venal live among us and will, no doubt, be putting themselves up for re-election in May 2019.

The author’s empathy with the downtrodden and exploited, and his disgust at crooked councillors and unfeeling public guardians burns like an angry flame. The most haunting image in the book is of two drowned children killed, yes, by their drunken father, but also failed by their helpless mother and the rigid workhouse system. Nickson is a writer, however, whose passionate desire for social justice never impedes his ability to tell a great story and weave a dazzling crime mystery. What is more, he does the job with minimal fuss; there’s never a wasted word, a redundant adjective or an overblown description. His prose is pared down to the bone, but always sharp and vivid. I often think Nickson would have found lasting kinship with the great campaigning journalist and author GR Simms, (incidentally an almost exact contemporary of Tom Harper) whose most celebrated work is echoed in some aspects of The Leaden Heart. The book is published by Severn House and will be out on 29th March.

Regular visitors to Fully Booked will know that I am an unashamed fan of everything Chris Nickson writes. If you click on the image of the man himself, you can read other reviews and features on his work.

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MARKED MEN . . . Between the covers

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Manchester writer Chris Simms intoduced us to Detective Constable Sean Blake in Loose Tongues (Severn House, 2018) where he was making his debut in the city’s Serious Crimes Unit. Crime buffs will know that Simms has been around for a while, building a serious readership with his books about another Manchester copper, the rather more senior Detective Inspector Jon Spicer, as well as earlier novels featuring DC Iona Khan of the Manchester Counter Terrorism Unit.

MMMarked Men begins on an idyllic Spanish beach, but then switches to the less salubrious setting of urban Manchester, and we only learn the significance of the opening much later in the plot. This way of starting a novel has become rather well-worn, but Simms handles it well and times to perfection the revelation of its significance. The Manchester action begins with Blake in waders and hard hat at the bottom of a drained lock on a local canal. There is a body, naturally, with more to follow, and as Blake and his immediate boss, DS Dragomir criss-cross the city trying to make sense of the crime scenes we – like them – are drawn into thinking that the deaths are revenge killings. But who, exactly, is avenging what? This is where Chris Simms leads us – and his detectives – a merry dance. There is a clue, but I have to confess I didn’t get it any quicker than did Blake and Dragomir.

Police procedurals come and go; some writers, in an effort to take the genre in a new direction, make the featured police officers ever more quirky and disagreeable, to the extent that they are barely functioning as normal human beings. Simms has a steadier hand, and is happy to have Sean Blake as thoroughly decent fellow, perhaps a tad naïve at times, but – as an officer – alert and intelligent. The shadow of his late mother is slowly receding as he makes his on way through the complex office politics of the police station. For a boy brought up in rural Sussex and then spending his university days in Newcastle, Simms certainly knows his Manchester and, as in the Jon Spicer novels – he makes the city a strong and vibrant character.

Marked Men will be published by Severn House in hardback at the end of March, while Kindle users will have to wait for the Darling Buds of May to open before they get their chance. Chris Simms has his own website, a Facebook page, and is also on Twitter. Click on the images below to find out more.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . A Book of Bones

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PackageI would be lying if I said I hadn’t been counting the days until this arrived. Kerry Hood at Hodder & Stoughton is to be commended for showing great patience in the face of my impatience, but it finally arrived. Kerry had mentioned that it might be something special, but then publicists always say that, don’t they? So, ripping off the sturdy cardboard wrapper ….

 

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UnwrappedTa-da! And there it was, the long awaited latest journey into the darkness of men and angels for the Maine PI, Charlie Parker. The adjectives are easy – haunted, conflicted, convincing, troubled, angry, brave … fans of the series can play their own ‘describe Charlie Parker’ game, but most importantly, our man is back.

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ScalesCharlie Parker is back, and how! I was advised  that I might want to set aside a fair amount of time to read A Book of Bones but, blimey, Kerry was not wrong. At a little short of 700 pages, and weighing nearly 2lbs in old money, the book is certainly a big ‘un. New readers shouldn’t be daunted, though. John Connolly couldn’t write a dull sentence even if he went off to his Alma Mater, Trinity College Dublin, to do a doctorate in dullness.

 

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PiecesBut there was more! Book publicists are an inventive lot, and over the years I’ve had packets of sweets, tiny vials of perfume, books wrapped in funereal paper and black ribbon, facsimiles of detective case files – but never a jigsaw. Wrapped up in a cellophane packet with a lovely Charlie Parker 20 year anniversary graphic were the pieces.

 

Parker puzzle

PuzzleAs I was always told to do by my old mum, I isolated the bits with the straight edges first. There was clearly a written message in there, set against the lovely – but sinister – stained glass background. Confession time; although the puzzle didn’t have too many pieces, I got stuck. Fortunately, Mrs P was taking a very rare day off work with a flu bug, and as she is a jigsaw ace, she finished it off for me.

So the publicity is brilliant. but what about the book? Parker could never be described as having a comfort zone, but over the last two decades he had been battling the bad guys on his home ground – usually the forests and shores of Maine. A Book of Bones sees him on unfamiliar territory, but heading for a winner-takes-all struggle with his adversaries Quale and Pallida Mors. They have chosen the battlefield, and it is the windswept and haunted moors of northern England. Quale and Mors are close to achieving a lifetime ambition – to reassemble the pages of The Fractured Atlas, a book which, when complete, spells death and a spiritual apocalypse. Parker is older, slower, and weakened by his battles with the killer angels, but this time, he is playing for keeps. A Book of Bones will be on sale from 18th April 2019.

The last inclusion in this delightful package from Hodder & Stoughton was a lovely postcard from the man himself, John Connolly. If you click on the image, you can read more about the author and his most memorable creation.

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THE BOY IN THE HEADLIGHTS . . . Between the covers

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Somewhere there is a book of rules
that must be followed by writers of police procedurals, and high on the list is that senior investigating detectives must be difficult folk, with troubled personal lives, possibly prone to addiction of one kind or another. The addiction can range from being relatively harmless, like Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne and his love of mournful country songs by Hank Williams, via Nero Wolfe’s gluttony, right through to Sherlock Holmes and his occasional use of cocaine and morphine.

TBITHNorway’s Samuel Bjork ticks the boxes with his Olso cops Holger Munch and Mia Krüger. Munch is a bearded bear of a man, overweight and stuffed into his habitual duffel coat like a fat foot into a shoe two sizes too small. His home life is in disarray. Separated from his wife, his daughter Miriam recovering from a serious injury, he seems to treat those people with – at best – edgy tolerance, but his obsession is with the job, and catching criminals. Krüger’s back story makes Munch’s people look like candidates for a TV breakfast cereal advert emphasising warm family values. The story opens with her recovering from – in no particular order – alcoholism, a fatal shoot-out after which she was accused of murder, and the haunting death of her sister, victim of Oslo’s drug scene.

There is a brief but vivid prologue taking place fourteen years before the main story, which then relates a series of bizarre killings. The dead include a ballet dancer found in a remote lake, a jazz saxophonist lying on a bed in a flea-bitten budget hotel, a teenage boy in the boot of a burning car, and a Catholic priest slumped in his own confessional. All have died from being injected with antifreeze, and the killer has left a clue – a number – at each site.

Seasoned veterans of the serial killer genre will know that there are several variations on a theme as regards the answer to whodunnit? Sometimes the author gives little clues along the way, but the best writers have very devious minds, and often these little hints are designed to lead readers off in the wrong direction. One version of this trope is when some chapters allow us to observe events through the eyes of the killer, but again, how reliable is the narrator? The Boy In The Headlights uses another method altogether, which intially involves a red herring the size of a Great White Shark, but to say more would spoil the fun.

The adage suggests that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, and I felt that the only weakness of this book was in the final resolution. The journey, however, is a brilliant roller-coaster, with great dialogue, convincing sub-plots and a real feeling of pace and urgency. Munch and Krüger are partners made in crime fiction heaven, and both the atmospheric geographical setting and the police procedural detail are impressive. The translation, by Charlotte Barslund, seems faultlessly fluent, but then I suppose we monoglots are in no position to judge. The Boy In The Headlights is published by Doubleday/Penguin and will on the shelves and available for download from 21stMarch.

Click the images below to learn more
about the previous two Munch and Krüger novels

TOAHNITA

CALLAN . . . A forgotten hero

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Thanks to the ubiquitous Sky recording thingy and the wise folk at Talking Pictures TV, I have just watched the first episode of what was, back in the day, one of my all time favourite TV shows – Callan. With old TV and radio shows, they say it is a mistake to go back, as programmes are never as funny, or scary, or startling as when you first experienced them. In this case, “they” are seriously wrong.

Without being patronising to ‘Younger Viewers’, Callan (he was a David, but the christian name was rarely used) is a shadowy intelligence agent who is used – and that is the appropriate word – by an MI5 outfit, who send Callan off to do bad things in his country’s name. Callan is certainly a killer, as well as having all the criminal skills, but he has a conscience. Sometimes.

The very first episode, The Good Ones Are All Dead was broadcast on 8th July 1967. There had been a pilot episode under the Armchair Theatre banner, earlier that year, called A Magnum For Schneider. The creator of Callan was the prodigiously talented James Mitchell, who also wrote the long-running TV series When The Boat Comes In.

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Callan is played by Edward Woodward (1930 – 2009), a very gifted actor who was also a fine singer. In popular acclaim he is probably best remembered for his roles as the doomed policeman in the cult film The Wicker Man, and as The Equaliser in the American TV series. His range is demonstrated by the fact that in the same year that Callan premiered, he played Guy Crouchback in a superb TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy.

Throughout the four series – plus a ‘reunion’ episode in 1981 – the plot elements remained simple but powerful. At the centre is Callan himself, embittered, solitary, deadly when crossed, but still with a sense of decency. His cynical and ruthless boss is Hunter, played by a succession of fine actors, including Ronald Radd and William Squire. Hunter’s word is law:

‘He has to die,’ said Hunter, ‘and you may be the man for the job.’
‘What’s he done?’
‘That is the second time you have asked that question. It isn’t your concern. Your business is execution and nothing else – not clouding your mind with reason and explanation. Do as you’re told and do it without question. Or get out now.’

Hunter’s on-the-payroll man was initially Toby Mears (played by a suave but deadly Anthony Valentine) whose snobbish dislike of David Callan is matched only by the knowledge that his rival is the more deadly of the pair. Mears was replaced by Patrick Mower, playing Cross, but essentially as the same character. Finally, and memorably, was the vital cameo role of Lonely, a grimy but resourceful low-life criminal. Played brilliantly by the Scottish actor Russell Hunter, Lonely (below) is a scared, smelly, stammering gofer for Callan. Guns, lock picks, information – whatever Callan wants, Lonely can usually get. There is a poignancy in the relationship between the pair, because Callan bullies Lonely unmercifully, but woe betide anyone else who threatens to harm the inadequate little man.

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Callan was pure TV class from start to finish, from the memorably minimalist opening credits (the unforgettable swinging lightbulb and Girl In The Dark theme music by Jan Stoekart) via the eigmatic episode titles – The Death of Robert E Lee, The Little Bits and Pieces of Love, Nice People Die At Home – to the consistently excellent acting, the highlight of which is Woodward’s barely supressed rage and explosive anger at the world, and the role he is forced to play by the urbane but amoral Hunter.

If you have Sky or Freeview, it looks as though Callan will be on Talking Pictures TV, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings at 9.00pm. Set your recorder to save the series – you won’t be sorry.

Books? Yes, I had better allude to them, as this is basically a crime book review site. As far as I know, they are ‘proper’ novels rather than being adapted from TV or film screenplays. They are all written by James Mitchell.

A Magnum For Schneider/ Red File For Callan (1969)
Russian Roulette
(1973
)
Death and Bright Water (1974)

Smear Job (1975)

Bonfire Night (2002)

Callan Uncovered (2014)*
Callan Uncovered 2 (2015)*

* Edited by Mike Ripley

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Baker, Beattie & Miles

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Jo BakerJO BAKER was born and raised in Lancashire, and was educated at Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale, and Somerville College, Oxford. The Body Lies is her seventh novel, and her best-seller Longbourn is a highly individual reshaping of Pride and Prejudice as seen through the eyes of the “below stairs” staff in the Bennet house. Jo Baker has her own website, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Voices of Faith 2018TINA BEATTIE was born in 1955 in Lusaka, Zambia. Her parents were economic migrants from post-war Scotland She is now Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton in London, and has written widely on theology and the Roman Catholic faith. Her writing, particularly with regard to women’s rights and feminism have often brought her into conflict with the more conservative wing of her church. Her Amazon page is HERE.

MP MilesMP MILES is from a small town in Dorset. He is a pilot, a diving instructor, and an award-winning chef. A lifelong sailor he now lives in the Caribbean on-board a yacht called Pacific Wave. The British lad in Shelter Rock may well be a version of his younger self as  he escaped from home at the age of eighteen, and walked alone through Africa from Cape Town to Cairo. You can find MP Miles on Facebook and also on Twitter

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