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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. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook by clicking the buttons.

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To hell with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens –
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NIGHT WATCH . . . Between the covers

 

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David C Taylor,
the author of Night Watch, has been around the block. He says that he and his brother:
“..were free-range children in New York who early on discovered the joys of Times Square, the games arcades, the pool halls, and the jazz clubs.”

Despite this, Taylor went on to graduate from Yale. After volunteering with The Peace Corps he scratched out a living teaching and writing short stories, but eventually had to bite the commercial bullet and had a successful career as a film and TV screenwriter in Los Angeles. He introduced us to the tough 1950s New York cop Michael Cassidy in Night Life (2015) and followed it with Night Work (2017). Cassidy returns now, in Night Watch. He has an unusual background for a New York cop. His father, a refugee from Eastern Europe, is a successful Broadway producer. His godfather is Frank Costello, a Mafia boss.

Night Watch coverCassidy is an ex-serviceman, and in Night Watch he becomes involved in an issue which is way, way above his pay-grade. The initial reaction of the USA to former Nazis in the months immediately following May 1945 was simple – Hang ‘Em High. But as the government realised that highly trained German scientists and engineers were being harvested by the new enemy – Soviet Russia – the bar was significantly lowered, with the philosophy that these men and women might be bastards, but at least they’re our bastards.

One of Cassidy’s buddies sums up the dilemma perfectly:

“We fight them for years,. We’re told that they’re the worst of the worst, the end of civilisation and freedom if they win, and when it’s all over, the same guys who’ve been telling that stuff start bringing them over here to work for us.”

A concentration camp survivor, ostensibly just an old guy driving tourists around Central Park in his horse cab, but secretly hunting down those who imprisoned him and killed his family, is found dead with strange puncture wounds in his neck. A businessman dives through the high window of his hotel – without bothering to open it first – and no-one saw anything. Not the concierge, and especially not the dead man’s co-workers, who were in an adjacent room. Two deaths. Two cases which Cassidy’s boss wants put to bed as quickly as possible. Two lives snuffed out, and Cassidy senses a connection. A connection leading to money, national security, powerful people – and big, big trouble for a humble NYPD cop.

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Not only does Cassidy face a shitstorm of fury from major league conspirators, he has a more personal problem. Someone, maybe a vengeful con, or someone with a huge grudge, is out to kill him. The killer plays with him by trying to push him in front of a subway train, and then reshaping the woodwork of his front door with slugs from a sniper rifle. With a narrative conjuring trick half way through the book, Taylor merges the two threats to Cassidy, and from that point on we must fasten our seat belts for a very fast and bumpy ride.

Like many people, I only know New York in the 1950s from novels and movies. I don’t know for certain David C Taylor’s age and I suspect his 1954 New York would have been viewed through the eyes of a youngster, but, my goodness, what a vivid scene he sets, and what a gritty backdrop he paints for the deeds – and misdeeds – of Michael Cassidy. Who knows if this description is accurate, but more importantly it works like a dream, so who cares?

(The diner) “ …was a Buck Rogers dream of curved aluminium, big slanted windows, Formica-topped tables in weird shapes, and waitresses in high-waisted slacks, ruffled white shirts with black bowties, and funny little hats that looked like fezzes. To pay for all that the joint charged an exorbitant buck twenty-five for a plate of ham and eggs, toast and potatoes, but they threw in the coffee for free.”

There are one or two significant name drops which help boost authenticity, amongst them a guest appearance by the sinister head of the CIA, Allen Dulles. Cassidy himself doesn’t do wisecracks, but there is plenty of snappy dialogue and verbal slaps in the face to keep us awake. This, after a post mortem:

“ ‘And a couple of other things make him interesting ….’
‘Okay. What?’
‘He had his underpants on backward.’
‘Sure. Why not? What else?’
‘I found someone’s fingertip in his stomach.’ ”

Taylor joins an elite bunch of writers whose novels are set in those turbulent post-war years of urban America. Jim Thompson, Ed McBain, Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Micky Spillane – there are some big, big names there, but Taylor (below) doesn’t disgrace himself in their company. Cassidy is believable, flawed, but honest and with that elusive moral imperative that he shares with the better-known heroes in the genre. He has limited means, but he’ll be damned if he allows himself to be trampled on.

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Night Watch is available in all formats and is published by Severn House.

David C Taylor has his own website, and you can find him on Twitter at @DTNewYorkNoir

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PAST TIMES – OLD CRIMES . . . The CALLAN novels of James Mitchell (part 2)

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James Mitchell (1926 -2002) held a number of jobs, including actor, teacher and journalist, before his first novel was published in the mid ‘fifties. Between 1964 and 1969 (as James Munro)  he wrote four well-received thrillers featuring “John Craig of Department K, British Secret Service, whose activities involve jobs too dangerous – or too dirty – for anyone else to handle.”.  It’s unsurprising that Mitchell would wish to adapt a Craig-like character for a television audience.

Death and Bright Water (1974)

DABWThere had been big changes since the last novel appeared a year earlier. The tv series had finished and Callan had transferred to the cinema in a moderately successful feature film (apparently the first to utilise Dolby sound).  It seems that James Mitchell saw Callan’s future as on the big screen. The plots of this novel and the next one reflect that change.

The story begins with Callan once more out of the Section and this time working with a road building gang. He is approached, via the KGB, to rescue an important Greek communist’s daughter from house arrest on Crete. Callan turns down the job, but is persuaded to take it after some pressure from the Section.  A crack squad is assembled, but it’s soon clear that some team members have plans of their own.

 While Hunter and the Section play a much smaller role than before, Lonely, however, was far too valuable a character to omit; and so he is brought along to assist in the inevitable house-breaking that will be required for the Crete stronghold.

The story moves along at a cracking pace, but James Mitchell has moved into 1970s international thriller territory, and this involves exotic locales (well, Crete) and a certain amount of travelogue writing.

Smear Job (1975)

Smear JobBy now Callan (and Lonely) are more or less free agents, pursuing lucrative careers in the world of personal security. The Section exists only to tie them, and potential readers, to the TV series.

From the blurb:

“There were two little tasks which Callan had to carry out for Hunter; he had to make sure that Gunther Kleist lost a very large sum of money at cards, and he had to steal a book from Lord Hexham’s library, a paperback edition of Mein Kampf….but that was only the start, an appetiser to a plot of diabolical complexity weaved by Hunter; a plot that was to take Callan from Sicily to Las Vegas, then on to Mexico, with death waiting at every turn.”

We have come a long way from the swinging light bulb of seven years ago….perhaps too far. This was to be the last Callan novel for twenty-seven years. It’s not hard to see why; the TV series was over and with it the loyal army of viewers and readers. I don’t how the sales compared with the earlier novels, but I don’t think that either this book or Death and Bright Water ran to more than a single printing in paperback. James Mitchell and his publishers might well have concluded that, commercially at least, Callan had run his course…

In any event, James Mitchell turned his attention back to screen-writing (When the Boat Comes In) and to a three book series in the mid 1980s featuring reluctant adventurer Ron Hoggett, and his minder Dave – “ex-student, ex-paratrooper, ex drop-out”.

To summarise – James Mitchell was incapable of writing a dull book and the last two novels are fast moving adventure thrillers. Seen from the present day they perhaps don’t capture the authentic atmosphere of the TV series in the way that the first two novels do. But all four books remain very readable.

Bonfire Night (2002)

Bonfire NightWritten when James Mitchell was old and unwell, and published a  year before his death, this is something of a curio. Callan has been free of the Section for at least a decade, and in that time he and Lonely have made vast fortunes in the electronics business. This at least follows on from the conclusion of the previous novel, when Callan and Lonely were establishing something  of a living outside the Section.  But the plot, which need not detain us here, is difficult to credit when it’s not merely confusing.   The book is not without its moments, but is for Callan completists only.

 

 

Stuart Radmore, April 2019

The first part of Stuart’s account of the Callan novels is here.

A BOOK OF BONES . . . Between the covers

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ABOB COVERIn the previous Charlie Parker novel, The Woman In The Woods, John Connolly introduced us to a frightful criminal predator, Quayle, and his malodorous and murderous familiar, Pallida Mors. Even those with the faintest acquaintance with Latin will have some understanding what her name means and, goodness gracious, does she ever live up to it! Both Quayle and Mors are seeking the final pages of a satanic book, The Fractured Atlas which, when complete, will deliver the earth – and all that is in it – to the forces of evil.

Unusually for a Charlie Parker novel, most of the action takes place far from our man’s home in Portland, Maine. Parker and his customary partners Louis and Angel travel to England via the Netherlands for what may well be the final encounter with their adversaries. All is not well, however. The implacable Louis is still wounded – physically and mentally – after a previous encounter with Pallida Mors, and Angel is undergoing chemotherapy after having a significant part of his intestines removed. There is something of Tennyson’s Ulysses about Parker, Louis and Angel in this epic encounter:

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Charlie Parker aficionados will remember that in The Wolf In Winter (2014) Parker tangled with the sinister residents of a tiny village called Prosperous. They were descendants of The Familists, a pagan cult which had originated in northern England but then emigrated to America, taking the stones of their church with them in their ships. The original village, high up on the lonely moors of Northumberland is now little more than a series of ruined cottages, but it comes into dramatic focus when the body of a young schoolteacher is found with a ring of Muslim prayer beads lodged in her slashed throat.

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JCA Book of Bones is a tour de force, shot through with the grim poetry of death and suffering. Connolly (right) takes the creaky genre of horror fiction, slaps it round the face and makes it wake up, shape up and step up. He might feel that the soubriquet literary is the kiss of death for a popular novelist, but such is his scholarship, awareness of history and sensitivity that I throw the word out there in sheer admiration. Jostling each other for attention on Connolly’s stage, amid the carnage, are the unspeakably vile emissaries of evil, the petty criminals, the corrupt lawyers and the crooked cops. Charlie Parker may be haunted; you may gaze into his eyes and see a soul in ruins; his energy and motivation might be fueled by a desire to lash out at those who murdered his wife and daughter; what shines through the gloom, however, is the tiny but fiercely bright light of honesty and goodness which makes him the most memorable hero of contemporary fiction.

Astonishingly, it is twenty years since Every Dead Thing introduced Charlie Parker to the world. Seventeen books later, A Book Of Bones will be published by Hodder & Stoughton on 18th April.

For more on Charlie Parker at Fully Booked, click the image below.

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ON MY SHELF . . . April 2019

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ELIOT’S PESSIMISM comes to mean more and more the older I get. The contrast between the annual rebirth of ‘the dead land’ gets starker with every little personal infirmity that old age brings. But, hey-ho, that’s another winter ticked off, and the poignant lines from Bilbo’s song can be put back in the box for another few months:

BilboLeaving aside the morbid musings, there’s no shortage of cruelty in the latest crop of excellent crime reads on the Fully Booked shelf. For me, the highlight has to be the latest Tom Thorne novel, where our man goes head-to-head with a particularly nasty specimen of humanity who bears out the adage that the female is deadlier than the male.

DECEPTION by Maggie Belvoir

DeceptionSet in the university town of Cambridge, Deception tells the tale of a how an ostensibly ideal family of perfect children, loving parents and comfortable circumstances is rent asunder when their good deed – adopting a troubled schoolgirl – certainly does not go unpunished. Add to the mix a nasty murder and a conflicted police officer, and we have a witches’ cauldron of dark deeds against the serene background of an ancient seat of learning. Maggie Belvoir has lived in Cambridge for 40 years. She is writing under a pseudonym as members of her social and family circle, may be shocked at some of the scenes depicted in her novel. Published by Matador, Deception is out now.

THEIR LITTLE SECRET by Mark Billingham

TLSLondon copper Tom Thorne has become an institution for those who like a brilliant police procedural with a distinctly individual cast list, a Pandora’s Box of nasty villains and plot twists to confound the best of us. A conman whose set-piece scam is to befriend wealthy women and separate them from their fortune meets his match when he chooses his next victim – only to find that she is a borderline insane psychopath. You can get your copy of Their Little Secret from 2nd May, and it’s published by Little, Brown.
For more on Mark Billingham on Fully Booked, follow this link.

THE UNSEEN PATH by JD De Pavilly

TUPFor starters, the copy I received today is a beautifully presented hardback, with that simplest, but most welcome delight – a ribbon bookmark. The novel is centred around the life of a security officer, Andy Bowson whose witnessing of the death of a notorious jihadi draws him down into a vortex of corruption, international subterfuge and political mayhem. As if Bowson hasn’t enough to deal with, his personal life has begun to unravel at an alarming rate, and when his wife disappears on Exmoor while driving to visit her parents, he discovers a sinister link to what appears to be a vigilante campaign against the Islamic community. I normally take publicity blurbs with several sizeable grains of NaCl, but one line intrigued me here:
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This thriller marks the debut of an exciting new writing talent, and will be published by Matador on 28th April.

THE LOST SHRINE by Nicola Ford

Lost ShrineI confess a vested interest here in that one of my sons is a professional archaeologist who is employed by a major construction company. He identifies and records ancient traces before they are covered with tons of steel and concrete. In the real world, this commercial work keeps archaeology alive, and so the Nicola Ford’s fictional sleuth Clare Hills and her university colleague Dr David Barbrook know they have to accept, albeit reluctantly the developers’ shilling. Murder, however, is a different matter, and a corpse found on an historical site high on a Cotswold hill leads Hills and Barbrook into dangerous territory. The Lost Shrine is published by Alison &Busby and is out on 23rd May. Please read the Fully Booked review of the first novel in this series, The Hidden Bones.

ULTIMATUM by Frank Gardner

UltimatumIntelligence agent Luke Carlton is the creation of the celebrated BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner. Carlton made his debut in the 2017 best-seller Crisis, and now he returns for a second adventure set in that apotheosis of anti-Western malice, Iran. The feared Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are working on a weapon which will destroy the fragile international balance of power. When a search-and-destroy mission involving Carlton goes disastrously wrong, the clock starts to tick on a potentially devastating military and political time bomb. Ultimatum is published by Corgi and will be available from 31st May.

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BONES OF THE EARTH . . . Between the covers

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Inspector Shan Tao Yun is a Chinese policeman whose honesty and integrity has discomforted the faceless members of whatever dreadful committee deals with public employees who don’t toe the line. Considered too valuable to be dispatched with a 9mm Parabellum round, he is exiled to the wilds of Tibet to be the constable for the settlement of Yangkar. As an extra insurance, his son is arrested and kept in a prison camp; if Shan’s independent streak becomes too troublesome, then his son will simply become collateral damage.

BOTEIn Bones Of The Earth (the tenth and final book in the series) Shan becomes involved in a complex murder mystery involving a massive civil engineering project and a dead American.archaeology student, whose father has come to Tibet to investigate if his daughter’s death was, as the authorities declare, an unfortunate accident or something more sinister. As ever in the series, Shan’s complex relationship with Colonel Tan, the governor of Lhadrung county, is central to the narrative. Tan is as brutal and ruthless as his party masters need him to be, but there is a tiny spark of something – perhaps not integrity, but something close – which enables him to do business with Shan.

The sheer intensity of the detail Pattison adds to the narrative is astonishing, particularly when he is describing the humdrum world of Yangkar. As eavesdroppers, flies on the wall or what you will, it seems a grey kind of place; the ubiquitous breeze block is everywhere, naked light bulbs swing from the ceilings and even the food – rice, noodles, vegetables, dumplings – is functional and plain. Yangkar is, of course, dwarfed by the sheer immensity of the mountain peaks and snow fields. When colour emerges it is not chromatic in a visual sense, but in the indomitable spirituality and humanity of the Tibetans themselves. Try as they might, the Chinese rarely come close to understanding or even identifying the primal bond the people of Tibet have with their religion. It is a bond partly forged in fear, but also made of a oneness with the caves, the rocks and the wild peaks where the gods – and devils – dwell.

Pattison_EliotI doubt that Pattison (right) is on the diplomatic Christmas Card list of President Xi Jinping and, were the author to fly into Lhasa, he is unlikely to be greeted with open arms. His disdain for the charmless and monolithic mindset of The People’s Republic is obvious, but Inspector Shan has to stay alive and keep himself on the outside of the Re-education Camps. Shan reminds me of another great fictional detective who has to do business with monsters: the late Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther sits down with minsters such as Goebbels and Heydrich; he will even smoke a cigar with them and accept a snifter of Schnapps while, metaphorically, holding his nose. Such is Shan’s relationship with his Chinese masters. He is a realist. If he says the wrong thing he (or his imprisoned son) is dead. Raymond Chandler’s immortal words fit the Inspector very well:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. “

Bones Of The Earth is published by Minotaur Books and is available now.

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SLOW MOTION GHOSTS . . .Between the covers

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England. 11th April 1981. While the music charts bubble with the froth of Bucks Fizz, Shakin’ Stevens, Adam and the Ants and The Nolans, London – at least the place south of the river called Brixton – is aflame with violence, racial hatred and mayhem. As the police struggle to control the streets a middle aged Detective Inspector called Henry Hobbes is bused in to help. No matter that Hobbes – and many other senior detectives likewise – is a stranger to riot control, it is a case of all hands on deck.

SMG coverLater that year, with Brixton quieter, despite other English towns and cities erupting in copycat anger, Hobbes has become embroiled in a bitter internal dispute. A fellow copper, Charlie Jenkes (who rescued Hobbs from the mob on that fateful April night) after being indicted for savagely beating a black suspect, has taken his own life. And the officer who testified to Jenkes’s violence? Henry Hobbes, who, with that single act of honesty, is branded as a Judas by his own colleagues.

But now Hobbes has something to distract him from his disintegrating family life and his pariah status among fellow officers. A young man is found dead, wth his body gruesomely mutilated. Brendon Clarke was a minor celebrity, the lead singer with an aspiring band called Monsoon Monsoon, whose chief claim to fame is that they play the music of another dead rockstar – Lucas Bell. Bell’s celebrity rests on hs apparent suicide, his angst-ridden persona, and, most of all, his adoption of the identity of King Lost, a charismatic figure with a gruesome mask.

As Hobbes tries to unpick the complex knot which ties together the identities of Brendan Clarke and Lucas Bell, he discovers that the King Lost legend has its roots in a bizarre fantasy world created by a group of teenagers in the Sussex town of Hastings. With more murders being linked to the world of King Lost, Hobbes is drawn into an investigation which exposes child abuse, blackmail, madness and revenge.

Genre compartmentalising books is not always helpful, but it is fair to say that Noon’s previous novels have used tropes from science fiction, psychedelia and dystopian fantasy. Slow Motion Ghosts adopts conventions of the police procedural, but is more adventurous, asks more questions and has a distinctly noir-ish feel. Noon uses his knowledge of the music scene to bore down into the strange phenomenon of the celebrity cult, and the lengths to which worshippers of dead heroes are prepared to go in order to keep their fantasies alive.

Jeff Noon was born in Droylsden in 1957. He was trained in the visual arts, and was musically active on the punk scene before starting to write plays for the theatre. His first novel, Vurt, was published in 1993 and went on to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award. He reviews crime fiction for The Spectator.

Slow Motion Ghosts is published by Doubleday, and is out now.

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ONE MORE LIE . . . Between the covers

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Fortunately, the instances of children who kill other children are rare. The misdeeds of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, however, are the stuff of nightmares, as is the killing of Martin Brown and Brian Howe by Mary Bell. What happens to these killers when they have served their time and are released into the community, however, is just as controversial. Lesley Kara tackled the subject in her recent novel The Rumour, and now Welsh author Amy Lloyd brings us her take on the issue with One More Lie.

91nOv4RUgiLTwo children, Sean and Lilly, murder a third child, Luke – disabled physically and mentally. In a case that whips up a storm of public revulsion, both are sentenced to long prison terms. Eventually, both are released on licence subject to supervision. Lilly is now Charlotte, ankle-tagged and nervous about a new world full of strange things that never existed when she lost her liberty all those years ago.

The structure of One More Lie is crucial to its impact. The chapters are either Her:Then (the young Lilly), Her:Now (Lilly as Charlotte) or Him:Now (the present day Sean)There is no third party, no impartial observer, no narrator whose words we know we can trust. As Charlotte picks her way through the minefield of her new life, desperate to preserve her false identity, plagued by a potential new boyfriend and anxious about her relationship with her psychologist Dr Isherwood, one of the mines explodes beneath her. She is contacted by Sean. Sean, her partner in the terrible crime which broke her childhood into pieces. Sean, the little anarchist who broke all the rules and made her laugh.

The adult Sean is living a life straight from the pages of Trainspotting. Dealing drugs, hacking computers, existing in a grimy flat and generally living down to the kind of future predicted for him by the exasperated teachers who knew him before he became front page news. Will his reunion with Lilly/Charlotte end in disaster or redemption?

Amy Lloyd asks us to make two crucial judgments as the narrative unfolds. The first is to decide if Lilly’s childhood recollections – Her:Then – are reliable. Do we trust her when she tells us (and the police) that she has no recollection of the crucial last hour of Luke’s life? Is she shutting it out as a defence, or has the trauma genuinely taken hold of her memory?

amy-lloyd-by-laura-lewisSecondly, and inevitably, we are drawn into acting as judge and jury about the complex matter of culpability for Luke’s death. Remember, there is no Him:Then. We only see the young Sean through Lilly’s eyes and it seems, for a time at least, that he is the dangerous one, the wild card, the ten year-old Dark Angel, if you will. For sure, he is not neglected in the sense that his home life attracts the attention of Children’s Services, even though the family routine is haphazard. By contrast, Lilly’s life with her bruised and beaten mother ends in tragedy, although once she has moved in with her aunt she receives love, compassion and care. But is she already too badly damaged from the nightmare of her mother’s death for the new life to heal the wounds?

I finished the book in two sessions – it is that gripping. No-one reads psychological thrillers for an easy ride, and you certainly won’t find one here. There is cruelty a-plenty, both physical and mental. There is heartbreak and the Her:Then chapters speak volumes about Innocence Lost. William Blake believed that innocence could be regained, but to discover if Amy Lloyd (above right) shares the poet’s optimism you will have to read the book yourself. One More Lie is published by Century and is already available in Kindle. The hardback version will be out on 4th April.

 

My review of Amy Lloyd’s debut novel The Innocent Wife is here.

COVER REVEAL . . . The Comedy Club Mystery

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pbI have become a great fan of the Crampton of the Chronicle mysteries. Despite having multifarious murders and diverse dirty deeds, they are breezy, funny, beautifully written and they have a definite feel-good factor. Peter Bartram (left) is an old newspaper hand himself, and the background of a 1960s newsroom in a provincial newspaper is as authentic as it can get. Colin Crampton’s latest journey into the criminal underworld of Brighton is The Comedy Club Mystery. The cover blurb tells us:

ComClub“When theatrical agent Daniel Bernstein sues the Evening Chronicle for libel, crime reporter Colin Crampton is called in to sort out the problem.

 But trouble escalates when Bernstein turns up murdered. Colin discovers that any of five comedians competing for the chance to appear on a top TV show could be behind the killing.

 As Colin and his feisty girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith investigate, they encounter a cast of colourful characters – identical twin gangsters, an Irishman who lives underground, and a failed magician’s assistant.

 And it’s not long before their own lives are in peril. Join Colin and Shirley for a rollercoaster of an adventure in Swinging Sixties England – where the laughs are never far from the action.”

The story will be published on 24th May and there will, of course, be a full review in due course, plus news of a Blog Tour and other goodies. In the meantime, you can check out why I am so fond of the series by clicking on the image below.

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PAST TIMES – OLD CRIMES . . . The CALLAN novels of James Mitchell (part 1)

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James Mitchell (1926 -2002)
held a number of jobs, including actor, teacher and journalist, before his first novel was published in the mid ‘fifties. Between 1964 and 1969 (as James Munro)  he wrote four well-received thrillers featuring “John Craig of Department K, British Secret Service, whose activities involve jobs too dangerous – or too dirty – for anyone else to handle.”.  It’s unsurprising that Mitchell would wish to adapt a Craig-like character for a television audience.

A Magnum for Schneider (1969)

Mitchell_Callan_SchneiderThe first Callan novel, and perhaps the locus classicus of all Callan plots, on page and screen:  A disillusioned Callan has left the Section  and is living and working in reduced circumstances, until “persuaded” by Hunter to return and carry out one more job. The target is Herr Schneider who, once Callan knows more of him, doesn’t seem to be as black as he’s painted…
James Mitchell certainly put this plot to good use. It began life as a one-off episode of Armchair Theatre (1967), which in turn led to the making of the first Callan television series, later that year.
Now, in 1969, it formed the basis of the first Callan novel. This is no quick cash-in book on the back of a TV success.  Considerably expanded from the tv play, the novel has greater depth and characterisation, and it benefits for being less studio bound.
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A paperback edition followed in 1971
, re-titled Red File for Callan.  This was much reprinted, as by now the TV series, with the massive assistance of Edward Woodward in the title role, had hit its stride.
Then in 1974, after the TV series had ended, there was a feature film. Once more, the same plot and characters were used, but the film (perhaps for copyright reasons) relied more on the novel than on the Armchair Theatre script. This time the movie tie-in paperback was simply re-titled Callan. If there’s ever a Callan: Rebooted, this is the plot they’ll return to.
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Russian Roulette (1973)

RRAlthough published in 1973 this book makes no reference to the events of high drama with which the final TV series concluded a year earlier. Here, Callan is still settled in the Section and all the supporting characters are in place.
The premise, it must be said, is preposterous.  The KGB have captured the Section’s top man in Russia.  They will return him unharmed if Hunter allows three of their operatives to come to London and attempt to kill Callan, who is to be denied any weapons. Hunter agrees. And the Russians have a big dog. Oh, and Callan’s eyes are playing up; he must attend a doctor’s for drops every few days while awaiting an operation to save his sight.
However, because of the quality of the writing, disbelief is soon suspended.    Relatively short, at 200 pages, all the action is splendidly economical and convincing.    This is a first class thriller and James Mitchell deservedly received his best reviews for this book.
The story ends with Callan and Lonely toasting each other’s survival, and with Callan vowing never to return to work for the Section….

© Stuart Radmore 2019. To be concluded

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