Search

fullybooked2017

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.

CHECK OUT A SELECTION of our best graphics – covers, descriptions and images relating to crime novels. A click on the Pinterest icon will take you straight there!

pinterest-icon

To hell with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens –
these are a few of MY favourite things –

sidebar

Featured post

THE MOTHER’S DAY MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

MDM header

Robin Williams, Paul Krassner, Pete Townshend, Grace Slick, Timothy Leary, and many others have been credited with the saying, “If you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there.” Fortunately for us, Peter Bartram can and was. His lifetime of working as a journalist has produced an alter ego, an enterprising young journalist called Colin Crampton who works for The Brighton Evening Chronicle. He has a gorgeous Australian girlfriend called Shirley, a pantomime landlady by the name of Mrs Gribble, a chain-smoking news editor called Frank Figgis, an amazing habit of getting involved in murder mysteries – and he drives an MGB.

mothercoverIn The Mother’s Day Mystery, Crampton discovers the body of a schoolboy who has evidently been knocked off his bike and fatally injured. What on earth was Spencer Hooke doing away from his dormitory in Steyning Grammar School at the dead of night, cycling along a lonely and windswept clifftop road? In pursuing this conundrum, Crampton whisks us into a world of stage vicars, seedy pub landlords, archetypal leather-elbowed schoolmasters and impecunious toffs. There are jokes a-plenty, and Bartram indulges himself – and those of us who are, similarly, in the autumn of our years – with many a knowing cultural reference that might puzzle younger readers. He takes us into a wonderful sweet shop, the kind which can nowadays only be found in museum recreations:

“I stepped into a small room with a wooden counter topped with a glass-fronted case. To the side of the case was a set of balance scales with its weight tokens. Behind the couter were shelves loaded with jars of sweets. There were chocolate drops and sherbert lemons and liquorice allsorts. There were humbugs and fruit gums. There was barley sugar which glowed yellow like it was radioactive.

The air was loaded with a sickly scent like it had been sprinkled with sugar dust. If you breathed in deeply, you felt you were dancing.”

There is an unashamed sense of the risqué seaside postcard about much of the humour:

‘She was pouring coffee into a mug.

I ambled over and said, “Mine’s white but strong.”
Susan said: “So I’d heard. But how about your coffee, honeybunch?”
She guffawed at her joke and made her chins wobble.’

The wisecracks are not all end-of-the-pier stuff, however. When Crampton meets the owner of the gorgeous sweet shop, he is almost Chandleresque:

“She had a figure that would get Brigitte Bardot demanding a recount …. little laugh lines crinkled around her mouth as her full lips parted in the kind of welcome smile I felt I could pay into the bank.”

PBAnyone who is a student of English humour will soon see that Bartram is part of a long and distinguished tradition of comic writers who find meat and drink in the absurdities of English life and social structures. In the world of crime fiction, however, comedy does not always sit well with murder and bloodshed. The great and sadly under-appreciated Colin Watson did the job beautifully in his Flaxborough novels, while modern writers such as MJ Trow and Christopher Fowler perform the balancing act with similar verve. I am happy to put Peter Bartram (right) up there on the podium with those past and present masters. Incidentally, and quite appropriately for a Sussex man, Bartram knows and loves his Kipling, and manages to quote the great man on a number of occasions

Such is the joyful nature of the writing that the plot is almost irrelevant, but Bartram remembers that Crampton has a murder to solve, and he gives us the classic Golden Age denouement scene in the library. Except it’s not in the library, but in the village church, under the shocked gaze of the pompous Rev. Purslowe. Before the riddle of Spencer Hooke’s death is solved (with an “I’m Spartacus” moment) we get the best joke in the book.

“Georgina had caused a stir when she’d walked into the church. She was wearing a low-cut blouse and a mini-skirt which ended a couple of inches below the Book of Revelations.”

The Mother’s Day Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is out now. Watch the Fully Booked Twitter feed for a chance to win this novel.

Follow the links to check out other features and novels by Peter Bartram.

The News Editor, The Woodbines, and a Eureka Moment

Switched On: The Story of 1960s TV Game Shows

The Tango School Mystery

Front Page Murder

Stop Press Murder

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside …

Peter Bartram also has an excellent website where you can Meet The Characters

Bartram header

A GREATER GOD . . . Between the covers

AGG header

AGGSuperintendent Christian Le Fanu makes a welcome return in A Greater God, the fourth in the excellent series of historical crime novels by Brian Stoddart. The previous novel, A Straits Settlement, saw Le Fanu playing away from home in Penang, but now he has returned to his adopted home of Madras. His colleagues Mohammad Habibullah and Jackson Caldicott are relieved to see him, because in his absence the Inspector General of Madras Police, the incompetent and choleric Arthur Jepson, has been creating havoc with his hardline racist approach to policing.

Habibullah and Caldicott normally have a harmonious and respectful relationship, but Le Fanu senses a change. Habibullah is becoming increasingly concerned about the worsening status of his fellow Muslims and this has created tension with Caldicott. This adds to Le Fanu’s sense of unease about the wisdom of his return to Madras. While in Penang, he has fallen in love with Jenlin Koh, a beautiful Chinese woman and has been offered a lucrative job in the Straits Settlements. As the behaviour of Jepson becomes more erratic another piece of bad news adds to Le Fanu’s problems: his former lover, Ro McPhedren, from whom he has parted relatively amicably, has been stricken with typhoid in Hyderabad and is not expected to survive.

For good or ill, events soon jolt Le Fanu out of his introspective mood. A Muslim community has been violently attacked, probably by Hindu extremists, and it looks as if Habibullah’s worst fears are being realised. When nationalist agitators converge on Madras for a planned assault, a disastrous intervention by Jepson leaves police officers dead. Le Fanu’s military experience, cool head and excellent leadership is needed to resolve the situation, albeit temporarily, but the prospect of serious bloodshed between Muslims and Hindus remains a frightening possibility unless wiser heads prevail.

Le Fanu is no Boys’ Own hero: he has a physical revulsion and genuine terror of bloodshed, and this makes his courage under fire even more remarkable. I can’t think of another writer, unless it is the inestimable Chris Nickson with his ‘hear-it, breathe-it, smell-it’ series of Leeds novels, who brings history to life with as much élan as Brian Stoddart. His 1920s India is announced not so much with a trumpet as a fanfare. Where he excels is not so much in the details of sensory perception (although they are strong) but in the portrayal of the infinitely complex social nuances, not only between the Indians and the British, but those between British people of different backgrounds, education and aspirations.

MAP1

Stoddart knows India, just as we know that the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples and the whole insubstantial pageant of British India did, eventually fade. But did they leave ‘not a wrack behind’? There were decent men like the fictional Le Fanu. There were men and women who, maybe through pragmatism, perhaps through enlightenment, realised that in the end a nation of people with minds every bit as quick and aspirations just as heartfelt as those of their colonial rulers, would emerge and cast off recent history like an old and threadbare coat.

The divisions between Britain and its former subjects in India are largely a thing of the past: sadly, what divides Hindu and Muslim within the pages of A Greater God is a more formidable beast and one that has yet to be slain. Add proud Sikhs into the mix, and there remains a conflict which, while it currently appears to be only embers of a former fire, there remains the fear that it can still burst into violent flames.

A Greater God is a tense crime thriller, but also a deeply compassionate human story written by an author at the top of his game. It is published by Selkirk International, and will be out on 30th November.

We also have a feature on the author, and clicking the blue link will take you to it.

Madras_City_1909

THE FAMILIARS . . . A launch to remember

Familiars header

sidebar1AT THE APPROPRIATELY NAMED DEAD DOLLS HOUSE in Islington, the inventive folks at publishers Bonnier Zaffre launched Stacy Halls’ novel The Familiars with not so much a flourish as a brilliant visual fanfare.

The novel was at the centre of a vigorous bidding war and, having won it, Bonnier Zaffre celebrated in style. The book is set in seventeenth century Lancashire, and the drama plays out under the lowering and forbidding bulk of Pendle Hill. If that rings a bell, then so it should. The Pendle Witch Trials were a notorious example of superstition and bigotry overwhelming justice. Ten supposed witches were found guilty and executed by hanging.

Stacey Halls takes the real life character of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, still a teenager, yet mistress of the forbidding Gawthorpe Hall. Despite being only 17, she has suffered multiple miscarriages, but is pregnant again. When a young midwife, Alice Grey, promises her a safe delivery, the two women – from such contrasting backgrounds –  are drawn into a dangerous social upheaval where a thoughtless word can lead to the scaffold.

Back to modern London. Francesca Russell, now Publicity Director at Bonnier Zaffre, has masterminded many a good book launch, and she and her colleagues were on song at The Dead Dolls House.  We were able to mix our own sidebar2witchy tinctures using a potent combination of various precious oils. I went for Frankincense with a dash of Patchouli. I managed to smear it everywhere and such was its potency that my wife was convinced that I had been somewhere less innocent than a book launch.

We were encouraged to give a nod to the novel’s title, and draw a picture of our own particular familiar, and pin it to a board for all to see. I decided to buck the trend towards foxes, cats and toads, and went for a fairly liberal interpretation of that modern icon, the spoilt and decidedly bratty Ms Peppa Pig.

The absolute highlight and masterstroke of the evening was, however, a brief dramatisation of a scene from the novel. Gemma Tubbs was austere and elegant as Fleetwood, while Amy Bullock, with her Vermeer-like simple beauty, brought Alice to life.

That’s the good news, and I have a copy of the novel. The bad news is that it isn’t out on general release until February 2019. Here’s wishing everyone a happy winter, and I hope you all survive another one. If you need an incentive to get through the long hours of cold, darkness and northern gloom, The Familiars should fit the bill. It will be published by Bonnier Zaffre and can be pre-ordered here.

TF footer

 

THE NEWS EDITOR, THE WOODBINES AND A EUREKA MOMENT . . .Guest post by Peter Bartram

Bartram header

PBPeter Bartram (left) is an old school journalist who has turned his life’s work into an engaging crime series set in 1960s Brighton, featuring the resourceful reporter on the local paper, Colin Crampton. Peter now reveals how he came to invent his alter ego. You can read reviews of three Crampton of The Chronicle novels by clicking the title links below.

The Tango School Mystery

Front Page Murder

Stop Press Murder

THE NEWS EDITOR, THE WOODBINES AND A EUREKA MOMENT by Peter Bartram

Two hours into my first day as a newspaper reporter, aged 18, my news editor called me into his office and said: “I’ve got a job for you.” I thought: “This is great. I’m going to be sent out on a big story.” He gave me half a crown – twelve and half pence if you’re two young to remember the old currency – and said: “Just pop across the road to the shop and buy me 20 Woodbines.

Well, it was a start in newspapers that turned out to be surprisingly useful a good many years later when I was thinking about writing a crime mystery series. My original idea had been to base the series around two ill-matched characters – a formula that has served well in thousands of crime books from Holmes and Watson, through Poirot and Hastings, to Dalziel and Pascoe. The trouble was I couldn’t think of any way to make my pair original.

Whenever I thought of an idea, it turned out that something similar had already been done. And then I had a Eureka moment. The answer to my problem was staring me in the face. I was a journalist. I would make my protagonist a journalist. My reporter hero would be a young journalist starting his first job, aged 18, just as I had done. He’d be given some dull jobs to do – just as I’d been – but he’d also stumble across crimes to solve.

On my paper, the chief reporter had started me off covering batches, matches and despatches – better known as births, marriages and deaths. As it happened, there weren’t many batches to write about. The trick with writing the matches was to avoid double-entendres. Never write, “the bride carried a sheath of flowers,” the chief reporter warned me.

But the despatches carried different perils. I turned up at one house to discover the deceased had been laid out on the dining room table. I’m not sure what the rest of the household were doing for dinner that night.

 I soon found there were perils in newspaper work I hadn’t fully appreciated. One of them occurred in my first week. One of the sports reporters had covered a football match. He’d started his report: “This was a scrappy game of football.” Except that the compositors – the mischievous guys who set the paper in hot metal type in those days – had dropped the “s” off the word “scrappy”.

That morning, you could see people all over town sniggering at the piece. Later, you could hear the editor yelling at the proof readers. Anyway, I was so taken with the idea of having a rookie reporter as a crime-busting hero, I rushed to my laptop and batted out the first chapter. A couple of hours later, I realised I’d made a big mistake. A rookie simply wouldn’t have the experience to tackle the challenges a crime buster would face.

I sat down and thought about it some more. I decided that my protagonist would be a crime reporter who’d have regular contact with the police – one of my early newspaper jobs was to attend the local cops’ daily press briefing. But I also realised he’d need realistic newspaper characters around him.

crampyon0511And that was when I remembered my first news editor. I never saw him without a Woodbine hanging off his lower lip. And so Frank Figgis, news editor of the Evening Chronicle, was born. Of course, there was still lots to think about – especially more regular characters. But with Colin (right) and Frank I felt I was on my way. Both of them have big roles to play – along with other regulars, especially Colin’s girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith – in the latest tale The Mother’s Day Mystery.

mothercover

THE SENTENCE IS DEATH . . . Between the covers


TSID coverFor those of you who are unfamiliar with the first book in this series
, The Word Is Murder (and you can read my review here) you need to know that Anthony Horowitz has created a quite delightful literary conceit, and it is this: the story is narrated by Anthony Horowitz, as himself, and along the way we get to meet other real people in his life, such as his wife, his literary agent, and even some of the actors in his Foyle’s War series. The principal fictional character is an ex Met Police officer called Daniel Hawthorne, who was drummed out of the service for misconduct, but now operates as a private investigator, paid by the day by his former employers to work on difficult cases. Hawthorne has persuaded Horowitz to be Boswell to his Johnson and to write up the investigations as crime fiction.

Hawthorne is an intriguing character. He is probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum, lives alone, and has few social graces, His powers of deduction and observation are, however, remarkably sound. He immediately sees through the statement one witness has just given:

“The MG was right in front of us. Hawthorn pointed with the hand holding the cigarette.

‘There’s no way that’s just driven down from Essex of Suffolk, or anywhere near the coast.’
‘How do you know?’
‘The house he showed us in that photograph didn’t have a garage and there’s no way this car has been sitting by the seaside for three days. There’s no seagull shit. And there’s no dead insects on the windscreen either. Your telling me he’s driven a hundred miles down the A12 and he hasn’t hit a single midge or fly?’”

The case which has forced the police to seek Hawthorne’s help concerns a rich divorce lawyer who has been found battered to death in his luxurious house on the edge of London’s Hampstead Heath. For a decade or more Richard Pryce has been the go-to man for wealthy people who have had enough of their wives or husbands and want a divorce, but more particularly a divorce which will leave Pryce’s clients with as much of the family loot as possible. So, it is inevitable that while Pryce is adored by some, he is bitterly hated by others, and thus there are one or two obvious initial suspects. First among these is a rather aloof literary author whose determination to conflate America’s 1940s nuclear strategy with gender politics has won her many admirers of a certain sort. Her expensively produced collection of pretentiously profound haikus (is there any other kind?) has also made her much in demand at soirées in upmarket bookshops.

Then there is Pryce’s art dealer husband who, Hawthorne soon discovers, has been ‘playing away’ with the svelte young Iranian man who is front-of-house in his so, so discreet gallery. Has his affair been rumbled? Was Pryce about to cut him out of his will? The most unlikely connection, however, relates to Pryce’s younger self when he and two university buddies were enthusiastic cavers. Did a tragedy years earlier, 80 metres beneath the Yorkshire Dales, set in train a slow but remorseless search for revenge?

AHThe abundance of questions will give away the fact that this is a tremendous whodunnit. Horowitz (right) tugs his forelock in the direction of the great masters of the genre and, while we don’t quite have the denouement in the library, we have a bewildering trail of red herrings before the dazzling final exposition. But there is more. Much, much more. Horowitz’s portrayal of himself is beautifully done. I have only once brushed shoulders with the gentleman at a publisher’s bash, so I don’t know if the self-effacing tone is accurate, but it is warm and convincing. More than once he finds himself the earnest but dull Watson to Hawthorne’s ridiculously clever Holmes.

Horowitz is, I suspect, too polite to be cruel to fellow writers, but he cannot resist a dig at earnest feminist authors who treat every moment of history as if it were a glaring example of man’s inhumanity to women. Trash fiction does not escape, either, and when his fictional self reads a page from the latest sub-Game of Thrones swords and sorcery shocker, it is horribly accurate. Above all, though, this is a classic 24 hour novel. You start reading, you dart off to do something like pick up the kids, or turn on the oven. Back you come to the book, and before you know it, you are 200 pages in. Time flies by, and then bang! It’s finished. You know who the killer is, but you just wish you could start the book all over again. It really is that good. Published by Century, The Sentence Is Death is out on 1st November.

Long Lee031

NO TIME TO CRY . . . Between the covers

nttc028

I’ll adapt George Bernard Shaw’s famous put-down of teachers and say, “Those who can write, do, but those who cannot, write about writing.” All book reviewers would do well to keep that little homily burning like a beacon in the night, and admire the invention, the endless re-writes and the sheer physical effort required to complete a novel. On top of that, what an amazing stroke of brilliance it is when an author of crime novels creates a character who resonates with the public and is credible enough to support a series. What an even bigger stroke of daring it is when the writer is prepared to leave that person behind. either temporarily or otherwise, and introduce a new creation to faithful readers.

NTTC coverJames Oswald’s Tony McLean has not met with a Reichenbach Falls accident, but at the end of The Gathering Dark we left him facing a tragedy in his personal life. Now, Oswald begins a new series featuring Detective Constable Constance Fairchild of the Metropolitan Police. We meet her when a delicate undercover operation goes badly, badly wrong. So wrong, in fact, that she has found her boss, DI Pete Copperthwaite slumped in a chair in the office they have been using as a front for their sting. He has been tortured, and then shot through the head.

Fairchild is perplexed and hurt when she is blamed for Copperthwaite’s death, and suspended from duty. Puzzled, and seemingly powerless to get to the bottom of who murdered Copperthwaite, she seeks diversion by trying to find a missing girl, the younger sister of an old school friend. Her sense of injustice turns to anger, though, when a clumsy attempt is made on her life, and it becomes obvious that she is being followed. Is this because of the police sting operation which went, as she puts it, “tits up” or is it connected to her search for Izzy De Villiers?

So, to echo Shakespeare, who is Constance, what is she? Lovely, fair, and wise is she? Oswald lets us form our own image to a large extent. We do know that she has short spiky hair, no romantic inclinations that we can see, and has several tattoos. The latter are a result of a rebellion against her aristocratic background, because Lady Constance Fairchild, to use her correct title, is the younger daughter of the Fairchilds of Harston Magna, a Northamptonshire village, much of which is owned by her estranged father. Con, as she prefers to be known, was educated at a select girls’ boarding school, but has gone down the rebellion route at 98 mph with headlights on full beam, and has done everything she can to metaphorically spit in the eyes of her parents – including becoming a police officer.

Admirers of James Oswald will know that he has a day (and night) job as a livestock farmer in the Scottish Highlands, and he indulges himself by taking us there as Con, attempting to throw off her pursuers, retreats to the secluded family holiday home overlooking a remote Scottish loch. One of the big questions that nag at her is the apparent reluctance of Izzy’s father, an obscenely rich hedge fund manager, to locate his missing daughter. How is Roger De Villiers connected to the murder of Pete Copperthwaite? Are Con’s bosses at the Met crooked, too, or are they simply too stupid to see the obvious?

Constance Fairchild is brave, cussed, resourceful and intelligent, and James Oswald has, I believe, struck gold for a second time. The action is relentless, and Fairchild literally has No Time To Cry as she seeks to unravel a tangle of criminality and child abuse, as well as dodging bullets. Those missing the world of Tony McLean have, in addition to a terrific new novel, a crumb of comfort as Oswald cannot resist bringing in an old friend from Edinburgh for a brief cameo appearance. No Time To Cry is published by Wildfire, came out as a Kindle earlier this year, and will be available in paperback from 1st November.

NTTC footer

 

 

 

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . .Freedman, Horowitz & Stoddart

Header
British Summer Time ends on Sunday 28th October, but let’s not treat the event with dismay. We should welcome longer and colder nights which give us the chance to get more reading done. Three excellent books have landed in a timely fashion on my doormat this week so, if you’ll excuse my smug tone,  that’s me sorted!

LITTLE HONOUR by Penny Freedman

PFPenny Freedman (left) has been many things; a teacher, theatre critic, actor, director, counsellor and mother, but she also writes intriguing crime fiction. Her heroine Gina Gray has appeared in previous novels including Weep A While Longer and Drown My Books, but now we learn more about her granddaughter Freda, in a murder mystery which encompasses hate crime in a post-referendum London, the arcane world of legal chambers in Grey’s Inn and – for good measure – a missing dog. Available now, Little Honour is published by Matador/Troubador.

THE SENTENCE IS DEATH by Anthony Horowitz

AHAnthony Horowitz has a glittering array of successes on his CV, including reincarnations of both Sherlock Holmes and James Bond , Foyle’s War, and the Alex Rider series.  This is the latest book in a more recent series centred on a London private investigator, Daniel Hawthorne. When a high profile lawyer best-known for handling celebrity divorces is found dead in his luxury home overlooking Hampstead Heath, the police investigation gets nowhere, and they reluctantly bring in former copper Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s usual cool detachment from the case is disturbed when he becomes personally involved, with his own life very much on the line. The Sentence Is Death will be on the shelves on 1st November and is a Century publication. Click this link to read a review of The Word Is Murder, the previous Daniel Hawthorne mystery.

A GREATER GOD by Brian Stoddart

BSOne of my favourite historical policemen returns in the latest episode in the eventful life of Superintendent Chris Le Fanu. We are in Madras (Chennai) in the 1920s, and while the British grip on India is becoming weaker and weaker, there is still police work to be done. The city is blighted by a wave of violent clashes between Muslims, revolutionaries, and the blundering attempts by Le Fanu’s boss to restore order. Expect a brilliant narrative, impeccable historical background and authentic dialogue. A Greater God is published by Selkirk Books and will be available on 30th November.

There is more about Brian Stoddart and Christian Le Fanu elsewhere on the Fully Booked site.

Footer

ON MY SHELF . . . Louise Penny, Norman Townsend & Jim Pinnells

OMS header

KINGDOM OF THE BLIND by Louise Penny

KOTBChief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec has been entertaining readers since 2005 when he made his debut in Still Life and his creator, Louise Penny, has a shelf full of literary awards for her efforts. In his latest case, Gamache has a very personal interest. An elderly woman whom he has never heard of, let alone met, has named his as the executor of her will. The document is full of odd bequests and instructions that suggest the old lady had long since taken leave of her senses, but when murder intrudes, Gamache finds himself involved in a case so full of menace, that a dotty senior citzen is the least of his problems. Kingdom of The Blind is published by Sphere and will be available in hardback and Kindle on 27th November.

 

TRASHED by Norman Townsend

TrashedSome ex-military men find that civilian life is hard to deal with, but Paul Stafford is coping well. He has used his retirement pot to start a small recycling business and everything in the scrapyard seems to be rosy, until he wins a lucrative contract to run a further five sites. What should be a business triumph turns into a nightmare for Stafford when he realises that his new sites have been previously used by a powerful criminal organisation, and the bad guys do not take kindly to their work being interrupted. Murder and violence come as second nature to them, and when his own employees begin to feel the full clout of the gangsters, Stafford must stand and fight – both for them and his own integrity. Trashed, from Troubador Publishing is available now.

REFLECTIONS by Jim Pinnells

ReflctrionsJim Pinnells is an international project manager who has worked in such diverse concerns as the oil industry, military hardware, renewable technology and national security. His knowledge of Thailand stems from a spell there working for the UN, and Reflections is set in Bangkok, where a poignant human drama is played out against a backdrop of one of the world’s most secretive criminal enterprises – the trade in human blood. Ed and Diana seem to have it all – beauty, talent and love for each other – but when their first child is born irreparably brain damaged, their world fall apart. Ed pursues the heartbroken to Diana to Thailand but a case of mistaken identity plunges him into a nightmare world of violence, kidnap and espionage. Reflections is published by Troubador and is out now.

OMS footer

 

 

KITH AND KIN . . . Between the covers

KAK header

OKAKComing across a very, very good book by an author one has never encountered before and then realising that she has been around for a while is a shock to the system, and if the downside is that the experience further highlights one’s own ignorance, then the blessing is that as a reviewer and blogger, there is something new to shout about. Jane A Adams made her debut with The Greenway back in 1995, and has been writing crime fiction ever since, notably with four-well established mystery series featuring Mike Croft, Ray Flowers, Naomi Blake and Rina Martin. She began the saga of London coppers Henry Johnstone and Micky Hitchens in 2016, with The Murder Book. Their latest case is Kith and Kin.

The novel has a split timeline. It is mostly set in 1928, but uses flashbacks to earlier events. Two bodies are washed up on the muddy banks of the confluence of the rivers Thames and Medway, on the Kentish shore. Even with the relatively primitive technology available to them at the time, Johnstone and Hitchens realise that the two corpses were not drowned, but stabbed, and then cast into the river. The two sailors who bring the corpses to the attention of the police are then found not to be sailors at all, but henchmen of a feared and brutal London gangster, Josiah Bailey.

I don’t know if the author intended it that way, but the violent paranoia of Josiah Bailey is a perfect echo of the self obsessed madness of a certain Mr Ronald Kray, whose bloodlust has enlivened many a subsequent crime novel – and court report. But I digress. Johnstone and Hitchens have to scrabble and scratch for information, because the dead bodies found on the Kentish marshes are connected to the two most secretive and distrustful communities in the land – Gypsies, and London gangsters. Those groups should not be conflated, and Johnstone does not make this mistake. Instead, he nags away at a connection between the dead men and the cataclysmic events of 1914-1918 – events in which both he and Hitchens were involved, and of which they have indelible memories.

The world of Gypsies remains closed to most of us. We may suffer from Travelers occupying a seafront, a playing field or a car park near us and when they leave behind a mountain of litter and waste we can curse about cultural diversity. This image, understandably negative, can be given a different focus when, as Adams does here, writers remind us of the tight-knit, self-sufficient communities of the old Romany families. The Gypsies in Kith and Kin have a strong sense of honour and a knowledge of the world which could never be imparted in a school classroom.

Jane-Adams-278x371The period is set to perfection, and Adams (right) skilfully combines past, present and future. The past? There can scarcely have been a man, woman or child who escaped the malign effects of what politicians swore would be the war to end wars. The present? 1928 saw devastating flooding on the banks of the River Thames, a book called Decline And Fall was published, and in Beckenham, not a million miles away from where this novel plays out, Robert ‘Bob’ Monkhouse was born. The future? Johnstone’s sister, who has married into money, has a head on her shoulders, and senses that in the financial world, a dam is about to break – with devastating effects.

Kith and Kin is excellent. Adams gives us a spider’s web of a plot; we are attracted, drawn in – and then consumed. Johnstone and Hitchens strike sparks off each other; the bond between them has been forged in the blood and fire of the Flanders trenches. We have memorable characters; Sarah Cooper, the matriarchal Gypsy is strong and wise, but remote; Josiah Bailey is as mad as a box of frogs and a hundred times more dangerous; Johnston’s sister is wordly wise, but compassionate and perceptive.

I apologise for preaching to the converted, but for me, Jane A Adams is a new star in my firmament. Kith and Kin is published by Severn House and is out now.

Severn House

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑