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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.

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CORRUPTED . . . Between the covers.

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Corrupted is the fourth novel in the 1960s London crime series written by Simon Michael. Its predecessors were The Brief (2015), An Honest Man (2016) and The Lighterman (2017). Each has, as its central character, Charles Holborne. Corrupted is good – very good – but let’s first take a look at the real life events which form the backdrop to the story.

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Whichever definition you choose, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Kray twins and their misdeeds have become the stuff of legend. The villains who were minor fragments in their constellation have made an honest living – of a sort – by producing ghost-written autobiographies. There are popular websites which are nothing more than broadside ballads featuring the Bethnal Green brothers. The real life twins Gary and Marin Kemp played them on the wide screen, as did – more convincingly – a doppleganger Tom Hardy. They even appeared, as the Piranha Brothers, in a Monty Python sketch, although some would argue that this owed more to the equally diabolical Richardson brothers, inimical foes of Reg and Ron from south of the river. Authors such as Jake Arnott and John Lawson have used the twins in novels, and Simon Michael has added his four penn’orth with his Holborne stories.

Holborne was born Horowitz, son of an East End Jewish tailor. After an adventure-strewn youth working as a lighterman on the bustling River Thames in post-1945 London, he has become a successful barrister, having anglicised his name to smooth his way through the distinctly sniffy – and anti-semitic – world of London’s law chambers. Existing readers of the series will know that our man has already crossed swords with the dangerous and vengeful Krays.

CorruptedIt is 1964, and Alec Douglas-Home’s Conservative government is on its last legs. The sex scandals which brought down his predecessor Harold Macmillan may have faded, but another one threatens to be just as explosive. Holborne is persuaded to defend a teenage boy accused of murdering one of the Krays’ stooges, but the fact that the youngster is what we would now call a rent boy sees Holborne accused of bringing his chambers into disrepute.

As Holborne digs deeper into the affair, he realises he is touching the tip of a scandal which, if exposed, will have devastating political consequences. The fact that important figures in both the Conservative party and the Labour opposition are involved means that the barrister is pitting himself not just against Reg and Ron Kray, but the entire British establishment.

Corrupted is a brilliant piece of historical crime fiction, and the court room scenes, which are both intriguing and authentic, are informed by Simon Michael’s career and experience as a barrister in the criminal courts. Many real life figures play a part in the drama: the Krays – particularly the psychotic Ron – are totally convincing; Bob Boothby and Tom Driberg, both dripping corruption, send a shiver of revulsion down the spine, while the larger-than-life figure of Lord ‘the Blessed Arnold’ Goodman is horribly oily and manipulative.

SM-boxing-gloves-2-278x300Charles Holborne is a powerful and attractive central figure, but he is far from perfect. His chaotic private life reveals both passion and weakness. His judgement of human character also leaves something to be desired, as Simon Michael (right) shows, with a delicious and unexpected plot twist in the final pages of the novel. Corrupted is published by Urbane Publications and will be available on 21st June.

Simon Michael’s website is here, and you can follow the link to read the Fully Booked review of The Lighterman

 

ON MY SHELF . . . May 2018 (2)

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LONDON, TOKYO, ROME, RURAL ENGLAND, WASHINGTON DC – and TRANSYLVANIA! Anyone fancy a round the world trip via the pages of crime and mystery thrillers? If so, stay tuned. We are hardly ten days into May, and the intriguing books keep thudding onto my front door-mat.

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Kill Angel

rocambolesqueTHEY SAY THAT YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN – and reading the Amazon description of Dazieri’s novels I came across the amazing word Rocambolesque. As ever, Google had an answer of sorts, and I am now waiting for the opportunity to drop the word into casual conversation with my friends and family. That aside, Dazieri returns with another case for detectives Torre and Caselli. An express train from Milan arrives in Rome, but several of its passengers and train crew won’t be disembarking, at least without the help of medical teams, stretchers and body bags. This is Italian Noir at its finest, and not for the faint of heart. Published by Simon & Schuster, Kill The Angel is translated by Anthony Shugaar, and is out now.

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I’LL RISK A SMALL WAGER WITH YOU. I say a word, and you respond instantly with another word. Yes, I know, it’s that old word association game associated with bogus psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Anyway, I have written two words on a slip of paper, and I win if either is the word you come up with. Ready? OK, here goes…

“TRANSYLVANIA”

VVIf you said either “Dracula” or “Vampire”, I win. But maybe you’ve been reading the novel by Irish-Hungarian actress and poet, Vivienne Vermes? If so, you’ll know that her novel The Barefoot Road definitely doesn’t involve teeth, cloaks, garlic or unconventional blood transfusions. It dos however, involve blood which is shed by violence. A young woman is found near a Romanian village. She is unconscious, half -starved, and barely alive. She is from an ethnic group which were brutally expelled by the ancestors of the present villagers. Humanity temporarily triumphs over tribal bigotry and she is nursed back to health, but when she begins a relationship with one of the villagers, and a child disappears, the embers of old hatreds burst into flames. The Barefoot Road is published by Matador, and is available as a Kindle or a paperback.

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YOU WERE GONE . . . Between the covers

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David Raker is a former journalist who has been at the sharp end, the places where bullets fly, knives flash, and explosions separate the bodies and limbs of decent men. Now, he has left the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan behind, and he plies his trade in what is, ostensibly, a more civilised environment, but still one where greed, violence, depravity and deception are an everyday – and very viable – currency. Where could that be? Correct. The dark streets of London. Raker’s business sounds simple. He looks for missing people. Sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives and parents who have disappeared. Vanished. Went to work one day, and never caught the ‘bus home. People whose absence becomes more grievous day on day for their loved ones, but folk whose here-today-gone-tomorrow status has defeated the limited resources of the police.

Raker has a special empathy with his clients. Like them, grief and loss still gnaw away at his heart and soul, but he has the slight advantage of knowing what happened to his loved one. Derryn. His adored wife. Taken in a prolonged tug of war between her spirit and the implacable demon of cancer. Raker watched her fade away, watched her beautiful skin turn to fragile parchment as the disease ate its way through her body.

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 11.58.41But he has, as far as is possible, moved on. He has an unexpected family in the form of a daughter from an early relationship, and he keeps his chin up and his eyes bright. Because to do otherwise would mean self destruction, and he owes the physically absent but ever-present spirit of Derryn that much. His world, however, and such stability as he has been able to build into it, is rocked on its axis when a woman turns up at a West End police station claiming to be his wife. Derryn. Dead and buried these nine years. Her fragile remains consigned to the earth. He sees the woman through a viewing screen at the police station and he is astonished. In front of him sits his late wife, the love of his life, and the woman for whom he has shed nine years of tears.

In terms of improbable plot lines, Tim Weaver has form. You Were Gone is his ninth David Raker novel, and he has staked out his territory as a writer who sets questions which seem unanswerable. I have to confess that in the earlier books, I was tempted to think, “Oh, come on – you cannot be serious..!” Now, however I have learned to trust Tim Weaver, and I know that however impossible the conundrum he sets, he will provide a plausible – if audacious – resolution.

Raker faces a series of events which force him to question his own sanity. Someone, somewhere has constructed a brilliant plot to undermine his sense of self and his memories. Who can he trust? The police investigation into the ‘reappearance’ of his wife seems skewed and slanted against him. Why has a widely respected doctor offered the police evidence that he had treated Raker for an obscure psychological syndrome? Why does Raker have no memory of this? What secrets lie in the overgrown ruins of a London mental hospital?

Tim WeaverSo many questions. The answers do come, and the whole journey is great fun – but occasionally nerve racking and full of tension. Tim Weaver (right) has crafted yet another brilliant piece of entertainment, and placed a further brick in the wall built for people who know that there is nothing more riveting, nothing more calculated to shut out the real world and nothing more breathtaking than a good book.

You Were Gone is published by Michael Joseph and will be out on 17th May. To read a review of the previous David Raker novel, I Am Missing, click the blue link.

DEATH IN THE FENS – the killing of John Auger

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WISBECH HAS HAD ITS FAIR SHARE OF MURDERS.  Some might say more than its fair share. In recent times, we have had, in no particular order, Una Crown, Virginja Jurkiene, Jolanta Dumciuviene, Dainus Kigas, Christopher Garford, Erikas Ulinskas, Alisa Dmitrijeva, Emily Bates and, if you include manslaughter, Fred Barras. For a town with a population of 30,000 or so, this might seem excessive, and you are free to draw your own conclusions from the list of names. But Wisbech was not always an idyllic rural paradise, despite the rosy memories of some residents. In 1967, a brutal killing happened in the area which, although the perpetrators were eventually convicted of manslaughter, achieved national notoriety, and resulted in the case being handled by top detectives from Scotland Yard.

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 On the night of March 10th, 1967, The Woodlands, (above) an old, sprawling farmhouse in Outwell, was invaded by three men wearing stockings and balaclavas over their faces. The owner, John ‘Robbie’ Auger. a wealthy fruit farmer, was beaten to death with an iron bar, and his safe was dragged out, and put into his truck, which the killers drove away. Auger’s wife had been bound and gagged during the attack, and the crime was discovered when Auger’s daughter Audrey, aged 33, returned home to find her stricken father and helpless mother. She alerted a neighbour, saying, “Come quickly, Dad’s been attacked..”

 

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WITHIN DAYS the investigation into Auger’s death was moved ‘upstairs’. None other than Detective Superintendent Wallace Virgo, of Scotland Yard, was brought in to spearhead the search for the killers. At this point in the investigation, there were over sixty officers involved in the search for the perpetrators. Days passed, as the police rounded up ‘the usual suspects’. At first, based on the initial eyewitness accounts, police were looking for five men, and the search was beginning to focus on the Waterlees area of Wisbech. Two weeks after the death of Mr Auger, the police swooped.

David Warden, of Guild Road Wisbech, was arrested in a betting shop in Hill Street on March 23rd, and said, “I suppose somebody has squealed. I was there, but you will have a job to make this one stick” He is also alleged to have said,“You will look sorry if you’ve got the wrong Warden.” and “Even if you are from the Yard, you won’t prove anything. I was there….but there was nothing left behind and you know it.”

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Patrick Joseph Collins had been arrested at his parents’ home in Moseley, Birmingham. He said, “If only I could turn the clock back I would not have done what has been done. I will tell them about it when I get to Wisbech.” When arrested, he had tried to hide under the bed, and was told he was being arrested for housebreaking. He said, “Thank God: I thought you had come about something else” He said he had been at Outwell, but denied doing “the thumping” The third man arrested was Barrie Paul Cooper, who lived with his schoolteacher mother at the School House, Sutton St Edmund.

The initial legal proceedings took place at Taverham Magistrates’ Court, and the three men were represented by Mr Kenneth Land (Southwell, Dennis and Land) When the case was moved to Terrington Magistrates’ Court, a new element entered the proceedings. It became apparent that witnesses were being threatened, and here there is a distinct similarity to the events surrounding the trial of Tony Martin, over thirty years later. Wallace Virgo said, “Members of the public who have come forward as witnesses in this case have been threatened and intimidated.” On March 31st, the men were remanded after threats to intimidate witnesses at Terrington St Clement Magistrates Court (below).

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Later in the proceedings, Kenneth Holman of 134 Lynn Road was called to the witness box, but refused to take the oath. He later returned, and gave evidence. He was  declared to be a hostile witness. On April 20th, Collins said, after unsuccessfully applying for bail, “I have had time to think about this. As far as I am concerned, I know nothing about anyone being threatened, and I think the Superintendent should not have said that”
The eventual trial took place at Hertford Assizes, where the Presiding Judge was Mr Justice Glyn-Jones , who had represented the parents at the Aberfan enquiry. Other people declared to be hostile witnesses were Valerie June Foley, who was asked if she lived at 24 Guild Road, but denied it. She refused to look at a statement she had previously made to the police.

Friends of the suspects leapt to their defence. Warden said he had been to the fair, went to his parents’ home, watched TV and then fell asleep in the chair. John Richard Warden, of 33 Bath Road, said he had come home to find his son asleep in the chair. Grace Evelyn Warden corroborated the story. At the time David Warden was living with Sandra Setchfield, but was always “popping in and out.”

At the trial, Mr Michael White, the landlord of The Bowling Green said that Cooper and Warden had been in there drinking, but did not return as they usually did before closing time. They had been whispering, and talking to each other outside. Cooper claimed that on the night of the murder he was trying to break into a garage in Lynn Road, Wisbech, to steal cigarettes. Due to give evidence, Kenneth Osborne Holman failed to arrive, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Holman was widely believed to have been intimidated into silence and he was later sentenced to three months in jail. Cooper was known as a local thief, had been in prison, but had no record of violence.

Against a background of intimidation, local loyalties and the fear that hardened criminals inspired amongst Waterlees residents, there were eventual convictions. The verdict was that the men were guilty of manslaughter. Glyn Jones said that it was “One of the worst cases of manslaughter ever to come before me.” Cooper was judged to be the planner and was sentenced to fifteen years for manslaughter and five for burglary, to run concurrently. Warden, who used the violence received twelve and five, as did Collins. No-one, apart from the criminals themselves, has ever suggested that there was a miscarriage of justice in 1967. In his statements, Warden seemed to be saying that yes, he had done it, but the police would be hard pushed to prove anything, as the killers had been meticulous about leaving no traces.

VirgoAnd yet, and yet. In 1977, Commander Wallace Virgo (left) head of the Serious Crime Squad, was convicted of corruption, and sent to jail . As the ensuing corruption investigations widened, the obscene publications squad was replaced in its entirety with a new group of officers drawn from the uniformed branch, and in all over twenty detectives were dismissed or required to resign. When the cases ultimately came to trial in 1977 the presiding judge Mr Justice Mars-Jones summarised those involved as having engaged in “corruption on a scale which beggars description” Ten years earlier, had the case-hardened and confident London detectives arrived in the relative backwater of the Fens and ‘done a job’ on some local men who were certainly career petty criminals, but not very bright?

The jury’s verdict was certainly unequivocal, and the three men were perhaps lucky to have only been convicted of manslaughter. The last executions in mainland Britain had been in August 1964, so the three were never going to face the death penalty, but they were certainly reprieved from a much longer life sentence. The killing of John Auger is by no means an unsolved crime, but the suspicion remains that there were others involved who did not face justice.

FOR MORE TRUE CRIME IN THE FENS, go to our podcast section, where there is enough murder and mayhem to satisfy the most ghoulish local historian.

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BODY AND SOUL . . . Between the covers

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A police detective may like to think he can just walk away from the job that has consumed most of his adult life. He is entitled to believe that a new life in a remote Cornish cottage will wash away the blood of the countless victims whose cases he has investigated, and wipe the images of their broken bodies from his eyes. If anyone is entitled to joys of retirement, it is Frank Elder.

But being a copper isn’t the only thing he has walked away from. There is the wife who betrayed his trust, but more crucially there is the daughter, Katherine whose own life has been fractured, partly by her parents falling out of love, but more savagely by the fact that she herself was at the heart of one of Elder’s cases, when she was abducted, abused and violated by a psychotic killer.

Body and SoulWhile Elder whittles away his time helping out the local police force with difficult cases, and his wife gets on with her own life, Katherine is eking out an existence in a North London flat share, trying to hide the scars – both real and figurative – of her abduction. She has taken to modelling for life drawing classes in an effort to pay the rent independent of her mother’s generosity, and this has led her into a relationship with a highly respected artist whose career is on a definite upward surge.

When the artist is found brutally murdered on the floor of his studio, Elder is drawn into the case, first as a suspect himself, albeit briefly, but then in defence of Katherine who the police, in the absence of any other suspects or motives, have decided is a person of interest.

What follows is a multi-faceted precious stone. We have a police procedural, viewed largely through the eyes of the investigating officer in London. We have a whodunnit? with a clever set of misdirections – and clues both false and real. We have John Harvey’s quietly elegant prose, clever observation of character and deep sympathy for decent but flawed individuals who have made wrong choices in their lives. But then – and it is an explosive “but then” – something happens, something unthinkable, something potentially life-changing for Elder and his family, and the whole focus of the novel swings violently in an unforeseen direction.

In my mind I am moving this fine novel from the shelf marked Crime Fiction to the place where I put memorable books that leave a lasting impression. Call them literary fiction if you will, but names and categories aren’t worth a penny piece. Body and Soul is an elegy on everlasting themes that have seared the hearts of great writers down the years. It is about death; it is about regret and longing; it is about duty, loyalty and people who do what they think to be right despite a chorus of lesser mortals who are chanting, “leave it – forget it – don’t get involved.”

john-harveyBody and Soul also takes an unflinching look at how love in itself is sometimes not enough – or possibly too much. I read elsewhere that this is to be John Harvey’s last novel. If this is the case then regret is permissible, but dismay would be churlish. We can only thank John Harvey (right) for his matchless legacy. Body and Soul is published by William Heinemann, and is available now.

HOWEVER – and here’s a thing – if you would like a hardback copy of this brilliant novel, I have one (just the one, sadly) up for grabs. The winner will be decided by a draw from a proverbial hat (actually a random number generator, but scrupulously fair!) How do you enter? Dead easy, and you have three ways to enter.

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  • On Twitter, just click the ‘heart’ box under one of the many posts about this book. My Twitter name is @MaliceAfore

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  • On Facebook, go to the Fully Booked page and ‘Like’ the post.

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JUST A FEW TaCs:

(1) One entry per person, please.
(2) The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 13th May.
(3) Because of postage costs, the competition is open only to readers in Britain, the Irish Republic and mainland Europe.

SAVAGE LIBERTY . . . Between the covers

Early map of Colonial America.

We are in pre-revolutionary America, Massachusetts to be precise, and it is 1768. Five years earlier, the Seven Years War between Great Britain and France had ended with The Treaty of Paris, and much of France’s former possessions in North America now lay in British hands. Despite the ending of formal hostilities, the French are still meddling in the affairs of the colony, and their mischief-making further stirs a political situation which is, day by day, becoming more unsettled. The citizens of Massachusetts are becoming more dissatisfied with rule from London and with King George’s redcoats are an ever-more ominous presence.

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It is against this restless background that we meet Duncan McCallum, an exiled Scotsman with medical training who is bondsman to Sarah Ramsey, the widow of a nobleman. They are, as they say these days, ‘an item’ but, in terms of the narrative, very coyly so.

When the Arcturus, a ship from London, blows up in Boston harbour, McCallum is summoned to view the consequences, and they are stomach churning. Body parts of the crew are washed up on the beach, chomped by marauding sharks and pecked by gulls. Even men whose bodies remain more or less intact are denied dignity in death as their shrouds comprise drifts of seaweed and predatory crabs.

Savage LibertyAs McCallum investigates the tragedy, it becomes clear that the ship was sabotaged. But what was within its cargo that made someone think it imperative that it should never reach its destination? A party of British soldiers are on hand determined to guard the scene of the wreck from inquisitive eyes, but who is the man named Beck who is pretending to be an army officer, but is so obviously not a military man?

We learn that the whole sorry affair is connected to documents vital to the plans of a mysterious group known as The Sons of Liberty, a group of powerful men whose ultimate aim is to fight for the independence of the American colonies from Great Britain. We meet, fleetingly, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who went on to become prominent Patriots in The Revolutionary War which was to begin in earnest with “the shot heard ’round the world.” at Lexington in 1776.

Agent Beck makes it know that McCallum is responsible for the Boston deaths, and a warrant is issued for his arrest. McCallum has no option but to head north to evade the bounty hunters and soldiers who will not rest until he is swinging from a gibbet. As he moves through the wild countryside, accompanied by an electic collection of Native Americans, an evangelical priest, a traveling conjurer – and a monkey – McCallum knows he will never be safe until he finds the truth about the events in Boston until he finds the instigators of that fatal conspiracy.

pattison-2If your knowledge of that period of American history is sketchy, than fret ye not. Pattison (right) provides a wealth of detail about real life events which were taking place during McCallum’s fictional quest to clear his name. I use the word ‘quest” advisedly, as the novel has a distinct Lord of The Rings feeling – “Roads go ever on”.

There is some genuine detective work – and some very graphic violence – wrapped up in the period detail, and Pattison is clearly a man who has charted the catastrophic decline and subjugation of the Native Americans, their culture, their awareness and their sensitivity to landscape. It may be of little consolation to us modern readers, but Pattison shows that the European assault on this vibrant and diverse society did not just happen on our watch.

Savage Liberty is the fifth installment of the Duncan McCallum series which began with Bone Rattler in 2009. It will be published by Counterpoint on 7th June.You can read a review of an earlier Eliot Pattison novel Skeleton God, set in contemporary Tibet, by clicking the blue link.

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ON MY SHELF, MAY 2018 . . . Kent, Michael, Weaver & Wignall

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AFTER A BLISSFUL – AND VERY HOT WEEKEND IN FRANCE – where sun cream and hay fever tablets were de rigeur, it’s back to a very cold earth with a bump. Maybe a squelch would be more accurate. Today is the fabled first day of May, and last night the central heating was on full blast, and my over-confidence that the electric blanket could be laundered and stowed away for the season was severely punished. Still, there are always books to keep me warm, even if they look destined to be read curled up on the sofa in a warm room rather than under the verandah with an ice-tinkling glass of something cold and juniper tinged close to hand.

WHAT WE DID by Christobel Kent

WWDTeachers taking advantage of their unique position of trust is nothing if not topical, and few teachers can become so connected to their pupils’ progress and personality as music teachers. In Christobel Kent’s latest domestic thriller we meet Anthony Carmichael, one such person. The student he abused has now grown up and married. Bridget has a loving husband, a delightful son, and a business that demands her full attention. When Carmichael reappears, the fences protecting her comfortable life are torn down, and events take a sinister turn. Published by Sphere, What We Did is out on 17th May.

CORRUPTED by Simon Michael

CorruptedCharles Holborne is a brilliant and successful barrister specialising in criminal cases, and his work brings him into contact with the most corrupt and manipulative people in 1960s London. It will be no surprise to learn that these characters are not all associates of the notorious Kray twins, but men and women who are normally seen on the other side of the justice system. The deeply psychotic Ronnie Kray has already had a terrifying influence on Holborne’s life, and if the barrister thought that the episode was over, he is very much mistaken as he becomes involved in a sex scandal that threatens the very government of the country itself. Corrupted is published by Urbane Publications and will be available on 21st June. I was very impressed with an earlier novel in the Charles Holborne series, The Lighterman, and the review can be read here.

YOU WERE GONE by Tim Weaver

YWGTim Weaver’s investigator David Raker is now a well established member of fictional PI royalty in British fiction, and he is just that little bit different. His speciality is finding people – whether they wish to be found or not. This is the ninth in the series and, with existing fans well aware that Weaver is a master of plot surprises, readers new to the series are presented with another audacious premise. Raker’s late wife – repeat late wife – reappears and accuses him of faking her disappearance and death. With the police suspecting him of the crime, Raker is faced with a baffling conundrum which will ruin him if he fails to find the answers? Is this woman a clever and convincing opportunist, or does the solution lie in a breakdown of his own sanity? I have been a fan of the Tim Weaver/David Raker partnership for a good while – read why  by checking out my review of I Am Missing. The latest case for David Raker is out on 17th May and is  published by Michael Joseph.

TO DIE IN VIENNA by Kevin Wignall

TDIVIt seems there is nowhere quite like Vienna for mystery, intrigue and international back stabbing – both literal and figurative. For so long the major crossroads between East and West, the Austrian city once again is the backdrop to a dangerous game of bluff and counter bluff and deception. Freddie Makin is a surveillance expert who is paid to watch ‘people of interest’ and report back to his paymasters. His problem is that this a risky profession; powerful people are likely to feel threatened, and when their discomposure reaches a certain level, they will lash out. After following a suspected Chinese intelligence agent, Makin is now the hunted man. Who is trying to kill him? What has he learned that has pushed his name to the top of the kill list? Thomas and Mercer are publishing To Die In Vienna on 14th June.

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THE TANGO SCHOOL MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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Colin Crampton and his beautiful – if rather vulgar – Australian girlfriend are eating out at a Brighton restaurant. Shirley likes her steak rare, and she subscribes to the old adage about cooking a huge slice of beef, “Knock its horns off, wipe its bum, and lead it quickly through a warm kitchen,” Unfortunately, the blood on her Porterhouse has an additional source – a growing stain in the ceiling above their table.

In this sanguinary manner we get straight into the action in Peter Bartram’s third tale of Colin Crampton, the intrepid 1960s reporter for the Evening Chronicle. Colin races upstairs to the flat above the restaurant and finds an extremely leaky corpse, later to be identified as the mortal remains of one Derek Clapham.

tsm-tnColin’s day has already been bad enough. He has been summoned to the office of Frank Figgis, the News Editor, and given a daunting task. The newspaper’s Editor, Pope by name (dubbed “His Holiness”, naturally) has a brother called Gervaise. Gervaise is in trouble. He has been mixing with some rather unsavoury characters, namely the adherents of Sir Oscar Maundsley, the aristocratic former fascist leader. Interned by Churchill during the war, he now dreams of Making Britain Great Again.

Due to internal feuds among the fascist folk – which has also resulted in the stabbing of Derek Clapham, and the spoling of Shirley’s steak – Gervaise Pope has threatened to shoot Maundsley. Figgis has been told by His Holiness to find the errant brother and stop him from committing murder. One problem. Gervaise has disappeared and so, Figgis, with all his fabled capacity for delegation, has handed the task to Colin Crampton.

What follows is a fascinating and completely beguiling journey through a 1960s England that seems now, at least to those of us old enough to have been there, as far away and foreign as medieval Cambodia, including a visit to the bizarre school for dancing mentioned in the title. Maundsley is a thinly disguised …. ? Well, since neither Peter nor I can afford expensive libel lawyers, you must do your own homework. Along the way we are reminded that the Prime Minister of the day was the curiously archaic Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home (pronounced ‘Hume’), and Bartram also has great fun as he remembers – more or less with affection – the way we were and the things we ate and wore.

Peter Bartram doesn’t mind at all if this book is popped onto the ‘cosy’ shelf of your library, but he serves up just enough violence and and downright malice to blow away the gentle mists of human kindness which can soften the outlines of dark deeds. Like the old trick where you were persuaded to put your tongue on the terminals of a 9 volt battery – and then regretted it – the dialogue tingles and sparks. The gags, puns and one-liners come thick and fast, and – as befits the experienced newspaperman that he is – Bartram never wastes a word.

In terms of plot content, Bartram audaciously brings A Very Important Person into the narrative at the end of the book and, my goodness, how well it works. In the hands of a lesser writer, this episode could have fallen flat on its face, but such is Bartram’s skill, it works beautifully and with added poignancy, given what was to happen just a few months later.

I reached the final page with that mix of sadness and satisfaction which will be familiar to anyone who has ever read a good book. The Tango School Mystery is a delight from start to finish and, sentimental old sod that I am, I want to find a tree and carve ‘Colin 4 Shirley’ on it, inside a big heart. Yes, well spotted – amidst the murder, mayhem and subterfuge, there is an enchanting love story, too! The Tango School Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership.

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COMPETITION . . . Win a signed copy of The Tango School Mystery

Could This Be You

THE FULLY BOOKED HAT may be a digital one, but if you enter the latest prize draw, your name will be in there, and you may be the lucky person to win a signed copy of the latest Crampton of The Chronicle novel by Peter Bartram.

I’m a huge fan of Bartram’s writing. I love his easy and fluent style, with its occasional sharp edge. Being an elder statesman (well, maybe just old) I enjoy thinking, “ah…yes!” when he throws in the odd cultural reference to what life was like in the 1960s. I’m also a sucker for whodunnits, and I try my damnedest to follow the clues – and ignore the many red herrings – with which Bartram teases his readers.

The Tango School Mystery starts with Crampton’s gorgeous Australian girlfriend having more blood in her rare steak than even she bargained for, and continues by taking us on a whirlwind journey through an England where memories of WW2 – and the strange tale of British fascism – are still very raw.

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YOU HAVE TWO (equally easy) WAYS TO ENTER.  Firstly, email me at:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Put the word “Crampton” in the subject box, and you are good to go.

Alternatively, go to the Fully Booked Facebook page and simply “like” the post about this competition. Clicking the Facebook logo below will take you straight there. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Thursday 26th April 2018.

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