September 16, 2016



Rennie Airth, a South African by birth, now lives in Italy, but I mention these details only because his descriptions of wartime England in The Dead of Winter are so evocative that it is hard to believe that the writer did not experience the conditions at first hand. More of this in a while, but first, the story.

air_raid_wardens_wanted_-_arp_art-iwmpst13880We are in the weeks leading up to Christmas 1944, deep in what would prove to be the last winter of a war which, thanks to the Luftwaffe, had brought death and destruction to the doorsteps of ordinary people in towns and cities up and down the country. German aircraft no longer drone over the streets of London; instead, the Dorniers and Heinkels have been replaced by an even more demoralising menace – the seemingly random strikes by V1 and V2 rockets. Despite the fact that the rockets need no visible target to aim at, the ubiquitous blackout is still in force. An Air Raid Precaution Warden, whose job has become as redundant as that of those manning anti-aircraft batteries, makes a chilling discovery. He stumbles – literally – on the body of a young woman. Her neck has been broken by someone clearly well-versed in killing, and the only clue is a number of spent matches lying by the body.

The dead woman is soon identified. She is Rosa Nowak, a Polish girl who has sought refuge in Britain, and has been working on a farm in Kent. What was she doing in London? Visiting her aged aunt, apparently. The police struggle to find a motive for the killing. It wasn’t sexual, it wasn’t robbery, so who on earth stood to gain from the murder? The investigation is led by Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair, a senior detective who might have retired years ago, were it not for the manpower shortage in the Metropolitan Police caused by the war.

With one of those wonderful coincidences which only ever seem to happen in crime novels, Sinclair learns that the farm where Rosa had been working is none other than that owned by a former colleague – John Madden. Rennie Airth introduced us to the former Inspector in River of Darkness (1999) and we followed his progress in The Blood Dimmed Tide (2004). Madden served with distinction in The Great War, but the conflict has left him with scars, more mental than physical and, despite marrying, for the second time, a country doctor who he met in River of Darkness, he still grieves for the deaths of his first wife and their young daughter.

ration-bookThere is more than a touch of The Golden Age about this novel, but it is much more than a pastiche. Although the killing of Rosa Nowak is eventually solved, with a regulation dramatic climax in a snow-bound country house, Rennie Airth allows us to breathe, smell and taste the air of an England almost – but not quite – beaten down by the privations of war. Many of the characters have menfolk away at the war, including Madden himself and his wife Helen. Their son is in the Royal Navy, on the rough winter seas escorting convoys. The contrast between life in the city and in the country is etched deep. In the city, restaurant meals are frequently inedible, the black market thrives unchecked due to depleted police manpower, and even the newsprint bearing cheering propaganda from the government is subject to rationing. Travelling anywhere, unless you are fiddling your petrol coupons, is arduous and unpleasant.

“Though inured like all by now to the rigours of wartime travel, to the misery of unheated carriages, overcrowded compartments and the mingled smell of bodily odours and stale tobacco, he was still recovering from his trip down from London that afternoon when for two hours he had sat gazing out at a countryside that offered little relief to the eyes weary of the sight of dust and rubble, of the never-ending vista of ruined streets and bombed-out houses …..”

There is an element of the modern police procedural about the book, but such is the quality of Airth’s writing that we willingly forgive him for John Madden’s occasional flashes of insight which redirect the well-intentioned but bumbling coppers in their search for the killer of Rosa Nowak.

In addition to the two previous John Manning novels, our man returns in The Reckoning (2014) and is set to make another appearance in 2017 with The Death of Kings.


KILLING ME SOFTLY … Frank Westworth


While waiting for his new quick thriller to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world, author Frank Westworth considers creative ways to kill people…

Killer thrillers demand thrilling killers, no? I mean … that’s the whole point of them, surely. It is entirely unclear why so many folk are fascinated by creative ways of dying, but we are. Some of us are intrigued enough to write about it, maybe to see how it works, how a murder fits together, how it might feel were the author the killer. Which, usually, is not the case. Usually.

 Most deaths – even the deliberate and premeditated deaths which define an actual murder – are pretty mundane. Most professional killers do it in the usual ways: either long range, the most popular and involving missiles, bombs, artillery and the like; medium range, using guys with guns operable by just the guys with the guns, and only occasionally by professionals involved in one-on-one – actual hand-to-hand combat. The latter is pretty rare, research reveals.

 Research? Yes indeed. It’s not difficult to find a retired (let us pray) killer and ask. I did this, and I assume that other authors of killer thrillers do the same. Look around you; it’s statistically pretty likely that you know ex-military types. Maybe well enough to ask them all about the mechanisms. And maybe not.

 Creative ways of killing apparently make a book more appealing – they certainly make writing the book more entertaining. I’ve recently completed a short story which required a surprise person being killed in a surprising way. In a disguised way; a murder disguised as an accident. And as all parties involved were military or police professionals, that was a fun challenge. Grab a copy of ‘Fifth Columnist’ if you’re interested in the resolution.

Unlike most killings, novels are written to entertain, so maybe the killing ways should also be entertaining. This is plainly a decently bizarre notion, not least because most killings are accidental, for passion or for money – think about it for a second – but I doubt that many killers do it to entertain others. Although…

 So I try to provide variety, and even a little originality – entirely to entertain The Reader. So far, in three novels and a half-dozen short stories, methods of murder have included the usual handguns, sniper rifles, a rocket or two, several knives (usually long, sharp and with black blades – I took advice on that) and a couple of one-on-one slug it out fights, although the best advice with the latter is always to strike first, strike extremely hard and carry on doing that until your own life is safe. Talk to a serving soldier, preferably an infantryman.

 However, I’ve also managed a couple of deaths by bathroom furniture, in the shower – dangerous places, hard surfaces, slippery and easy to clean. And for a little variety in one incident the bad guy used a catapult, while in another a nun used an exploding guitar case. It all made sense at the time. The killing I was most amused by – if it’s OK for an author to be amused by their own copy – was death by industrial strength Viagra. It was appropriate for the situation, trust me. Also titillating? OK. Maybe a little. A not so petite mort, maybe.

 It’s not all violence for its own sake, though. When I working up the characters of the – ah – characters, I wanted to portray a couple of them as decent humans, not stone killers, psychopaths or the deviant fruitcakes so popular in the movies and on the telly. OK, so they’re killers – that is what soldiers do – but they do not revel in that. Let’s take the idea a little further – can you imagine a situation in which death would be a mercy? Of course you can … probably. There’s a great movie called ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ which isn’t about contract killers in any sense (but is well worth watching all the same) which suggests the desperation which could lead someone – a very best friend, maybe – to do a deed which is entirely socially unacceptable, but which is actually a kindness, a mercy killing. I’ve told that very tale twice, using different reasons and entirely different characters. It’s not easy to write. Not at all. The exact opposite of the alleged ‘spree’ killers so beloved of so many.

 An unexpected outcome of the killer novelist’s life is the popularity of the anti-hero. Not the villain, everyone has their favourite villains, from Moriarty to Hannibal Lecter, no; the anti-hero. The character whose view of life can become so bleak that he (or indeed she…) finds it increasingly easy to consider that final kill, that kill of the killer – suicide. One or more of my own characters face this, stare it down, consider it anew, find the idea appealing, so appealing that they need to distract themselves from their own final solution. Distractions? How would an increasingly nervous, distressed and unbalanced person distract themselves? It’s not easy, is it? And it’s very easy for a killer to kill themself, no matter the means or the method. And surviving a professional killer’s suicide would surely be the greatest comeback in killer history, no?

I can’t wait to write it…

fifthcolFIFTH COLUMNIST comes out on 14 September 2016. This quick thriller features covert operative JJ Stoner, who uses sharp blades and blunt instruments to discreetly solve problems for the British government. A bent copper is compromising national security and needs to be swiftly neutralised, but none of the evidence will stand up in court. That’s exactly why men like Stoner operate in the shadows, ready to terminate the target once an identity is confirmed…

FIFTH COLUMNIST offers an hour’s intrigue and entertainment. It features characters from the JJ Stoner / Killing Sisters series. You don’t need to have read any of the other stories in the series: you can start right here if you like. As well as a complete, stand-alone short story, Fifth Columnist includes an excerpt from The Redemption Of Charm (to be published in March 2017).

Please note that FIFTH COLUMNIST is intended for an adult audience and contains explicit scenes of a sexual and/or violent nature.


Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Shelve it on Goodreads:


‘A fast-paced, high-powered thriller… Terse and stiletto streamlined and sharp as the blade of a knife.’

‘Imagine an intimate encounter between Jack Reacher and the girl with the dragon tattoo: that’s JJ Stoner and the Killing Sisters.’

‘Gritty story-telling at its best, with graphic (but well-written) sex and a plot that fires from the hip.’

‘I implore lovers of crime/thrillers to get their hands on the JJ Stoner series. Both the short and full length books are just fantastic.’



Frank Westworth shares several characteristics with his literary anti-hero, JJ Stoner: they both play mean blues guitar and ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Unlike Stoner, Frank hasn’t deliberately killed anyone. Frank lives in Cornwall in the UK, with his guitars, motorcycles, partner and cat.







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