October 25, 2016

SKIN AND BONE …Between the covers

old paper or parchment

Georgian England in the early autumn of 1743. The George in question is Number Two, and earlier in the year he had the distinction of being the last monarch to lead British troops in battle, that being at Dettingen, where an uneasy alliance of British, Austrian and Hanoverian forces – known, bizarrely, as ‘The Pragmatic Army’ – defeated those eternal adversaries, the French.

BlakeThis, then, is the England of Handel and Hogarth (at least he was English) and the looming threat from the Jacobites north of the border. Author Robin Blake, (left) however resists the easy win of setting his story in the bustle of London. Instead, he takes us to the town of Preston, sitting on the banks of the River Ribble in Lancashire.

Titus Cragg is a lawyer, and the coroner for the town. He is called to investigate a macabre and piteous discovery – that of a tiny baby found at the bottom of a malodorous sludge-filled pit, one of several used by tanners in the town to turn rough animal hides into leather. Once the muck and slurry have been washed away from the infant, Cragg discovers a nasty wound on the back of its head. It takes a more detailed examination by a local physician – Luke Fidelis – to reveal that the little girl did indeed die from violence, but of a much more sinister kind.

skin-and-boneThe investigations carried out by Cragg and Fidelis reveal a growing schism between the tanners and the wealthy men of property who run the town’s affairs. The leather workers are an inward looking community. This state is mostly driven by the fact that they live and work alongside the noisome waste materials – mostly faeces and urine – which are essential to the tanning process, and therefore most local people literally turn up their noses at the tanners. The burgesses and council-men of Preston, on the other hand, have their eyes on what they believe to be an acre or so of valuable land – ripe for redevelopment – currently occupied by the tannery.

What’s in a name? To answer the ill-fated Juliet, there is always something. Cragg, as his name suggests has something rock-like about him, while Fidelis has a touch of enigma and mystery. Fidelis, the more exotic of the pair, causes suspicion among the bluff Lancastrians of Preston, if only because his modern views and deep knowledge of the science of medicine contrast dramatically with the more superstitious practices of other local doctors. Cragg and Fidelis do eventually discover the truth about the awful death of the baby, but not before Preston is set on its collective ear by another murder and the downfall of one of its most respected residents and his family.

Skin and Bone scores highly in all the categories which make for good historical crime fiction. At its core it has an intriguing and inventive mystery, not just a standard murder parachuted into a period setting. The Georgian details are established without fuss, showmanship or over-anxious dollops of historical fact splashed on the canvas in the name of authenticity. Most importantly, the dialogue is natural and untainted by any attempt to create what the author might imagine to be the vernacular speech of the time. Cragg – and his wife – are likeable and convincing, while Fidelis provides just enough forensic flair to point his friend in the right investigative direction.

This is the fourth Cragg and Fidelis story and it came out in Kindle earlier this year. The hardback is out today, 25th October and the paperback will be out on 3rd November,  You can check further details of this and the previous books at Robin Blake’s own website, or his Amazon author page.

Blake Novels



The kind people at Michael Joseph were good enough to invite me to a drinks party right in the heart of London’s theatreland, literally a stone’s throw from the glitter of The Royal Opera House, and the more forbidding bulk of the former Bow Street Magistrates Court, surely haunted by the phantom of many infamous defendants, including Roger Casement, William Joyce and the Kray twins.


all-our-wrongsUp on the third floor of The Covent Garden pub, however, the crime was purely fictional, in the shape of forthcoming novels from the Michael Joseph stable. Canadian Elan Mastai (pictured above)has already achieved fame as a screenwriter for such films as The F Word (starring Daniel Ratcliffe) and Fury (starring Samuel L Jackson), but his debut novel All Our Wrong Todays is already generating a considerable buzz in the book world. It concerns a young man called Tom who seizes the opportunity to energise his glum present day existence with the help of his father’s time machine. Mastrai gives us the top notes of a contemporary thriller, with the more complex harmonies of the differences between dull but predictable reality, and the altogether more dangerous world of dreams.


More conventionally ‘crimey’ is Blue Light Yokohama – also a debut – by Nicolás Obregón (pictured above). The novel is based on Japan’s most infamous unsolved crime in recent decades – the Setagaya Family Murder. Mikio Miyazawa, 44, his 41-year-old wife Yasuko, 8-year-old daughter Niina, and 6-year-old son Rei, were found dead on the morning of Dec 31, 2000. Miyazawa’s son had been strangled, and the other three had been stabbed to death. Fingerprints and other evidence in the home indicate the killer used the computer and ate ice cream after the attack on Dec 30, spending up to 11 hours before leaving the next morning.

blue-lightApproximately 190,000 officers have been involved in the case to date, and police have received more than 16,000 pieces of information from the public, yet the killer remains at large. Fifty police officers are still assigned to the case to follow up on any leads. The reward was raised from the initial 3 million yen to 10 million yen for information which leads to the killer or killers’ arrest.

Into the middle of this true crime scene, Obregón pitches Inspector Kosuke Iwata, a policeman racked with personal pain and guilt. He senses that his integrity and persistent search for the truth will upset senior colleagues, and he knows the clock is ticking down towards his own ruin – or a fresh atrocity. The title? Obregón tells me it is a popular song from the 1960s, best described as Japanese country and western.

Both books are due out in the spring of 2017, and you will be able to read full reviews on Fully Booked nearer the time. For information on All Our Wrong Todays contact Ellie Hughes at, and Gaby Young at for Blue Light Yokohama.


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