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November 2016

EVERYONE LOVES A LIST …and here’s mine!

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Crime Fiction tastes are infinitely variable
, and always beautifully subjective. One person’s gripping page-turner can easily be another person’s decision to give up the ghost at page 93 and consign the offending book to the charity shop.

I would love to see your own personal hit parades. Why are mine separated by gender? Merely a response to a Twitter comment by crime writer Katherine Pathak. There’s a feeling that successful women CriFi authors these days outnumber their male counterparts. Is this correct? If so, why?

Your views would be very welcome. No-one will be right, and no-one will be wrong. You can share your views in all the usual ways.

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THE IRON WATER … Between the covers

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I am not suggesting that it is a good idea
, but were you to cut Chris Nickson open, you would probably find – after the fashion of Queen Mary – the word ‘Leeds’ engraved on his heart. He is clearly passionate and protective about the city of his birth, and this shines like a beacon from every page of The Iron Water, another case for the Leeds copper Tom Harper. Set in the summer of 1893 it is, on one level, a straightforward Victorian police procedural, but it is more. Much more.

 Nickson wears his social justice heart very much on his sleeve, and he doesn’t shrink from describing the vile conditions still experienced by poor families at the time. There is nothing of the cosy period piece about the book, but Nickson doesn’t make the mistake of allowing his fervour to turn the story into a collection of protest pamphlets, in spite of Annabelle, Harper’s lovely wife, taking a position within a campaigning Suffragist movement in the city.

Harper, all of a sudden, has bodies on his hands. There’s the corpse which floats up from the depths of a local lake after a demonstration of a new water-borne weapon, the torpedo. Then there’s the girl. Well, at least her leg, which is recovered from the canal. And what’s to be made of the body of a minder usually employed by one of the city’s criminal gangs? Being garrotted is definitely not the usual fate of Leeds murder victims.

iron-waterTwo gang bosses, one of Irish heritage and the other local, are engaged in a tense truce. They will hold off attacking each other while Harper and his fellow officers track down the mysterious copper-headed man who appears to be connected to the deaths. Time is running out, however, and there is an even more calamitous threat hanging over the heads of the police. The powers-that-be want answers, and as Harper runs around in ever decreasing circles, he is told that if he doesn’t find the killer, then men from Scotland Yard will travel north and take over the case. This, for Harper and his boss Superintendent Kendall, will be the ultimate disgrace.

The descriptions of the city as it swelters in the summer heat, are masterly. You can almost taste the sweat, sense the baking hot cobbles under your feet as you walk, smell the dray horses and feel your throat burning from the chemical tang produced by the factories which have made Leeds a grand place to make money – for the privileged few. There’s a terrific paragraph which goes:

“The July heat showed no sign of breaking. All the faces he passed on the pavement looked on edge. Thoughts of violence hung over their heads. Another day or two and there’d be fights. Men would beat their wives over nothing at all. There’d be woundings and killings in the pubs and beershops.”

That has echoes of Raymond Chandler’s lines from Red Wind (1938) which begin:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch..”

But Nickson’s version fits just as beautifully into the cauldron of industrial Leeds as Chandler’s did into the hot California night.

Eventually, almost as the Scotland Yard men are about to board their train at King’s Cross, a flurry of violence and revenge seems to tie up the case, but Nickson is much too good to allow it to rest there, and the unease Harper feels about the closing of the case proves justified when he has one more terrifying ordeal to face.

The Iron Water is published by Severn House, and is available both in hardback and as a Kindle.

THE KILLING OF LEE RIGBY

Some crimes cause people to ‘tut-tut’ and shake their heads, muttering about how it would never have happened in ‘their day’. Some crimes, where there seems to have been no harm done to anyone involves, just make people chuckle.But then there are crimes, fortunately rare, which make ordinary people thank God that they weren’t there, clap a hand over their mouth in horror, and smack the wall in anger.

rigbySuch a crime took place on a calm May afternoon in 2013. The place? A nondescript suburban street in south-east London. The victim? A 25 year-old soldier, in civilian clothes, returning to his Woolwich barracks after a spell of ceremonial duty at The Tower of London.

There have been millions of words written and spoken over the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby. He was first hit with a car driven by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale. The two killers then leaped from the abandoned car, and proceeded to hack Rigby to death with meat cleavers. Passers-by intervened, but their efforts were too late to save Rigby. At least, they prevented the soldier from being decapitated, and foiled the murderers’ intention of posing for a photograph holding a severed head.

Posing for a photograph while holding a severed head is, seemingly, de rigeur in the degenerate world of Muslim extremists. That Adebolajo and Adebowale were thwarted in this is some small – perhaps even miniscule – comfort to members of Lee Rigby’s family. Rigby was given a military funeral at Bury Parish Church on 12 July 2013, and his killers were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Unbelievably – or perhaps not – there were political commentators who refused to condemn the murder. Some, like the Islamic activist Anjem Choudary, sought to equate the killing with British military involvement in Islamic countries such as Afghanistan and Libya. Asghar Bukhari of the UK Muslim Public Affairs Committee said that both the British Government and the Muslim community were at fault.

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It is scarcely credible that the local authorities in Woolwich seemed more concerned about maintaining community cohesion within their ward boundaries than honouring a murdered soldier, but eventually a memorial – of sorts –  to Lee Rigby was put in place. Lee Rigby’s name appears on a plaque on the south wall of the memorial garden inside the ruined St George’s Garrison Church in Woolwich, opposite the Royal Artillery Barracks. The memorial consists of a white marble plaque marking Woolwich’s history as a barracks town, and two bronze plaques with the names of 11 men who served or lived in Woolwich and gave their lives in the service of their country, including Rigby and the victims of the 1974 King’s Arms bombing nearby. It took the residents of his home area, Middleton near Rochdale, to do the decent thing and provide a more personal tribute.

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If ever there were a chilling image to remind us of man’s inhumanity man it is that of the bloodstained Adebolajo ranting his hatred into someone’s mobile phone. Gil Scott-Heron told us The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. This appalling murder came as close to it as makes no difference.

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SALUT d’AMOUR … Sir Edward Elgar

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For me, the most beautiful tune ever written. It is heartbreakingly beautiful, tinged with passion and more than a little regret. Elgar wrote so many fine tunes, but this one is intimate and personal. It seems like one person simply telling another person, “I love you.”

COMPETITION … Distress Signals

dsIf you want a lovely copy of Catherine Ryan Howard’s novel Distress Signals, then enter our prize draw. I can personally guarantee that it is a cracking read, as I reviewed it for another site earlier in the year. I’ll steal a few lines from what I wrote:

” Howard cleverly lays a trail of small, separate accidents which eventually connect to bring grief, heartbreak and death to people whose lives have consequently collided.”

When you get to the Six Months Later epilogue, you may be expecting a bland, loose-end-tying reflection on the gripping events you have just read about. Suffice to say that Catherine Ryan Howard saves the biggest shock for the end – literally, the last two words.

All you need to do is send us a quick email, as follows:

With Distress Signals in the subject line, just email Fully Booked at the address below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

There’s no need to put any further details. There will be a draw of all the entrants, and the winner will notified in the usual way. This time we are only posting to mainland UK, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 4th December.

RULES

  1. Competition closes 10.00pm London time on Sunday 4th December 2016.
  2. One entry per competitor.
  3. All correct entries will be put in the proverbial hat, and one winner drawn.
  4. The winner will be notified by email, and a postal address requested

ON MY SHELF …26th November 2016

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Death In Winter by Ian McFadyen
There’s always room for yet another fictional Detective Inspector. Steve Carmichael – a long standing member of the DI’s trade union – returns for his sixth case set, as before, in the villages and small towns of rural Lancashire. The boxes are all steadily being ticked for a wonderful traditional Christmas in the Carmichael family home. Deep snow all around? Tick. Just four days to go? Tick. Tree and decorations up? Tick. Pressies all bought? Tick. No urgent cases down at the nick? …… Oh, wait. Hayley Bell vanishes after taking a train home. Her husband and friends are decidedly odd, and there’s a definite whiff of murder souring the scent of mince pies and mulled wine. Death In Winter is just out, and you can check options here.

Mercy Killing by Lisa Cutts
The author needs no researchers to check up on correct police procedure – she is still a serving officer herself, so expect unvarnished authenticity in this tale of the death of a sex offender. To the echoes of, “He had it coming..” and “Serves him right, the dirty bastard..” from the local community, the East Rise police must grit their teeth and investigate the suspicious death of Albie Woodville with just as much tenacity as if he had been a pillar of the community. DI Harry Powell keeps his team on their mettle, but all the officers are disturbed and shocked by the secrets they uncover as they search for the killer. Follow the link to see buying options for Mercy Killing

Blackout by Marc Elsberg
This has been around in one form or another since 2012, but since it is billed as “a 21st century high-concept disaster thriller”, it is probably safe to assume that the latest edition has been made future-proof. Elsberg (aka Marcus Rafelsberger) was born in Vienna, and after training as an industrial designer worked as a strategy consultant and creative director in the advertising world. Blackout has a simple but rather scary premise. Quite simply, hackers decide to shut down Europe. They start in Milan, with the electricity grid. Then they rack up the attacks further afield. Half the continent is plunged into darkness while  people freeze and struggle to find food and water. Elsberg turns this nightmare scenario into an entertaining but disturbing thriller. Check Blackout on Amazon.

In Too Deep by Samantha Hayes
From trans-continental cyber meltdown to a psychological thriller on a smaller scale, but equally as terrifying. When your husband takes a stroll down the road to buy a newspaper, you think nothing of it. But when he has been gone an hour, then twelve hours, then a day, it is obvious that something sinister has happened. So it is with Gina and Rick. Rick has been gone four months, and as well as coping with daughter Hannah’s emotional problems, Gina has become numb with acceptance. But then a mysterious ‘phone call turns her life on its head, and she makes a decision which threatens to have fatal consequences. In Too Deep came out in Kindle earlier this year, but will be available in paperback just before Christmas. Check the details here.

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THE BOOK OF MIRRORS … Between the covers

princetonIt is 1987, and a bitterly cold winter night in New Jersey. In a rambling Queen Anne-style house in West Windsor, a man is found dead, battered to death and lying in a pool of his own blood. The corpse is that of a successful but controversial academic from Princeton, Professor Joseph Wieder. For all his erudition and his insights into the human brain – particularly the workings of memory – he is still very dead. The police dutifully stumble around in the snow, interviewing those who knew the dead man, but they fail to find anyone without a decent alibi, let alone a suspect who stood to gain substantially from his death.

Romanian author Eugen Chirovici takes this unsolved crime as the centrepiece of an intriguing and original crime mystery in which he explores the nature of memory and perception from several different viewpoints. Without getting bogged down in faux psychology, Chirovici takes an almost Proustian look at the events of that winter night in 1987, and he even tips his hat to the great man in the final sentence of the book.

515ty68lplWe first learn of Wieder’s violent demise in a roundabout way. A literary agent, Peter Katz, is working his way through emails from hopeful authors, and consigning most of them to the trash icon, when his attention is grabbed by a submission from a man called Richard Flynn. Katz prints out the sample chapters of Flynn’s book and sits down to read them. He is hooked. Two hours fly past, and Katz realises that he has a possible best seller in his hands, but he is unsure if the book is a true crime confession, or a novel. So, what did Flynn have to say?

Richard Flynn has worked his way up from a decent but unremarkable upbringing in Brooklyn, and is in his third year studying English at Princeton. His new housemate is a young woman called Laura Baines, and he falls under her spell. She introduces him to Professor Wieder, who is her thesis supervisor. Flynn gets a part time job cataloguing Wieder’s extensive book collection. By this time, he and Laura are bedmates, but he is still wondering about the relationship between Laura and Wieder when the older man is brutally murdered.

At this point, Flynn’s manuscript finishes, and Katz seeks out the author, only to find that he has recently died. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Katz employs an out-of-work investigative reporter, John Keller, to do the leg work. Keller takes up the narrative at this point but, as he pans the stream, he finds only Fool’s Gold. What he does manage to do, however, is introduce us to the third witness in the saga – a retired cop called Roy Freeman.

eocThere is a very satisfying sense of a torch being handed from one runner to another, and it is during Freeman’s leg of the journey that we find out the truth of what really happened to Joseph Wieder. Or do we? Changing the metaphor, Chirovici tells us that we have been in one of those fairground attractions which involves walking in front of distorting mirrors. He says;

“They’d all been wrong, and seen nothing but their own obsessions through the windows they’d tried to gaze through, which in fact had been mirrors all along.”

This is a skilful and engaging work which is all the more remarkable for being written in English which, despite his many academic achievements, is not the author’s first language. The style is unfussy and direct; Chirovici makes the different participants in the story totally convincing, and the American scene-setting is faultless. In the acknowledgements section at the end of the novel he thanks many different people who, in his words, “enriched the manuscript and made it shine.” I would offer the simple observation that if the stone had not been precious in the first instance, then no amount of polishing would have made it a diamond.

The Book of Mirrors is published by Century, at £12.99 in hardback, and £7.99 for the Kindle. It will be available in January 2017, and you can pre-order here.

ADVENT CALENDAR 2016

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Everyone loves the countdown to Christmas, even if in many UK supermarkets it starts the second all the Halloween tat has been cleared away. But Advent has a deeper and more lasting significance. It is a time of looking forward, of anticipation, but also of reflection. You can click on a daily window to discover a fine crime novel – and a beautiful piece of music. Both choices are mine, and I make no claim that the 25 books are the best of anything, and neither are they in order, but I offer them as a personal selection of what I consider to be the very best of crime fiction.

01-december-link     02-december-link      03-december-link     04-december-link

05-december-link     06-december-link      07-december-link     08-december-link

09-december-link     10-december-link     11-december-link     12-december-link

13th-december-link     14-december-link     15-december-link     16-december-link

17-december-link     18-december-link     19-december-link     20-december-link

21-december-link     22-december-link     23-december-link     24-december-link

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GOOD MORNING ENGLAND … and good evening Australia

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When I lived in Australia, listening to an Ashes cricket series on the old steam radio was a matter of staying up until all hours, usually with some mates and a few beverages. The same time difference works the other way as well, obviously. I’m always delighted to receive a communication of any kind from Australian friends both old – and in this case – new.

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This package looked extremely interesting, as well as carrying some very collectable postage stamps, so the old reliable murder weapon, the paper-knife was fetched from the library ….

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To reveal ….. this delightful surprise. Janice Simpson grew up in rural Victoria on a sheep farm. Miles away from friends during weekends and holidays, she spent a lot of time imagining other worlds through the many books she found on the shelves at home and in the shire library, housed in a silent and dusty hall. Perhaps this early life is best described by a passage from her travel memoir, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.

“I feel a stab of homesickness when I see the sprawling red gums that inhabit the land of my childhood, the place where I learned how to cook, garden, harvest, preserve, look after animals, read, make things, explore, ride a bike, find solace in my own company”.

Mount Martha, for those who have never had the pleasure of visiting, is what we Poms would call a seaside town, within reasonable driving distance of Melbourne. Janice Simpson’s novel is based on a real life crime from 1953, when one of those endlessly reliable discoverers of murder victims – a dog walker – found the mutilated corpse of a dead girl. The novel switches between contemporary events and present day investigations of Nick Szabo, who is drawn into the old mystery by a series of unexplained events.

There will be a full review of Murder In Mount Martha very soon, but in the meantime you can take a look at the Amazon page for the novel.

 

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