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July 2017

I AM MISSING … Between the covers.

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David Raker finds people. Mostly these people are lost in physical form: sometimes he finds them alive but sometimes dead, and in the seven Raker novels which preceded I Am Missing, author Tim Weaver has composed variations on this theme. Now, however, Raker’s latest client is very visible and tangible, if a little careworn. Richard Kite has a big problem. He has no idea who he is or who he was. Found lying on the shingle shore near Southampton Water, bruised, battered and barely conscious, he was briefly the hot property of the tabloid press, starring as a nine day wonder before the media and their public grew bored of the tale and moved on to fresh sensations.

IAM coverRaker agrees to take on the case on a more-or-less pro bono basis. Whatever and whoever Richard Kite once was, he has not brought wealth of any kind with him into his new life. Raker’s initial trip south to meet Kite is less than fruitful. Kite only recalls two shadowy images from his past; one is that he is looking out across a lonely beach to a grey expanse of water; is it the sea, perhaps, or a river? The other image is just as enigmatic; Kite sees a television screen, and on it is a graphic of a broadcasting pylon emitting what seems to be a children’s programme.

Raker is a different kind of investigator. His background is not security, law enforcement or military. His previous career was in journalism, and this means that his cases are rarely settled by force of arms or fisticuffs. Instead, he has a sharp eye for inconsistencies in statements and accounts from the people he deals with, and he can usually spot a lie or an evasion at a hundred paces. When he discovers that Kite has been receiving therapy from a distinguished psychotherapist, he makes an appointment to see her and, within just a few minutes of the interview starting, he senses that she is not telling him everything she knows.

Tim Weaver_webMeanwhile, Weaver (right) gives us what seems to be a parallel but unconnected narrative. Two girls, sister and step sister, apparently living in a remote moorland community, perhaps in the north of England, have taken to sneaking out of their house after dark, and climbing up the hill onto the moors, where they have constructed an imaginary and malevolent presence out there in the wind and rain-swept darkness. Malevolent it certainly seems to be, but is it just a figment of the girls’ lurid imaginings?

At this point, with Raker’s investigation about as productive as trying to extract blood from a stone, I will call a halt to the plot synopsis. This is because Weaver has made a beautifully designed surprise for us. It was a shift that I never saw coming, and it is one which makes the final third of the book totally compelling. Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that we get the almost de rigeur exploration of a part of underground London that has been hidden, neglected and forgotten but, having given us this, Weaver makes certain we are all safely seated expecting one thing, before using his smoke and mirrors to reveal something else altogether.

You can check buying choices by clicking the link below.

I AM MISSING

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THE NUTTING GIRL … Between the covers

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To say that Frank Raven has an unusual back-story is akin to saying that Muhammad Ali was a bit handy with his fists. Raven was once Brother Frank, until the monastery threw him out for thinking too much, and putting his thoughts down on paper. He was once Officer Raven, a policeman who lasted just one day in the job before gunshots took him not just close to Death’s Door, but across the deadly threshold. Miraculously, he recovered, only to find himself with no job, but a meagre police pension. And while we’re on the subject of miracles, we had better say that Frank Raven was once totally blind, but his sight – wherever it had been – returned. At least it returned in one eye, which is maybe just half a miracle.

Now, he lives a relatively quiet middle-aged life in the picturesque Massachusetts town of Shelburne Falls, alone except for his memories and a dog called Marlowe . Occasionally, just occasionally, he finds people who – by chance, design or accident – are reported as missing. His travails begin when he is hired by Nick Mooney, a wunderkind Hollywood producer, to watch over the mercurial star of Mooney’s latest film, which is to be shot in the streams, woods and folksy ambience of Shelburne Falls. The star in question is Juliana Velvet Norcross, aka ‘Velcro’, a gamine and winsome girl with hair of flame and the looks to make male – and female – jaws drop anywhere in the world where there is a movie screen.

indexRaven’s job seems like money for nothing until the fateful day when, after a spell of heavy rain, the normally placid stream running through Shelburne Falls is turned into a deadly torrent. ‘Velcro’ ends up in the water, and disappears. Did she fall? Was she pushed? Or is there another more disturbing and puzzling solution? Frank Raven, with the help of Sarah, the eighteen year-old daughter of Clara (Raven’s love interest), unlocks the door to a labyrinth of deception, false identities, dark motives and venal behaviour which they work their way through more in the spirit of hope than the expectation of ever finding the door marked ‘Exit’.

The book’s title drew me to it like a magnet even before I had read a single page. One of the quirky qualities of Frank Raven, is that he is a member of a local Morris Dance side. In Massachusetts? Well, yes, really. Raven dons the bells and ribbons, and dances away with the best of them. In these dark days in the real world, one of the most heinous modern sins is ‘Cultural Appropriation’. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to wear a Sombrero at a Mexican Food Night or, even worse, a white person having their hair in braids. Still, the Shelburne Falls Morris men have ‘culturally appropriated’ the English folk dance, and have become an essential part of the town’s folksy charm. They always end their performances by singing the old song, The Nutting Girl:

“It’s of this fair young damsel, she was nutting in the wood,
His voice was so melodious, it charmed her as she stood:
In that lonely wood, she could no longer stay,
And what few nuts she had, poor girl, she threw them all away.”

This fairly clumsy rural metaphor for lost innocence becomes more potent with every page we turn, as we realise that The Nutting Girl is none other than Juliana Velvet Norcross.

FredFinding a new path through the undergrowth of PI novels, overgrown as it is with violent, cynical, wisecracking and tough, amoral men (and women) must be a difficult task, but Fred De Vecca (right) makes his way with a minimum of fuss and bother. Frank Raven rarely raises his voice, let alone his fists, but his intelligence and empathy with decent people shines through like a beacon in a storm. It would be a forgivable mistake to place this novel in the pile marked ‘Cosy small-town domestic drama’, but it is a mistake, nonetheless. Of the people Raven is tasked with looking for, he finds some and loses some – because he is human, fallible and as susceptible to professional bullshitters as the next guy. What he does find, most importantly, is a kind of personal salvation, and a renewal of his belief in people, and their capacity to change.

The Nutting Girl is now available in Kindle and paperback.

THE MUSIC OF CRIME FICTION

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V: ADAGIO

alotfJohn Lawton is a master of historical fiction set in and around World War II. His central character is Fred Troy, a policeman of Russian descent. His emigré father is what used to be called a ‘Press Baron’. Fred’s brother Rod will go on to become a Labour Party MP in the 1960s, but is interned during the war. His sisters are bit players, but memorable for their sexual voracity. Neither man nor woman is safe from their advances.

Fred becomes one of London’s top coppers, but to categorise the novels as police procedurals is accurate only in as far as that there are policemen in the books, and they occasionally have procedures. All this being said, Troy is in the background during much of A Lily of the Field, where we follow the life of teenager Méret Voytek, a brilliant young Viennese cellist.

As a twelve-year-old, she begins lessons in cello and piano from an eminent musician, Viktor Rosen. He realises instantly that she is prodigiously talented, and he gives her a gift:

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After the Anschluss, through her own naivete and a tragic act of fate, she is caught holding a bundle of anti-Nazi leaflets while traveling on the tram. She is taken by the SS and ends up in Auschwitz. Meanwhile, her parents have been likewise detained, and their family home ransacked. Méret’s skill as a musician has already been noted but, ever naive, she questions her friend Magda about why she has been singled out.

Quote2In the bitterest of paradoxes, the Auschwitz commandant, has a musical ear, and so he puts together an orchestra made up of the many skilled inmates. One of their bizarre duties is to play beautiful music as their less talented companions trudge off to work in the morning. Méret plays for her life, literally. The physical privations she undergoes are heart-breaking, but still she plays, still she clings on to what is left of her humanity.

In January 1945, with the Russians approaching from the east, and the British and Americans from the west, the Germans realise that the game is up. Auschwitz inmates who are too infirm to walk are shot, and the remainder are sent out, under guard, to start the infamous Death March. In the freezing conditions few survive, but just as Meret is about to succumb, their column is overtaken by a Russian detachment. Salvation? Hardly. The first instinct of the Russian soldiers is to rape the women. Méret is saved by a no-nonsense officer. At this point, Fred Troy aficionados will recognise Major Larissa Tosca, Fred’s one-time lover. She has, in her time, spied for both America and for Russia, but here her cap bears the Red Star.

Long-time Lawton readers will know that he leaps about between the years with a sometimes bewildering agility. True to form, the climax of this book is played out in post war London and Paris. Méret’s rescue by the Russians has come at a price, and we find her tangled up in the spy ‘games’ which characterised much of the Cold War period. Lawton is much too clever a writer just to tell this one tale, however gripping it may be. Woven into the fabric is another thread which involves an interned Hungarian physicist, Dr. Karel Szabo, who ends up as a key figure in the American efforts to build and test the first atomic bomb.

One of the key figures from the spy ring of which Méret is a part is murdered in London, and it is then that Fred Troy becomes involved. For all his many qualities, Troy is an inveterate womaniser, but he is not a sexual beast, and the late scenes where he spends time with the fragile Méret, still beautiful but old before her time, are haunting in their compassion.

‘Troy had never heard her laugh. It was like that moment in Ninotchka when Garbo laughs on-screen for the first time. It is not merely that she laughs, but that she laughs so long and so loud.
As the laughter subsided she was grasping at words and not managing to get a sentence out.
“Oh, Troy ….oh, Troy..this is….this is a farce. Don’t you see? Viktor taught us the same part.”

“We’re two left-handed women trying to dance backward. Neither of us knows the man’s part.”
She reached up her sleeve for a handkerchief to dab her tears and found none. Troy gave her his, a huge square of Irish linen with an overfancy  ‘f’ in one corner.
Being drunk did not make her loquacious. In that, she was like Troy. At two in the morning Voytek was deeply asleep in front of the fire. Troy picked her up, astonished at how little she weighed, carried her upstairs and slid her into the spare bed. She did not wake. He went to his own bed.

A Lily of the Field is far from being a dry history novel where the factual details are more important than the plot and the dialogue. It is tense, funny, occasionally very violent, and written with a style and fluency which leaves lesser authors struggling in Lawton’s wake.  Above all, of course, it is about music. Méret’s brilliance as a musician is both her curse and her salvation.

A final little gem, which I only noticed recently. If you look closely at the book’s cover, you can see Méret Voytek, in her red coat, moving away from us. With her cello slung over her shoulder, she walks into history.

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Follow the links below to read the previous four parts in the series.

IV: SCHERZO

III: RONDO

II: MARCHE FUNEBRE

I: PRELUDE & FUGUE

UNLEASHED … Between the covers

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Matt Hunter was once a man of God. Now he is a man of gods. The beliefs that led him to ordination and the ministry of the church have, like Prospero’s insubstantial pageant,

“ .. melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

“Not a rack behind…”? Not strictly true. His former faith has left a bequest in the form of an encyclopaedic knowledge of religious symbols, liturgies both sacred and profane, and profound knowledge of different theologies across the world. The former Reverend Hunter is now Professor Hunter, and he lectures in the Sociology of Religion. He also acts as unpaid advisor to the police in cases where there seems to be a supernatural element.

UnleashedIf the South London suburb of Menham could be described as unremarkable, then we might call the down-at-heel terraced houses of Barley Street positively nondescript. Except, that is, for number 29. For a while, the home of Mary Wasson and her daughters became as notorious as 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville. But the British tabloid press being what it is, there are always new horrors, fresh outrages and riper scandals, and so the focus moved on. The facts, however, were this. After a spell of unexplained poltergeist phenomena turned the house (almost literally) upside down, the body of nine year-old Holly Wasson was found – by her older sister Rachel – hanging from a beam in her bedroom.

Now, years later, Menham hits the headlines again. At an otherwise uneventful open evening for future parents of a local primary school, events take a tragic and horrific turn. A much loved music teacher is found dead in her own store cupboard, the life ripped out of her, apparently by her own pet dog. The dog, crazed and covered in blood, is battered to death by panic-stricken dads who, expecting a recorder ensemble, are instead treated to a scene more suited to the hellish imagination of Hieronymus Bosch.

The local police are totally unable to make any sense of the carnage in the classroom and are puzzled by several pieces of evidence which seem to indicate a supernatural – or at least Satanic – element to the death of Steph Ellis. Investigating officer DS Larry Forbes enlists the help of Matt Hunter, who soon discovers a sinister collection of potential ‘persons of interest’, including a pair of self-styled demonologists and a troubled – and troubling – evangelical sect. For good measure we have a dark history of child abuse carried out in old air-raid shelters far beneath the local park, and a terrifying witch’s familiar straight from the pages of a seventeenth century grimoire.

LawsLaws (right) takes a leaf out of the book of the master of atmospheric and haunted landscapes, M R James. The drab suburban topography of Menham comes alive with all manner of dark interventions; we jump as a wayward tree branch scrapes like a dead hand across a gazebo roof; we recoil in fear as a white muslin curtain forms itself into something unspeakable; dead things scuttle and scrabble about in dark corners while, in our peripheral vision, shapes form themselves into dreadful spectres. When we turn our heads, however, there is nothing there but our own imagination.

Unleashed is terrific entertainment. Laws lays on the shocks thick and fast, but never loses sight of the fact that he is writing a well-plotted crime story. We certainly have victims but, in the end, we also have flesh and blood criminals. Unleashed is out now, and you can read a review of the first Matt Hunter novel, Purged, by clicking the blue link.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Coffeetown Press

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It’s unusual to devote a news update to one publisher, but since I received a lovely parcel all the way from America, it would be rude to do anything otherwise. Coffeetown Press has been publishing the finest fiction and nonfiction since 2005. They are based in Seattle, Washington. They publish memoirs, literary fiction, academic nonfiction, nonfiction, and literary mysteries. Coffeetown is an approved publisher with both International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

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Let The Dead Bury The Dead by David Carlson
Our All-American feature begins in the city of Detroit, once a powerhouse of car making – and amazing music – but now little more than a rotting skeleton. Crime-solving partnerships are two-a-penny, but the combination of a Detroit cop and a Greek Orthodox priest certainly explores virgin territory. This is the second of the Christopher Worthy/Father Fortis mystery series, and the pair combine their unique skillsets to track down the killer of a priest found brutally strangled before the altar of Detroit’s St. Cosmas Greek Orthodox Church
Out on 1st September

FredThe Nutting Girl by Fred de Vecca
New profiles for CriFi heroes are increasingly difficult to create, but how about a man who is a blind monk, a cop, a private detective, and a hard drinker? Allow me to introduce Frank Raven who, if you add ‘former’ to those descriptions, ticks all the boxes. We are a mere 700 miles from Detroit, in Shelburne Falls, a historic village in Franklin County, Massachusetts. The village (population 1,731) becomes a film set, and Raven takes a break from dancing and singing with the local Morris Dance group to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the film’s star, Juliana Velvet Norcross, aka VelCro.
Out now as a Kindle, but on 1st August in paperback.

rich_zahradnik-214x300Lights Out Summer by Rich Zahradnik
This is the fourth in a very popular series featuring New York cop Coleridge Taylor. In his latest adventure he is hunting – with the help of his PI girlfriend Samantha – none other than the notorious serial killer Son Of Sam. Set in the spring and steamy summer of 1977, this is not the first novel this year to include the catastrophic NYC power failure in July 1977. In No Middle Name, the collection of Jack Reacher short stories, The Big Man actually locks horns with David Berkowitz on the night when the lights went out.
Available on 1st October

Maggie2013Dadgummit by Maggie Toussaint 
Amateur sleuth Baxley Powell has a distinctive talent. She calls it ‘Dreamwalking’. This enables her to go to sleep, and to transcend, in her dreams, the constraints, secrets and conventions of mere mortals. In the fourth book of the Dreamwalker series, Powell tackles the mysterious death of a young man beside a north Georgia lake, but her efforts to find a solution in the spectral world are hindered at every turn by native Cherokee folk, who know a bit about folklore. Out now as a Kindle, but available on 1st August in paperback.

 

Contact Information:

Coffeetown Press
PO Box 70515
Seattle, WA 98127
info@coffeetownpress.com

COMPETITION … Win UNLEASHED by Peter Laws

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OUR LATEST COMPETITION PRIZE is an absolute rip-snorter. It’s the second novel in the Matt Hunter series by Peter Laws. Those who read the first tale, Purged (read our review) will have some idea what to expect, but for new readers, Matt Hunter is a former clergyman who, having had a Road To Damascus (but in reverse) now lectures in the sociology of religion and faith at a university.

UnleashedIn Unleashed, his scepticism is shaken by events at an otherwise unremarkable terraced house in South London where, several years ago, a troubled nine-year-old girl committed suicide in the midst of a troubling sequence of poltergeist phenomena.

Now, little Holly Wasson appears to lie uneasy – her mother and sister are convinced she is trying to reach them from beyond the grave. Matt Hunter is recruited by local police to make sense of the disturbing events, but even he is unsure if he is dealing with straightforward murder or something much darker.

YOU HAVE TWO WAYS TO ENTER THE PRIZE DRAW

(1) Simply email fullybooked2016@yahoo.com putting the word Unleashed in the subject box.

(2) Go to our Facebook page (click the blue link) and ‘like’ the post.

All entrants will have their names put in the proverbial hat, and a winner selected. The winner will be notified by email or Facebook personal message.

Competition closes 10.00pm GMT, Tuesday 25th July, 2017

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THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE …Between the covers

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Shelby Truman is a highly successful romantic novelist tapping out stories involving her heroine Patricia Harlow. After forty two novels, the public shows no sign of losing its appetite for the sultry Patricia and her ability to choose precisely the wrong kind of man for her peace of mind and blood pressure. It’s a grey Chicago morning, and Truman is taking a deep breath and trying type something – anything – which will trigger the latest episode of inflamed passions and yearning bodies, when she receives a piece of registered mail which her assistant, Billy, has just signed for. She is used to convincing her readers that Patricia’s heart has ‘missed a beat’, but now fiction becomes reality.

“The return address at the top of the envelope indicates that the sender is Robert Crane Esq. of Limite, Texas. I know the name. Eddie’s attorney. A twinge of anxiety starts deep in my chest. I’d been trying not to think about Eddie, but that’s impossible this week.

The thing is, I’ve always thought about Eddie. We go way, way back, to when we were children living in Limite.”

Chicory LaneEddie is Eddie Newcott, the boy who used to live across the street in Chicory Lane, Limite. The boy who was just a bit different from all the other kids at school. The kid whose dad was a rough and abusive oilfield mechanic. The kid whose mom turned to the bottle to escape her violent husband and the beatings he handed out to their only child. But that was then. Now sees Eddie fallen on hard times. Times so hard that he achieved brief notoriety in the tabloid press, and has now been sentenced to death by lethal injection for murdering his pregnant girlfriend, slashing her open, dragging the foetus out and then arranging the two corpses on his front lawn, posed in an obscene mockery of a Nativity tableau. And it was Christmas Eve.

“EVIL EDDIE…” …”SATANIST IN GRUESOME RITUAL..” … ‘SUSPECT CLAIMS TO BE THE DEVIL …”

With these headlines dancing before her eyes, Truman reads that all efforts to appeal for clemency on the grounds of insanity have failed, and that Eddie Newcott will die in four days time. As one of his last requests, the condemned man has asked for a visit from Shelby Truman.

What follows is a wonderfully written and heartbreaking account of the bond between Eddie and Shelby. It is as good a coming-of-age novel as I have read for many a year, but Benson’s skill as a storyteller doesn’t stop there. He delivers the poignancy and unbearable sensitivity of first love and sexual awakening. His account of how children escape from the shackles slapped on by their parents is masterly. Sometimes these shackles are forged from too much love, while with other children, the shackles are tempered in the fires of cruelty and hatred. There is also a very clever murder mystery, which isn’t resolved until the last few pages, and then the resolution brings only heartbreak.

I am never entirely sure what a ‘literary novel’ is, but if it consists of elegant writing, a fine ear for dialogue and a gimlet eye for the painful inconsistencies of human behaviour, then The Secrets On Chicory Lane ticks that box too.

RaymondBensonLike Shelby Truman, Raymond Benson (right) is a highly successful writer. He has written thrillers under his own name, most notably his Black Stiletto Saga, and has also written novels based on video games. He has taken up the baton from authors who are no longer with us, like Tom Clancy, and has written several James Bond stories which have either been based on established screenplays – like Die Another Day – or standalone original stories such as The Man With The Red Tattoo.

The Secrets On Chicory Lane is published by Skyhorse Publishing, and is available for pre-order.

SOHO DEAD … Between the covers

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Kenny Gabriel is a street-smart, wise-cracking and self-mocking PI. Given another accent, he could be cruising the neon-lit strip malls of 1950s Los Angeles. But his accent, his gags, his mixture of despair and optimism, all have ‘London’ stamped through them like a pink and sickly stick of seaside rock. Gabriel, had he been on the official side of law and order, would have been retired by now, with an enviable pension, a fond reputation down at the local ‘nick’, and plenty of potential back-handers for his advice on corporate security.

But Mr G is all but penniless. His fifty seven years on this fair planet have produced only a tenuous tenancy on a shabby flat in Soho, and a badly paid job chasing down people who have reneged on a hire car contract, or swindled their partner out of the mortgage on their dispiriting semi-detached house in some grim London suburb.

Soho DeadSo, when Gabriel answers the door bell one day only to behold the wedge-shaped and granite faced personage of Farrelly – chauffeur, enforcer and general gofer for Frank Parr – he is led, like a naughty boy tweaked by his ear, to Parr’s sumptious office building. To say that Parr – now a respectable media mogul – has something of a history, is rather like saying that Vlad The Impaler was someone of interest to Amnesty International. Parr made his money – loads of it, and of the distinctly dirty variety – by publishing magazines which were not so much Top Shelf as stacked in the stratosphere miles above the earth’s surface.

Parr has a job for Gabriel. Harriet ‘Harry’ Parr – daughter of the boss and senior executive of Griffin Media – has disappeared, and her father wants her found. Gabriel has that unfortunate knack, common with fictional PIs, of finding dead bodies. Not only that, he uncovers a veritable rats’ nest of corruption, violent cynicism and corporate greed.

There’s a definite seam of Raymond Chandler running through Soho Dead. Saying that is neither inappropriate flattery nor damnation by faint praise. The plot has the onion skin quality of the great man’s best books, as layer after layer gets peeled back as we get drawn closer to the heart of things. Gabriel’s wisecracks are not as good as Philip Marlowe’s, but then neither are those of any fictional PI since those glorious days. When Gabriel blags his way into a sex club and is then brought face to face with its lady proprietor, it had me thinking of Marlowe’s legendary encounter with General Sternwood in The Big Sleep.

“The woman in the armchair had too much bone structure and not enough skin. Her short hair was grey, but she had young eyes. Time, and whatever had ravaged her face, had spared them, a pair of emeralds pushed into a parchment skull.”

Gabriel is terminally weary, but he forces himself forward as he runs the gauntlet of blows from men and women who are more powerful and less honorable than he is. In the end, he survives, but ever diminished by the deeds of those who share his stage. All that remains are memories and phantoms.

Greg Keen“For a while, I wandered the streets of Soho, as I had on the day I’d first visited forty years ago. Doorways whispered to me and ghosts looked down from high windows.”

This is a brilliant start to what I anticipate will be a highly regarded series. Soho Ghosts is due out in 2018, but in the meantime, trust me when I say that Greg Keen (right) drags the tarpaulin off one of the oldest established crime fiction genres, dusts it down, gives it a thorough service, polish and tune-up – and delivers something that not only gleams, but purrs with power and authenticity. Greg Keen’s website is here.

DEADLY DANCE … Between the covers

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Detective Inspector David Vogel, of Avon and Somerset Police, cuts a rather different dash from many of his fellow fictional DIs. He is a tall, bespectacled and slightly shambling figure, teetotal and resolutely vegetarian. His only leisure pursuit is assembling crossword puzzles. Formerly with the Metropolitan Police in London, he, wife Mary and daughter Rosamund had moved from their Pimlico flat out to the suburbs of Bristol to an unassuming bungalow which had an unusual attraction – its own swimming pool. Rosamund has cerebral palsy, and we are told:

“She was a happy and intelligent girl, trapped within a body that consistently failed her, except when she was in water………the water gave her freedom. In water, her body was no longer an encumbrance.”

Deadly DanceWhen the battered body of teenager Melanie Cooke is found amid the garbage bins in a seedy Bristol alleyway, it is obvious that she has been murdered. Only fourteen, she is dressed in the kind of clothes which would be considered provocative on a woman twice her age. Vogel goes to make the dreaded ‘death call’, but he only has to appear on the doorstep of the girl’s home for her mother and father to sense the worst. Like many rebellious teenagers before her, Melanie has told her parents that she is going round to a mate’s house to do some homework. When she failed to come home, their first ‘phone call confirmed Melanie’s lie, and thereafter, the long dark hours of the night are spent in increasing anxiety and then terror, as they realise that something awful has happened.

Hilary BonnerThe book actually starts with a prologue which at first glance appears to be nothing to do with Melanie’s death. It is only later – much later – that we learn its true significance. Bonner (right) is determined not to give us a straightforward narrative. The progress of Vogel’s attempts to find Melanie’s killer are sandwiched between accounts from three different men, each of whom is living a life where all is not as it seems.

Saul is socially inept and has reached early middle age without achieving his ambition to become a caring husband and father. His first attempt at marriage had been a disaster, and subsequent efforts to find a life partner have been impeded by his inner sense that his mind harbours demons over which he has little or no control should they choose to wake within him. He settles for internet dating, and heads up his CV as follows:

“My name is Saul and I am a 33 year-old supply teacher. I live in a village near Swindon and I would like to meet a young woman of around my age whose intentions are as serious as mine….. my interests are simple and quiet. I like to read and go to the cinema. If you are out there, please get in touch. I need you.”

Leo is a very different kind of fellow. He spends his leisure time cruising gay bars and clubs in London. He clearly has some kind of day job where ‘coming out’ is not an option. He cultivates the blokeish image when at work, but when he goes to London he adopts a different persona, but one with which he is not entirely at ease.

“I didn’t have the slightest desire to be gay. I didn’t even like the word. I’ve never liked euphemisms and that’s surely what ‘gay’ is. When you called yourself a homosexual it didn’t sound quite so modern and attractive. And what about queer? Is that what I was, queer?

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Leo’s misgivings are put to one side, however, when he goes on the prowl. Just as he puts on the skinny Levis, gels his hair, squeezes into a black T shirt that reveals his six-pack and insouciantly slings his studded leather jacket over his shoulder, Leo adopts a different mental mindset from his ‘one of the lads’ image.

While Bonner might coax a sliver of sympathy from us as we read of the personal lives of Saul and Leo, when Al introduces himself it is abundantly clear from the start that he is a wrong ‘un.

“They get what they deserve, these young girls in their skimpy skirts and the little shorts they call hot pants. They’re hot all right. Everything about them is hot. Burning hot.”

Al cruises around the streets of Bristol, usually in a stolen van, ogling schoolgirls, and occasionally trying to bring his sordid fantasies to reality, but without success. Until he discovers a teen dating site on the internet, and he is amazed at the ease with which he can construct a fake profile and attract the attention of a teenage girl whose hormones are racing in the opposite direction to the concerns and limitations her parents seek to impose.

Deadly Dance works very effectively as a police procedural. Vogel is an interesting character, very much left field of his fictional contemporaries, and I anticipate that he will have a long and successful career between the covers of British crime novels. Bonner’s solution to the apparent dislocation between Vogel’s investigation and the lives of Saul, Leo and Al is audacious. To reveal any more would be to give the game away, and no-one will thank me for that. Does it work? I think it does, but you must be the judge. Deadly Dance will be published by Severn House next month, August 2017.

 

 

 

 

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