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January 2018

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Three keepers!

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MOST BOOK REVIEWERS do not have the space to keep all the books they read and review. I’m no exception, despite living in a five bedroom property bought to house a missus and four sons. The four sons have now grown up and gone, but Mrs P is, happily, still in residence. Friends, giveaways and charity shops are the usual beneficiaries of the unwanted books, but there are some writers whose novels I will only be parted from after a brutal battle where I have, like John Cleese’s Black Knight, been dismembered. These books are usually dotted about throughout the year, and some only exist as a digital file on my Kindle, but to get three ‘keepers’ in one delivery is something special. Two of these writers could be called Elder Statesmen of the crime fiction world, but the third has established himself, in my eyes at least, after just one superb novel.

THE SMILING MAN by JOSEPH KNOX

KnoxI met Joseph Knox (left) at a publisher’s showcase event in London, where he presented his debut novel, Sirens. I was hooked after hearing him read the opening paragraphs, and my initial impression was confirmed when I read the novel, featuring a conflicted young Manchester police officer, Aidan Waits. Knox talked about his work and influences in this interview, but now Aidan Waits makes a very welcome return. Once again, the city of Manchester looms as a malign and dystopian presence in The Smiling Man. In the crumbling and echoing emptiness of a former hotel, Waits finds a corpse whose killers have been so determined to render him anonymous that his teeth and fingertips have been replaced. In death, his face has assumed the rictus of a fatal smile. You can find out if – and how –  Waits solves this crime on 8th March. The Smiling Man is published by Doubleday.

GREEKS BEARING GIFTS by PHILIP KERR

Philip KerrJust as George MacDonald Fraser had his magnificent bounder Harry Flashman working his way through all the major political and military events of the the second half of the 19th century, so Philip Kerr (right) has positioned his wearily honest – but cynical –  German cop Bernie Gunther in the 20th. We know Gunther fought in The Great War, but his service there is only, thus far, alluded to. We have seen him interact with most of the significant players in the decades spanning the rise of the Nazis through to their defeat and escape into post-war boltholes such as Argentina and Cuba. In the 13th book of this brilliant series, Gunther, joints creaking with advancing old age, is now working for an insurance company who want him to investigate a possible scam involving a sunken ship. His work takes him to Athens, where he discovers an unpleasantly familiar link to evil deeds committed under the baleful gaze of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. Some of Bernie Gunther’s earlier exploits are covered here, while you can get hold of his latest case on 3rd April, courtesy of Quercus.

THE GREAT DARKNESS by JIM KELLY

Crime fiction readers are addicted to character series, and who can blame writers for feeding the fire. It is a matter of record that some very successful novelists have come to hate their creations, and have killed them off and started anew. Not all are successful – witness a certain Edinburgh physician – but Jim Kelly (below) has done the deed once, and now he is brave enough to do it again. His Peter Shaw books have matched his Philip Dryden novels for ingenuity, sense of place and history, and beautiful writing, but now he begins a third series, stepping back in time to the early days of World War Two. He has kept faith with his East Anglian setting, but we have moved sixteen miles down the road from Dryden’s cathedral city of Ely, to Cambridge where, in The Great DarknessDetective Inspector Eden Brooke, struggling with the titular ban on night-time lights, discovers a gruesome killing o the banks of the gently flowing River Cam. The Great Darkness is published by Allison & Busby, and is out on 15th February. You can read more about Jim Kelly and his books here.

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NO JANUARY BLUES FOR SPAIN!

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DUBLIN AUTHOR JO SPAIN AND HER AGENT NICOLA BARR had very reason to be cheerful last Thursday evening, in the atmospheric surroundings of The Harrow, just off London’s Fleet Street. Spain’s breakaway psychological thriller, The Confession, has hit the ground running and is already heading the best-seller charts in Ireland.

The Confession moves away from the police procedural world inhabited by Spain’s Dublin copper Tom Reynolds, and into a different territory altogether. The Confession is a daring and bravura performance by one of our finest writers. We know within the first few pages who did it (the bludgeoning to death of a disgraced investment manager) but Spain spins a dazzling and complex web over the next 380 pages or so, as we try to work out why?

Follow the links below to read the Fully Booked take on The Confession, and also two cases for DI Tom Reynolds.

The Confession

Sleeping Beauties

Beneath The Surface

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SEPULTURA . . . Between the covers

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Is there anyone out there who is an admirer of Charles Pooter? For the uninitiated, Mr Pooter was the fictional author of the The Diary of A Nobody. It is set in 1890s London, and was actually written by George Grossmith and illustrated by his brother Weedon. Mr Pooter is totally ‘above himself’, full of his own self-importance, but regarded with ill-concealed mirth by those he believes to be beneath him. Mr Pooter is a character upon whom many later comedy characters – for example Anthony Aloysius Hancock and Basil Fawlty – are based.

SepulturaI must explain the apparent digression before you lose interest. Use your imagination. Conjure up a dreadful genetic experiment which breeds a being who, especially in his diarist’s style of first person narrative, shows very Pooteresque tendencies. But – and it is a ‘but’ the size of a third world country – the mad scientist has added Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter into the mixing bowl, and then seasoned it with an eye-watering pinch of Patrick Bateman. What do you get? You get Dyson Devereux, Head of Cemeteries and Burials with Paleham Council.

Dyson first burst into view in Portman’s novel Necropolis, rather like the nasty homunculus which disturbed John Hurt’s dinner in Alien. Like that creature, Dyson Devereux was implacable, cunning – and utterly malevolent. In Necropolis he went about his day job with an almost autistic attention to detail – while managing to commit several violent murders. He was smart enough to outwit the police, but has, wisely, decided to move from one council district to another.

Now in Paleham, he has sired a child, Horatio. He has fallen out, however, with Horatio’s mother Rakesha who, in turn, has taken up with a fairly revolting specimen (by Dyson’s very high standards) called Jeremiah. Most of the people in Dyson’s life who he dislikes – and like the biblical unclean spirit they are legion – are given disparaging nicknames, and Rakesha’s new love is called Free Lunch. Dyson’s colleagues within the bureaucratic hub of Paleham Borough Council include Inappropriate Short Skirt, Sullen Goth and, most despised of all,Ludicrous Tie (aka Bryan).

Improbably, Paleham is twinned with the Italian town of Rovito, and after their funzionari del consiglio comunale have paid a visit to their English counterparts, it is the turn of the Paleham officers to travel to Italy. Dyson, by the way, speaks fluent Italian. His linguistic talents are considerable. He is very concerned that Horatio’s nursery school doesn’t offer Latin, and so he is determined to teach the little chap himself. Before the Italian trip departs, however, Dyson has finally lost patience with Free Lunch and murdered him. He methodically dismembers the offending individual and disposes of the bits. Unfortunately for him, Free Lunch’s head breaks free from the stones which were meant to keep it at the bottom of the local canal, and after its discovery, Dyson becomes a person of interest to the local constabulary.

guyThe trip to Italy temporarily removes Dyson from the cross-hairs of the local police, and also the relatives of the late lamented Jeremiah, who are out for vengeance. What follows is brilliantly inventive, murderous and breathtakingly funny. Guy Portman doesn’t reveal too much about himself, even on his website, but he must, at some point, have worked in some kind of public services environment. All the devils are here – the pomposity, the endless Powerpoint presentations (complete with printout), the daily genuflection at the the altar of Health and Safety, the woeful political correctness, the corruption of the English language, the cheap suits and – for ever and ever amen – the second-rate minds doing second-rate jobs.

I don’t often issue health warnings, but if you are easily offended and believe that some things should never be satirised, then don’t go near Sepultra. If on the other hand, you think, “what the hell, one dance with the Devil won’t hurt..” or if you love brilliant writing and vengeful black humour that up-ends modern society and kicks it in the head – then Sepultura should be the next book on your bedside table. It is out now, and published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . And how!

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Robert_Goddard_author_photographI became a firm fan of Robert Goddard (left) after reading and reviewing his excellent Maxted trilogy, set in the turbulent days after The Great War. The best novelists are, in a way, both gamblers and alchemists. They are never afraid to try something different, to alter the formula, to ‘go for it’ with a fresh set of characters or, in extreme cases like Graham Hurley’s Joe Faraday, kill off the golden goose and incubate a new brood. Due out on 22 March, Goddard’s Panic Room draws us away from the post-Versailles world of James Maxted, and positions us firmly in the modern era. Part political thriller, part psychological drama and part social nightmare, Panic Room deals with the trauma of a young woman escaping those who would do her harm. She takes refuge in a huge empty villa, perched on a wind-buffeted Cornish cliff top. It is vast, and its array of unexplored rooms contains that most modern of social constructs – a panic room. Can Blake find it, and will it be secure enough to save her life?

ParkerRobert Parker is one of CriFi’s ‘bright young things’. His debut novel, A Wanted Man was published in 2017, but hard on the heels of that tale of a released prisoner seeking revenge on his enemies in the violent criminal hinterland of Manchester, he returns with Crook’s Hollow. Who knew that there was a CriFi genre called Country Noir? Not me, but the ‘Country’ in this case is not pedal steel guitars, yee-haw, banjos and frilled shirts, but the rough and ready hardscrabble rural landscape of north west England. The isolated village of Crook’s Hollow is not Ambridge, and readers hoping for an everyday tale of country folk should look away now. The Loxley family, with their extensive farms, have exerted an almost feudal influence over the valley for generations. But now their hegemony is being challenged by rapacious property developers, hired muscle and – above all – another local family whose grudges go back a century or more, and will only be expiated in blood. Crook’s Hollow is out at the end of March.

McDermid-Val-author-photo_credit-Alan-McCredie-crop-318x318Some modern writers are so popular, so much read and so far down the road to becoming national treasures, that it almost seems like an affront to their status for (adopting Uriah Heep-like crouch and wringing hands) ‘umble reviewers to voice an opinion. Kirkcaldy’s First lady, Val McDermid, (left) is one such daunting figure. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Ms M, but she comes over on social media as being good- natured, endlessly patient and courteous to a fault. It goes without saying that she is a bloody fine writer and there can be few modern CriFi partnerships to match that of DCI Carol Jordan and Tony Hill. Now, heaven be praised, they return in paperback. Insidious Intent came out in Kindle and hardcover in summer 2017, but if you can hang on until the last week in February, you can get your paws on a paperback edition. Carol and Tony have to solve a macabre mystery; what is the true story behind the burned body found in a torched car on a remote country road?

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THE INNOCENT WIFE . . . between the covers

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Samantha is a schoolteacher, and to say that she is unhappy in her work would be an understatement. As she presides over a violent and potentially criminal separation from her wimpish boyfriend, she is hooked into a social media storm centred on the imminent execution of Dennis Danson, a Florida man who has been accused, tried and convicted of the murder of a teenage girl. Danson has a fervent and vocal set of social-media followers. There is only circumstantial evidence to connect him to the killing, yet the court has pronounced him guilty, and so he resides in that most gruesome of thoroughfares, Death Row

Samantha kicks into touch her recent romantic travails, and begins an online relationship with the condemned man. Dennis writes back to her, and senses that Sam is not just another execution groupie with a bizarre fascination for a notorious criminal. Sam decides that her future is inextricably entwined with that of Dennis, and she uses a recent bequest to finance a trip to the USA. Breathless and uncertain, she finally meets the man of her dreams, albeit on the wrong side of a protective screen at Altoona Prison. Sam and Dennis officially become man and wife, in a cruel parody of the normal wedding ceremony

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AmyAmy Lloyd (right) makes sure that fans of Southern Noir who enjoy a tumbledown and gothicky old house in the Florida badlands are not disappointed. If you enjoy the odd sinister Sheriff, townsfolk who don’t hold grudges for much more than eighty years, and mentally disturbed teenagers in the body of a forty year-old man, you will not come away empty handed. But The Innocent Wife is much more subtle. As we follow the tortuous marriage of Sam and Dennis, we are reminded of the shocking consequences of ill-advised relationships forged on the flimsy anvil of whichever social media platform is currently in vogue. A chilling wind of truth blows through the narrative as we realise that the inch-thick perspex that separates prisoners from their visitors is a compelling metaphor for the separation which exists between people who only communicate via Facebook or Instagram.

One of the most obvious paradoxes about reading psychological crime thrillers is that we come to expect the unexpected. It becomes less a matter of a surprise twist being a possibility, but more trying to work out who or what is going to provide the statutory jolt, and when it will occur. In The Innocent Wife it is a given that Sam will come to regret falling for Dennis Danson. Or will she? The final pages are exquisitely subtle and – even if this sounds like one of the more bizarre utterances of George W Bush – Amy Lloyd doesn’t give us quite the surprise that we were expecting.

The Innocent Wife is out now in Kindle and hardback. The paperback edition will be available in summer.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Hall & Parsons

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OUR KIND OF CRUELTY by Araminta Hall

AramintaI had the pleasure of meeting Araminta Hall (left) recently at a publisher’s ‘do’ and so I was doubly delighted when a copy of Our Kind of Cruelty arrived at Fully Booked Towers. It is due to be published later this year, and it concerns a couple, Mike and Verity, whose relationship features a deadly game called the Crave. Mike describes the rules:

“The rules of the Crave were very simple. V and I went to a nightclub in a pre-determined place a good way from where we lived, but entered separately. We made our way to the bar and stood far enough apart to seem that we weren’t together, but close enough that I could always keep her in vision.”

Verity basically makes herself very visible, catching the eyes of any lone male who might be interested, and then drawing him into her web with her stunning looks and overt sexuality. Then, the game kicks in:

“We have a signal: as soon as she raises her hand and pulls on the silver eagle she always wears around her neck I must act. In those dark throbbing rooms I would push through the mass of people, pulling at the useless man drooling over her, and ask him what he was doing talking to my girlfriend.”

When the relationship eventually sours, and Verity needs to move, she finds to her cost that the perverse twist in her relationship with Mike cannot be simply cast off like an unwanted piece of clothing.

Sounds a cracker, doesn’t it? The bad news is that you will have to wait until May to get your hands on a copy, but I can guarantee it will be worth the wait.

GIRL ON FIRE by Tony Parsons

Tony PI may as well continue the shameless name dropping and say that I was lucky enough to meet Tony Parsons (right) too, at the same Cornerstone  event where I met Araminta Hall. He was full of fascinating background information about the mysterious and hidden world beneath The Old Bailey in London – the setting for an earlier DC Max Wolfe novel, The Hanging Club. Now, Max Wolfe returns with another London based case, but this time the stakes have ratcheted even higher. There is a very heated argument playing out on social media just now about what kind of city London has become, with acid attacks, knifings and terror threats becoming – some would say – commonplace. As topical as you like, Girl On Fire has terrorists using a drone to bring down an aircraft on a crowded London shopping centre, and in the ensuing chaos, Max Wolfe finds himself in clear and present danger. The book is due out in March, but I am going to pull rank and read my copy in the next few days. Why? Four words sum up Mr Parsons – top books, top bloke.

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PRIZE DRAW … Win the new DI Tony McLean novel by James Oswald

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OUR LATEST COMPETITION has a mouth-watering prize – a mint hardback copy of The Gathering Dark, by James Oswald. The author has found time away from his life as a farmer to write the most compelling novel yet in his series featuring DI Tony McLean. McLean has a complex personal life and is blessed – or afflicted, depending on your view – with a sixth sense which reminds us of Hamlet’s famous line:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. “

Just click the link to read the Fully Booked review of The Gathering Dark – you will find that the novel, as befits the title, is certainly the darkest and most disturbing of this excellent series.

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Look For Me . . . Between the covers

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Boston Police Department dates back to 1893 and has employed many brave and distinguished real-life officers, but the Queen of fictional Boston cops is surely the redoubtable DD Warren. Author Lisa Gardner first introduced her in the 2005 novel Hide, which was later adapted as a Ted Turner made-for-TV movie of the same name. The episodes in Sergeant Warren’s career now run into double figures, and now she returns in Look For Me – aided and abetted by none other than Flora Dane, who featured in Find Her (2016). Flora is a victim turned avenger. Kidnapped and tortured for 472 days by the sadistic Jacob Ness, she emerged from the horror of her captivity and has now focused her energies on extracting violent revenge on men who abuse women.

Look For MeWe are taken to an autumnal Boston. Initially, Warren has nothing more on her mind than the consequences of giving in to the demands of her young son that they should adopt a dog. Her domestic reverie is rudely and violently interrupted when she is called to a house in the Brighton district of the city, where she is confronted by a scene of carnage. Householder Charlie Boyd is sitting on his sofa, as dead as a doornail. His girlfriend Juanita Baez is in the kitchen, shot as she was taking something from the cupboard. In the bedroom, even worse horrors await. Lola and Manny Baez, two of Juanita’s children, are clasped in a protective embrace, but just as dead as the adults.

Warren is faced with an immediate question. Where is Roxanne, Juanita’s elder daughter, and where are the elderly dogs which were a vital part of thr Baez family? The missing Roxanne has recently joined a social media group, founded by Flora Dane, which aims to provide solace, advice – and suggestions for pay-back – for female victims of male violence. Thus, Flora and DD are reunited in an uneasy alliance. Their task? To find the elusive Roxanne and determine if she is responsible for the gunning down of her immediate family.

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The story plays out with three narrators. Flora Dane speaks for herself, as does Roxanne, via a series of school essays on the subject of The Perfect Family. The actions of DD Warren and her colleagues on the BPD are reported in third-person observation. Lisa Gardner is nothing if not a consummate storyteller, and she paces out the action in classic funnel-fashion. Everything – action, timelines and discoveries – narrows down to the point when the killer is revealed.

As Warren and Dane pursue their parallel investigations, we become a fly-on-the-wall of a perfectly horrendous foster home, presided over by a grotesque woman whose only concern is to make sure that her outgoings – food, heat, lighting, clothes – are well below what the state of Massachusetts pays her to look after an ever-changing roll call of damaged children.

In the meantime, however, we have a masterclass in how to blend a police procedural with a domestic Noir thriller. The main characters – DD Warren and Flora Dane – are convincing and authentic. Above all, Lisa Gardner makes them enough to compel us to care about what they think and what happens to them. If, as a crime writer, you can do this, then the battle is won.

Lisa Gardner’s website is here

Check buying options for Look For Me here

BRILLIANT NEWS … Dyson Devereux returns!

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It’s not often that an item of book news from Fully Booked Towers comes with a warning, but this one definitely does. Back in 2014, I read and reviewed a startling tale centred around a young man called Dyson Devereux who is Head of Burials and Cemeteries for the local council of a fictional town in Essex. Necropolis is one of the funniest – and most disturbing books – I have ever read. The warning? Please don’t go near Necropolis – or its successor, Sepultura – if you are a sensitive soul whose idea of risqué humour is a re-run of Dad’s Army. Dyson Devereux’s creator is Guy Portman, and he writes – excuse the pun – graveyard humour of the blackest sort. You will find yourself in Catch 22 territory, where no socially-aware virtue goes un-targeted.

NecropolisNecropolis has a surreal plot involving, amongst other characters, an African drug dealer, a fugitive from the genocide of the 1990s Balkan wars – now working as a gravedigger – and a sadly deceased local resident for whom the undertakers have abandoned any pretence of good taste:

A hearse pulled by two horses is approaching. The horses’ coats have been sprinkled with glitter, and their manes dyed pink. They look like colossal My Little Ponies,”

SepulturaAfter a pause of three years, Dyson Devereux returns in Sepultura, to be published on 11th January. I have yet to get my hands on a copy, but it seems that Dyson has both a new job and a new son, but his cold rage and venomous disgust at his work colleagues and the world in general appears not to have abated one little bit. I can only guarantee that there will be death, cruelty, abrasive satire – and brilliant writing.

 

 

 

 

Guy Portman’s web page is here

Check out Necropolis and Sepultura here.

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