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July 2019

THE BEAR PIT . . . Between the covers

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Political disagreement in modern mainland Britain is largely non-violent, with the dishonorable exceptions of Islamic extremists and – further back – Irish Republican terror. For sure, tempers fray, abuse is hurled and fists are shaken. Just occasionally an egg, or maybe a milkshake, is thrown. You mightn’t think it, given the paroxysms of fury displayed on social media, but sticks and stones are rarely seen. Scottish writer SG MacLean in her series featuring the Cromwellian enforcer Damian Seeker reminds us that we have a violent history.

The Bear PitIn the last of England’s civil wars, forces opposed to King Charles 1st and his belief in the divine right of kings have won the day. 1656. Charles has been dead these seven years and his son, another Charles, has escaped by the skin of his teeth after an abortive military campaign in 1651. He has been given sanctuary ‘across the water’, but his agents still believe they can stir up the population against his father’s nemesis – Oliver Cromwell, The Lord Protector.

In London, Damian Seeker is a formidable foe to those who yearn for the return of the monarchy. He is physically intimidating, has a fearsome reputation for violence but, like many more modern heroes, Seeker has a fragile personal life. To put Seeker into a modern fictional context, he is Jack Reacher and Harry Callaghan in breeches, stockings and with leather gauntlets on his hands. He has a primed and cocked flintlock pistol by his side, but doesn’t trust modern technology. His weapons of choice are his own fists and a brutal medieval mace.

The story begins with the chance discovery of a mutilated corpse in an outhouse south of the river, in Lambeth – the seventeenth century version of 1970s Soho. The dead man was chained and appears to have been savaged by a dog, except that dogs don’t have five razor sharp claws on each paw. Seeker has to accept the impossible truth. The man has been mauled by a bear. But hasn’t bear-baiting been banned, and haven’t the remaining beasts been removed and killed? Like other practices banned by the zealous moral guardians of Cromwell’s government, bear-baiting and dog-fighting have simply – to use a totally anachronistic metaphor – slipped beneath the radar.

While Seeker searches for his bear, he has another major task on his hands. A group of what we now call terrorists is in London, and they mean to cut off the very head of what they view as England’s Hydra by assassinating Oliver Cromwell himself. Rather like Clint Eastwood in In The Line of Fire and Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, Seeker has one job, and that is to ensure that the No.1 client remains secure. Of course, history MacLeantells us that Seeker succeeds, but along the way SG MacLean (right) makes sure we have a bumpy ride through the mixture of squalor and magnificence that is 17th century London.

McLean’s research is impeccable. She provides us with a clutch of recognisable real-life characters, and even the desperadoes who do their best to kill Cromwell are actual historical figures. She allows herself the luxury of a little what-iffery with the identity of the mysterious Boyes, ringleader of the plot, but this is all great fun and you would have to be a dull old thing not to be carried along with this excellent historical adventure.

The Bear Pit is published by Quercus and is out now. The Fully Booked review of the precious Damien Seeker novel, The Black Friar, is here.

Characters

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Anderson, Davies, Leavers, McDermid & Scragg

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No, it’s not the  headed notepaper of a firm of dodgy solicitors, but the names of five authors whose latest books have been brought to FullyBooked Towers just in time for the holidays. OK, I’m only kidding, I’m always on holiday, but the books look pretty special.

TIME FOR THE DEAD by Lin Anderson

LAIs Tartan Noir a thing? Publicists say it is, so let’s go along with it for now. The investigations of forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod have proved hugely popular since her debut in 2003 with Driftnet, and now she returns for hr fifteenth outing in Time For The Dead. Readers and publishers obviously love a title which contains the ‘D’ word, and this is the seventh title in a row for Ms MacLeod which  taps into this. Although Anderson was born in Greenock and now lives in Edinburgh, she loves the rugged possibilities of Scotland’s wilder places. On the Isle of Skye, it seems as though a group of army Afghanistan veterans may have gone rogue in the dark shadow of The Cuillin. A series of brutal killings – and the vanished army unit – make for Rhona’s most challenging case yet. Time For The Dead is published by Macmillan and  will be on sale from 8th August.

THE BIG HOUSE by Larche Davies

TBHLarche Davies lives in Cardiff and is a former journalist and lawyer who specialised in covering the dark deeds of corporate law. She wrote The Father’s House in 2015, and this is the sequel. Perhaps the dangerous world of quasi-religious personality-led cults was more of a 1970s thing, but Davies brings it to horrific life here. A group of teenagers have been rescued from a murderous organisation led by someone called The Magnifico. While the criminal case unfolds, they are sent away on a virtual witness protection scheme, where they are to stay in an ostensibly mundane home in Wales, where they will be looked after by a foster mother. They soon learn, however, that ‘far away’ does not equal ‘safe’ and they are forced to live on their wits to stay beyond the reach of The Magnifico’s agents. Available now, The Big House is published by Troubador.

APPETITE FOR RISK by Jack Leavers

JLNever forget that the ability to get pleasure from books is a tremendous gift. In the world of CriFi and thrillers some like nothing better than a gritty police procedural which could be happening right on their doorstep, while others yearn for something which takes them away from the daily grind into a world which they can only imagine. Jack Leavers does just that in his tale of a former Royal Marine who has found that his particular skill-set is not much in demand at home. Instead, he goes back to the blood-soaked sands of Iraq and becomes involved in a fight to the death. This is nothing new to the battle-hardened John Pierce, but his world is turned on its head when he realises exactly who his enemies are. If you fancy this, you only have a day to wait as Book Guild Publishing will be putting it on sale on 28th July.

HOW THE DEAD SPEAK by Val McDermid

ValI hope we don’t take Val McDermid for granted. She has millions of fans worldwide and has the gift of writing novel after novel, each one of which unfailingly hits the spot. This may be genius, but it’s also the result of bloody hard work and a refusal to accept second best. Like many other readers, I first came to her work via the edgy and distinctly discordant partnership of Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. Both are damaged, and both need something  more than each other, but together they make a compelling CriFi partnership. This is the eleventh in the series, and begins when human remains are found in the grounds of a former convent.  Apologies in advance to devout Catholics, but for me, Convents are always deeply sinister places, even without dead bodies. In order to find the truth about what appears to be a vile series of murders, Hill and Jordan are left with no alternative but to interrogate and give voice to the dead themselves. This will be available from the usual places on 22nd August and is published by Macmillan.

NOTHING ELSE REMAINS by Robert Scragg

RS copyScragg’s debut novel What Falls Beneath The Cracks introduced us to Detective Inspector Jake Porter and Sergeant Nick Styles. You can click on this link to read the review of that novel, but the pair return in Nothing Else Remains. Max Brennan’s estranged father and then his own girlfriend go missing in quick succession, so Brennan turns to his old friend Detective Jake Porter for help. When Max is then attacked in his own home and the prime suspect in the case is found dead Porter and Styles, each with his own set of personal demons to fight, have their backs up against the wall.You can get your hands on a copy of this novel, published by Allison & Busby now.

 

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CHILD’S PLAY . . . Between the covers

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The man whoI’m new to the Angela Marsons Kim Stone series, which is good a cue as any to adapt a cartoon by one of my favourite illustrators, HM Bateman. It is clear that the Kim Stone novels, which began in 2015 with Silent Scream are hugely popular and although her millions of existing readers will not give a hoot what I think, I can now see why.

The author hails from the Black Country, that wildly unfashionable area west of Birmingham, which takes its name from the prodigious amounts of soot generated by its heavy industries in times past. Geographically it includes parts of Staffordshire and Worcestershire. Beyond place names, Marsons doesn’t make the region a dominant character in Child’s Play, at least not in the same way that, say Chris Nickson uses Leeds or Phil Rickman uses the Welsh Marches.

Kim Stone, like the great majority of popular fictional British police officers, has issues. Marsons is too good a writer to include Stone’s complete biography, but we learn that she had a wretched childhood. In both fiction and real life I am never really sure about people who relate better to dogs than they do to fellow humans, but such folk exist in both spheres. Kim Stone is one such, but her general misanthropy probably makes her a better copper. She is a fascinating and complex character who is at home the random chaos of modern life, perhaps because she can escape, maybe from herself:

“She drew comfort from the familarity of town noise, even the late-night noise of occasional sirens, doors slamming, loud music through open windows, drunks singing on the way home from the pub, wives giving them what for once they got there.”

CP coverUnsurprisingly, her chosen mode of transport is a powerful Kawasaki motorbike, the ultimate solo kick where all that exists is the rushing road, the wind and the scream of the engine:

“Her only interest in the countryside was tearing through it on the Ninja to blow the cobwebs from her mind.”

Child’s Play begins with the bizarre and apparently motiveless murder of a woman in her sixties. Belinda Evans is found in a children’s playground, bound to a swing with strips of barbed wire. Belinda – and apologies to people who have never watched Coronation Street – is no Emily Nugent, however, as Stone’s team soon discover that the late woman had a taste for rough sex and bondage.

As the title suggests, there is a theme of childhood running through this intriguing police procedural. All kinds of childhoods. The ones where youngsters are sufficiently traumatised by events that they become mute and withdrawn, living in their own personal hell. The ones where parents seek to live out their own inadequacies through desperate and damaging over-encouragement of a child’s talent. Not just those screaming abuse at the world from the touchlines of a junior football game, but those who believe their children are gifted and talented above the norm, and push, push, push for more certificates, more acclaim and more vicarious satisfaction.

In a fascinating parallel story, one of Stone’s team, Penn, has to absent himself for the hunt for the killer of Belinda vans as he is a key witness in the trial of a man accused of killing a convenience store server. Minutes away from the jury retiring to deliver a nailed-on guilty verdict, the wife of the accused man changes her story and the prosecution case unravels at a frightening pace.

AMMarsons (left) takes us down and dirty into the visceral world of police work:

“It was the pungent, unholy smell that could only be compared to a room full of rotting meat with the added smell of faeces. It was an odour that could live in a house for years despite deep cleaning, and was unmistakeable as anything else other than a dead body.”

The drama finally plays out in the intense, other-worldly – and distinctly disturbing – world of a weekend event for Gifted and Talented children and their parents. Bryant, one of Stone’s team comes face to face with the scary world of youngsters who are on the Aspergers Autism spectrum:

“ ‘This seat taken, buddy?’ he asked a boy sitting alone with a book.
‘Taken where?’ he asked, peering over his reading glasses. ‘Do you mean occupied?’
‘I’m gonna take that as a no,’ he said, pulling the chair towards him.
The boy regarded him seriously and Bryant guessed him to be ten or eleven years old with fair hair and clear hazel eyes, enlarged by the thick spectacles.”
‘Is it appropriate for a middle-aged man to seek the company of an unattended child?’ the boy asked, seriously.”

Gripping, unusual and fast-paced, Child’s Play is, by turns, unsettling and cleverly plotted. It is published by Bookouture and is out now.

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ONE GOOD DEED . . . Between the covers

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Aloysius Archer has good cause to remember his parents for most things. Their decency, their love and their determination to do the best for him, certainly. For his Christian name, not so much. He finds that most folk can’t even pronounce it properly, so he is happiest with just Archer. This has not been a problem for the last few years, as residents of the State Penitentiary were not too precious about names. Put inside for a crime he didn’t commit, Archer has served his time, survived, and is out on parole. It is 1949, and he is on a bus heading for Poca City, a metropolis in name only. In reality, it is a parched and fly-blown settlement with a few bars, a handful of stores and diners – and a Probation Office.

Archer served his country with distinction in the war, fighting his way up the spine of Italy, watching his buddies die hard, and wondering about the ‘just cause’ that has trained him to shoot, throttle, stab and maim fellow human beings while, at the same time, preventing him from being at the deathbeds of both parents.

OGD coverWearing a cheap suit, regarded as trash by the local people, and with every cause to feel bitter, Archer checks into the Derby Hotel and contemplates the future. His immediate task is to check in with his Probation Officer, Ernestine Crabtree. Quietly impressed by her demeanour – and her physical charm – Archer goes, in spite of his parole restrictions, for a drink in a local bar, The Cat’s Meow

Propping up the bar is a middle-aged roué with a much younger woman on his arm. Hank Pittleman is clearly a big man in Poca City, and he offers Archer what appears to be a simple job – reclaim a fancy car that was held as collateral for a defaulted loan. The Cadillac is currently in the possession of Lucas Tuttle, another local man of property, but a man who seems to have fallen on hard times.

Archer accepts the job, takes an advance on the fee, and sets off on what seems to be a relatively straightforward mission. Truth be told, the Cadillac belongs to Pittleman and Tuttle has it. Archer is tough, capable of extreme violence, so what could be possibly go wrong? As Oscar Wilde wrote:

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Even before Lucas Tuttle answers the door to Archer’s knock by pointing a cocked Remington shotgun at his unwelcome visitor, Archer has learned that the floozie on Pittleman’s arm in the bar is none other than Jackie, Tuttle’s estranged daughter. Archer finds the coveted motor car hidden away on Tuttle’s ranch, but it has been deliberately torched. Cursing his involvement in this blood feud, Archer’s equilibrium and freedom both take a severe knock when Pittleman’s body is found in a bedroom just along the floor from Archer’s room in The Derby. Thrown into the cells as the obvious suspect, Archer is released when he meets up with Irving Shaw – a serious and competent detective – and convinces him of his innocence.

David BaldacciPretty much left on his own
to solve the case after a violent attempt to silence Jackie, Archer has to summon up very ounce of his military experience and his innate common sense to put himself beyond the reach of the hangman’s noose.

Implausible as it may sound, given the body count – stabbings, shootings, people devoured by hogs – One Good Deed is a wonderfully warm and feel-good kind of novel. Archer is a simple man; brave, thoughtful, compassionate, 99% honest and a convincing blend of frailty and decency. Baldacci (right) is such a skilled storyteller that the pages spin by, and anyone who loves a crime novel where goodness prevails would be mad to miss this. Mr B also gives us a rather unusual romance – for 1949, at least. One Good Deed is published by Macmillan and is available in all formats on 25th July.

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BETWEEN THE PAGES . . . The Unseen

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Lisa Towles is a California Girl by residence, but she hails from New England. She writes crime novels when she isn’t putting her IT Management MBA to good use in The Sunshine State’s tech industry. Long time followers of Fully Booked will recall my enthusiastic review of her earlier book Choke (2017) and will remember that I began that review with the words:

“Lisa Towles is over-cautious. Said no-one, ever.”

TU051She is back with a vengeance – and that same imaginative flair – with her new mystery thriller The Unseen and the action is just as breathless. We have a story that spans five decades and whirls us between Dublin, the Egyptian desert, Boston Massachusetts, London and Rome. With a cast of larger-than-life characters including archaeologists, journalists, hit men – and a direct descendant of an Eastern Orthodox Pope – the story is never short of surprises and dramatic twists.

The basic plot is that back in 1970, an archaeologist unearths a series of documents which, if they are authentic, could re-write the history of early Christianity. That archaeologist, Rachel Careski, disappears in mysterious circumstances, and the artifacts are believed to be in the safe keeping her brother, Soren. The story moves to 2010,  Soren Careski is long dead, and the secrets of the scrolls are assumed to have accompanied him to the grave.

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lisaWhat starts off in a rather Indiana Jones vein quickly morphs into Robert Langdon territory and there’s no shortage of rapidly-changing locations, sinister ancient manuscripts and malevolent religious freaks. Lisa Towles shows great skill in taking these well-visited elements and stamping her own imprint on them. The Unseen is published by 9mm Press and is out now.

 

Lisa Towles has a Facebook page, her own website, and can be found on Twitter as @bridgit66

BASED ON THE BOOK BY . . .

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Maurice Procter (1906 – 1973) was a well regarded crime writer who created a popular police procedural series based on the cases of Harry Martineau, a Manchester police officer. Many of Procter’s books are still in print and modern writers such as Nick Triplow (Frank’s Wild Years, Getting Carter:Ted Lewis and the Birth of Brit Noir) and Nick Oldham (The Henry Christie novels) regard him highly and cite him as an early influence.

Hell Is A City
was published in 1954 and was the first of the Harry Martineau series. Set in a Manchester disguised only by its name, Martineau goes head to head with a man he knew when they were both schoolboys, but he and Don Starling have little else in common. Starling, a violent career criminal has escaped from prison, fatally injuring a guard in the process, and stages a cash heist from a bookmaker in order to fund his plans for freedom. A girl cashier dies, and so Starling is now a double murderer and faces the hangman’s noose if caught.

The full history of Hammer Films
is far too complex for this feature, but suffice it to say the British company was founded in 1934, and is best known for – and synonymous with – its series of horror films in the 1950s and 60s. One of its best known directors was Val Guest, and it was he who brought Hell Is A City to the big screen in 1960.

DonaldThe cast, if not stellar by international standards, was solid, with key roles for Stanley Baker as Martineau, Donald Pleasance as the bookmaker Gus Hawkins, and Billie Whitelaw as Mrs Hawkins (left). Strangely, the key role of Don Starling was given to John Crawford, (below) a journeyman American actor whose stock in trade was tough guys and villains. His American accent is obvious throughout and, although he puts in a good performance, it stretches credibility to believe he is the same man who fought with Martineau in their school playground. Regarding the oddity of his accent, it has to be said that the rest of the cast went for Stage Northerner rather than attempt the distinctive Mancunian twang.

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Remember the opening titles
in the Police Squad/Naked Gun spoofs? The view from the driver’s seat as the squad car careens through the neon jungle on its way to the latest murder? This is precisely how Hell Is A City opens, complete with the sleazy night club jazz music. Clearly, viewers in the 1960s would not have sniggered as we might do today and, thankfully, the film itself doesn’t disappoint.

Moody monochrome is the order of the day. We might regard that as reverential, but it was probably just economics. There are some good Manchester locations for those older folks who can remember the city back then, and the moors to the east of the city, where Starling’s gang dumps the murdered bookie’s cashier are, of course, changeless. Incidentally, when a passing motorist discovers the girl’s body, I said to myself, “Surely, that looks like …..” And so it was – a drive on, drive off role for Warren Mitchell, well before his Alf Garnett heyday. (below)

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The film sticks pretty closely to the book in plot, dialogue and nuances. It is a tribute to Procter’s finely tuned ear for dialogue (he was himself a serving police officer for many years) that Val Guest’s screenplay and script remain faithful to the original. We meet Martineau’s neglected but rather prissy wife Julia (Maxine Audley) but whereas their relationship takes on a happier turn by the last pages of the novel, Val Guest leaves us wondering.

Martineau’s faithful dogsbody Deverey is rather smarter in the film than he is print, and his romance with the beautiful deaf mute Silver Steele is well-established in the book, whereas he meets her for the first time on screen. Silver’s encounter with the cornered Starling ends more happily on the screen than it does in the book.

As ever, with British films of this era, those with sharp eyes will spot a few faces who would go on to be familiar to television viewers, including a brief appearance by Doris Speed as a nurse, no doubt taking time away from her evening job of serving pints in The Rovers Return in Wetherfield.

A teaser for film buffs. There are two connections between this film and the cult Australian thriller Wake In Fright (1971). One is Donald Pleasence, but the other …. ? I have provided a pictorial clue (below)

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The film is, in short, excellent. It is available as a DVD, and if you want to read about the novel – also first class – then it just so happens that I can help …….

Hell Is A City by Maurice Procter

PAST TIMES – OLD CRIMES . . . Hell Is A City by Maurice Procter

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The name Maurice Procter is not one that is regularly bandied around at crime fiction festivals when the Great and The Good are discussing pioneering and innovative writers of the past. He is, just about, still in print thanks to the wonders of Kindle and specialist reprinters such as Murder Room. I’m reluctant to use the fatal words “in his day”, but Procter was a prolific and popular writer of crime novels between 1947 and 1969.

mp1Born in the Lancashire weaving town of Nelson, Procter (left) joined the police force in nearby Halifax in 1927 and remained a serving officer until the success of his novels enabled him to write full time. In 1954 he published the first of a fifteen book series of police procedurals featuring Detective Inspector Harry Martineau. Martineau is a detective in the city of Granchester. Replace the ‘Gr’ with “M’ and you have the actual location pegged.

Hell Is A City is a dark tale which pivots around the enmity between Martineau and a violent and resourceful criminal called Don Starling. Starling is as hard as nails and doesn’t shrink from brutality towards fellow men – or women. Starling is ‘doing time’ but acts like a reformed man in order to escape close prison supervision. Naturally, he seizes his moment and goes over the wall and on the run.

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Starling wastes no time in organising his next heist, and it is a daring cash grab. The victims are two hapless young clerks who work for city bookmaker Gus Hawkins. On their way to the bank with a satchel full of takings from Doncaster races, they are waylaid. Colin Lomax is coshed and left with a serious head injury but Cicely Wainwright fares even worse. Because the money bag is chained to her wrist, she is flung into the back of the getaway van and is killed by Starling as the gang make their escape over the moors to the east of the city. The bag is cut from Cicely’s wrist, and her body is dumped. Of course, this ups the stakes, much to the discomfort of Starling’s gang members, each of whom realises that they face the hangman’s noose if they are caught and convicted as accessories to murder. The hangman, by the way, is a well-known local resident:

“Clogger and Jakes turned their heads quickly, their smiles fading. They stared. Then Jakes pulled Starling’s knee aside and looked down at the girl’s face.
‘Cripes!,’ he said unhappily, “She’s croaked.’
Starling nodded. ‘Some time ago,’ he said.
‘You bloody fool,’ said Jakes, his voice rising with panic.
‘Hell fire!’ Clogger whispered, and he had indeed turned pale. ‘You didn’t have to do that, did you?’
Laurie Lovett was silent. He kept his eyes on the road as if nothing had happened. But a muscle of his jaw had started to twitch.
The same fear was upon them all. They were reminded of a man they knew by sight. He kept a pub in Hollinwood. The name of the pub was Help The Poor Struggler. The man’s name was Albert Pierrepoint.”

HIAC first edI was quickly hooked by this novel, for a variety of reasons. Anyone who has driven east out of Manchester in the direction of Sheffield (which makes a brief apparance as Hallam City) will recognise the changeless face of the moors, with their isolated pubs and gritstone houses clinging to the roadside. What has changed, however, is the view back towards Manchester. Where, in the early 1950s Martineau saw mill chimneys belching smoke, today we could probably, apart from the haze of vehicle emissions , see almost to the Irish Sea. We also know that Cicely Wainwright’s’s body would not be the last to be abandoned in the cottongrass, heather and bilberry of the Dark Peak.

CriFi buffs know that fictional Detective Inspectors are meant to have disfunctional personal lives. Few and far between are happy family men and women with faithful and understanding spouses who understand and compensate for the rigours of police work. Intriguingly, it is Martineau’s wife who is, at least initially, the guilty party. She is vain, socially over-conscious and, perhaps, sexually repressed.

“Julia Martineau was not unfaithful and it was impossible to suspect that she ever would be. She was only interested in fine clothes, social standing, attractive houses, and the affairs of her acquaintances. The connubial behaviour of other people (as a topic of scandalous conversation) was of more interest to her than her own or her husband’s. She was rarely aroused. The conjugal act was sometimes a duty, sometimes a favour to be granted, and always a ceremony which she allowed to be performed after it had been suitably prayed for. Lately, Martineau had ceased to pray.”

There are few happy marriages or standard relationships in Hell Is A City. Gus Hawkins has a young wife is a libidinous and money-grabbing charmer who has history with the dangerous Starling. Martineau’s driver and gofer, DC Devery, has a loving but precarious relationship with the beautiful Silver, who is a deaf mute. By the by, your Starter For Ten: which legendary fictional policeman is married to a beautiful deaf mute? No prizes, but that detective operates a long, long way from Manchester.

It would be pretentious and anachronistic to push this novel into the category box labelled Noir. That said, its low-key realism and unflinching depictions of the criminal class not only reflects Procter’s time with the police service but a reveal a gift for brevity and the essentials of story-telling which mark him out as a natural author, untaught but with an acute ear for dialogue and a genuine sense of the rough edges and frailties of human lives where unfulfilled aspirations nag away at happiness.

Murder Room do a budget-printed paperback of Hell Is A City, and second-hand editions are also available if you are prepared to splash the cash. The novel was made into a film, starring Stanley Baker as Martineau, and I will write about that in a later post.

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COME BACK FOR ME . . . Between the covers

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CBFMOn a tiny island off the Dorset coast of southern England, a little girl lives a dream childhood. Loving parents, the beauty of the sea and the sky, and the cloudless blue optimism of the young. But then, one terrible night, Stella Harvey’s idyll is shattered. On a September evening, with a violent storm lashing the tiny harbour of Evergreen Island, David Harvey ushers his family on board the ferry he runs for a living, and takes them away to the mainland. For ever.

“At eleven, I wasn’t prepared to accept our parents’ hurried reasons for leaving the island. I couldn’t believe that this was for good and I couldn’t understand one bit why they were dragging us away in the middle of a storm. ‘Will we come back?’ I whispered to my sister? Bonnie’s hand shook as it reached for mine under my mac. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t believe we ever will.’”

Years have flown by. Stella is now a consulting psychotherapist. Sister Bonnie is married with children. Their mother, Maria, is long dead, killed in a road accident. Father David, having left Maria for another woman, is now in the throes of dementia.

Stella’s equanimity is cruelly disturbed when she sees a TV news report that human remains have been discovered on Evergreen, but worse is to follow. The body a of a woman, long dead, has been found very close to her old home, and police have not ruled out foul play. Despite Bonnie’s advice to leave well alone, Stella is hypnotically drawn to unfolding events, and decides to return to her old home.

Inevitably, as night follows day, Stella’s arrival on Evergreen is not a joyful homecoming, and several skeletons come dancing and rattling their bones out of the cupboard to which time has consigned them. Firstly, Stella learns the tragic reason why her best friend and sworn blood-sister never replied to any of the letters she sent when the Harvey family began their new life on the mainland. Then, with the cruel perceptiveness of adulthood stripping away the illusions of youth, Stella looks on with horror as, first, the grisly remains are identified and personalised and then, second, questions from the past, smothered by time for so long, leap out into the present and demand answers.

HPWhen Stella’s long-since-estranged brother, Danny, is drawn into what has become a murder investigation, the novel takes a seriously dark turn as it examines the nature of truth, loyalty, memory and love itself. Heidi Perks (right) has written a novel which will entrance readers who like a good psychological thriller, and she leaves us with a sense of sadness, certainly, but also an affirmation that, in the words of St Paul:

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

As timeless as his remarks are, we should not let St Paul have the last word. Stella Harvey says:

“Yes, I decide, I can live with a lie, because the alternative is unbearable…And I’ll live with it hanging over me forever, because that’s the trouble with secrets. They never go away.”

Come Back For Me will be published by Cornerstone Digital as a Kindle on 1st June, and in hardback, by Century, on 11th July.

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KEEP YOU CLOSE . . . Between the covers

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Steph Maddox is something of an Alpha female. She has punched her way through the law enforcement glass ceiling during her training at the legendary Virginia military training base known as Quantico, and now she is a senior operative at the HQ of The Federal Bureau of Investigation which, as the organisation’s website tells us, helpfully, is:

“… located between 9th and 10th Streets in northwest Washington, D.C. The closest Metro subway stops are Federal Triangle on the Orange/Blue lines, Gallery Place/Chinatown and Metro Center on the Red line, and Archives/Navy Memorial on the Yellow and Green lines.”

The site goes on to offer a very individual kind of day out:

“The FBI Experience is a self-guided tour at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Open to the public, visits may be requested up to five months in advance of, but no later than four weeks prior to the desired visit date.”

KYC coverFor Agent Maddox, however, The FBI Experience is something other than a theme park visit. Gender equality has come at a price, and she is viewed with a certain degree of suspicion by many of her male colleagues, particularly as she is – and feel free to use the ‘woke’ description of your choice – a single mother, lone parent or head of a one-parent family. The blunt truth is that Steph has brought up Zachary largely on her own from day one. Not only that, but she has steadfastly refused to reveal the identity of his father.

Zachary is a walking embodiment of a male teenager. Monosyllabic, tech-savvy, frequently tongue-tied and often a recluse in his bedroom. As mums do, Steph is casually going through the things on his clothing shelves when her hand touches something which makes her recoil in horror. No, not a particularly nasty piece of unwashed personal attire, but the cold, brutal steel of a Glock 26 pistol – a compact version of her own official firearm.

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To say that Steph is now unsettled is a massive understatement. Choosing a rather more indirect route to confronting Zach about her discovery, she also learns that the boy is on the mailing list of a known terrorist organisation, the Freedom Solidarity Movement. Her anxiety deepens when Scott, a fellow agent and former boyfriend, reveals that Zachary is a person of interest.

karen-clevelandKaren Cleveland, to say the very least, knows of what she writes. She is a former CIA analyst herself, and her experience translates into a swiftly moving and convincing narrative. Steph Maddox is torn between fighting her son’s corner – he is innocent, surely? – and preventing a major terrorist assassination attempt. As in the real world of political and military intelligence gathering, nothing is what it seems, and no-one is above suspicion.

The tension of the plot is wound higher and higher until, like an over-stretched guitar string, you know it’s going to snap. When it does, the results are catastrophic for all concerned. Cleveland (right) , however, is not just a one-trick pony. Her account of Steph struggling to be a decent mother, despite the dramatic chaos of her professional life, is perceptive and moving. Keep You Close is published by Bantam Press and is out now.

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