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American crime fiction  Australian crime fiction.
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ish crime fiction  
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NEVER ASK THE DEAD . . . Between the covers

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This is the third in a compelling series featuring police officer Owen Sheen. He is Belfast born and bred, but is currently employed by London’s Metropolitan Police. He has been seconded to work in his home city heading up SHOT – the Serious Historical Offences Team. Inevitably, these historical offences are all bound in to the  horrendous sectarian violence committed during the bizarrely euphemistic ‘Troubles’. But now, since the Good Friday Agreement, hatchets are buried, enemies have become friends and all is serene on the sunlit uplands. Isn’t it? Actually, no. Former gunmen, torturers, knee-cappers, car-bombers and violent thugs are now in politics, schmoozing and shaking diplomatic hands at the highest level. But beneath the men in suits – yes, mostly men, because parts of Ulster society remains hugely patriarchal – there are still dozens of killers, some as yet uncaught, but others pardoned by political expediency.

Sheen’s latest case concerns an investigation into ‘The Cyprus Three’ – three IRA operatives gunned down by SAS men on a street in Cyprus. The official line is that the three were about to plant a huge bomb to destroy British troops.The courts decided that the killings were lawful, despite the three Irish people being unarmed. The more elderly among us will recognise that this scenario is a mirror image of a real event – the killing of three IRA members in Gibraltar in 1988.

Screen Shot 2021-02-17 at 18.05.34Sheen is given the task of re-investigating the Cyprus shootings, with a strong hint that it would suit the contemporary political narrative were the SAS  men to be found guilty of unlawful killing. As he turns over the stones, Sheen isn’t surprised to see all kinds of unpleasant creatures scuttling away from the light. He has his own issues, as his own brother was the collateral damage of a terrorist bomb in their childhood street while they were kicking a football about.

As his investigation mines deeper into the landfill of lies and deception that makes up Belfasts’s political history, Sheen is drawn into the search for a legendary double agent, nicknamed TOPBRASS. He has played both sides – the IRA hierarchy and the British Special Branch. But why is he still ‘an item’ in the malevolent undertow of Ulster politics, and how high are his connections in ‘high places’?

Screen Shot 2021-02-21 at 18.34.42Donnelly has written a brilliant and terrifying novel that should remind people that despite the outward air of calm and reconstruction there is a parallel Belfast – a place where grievances are bone-deep and still burning white hot.

We can sit in our suburban homes and tut-tut about the barbarity of ISIS, Boko Haram or Hezbollah, but Gary Donnelly (right) reminds us that acts of incalculable horror were carried out on a regular basis on the streets of a British city by the IRA and its Unionist opponents. The only thing that I can take from this savage history lesson is that religious zealotry fuels bigotry, which in turn provides the spark to the tinder of sectarian violence. This is a great read, but not a happy one. Never Ask The Dead is published by Allison & Busby and is out now.

REVIEWS 2021

november

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris – 15th November

Ninety-Five by Lisa Towles – 12th November

OCTOBER

When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash – 31st October

Sergeant Salinger by Jerome Charyn – 28th October

The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean27th October

Without A Trace by Jane Bettany – 22nd October

Orders To Kill by Edward Marston16th October

Past Life by David Mark12th October

Death Threats and other stories by Georges Simenon5th October

To All The Living by Monica Felton4th October

Hunt by Leona Deakin3rd October

Blackout by Simon Scarrow1st October

SEPTEMBER

The Burning by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman19th September

The Wrecking Storm by Michael Ward 17th September

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry – 5th September

A Hundred Years to Arras by JM Cobley – 3rd September

AUGUST

The Mannequin House by RN Morris – 29th August

Wolf at the Door by Sarah Hawkswood – 19th August

Guilt by Michelle Kidd – 8th August

The Nameless Ones by John Connolly – 4th August

JULY

London Bridge Is Falling Down by Christopher Fowler – 30th July

A Case of Royal Blackmail by Sherlock Holmes – 29th July

Intermission by Graham Hurley – 26th July

Nine Lives by Kevin McManus – 25th July

Arrowood and the The Meeting House Murders by Mick Finlay8th July

Dead Sorry by Helen H Durrant5th July

JUNE

Brass Lives by Chris Nickson30th June

Kyiv by Graham Hurley27th June

Murder At Madame Tussaud’s by Jim Eldridge – 22nd June

The Killings At Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah – 20th June

Dying Inside by Damien Boyd – 17th June

A Cold Grave by Trevor Negus – 15th June

Blackstoke by Rob Parker – 12th June

Outbreak by Frank Gardner – 7th June

Scarred by Nick Oldham – 5th June

Silesian Station by David Downing – 1st June

Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes – 24th May

The Distant Dead by Lesley Thomson – 20th May

Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis -16th May

The Perfect Lie by Jo Spain – 13th May

The Waiter by Ajay Chowdhury – 6th May

Bullet Train by Kōtarō Isaka3rd May

Wedding Station by David Downing – 1st May

Hardcastle’s Secret Agent by Graham Ison – 29th April

Summon Up The Blood by RN Morris – 23rd April

Someone To Watch Over Me by Ace Atkins – 20th April

Beneath Blackwater River by Leslie Wolfe – 16th April

Secret Mischief by Robin Blake – 15th April

The Custard Corpses by MJ Porter – 6th April

The Whispers by Heidi Perks – 4th April

MARCH

Blood Runs Thicker by Sarah Hawkswood – 21st March

The Doom List by Gerard O’Donovan – 19th March

The Three Locks by Bonnie MacBird – 18th March

Last Nocturne by MJ Trow – 5th March

Never Ask The Dead by Gary Donnelly – 2nd March

FEBRUARY

Murder At The Ritz by Jim Eldridge25th February

What Will Burn by James Oswald 17th February

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse – 13th February

Serpentine by Jonathan Kellerman – 8th February

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths – 3rd February

End of the Line by Robert Scragg – 2nd February

JANUARY

The Burning Girls by CJ Tudor – 31st January

I Know What I Saw by SK Sharp29th January

Crow Court by Andy Charman26th January

Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner – 24th January

No Good Deed by Ewan Lawrie – 21st January

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry – 18th January

House With No Doors by Jeff Noon – 10th January

Double Agent by Tom Bradby – 6th January

To The Dark by Chris Nickson – 5th January

 

 

 

 

KILLING IN YOUR NAME . . . Between the covers

In February this year – remember when everything was normal, and Covid-19 was just something nasty that was happening in China and Italy? – I reviewed Blood Will Be Born, the debut thriller by Belfast writer Gary Donnelly. I said it was:
“… breathtakingly violent, vividly written and a bleak commentary on a seemingly terminal bitterness which makes normal human beings behave like creatures from a warped vision of hell.”

The full review of that book is here, but in no time at all, it seems, comes the second episode in the career of Met Police detective Owen Sheen. He has been seconded to the historic crimes unit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. If ever there were a British city where historic crimes still haunt the streets, it is Belfast. Sheen was born in Belfast, and watched his own brother being blown to pieces by a terrorist bomb as the two youngsters played football in the street. Donnelly says:

“Over the decades, so much blood had spattered the streets of Belfast, all now washed away, and forgotten by many. But there would always be those, the ones who had been left behind to count the cost, for which the stain and the pain would never really go.”

The (literally) explosive conclusion to the previous case has left Sheen sidelined and his PSNI partner Aoifa McCusker walking with a stick and suspended from duty after a stash of Class ‘A’ drugs were planted in her locker. Sheen is haunted by the discovery of a boy’s body, found in remote Monaghan bogland on the border with the Republic. The body has been partially preserved by the acidic water, but even a post mortem examination reveals few details.

Meanwhile, a spate of horrific killings has perplexed PSNI detectives. A priest has been decapitated in his own sacristy; the teenage daughter of a prominent barrister has been abducted and then killed; her body, minus one of its hands has been dumped at her father’s front door. The adult son of a former hellfire Protestant preacher and politician has been found dead – again, butchered.

Against the better judgment of senior officers, Sheen is allowed to ‘get the band back together’ and so a limping McCusker, and colleague George ‘Geordie’ Brown are joined by Hayley, a mysterious transgender person who calls herself an ‘instinctive’ because she has what used to be called a sixth sense about death or extreme violence.

As ever in Belfast, the answers to modern questions lie irremovably in the past and, almost too late, Sheen and his team discover that the killings are bound up with acts of scarcely credible evil that took place decades earlier. Revenge is certainly being served cold and, for someone, it tastes delicious.

Donnelly (below) has another winner on his hands here, and it is partly due to his superb sense of narrative, but also to his ability to create truly monstrous villains, and there is at least one in Killing In Your Name to rival anything his fellow Irishman John Connolly has created. Connolly’s creations tend to have a sulphurous whiff of the supernatural about them. Donnolly’s monsters are human, if in name only. Killing In Your Name is published by Allison & Busby and is out today, 20th August.

ON MY SHELF . . . July 2002

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CHAOS by AD Swanston

Dr Christopher Radcliff is an ‘Intelligencer’ for the security services of Queen Elizabeth 1st. Despite the bitter winter weather of 1574, the threats of Catholic plots and rumours of a Spanish invasion are producing a political fever which has nothing to do with the temperature on the streets of London. Radcliff and his agents must use all the wiles of their devious trade to combat a threat against the Queen herself. Bantam Press, 20th August.

KILLING IN YOUR NAME by Gary Donnelly

I was hugely impressed with Donnelly’s debut police thriller Blood Will Be Born (click for review) and now London copper DI Owen Sheen tackles the second case of his secondment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. As before, the misdeeds and brutality of The Troubles are never far away as Sheen and his colleague DC Aoife McCusker search for justice for an unnamed boy whose body has been found in bogland. Alison & Busby (Kindle) 20th August

A PHILOSOPHCAL INVESTIGATION by Philip Kerr

Kerr’s untimely death has been ameliorated, at least in a literary sense, by the republication of some of his earlier stand-alone novels. This novel, first published in 1993, looks forward to 2013 and we are in a London terrorised by a serial killer who uses algorithms to identify potential violent criminals, and then executes them – even if they have not yet committed the predicted misdemeanours. Quercus, out now.

KEEP HER QUIET by Emma Curtis

A must for fans of domestic angst and tortured family life, Keep Her Quiet tells the story of an adored new born baby, a cheated husband and another young mother whose baby has died at her side. Guilt, grief, secrets and betrayal fester for years until pay-back time turns their world upside down. Black Swan, Kindle 6th August, PB 17th September.

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BLOOD WILL BE BORN . . . Between the covers

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GDBelfast and its grim sectarian past is the epitome of noir. But, sadly, it is a non-fiction noir, as real events over the past fifty years or so would have been dismissed as preposterous had they been penned by a novelist. Such novelists would have to be writing historical fiction, though – wouldn’t they? Surely the momentous events of the spring of 1998 signaled a slow but irrevocable process of healing across the province? Gary Donnelly (left) has written a blistering debut novel Blood Will Be Born which says otherwise.

DCI Owen Sheen is a London copper born and brought up in the Sailorstown district of Belfast. His childhood was brutalised when an IRA car bomb devastated the street where he and his brother were playing. He survived, but his brother did not. Now, decades later, he has been seconded to work with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland assisting their historic crimes unit. He has a hidden agenda, though, and it is to track down the people who set the bomb which killed his brother.

His Belfast minder is to be DC Aoifa McCusker, an ambitious and headstrong young officer widely distrusted by her male colleagues. Even before Sheen and McCusker have the chance to discover how they each like their coffee, author Donnelly introduces us to two of the spectacularly grotesque villains of the story. First up is John Fryer, a brutal republican hitman with too many deaths to his name. Too many? Fryer’s murderous career has been haunted by a grisly mythical beast known as The Moley, who rises up from the primeval bog and is only placated by the shedding of fresh blood. Fryer is contained – for now – in a secure mental hospital.

Fryer’s partner in crime also has his ghost, but the spectre is more personal for Christopher Moore. His father, a trusted and brave RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) officer, committed suicide when the changes forced upon policing by the Good Friday Agreement became too radical for him to cope with. Christopher Moore who, physically, looks as if he should be hunched up in his sweaty bedroom playing a computer game, is actually barking mad, as we learn when he butchers his own grandmother.

bwbb coverFryer and Moore, for their own reasons, are determined to set Belfast on fire. Not the triumphalist – but literal and containable – fire of The Loyalist bonfires on the eve of 12th July, but a fire which will lay waste to the fragile peace enjoyed in the divided city. Sheen and McCuskey, with different motives, are desperate to bring down Fryer and Moore.

It’s a certainty that no-one in mainland Britain today – nor their recent ancestors – has ever experienced anything as divisive and embedded with visceral hate as the social and religious conflict in Northern Ireland. We need to go back centuries to find anything remotely comparable. The English Civil War, perhaps, or the Wars of The Roses? Those two conflicts would certainly bear comparison in terms of casualties, but the dead of those wars were overwhelmingly soldiers killed in set-piece battles. What is euphemistically termed The Troubles has, over the decades, forced itself into homely living rooms, pub parlours, chip shops, trains and buses, public squares and almost every domestic nook and cranny across Ulster.

Blood Will Be Born is breathtakingly violent, vividly written and a bleak commentary on a seemingly terminal bitterness which makes normal human beings behave like creatures from a warped vision of hell. Not even Hieronymus Bosch at his coruscating best could have created monsters as fearsome as those who walk the streets of Donnelly’s Falls Road and Shankhill. Blood Will Be Born is published by Allison & Busby and is available now.

REVIEWS 2020

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DECEMBER

Long Bright River by Liz Moore – 27th December

The End of Her by Shari Lapena – 9th December

NOVEMBER

Out For Blood by Deborah Masson – 27th November

River of Sins by Sarah Hawkwood – 20th November

The Beach Party Mystery by Peter Bartram – 20th November

The Museum of Desire by Jonathan Kellerman – 9th November

The Archers – Ambridge at War by Catherine Miller – 1st November

OCTOBER

One Way Street by Trevor Wood – 28th October

When I Come Home Again by Caroline Scott – 26th October

Smoke Chase by Jack Callan 18th October

Lost by Leona Deakin – 5th October

People Of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield – 1st October

SEPTEMBER

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves – 29th September

Bad Timing by Nick Oldham – 28th September

Chaos by AD Swanston – 20th September

Squadron Airborn by Elleston Trevor – 16th September

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox – 9th September

The Shot by Philip Kerr – 2nd September

AUGUST

Still Life by Val McDermid – 29th August

A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke – 21st August

Killing In Your Name by Gary Donnelly – 20th August

Cry Baby by Mark Billingham – 11th August

Lost Souls by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman – 10th August

After The Fire by Jo Spain – 3rd August

JULY

Oranges and Lemons by Christopher Fowler – 31st July

The Finisher by Peter Lovesey – 20th July

Find Them Dead by Peter James – 15th July

Dark Waters by GR Halliday – 12th July

Far From The Tree by Rob Parker – 9th July

Whitethroat by James Henry – 1st July

JUNE

Warriors For The Working Day by Peter Elstob – 15th June

Off Script by Graham Hurley – 13th June

Patrol by Fred Majdalany – 8th June

MAY

Grave’s End by William Shaw – 30th May

Killing Mind by Angela Marsons – 23rd May

The Saracen’s Mark by SW Perry – 17th May

Borrowed Time by David Mark – 16th May

APRIL

The Final Straw by Jenny Francis – 26th April

The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan – 27th April

Making Wolf by Tade Thompson – 25th April

The Music Box Enigma by RN Morris – 18th April

The Dirty South by John Connolly – 15th April

Hitler’s Peace by Philip Kerr – 13th April

The King’s Beast by Eliot Pattison – 7th April

Hammer To Fall by John Lawton – 2nd April

MARCH

The Molten City by Chris Nickson – 25th March

The Evil Within by SM Hardy – 23rd March

The Boy From The Woods by Harlan Coben – 21st March

Keep Him Close by Emily Koch – 9th March

The Second Wife by Rebecca Fleet – 4th March

february

The Night Raids by Jim Kelly – 28th February

Blood Will Be Born by Gary Donnelly – 25th February

Possessed by Peter Laws – 19th February

Bury Them Deep by James Oswald – 11th February

The Better Liar by Tanen Jones – 6th February

The Foundling by Stacey Halls – 3rd February

Wildfire by Nick Oldham – 1st February

JANUARY

Killing Beauties by Pete Langman – 29th January

When You See Me by Lisa Gardner – 25th January

Happy Ever After by CC MacDonald – 21st January

All That Is Buried by Robert Scragg – 17th January

Six Wicked Reasons by Jo Spain – 14th January

The Unforgetting by Rose Black – 8th January

Stop At Nothing by Tammy Cohen – 6th January

Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza – 1st January

ON MY SHELF . . . December 2019

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NINE ELMS by Robert Bryndza

BryndzaBryndza already has an established audience for his Detective Erika Foster series, and he now introduces another female copper to the crime scene. Fifteen years earlier, Kate Marshall was an emerging talent with London’s Met Police – until a near fatal encounter with a serial killer ended her career. When a copycat killer starts to mimic the work of the man who nearly killed her, she is inexorably drawn back into the investigative front line. Nine Elms is published by Sphere, is out now as a Kindle and in hardback on 9th January.

 

STOP AT NOTHING by Tammy Cohen

CohenThis came out in Kindle back in the summer of this year, but now readers who like the feel of a printed book in their hands get to join the party. They say there is nothing as ferocious, either in the animal world or the human sphere, as a mother protecting her young. A woman has to look on helplessly as the man accused of attacking her daughter is set free. Tess’s quest for justice, however, plunges those she loves most into a cauldron bubbling with hatred and danger. Out on 26th December, Stop At Nothing is published by Bantam.

 

BLOOD WILL BE BORN by Gary Donnelly

DonnellyIt may well be that someone, somewhere, has written a cosy ‘feet up in front of the fire’ crime novel set in Belfast. If they have, it has passed me by, as the streets of that city, their very stones stained to the core with the ancient bitterness of sectarian violence, always seem to provide a natural backdrop for gritty thrillers. When London Detective Inspector Owen Sheen returns to his home turf to set up a special crime unit, he is sucked into an investigation which, in double quick time, becomes political – and personal. This, Gary Donnelly’s debut thriller will be out on 20th February and is published by Allison & Busby

 

 

FREE FROM THE WORLD by John Johnson

FFTWSet in a 1960s mental hospital with the ominous name of Black Roding, this is the story of an idealistic and progressive young psychiatrist, Ruth, whose ideas for a more enlightened regime find no favour with the suspicious staff. Becoming rather too close to a complex and troubled inmate of Black Rodings, Ruth’s determination to find new ways of doing things draws her into a horrifying vortex of hidden crimes and shocking revelations. Published by Matador, Free From The World is out now.

 

WHO DID YOU TELL? by Lesley Kara

Lesley-Kara-author-photo-cropped-300x450Lesley Kara captured the potentially poisonous dynamic of small town gossip in her 2018 thriller The Rumour (click to read the review) Her follow up novel mines the same rich seam, and lovers of Domestic Noir are in for a treat. Astrid, a recovering alcoholic, moves in with her mother in an attempt to rebuild her life and make amends to the people she has hurt. Someone out there, however, has been following Astrid’s fragile progess towards redemption, and is determined to ruin things. Who Did You Tell? is published by Bantam, is out as a Kindle on 5th December, and in hardback on 9th January.

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