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fullybooked2017

A retired Assistant Head Teacher, mad keen on guitars. Four grown-up sons, one delightful grandchild. Enjoys shooting at targets, not living things. Determined not to go gently into that good night.

COMPETITION . . . Win a signed copy of The Tango School Mystery

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THE FULLY BOOKED HAT may be a digital one, but if you enter the latest prize draw, your name will be in there, and you may be the lucky person to win a signed copy of the latest Crampton of The Chronicle novel by Peter Bartram.

I’m a huge fan of Bartram’s writing. I love his easy and fluent style, with its occasional sharp edge. Being an elder statesman (well, maybe just old) I enjoy thinking, “ah…yes!” when he throws in the odd cultural reference to what life was like in the 1960s. I’m also a sucker for whodunnits, and I try my damnedest to follow the clues – and ignore the many red herrings – with which Bartram teases his readers.

The Tango School Mystery starts with Crampton’s gorgeous Australian girlfriend having more blood in her rare steak than even she bargained for, and continues by taking us on a whirlwind journey through an England where memories of WW2 – and the strange tale of British fascism – are still very raw.

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YOU HAVE TWO (equally easy) WAYS TO ENTER.  Firstly, email me at:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Put the word “Crampton” in the subject box, and you are good to go.

Alternatively, go to the Fully Booked Facebook page and simply “like” the post about this competition. Clicking the Facebook logo below will take you straight there. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Thursday 26th April 2018.

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THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS . . . Between the covers

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TWITWIn the dark woods of Maine a tree gives up the ghost and topples to the ground. As its roots spring free of the cold earth a makeshift tomb is revealed. The occupant was a young woman. When the girl – for she was little more than that – is discovered, the police and the medical services enact their time-honoured rituals and discover that she died of natural causes not long after giving birth. But where is the child she bore? And why was a Star of David carved on the trunk of an adjacent tree? Portland lawyer Moxie Castin is not a particularly devout Jew, but he fears that the ancient symbol may signify something damaging, and he hires PI Charlie Parker to shadow the police enquiry and investigate the carving – and the melancholy discovery beneath it.

Those who are familiar with the world of Charlie Parker may, as they say, look away now. Or, at least, skip to the next paragraph. New readers expecting a reprise of the standard US gumshoe who is a hard drinking, wise-cracking, fast moving womaniser, will not find Parker ticking those boxes. He is a deeply reflective man who bears the scars of tragic events. The physical scars are deep enough, true, but the mental and spiritual damage is far more severe. Years before, his wife and daughter were butchered in front of him by a man-creature not entirely of this world. Now Parker is literally haunted by the shade of that daughter, Jennifer, although he has played the relationship game again, but unsuccessfully. He now has another daughter, Sam, who shares his ability to see things that more mundane folk would would say are “just not there.” Parker scratches a living as an investigator, helped by two colleagues, Louis and Angel. It has to be said that they are both criminals but, if there are such things as good criminals, then that is what they are.

The crumbling remains of the woman in the woods give up few clues, but Parker slowly pieces together the jigsaw. The picture that emerges is not one to grace the top of a festive biscuit tin, nor is it likely to be reproduced as a popular wall decoration. Karis Lamb has had the misfortune to be in a relationship with a disturbing and menacing man called Quayle. She fled the abusive relationship carrying not only his unborn child, but an antique book from Quayle’s collection. Remember the story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad? The network of safe houses which formed a chain of refuges for escaped slaves? Parker learns that a similar system exists to aid abused and battered women and that Karis Lamb used it in her flight from Quayle. As individuals who provided refuge for the women go missing, or are found dead, Parker realises that he is in a deadly race with Quayle to find the missing book – and Karis Lamb’s child.

JCIn another life John Connolly would have been a poet. His prose is sonorous and powerful, and his insights into the world of Charie Parker – both the everyday things he sees with his waking eyes and the dark landscape of his dreams – are vivid and sometimes painful. Connolly’s villains – and there have been many during the course of the Charlie Parker series – are not just bad guys. They do dreadful things, certainly, but they even smell of the decaying depths of hell, and they often have powers that even a gunshot to the head from a .38 Special can hardly dent.

Connolly brings to the printed page monsters unrivalled in their depravity, and vileness unseen since the days when MR James created his dreadful beings that skipped, scraped, slithered and scrabbled into the terrified minds of the schoolboys for whom, it is said, he wrote the stories. Transpose these horrors into the modern world, and add all the ingredients of murder mysteries, police investigation and the nerve-jangling thriller and you have the distinctly uncomfortable – but wonderfully gripping – world of Charlie Parker. The Woman In The Woods is published by Hodder & Stoughton, and is out now.

An earlier Charlie Parker novel, Time of Torment, won our Best PI Novel Award in 2016.

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RESTLESS COFFINS . . . Between the covers

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This is the final part of MP Wright’s trilogy which began with Heartman in 2014. That, and the middle novel All Through The Night (2016), tell the story of Joseph Tremaine “JT” Ellington, an ex-cop with a tragic past. JT has been forced to leave his native Barbados as a result of his upsetting certain powerful people on the island; his personal fate, however, is nothing compared to that of his wife and daughter who have perished in a fire that was anything but accidental.

TRCEllington, broke and broken-hearted has ended up in 1960s Bristol, where he uses his police training to eke out a living as a private investigator. When he receives the news that his only sister, Bernice, has died in Barbados, he is compelled to return home to wind up her affairs. Hovering in the background, however, is Ellington’s violent criminal cousin Victor, who has reappeared after rumours of his tumbling to his death on the rocky slopes of Bristol’s Clifton Gorge prove to be greatly exaggerated. When Ellington arrives in New York after the first leg of his journey home, he rapidly realises that ‘born-again’ Vic is involved in something much more dangerous – and potentially lethal – than his previous mildly illegal entrepreneurship within the West Indian community in Bristol.

Hooked into a deadly game of guns, drugs, deceit, deaths – and then more deaths – Ellington eventually arrives in Barbados, but only after a sojourn in New Orleans, where the city’s reputation for exotic violence is further enhanced. By now, three coffins have joined the travelling party. Much too honest and trusting for this venture, it eventually dawns on Ellington that these coffins are part of not only a drug deal, but also the means by which the violently despotic Barbados criminal named Monroe – almost certainly the killer of Ellington’s wife and daughter – will be despatched to join his ancestors.

Restless Coffins is strong stuff. There is no shortage of corpses, and endless variety in the ways they are killed. The villains are evil personified and the good guys – with the exception of Ellington himself – are few and far between. Mark Wright certainly takes a position regarding the way black people in the 1960s were treated by the indigenous British population. Although very little of the action in Restless Coffins takes place in England, readers of the previous two books will know that the attitude of white people towards those we now call The Windrush Generation is almost entirely negative. And, reading today’s newspaper, it seems that those problems are far from over.

M.P._Wright_2016_2Wright has made the decision to phonetically transcribe all the dialogue between the main characters in his books. I have to admit that in Heartman it was a source of irritation to me, but such is the pace and vigour of the action in Restless Coffins that it didn’t seem to matter as much this time around. The new ‘crime’ of Cultural Appropriation seems to me to be one of the most pointless, misguided and irrelevant of fashionable 21st century dogmas, so you will hear no complaint from me about a white Englishman writing a novel with an almost entirely black cast, complete with speech patterns, vocabulary and inflections.

The bottom line is that this is a crackerjack novel, full of action, humour, social observation, historical accuracy, brilliant topographical descriptions and the absolute sine qua non of a good book – a central character who is credible and described with subtlety and nuance. If you read this, and don’t care about JT Ellington and what happens to him, then you have a heart of stone and the emotional sensibility of a fruit fly.

Restless Coffins is published by Black and White Publishing and is out now.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Bartram, Connolly & Hall

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THE TANGO SCHOOL MYSTERY by Peter Bartram

PBWelcome to Brighton, England – where they do like to murder beside the seaside…Want to know what it’s like when a quiet romantic dinner ends in murder? Ace reporter Colin Crampton and his feisty girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith are tucking into their meal when Shirley discovers more blood on her rare steak than she’d expected.

And once again Colin is on the trail of a big story that can only end in more murder. Colin reckons he’s cracked the story when he uncovers a plot involving a sinister figure from the past. A Tango Academy seems to lie at the heart of the conspiracy.

But nothing is quite what it seems as Colin peels away the layers of the mystery. He tangles with a cast of memorable characters including a professor of witchcraft, the former commander of an army mobile latrine unit, and a tango instructor with two left feet. Join Colin and Shirley for another madcap mystery in Swinging Sixties’ Brighton, where the laughs are never far from the action. The Tango School Mystery is out now, and a full review will be posted on https://fullybooked2017.com very soon.

THE WOMAN in the WOODS by John Connolly

JCCharlie Parker – crime fiction’s most haunted private investigator – is back. As fans of the Portland, Maine detective know, death isn’t just part of the his natural human life cycle – it often assumes corporal form and walks alongside the living. The remains of a young woman are uncovered when a tree is uprooted, and when the body is examined, it is discovered that she had given birth shortly before her death. A Star of David has been carved in the bark of a tree, and Parker is hired by a Jewish lawyer to learn if the death has any anti-semitic overtones.

A mysterious – and  deadly – man named Quayle is also keen to learn more about the dead woman, but even more anxious to discover what became of the new-born child. Along with his companion – a creature named Mors who is truly from hell – Quayle’s path is destined to cross that of Parker. Charlie’s deadly pals Louis and Angel are in attendance, but Angel is there in spirit only, as he is recovering from an operation to remove a deadly tumour. Louis cannot comprehend why his partner has been chosen by the Cancer God, and his incomprehension turns to anger, which he vents on a young man who is unwise enough to have Confederate flags flying from his truck. The Woman In The Woods is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is out now.

OUR KIND OF CRUELTY by Araminta Hall

AHObsession, deception, emotional perversion, sexual mania, psychological sadism…? Yes, indeed. Araminta Hall ticks all of those toxic boxes in her eagerly awaited new thriller, which tells the tale of Mike and Verity. At the very heart of their unusual relationship is a game of seduction and danger, but with Verity’s impending marriage, the game has to end. At least it would in any normal relationship, but of all the adjectives that could be applied to what Mike and Verity get up to, the word ‘normal’ comes way, way, way down the list. So, what happens? Death is what has to happen, but the Grim Reaper seldom walks alone.

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Our Kind of Cruelty is published by Century; it will be available as a Kindle on 19th April, in hardback on 3rd may, and in January 2019 as a paperback.

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SWITCHED ON: THE STORY OF 1960s TV GAME SHOWS . . . by Peter Bartram

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It’s 7.00pm on a Thursday in September 1964 and a goodly proportion of the British population are settling down in front of their television sets to watch one of the most popular shows of the time.

The programme, Double Your Money, starts with a catchy tune that ends with lyrics – “double your money and try to get rich” – that leave no doubt what the show is about. The credit titles fade and a thin man with a cheesy grin, popping eyes, and a faintly transatlantic accent, steps in front of the cameras.

Hughie Green was one of a group of 1960s TV presenters who made their names as game show hosts. By today’s standards, most of the shows seem corny. In Double Your Money, the contestant would answer a question on the subject of their choice – sport and spelling were two favourites – to win £1. If they got it right, they’d move on to a £2, then £4 question all the way up to £32. If they answered that correctly, some had an opportunity to move on to the “Treasure Trail” where they could win up to £1,000 – equivalent to £18,600 in today’s money.

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Most of these shows turned up on ITV – commercial television started broadcasting in Britain in 1955 – because the publically-funded BBC didn’t think it right to give away licence-payers’ money in cash prizes. The BBC stuck to more cerebral game shows, like University Challenge, which first broadcast in 1962 and was based on a US television show called College Bowl.

One thing is certain, Colin Crampton, crime reporter on the Brighton Evening Chronicle, and his girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith would not have been among the 15 million people tuning into Double Your Money. They were too busy chasing the killers in The Tango School Mystery.

It meant they would also have missed other top game shows of the time, such as Take Your Pick, hosted by Michael Miles, a character with all the on-screen charm of a second-hand car salesman. A car – definitely not second-hand – would sometimes be the star prize on the show.

To get a shot at winning a prize, contestants had to answer three out of four general knowledge questions. They would then pick the key to one of 10 boxes. Seven contained good prizes, such as a TV set or holiday, while three held booby prizes. Before they got to open the box, Miles would try to buy the key back off the contestant in a kind of reverse Dutch auction. Most players resisted and ended up with whatever the box had to offer.

As the 1960s progressed, TV companies sought more and more inventive formulae for their game shows. Criss Cross Quiz was based on the US show Tic Tac Dough. It was presented first by Jeremy Hawk and then by Barbara Kelly. Two contestants played a game of nought and crosses. Each took turns to answer a question to get a nought or a cross in a square. They won £20 for every square they filled or £40 for the centre square. The winner – the first to get three noughts or crosses in a row – became the champion and took on another challenger.

The Golden Shot involved contestants, either at home on the telephone or an isolation booth in the studio, directing a blindfolded cameraman with a crossbow bolted to his camera. The contestant could see the target on the TV screen and directed the cameraman with instructions like “left a bit”, or “down then stop” et until they’d lined up the target and gave the order to fire.

On one occasion, a contestant took part from a telephone box. He was watching the screen on a television in a shop window. Half way through his directions to the cameraman the shop TV was turned off.

But it wasn’t only big-prize game shows that pulled in viewers during the Swinging Sixties. Panel games, such as What’s My Line and Call My Bluff, were popular, especially with older viewers. But other game shows, such as Concentration, Jokers Wild and Password, are long forgotten. Which only goes to prove that even among game shows there were winners and losers.

Peter Bartram’s new Colin Crampton mystery is out now, and a full review of the book will be on here very shortly!

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THE LONG SILENCE . . . Between the covers

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Tom Collins is a former cop. He has been persuaded by an American Irish compatriot to give up the blue uniform and night stick and move to Los Angeles where, in 1922, the burgeoning movie industry can use a guy who is handy with his fists and can be a reassuring and intimidating presence around stars besieged by reporters and other opportunists.

After a bright start working for the Famous Players-Lasky outfit, Collins has blotted his copybook and been sacked. He is now picking up scraps, albeit those dropped by the king of movie comedy, Mack Sennett. Sennett is not alone in his adoration of actress Mabel Normand, and when she is implicated in the sensational murder of top director William Desmond Taylor, he sets Collins the near-impossible task of solving Taylor’s shooting.

TLS coverThe most intriguing feature of this novel – and there are many – is the way O’Donovan drops us into the real life Hollywood of 1922. I knew something about the demise of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, was aware of Mack Sennett and, of course, the names Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford resonate with people of my generation who are reasonably well-read. But I had neither heard of – nor seen pictures of – Mabel Normand and, thanks to the wonders of Google, I could see instantly how she was able to mesmerise a generation of movie goers and readers of magazines. Those eyes! Tom Collins tells us about them quite early in the book.

“She was an odd-looking creature, with those huge, half-hooded eyes. Beautiful, no doubt about it, with that little-girl ringlety innocence so favored by the movie-going public. Once, at a party, he saw her light up a room with her laughter.”

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Collins is stranded in a Hollywood sea full of different kinds of sharks, but all of them deadly.The local cops figure him for the shooting of a Shorty Madden, a drug dealer who has been supplying cocaine, but they are minnows compared with the repulsive and vindictive Aloysius Divine, who was busted for corruption when serving with Collins back in New York. He blames Collins for his downfall, and has sworn vengeance. Now, Divine is in The City of Angels working as a customs officer; he smells blood, and it belongs to Collins. Even more vindictive and remorseless is mob boss Tony Cornero. His business has been seriously compromised by the death of Madden, and he wants either the actual killer’s head – or that of Collins – on a plate.

ODonovanThis is a cracker of a book. To the casual observer, looking on from the safe distance of the best part of a century, Hollywood in the 1920s appears innocent and other-worldly. We might smile at the fluttering eyelashes and coy gestures of the female stars, and the black-and-white (both figuratively and literally) lack of ambiguity of the male heroes and villains but in reality the movie world was just as venal, corrupt and hard nosed as it is today. Gerard O’Donovan (right) lifts the stone from the ground and we see all manner of unpleasant – and deadly – creatures scurrying around in the unwelcome light. The first pages of the book might suggest that Tom Collins has told us all that he has to say, but I hope this is not the case. The Long Silence is published by Severn House, is available now in hardback and will be available as a Kindle on 1 May.

BAD COPS . . . Between the covers

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It is fair to say that Nick Oldham’s Lancashire copper Henry Christie has been around the block a few times. Twenty-four times, to be precise. Bad Cops is his twenty-fifth trip and Detective Superintendent Christie is off work, recovering from a gunshot wound. He has been making vague promises to his pub landlady girlfriend Alison that his days at the sharp end of British law enforcement are over, and he is going to spend his last days on the force sitting safely behind his desk until his pension pot matures and he can retire to The Tawny Owl and concentrate on pulling pints and working the restaurant’s elaborate coffee machine.

imageHis resolve weakens, however, when he is visited by two of his more senior officers, his own Chief Constable and the newly appointed boss of the Central Yorkshire force, John Burnham. The Yorkshire police has suffered a disastrous inspection, and Burnham has been appointed to cleanse the Augean Stables.

Christie is assured that he will only be required to cast his experienced eye over the murder books pertaining to two unsolved killings look for omissions and inconsistencies, and report back to Burnham. What follows is a journey into a nightmarish world of police corruption, people trafficking, financial fraud – and contract killing.

Nick Oldham gives us a fascinating cast of characters. Readers new to Henry Christie will discover a bruised and (frequently) battered old style officer who, like Tennyson’s Ulysses, is “not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven.” Even he accepts that his philandering days are over, much as he is attracted to his investigating partner Detective Sergeant Diane Daniels. Those of us who have followed breathlessly in Christie’s turbulent wake in previous novels will know that Nick Oldham doesn’t mess about when creating villains, but he has certainly outdone himself here with Detective Chief Inspector Jane Runcie, who is as corrupt, foul-mouthed, sexually predatory and downright malevolent as anyone he has previously brought to the page.

imageOldham (right) is a retired copper himself, so readers are guaranteed procedural details which are described with total authenticity, whether they be the smelly reality of unmarked police cars used for observation, complete with the detritus of discarded fast food wrappers and the inevitable flatulent consequences, and an intriguing – and quite scary – use for Blutac and two pence pieces.

Like the previous Henry Christie novels Bad Cops is short, sharp, and sometimes shocking. You will get through it in a couple of sessions at the most and if ever a novel deserved the old latin adage multum in parvo it is this. Oh, yes, one last thing. If you can find a more powerful and gut-wrenching final paragraph this year, I’ll buy you a pint. Or six. Bad Cops is published by Severn House and is out now.

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MIND OF A KILLER . . . Between the covers

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We are in London and it is the Spring of 1862. William Ewart Gladstone is two years into his second spell as British Prime Minister, The Irish Question dominates domestic politics and the campaigning journalist WT Stead is deputy editor of the evening newspaper The Pall Mall Gazette. Among his journalists is Alec Lonsdale, younger son of the Vicar of Raunds and brother of the prominent barrister, James Lonsdale.

Alec, on his way home from an unsuccessful attempt to interview the director of the Zoological Gardens, chances upon a very public emergency. A terraced house is ablaze, and its occupant – a Mr Donovan – has perished in the fire. When his body is hauled from the wreckage his head has been destroyed, but further examination reveals the astonishing fact that part of his brain – the cerebrum – has been surgically removed.

imageSimon Beaufort provides an exhilarating and madcap journey through the contrasting mileus of Victorian London. We experience gentlemen’s clubs with their subtle ambience of brandy and fine cigars, the visceral stench of low-life pubs and doss houses and the clatter of the hot lead printing presses of a vibrant daily newspaper. Lonsdale – with the assistance of Hulda Friedrichs, a fiercely independent early feminist journalist – painstakingly uncovers a nightmarish plot hatched by scientists who are obsessed with eugenics, and believe that the future of the human race depends on selective breeding and the suppression of ‘the undeserving poor’.

Alec Lonsdale is a thoroughly admirable hero who is as handy with his fists as he is with his pen. Most of the staff at the Pall Mall Gazette are actual historical figures, beautifully researched and described. We have gore, mortuary scenes, fights a-plenty, scrupulous period detail and also a sly sense of fun as we observe the elaborate formal minuet of courtship, particularly between Alec and his future sister-in-law Anne. Eventually the conspiracy is exposed by Alec and Hulda, but not before we have an exuberant reprise of the ‘mad scientist’ trope.

Simon Beaufort? Simon is a ‘they’ rather than a ‘he’. Beau Riffenburgh is a Californian born and bred, an expert in polar exploration, and an American Football coach. His wife – and writing partner – is none other than Liz Cruwys, better known as Susanna Gregory, best-selling author of many historical novels featuring medieval investigator Matthew Bartholemew. Mind Of A Killer is published by Severn House, came out in hardback just before Christmas 2017, and is now available in Kindle.

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THE TIN GOD . . . Between the covers

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“And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast;
To smile and be condescending,
Put pudding on pauper plates.
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They’ve paid for — with the rates.”

Verse two of the celebrated – and often parodied – ballad poem by the Victorian campaigning journalist George R Sims, In The Workhouse, Christmas Day. Most of us older folk know the poem and its melancholy message. An old man is sitting down to his Christmas dinner in the workhouse, but one memory is too much for him, and he angrily relates the tale of his late wife, who was forced to die of hunger on the streets because of the harshness of the workhouse regulations. The relevance of this to Chris Nickson’s The Tin God lies in the first line of the verse above, because the heroine of the story is the wife of Leeds copper Tom Harper, and she is standing for election to the workhouse Board of Guardians.

So? This Leeds in October 1897, and women simply did not stand for office of any kind, and when Annabelle Harper, along with several colleagues from the fledgling Suffrage movement decide to enter the election, it is a controversial decision, because the concept of women migrating from their proper places, be they the bedroom, the withdrawing room or the kitchen, is anathema to most of the ‘gentlemen’ in Leeds society.

TTG coverOutraged leading articles appear in local newspapers, but someone believes that the sword – or something equally violent – is mightier than the pen, and a homemade bomb destroys a church hall just before Annabelle Harper is due to speak to her supporters. The caretaker is tragically killed by the explosion, and matters go from bad to worse when more bombs are found, and several of the women candidates are threatened.

Superintendent Tom Harper is already involved in investigating the criminal aspects of the case, but when the husband of one of the women is murdered while sitting at his own kitchen table, the affair becomes a hunt for a murderer. The killer leaves a few tantalising clues, and Harper becomes conflicted between devoting every hour that God sends to tracking down the killer – and keeping his wife from becoming the next victim.

Nickson drops us straight onto the streets of his beloved Leeds. We smell the stench of the factories, hear the clatter of iron-shod hooves on the cobbles, curse when the soot from the chimneys blackens the garments on our washing lines and – most tellingly – we feel the pangs of hunger gnawing at the bellies of the impoverished. We have an intriguing sub-plot involving a smuggling gang importing illegal spirits into Leeds, authentic dialogue, matchless historical background and, best of all, a few hours under the spell of one of the best story tellers in modern fiction.

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You want more? Well, it’s there. Nickson is a fine musician and a distinguished music journalist, and he cunningly works into the plot one of the more notable musical names associated with Leeds and West Yorkshire, the folksong collector Frank Kidson (above). The killer shares Kidson’s passion for the old songs – if not his humanity and feelings for his fellow human beings – and he leaves handwritten fragments of English songs at the scenes of his attacks.

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The Tin God is published by Severn House and is available now. It will be obvious that I am a great admirer of Chris Nickson’s writing, and if you click the images below, you can read the reviews for some of his other excellent novels.

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