I make not even the slightest trace of an apology for not jumping on the regrettable Halloween bandwagon. Someone on my Twitter timeline was emoting about “this time of darkness and evil deeds, when spirits of the dead walk the earth.” The only beings that walk the earth where I live are over-excited children dressed in plastic tat from ASDA (other suppliers of mass produced seasonal rubbish are available) disturbing my peace and begging for tooth-destroying sweets (also available from exploitative mass retailers in handy packs) while their aggressive parents lurk not far behind, ready to leap in with an oath or three should I reject the advances of their offspring. Rant over. Instead of pumpkins I offer publications – four of the best to get stuck into as the nights lengthen.
A MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT by David Baldacci
Atlee Pine is a female FBI agent with what some like to describe as a kick-ass attitude. Like all the best fictional law enforces she has a troubled past, and hers involves the abduction and presumed murder of her twin sister when they were little. She is convinced that a serial killer called Daniel Tor – now serving thirty life sentences in a Colorado jail – either did the deed or knows who did. When Pine takes enforced holiday leave after nearly battering a child rapist to death, she is drawn back into the search for the truth about what happened to sister Mercy all those years ago. Ignoring Nietzsche’s famous homily about the Abyss, Pine becomes snared in a web of secrets, lies – and indescribable evil. A Minute To Midnight is published by Macmillan and will be out on 14th November.
THE GRID by Nick Cook
Thrills of a different kind now, from celebrated defence analyst and journalist Nick Cook. His latest novel explores the complex and controversial world of surveillance and counter intelligence work. US Presidents have an unenviable record of becoming assassination targets, so much so that it might as well be in the job description. The current occupant of The Oval Office, President Thompson has been subject to vivid recurring dreams about his own demise, so much so that he confides in Josh Cain, his personal doctor. Cain’s background is in military psychiatry, but even his experiences of dealing with the trauma caused by battle doesn’t prepare him for what he is about to discover. When a sniper’s bullet ends a startling confession from a former US Marine, Cain is served dramatic notice that he is about to participate in his President’s nightmare. Also out on 14th November, The Grid is published by Transworld.
DIE ALONE by Simon Kernick
A novel with the words Simon Kernick on the front cover is pretty much guaranteed a second look from most readers who enjoy their crime with a political flavour. We may have our doubts about the respective merits of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn (other party leaders are available) but I don’t think it is seriously suggested that either is a serial killer. Not so with Alastair Sheridan, the central character in Kernick’s latest novel. Suave, handsome and charming, Sheridan is everyone’s tip to become First Lord of The Treasury and occupant of London SW1 2AA. Everyone? Well, almost. A select group, a modern day illuminati, know that Sheridan is a killer, and they employ disgraced detective Ray Mason to kill him before he gains power and silences those who know the truth about his actions. Mason soon realises that things are not entirely what they seem, but how can he – to mix two body metaphors – keep both his hands clean and his head on his shoulders? Published by Century, Die Alone is out on 28th November.
GOLGOTHA by Guy Portman
It is a sad reflection of the state of British cultural life in this second decade of the 21st century that satirists like Guy Portman should have to go down the self-publishing route to bring his books to readers. Yes, his books shock. Yes, they direct a flamethrower into the bunkers inhabited by the politically correct and woke glad-handers in the publishing world. Yes, Portman fails to respect the notion that some cultural practices must remain immune from criticism.
His anti-hero is the delightfully despicable Dyson Devereux. We first met him as an iconoclastic manager of a municipal cemetery in Necropolis. His homicidal streak appeared to run into the buffers at the end of Sepultura, and Golgotha starts with him in an Italian jail awaiting his trial for murder. Guy Portman has an extraordinary talent to amuse – and raise eyebrows. Leave him alone if your sense of humour is only tickled by offence-averse sitcoms. If you were raised on a diet of M*A*S*H*, Catch 22 and American Psycho, then take a chance – if you injure yourself laughing, then blame me. You can buy Golgotha here.
fter her success with The Familiars (click to read the review) Stacey has moved on a couple of centuries to the 1750s. Bess Bright has reluctantly abandoned her baby daughter Clara to the mercies of London’s Foundling Hospital. This astonishing institution, founded by Thomas Coram on 1741, took in babies whose mothers were unable to care for them.
Zosha Nash (left), formerly Head of Development at The Foundling Museum explained, the care and love bestowed on the children was remarkable, even by modern standards. Their life expectancy exceeded that of many children at the time, and all were taught to read and write. The hospital was also famously associated with Handel, and it was in the chapel that Messiah was performed for the first time in England
Stacey (below) explained how she had visited the museum and been overwhelmed by the poignancy of the exhibits, particularly the tokens – sometimes a scrap of fabric, sometimes a coin scratched with initials – left with the children so that they might be identified at a later date when the mothers’ circumstances had improved.
ix years after leaving her, Bess Bright returns to claim her daughter, to be greeting with the shattering news that Clara is no longer there. She has been claimed – just a day after Bess left her – by a woman correctly identifying the child’s token, a piece of scrimshaw, half a heart engraved with letters. The authorities are baffled, but convinced that a major fraud has been perpetrated. Bess’s shock turns to a passionate determination to find Clara.
What is it about September and songs? Billie Joe Armstrong wanted to sleep until it was over, Rod Stewart realised he should leave his lady friend and go back to school, while Bing, Frank, Peggy, Dinah and dozens of others remembered it in the rain. It is certainly an evocative time of year and, judging by my bookshelf, it’s also a time for publishers and publicists to get their books out there in the public eye after the languors of the summer. So, here’s an eclectic septet of criminal activity and one book, while not a crime novel, earns its place due to my enduring fascination with The Great War.
GONE by Leona Deakin
There is a definite autobiographical seam in the character of Dr Augusta Bloom, who combines the careers of PI and psychologist. The author worked as a psychologist for West Yorkshire Police before writing this, her debut novel. She turns the serial abductor/victim trope on its head as Dr Bloom tries to convince a complacent constabulary that the alleged victims may be more to be feared that the perpetrator. This will be published by Black Swan on 12th December. A follow up novel, Lost is scheduled for release in April 2020.
CHOCOLATE HOUSE TREASON by David Fairer
As the enthusiasm for the recent film The Favourite shows, the life of Queen Anne, thought by history to be hitherto unremarkable, has become something of ‘a thing’. Professor David Fairer of Leeds University is an acknowledged expert on the 18th century and, in, particular, its poetry. How fitting then, that his novel is set in the London of 1708 where The Queen herself is subject to scathing sexual innuendo in the gutter press, and the capital seethes with political and criminal unrest. There are, inevitably, casualties and an unlikely trio of investigators seek to solve two murders and prevent a third. This enthralling historical mystery is available now, and is published by Matador.
DARKNESS by David Fletcher
We could, once upon a time, refer to Africa as The Dark Continent without invoking the fury of The Woke. Working on the assumption that Africa was ‘darker’ the further you went into it, then the Congo was blacker than black. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case feasted royally on the remoteness of the Congo, and the consequent imaginings of a land where the moral code was either abandoned or perverted. David Fletcher’s Dan Worthington has suffered loss, heartbreak, and the almost surgical removal of his life spirit. A chance encounter offers him a renaissance and a reawakening, but there is a price to be paid. A flight to Brazzaville takes him to the divided modern Congo, and a sequence of events which will test his resolve to its core. Darkness is also a Matador title and came out in August this year.
GOOD QUESTION by VR Lyons
Sue and Jeff work in a grocery store that is something of a throwback. Old fashioned service, the personal touch, quality products – what could possibly go wrong? The pair are amiable, kind-hearted and loved by customers. This apparent Garden of Eden turns inexorably into a wasteland when the pair become involved in a grim criminal conspiracy which is none of their own making. Published by Matador, Good Question is available now.
HAPPY EVER AFTER by CC MacDonald
Fans of comforting and anguish-free crime novels should probably look away now. This debut psychological thriller gnaws away at our anxieties and its mission statement seems to be that no fingernail should remain unbitten. Ostensibly privileged and happily married, Naomi falls both victim of – and pregnant by – an elusive and unscrupulous charmer. His disappearance is one thing, but the threat and menace hanging over her domesticity is something else altogether. Harvill Secker are the publishers here, but you will have to wait until 23rd January next year to grab a copy.
HOLD YOUR TONGUE by Deborah Masson
Eve Hunter elbows her way into the crowded room containing fictional British Detective Inspectors, but she has a reputation to save, and a serial killer to catch. Deborah Masson (left) comes from The Granite City of Aberdeen, which is totally fitting as this, her debut novel, is as dark, flint-hard and gritty as her home town. Hold Your Tongue is due on the shelves on 9th January 2020, and is published by Corgi
POETIC JUSTICE: OXFORD by Fran Raya
Randall Forbes has a powerful gift – or is it a curse? He is endowed with telepathy, which gives him formidable abilities as well as huge responsibilities. Set against the warm limestone and dreaming spires of Oxford, Jan Raya’s novel is a breathtaking account of how Randall Forbes challenges and frustrates the police, while sticking to his own code of conduct – slightly warpd though it may be. Musician and writer? Jan Raya is not alone, as fans of the band Fun Loving Crime Writers will testify! Fran Raya’s novel is out on 28th September and is published by Book Guild.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE LOST by Caroline Scott
The only obvious crime here is the disastrous waste of a generation of young lives on the killing fields of France and Flanders, but Caroline Scott’s novel explores the emotional wasteland of England in the 1920s, where countless women sought some kind of solace after the death of their fathers, husbands and brothers. The photographing of grave-sites and cemeteries was something of a huge commercial opportunity, as so many relatives were ill-equipped to make the journey across the channel to be reunited with their lost loved ones. Widowed Edie has resigned herself to mourning for husband Francis, but a random photograph sparks a search which may end in joyful reunion or shattered hopes. This book is an elegy to loss, heartbreak and the death of a generation. Out on 31st October, The Photographer Of The Lost is published by Simon & Schuster.
o adapt the words of a former MP, and son of Hull:
“Carcassonne’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace..”
Frankly, it was far too hot for any embracing, apart from metaphorically cuddling a touch of Sud de la France hedonism. We were staying on a working vineyard, after all. But Time’s wingèd chariot, ( Ryanair’s Boing 737), had us back in Deserts of vast eternity (Fenland) all too soon. My downbeat mood was lifted by seeing that both the postman and Alexa Davies at Matador Books had been busy. Three new books, three debuts.
DARKNESS by David Fletcher
Back when I was at school, scratching on my slate, and climbing up chimneys as a weekend job – OK, OK, I’m exaggerating. My primary school had dip pens, porcelain inkwells and I was the ink monitor. The last bit is actually true, and it’s also true that we could refer to Africa as The Dark Continent without invoking the fury of The Woke. Working on the assumption that Africa was ‘darker’ the further you went into it, then the Congo was blacker than black. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case feasted royally on the remoteness of the Congo, and the consequent imaginings of a land where the moral code was either abandoned or perverted. David Fletcher’s Dan Worthington has suffered loss, heartbreak, and the almost surgical removal of his life spirit. A chance encounter offers him a renaissance and a reawakening, but there is a price to be paid. A flight to Brazzaville takes him to the divided modern Congo, and a sequence of events which will test his resolve to its core. Darkness came out on 13th August and is available here.
THE MULHOLLAND FILES by Sandy Jones
When Edward Covington opens a letter one winter morning to find it contains only a photograph of an unknown woman he is curious, naturally, but no alarm bells ring. He clearly needs to read more thrillers, as we all know that this is just the beginning of his troubles. Violence, kidnap, ransom, secret codes, industrial espionage, international security alerts – all are about to break rather messily on Edward’s head. Author Sandy Jones (right) lives in the delightful county of Wiltshire, and The Mulholland Files is on sale here.
DESPITE THE DARKNESS by David Maughan Brown
Despite The Darkness is available now.
I love the expression “dog days”. Apparently it has its origins in astrology, and refers to the position of Sirius, the Dog Star. The dog days of summer are round about now, when everything seems to slow down, schools are out, parliament is in recess, and newspapers struggle to find newsworthy headlines. There are no dog days in crime publishing though, and I have three intriguing novels to highlight.
SHAMUS DUST by Janet Roger
This has the best subtitle ever – “HARD WINTER, COLD WAR, COOL MURDER” A well-earned bonus for whichever PR person thought that one up. If it lives up to the cover description – “A British Big Sleep” – then it will be bloody good! It’s 1947, and an expat American PI called Newman is hired to solve a series of killings.
Shamus Dust will be published by Matador on 28th October. Keep an eye open for the Fully Booked review nearer the time.
THE ROOKS DIE SCREAMING by Clive Tuckett
More historical crime fiction here, but we are in Cornwall in the 1920s. The normally placid and peaceful residents of Bodmin are bolting their doors early of nights, as a determined killer picks off members of a local organisation one by one. Enter Inspector Edwards, who author Tuckett introduced in his 2018 novel The Woman With The Red Hair. Edwards’ latest case is published by Book Guild and will be available from 28th August.
THE MAN IN THE DARK by Jonathan Whitelaw
In most crime fiction books, the Devil is a metaphor, but Jonathan Whitelaw has decided that the Evil One is far too interesting a character to just float around at the edge of people’s consciousness. In Hellcorp (2018) the chap with the horns and the scaly tail advanced beyond the metaphysical and was set the task of solving an ancient crime. Now, he returns to help the cops in London solve the mystery of a terrorist kidnapping. The Man In The Dark will be published by Urbane Publications on 26th September.
In September 2019, to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, IWM will launch a wonderful new series with four novels from their archives all set during the Second World War – Imperial War Museums Wartime Classics.
Originally published to considerable acclaim, these titles were written either during or just after the Second World War and are currently out of print. Each novel is written directly from the author’s own experience and takes the reader right into the heart of the conflict. They all capture the awful absurdity of war and the trauma and chaos of battle as well as some of the fierce loyalties and black humour that can emerge in extraordinary circumstances. Living through a time of great upheaval, as we are today, each wartime story brings the reality of war alive in a vivid and profoundly moving way and is a timely reminder of what the previous generations experienced.
Alan Jeffreys, (Senior Curator, Second World War, Imperial War Museums) searched the IWM library collection to come up with these four launch titles, all of which deserve a new and wider audience. He has written an introduction to each novel that sets them in context and gives the wider historical background and says:
“Researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve”.
Each story reflects the IWM remit to tell the stories of those who experienced conflict first hand. Each author has a fascinating back story. These are Second World War novels about the truth of war written by those who were actually there.
FROM THE CITY, FROM THE PLOUGH by Alexander Baron
This is a vivid and moving account of preparations for D- Day and the advance into Normandy. Published in the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings, this is based on the author’s first-hand experience of D-Day and has been described by Antony Beevor as:
“undoubtedly one of the very greatest British novels of the Second World War.”
Alexander Baron was a widely acclaimed author and screenwriter and his London novels have a wide following. This was his first novel.
TRIAL BY BATTLE by David Piper
This quietly shattering and searingly authentic depiction of the claustrophobia of jungle warfare in Malaya was described by William Boyd as:
“A tremendous rediscovery of a brilliant novel. Extremely well-written, its effects are both sophisticated and visceral.”
VS Naipaul described the novel as:
“one of the most absorbing and painful books about jungle warfare that I have read”
David Piper was best known as director of the National Portrait Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The novel is based on his time serving with the Indian Army in Malaya where he was captured by the Japanese and spent three years as a POW. His son, Tom Piper, was the designer of the hugely successful Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London to commemorate the First World War Centenary.
EIGHT HOURS FROM ENGLAND by Anthony Quayle
Anthony Quayle was a renowned Shakespearean actor, director and film star and this is his candid account of SOE operations in occupied Europe. Historian and journalist Andrew Roberts said:
“As well as being one of our greatest actors, Anthony Quayle was an intrepid war hero and his autobiographical novel is one of the greatest adventure stories of the Second World War. Beautifully written and full of pathos and authenticity, it brings alive the terrible moral decisions that have to be taken by soldiers under unimaginable pressures in wartime.”
PLENTY UNDER THE COUNTER by Kathleen Hewitt
This murder mystery about opportunism and the black market is set against the backdrop of London during the Blitz.
‘With a dead body on the first page and a debonair RAF pilot as the sleuth, this stylish whodunit takes you straight back to Blitzed London and murder most foul. Several plausible suspects, a femme fatale, witty dialogue, memorable scenes and unexpected twists – it boasts everything a great whodunit should have, and more.“
Kathleen Hewitt was a British author and playwright who wrote more than 20 novels in her lifetime. She was part of an artistic set in 1930’s London which included Olga Lehman and the poet Roy Campbell.
A full review of each novel will appear on the Fully Booked site in September.