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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Exit Day by David Laws

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As the row over Brexit gets worse and worse by the day, and outrage, offence, accusation and malice sweep like a remorseless bush fire across the country, I am reminded of a brilliant poem written in 1919 – and what a chilling centenary we may be about to see. WB Yeats wrote The Second Coming about the destructive nature of the movement for Irish self-rule. The first verse alone is worth repeating:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

david lawsThose last seven words kill, and journalist David Laws (left) has written a novel about the “passionate intensity” which sparks political assassination. The fateful day of Britain’s exit from the EU is dawning, and a vicious conspiracy is about to make all the previous months of political bickering seem like a garden party in comparison. Inadvertently, a journalist called Harry Topp has embedded himself at the heart of the plot, and he blunders on in search of a lifetime scoop, blissfully unaware of what is unfolding around him.

Laws is a seasoned press man himself, and so his account of the cynical world of newspaper journalism is vivid and authentic. We can only hope that this fascinating novel of what happens when ideals and passionate beliefs spur men and women into madness is just a work if entertaining fiction and not a prophecy. Exit Day is published by Matador, and will be out on 28th January.

 

Find out more about Exit Day on David Laws’ own website

 

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THE BLUE . . . The Postman Delivers

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theblueThe Blue by Nancy Bilyeau is a perfect novel for those long winter evenings, even though The Great Darkness is getting slightly shorter as each day passes. Lovers of historical adventure and romance should find plenty to engage them in this story of Genevieve Planché, a young and rebellious Huguenot artist on a quest for a colour: the most exquisite shade of blue.

We find Genevieve living in 18th century London, in a community established by her Protestant French forebears who had fled their homeland to escape persecution. Genevieve wants to be an artist, a painter of international repute, but nobody takes the idea of a female artist seriously in London.

cloistersdoorwayHer ambition is to travel to Venice to learn the secrets of Tintoretto, Veronese and Giorgioni, but her only chance is in the hands of an urbane – but possibly dangerous – English aristocrat, Sir Gabriel Courtenay.

Courtenay is deeply involved in the competitive English porcelain business, where manufacturers vie with each other to produce the finest wares. He sets Genevieve a challenge. Find the secret to the perfect blue pigment, and he will send her to Venice. Is this a Faustian pact? Will Genevieve’s industrial espionage put her life in danger?

Nancy Bilyeau (right) is from the Midwest of the USA but she currently works as a journalist and academic in New York. The Blue is her fourth novel, is published by Endeavour Quill, and is out now.

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MY CHRISTMAS POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Fox, Fraser-Sampson & Noon

GONE BY MIDNIGHT by Candice Fox

The Australian author has a popular series featuring Sydney based ‘tecs Frank Bennett and Eden Archer, and she has also joined the long list of writers who have collaborated with the prolific James Patterson. Now, however, she has written a standalone novel, set in the Queensland city of Cairns, specifically the White Caps Hotel. Parents out enjoying a meal while their child is left in the hotel room? What could possibly go wrong? Except that this child was not left alone. He had his three brothers for company, but now Richie has disappeared. Controversial PI Ted Conkaffey is asked by the police to investigate what appears to be an impossibility – one boy vanishing from under the noses of his brothers, none of who saw or heard a single thing. Gone By Midnight is published by Century and will be available from 24thJanuary 2019

 THE HOUSE ON DOWNSHIRE HILL by Guy Fraser-Sampson

This is the fifth in Fraser-Sampson’s delightful series, The Hampstead Murders, and we are reunited with the investigators from Hampstead police station, led by the urbane and unflappable Detective Superintendent Simon Collison. Although the action is very much present day, Fraser-Sampson’s love of the crime novels of a gentler age shines through as the death of a mysterious recluse and the dark secrets of his past cast a shadow over the genteel Georgian terraces and elegant vistas of London’s most exclusive ‘village’. Published by Urbane Publications, The House On Downshire Hill is out now.

SLOW MOTION GHOSTS by Jeff Noon

The latest book from the Brighton-based novelist, short story writer and crime fiction reviewer takes us back to 1981 and, like many other London coppers, DI Henry Hobbes has had his certainties shaken by the violence and mayhem of the Brixton riots. A murder, however, is as good a way as any of focusing his attention back to normal policing, but this killing is anything but routine. Is there an occult connection? Why has the killing been elaborately staged? The search for the killer impels Hobbes to answer questions about himself and London’s the world he inhabits, and it takes him to places he thought only existed in nightmares.

Also out on 24thJanuary, Slow Motion Ghosts is published by Doubleday.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN SOHO . . . Transworld crime fiction showcase 2018

The Great and The Good (plus yours truly) gathered at the decidedly swish Soho Hotel in Richmond Mews on the evening of 29th November for what has become an annual – and eagerly anticipated – event, the Transworld crime fiction showcase. Transworld have an enviable record of not only snaring established writers, but spotting talented authors and giving them a stage on which to make their debut.

 After a few glassesof the cup that cheers and inebriates we went down to one of the hotel’s film screening rooms to meet the three writers who were to be centre stage. In the chair was none other than Patricia Nicol – Sunday Times journalist, editor and author. The literary debutante was Lesley Kara, and she talked about how her novel The Rumour had been influenced by real life cases of children murdering other children.The spectres of Mary Bell, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson obviously cast a long shadow over her book, and she spoke with great conviction about the moral dilemma faced by society when these killers reach adulthood and strive for rehabilitation, with or without the anonymity provided by the state. The Rumour will be published on 27thDecember 2018.

 Fiona Barton already has two highly regarded novels – The Widow (2016) and The Child (2017) – to her name and The Suspect will be on the shelves from 24th January 2019. It has become something of a rite of passage for aspirational youngsters to heave their back-packs onto their shoulders and head off to the Far East or Australasia in search of who-knows-what, leaving their parents anxiously waiting for a text, a Skype message or – heaven forfend – a postcard saying that all is well and they are having a great time. Fiona takes us into the nightmare world of parents when two girls go missing on a trip to Thailand, and the fate of the eighteen year-olds becomes a lurid and speculative media story, She also explained that her narrative style, where the story is told from several contrasting viewpoints, stems from her work as a journalist where interviewing a range of people can reveal differing versions of reality.

 The graphics for The Secretary highlight the first six letters of the second word, and Renée Knight has based her second novel on the uniquely ambiguous position of the women –and it is usually women – who are personal secretaries to powerful corporate individuals. They are the silent shadows in the rooms where decisions are made that will influence the lives of thousands, and they witness the rage and the frustrations of the powerful. What, Renée Knight asks, happens when one such person, silent and discreet for years, is pushed to the point where what she knows and what she has seen hands her a potentially deadly weapon? The Secretary will be available from 21st February 2019.

ON MY SHELF . . . Kernick, Lanfermeijer & Mackenzie

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WE CAN SEE YOU by Simon Kernick

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Kernick is one of those writers who needs no introduction. If you need one, then I can only ask, “where have you been for the last seventeen years of so?”

He ventures into Taken territory with his latest novel, but instead of the main character being a vengeful ex-CIA man we have therapist Brook Connor, who returns to her San Francisco home to find that her daughter had been kidnapped.

What follows is an agonising and nail-biting journey through every parent’s darkest dream, where Connor has to put her own life – and that of her daughter – on the line.

Published by Century, We Can See You is out in hardback and Kindle at the end of November, and will be available in paperback in May 2019.

THE SOCIETY GAME by H Lanfermeijer

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Subtitled Olivia the Wife, this psychological thriller is narrated by Olivia Hopkins, a woman who makes a bad choice in marriage, but puts herself in harm’s way when she seeks an exit strategy.

Her choices force her to examine every aspect of her life – past, present and future – and also the way in which women can make fateful decisions based on distorted perceptions, fed by the manipulative and unscrupulous mass media. This is the first in what is intended to be a seven part series

Heather Lanfermeijer is on Twitter @HeatherLanferm1 and The Society Game is published by Matador, and is out now as a paperback and Kindle. The book also has a dedicated web page which is here.

THE BODY IN THE BOAT by A J Mackenzie

TBITB coverA J Mackenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, an Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife team of writers and historians.

Organised crime in Georgian England? Well, yes, but don’t expect Albanian gangs, Yardies or Mafioso. Instead, the villains are very much home grown, and they earn a fine living by smuggling.

These smugglers are not the jolly Yo-Ho-Ho characters of children’s fiction, nor are they the gentlemen typified in Kipling’s wonderful poem:




“Five and twenty ponies,

Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen ride by.”

Set on the English Channel coast of Kent, the novel introduces the unlikely but engaging partnership of Reverend Hardcastle and Mrs Choate, as they tangle with coffins in the dark, misty marshes, and desperate criminals.

The Body In The Boat, published by Bonnier Zaffre, is available now as a Kindle or in paperback.

 

THE FAMILIARS . . . A launch to remember

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sidebar1AT THE APPROPRIATELY NAMED DEAD DOLLS HOUSE in Islington, the inventive folks at publishers Bonnier Zaffre launched Stacy Halls’ novel The Familiars with not so much a flourish as a brilliant visual fanfare.

The novel was at the centre of a vigorous bidding war and, having won it, Bonnier Zaffre celebrated in style. The book is set in seventeenth century Lancashire, and the drama plays out under the lowering and forbidding bulk of Pendle Hill. If that rings a bell, then so it should. The Pendle Witch Trials were a notorious example of superstition and bigotry overwhelming justice. Ten supposed witches were found guilty and executed by hanging.

Stacey Halls takes the real life character of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, still a teenager, yet mistress of the forbidding Gawthorpe Hall. Despite being only 17, she has suffered multiple miscarriages, but is pregnant again. When a young midwife, Alice Grey, promises her a safe delivery, the two women – from such contrasting backgrounds –  are drawn into a dangerous social upheaval where a thoughtless word can lead to the scaffold.

Back to modern London. Francesca Russell, now Publicity Director at Bonnier Zaffre, has masterminded many a good book launch, and she and her colleagues were on song at The Dead Dolls House.  We were able to mix our own sidebar2witchy tinctures using a potent combination of various precious oils. I went for Frankincense with a dash of Patchouli. I managed to smear it everywhere and such was its potency that my wife was convinced that I had been somewhere less innocent than a book launch.

We were encouraged to give a nod to the novel’s title, and draw a picture of our own particular familiar, and pin it to a board for all to see. I decided to buck the trend towards foxes, cats and toads, and went for a fairly liberal interpretation of that modern icon, the spoilt and decidedly bratty Ms Peppa Pig.

The absolute highlight and masterstroke of the evening was, however, a brief dramatisation of a scene from the novel. Gemma Tubbs was austere and elegant as Fleetwood, while Amy Bullock, with her Vermeer-like simple beauty, brought Alice to life.

That’s the good news, and I have a copy of the novel. The bad news is that it isn’t out on general release until February 2019. Here’s wishing everyone a happy winter, and I hope you all survive another one. If you need an incentive to get through the long hours of cold, darkness and northern gloom, The Familiars should fit the bill. It will be published by Bonnier Zaffre and can be pre-ordered here.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . .Freedman, Horowitz & Stoddart

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British Summer Time ends on Sunday 28th October, but let’s not treat the event with dismay. We should welcome longer and colder nights which give us the chance to get more reading done. Three excellent books have landed in a timely fashion on my doormat this week so, if you’ll excuse my smug tone,  that’s me sorted!

LITTLE HONOUR by Penny Freedman

PFPenny Freedman (left) has been many things; a teacher, theatre critic, actor, director, counsellor and mother, but she also writes intriguing crime fiction. Her heroine Gina Gray has appeared in previous novels including Weep A While Longer and Drown My Books, but now we learn more about her granddaughter Freda, in a murder mystery which encompasses hate crime in a post-referendum London, the arcane world of legal chambers in Grey’s Inn and – for good measure – a missing dog. Available now, Little Honour is published by Matador/Troubador.

THE SENTENCE IS DEATH by Anthony Horowitz

AHAnthony Horowitz has a glittering array of successes on his CV, including reincarnations of both Sherlock Holmes and James Bond , Foyle’s War, and the Alex Rider series.  This is the latest book in a more recent series centred on a London private investigator, Daniel Hawthorne. When a high profile lawyer best-known for handling celebrity divorces is found dead in his luxury home overlooking Hampstead Heath, the police investigation gets nowhere, and they reluctantly bring in former copper Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s usual cool detachment from the case is disturbed when he becomes personally involved, with his own life very much on the line. The Sentence Is Death will be on the shelves on 1st November and is a Century publication. Click this link to read a review of The Word Is Murder, the previous Daniel Hawthorne mystery.

A GREATER GOD by Brian Stoddart

BSOne of my favourite historical policemen returns in the latest episode in the eventful life of Superintendent Chris Le Fanu. We are in Madras (Chennai) in the 1920s, and while the British grip on India is becoming weaker and weaker, there is still police work to be done. The city is blighted by a wave of violent clashes between Muslims, revolutionaries, and the blundering attempts by Le Fanu’s boss to restore order. Expect a brilliant narrative, impeccable historical background and authentic dialogue. A Greater God is published by Selkirk Books and will be available on 30th November.

There is more about Brian Stoddart and Christian Le Fanu elsewhere on the Fully Booked site.

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ON MY SHELF . . . Louise Penny, Norman Townsend & Jim Pinnells

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KINGDOM OF THE BLIND by Louise Penny

KOTBChief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec has been entertaining readers since 2005 when he made his debut in Still Life and his creator, Louise Penny, has a shelf full of literary awards for her efforts. In his latest case, Gamache has a very personal interest. An elderly woman whom he has never heard of, let alone met, has named his as the executor of her will. The document is full of odd bequests and instructions that suggest the old lady had long since taken leave of her senses, but when murder intrudes, Gamache finds himself involved in a case so full of menace, that a dotty senior citzen is the least of his problems. Kingdom of The Blind is published by Sphere and will be available in hardback and Kindle on 27th November.

 

TRASHED by Norman Townsend

TrashedSome ex-military men find that civilian life is hard to deal with, but Paul Stafford is coping well. He has used his retirement pot to start a small recycling business and everything in the scrapyard seems to be rosy, until he wins a lucrative contract to run a further five sites. What should be a business triumph turns into a nightmare for Stafford when he realises that his new sites have been previously used by a powerful criminal organisation, and the bad guys do not take kindly to their work being interrupted. Murder and violence come as second nature to them, and when his own employees begin to feel the full clout of the gangsters, Stafford must stand and fight – both for them and his own integrity. Trashed, from Troubador Publishing is available now.

REFLECTIONS by Jim Pinnells

ReflctrionsJim Pinnells is an international project manager who has worked in such diverse concerns as the oil industry, military hardware, renewable technology and national security. His knowledge of Thailand stems from a spell there working for the UN, and Reflections is set in Bangkok, where a poignant human drama is played out against a backdrop of one of the world’s most secretive criminal enterprises – the trade in human blood. Ed and Diana seem to have it all – beauty, talent and love for each other – but when their first child is born irreparably brain damaged, their world fall apart. Ed pursues the heartbroken to Diana to Thailand but a case of mistaken identity plunges him into a nightmare world of violence, kidnap and espionage. Reflections is published by Troubador and is out now.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Learner & Oswald

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THE MAGICK OF MASTER LILLY by Tobsha Learner

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Rumour had it that both Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess were obsessed with astrology, despite the Nazi regime having banned the dark art in 1934. A belief that the future could be told by studying the alignment of the planets, is, however, as old as human history itself. Tobsha Learner’s latest novel is centred on a real-life seventeenth century astrologer, William Lilly, and you can read a straightforward account of his life in this article by David Plant.

Learner has the luxury of being able to use her imagination to enhance what is already a fascinating biography, as Lilly was to be involved in one of the most turbulent periods of English history – the struggle between King and Parliament, 1642-1651. Not only did the Civil War set father against son and brother against brother, it ushered in two decades where natural disasters were to take their to toll on the country, particularly in London, where first pestilence and then apocalyptic fire would come down on the hapless citizens like outriders of the Four Horsemen.

Lilly is living as far as possible from the political heartbeat of the country, since Parliament has a vengeful way with anyone who appears to be dabbling in the occult, but as King Charles is blissfully unaware of his unpopularity and his fate, the astrologer is summoned to court. What he sees in the alignment of the planets is disaster heaped upon disaster. Will he be believed, and will his vision alter the course of history? The Magick of William Lully is published by Little, Brown and came out in Kindle earlier this year. This paperback edition is due to be on the shelves on 1st November.

NO TIME TO CRY by James Oswald

JOThe Tony McLean novels have established James Oswald as one of the stars in the current British crime fiction firmament. We reviewed the most recent, The Gathering Dark, and it was powerful stuff, leaving the likeable detective to deal with a devastating episode in his personal life. The sequel, Cold As The Grave (the ninth in the series) is due out next year, but fans of the writer, who keeps himself very busy running a farm in Scotland, have the first in a new series to tide them over.

Oswald takes us south of the border (but not Down Mexico Way) and we are introduced to a new heroine, undercover cop, DC Constance Fairchild. I don’t know if they exist so much in real life, but within the pages of crime novels, they are guaranteed to provoke bitten nails and deep anxiety. How good is their cover? Do the crims suspect them? How far will they go to maintain the illusion?

Fairchild’s already nervy existence is thrown into turmoil when she finds her boss dead. Executed, to be precise. The single shot to the head is something of a giveaway. Professionals are involved, and things get no better when Fairchild is made the scapegoat for an undercover sting which has gone badly wrong. Her grief at DI Pete Copperthwaite’s death fuses with anger at her professional betrayal. The mix is a toxic hatred for those who are responsible and, even though she becomes a target herself, she will not take a backward step until the guilty are punished. No Time To Cry is published by Wildfire Books, came out in Kindle in the summer, and will be available in paperback on 1st November.

 

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