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ON MY SHELF . . . March 2019

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SPRING IN THE EAST OF ENGLAND has been played rather a nasty trick by the weather Gods. February fooled us with its sunshine, gentle breezes and benign temperatures. March is taking its revenge. Blossom, daffodils and narcissi are nodding gamely but only just about holding their own in the teeth of savage winds. Still, indoors is relatively calm, and with a stack of excellent new books to ponder, I think I will make it through to May. Our four authors are all on Twitter, so just click on the little birdy to see what they are all up to.

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by Sara Collins

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square-twitterThis sounds as if it could be one of those bawdy recollections of a Victorian courtesan which passed for erotic literature in pre – 50 Shades days. It is, I am glad to say, nothing of the kind. It is, instead, a literary whodunnit set in early 19th century England. Then, as now, the media love an exotic criminal, no matter what crimes they may have committed. The chattering classes in the London of 1826 are, in turn, horrified and luridly curious about the defendant in a murder trial. The accused is a young woman, brought up on a slave plantation in her native Jamaica, and now she stands in the dock of the Old Bailey, charged with the murder of her employers, Mr and Mrs Benham. The indictment is sensational:

“FRANCES LANGTON, also known as Dusky Fran or Ebony Fran, is indicted for the wilful murder of GEORGE BENHAM and MARGUERITE BENHAM in that she on the 27th day of January in the year of Our Lord 1826 did feloniously and with malice aforethought assault GEORGE BENHAM and MARGUERITE BENHAM, subjects of our lord the King, in tat she did strike and stab them until they were dead, both about the upper and middle chest, their bodies having been discovered by EUSTACIA LINUX, housekeeper of Montfort Street, London.”

Frannie Langton tells her story courtesy of Sara Collins who, after a successful career as a lawyer, took a Masters degree in creative writing at Cambridge. This, her debut novel, is published by Viking/Penguin and will be available on 4th April.

THE LONELY HOUR by Christopher Fowler

square-twitterI have never written anything more eye-catching or erudite than these book reviews, so I don’t really know what real authors use (apart from sales figures) as ‘performance indicators’ for success. I use the speech marks to show that I would never normally use such examples of Management Speak, so it’s irony, OK? I imagine, though, that when you have created a central character, or in this case a duo, that is is so recognisable that it gets a bigger font than both the book title and the author’s name on the dust jacket, then maybe you have made it. Christopher Fowler’s ageless pair of investigators are, in the nicest possible way, an in-joke before the first page is turned. Fowler is second to none in his ability to use obscure British brand names as he puns and funs his way through what are the most irresistibly English novels of our time, and his two constabulary codgers are, for younger readers, named after a brand of British matches which were first sold in the mid nineteenth century. Their latest adventure begins, as ever, in London, with a mysterious death which may be connected to black magic. The book blurb promises “murder, arson, kidnap, blackmail ….. and bats.” Expect brilliant use of language, an eccentric and bewildering plot with a breathtaking resolution  – and many a good joke. The Lonely Hour is out on 21st March and is published by Doubleday. The more perceptive among you might infer that I am a fan of Christopher Fowler. To find out more about his books, click on the gentleman’s image below, and all will be revealed.

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BONES OF THE EARTH by Eliot Pattison

square-twitterEliot Pattison is an American writer who has written a superb series of novels, of which this the tenth, featuring a Chinese detective, Inspector Shan Tao Yun, who has upset the Communist regime by his honesty and single minded integrity. Managing to escape a state firing squad he has, instead, been exiled to the wilds of Tibet where, or so his masters believe, he can do no harm. The Inspector is forced to witness the execution of a Tibetan for corruption, but he can’t shake the suspicion that he has instead witnessed a murder arranged by conspiring officials. As ever, Shan chooses the hard road, and his investigations bring him into contact with the vengeful father of a murdered American archaeologist who is determined to find justice for his dead son. Shan becomes slap dab in the middle of a deathly struggle between the mystical world of Tibetan gods and the implacable bureacrats back in Beijing. Bones Of The Earth is out on 26th March, and is published by Minotaur Books. I’ve reviewed and recommended earlier novels by Eliot Pattison, so click the image below to find out more.

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NO ONE HOME by Tim Weaver

square-twitterIt seems like only the other day that Tim Weaver introduced us to his investigator David Raker, yet No One Home is the tenth novel in the series. Raker has, you might say, a niche talent. He finds missing people. People in whom the police have lost interest, with just their distraught wife, husband, son or daughter left to care. Raker pursues his missing folk to some of the most far-flung parts of the world, but here, the mystery begins close to home. In a baffling disappearance to rival the unsolved mystery of the Marie Celeste, Raker isn’t just chasing one elusive subject – he’s after an entire community. The nine members of a tiny hamlet sit down to eat, drink and have fun on All Hallows Eve. When the grey dawn comes, they are gone. Every single one of them. Is Raker about to unravel a breathtaking conspiracy, or will he just have to settle for corpses? You will have to be patient to read how David Raker tackles this latest challenge, as Michael Joseph will be publishing the book on 16th May. Meanwhile click on the picture below to find out a little more about how Mr R operates.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . A Book of Bones

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PackageI would be lying if I said I hadn’t been counting the days until this arrived. Kerry Hood at Hodder & Stoughton is to be commended for showing great patience in the face of my impatience, but it finally arrived. Kerry had mentioned that it might be something special, but then publicists always say that, don’t they? So, ripping off the sturdy cardboard wrapper ….

 

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UnwrappedTa-da! And there it was, the long awaited latest journey into the darkness of men and angels for the Maine PI, Charlie Parker. The adjectives are easy – haunted, conflicted, convincing, troubled, angry, brave … fans of the series can play their own ‘describe Charlie Parker’ game, but most importantly, our man is back.

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ScalesCharlie Parker is back, and how! I was advised  that I might want to set aside a fair amount of time to read A Book of Bones but, blimey, Kerry was not wrong. At a little short of 700 pages, and weighing nearly 2lbs in old money, the book is certainly a big ‘un. New readers shouldn’t be daunted, though. John Connolly couldn’t write a dull sentence even if he went off to his Alma Mater, Trinity College Dublin, to do a doctorate in dullness.

 

PARKER PIECES

PiecesBut there was more! Book publicists are an inventive lot, and over the years I’ve had packets of sweets, tiny vials of perfume, books wrapped in funereal paper and black ribbon, facsimiles of detective case files – but never a jigsaw. Wrapped up in a cellophane packet with a lovely Charlie Parker 20 year anniversary graphic were the pieces.

 

Parker puzzle

PuzzleAs I was always told to do by my old mum, I isolated the bits with the straight edges first. There was clearly a written message in there, set against the lovely – but sinister – stained glass background. Confession time; although the puzzle didn’t have too many pieces, I got stuck. Fortunately, Mrs P was taking a very rare day off work with a flu bug, and as she is a jigsaw ace, she finished it off for me.

So the publicity is brilliant. but what about the book? Parker could never be described as having a comfort zone, but over the last two decades he had been battling the bad guys on his home ground – usually the forests and shores of Maine. A Book of Bones sees him on unfamiliar territory, but heading for a winner-takes-all struggle with his adversaries Quale and Pallida Mors. They have chosen the battlefield, and it is the windswept and haunted moors of northern England. Quale and Mors are close to achieving a lifetime ambition – to reassemble the pages of The Fractured Atlas, a book which, when complete, spells death and a spiritual apocalypse. Parker is older, slower, and weakened by his battles with the killer angels, but this time, he is playing for keeps. A Book of Bones will be on sale from 18th April 2019.

The last inclusion in this delightful package from Hodder & Stoughton was a lovely postcard from the man himself, John Connolly. If you click on the image, you can read more about the author and his most memorable creation.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Baker, Beattie & Miles

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Jo BakerJO BAKER was born and raised in Lancashire, and was educated at Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale, and Somerville College, Oxford. The Body Lies is her seventh novel, and her best-seller Longbourn is a highly individual reshaping of Pride and Prejudice as seen through the eyes of the “below stairs” staff in the Bennet house. Jo Baker has her own website, and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Voices of Faith 2018TINA BEATTIE was born in 1955 in Lusaka, Zambia. Her parents were economic migrants from post-war Scotland She is now Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton in London, and has written widely on theology and the Roman Catholic faith. Her writing, particularly with regard to women’s rights and feminism have often brought her into conflict with the more conservative wing of her church. Her Amazon page is HERE.

MP MilesMP MILES is from a small town in Dorset. He is a pilot, a diving instructor, and an award-winning chef. A lifelong sailor he now lives in the Caribbean on-board a yacht called Pacific Wave. The British lad in Shelter Rock may well be a version of his younger self as  he escaped from home at the age of eighteen, and walked alone through Africa from Cape Town to Cairo. You can find MP Miles on Facebook and also on Twitter

ON MY SHELF . . . The Boy In The Headlights

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Samuel Bjørk is the pen name of Norwegian novelist, playwright and singer/songwriter Frode Sander Øien. Øien wrote his first stage play at the age of twenty-one and has since written two highly acclaimed novels, released six albums, written five plays, and translated Shakespeare, all in his native Norway. Øien currently lives and works in Oslo.

His third crime novel, The Boy In The Headlights is due to be published by Doubleday on 21st March, and once again features the Special Investigations cops Holger Munch and Mia Krüger who will be no strangers to the readers who enjoyed their previous two cases.
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In The Boy In The Headlights, which is translated by Charlotte Barslund, Munch and Krüger try to nail a serial killer who has already struck on four occasions, each time leaving a clue to taunt the investigators. It becomes clear that the murders are linked to a bizarre incident fourteen years earlier, when a motorist, driving home through the a typical Norwegian winter’s night narrowly avoids running into an animal, frozen in the car’s headlights on the lonely road. Except this is no startled forest creature. It is a terrified boy, with deer antlers strapped to his head. Norwegian critics have nothing but praise for Bjørk and his writing:

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Any UK media enquiries should be addressed to Tom Hill at Transword Publishers thill@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk
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ON MY SHELF . . . Late January 2019

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The TBR pile is beginning to look menacing, but that’s fine. It’s January. It’s bleak outside. The rain sluices against the window panes. The central heating is working a treat, so all is good. How do I find the time? It’s called being retired, and I can thoroughly recommend it. So, in alphabetical order of author, here we go.

RUN AWAY by Harlan Coben

harlan-cobenOne of the more reliable tropes in crime fiction, and one that never fails to hit a nerve, is the one about the father whose daughter is taken from him by fate, circumstance or – memorably in the case of Bryan Mills/Liam Neeson – by the bad guys. In this case, however, Simon Greene has lost his daughter to a more complex enemy – drugs, disenchantment and mental instability. Greene’s wife has had enough of the wayward Paige and has shut her out of her life, but Greene never stops looking. And then he finds her. Emaciated, filthy, and addicted. His determination to follow her down into her own private hell and bring her back is a terrifying journey through New York’ dark side, and a stark portrait of human obsession. Century will be publishing Run Away on 21st March, and there’s plenty to read about Harlan Coben on the Fully Booked website

TOO CLOSE by Natalie Daniels

claraNatalie Daniels is the pseudonym for screenwriter, author and actress Clara Salaman who starred as DS Claire Stanton in the long running British TV cop show The Bill. Her talent as a writer is on display here in a psychological drama about a woman who wakes up in a secure mental hospital, her hair torn out in clumps, emaciated and with no memory of how she got there. What is the connection between Connie’s present state and the friendly lady she met in the park watching their children play? Can psychiatrist Emma Robinson untangle the twisted knots that make up Connie’s memory, and come anywhere near to rationalising what Connie has done? Transworld Digital brought out Too Close in November 2018 as a Kindle, but people who like to get their hands on the printed page can get a paperback version on 7th March.

THE PASSENGERS by John Marrs

john-marrs-author-imageIf you are long in the tooth and a bit ‘old school’ like me, you may well share my bafflement at the concept of driverless cars. It will all end in tears, I say, and this entertaining mixture of crime fiction and SciFi may add weight to my argument. Eight driverless cars set off on their separate journeys. The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two who are travelling in separate vehicles – and a suicidal man. What could possibly go wrong? Someone hacking into the IT system which controls these vehicles is precisely what goes wrong, with predictably disastrous consequences. Marrs  is the author of best sellers The One, The Good Samaritan, When You Disappeared, Welcome to Wherever You Are and Her Last Move. The Passengers will be out in Kindle on 1st April, and there will be a paperback version from Del Rey at the end of May.

TAKEN by Tony Parsons

tony_parsonsThere are few modern writers who know London as well as Tony Parsons, and his intrepid London copper Max Wolfe gets to explore the many nooks and crannies, foibles, eccentricities – and dark places – of England’s capital in the course of his investigations. When a gangland revenge kidnapping goes spectacularly wrong, Wolfe is drawn into the nightmare world of London’s underbelly, and he is pitted against men for whom power, money, sex and horrific violence are simply tools of their trade. I am a huge fan of Tony Parsons and his Max Wolfe novels, so while you wait for Taken to appear –  on 18th April –  check out my reviews of Die Last and Girl On Fire.

 

NO ONE YOU KNOW by Michelle Richmond

michelleEllie Enderlin’s life has been blighted by the unsolved murder of her sister. Lila’s death cast its black shadow over her parents, too, but when Ellie finds her sisters notebook what she reads opens up the possibility that Lila’s killer may, at last, be identified. Knowledge, however, rarely comes without a price, and as Ellie reconstructs her sister’s life – and death – she comes to realise that when heavy stones are lifted, there may be unpleasant things scuttling around underneath. Set in San Francisco, this first came out in 2008, and second hand copies can be picked up fairly easily, but this is a brand new paperback reissue, and is out now,

 

KARIM, KING OF ENGLAND by Baz Wade

karimThis is a futuristic political thriller which takes as its subtext the anxieties many British people share about the rise and rise of Islam in the commercial, educational and social life of the country. Readers will not need subtitles to recognise the real-life palimpsest of this story, where a dazzling English princess bears a child whose father is a wealthy middle-eastern playboy. Karim is that child, and when he returns to England after a Muslim upbringing in Dubai, he becomes involved in a political and social struggle which threatens to engulf the country, and turn his golden dreams into ashes. Karim, King Of England came out late last year and is readily available.

 

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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.

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