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THE SANDRINGHAM MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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I found this novel intriguing in two ways. Firstly, the action takes place on my home turf. I live in Wisbech (well, someone has to) and Spalding, Sutterton, Sutton Bridge (just over the border in Lincolnshire), and Sandringham in West Norfolk are all very familiar. Christina James (real name Linda Bennett) writes:

“I was born in Lincolnshire, in England, and grew up in Spalding. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the South Lincolnshire Fens, with their huge skies, limitless landscapes and isolated communities; I have always been interested in the psychology of the people who have lived there over the centuries. I have now put some of this interest and fascination into the fictional world of Detective Inspector Tim Yates.”

I believe she now lives in Leeds, but the Lincolnshire (South Holland is the administrative district) landscape is as vivid as if she were just still standing there.

Secondly, she employs two narrative viewpoints. The first is centred on DI Tim Yates – obviously one of the good guys – but the second is narrated by a rich industrialist called Kevan de Vries, and we are not sure if he is on the side of the angels or the devils.

Kevan de Vries lives in a palatial country home called Lauriston, in the village of Sutterton. Almost by accident (police are investigating a suspected burglary) a package of forged UK passports is discovered in the cellar, but de Vries claims he has no knowledge of how they got there.  Then, a more shocking discovery is made, in the shape of skeletons which, when examined, appeared to be those of black people. They have been there since the 19th century.

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For all his riches, de Vries had not been able to buy happiness. His wife Joanna has terminal cancer, and their autistic son attends a boarding school in nearby Sleaford. The couple spend much of their time on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, while the business of running the huge processing plant in South Lincolnshire is largely left to a manager called Tony Sentance who, surprisingly, de Vries loathes and abhors. So, does Sentance have some kind of hold on de Vries?

Screen Shot 2022-11-17 at 18.46.47Tim Yates’s life is made even more complicated when the remains of a young woman are found on the Queen’s estate at Sandringham, across the border in Norfolk. It should be none of Yates’s business, except that the dead woman was wearing branded work clothing from Kevan de Vries’ factory. Meanwhile, a mysterious diary dating back to Victorian times, and found in the cellar at Lauristan, reveals that the controversial colonial politician Cecil Rhodes had connections with the family who owned the house at the time.

When Yates investigates the connection between the girl whose remains were concealed on the royal estate and the de Vries factory, he comes up against a wall of silence which convinces him that the dead girl was caught up in a trafficking and prostitution racket linked to the huge numbers of Eastern Europeans who came to work in the area during the years of *freedom of movement.

*The tens of thousands of people from Poland and the Baltic states who arrived in Eastern England in the 2000s transformed towns like Boston, Spalding and Wisbech. The owners of food processing factories and farmers grew rich, and the immigrants found they could earn far more for their labours than they could back home. There was a downside to this, in that along with the hard working immigrants came unscrupulous people who made fortunes exploiting cheap labour, renting out multiple-occupancy homes and – worst of all – establishing a thriving slavery and prostitution network.

This is an enjoyably complex novel which works on one level as an excellent police procedural while, on another, takes a long hard look at how powerful people – both now and in times past – exploit the most vulnerable in society. The Sandringham Mystery is published by Bloodhound Books and is available now.

THE POISON MACHINE . . . Between the covers

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There is nothing new in historical fiction writers having their own invented characters  mix with real life figures. Among the writers who have done this with great success in the crime genre are Philip Kerr, John Lawton, Chris Nickson, and MJ Trow (click the links for further information). I was delighted to be able to review The Bloodless Boy by Robert J Lloyd just about a year ago. He introduced us the (fictional) scientist Harry Hunt and brought back personal memories of ‘O’ Level Physics by featuring Robert Hooke, of Hooke’s Law* fame.

*Hooke’s Law states that the force (F) needed to extend or compress a spring by some distance (x) scales linearly with respect to that distance—that is, Fs = kx, where k is a constant factor characteristic of the spring (i.e., its stiffness), and x is small compared to the total possible deformation of the spring.

I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t, but no matter. In The Bloodless Boy King Charles II played quite a significant part, but his Roman Catholic wife, Queen Catherine is more to the fore in The Poison Machine, principally because after an eventful sojourn in France, Harry Hunt discovers a plot to murder her. The story begins in London in 1679, where Harry is humiliated when an experiment he is conducting in front of some very distinguished men goes badly wrong. Feeling unsupported by Robert Hooke, he distances himself from the London scientific world by taking on a criminal investigation,

Screen Shot 2022-10-16 at 19.18.26In far-off Norfolk, men repairing flood defences near Denver Sluice have discovered what appears to be the remains of a child inside the rotted skeleton of a boat. Hunt, accompanied by Colonel Michael Field, a grizzled veteran of Cromwell’s army, and Hooke’s niece, Grace. When the trio arrive in Norfolk, Hunt soon determines that the remains are not those of a child, but the mortal remains of Jeffrey Hudson, who was known as the Queen’s Dwarf – the Queen in question being the late Henrietta Maria (left), wife of Charles I. The situation becomes more bizarre when Hunt learns that Hudson is not dead, but living in the town of Oakham, 60 miles west across the Fens. Hunt and his companions’ journey only delivers up more mystery when they find that ‘Jeffrey Hudson’ has left the town. Hunt knows that the jolly boat* which contained the skeleton belonged to a French trader, Incasble, which worked out of King’s Lynn.

*Jolly boats were usually the smallest type of boat carried on ships, and were generally between 16 feet (4.9 m) and 18 feet (5.5 m) long. They were clinker-built and propelled by four or six oars. When not in use the jolly boat normally hung from davits at the stern of a ship, and could be hoisted into and out of the water. Jolly boats were used for transporting people and goods to and from shore.

Sancy diamond ndexHunt’s odyssey continues. In King’s Lynn, Hunt and his companions are summoned to the presence of the Duchesse de Mazarin. Hortense Mancini is one of the most beautiful women in Europe. She is highly connected, but also notorious as one of Charles II’s (several) mistresses. She reveals that the mysterious dwarf – or his impersonator – may be in possession of a a legendary gemstone – the Sancy – a diamond of legendary worth, and the cause of centuries of intrigue and villainy. The Duchesse bids Harry to travel to Paris, but once there, his fortunes take a turn for the worse.

The layers of deception and double dealing in Lloyd’s plot are sometimes breathtakingly complex, but the page-and-a-half of dramatis personnae at the front of the book is a great help. When Harry Hunt, apparently betrayed by Colonel Fields, finds himself incarcerated sine die in la Bastille, one fears the worst for our intelligent (but not particularly swashbuckling) hero.

Robert J Lloyd once again works his magic in the twin roles of formidable historian and fine storyteller. We have fantastical escapes, improbable machines (a kind of 17thC steampunk) and perilous journeys to entertain us, and they do this most royally. The Poison Machine is published by Melville House and is available now.

FOUR THOUSAND DAYS Days . . . Between the covers

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I am pushed to think of another modern writer who is more prolific, but yet so consistently readable as MJ Trow. Not only that, until a few years ago he actually ‘worked for a living’ outside of his writing career. He and I walked along one or two shared paths. We went to the same school, but I was a couple of years ahead of him, and neither of us noticed one another’s presence. We both took up a career in teaching, and shared a deep contempt for the corporate management styles in English comprehensive schools. He exploited that in his superb series centred on the world of Peter ‘Mad’ Maxwell, Head of History at a fictional school in the Isle of Wight. I say fictional, but Maxwell was, to all intents and purposes, the author himself. One imagines (and hopes) that the murders in the books were purely imaginary ones, but the troubled and often complex teenagers and preposterous members of the Senior Leadership Team were all too true to life.

Before Maxwell came Trow’s homage to Conan Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade. Bumbling and incompetent in the original books, Lestrade is portrayed by Trow as a decent copper, nobody’s fool, and doing his best, but frequently upstaged by his flashier nemesis from Baker Street. There are also series featuring Kit Marlowe, the Elizabethan dramatist, here recast as one of Gloriana’s secret agents. I have also enjoyed the Grand and Batchelor Victorian mysteries. Trow is a great humorist and punster. mixing comedy and word play with superb plotting and  – the real pull, for me – the introduction of real historical characters in to the narrative. In addition he has written extensively in other genres, including True Crime.

Having just realised I am over 200 words into the review without mentioning the book in question, I must get back on task. Margaret Murray was the first celebrated woman archaeologist, and in Four Thousand Days she is at the centre of an intriguing mystery. We are in London, October 1900, and while the Boer War is still very much alive, the Boer leader Paul Kruger has fled to Europe, the ‘game’ is pretty much over, and the first British troops are returning from South Africa.

A young woman is found dead, apparently by her own hand, in a sleazy tenement bedroom. Further investigation reveals that she led at least two different lives, one as a prostitute, but another as a modest and attentive student, a regular attendee at Margaret Murray’s free Friday afternoon lectures at University College London. Another student of Em-Em, (Margaret Murray) Angela Friend, is drawn into the case by her soon-to-be boyfriend, Police Constable Adam Crawford.

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Enter another real-life character in the shape of retired copper, Edmund Reid (above). Troubled by the recent death of his wife and his conspicuous failure a dozen years earlier to catch Jack the Ripper, he has resigned himself to a solitary existence down in Hampton on Sea, a village near Herne Bay in Kent. Hampton would eventually be obliterated by erosion and the force of the waves, but an early part of this process – the collapse of a sand dune – reveals to Reid the body of another woman, dead for some time. The fact she was another archaeologist, is too much of a coincidence. It transpires that she was attempting to excavate a Roman coastal fort. What she found – and was murdered for – has the potential to turn Christian history on its head. He teams up with Margaret Murray to solve the mystery. The book’s enigmatic title? All is revealed in the final pages, but I will not spoil it for you.

Trow introduces other historical characters, and one of his many skills is to make us believe that how they behave in his book is just how they were in real life. As in all of his novels, Trow reminds us in Four Thousand Days that his grasp of history is second to none. Add that to his wizardry as a storyteller, and you have a winning combination. Four Thousand Days is published by Severn House and is available now.

For more on the novels of MJ Trow, click the image below.

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STAY BURIED . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2022-10-01 at 19.38.56Writing as Katherine Webb, the author (left) is a well established writer of several books which seem to be in the romantic/historical/mystery genre, but I believe this is her first novel with both feet firmly planted on the  terra firma  of crime fiction. Wiltshire copper DI Matthew Lockyer, after a professional error of judgment, has been sidelined into a Cold Case unit, consisting of himself and Constable Gemma Broad.

He receives a telephone call from a most unexpected source. His caller is Hedy Lambert, a woman he helped convict of murder fourteen years earlier. The case was full of unexpected twists and turns, none more bizarre than the identity of the victim.  Harry, son of Emeritus Professor Roland Ferris had left home as a teenager and, seemingly, vanished from the face of the earth. Then he returns home to the Wiltshire village where his father lives. This variation on the tale of The Prodigal Son, takes a turn for the worse, however, when Harry’s dead body is discovered, and standing over it, clutching the murder weapon, is Ferris’s housekeeper Hedy Lambert. Problem is, it’s not Harry Ferris.

After a few days it transpires the the murder victim is actually Mickey Brown, a Traveller, who superficially resembles Harry. Despite the absence of any plausible motive Hedy Lambert is convicted of murder and found guilty, condemned almost entirely by  convincing forensic evidence. Now, Lambert has telephoned Lockyer from her prison to tell him that the real Harry Ferris has returned to his father’s house. Lockyer visits Longacres, Ferris’s house in the village of Stoke Lavington, to find the old man at death’s door with cancer of the blood and Harry Ferris totally unwilling to co-operate with the re-opening of the murder case.

As the story develops, we learn more about Lockyer and his background. His parents are what Americans call hardscrabble farmers, elderly and increasingly unable to make a living out of the farm or see any fruits for their lifetime of hard work. The obvious person to take over the farm was Lockyer’s brother Chris, but he is long dead, having been stabbed in a fracas outside a local pub. His killer has never been brought to justice.

One of the many admirable qualities of this book is that Kate Webb doesn’t take any prisoners in her portrayal of rural Wiltshire. Yes, there are obviously some beautiful places, but there are also farms which are bleak, wind-swept and run-down; there are villages and small towns with rough and tumble pubs which are no strangers to violence. Please don’t expect the sun-kissed limestone cottages and trim thatched roofs of Midsomer; this is Wiltshire in winter from a literal point of view, and metaphorically it is darker territory altogether.

On one level, Stay Buried is a superior whodunnit, as by the half way point Kate Webb has presented us with a tasty line-up of possible killers. There is Paul Rifkin, Ferris’s factotum, the real Harry Ferris, Tor Gravich, the young research assistant who was in Longacres at the time of the murder, Sean Hannington, a violent Traveller thug with a grudge against Mickey Brown, Serena Godwin, and even Roland Ferris himself. Or are we being led up the garden path, and is the killer Hedy Lambert after all? The eventual solution is elegant, complex and unexpected. On another level altogether, the book is a forensic examination of the nature of grief, guilt, and the corrosive effect of harbouring a desire for revenge.

This is excellent crime fiction, with a central character who has the quirks and flaws to make him totally credible. The geographical backdrop against which DI Matt Lockyer does his job is painted ‘warts and all’, lending a psychological darkness to proceedings. Stay Buried is published by Quercus and will available as listed below:

Kindle – 27th October 2022
Audiobook – 27th October 2022
Hardcover – 19th January 2023
Paperback – 29th July 2023

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A DARK STEEL DEATH . . . Between the covers

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Chris Nickson’s long running saga about  Leeds copper Tom Harper continues with our man now Deputy Chief Constable. We are in January 1917 and, like in other major cities, patrols are on the look out for the silent peril of Zeppelins, while Harper has a possible act of sabotage to investigate after a pile of newspaper and kindling is found inside a warehouse used for storing military clothing. The book begins, however, a month earlier with a true historical incident.

In nearby Barnbow, a huge munitions factory had been established from scratch in 1915. Its prime function was the filling of shells. With the constant drain of manpower to the armed forces, the workforce at Barnbow became over 90% female. On the night of 5th December 1916 a massive explosion occurred in Hut 42, killing 35 women outright, maiming and injuring dozens more. In some cases identification was only possible by the identity disks worn around the necks of the workers. It is believed that the explosion was triggered by a shell being packed with double the required amount of explosives. The dead women, at last, have their own memorial.

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With the Barnbow investigation ongoing, Harper has more problems on his hands when a sentry outside a barracks in the city is shot dead with, it turns out, a SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) .303 rifle, adapted for sniping, which was stolen from the barracks own armoury.

There are so many things to admire about this series, not least being the meticulous historical research carried out by the author. One example is the development of police investigative techniques. Back at the beginning, in Gods of Gold (2014), the idea that people could be identified by their fingerprints would have been seen as pure fantasy but, as we see in this novel, it was an essential tool  for the police by 1917.

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Back to Tom Harper’s current case. As he and his detectives sift what little evidence there is, they seem to be chasing their own tails. Harper’s worries don’t end as he closes his office door each evening. In an earlier book, we learned the grim news that his vivacious and beautiful wife Annabelle, a tireless campaigner for female equality, has developed early-onset dementia. Harper has employed a Belgian refugee couple to run Annabelle’s pub, and keep a close eye on his wife, but he never knows from one day to the next what state she will be in. If he is lucky, she will show glimpses of her old self; when she is having a bad day, she inhabits a totally imaginary world and slips from all the anchors of reality. The most painful moments for Harper come when Annabelle believes that he is her late first husband, Harry.

Eventually the case breaks. Harper and his team are astonished to find they are facing not just one killer, but a partnership. Two former soldiers, Gordon Gibson and James Openshaw were virtually buried alive when a shell exploded near them on the Western Front. Openshaw was a sniper and Gibson, not much of a shot but with superb eyesight, was his spotter. Both men were invalided out, but Openshaw, after a spell at the famous Edinburgh hospital, Craiglockhart, remains under constant medical care at Gledhow Hall, a Leeds stately home used as a hospital for the duration of the war. It seems that for whatever motive, Gibson smuggled Openshaw  and the rifle out of the hospital to commit the murder of the sentry. Now, Gibson is at large with the rifle and, despite his poor marksmanship, has shot at Tom Harper’s official car, and badly wounded a policeman.

The endgame takes place as Gibson uses all his fieldcraft to find his way into a heavily guarded Gledhow Hall to liberate Openshaw and resume their killing spree. The finale is breathtaking, powerfully written – and deeply moving. A Dark Steel Death is published by Severn House and is available now.

FOR MORE ON THE TOM HARPER SERIES CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

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DEMOLITION . . . Between the covers

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Former Lancashire copper and now best-selling novelist Nick Oldham doesn’t muck about. By the time you have read the first half dozen pages of his latest Henry Christie novel, we have had a gangster shot dead in his own swimming pool, another very rich but rather ‘iffy’ businessman bludgeoned to death with a huge spanner he has been using to rebuild a WW2 aircraft – and Henry himself dodging bullets.

High speed back story for new readers (Where have you been? This is book 30 in the series!) Henry Christie, former senior copper, now in his 50s, rather tragic ‘love life’, runs a pub in Kendleton on the Lancashire moors, frequently engaged by his former employers as a civilian investigator, usually involving crimes committed by local gangsters operating a kind of triangle-of-death between Preston, Blackpool and Fleetwood. No kiss-me-quick hats here, just deprivation, drugs and violence.

As has been customary in the recent novels, Christie is signed back on to help with the two murders – a perfectly plausible move by the Lancashire Constabulary, as  their staffing levels have taken a hit through Covid. Henry’s police ‘chaperone’ is DS Deb Blackstone. She is a feisty and competent officer who just happens to dress like a slightly deranged Goth, with spiked pink hair and all the trimmings.

Our man has other things on his plate, too. One of the regular groups to meet in his pub rather like rural Lancashire’s answer to The Thursday Murder Club, and the case they are currently working on is not so much cold as embedded in the permafrost. It concerns the murder of Lucas Grundy, back in 1941, and spice is added to the investigation by the fact that Eric, the murdered man’s brother is still alive, albeit aged 100. Christie learns from an elderly woman in the village that she believes Eric Grundy raped her, many decades earlier, but the crime was never properly dealt with.

A couple of days before Lucas Grundy was murdered, a Heinkel bomber, damaged in a raid, crashed on the moors nearby. Three of the five-man crew died at the scene and were buried in the local churchyard, but nothing was ever found of the other two. Was it possible that they were somehow involved in Grundy’s death, and how did they simply seem to disappear of the face of the earth?

As a humble reviewer, I can’t begin to comprehend how Nick Oldham keeps so many sub plots going at the same time without the narrative collapsing in confusion. One metaphor, I suppose, is that of the plate-spinning juggler, who manages not to break any of the plates, but stacks them neatly one on top of the other at the end of his performance. Oldham rounds off the action with his customary inventiveness and panache, but be warned  – there is a particularly venomous sting in the tail. Demolition is published by Severn House, and is available now.

FOR REVIEWS OF EARLIER NOVELS IN THE SERIES,
CLICK THE AUTHOR’S IMAGE BELOW

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FROM THE ASHES . . . Between the covers

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Deborah Masson is back with another gritty police thriller set in her home town of Aberdeen. This time, DI Eve Hunter (previously seen in Out For Blood and Hold Your Tongue) faces the grimmest challenge presented to police officers all over the world – the death of a child. Lucas Fyfe – dead mother, drug addicted father and unfeeling grandmother – has been in care since he was little. When someone deliberately sets fire to Wellwood, a children’s home, he is the one resident who doesn’t make it out. Why? Because the body of the eleven year-old is discovered in the cellar, and the trapdoor which is the only access is concealed under a heavy carpet.

Literally from page one, Masson gives us another perspective – that of the presumed arsonist. We know it’s a ‘he’, and we know that he was a former resident of Wellwood when it was run by the current warden’s father, William Alderton and the sadistic Sally Fields. I find that the backstory narrative trope can be irritating when an author uses too many viewpoints and too many time frames, but here it is used with subtlety and works very well.

Eve Hunter’s team consists of DS Cooper, DS Mearns and DC Ferguson, and the sparky dynamics between them provide an intriguing counterpoint to the investigation. Scott Ferguson is peripherally involved in a road accident on his way to work, but his obsession with the young man who was the main casualty starts to distract him from the Wellwood case. When a further shocking discovery is made in the cellar where Lucas Fyfe died, Ferguson’s lack of attention becomes even more serious. We eventually learn why Ferguson feels compelled to be at the bedside of the young vagrant who was badly injured in the RTA, and it turns the case on its head.

Hunter and her team soon realise that the surviving children and the three adult staff of Wellwood are not telling all that they know. That much is obvious, but penetrating the veil of secrecy proves more difficult. With both of the original owners dead, and local Children’s Services being very protective of the few remaining historic records of the children who were residents, the case seems to go round in circles, until Ferguson’s with Archie, the young RTA victim, finally pays off.

Deborah Masson is a writer who enjoys providing her readers with the unexpected, and the finale of the novel, in the grim basement of Wellwood, is a prime example. Eve Hunter comes over as tough and uncompromising in pursuit of the bad guys, but her family background has left her with a strong streak of compassion, and when Scott Ferguson finally reveals his own secrets – and his link to the Wellwood basement – she is well-equipped to provide emotional support.

This novel is dark, cleverly plotted, full of well-concealed surprises and a master class in how to write a good police-procedural. From The Ashes is published by Transworld/Penguin and is available now.

JOSEPHINE TEY . . . New editions from Penguin

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Screen Shot 2022-09-05 at 19.33.36Penguin have a treat in store for fans of British ‘Golden Age’ crime novels. On 22nd September they are publishing new editions of three novels by a woman who many people feel deserves to be up there with Allingham, Christie, Marsh and Sayers in the Pantheon of female crime fiction giants.

Elizabeth Mackintosh was born in Inverness on 25th July 1896. When she left college, her day job was what we now call PE teacher at various schools in England and Scotland, but she returned to Inverness in 1923 to care for her invalid parents. Writing as Gordon Daviot, she published her first novel, Kif: An Unvarnished History, in 1929, but her work had appeared in periodicals and magazines before this.

She is best known today for her crime novels featuring Inspector Alan Grant. The first of these, originally called Killer in the Crowd, but later retitled The Man In the Queue, appeared in 1929, still under the Gordon Daviot pen-name. For the following five she adopted the name of her great-great grandmother. The books are:

A Shilling for Candles (1936)
The Franchise Affair (1948)
To Love and Be Wise (1950)
The Daughter of Time (1951)
The Singing Sands (1952)

THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR

The ‘Franchise’ in question is the country home of Marion Sharpe and her mother. When the apparently mild mannered pair are accused of kidnap and abuse by a local war orphan, Betty Kane,  Inspector Alan Grant and local solicitor Robert Blair are called in to get to the bottom of the story.

TO LOVE AND BE WISE

Once again, we are in that most favoured setting of mystery writers of the time, a peaceful and sleepy English village. Salcott St Mary has a celebrated and rather exotic resident, the young and gifted Hollywood photographer, Leslie Searle. When Searle disappears without trace, Alan Grant has to discover if the disappearance is voluntary, or the result of something much more sinister.

THE DAUGHTER OF TIME

Tey’s most celebrated novel and probably one of the greatest crime novels of all time, has a delightfully simple but clever plot. Alan Grant is laid up in bed, recovering from a broken leg and bored out of his mind. While looking at the celebrated portrait of Richard III, Grant struggles to see the evil fiend of Shakespeare’s imagining. With the help of the British Museum and an eager American researcher, Grant sets out to solve one of history’s greatest unanswered questions – who killed Edward and Richard, the Princes in The Tower?

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These three novels with introductions by Tana French, Kate Mosse and Alexander McCall Smith, will be available on 22nd September, and nearer the time I will be running a give-away competition to win all three books .

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BRYANT & MAY’S PECULIAR LONDON . . . Between the covers

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Yes, yes, Arthur Bryant died peacefully at the end of London Bridge Is Falling Down, but the old boy isn’t speaking from beyond the grave, or ectoplasmically appearing at his former landlady’s spritualist church. This delightful conceit – and I use the word in its literary sense – is Christopher Fowler (aka @Peculiar on Twitter) imagines a long conversation between Arthur and his long-time colleagues from the Peculiar Crime Unit, to put in print a kind of concordance of the wonderful quirks and hidden histories of London which underpinned the memorable series of novels featuring the two detectives.

This is not a geographical street-by-street tour, but more a recollection of bizarre events and strange legends that darts this way and that, rather like the working of Arthur’s mind. Most of the PCU team have an input with something that has taken their fancy, except (naturally) poor old Raymondo – Raymand Land, the exasperated, ineffectual and much mocked titular head of the PCU. He is given the wrong time for the meeting, and so when he arrives, everything is done and dusted. This little episode is a reminder that (imaginary) cruelty is an essential ingredient of English comedy.

The reader can dip in and out of this book pretty much taking the chapters in any order There is, quite rightly, no sense of one thing leading to another as, perhaps for the first and only time in this series, there is no need for a coherent plot. The events described have already happened – or not, as the case may be. Christopher Fowler, as an expert Londoner, is well aware that fable and legend do not need to cling too closely to probability.

For those wondering where this blissful blend of the arcane, the shocking, the macabre, the comical and the eccentric comes from, the author provides a ‘further reading’ list.

Reading list

It is right and fitting that the closing words in this book should be spoken by Artur Bryant himself:

“London.
According to the playwright Ben Jonson it was the city of bawds and roysters, claret-wine and oysters. To me it is just home, where I am on the inside looking out instead of somewhere outside looking in. It’s my city, not yours. Which is to say that I see it in a certain way that you do not, and vice-versa.
I have no fantasies involving a comatose retirement on the Isle of Wight, like poor old Raymondo. I have no intention of leaving this grubby, exhausting, maddening city.
London is like a greedy old landlady. She didn’t ask me to come, didn’t invite me to stay and won’t miss me when I’ve left.
And that suits me fine.”

Bryant and May’s Peculiar London is published by Doubleday, and is available now.

For more about Christopher Fowler and the Bryant & May novels, click the image below.

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