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THE MOSUL LEGACY . . . Between the covers

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The Mosul Legacy
by Christopher Lowery
puts us firmly into the mid-teens of the 21st century. We have four narrative anchors. Ibrahim is a devout but deluded Muslim living in Koln, Germany. He is an Iraqi exile, his father has been killed while serving with ISIL, and he is determined to ‘do his bit’ to establish The Caliphate. Karl is a battle-hardened and indisputably brave ISIL soldier. He has seen his forces capture the ancient city of Mosul against tremendous odds, but now, courtesy of Western firepower, his men are about to be overwhelmed. Faqir-al-Douri is a restaurant owner in Mosul. He and his family are, unfortunately for them, Christians. He has traded food, accomodation and money with the ISIL conquerors. Their part of the bargain? They let him live. Max Kellerman is a German police officer with particular responsibility for preventing or – in the worst case, finding those responsible for – acts of terror.

Mosul009Lowery sets out his narrative stall with those four threads which will eventually weave together to powerful effect. Ibrahim, his puppet strings pulled from afar courtesy of the internet, plans a terrorist bomb attack which goes spectacularly wrong and he goes on the run. A revered and respected fighter, Karl, has to watch in frustration while his ISIL soldiers are outgunned and overwhelmed by coalition forces, and his position is undermined by over-promoted jobsworths in his own organisation. Faqir has finally had enough of living in the shell-torn morgue that Mosul has become, and gathers together his hard-earned savings and is determined to find a better life for his family. Battling German privacy laws which prevent him from publishing photos of his suspect, Kellerman presses on and is determined to bring his man to justice.

Understandably, the geographical action involving Faqir and Ibrahim darts about like a firefly, while the doomed Karl and the determined Kellerman, fight on their own ground, be it of their own choosing or not. Of course, the various strands of the book are fated to converge, but just how, when and where is not for me to reveal.

Christopher_Lowery-745x1024This is a big, sprawling novel – nearly 450 pages – but it is grimly readable. I say ‘grimly’ because it goes behind bland newspaper headlines and ten-second TV news video clips, to reveal the whole Iraq – Syria situation as the ruinous, depressing and insoluble shambles it has become. It would be impossible to write a novel like this with it being political, but I don’t think Lowery (right)  allows himself to become partisan. For sure, he pulls no punches in his scathing depiction of the social intolerance of many Muslim communities, and the genocidal fanaticism of ISIL which is as close to mental illness as makes no difference. He is, however, just as clear sighted in his scepticism about the real reasons why America and its allies – most pointedly Britain – became involved in Iraq in the first place.

Sometimes the ironies in the novel are cruel in the extreme, most pointedly as we watch the deluded zealot Ibrahim waltz through Europe unimpeded, thanks to the Schengen Agreement and his German passport, while Faqir and his family have to creep across borders at the dead of night, pay off unscrupulous traffickers at every turn, and suffer harrowing mental and physical torment caused, principally, by people such as Ibrahim and Karl.

Novels dealing with large scale political and military cruelty don’t have a duty to explain why men commit the evil deeds they do. Despite the brilliant writing of Philip Kerr in his Bernie Gunther novels I am no clearer now as to why Heydrich and Goebbels acted as they did. Lowery has written a deeply disturbing account of Islam’s revenge on ‘infidel’ Europe, but my understanding of the motives of his characters remains a blur. I can see that Karl does what he does because he believes ‘x’. Why does he believe ‘x’? Next question, please.

Sometimes, novels entertain in a transitory and peripheral sense. We enjoy the language, shiver at the thrills and bite our nails at the suspense, and then say to ourselves, “Well that was fun – thank goodness it’s only fiction.” This is a book which lies heavy on the soul, to be honest, because it takes no liberties with reality. We gaze into an abyss which has been created by our own governments, and has engulfed real people. Don’t read The Mosul Legacy as a holiday diversion or an imagined escape from whatever world enfolds you. This is now. This what we have created. The Mosul Legacy is published by Urbane Publications and will be available on 27th September.

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THE BREAK LINE . . . Between the covers

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coverOne of my sons was, in his teens, an avid fan of the Andy McNab books and acquired several signed copies of the SAS man’s adventures, and even had a couple of autographed photos of the great man (complete with the obligatory black rectangle across his features, naturally). I have to confess that I didn’t share his enthusiasm, and military thrillers are not normally high on my TBR pile. When the publicists at Michael Joseph sent me a copy of The Break Line by James Brabazon two things aroused my interest. The first was the frankly terrifying background of the author, a documentary film maker and journalist who has been to some of the darkest and most dangerous spots in the world and lived to tell the tale. Second was my admiration for the team at Michael Joseph and my awareness that they don’t, in my experience, publish bad books. If The Break Line had convinced their editorial team, then maybe I should take a closer look?

They were not wrong, and neither was I. This is a breathtaking journey through a world where brave but damaged men are sent into deserts, putrid slums and disease-ridden jungles to do terrible things – mostly to other people who have, for one reason or another, become irrelevant, irritating or downright dangerous.
Who sends them? Why, the dark-suited gentlemen in Whitehall or others in the monolithic 1990s building at 85 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall which houses British intelligence services.

Max McLean is, in all senses, an orphan. Literally, because after his father was killed in a plane crash while engaged in some secret diplomatic mission, his mother cured her grief by filling her pockets with stones and wading out into a deep Irish lake. Metaphorically, because McLean has no anchors, no reference points, no comfort blankets and no safe spaces in the day-to-day world which most of us inhabit. A soldier since he was sixteen, his only family has been The Regiment and, when he bothers to think about it, he could cut his loneliness with a knife.

McLean screws up an assassination assignment through a mixture of conscience and raging hormones, and his penance is to to be sent into the anarchic trou de merde of Sierra Leone. Someone – or something – is disturbing the already fragile equilibrium of that benighted country. McLean is shown a morgue where the corpses have been literally torn apart. This is not cholera, or the dreaded ebola. This is not the work of wild animals, or even drug-crazed teenage Revolutionary United Front rebels with all the moral compass and conscience of a snake.

BrabazonExactly what it is that McLean faces will only be learned when you read the book. The instant you begin to read the first-person narrative, you will rightly assume that McLean survives his ordeal, as an action novel has yet to be written where the protagonist convincingly records his own death, but what happens between the first page and the last is a curious but utterly compelling mix of The Heart of Darkness, Indiana Jones, science fiction and visceral horror shot through with musings about the two great imponderables – life and death. Thriller fans will be able to fill their boots with the usual tropes; Le Carré style double and treble dealing at the highest level, fierce fire-fights, fascinating military detail, treacherous Russians and a cataclysmic body count. Brabazon (right) is not, however, simply ticking genre boxes. He shows an assured and convincing style of writing that puts him way above many of his contemporaries in the genre.

I mentioned at the outset that Brabazon is what used to be called, in colonial days, ‘an old Africa hand.’ He has seen the continent at its best and at its very, very worst – and it is the sheer immensity of the latter which casts a monstrous and baleful shadow over the narrative. The Break Line is published by Michael Joseph and was published in all formats on 26th July.

THE POLISH DETECTIVE . . . Between the covers

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FICTIONAL SCOTTISH COPPERS – rather like single malt whiskies – are spread the length and breadth of that fine country. Highlands, Lowlands, islands, stately university cities, gritty oil and gas ports, mistily romantic glens and litter-strewn council estates where hope goes to die. Chris Longmuir has set her DS Bill Murphy novels in Dundee, but she has by no means cornered the Tayside market, for now comes Hania Allen with the first in a series set in Dundee and featuring Polish-born DS Dania Gorska.

TPDDania Gorska has come to work in Dundee after starting her career in London with the Met. A divorce from husband Tony (watch out for the clever twist) has left her footloose and fancy free. Her exemplary record has meant she has enjoyed a swift and welcome transfer to Police Scotland. She lodges with her brother Marek, who is an investigative journalist.

The discovery, in a farmer’s field, of the body of a female academic displayed in the manner of a scarecrow sets in train a murder enquiry which takes Gorska and her colleagues down a twisty and circuitous road where they come across Druids, an eccentric Laird, two missing schoolgirls – and another girl obsessed with studying how dead creatures decay. As you might expect, the killer hasn’t finished and more corpses end up on the pathologist’s cutting table. Early on in the narrative, one of the characters comes across as a definite ‘wrong ‘un’, but Allen weaves the threads of the plot into a cunning riddle with a surprising and satisfying solution.

Hania-Allen_CarolineTrotter-Photography_2017The Polish Detective is in some ways a standard police procedural which chugs along nicely on its accustomed rails. All the usual characters are present and correct; no such story would be complete without a dyspeptic senior officer, the obligatory post mortem scene with a sarcastic medical professor wielding the bone saw, the male junior detective who thinks he’s Jack – or perhaps Jock – the Lad, and the mind numbing tedium of the door knocking and CCTV scanning that sits behind every brilliant solution to a murder mystery. What lifts this book above the average is the character of Dania Gorska herself, and in particular her musical passion for, naturally, her great countryman Frédéric François Chopin and his sublime piano music. Hania Allen (right) describes herself as a pianist who makes up in enthusiasm what she lacks in talent, but under the fingers of DS Gorska, the great man’s preludes and nocturnes shimmer and sparkle throughout the pages, and the darker notes of the Polish soul are never far away.

The events in The Polish Detective take place on the eve of the June 2016 EU referendum, the result of which I suspect Hania Allen disapproves, as she has her heroine declaring at one point, that Chopin was “ also a European, as we all are..” I live in a town full of lovely Polskie people who have come to Britain in the last fifteen years or so, and those that I know well are intensely proud – in the best way possible – of their nation and its culture. Dania Gorska’s claim, therefore, may be something of a leap of faith, but Hania Allen makes a serious point about the debt this country owes to Polish men and women stretching back to the dark days of WW2.

Politics aside, Hania Allen may be allowed self deprecation of her skills as a pianist, but on this evidence there is do doubt whatsoever about her skills as a crime novelist. The Polish Detective is tautly plotted, full of intriguing characters and settings, with a thoroughly engaging new central character. It is published by Constable and is out in paperback on 9th August.

Fans of Scottish crime fiction might like to see what Fully Booked has in the way of reviews and features centred on this popular genre. Click the blue link to see what’s on offer.

MORTE POINT . . . Between the covers

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There is a hoary old cliché sometimes heard in football or rugby games, when the manager exhorts his team “to leave nothing in the changing room”. In plain English, he wants, to unearth another classic, “110% effort” from his lads. Robert Parker certainly leaves nothing behind on his keyboard, if I can extend the metaphor. As I noted in my review of his previous novel, Crook’s Hollow:

“If you are a fan of leisurely paced pastoral crime novels, complete with all the tropes – short-sighted vicars, inquisitive spinsters, toffs at the manor house with a dark secret – then maybe this book isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you want 200 pages of non-stop action …..”

Morte PointParker is on similar form here in Morte Point which, as Devonians know, is a rocky peninsula on the north west coast of that county. Rather than the bitterly feuding rural families in Crook’s Hollow, Mr P gives us a jailbird ex SAS soldier, a mysteriously beautiful Kosovan biochemist, a sunken plane wreck containing only the body of a woman (minus her head), a senior British government minister determined to engineer the biggest international shock since Hitler declared war and Stalin, a bloody shoot-out in London’s most prestigious hotel and – at the centre of the drama – a phial containing a synthesised botulism capable of killing millions.

Ben Bracken is the former SAS trooper who has fallen foul of The Regiment and ended up in jail. Escaping, but taking out an insurance policy by way of blackmail material on the governor, he is officially still “inside”. He is not far enough under the radar of a certain officer in the National Crime Agency, however, and Jeremiah Salix contacts Bracken with an offer he cannot (for various reasons) refuse.

An aircraft is due to land at a Devon Royal Marines airbase, but Salix tells Bracken that it will not reach its destination, but instead end up on the seabed. It will be carrying something of great interest to a certain group of individuals, but Bracken’s mission is to dive to the wreck and snatch that certain “something” before the bad guys arrive. Bracken does as he is bid, and despite being kept in the dark about the exact nature of what he was meant to retrieve, he is soon left in no doubt that the people who arrive just too late to prevent him from carrying out Salix’s orders are deadly serious.

robertparkerWhat follows is, to my mind, the best part of the book. Back in the day when the mysterious Andy McNab (and his ever-present black rectangle) was the media’s darling, survival skills, initiative in the wild and hiding in plain sight were familiar tropes in thrillers and on the screen, but Parker (right)  has revitalised the idea. Bracken manages to stay half a step – but no more – ahead of his pursuers as he travels rough on his way north to meet up with Salix. You might scoff, and say that rural Devon is hardly the Iraqi desert, but Bracken realises that he is Britain’s most hunted man and, in these days of 24 hour news coverage on a bewildering range of devices, he knows that he has no friends, and no ally except his own resources and awareness of nature. He comes unstuck, however, after a chance encounter with vipera berus, and from this point the story takes a very different direction.

With the caveat stated at the beginning, this thriller will not tick every CriFi box. Midsomer Murders it ain’t, but in Ben Bracken we have a dangerous and complex man who certainly has every reason to bear a grudge against society while not being entirely without a conscience. The spectacular conclusion in, of all places, a turkey rearing farm, may not be “bootiful”, but it is certainly high-octane drama. Morte Point is published by Endeavour Quill and will be available on 27th July.

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A GENTLEMAN’S MURDER . . . Between the covers

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It is the autumn of 1924 and we are in London. London has always been – and will ever be – a city of contrasts but now, six years on from the Armistice that ended The Great War, the differences between the men who survived the conflict are marked. On the streets the less fortunate are selling matches, bootlaces, carrying placards asking for work, many of them reduced to displaying mutilated limbs, less as a badge of honour, more in a desperate attempt to provoke compassion and pity. Inside the Britannia Club, however, the members are known by their former military rank and it’s ‘Major’ this, ‘Lieutenant’ that and ‘Captain’ the other.

AGMEric Peterkin is one such and, although he carries his rank with pride, he is just a little different, and he is viewed with some disdain by certain fellow members and simply tolerated by others. Despite generations of military Peterkins looking down from their portraits in the club rooms, Eric is what is known, in the language of the time, a half-caste. His Chinese mother has bequeathed him more than enough of the characteristics of her race for the jibe, “I suppose you served in the Chinese Labour Corps?” to become commonplace.

Having served King and Country is a prerequisite for membership of the Britannia, so eyebrows are raised when Albert Benson appears as a new member. Benson, it transpires, was a conscientious objector but redeemed himself by service as a stretcher bearer until severe wounds sent him back to ‘Blighty’. When Benson is found dead in the club’s basement, with a paper knife projecting from his neck, Eric Peterkin is drawn into investigating his murder. All roads lead back to a Sussex military hospital where Benson – and several other of the club members – were treated during the war.

HuangChristopher Huang (right) was born and raised in Singapore where he served his two years of National Service as an Army Signaller. He moved to Canada where he studied Architecture at McGill University in Montreal. Huang currently lives in Montreal.. Judging by this, his debut novel, he also knows how to tell a story. He gives us a fascinating cast of gentleman club members, each of them worked into the narrative as a murder suspect. We have Mortimer Wolfe – “sleek, dapper and elegant, hair slicked down and gleaming like mahogany”, club President Edward Aldershott, “Tall, prematurely grey and with a habit of standing perfectly still …like a bespectacled stone lion,” and poor, haunted Patrick “Patch” Norris with his constant, desperate gaiety.

Huang writes in a style which is archaic in one sense, as he pays homage to the conventions and narrative style of books written nearly a century ago, but it is none the worse for that. He clearly has a huge empathy with the men and women who, while they may have survived the War physically more or less intact, they carry hidden scars and memories which we know, long after the event, were to stay with them until death. On more than one occasion, Huang strikes a particularly sonorous chord:

“Eric joined the sombre crowds at the Cenotaph on Whitehall for the service in remembrance of the War at eleven o’clock – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It began with two minutes of silence: one for the fallen and one for the survivors. After that would come wreaths and remembrances and men marching with grim salutes …boots on rain glossed pavements, artificial poppies blooming blood red on black lapels, tears in the eyes of men who never cried. But first, there were two minutes of silence. England held her breath.”

If you are a fan of the Golden Age, enjoy the challenge of a good locked room mystery and appreciate literate and thoughtful crime fiction, then A Gentleman’s Murder will not disappoint. It is published by Inkshares and will be available in paperback on 31st July.

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WATCHING YOU . . . Between the covers

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Josephine “Joey” Mullen has returned home to Bristol from living and working hand-to-mouth in sunny Spain. With empty pockets and zero job prospects, she might be downhearted, but on the positive side she has a handsome new husband and a generous older brother who is prepared to share his home with the newly-weds. While Joey finds a job dishing out chicken nuggets and mopping up puke at a children’s party venue, Alfie (nice-but-dim and with a very fit bum, if you are into that sort of thing) works in a bar and is trying to establish a painting and decorating business.

Watching You front011Watching You by Lisa Jewell takes us to the chic urban village of Melville Heights. Jack Mullen is a successful consultant in cardiology, while his wife Rebecca is “something in systems analysis.” A couple of doors down live the Fitzwilliam family. Tom is a charismatic and nationally renowned Head Teacher with an impressive record of turning round failing high schools. His adoring wife Nicola has no CV as such, unless you want to list an over-awareness of body image and a devotion to the latest fads in fashion and diet. Their teenage son, Freddie – an only child, naturally – is very keen on all things technical, particularly digital binoculars, spy software, and a fascination with the lives and movements of anyone he can see from his bedroom window.

Watching You back012This is a clever, clever murder mystery. Lisa Jewell gives us the corpse right at the beginning – while keeping us guessing about whose it is – and then, by shrewd manipulation of the timeline we are introduced to the possible perpetrators of the violent death. By page 100, they have formed an orderly queue for our attention. Of course there’s beautiful, feckless Joey and her husband Alfie. Freddie Fitzwilliam is clearly at the sharp end of the Asperger spectrum, but what about his bird-like – and bird-brained mother? Schoolgirls Jenna and Bess are clearly fixated – for different reasons – on their headteacher, and as for Jenna’s mum, with her persecution complex and incipient madness, she is clearly on the brink of doing something destructive, either to herself or someone else. And who is the mysterious woman who flew into a rage with Tom ten years earlier while the Fitzwilliams were on a family holiday to the Lake District?

Domestic Noir in crime fiction borrows jealousy, lust, anger, greed and pride from the early Christian list of vices but no modern thriller in the genre ignores the fatal flaw of obsession. The Big ‘O’ is certainly at the root of the plot of Watching You, and we willingly suspend our disbelief that so many disturbed characters should end up within a stone’s throw of each other in a posh Bristol suburb.

Lisa JewellLisa Jewell peels away veil after veil, but like Salome in front of Herod, she tantalises us with exquisite cruelty. Just when we think we have understood the truth about the complex relationships between the characters, we are faced with another enigma and a further conundrum. There are flashes of absolute brilliance throughout this gripping novel. The relationship between Jenna and Bess is beautifully described and even though we suspect he may end up with blood on his hands, Freddie’s strange but exotic view of the world around him makes him completely appealing. In the end, of course,we learn the identity of the corpse and that of the murderer but, just like the Pinball Wizard, there has got to be a twist. Lisa Jewell (left) provides it with the last 39 words of this very special book, and it is not so much a twist as a breathtaking literary flourish.

Watching You is published by Century, and is out on 12th July.

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THE DEAD ON LEAVE . . . Between the covers

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Leeds, Yorkshire. 1936.
The once thunderous clatter of its mills and factories is now a hesitant stutter. Although the Great Depression is over, like the plague passing over biblical Egypt it has left many victims. Work is scarce, and men live in fear of being unable to put bread on the table for their wives and children. There is state relief, but it is a grudging pittance. When a widely disliked Means Test Inspector – a man paid to snoop around people’s houses rooting out efforts to cheat the system – is found garotted, there are few to mourn him. But murder is murder, and police detective Urban Raven must find the killer.

TDOLIt appears the dead man is a would-be follower of Sir Oswald Mosley, charismatic leader of the British Union of Fascists and, after an appearance in Leeds by Mosley and his Blackshirts turns into a riot, it is tempting for the police to think that the murder is politically inspired. As Raven tries to make sense of the killing, he has his own demons to face. Like many other Yorkshiremen, Raven is a Great War veteran, even though his war was brief and horrific. Only able to see active service in the dog-days of the conflict, he was unlucky enough to be close to a fuel dump which was hit by a stray shell. There’s a line from a song about that war, which goes,

“Never knew there was worse things than dying..”

Those words might be an extreme take on the scars of war, but Urban Raven’s face is a shiny and distorted mass of scar tissue, and he has become adept at ignoring the fascinated horror on people’s faces when they see him for the first time. His disfigurement might do him no favours with ordinary people, but has learned that it gives him an extra edge when dealing with criminals.

Against a fascinating background of the attempts by British fascists to emulate their German and Italian counterparts, and the ongoing saga of a member of the royal family who wants to marry an American divorcee (plus ça change?) Raven’s problems become deeper and wider as he falls foul of the secretive Special Branch, begins to suspect his wife’s fidelity and then – as if his problems weren’t serious enough – finds himself mired in a a political and criminal conspiracy.

As in every other Chris Nickson novel I have read, the city of Leeds is the central character. Whether it’s Richard Nottingham, Tom Harper, Lottie Armstrong or, now, Urban Raven treading its grand thoroughfares and mean ginnels, Leeds remains gritty, grimy, home to all manner of beauty and bestiality, but always vibrant. There is a wonderful feeling of continuity running through the books; it’s as if each police officer is carrying the baton handed on by a predecessor; Nottingham to Harper, Harper to Raven, Raven to Armstrong. The characters inhabit the same city, though; The Headrow is ever present, as are Briggate and Kirkgate, their suffixes names testifying to their antiquity.

NicksonThe Dead On Leave is very bleak in places. Hope is in short supply among the working people in Leeds, and men have no qualms about building a wooden platform for Moseley to rant from, because a job is a job; consciences are a luxury way beyond the reach of folk whose families have empty bellies. Nickson (right)  is a writer, with social justice at the front of his mind and he wears his heart on his sleeve. I doubt that he and I agree on much in today’s political world, but I can think of no modern British author who writes with such passion and fluency about historical social issues.

Make no mistake, though. The Dead On Leave is not a sermon, and it does not wag a finger in admonition. It is an excellent crime novel, a perfect example of a police-procedural and it ushers on stage another compelling character in Nickson’s Leeds Dramatis Personnae. The book is published by Endeavour Quill and is available now in Kindle and as a paperback.

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THE DEATH OF MRS WESTAWAY . . . Between the covers

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What would you do if you were all alone in the world, with no family, scraping a living reading Tarot Cards in a shabby booth on Brighton Pier, threatened with violence by loan sharks, and then you receive a letter from solicitors telling you that you have inherited a fortune? Hyperventilate? Punch the air with joy? Sing a hymn to whichever god you believe in? Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway does none of these things. Because she knows that there has been a terrible mistake. She shares a surname with the deceased woman, but that is it. End of. Hal knows that she is not connected to the Mrs Westaway who has gone to meet her maker, leaving a vast rambling estate in Cornwall – and a prodigious bank balance – to her long-lost granddaughter.

TDOMW coverHal Westaway is no crook. She is not an opportunist. She has a conscience. She instinctively understands the difference between meum and teum. And yet. And yet. The gangster from whom she unwisely took out a desperation loan is angry and anxious for his 300%. Hal’s Brighton flat has already been turned over, and she knows that broken bones are next on the agenda. So, she accepts the invitation from the late Mrs Westaway’s solicitor to travel down to Cornwall to meet the family she never knew she had.

In a glorious take on the classic Reading Of The Will trope, Hal meets her new found family, principally Mrs Westaway’s three disinherited sons. Now, at least according to the the solicitor, Harding, Ezra and Abel Westaway are her uncles and, boy oh boy, are they in for a shock as Mr Treswick looks over his glasses, pauses for dramatic effect, and announces that Hal is the main beneficiary.

Once this irresistible set-piece is out of the way, we learn that Trepassen House has some dark – and I mean seriously dark – secrets. Ruth Ware milks the forbidding Manderley-style atmosphere for all it is worth, and she even gives us a Mrs Danvers in the person of the baleful and embittered housekeeper, Mrs Warren. Hal discovers that her late mother was once a part of the Trepassen household when she stayed with Mrs Westaway’s daughter Maud, to whom she was a distant cousin. But why on earth did Mrs Westaway think that Hal was her granddaughter. Was she mad? Simply perverse in wanting to humiliate her own children? And just what happened at Trepassen in that long hot summer of 1994?

RWRuth Ware (right) is not the first writer – nor will she be the last – to explore the lurid charms of a decaying mansion, its ghosts both real and imagined, and the dusty terrors of death, but she makes a bloody good job of it in The Death of Mrs Westaway. Hal Westaway is a delightful character, and you would require a heart of the hardest granite not to sympathise with her and the exquisite dilemma she faces. The plot is a dazzling mix of twists, surprises, and just the right amount of improbability. The Death of Mrs Westaway is a thriller which makes you keep the bedroom light on, and long for the safety of daylight. It looks like being another bestseller for Ruth Ware, and you can judge for yourselves on June 28th, when the book will be published by Harvill Secker.

 

NOW, HERE’S THE BEST BIT!

If my review of this cracking novel has tickled your what-not, and you want your own copy, you might just be in look. Either email me at the address below, putting Mrs Westaway as the subject:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

OR

Click the image below which will take you to the Fully Booked Facebook page. Simply ‘like’ the post, and your name will go into the digital hat. I’ll draw a winner from all the entries after the competition closes at 10.00pm on Sunday 1st July. Due to postal costs, the competition is only open to readers from the UK or the Irish Republic.

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THE HIDDEN BONES . . . Between the covers

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Strangers to the south of England may be unaware of the rolling uplands known as the Malborough Downs. Also known as the North Wessex Downs, the area is full of important Neolithic and Bronze Age sites as well as being the setting for much of Hardy’s Jude The Obscure and the 1972 best-seller by Richard Adams, Watership Down. Now, the area provides a brooding and often menacing backdrop to The Hidden Bones, the first of a new mystery series written by Nicola Ford.

THB coverClare Hills is an archaeologist who is struggling to hold her life together after the death of her husband. Her grief at his passing is tempered by the fact that he has left her virtually penniless. When she is invited by her former tutor, Dr David Barbrook, to help explore and archive the papers of Gerald Hart, she welcomes the chance to use her expertise. Hart was a gentleman archaeologist whose Palladian villa, Hungerbourne Manor, was the centre of his life’s work – investigating the Hungerbourne Barrows. The Bronze Age burial sites were Hart’s obsession, but whatever secrets they held, he seems to have taken them with him to his grave.

As Hills and Barbrook are soon to discover, Gerald Hart’s work was not without controversy, much of which centred around the discovery of a beautiful ornament known as a Sun Disc, evocatively described thus:

“In his hand he cradled the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Not much bigger than a ten pence piece, an orange-red disc lay at its centre. The ruddy amber disc was encased within a circle of gold decorated with four delicately incised concentric grooves that ran right around its rim.”

Archaeologists must expect, from time to time, to uncover human remains, but these are usually nothing sinister except, perhaps, in the masterly ghost stories of M R James. The problem is, however, that one of the discoveries made by Hills and Barbrook do not date back four millennia: far from it – they are much more recent, and have a chilling significance.

Gerald Hart, like many obsessives, collected friends and enemies with equal ease, and most of these are still in the land of the living. As Hills and Barbrook delve deeper into the affairs of the late archaeologist, they themselves become potential targets for a killer who was involved in the original excavations at Hungerbourne.

Nicola_Ford_smlI have many guilty pleasures, and one of them is being a sucker for a crime novel where the landscape plays a vital part in the plot. My two particular favourite writers in this regard are Phil Rickman and Jim Kelly, but with this excellent debut novel, Nicola Ford (right) has elbowed herself into their company.

The Hidden Bones has all the best elements of a cosy crime novel mystery, but is spiced with both fascinating historical detail and a definite touch of the macabre. It is published by Allison & Busby and will be available on 21st June.

Nicola Ford is an archaeologist who works for the National Trust at Stonehenge, and under her working name of Dr Nick Snashall she regularly appears on national television and radio.

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