Search

fullybooked2017

Category

REVIEWS

CITY OF THE DEAD . . . Between the covers

cotd012 copy

This is another case for psychologist  Professor Alex Delware and his buddy, LAPD cop Lieutenant Milo Sturgis. As ever, the book is brimming with all the joys of Californication – fake lifestyle gurus, washed-up former pop stars, bent lawyers, damaged families and dead bodies – always plenty of dead bodies. The first of these is of a young man, stark naked, who – in an apparent psychotic episode – runs out from a house in a smart district in the LA suburbs, at 4.00am – and straight into the side of a moving truck. Instant fatality.

cotd013When the cops investigate the house from which the young man ran, they find the second corpse of the morning, with her throat slit. She is – or rather was – Cordi Gannet. She made a decent living producing lifestyle videos for YouTube, full of cod psychology and trite advice about life improvement strategies. Her psychology degree was apparently bought mail-order from an on-line university, and when Alex Delaware gets to the scene with Milo, he remembers that he was once involved in a child custody case where Cordi Gannet was introduced as an expert witness – with disastrous consequences.

They soon find that Cordi Gannet’s family background was suitably California Chaotic – no known father, a mother who scraped by waiting tables until she got lucky and married an affluent surgeon. As for the young man, after much tail-chasing they learn that he was a harmless and affable young hairdresser who had something of a ‘gay-crush’ on Ms Gannet with all her pan flutes and whale songs, but had no obvious enemies.

The investigation meanders, slows – and then grinds to a halt. Delaware and Sturgis are sidetracked by another murder – the killing of a violent testosterone-fueled bodybuilder whose onetime business partner was a former adversary of Delaware’s in the family courts. This one they manage to crack, but it is not until Delaware goes back to the day job and begins consultation sessions with another pair of warring parents – one of whom was a  near neighbour of Cordi Gannet, that the breakthrough comes.

Screen Shot 2022-01-19 at 19.13.17Watching the Delaware-Sturgis partnership work on a case is fascinating. Yes, by my reckoning this is the 37th in the series. No, that’s not a typo. Thirty seven since their debut in When The Bough Breaks (1985). 1985. Blimey. Amongst other ground-breaking events in that year, I read that Playboy stopped stapling its centrefolds, the first episode of Eastenders was broadcast, and Freddie Mercury stole the show at Live Aid. But I digress.

There are no surprises in City of The Dead, at least in terms of the personal dynamics between the investigators. Delaware is super-cool, Sturgis has zero dress sense and is inveterate fridge raider, and the pair never really get ‘down and dirty’ with the criminals they hunt. In spite of the familiar formula, this is still a cracking read and cleverly plotted, with Kellerman (right)  setting several snares for the unwary reader. City of The Dead is published by Century, and will be available from 17th February.

THE BLOOD COVENANT . . . Between the covers

Screen Shot 2022-01-03 at 18.33.51

One of my sons was at Leeds University, and my impression of the city during visits either to move house or to bring food and supplies, was of a place very much sure of itself, embracing the past while relishing a vibrant future. But this was largely Headingly, the university quarter, full of bookshops, trendy cafes and largely peopled by the offspring of comfortable middle class people like me and my wife.

TBCChris Nickson’s Leeds is a very different place. In the Tom Harper novels (click link) and in this,  the latest account of the career of Simon Westow, thief-taker, things are very, very different. This is Georgian England (1823, in this case) and Westow – in an age before a regular police force – earns his living recovering stolen property, for a percentage of its value. He has no judicial authority, save that of his quick wits, his fists and- occasionally – his knife. Recovering from a debilitating illness, Westow is back on the streets, and is juggling with several different investigations. A man has been hauled out of the river. His throat has been fatally slashed, and one of his hands has been hacked off. His brother hires Westow to answer ‘who?’ and ‘why?’.

A rich and powerful Leeds entrepreneur called Arden sets Westow the task of recovering a pair of valuable candlesticks, stolen from his son. But when the investigation is concluded, all too easily, Westow is forced to wonder if he is not being used as a dupe in some larger scheme. To add to his workload, Westow sets out to avenge the deaths of two lads, apparently starved then beaten to death by brutal overseers at a Leeds factory owned by a mysterious man named Seaton.

Westow’s assistant is a deceptively fragile young woman called Jane. Raped by her father and then thrown out on the street by her mother, she has learned to survive by cunning – and a fatal ability to use a knife, without a second thought, or her dreams being haunted by her victims. She has, to some extent, ‘come in from the cold’ as she no longer lives on the street, but with an elderly lady of infinite kindness.

As Leeds is cut off from the rest of the world by deep snow, there are more deaths, but few answers. The only thing that is clear in Westow’s mind is that there is that – for whatever reason – a blood covenant exists between Arden and Seaton. Two rich and powerful men who have the rudimentary criminal justice system within Leeds at their beck and call. Two men who want ruin – and death – to come to Westow and those he loves.

TBC footer

Before we reach a terrifying finale at a remote farm in the hills beyond Leeds, Nickson demonstrates why he is such a good – and impassioned – novelist. He burns with an anger at the decades of of injustice, hardship and misery inflicted on working people by the men who built industrial Leeds, and made their fortunes on the broken bodies of the poor strugglers who lived such dark lives in the insanitary terraces that clustered around the mills and foundries. In terms of modern politics, Chris Nickson and I are worlds apart and there is, of course, a separate debate to be had about the long term effects of the industrial  revolution, but it would be a callous person who could remain unmoved by the accounts of the human wreckage caused by the huge technological upheavals of the 18th and 19th centuries.

There is. of course, a noble tradition of writers who exposed social injustice nearer to their own times – Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, Robert Tressell and John Steinbeck, to name but a few, but we shouldn’t dismiss Nickson’s anger because of the distance between his books and the events he describes. As he walks the streets of modern Leeds, he clearly feels every pang of hunger, every indignity, every broken bone and every hopeless dawn experienced by the people whose blood and sweat made the city what it is today. That he can express this while also writing a bloody good crime novel is the reason why he is, in my opinion, one of our finest contemporary writers. The Blood Covenant is published by Severn House and is out now.

SNOW AND STEEL . . . Between the covers

sas009

I thought it was high time I included some non-fiction reviews. I am a keen (amateur) military historian, so I am happy to start this little adventure into the unknown by reviewing a superb history, written by Peter Caddick-Adams, of one of the bloodiest battles of WW2. I was going to use the word ‘decisive’, but that would be inappropriate as it suggests that the outcome of the Battle of The Bulge, which began in December 1944. was a pivotal point in the war. It wasn’t. Hitler’s war was already lost, mainly thanks his disastrous attempt to invade Russia.

SAS coverBy the autumn of 1944, German forces had been pushed out of France and were being systematically overwhelmed by the Red Army in the east. The allies had control of the Channel coast, but the Germans had effectively wrecked the French ports. Antwerp, however, had been taken more or less intact, and when the Germans had been removed from their strong-points controlling the estuary of the River Scheldt, the Belgian port became a massive conduit for the arrival of men, machines and supplies for the Allies.

Hitler believed that if he could reach Antwerp and choke the Allies’ massive superiority in materiel, he could somehow wrench victory from the jaws of defeat. Caddick-Adams tells a tale as tense and addictive as any murder mystery. Let’s look at the three main ingredients of such tales:

Motive; in the east, the Russians were just too many, too implacable, and too powerful, so Hitler needed a win – somewhere, anywhere.

Opportunity; the largely American forces in the Ardennes area were a mixture of battle-hardened veterans who has stormed the Normandy beaches on 6th June, and more callow units. Some had been battered and bloodied by the savage fighting in the Hurtgen Forest earlier that year. For a first hand account of that battle seen through the eyes of JD Salinger, click this link. None of these American units were expecting anything other than a steady but remorseless slog eastwards until they crossed the Rhine, until they were able to beard the Fuhrer in his den.

Means? Aye, there’s the rub.  Caddick-Adams explains that the cream of the German army had already been wiped out on the undulating fields of Normandy and bleaker killing grounds of East Prussia. The Werhmacht – comprising its three branches of land, sea and air forces – was on its uppers. To boost the forces attempting to storm their way across Belgium and recapture Antwerp, navy men from the Kriegsmarine and ground-crew from the Luftwaffe were given a helmet and a gun, and pitched against American forces.

Screen Shot 2022-01-01 at 09.41.39It is one of the great paradoxes of WW2 that on the ground, at least, the Germans had the best guns, the best artillery and the best tanks. The problem was that although the formidable Panzers were easily able to overcome the relatively underpowered Sherman tanks used by the allies, the German vehicles were high maintenance and, some would say, over-engineered. The ubiquitous Shermans were rolling off the production lines in their thousands, while the formidable Tigers and Panthers – when they developed a fault – were fiendishly difficult to repair or cannibalise. Caddick-Adams (right) also reminds us how well-fed and supplied the American GIs were compared with their German foes. In one particularly eloquent passage, he tells us of the utter joy felt by a unit of Volksgrenadiers when they seized a supply of American rations. When their own kitchen unit eventually reached their position, the cooks and their containers of watery stew were given very short shrift.

Snow and Steel covers ground familiar to many amateur historians – the Malmedy Massacre, the heroic defence of Bastogne, and Hitler’s manic distrust of his generals, amplified by the Stauffenberg plot. The eventual outcome of this battle is a matter of history so, although his narrative is as good as any found in contemporary thrillers of mysteries, Caddick-Adams knows we expect no surprises. What he gives us, however, is what used to be called (in the age of vinyl) a double A-side. We have a brilliant, methodical and comprehensive account of a battle where we get to see both the strategic and tactical implications of a military campaign. Flip the metaphorical record over, and we have a vivid account of a battle as seen by men who were there, told in their own words, and thus made even more chilling through its immediacy. Snow and Steel is published by Arrow and is available here.

THE VISITORS . . . Between the covers

Visitors008 copy

VisitorsEngland, 1923. Like thousands upon thousands of other young women, Esme Nicholls is a widow. Husband Alec lies in a functional grave in a military cemetery in Flanders. His face remains in a few photographs, and in her memories. Left penniless, she ekes out a living by writing a nature-notes feature for a northern provincial newspaper, and serving as a personal assistant to an older widow, Mrs Pickering. Mrs P has the advantage of being able to visit her husband’s grave whenever she wants, as he was not a victim of the war.

Mrs P decides she would like to visit her brother in Cornwall. and sends Esme on ahead. Gilbert Stanedge, funded by his sister, presides over a community of damaged young men he once commanded during the war. They live in a rambling old house they have renamed Espérance. Each man has been scarred – physically and mentally – by the horrors they faced in the trenches. Sebastian, Hal, Clarence and Rory contribute as best they can – paintings, pottery, husbandry – to the upkeep of the house.

Esme’s initial reluctance to go to Cornwall is tempered by the fact that it was where Alec grew up. Could a visit to the street where he lived, or a stroll along the beaches he played on as a child keep the flame of remembrance burning a little brighter, for a little longer?

caroline-scott-155428586Caroline Scott (right) treats us to a high summer in Cornwall, where every flower, rustle of leaves in the breeze and flit of insect is described with almost intoxicating detail. Readers who remember her previous novel When I Come Home Again will be unsurprised by this detail. In the novel, she references that greatest of all poet of England’s nature, John Clare, but I also sense something of Matthew Arnold’s poems The Scholar Gypsy and Thyrsis, so memorably set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Another clever plot device brings us face to face with the horrors that the men faced in the trenches of Flanders. Rory has written a book detailing what happened. It is still unpublished but, as Esme grows closer to him, he lets her read it. She is still, of course searching for something – anything – of Alec.

Half way through the novel, Caroline Scott employs a vertiginous plot twist. Readers must decide for themselves if it is plausible. Further detail from me would be a spoiler, but yes, after a few raised eyebrows it did work.  The Visitors is an astonishing tale of love, betrayal, heartache and  – finally –  redemption. With its two predecessors (click on the images below for more information) it makes a remarkable trilogy of novels about the men and women who survived the carnage of 1914 – 1918, but came away with scars and damage that sometimes never healed. Published by Simon & Schuster, The Visitors is out now.

Photographer

When I Come

THE RETURN OF HESTER LYNTON . . . Between the covers

lynton004

The publisher’s website tells us:
“Tony Evans has been a full-time writer since 2008. He has written several novels of historical mystery, Gothic fiction and suspense, including the popular Jonathan Harker mystery series and the Hester Lynton detective novels, as well as study guides and novel adaptations. Tony lives in the Yorkshire Dales with his wife, and enjoys walking and the outdoors.”

So, what do we have in this second volume of short stories, the follow up to The Early Hester Lynton Mysteries (2013) ? A female detective, obviously – and her companion Ivy Jessop – and the familiar backdrop of Victorian London and crimes carried out – for the most part – by the gentry, or sometimes by the impoverished middle classes. There are ten stories.

The Case of the Fanshaw Inheritance

HesterA rich widower, a self made industrialist, dies and leaves his fortune to be divided between his two nephews. One is a down-at-heel schoolmaster, the other a disreputable roué. The lucky man has to solve a cypher set by their late uncle. The good guy brings the  cypher to Hester and Ivy. They solve the conundrum with by way of a knowledge of 18th century first editions, a journey to explore an ancient English church, and  by breaking in to a family mausoleum.

The Case of the Stolen Leonardo

When a small, but obviously valuable painting by the great artist disappears from the Ronsard gallery, Hester’s cousin, Inspector Albert Brasher of the Metropolitan Police – who has been given the task of investigating the theft – is at his wits’ end, and turns to his relative for help. She solves the case, with the inadvertent help of an aristocratic dealer in stolen artwork.  The culprit – who is also a very clever forger – is found, but his motive for the crime triggers Hester’s compassion, and she arranges a very equitable solution to the case.

The Case of the Missing Professor

When Professor Ambrose Dixon goes missing, Hester is summoned to the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Dixon – a distinguished chemist – has been working for the War Office on a revolutionary new explosive, the formula for which – if it fell into the wrong hands – could destabilise the delicate military and political balance of Western Europe. Hester discovers the whereabouts of the professor, a dangerous impostor at the heart of the country’s intelligence service, and – perhaps – the code which can unlock  the formula to Dixon’s secret.

The Mystery of the Locked Room

The cases thus far have been relatively restrained affairs, but when Hester and Ivy are called in to investigate an apparent suicide in a genteel house just outside Maidstone, there is blood aplenty. We all know that suicides in crime novels are usually cleverly disguised murders, and this is no exception. Locked room mysteries usually involve mechanical ingenuity, and this case Hester is too clever for the would-be engineer, who also falls foul of Ivy’s skill with a pearl-handled revolver.

The Adventure of the Diamond Necklace

We are now in full melodrama mood, with swarthy “furriners” (in this case a particularly oily Italian), a criminal mastermind, young ladies being kidnapped by cosh wielding London low lifes, and the priceless piece of jewellery of the title. One of Hester’s many  talents is to effortlessiy forge handwriting after the briefest glimpse at an example of the original, and she uses this skill to hoodwink a prestigious private bank into revealing the contents of a safe deposit box.

The Case of the Kidnapped Schoolboy

When a nine year-old lad disappears from his bedroom in a genteel Putney villa, Hester and Ivy play two of the oldest detective games in the book – cherchez la femme and follow the money. With the help of a couple of burly railway policemen the villains are unmasked on the Dover platform of Charing Cross Station.

The Puzzle of the Whitby Housemaid

EvansHere, Tony Evans (right) indulges in the first of two shameless  – but entertaining – instances of name-dropping. Our two sleuths, weary after a succession of difficult investigations, are enjoying some well-earned R & R in the resort of Whitby. So who do they meet? Think Irish writer and man of the theatre, blood, fangs …..? Gotcha! They are engaged by a fellow holidaymaker, a certain Mr B. Stoker to investigate the disappearance of a housemaid. She has been induced to leave her present employment to go and work for a rather dodgy doctor. Much skullduggery ensues, the housemaid is saved, and Mr Stoker says, “Hmm – this gives me an idea for a story.”

The Case of the Russian Icon

Not so much blood and gore in this tale but more a case of a victimless crime. A widow is duped into selling what turns out to be a valuable religious artifact for a pittance, only to find it on sale in a smart London gallery for many times more than the unscrupulous dealer paid for it. No crime has been committed, but Hester Lynton takes it upon herself to exact some natural justice, and she does so by employing the craftsmanship of the forger who we met in The Case of the Stolen Leonardo.

The Case of the Naked Clergyman

My first image of this involved the legendary Parson’s Pleasure on the Oxford Cherwell, where naked vicars – and other chaps – were allowed to bathe, but this story is rather more sinister. An elderly  widower cleric has been behaving strangely, and his exploits have included dancing around in the buff, bathed in moonlight. Hester and Ivy soon discover that a hefty inheritance and an access to mind-altering pharmaceuticals are the cause of the problem.

The Problem of Oscar Wilde

Another hefty name-drop concludes this selection of tales, and the Irish man of letters turns up on Hester’s doorstep and asks for help. The problem is letters, and these are missives sent by Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills to someone he admires (a ‘gentleman’, of course). A sum of £200 is demanded for the return of the billets-doux. Hester and Ivy manage to derail this particular attempt to ‘out’ the great writer but, sadly, we all know his reprieve was to be only temporary.

This is a very agreeable and diverting read. Of course, we all know of another consulting detective in Victorian London, and one who also has a companion who writes up the cases, and often dashes about the Home Counties by train after consulting  Bradshaw’s Handbook. Additionally, this fellow (with his astonishing powers of observation) and his friend also had a housekeeper who usually showed clients up to their rooms – but no matter. Hester Lynton may be a Holmes pastiche in skirts, but as long as these books are well written, then I – and thousands of others, I hope – will continue to enjoy them. The Return of Hester Lynton is published by Lume Books and is out now.

TRANSFUSION . . . Between the covers

Transfusion header

This begins very differently from any of the previous books in the excellent series. Instead of finding retired Lancashire copper Henry being barman and barrista in his moorland pub, or helping his one-time colleagues chase villains around the mean backstreets of Blackpool, we are in Cyprus, where Viktor Bakshim, head of an Albanian crime syndicate has his lair in a heavily guarded mansion. He has, naturally, a bodyguard of muscled young men in black T-shirts, but his security on the island is further enhanced by the Cypriot authorities’ determination (thanks to wads of used Euros) to “see no ships..”

Screen Shot 2021-11-23 at 20.08.50

Bakshim is old and frail, and his body is pretty much shutting down one function at a time, like shops on a run-down town centre. At the heart of his operation is his ruthless and resourceful daughter Sofia, and she looms large as the plot develops.

The problem for the wider authorities – including the CIA, FBI and MI6 – is that Bakshim is dead. At least, he is supposed to be. It seems, however, that a co-ordinated hit on the ageing villain was foiled by crafty switching of personnel between the Land Cruisers carrying him and his hoodlums. The DNA of all the deceased thugs has been established, except the most crucial one – Bakshim himself.

A shadowy operator called Flynn, a former colleague of Christie’s, who now has connections to official intelligence agencies, is on Cyprus trying to establish what Bakshim – if he is indeed still alive – is up to. After a chase and a shoot-out, Flynn manages to evade the protective heavies, and heads out to sea with his girlfriend. Meanwhile, also on the island, American agent Karl Donaldson, with a little help from his friends in London’s Metropolitan Police, has nabbed a Russian hitman called Sokolov – violent and brave, but none too bright – and wants to turn him for his own purposes.

Back in chilly England, Henry Christie is, once again, employed as a civilian consultant to his former employers, and is working with his new partner DS Debbie Blackstone on an historic – and grim – case of child sexual abuse. The case is harrowing, and there are no easy days, but at least there are no bullets flying. This all changes when the ultra-violent world of Albanian gangland comes to Lancashire. When the Bakshims visit a  British criminal who has been working hand in hand with them, they find that their man in the UK has grown greedy, and is demanding a bigger slice of the cake. Bad move. All hell breaks loose.

Sofia has employed a violently competent hitman known as The Tradesman, a psychopath whose business front is running a crematorium for deceased pets. While Viktor and his daughter are spirited away from the carnage, The Tradesman goes on  a murderous spree that leaves the Lancashire cops reeling and struggling to make sense of what is going on. Henry Christie gets caught up in the bloodbath, but remains physically unscathed. His heart (the metaphorical one) however, takes a severe hit as, yet again, his romantic illusions are shattered. This happens very publicly, and in a humiliating fashion, but the heartache doesn’t prevent him – almost accidentally – cracking the case wide open as he investigates an apparently trivial case of card fraud involving his pub.

In the aftermath, Flynn and Donaldson decide that the Bakshims have done enough damage, and are determined to act “off the books” and kill them. In a delicious twist, however – and I’ll stop there, because the ending is just too good for me to spoil things. Nick Oldham delivers the goods again with violence and mayhem sufficient to satisfy the most demanding reader, but – best of all – we have another outing for the most endearing of English fictional coppers. Henry Christie is frequently bowed, but never, ever broken. Transfusion is published by Severn House and is out now.

For more about Henry Christie and Nick Oldham,
click the author’s picture below.
NO

THE BLOODLESS BOY . . . Between the covers

tbb026 copy

It is the first day of 1678, and snow is settling over a London that is mostly rebuilt after the great conflagration, but still has patches of nettle covered gaps where buildings used to be. Scientist Harry Hunt, assistant to the great polymath Robert Hooke, is summoned to his master’s side to attend what appears to be a a murder scene. On the muddy banks of the open sewer known as the Fleet River, an angler has found the dead body of a boy, perhaps two or three years of age. When examined by Hooke, a the behest of senior magistrate Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, it is discovered that the boy has been expertly drained of blood. Found upon the body is a letter containing a single sheet of paper, a cypher consisting of numbers and letters arranged in a square.

Screen Shot 2021-11-22 at 19.04.53Thus begins a thoroughly intriguing murder mystery, steeped in the religious politics of the time. For over one hundred and fifty years, religion had defined politics. Henry VIII and his daughters had burned their ‘heretics’, and although the strife between Charles I and Parliament was mainly to do with authority and representation, many of Oliver Cromwell’s adherents were strident in their opposition to the ways of worship practiced by the Church if England. Now, Charles II is King. He is reputed to have sired many ‘royal bastards’ but none that could succeed to the throne, and the next in line, his brother James, has converted to Catholicism. In most of modern Britain the schism between Catholics and Protestants is just a memory, but we only have to look across the Irish Sea for evidence of the bitter passions that can still divide society.

Harry Hunt is charged with breaking the code, and learns that it is a cypher last used over twenty years early when the current King was smuggled out of the country after his defeat at the battle of Worcester. Hunt and Hooke have another mystery death on their hands, however. With this one, Robert J Lloyd departs from recorded history, in its pages tell us that Henry Oldenburg, the German-born philosopher, scientist, theologian – and Secretary of The Royal Society –  died of an undisclosed illness in September 1677, but the author has him shooting himself through the head with an ancient pistol. Lloyd jiggles the facts again – and why not? – with the killing of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, whose corpse is found strapped to  the fearsome Morice water wheel under London Bridge (below). Sir Edmund was actually found dead in a ditch near Primrose Hill, impaled with his own sword.

Morice

We find ourselves immersed in a plot of dazzling complexity which weaves together political and military history, a plot to kill the king, and a highly secret medical experiment undertaken with the best of intentions, but turning into something every bit as horrific as those carried out by Joseph Mengele centuries later. In the middle of the turmoil stands Harry Hunt – an admirable and courageous hero who is underestimated at every step and turn by the men involved in the conspiracy.

Screen Shot 2021-11-22 at 19.07.36How on earth this superb novel spent many years floating around in the limbo of ‘independent publishing’ is beyond reason. While not quite in the ‘Decca rejects The Beatles‘ class of short sightedness, it is still baffling. The Bloodless Boy has everything – passion, enough gore to satisfy Vlad Drăculea, a sweeping sense of England’s history, a comprehensive understanding of 17th century science and a depiction of an English winter which will have you turning up the thermostat by a couple of notches. The characters – both real and fictional – are so vivid that they could be there in the room with you as you read the book.

Looking back at my reviews over the last eighteen months, I see there is no shortage of novels set in 17th century London, but this is a tour de force. Lloyd (above right) doesn’t just rely on the period detail to bring the history to life, he lights the pages up with fascinating real-life figures who make the narrative sparkle with authenticity.

THE WORLD CUP MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

WCM header

WCMWe are in Sicily, and it is the long hot summer of 1966. Brighton crime reporter Colin Crampton has taken his Aussie girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith abroad for a holiday. While the sun beats down, and gentle breezes blow in from the Mediterranean, Colin hopes to choose a romantic location – perhaps the ruin of a Greek temple – where he will go down on one knee and propose marriage to the beautiful Shirl. He has an expensive diamond ring in his pocket to help boost his case, but it is not to be.

They encounter a young Italian woman who is being abused by her Mafioso husband, and she tells them that her father – who owns a greasy spoon café near Colin and Shirl’s home in Brighton – has been murdered, but her husband refuses to allow her to travel to England. Colin, ever the parfit gentil knight, puts his proposal on hold, flogs the ring, and manages to smuggle Rosina out of the country. Back in Blighty, Colin learns from his contacts in the constabulary, that Sergio Parisi was not only murdered but robbed of a precious ticket for the World Cup Final at Wembley on 30th July. Parisi had won the ticket in a raffle at the local football club, where it had been sent, anonymously, and for reasons yet unknown.

It is always a joy to be sent a new Crampton of The Chronicle story. I have been enjoying them since Headline Murder in 2015. People can be dismissive of so-called Cosy Crime, or ‘comfort reading’ but, like many another crime book reviewer, I have to read new stuff all the time, books that one has no idea from the outset whether or not they are going to entertain, thrill, challenge or what demands the plot is going to make on one’s credulity or attention to detail. The Colin Crampton books are reassuringly and delightfully reliable. It is a dead certainty that they will be:

(1) Full of politically incorrect – but never cruel – humour
(2) Tightly plotted and cleverly written – as one would expect from a veteran jounalist
(3) Gloriously nostalgic, and crackling with authentic period detail
(4) Peopled by outrageously over-the-top characters
(5) Built of the bedrock of the sheer decency and warmth of the two main characters – Colin and his Aussie girlfriend Shirl

Back to the specifics. Colin’s investigations uncover the fact that the murder of Signor Parisi is connected to the notorious theft of the Jules Rimet trophy and its celebrated re-discovery by Pickles the border collie. The plot becomes delightfully more absurd as Colin gets arrested for murder and we meet, in no particular order, a football groundsman who is a disciple of Kim Il Sung, the lovely Shirl modelling international football strips on the front page of The Daily Mirror (phwoar!} and Booby Moore. There is an implausible but entertaining finale in the tractor shed under Wembley Stadium just as Geoff Hurst scuppers the dastardly Huns with his extra-time goals, and  Colin and Shirley live to fight (and love) another day.

If settling down to enjoy two hundred or so pages of a book as good as this is a cultural sin, then mea culpa. Forgive me Father. for I have sinned, and I’ll do as many Hail Marys as it takes to return to a state of grace. The World Cup Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is available now. For more on the series, and features written for Fully Booked by the author, click on his image below.

PB

THE DUBLIN RAILWAY MURDER . . . Between the covers

drm header018

It is a November evening in 1856, and we are in Galway, the city on the west coast of Ireland. A mail train is due to leave to cross the country to Dublin, a distance of some 125 miles. On its way, the train will call at many stations, some no bigger than halts, and collect cash boxes containing the day’s takings. These boxes will, eventually, find their way into an office in Dublin’s Broadstone Station, the headquarters of the Midland Great Western Railway Company. Thee cash boxes will be emptied, the cash counted and the sums entered into the ledgers by 42 year-old George Little, the chief cashier.

Little was a modest man of good education, but the cruelties of fate had left him the sole provider for four widows – his mother, his aunt and his sister. His diligence, attention to detail and willingness to work whatever hours it took to get the job done had endeared him to his superiors, and he was highly thought of – if not lavishly well paid. Little was known to stay after hours if there was a particularly large amount of money to deal with, but was always at work on the dot the next morning.

It was lunchtime on Friday 14th November before anyone suspected that something might be wrong; Little’s sister, Kate, had come to the station to ask after her brother, who had not come home the previous evening. His office, however, is locked. When the worthies of the MGWR eventually manage to break in to George Little’s office, they are faced with a scene from hell.


DRM body text

What follows is a classic locked room mystery as the police hunt for the killer of George Little.  Even establishing a motive is a puzzle, as most of the money George had been counting was still there in various piles on his office table. The initial investigation is lead by three Dublin detectives – Acting Inspector Daniel Ryan and his two subordinates, Sergeants Craven and Murphy. Try as they might, their enquiries uncover more questions than answers, and Superintended Augusts Dye is brought in to head up the hunt for the killer.

drm engine019 copy

Days, weeks and then months go by. Suspects come and go, and are released for lack of evidence and motive. Fast forward now to Wednesday 24th June 1857. Crown Solicitor Thomas Kemmis, who had initially been involved with the murder investigation was working from home – a handsome house in Kildare Street, Dublin. A servant announces that he has a visitor, and a middle aged woman is shown into the room. She is Mary Spollin, and she has an astonishing piece of news. She tells Kemmis that her husband James – a local painter and handyman – is the murderer of George LIttle. Her evidence is clear and damning, and James Spollin is arrested.

There is a problem, however, for the legal team. Under the law, a wife is not allowed to give evidence against her husband in a criminal trial unless she herself is the victim. It also becomes abundantly clear that the relationship between James and Mary Spollin is, to put it bluntly, a poisonous one. When Spollin’s trial, presided over by Lord Chief Justice Thomas Langlois Lefroy and Chief Justice James Henry Monahan, the accused man’s defence team are not slow to capitalise on this. A contemporary engraving (below) shows Spollin in the dock.

drm spollin021

On Tuesday 11th August 1857, shortly after 4.00pm, the jury in the trial of James Spollin returned to the courtroom, having reached their verdict.
“Mr Alley, the clerk of the court, called out the names of the jurors to check they were all present.
When he was satisfied, he asked, ‘Gentlemen of the jury, do you agree on your verdict?’
‘Yes,’ said the foreman, handing him a piece of paper.
James Spollin had risen from his seat in the dock and leant uneasily on the railing in front of him. Mr Alley unfolded the slip and examined its contents carefully. The courtroom remained in breathless silence as he lifted his eyes and  announced in a sonorous voice:
‘You say James Spollin is not guilty.'”
Spollin Liverpool

Astonishingly, James Spollin went on to capitalise on his notoriety by going on tour with a kind of celebrity show, which included, among other exhibits, a scale model of the scene of the crime. He then emigrated to America. Author Thomas Morris has written a book which brings Victorian Dublin to life, and he written as erudite, well researched and entertaining a True Crime story as you could wish to read. It is published by Harvill Secker and is out now.

Spollin departure

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑