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BETWEEN THE PAGES . . . The Unseen

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Lisa Towles is a California Girl by residence, but she hails from New England. She writes crime novels when she isn’t putting her IT Management MBA to good use in The Sunshine State’s tech industry. Long time followers of Fully Booked will recall my enthusiastic review of her earlier book Choke (2017) and will remember that I began that review with the words:

“Lisa Towles is over-cautious. Said no-one, ever.”

TU051She is back with a vengeance – and that same imaginative flair – with her new mystery thriller The Unseen and the action is just as breathless. We have a story that spans five decades and whirls us between Dublin, the Egyptian desert, Boston Massachusetts, London and Rome. With a cast of larger-than-life characters including archaeologists, journalists, hit men – and a direct descendant of an Eastern Orthodox Pope – the story is never short of surprises and dramatic twists.

The basic plot is that back in 1970, an archaeologist unearths a series of documents which, if they are authentic, could re-write the history of early Christianity. That archaeologist, Rachel Careski, disappears in mysterious circumstances, and the artifacts are believed to be in the safe keeping her brother, Soren. The story moves to 2010,  Soren Careski is long dead, and the secrets of the scrolls are assumed to have accompanied him to the grave.

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lisaWhat starts off in a rather Indiana Jones vein quickly morphs into Robert Langdon territory and there’s no shortage of rapidly-changing locations, sinister ancient manuscripts and malevolent religious freaks. Lisa Towles shows great skill in taking these well-visited elements and stamping her own imprint on them. The Unseen is published by 9mm Press and is out now.

 

Lisa Towles has a Facebook page, her own website, and can be found on Twitter as @bridgit66

COME BACK FOR ME . . . Between the covers

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CBFMOn a tiny island off the Dorset coast of southern England, a little girl lives a dream childhood. Loving parents, the beauty of the sea and the sky, and the cloudless blue optimism of the young. But then, one terrible night, Stella Harvey’s idyll is shattered. On a September evening, with a violent storm lashing the tiny harbour of Evergreen Island, David Harvey ushers his family on board the ferry he runs for a living, and takes them away to the mainland. For ever.

“At eleven, I wasn’t prepared to accept our parents’ hurried reasons for leaving the island. I couldn’t believe that this was for good and I couldn’t understand one bit why they were dragging us away in the middle of a storm. ‘Will we come back?’ I whispered to my sister? Bonnie’s hand shook as it reached for mine under my mac. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t believe we ever will.’”

Years have flown by. Stella is now a consulting psychotherapist. Sister Bonnie is married with children. Their mother, Maria, is long dead, killed in a road accident. Father David, having left Maria for another woman, is now in the throes of dementia.

Stella’s equanimity is cruelly disturbed when she sees a TV news report that human remains have been discovered on Evergreen, but worse is to follow. The body a of a woman, long dead, has been found very close to her old home, and police have not ruled out foul play. Despite Bonnie’s advice to leave well alone, Stella is hypnotically drawn to unfolding events, and decides to return to her old home.

Inevitably, as night follows day, Stella’s arrival on Evergreen is not a joyful homecoming, and several skeletons come dancing and rattling their bones out of the cupboard to which time has consigned them. Firstly, Stella learns the tragic reason why her best friend and sworn blood-sister never replied to any of the letters she sent when the Harvey family began their new life on the mainland. Then, with the cruel perceptiveness of adulthood stripping away the illusions of youth, Stella looks on with horror as, first, the grisly remains are identified and personalised and then, second, questions from the past, smothered by time for so long, leap out into the present and demand answers.

HPWhen Stella’s long-since-estranged brother, Danny, is drawn into what has become a murder investigation, the novel takes a seriously dark turn as it examines the nature of truth, loyalty, memory and love itself. Heidi Perks (right) has written a novel which will entrance readers who like a good psychological thriller, and she leaves us with a sense of sadness, certainly, but also an affirmation that, in the words of St Paul:

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

As timeless as his remarks are, we should not let St Paul have the last word. Stella Harvey says:

“Yes, I decide, I can live with a lie, because the alternative is unbearable…And I’ll live with it hanging over me forever, because that’s the trouble with secrets. They never go away.”

Come Back For Me will be published by Cornerstone Digital as a Kindle on 1st June, and in hardback, by Century, on 11th July.

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KEEP YOU CLOSE . . . Between the covers

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Steph Maddox is something of an Alpha female. She has punched her way through the law enforcement glass ceiling during her training at the legendary Virginia military training base known as Quantico, and now she is a senior operative at the HQ of The Federal Bureau of Investigation which, as the organisation’s website tells us, helpfully, is:

“… located between 9th and 10th Streets in northwest Washington, D.C. The closest Metro subway stops are Federal Triangle on the Orange/Blue lines, Gallery Place/Chinatown and Metro Center on the Red line, and Archives/Navy Memorial on the Yellow and Green lines.”

The site goes on to offer a very individual kind of day out:

“The FBI Experience is a self-guided tour at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Open to the public, visits may be requested up to five months in advance of, but no later than four weeks prior to the desired visit date.”

KYC coverFor Agent Maddox, however, The FBI Experience is something other than a theme park visit. Gender equality has come at a price, and she is viewed with a certain degree of suspicion by many of her male colleagues, particularly as she is – and feel free to use the ‘woke’ description of your choice – a single mother, lone parent or head of a one-parent family. The blunt truth is that Steph has brought up Zachary largely on her own from day one. Not only that, but she has steadfastly refused to reveal the identity of his father.

Zachary is a walking embodiment of a male teenager. Monosyllabic, tech-savvy, frequently tongue-tied and often a recluse in his bedroom. As mums do, Steph is casually going through the things on his clothing shelves when her hand touches something which makes her recoil in horror. No, not a particularly nasty piece of unwashed personal attire, but the cold, brutal steel of a Glock 26 pistol – a compact version of her own official firearm.

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To say that Steph is now unsettled is a massive understatement. Choosing a rather more indirect route to confronting Zach about her discovery, she also learns that the boy is on the mailing list of a known terrorist organisation, the Freedom Solidarity Movement. Her anxiety deepens when Scott, a fellow agent and former boyfriend, reveals that Zachary is a person of interest.

karen-clevelandKaren Cleveland, to say the very least, knows of what she writes. She is a former CIA analyst herself, and her experience translates into a swiftly moving and convincing narrative. Steph Maddox is torn between fighting her son’s corner – he is innocent, surely? – and preventing a major terrorist assassination attempt. As in the real world of political and military intelligence gathering, nothing is what it seems, and no-one is above suspicion.

The tension of the plot is wound higher and higher until, like an over-stretched guitar string, you know it’s going to snap. When it does, the results are catastrophic for all concerned. Cleveland (right) , however, is not just a one-trick pony. Her account of Steph struggling to be a decent mother, despite the dramatic chaos of her professional life, is perceptive and moving. Keep You Close is published by Bantam Press and is out now.

THE SLEEPWALKER . . . Between the covers

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In a fictional world overflowing with disfunctional detectives who happen to be rather good at their jobs, Joseph Knox has raised, or perhaps lowered, the bar considerably with his DC Aidan Waits. We first met Waits in Sirens (2017) and then in The Smiling Man (2018). Now, in The Sleepwalker, Knox takes us on another guided tour of the dystopian underbelly of contemporary Manchester.

TSTogether with his grotesque partner and immediate boss, DI Peter Sutcliffe, Waits always gets the shitty end of the stick. ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe is, you might say, a good old fashioned copper. Waits goes to meet him in a dingy rock-and-roll boozer:

“Sutty was standing in the corner, explaining something to one of the other customers. To make sure the man was really listening, he’d lifted him off the ground by his ears and begun banging his head into the wall to the beat of the drum.

He let the smile slide, dramatically, off his face when he saw me.

‘Oh’, he said, over the music. ‘It’s the great depression. Shouldn’t you be queuing up for a loaf of bread instead of buying beer?’ “

Waits and Sutcliffe have been assigned to a Death Watch. In hospital, a notorious serial killer nicknamed The Sleepwalker because of the bizarre circumstances of his arrest, is dying of cancer. Years ago, he was convicted of slaughtering a family – wife and children – and the older daughter’s body has never been found. In the faint hope that Martin Wick’s dying breath will reveal the final resting place of twelve year-old Lizzie Moore – a sombre echo of the misplaced faith that believed Ian Brady would finally say where he had buried Keith Bennett – Waits and Sutcliffe sit by the dying man’s bedside, their ears close to whatever utterance escapes his shriveled lips.

Why is Aidan Waits such a tortured character? Well, how long have you got? His childhood was loveless and chaotic, and spent largely in institutions where he rubbed shoulders with trainee failures, malcontents and killers. Echoing Nietzsche’s chilling remarks about the moral abyss, Waits has, more recently, gazed too long into a chasm inhabited by a repellent Manchester crime lord called Zane Carver. Carver has fed Waits’s drug habit, and the two have fought over women. Carver has a particular talent with women:

“Zain Carver was a magician when it came to ruining women’s lives.

He surrounded himself with these beautiful assistants and then delighted in sawing them up, making them disappear. Sometimes a new girl on his arm might end up on the game, or in hospital, or back with her parents feeling five years older, a permanent faraway look in her eyes.”

As distinctive as Knox is as a stylist, and as much as he is a master of the inky black metaphor, he has a tale to tell and a plot to spin. The sepulchral calm of Martin Wick’s closely guarded hospital room is shattered by a savage attack which Waits survives, but puts him at the head of the queue as the police and the gutter press search for scapegoats. With Carver having decided to exact revenge on Waits by donning his black cap and pronounced the death sentence, Waits is on the run both from the gangster and, no less implacably, his politically motivated senior officers, but he keeps them at bay. He discovers faint-but-fatal fault lines in the original case against Martin Wicks, and finds that both Kevin Blake, the detective who brought Wicks to justice, and Frank Moore, the father of the murdered children, still have songs to sing.

KnoxJoseph Knox writes like an angel. Possibly an Angel of Death, but he grasps the spluttering torch of English Noir once carried by such writers as Derek Raymond, and runs with such vigour that the flame burns brightly once again. He is not without humour, and there are many – if unrepeatable – gags exchanged between the cynical cops and their low-life prey. The politically correct nature of modern policing doesn’t escape his attention, either:

“The conference space and interview rooms had a bland, mass-produced, modern aesthetic. If Hitler’s bunker had been designed by Travelodge, it couldn’t have communicated quiet despair any more effectively.”

 No-one who has had the misfortune to require A & E treatment on any given weekend evening – in Manchester, Middlesborough, Maidenhead or Milton Keynes – will be unfamiliar with this baleful description, as Waits searches for a suspect:

“I looked about me. Bloodshed, fist-fights and stab wounds. Confused, stunned people, drunk, on drugs, with life-altering injuries. Stick-thin single mothers on food bank diets, with morbidly obese babies.”

Knox has his grim fun with a Manchester police force that is barely honest, city down-and-outs who have lost most of the trappings of humanity, and an infestation of tattooed, Spice-addicted thugs straight from Central Casting – with Hieronymus Bosch as the agency’s head of HR. He also leaves us with a delightfully enigmatic final few pages. The Sleepwalker is published by Doubleday and will be on the shelves from 11th July

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J SS BACH . . . Between the covers

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This is not a conventional crime novel. There are victims, for sure, and perpetrators of terrible acts which still, when described, take the breath away in their depravity and cold, organised manifestation of evil. English academic Martin Goodman (right) MGhas written a starkly brilliant account of Nazi oppression in Central Europe in the late 1930s. He achieves his broad sweep by, paradoxically focusing on the fine detail. One family. One teenage boy, Otto Schalmek. One fateful knock on the door while Vienna and most of Austria are waving flags to welcome ‘liberation’ in the shape of the Anschluss.

 

JSSBThe Schalmek family are Jewish. That is all that needs to be said. The family becomes just a few lines on a ledger – immaculately kept – which records the ‘resettlement’ of Jewish families. Otto is taken to Dachau and then to Birkenau. His ability as a cellist precedes him, and he is sent to play in the house of Birchendorf, the camp Commandant. His wife Katja is the artistic one, and her husband merely seeks to keep her entertained by using Schalmek as a kind of performing monkey who plays Bach suites on the cello in between sanding floors and mopping up shit in the latrines.

 

The great irony is that Katja is unable to hear Schmalek’s artistry. She is, quite literally, deaf to the Baroque intricacies being played on the stolen Stradivarius. She is, however able to hear through her fingertips as she places her hands on the cello while Schalmek plays. She is pregnant, and although her other senses cause her to be repelled by the captive cellist’s physical state, there is an almost erotic connection between the two.

History, in the shape of Hitler’s madness and the relentless march of the Red Army, intervenes, and the death camps are liberated. Birchendorf is captured and arraigned for war crimes, while his wife and their young daughter manage to lose themselves in the flood of genuine refugees from the devastation caused by war. They manage to escape to a new life in Australia, while Schalmek also survives but goes on to become a revered composer whose rare performances are cherished by the international concert-goers.

Goodman’s book spans the years and the continents. Having been shown the shattering of the Schalmek family we go from the Nuremburg trials to late 1940s Canada and then, via Sydney in the 1960s, on to 1990s California, where Katja’s grand-daughter Rosa, an eminent writer and musicologist, seeks an audience with the elusive and very private genius Otto Schalmek. Rosa Cline is determined to write the definitive biography of Otto Schalmek, but their relationship takes an unexpected turn.

Another fine novel which walks the same bloodstained roads is A Lily of The Field by John Lawton. Again we have a teenage Jewish musician, also a cellist, who is dragged from the family home in Vienna and sent to the death camps. Like Goodman’s Otto Schalmek, Meret Voytek survives in hell due to her musical brilliance. Her Nazi captors may be brutal murderers, but they are not artistic philistines. There, the resemblance between the novels ends. Voytek is saved by Russians who intercept the Death March from Auschwitz, but her post-war life becomes entangled with Cold War espionage.

Screen Shot 2019-06-04 at 19.52.58is a distinctive and beautifully written novel, full of irony, heartbreak and a scholarly brilliance in the way it portrays the human devastation of Hitler’s assault on the Jews. Yes, there is the almost obligatory account of the depravity and sheer horror of the camps, but Goodman also brings a sense of great intimacy and a telling focus on the small personal tragedies and discomforts – an interrupted family meal, a tearful and hurried “goodbye”, and a new grandchild never to be cuddled by grandparents. Crime fiction? Probably not, in the scheme of things. Thrilling, often painful, and full of psychological insight? Certainly. J SS Bach is published by Wrecking Ball Press and is out now.

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THE KILLER IN ME . . . Between the covers

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Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan is the leader of an elite crime unit of Dublin’s An Garda Síochána, known as The Bureau. She has been asked by her sister in law – who works for a human rights group called Justice Meets Justice – to look over the evidence and paperwork related to a horrific historic crime, where a teenager called Seán Hennessy was convicted of the savage murder of his mother and father, and the attempted murder of his young sister. Now, Hennessy has been released, and he is the latest cause célèbre for JMJ. Sheehan reluctantly agrees, but her attention is quickly diverted to a double murder.

TKIM coverTwo bodies have been found in a church in the well-to-do coastal suburb of Clontarf. The victims are identified as a local woman and her husband, but their deaths seem strangely disconnected. Geraldine Shine has been stabbed, but her husband Alan was strangled, has been dead for much longer, and his corpse shows every sign of having been kept in a freezer.

Sheehan and her colleague Detective Baz Harwood are pulled every which way by a murder investigation which becomes more complicated when another body is found. Conor Sheridan has been shot, again kept in a freezer, but this time displayed at the edge of the beach, up against Clontarf’s sea wall. While looking like a mass of disconnected but tangled threads, the various strands of evidence – the CCTV footage, the forensic data, the human connections – seem to defy the weaver’s comb which will straighten them into a recognisable pattern. When Sheehan gets a glimpse of what it all means, she realises with horror that it links to the Hennessy murders and, indirectly, to her own family.

Despite its grim subject matter, The Killer In Me is a thing of beauty. I have, sadly, never been to Dublin or spent serious time with Irish people, but Olivia Kiernan gives the dialogue, particularly when people are using the vernacular, a gentle lilt.

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Kiernan never lets us forget, however what savagery through which, via the eyes of Frankie Sheehan, we are wading. Her immediate boss, Assistant Commissioner Jack Clancy, gives her this sombre warning.

“Be careful with this, Frankie. Sometimes when you look into the mouth of that kind of evil, it’s hard to look away. You think, give it another few moments, your eyes will adjust, you’ll see the bottom of that darkness, understand it. It’s alluring. Addictive. And while you’re standing there rooted to the spot, you’re not noticing the fucking shadow is closing over you and you’re disappearing.”

olivia-kiernanI don’t know if Dublin Noir is ‘a thing’, but if it does exist, then The Killer In Me is its apotheosis. By the by, it is also a master-class in how to write a convincing police procedural. Sheehan shares her modus operandi when interviewing a reluctant suspect:

“We rely on a man’s capacity to always think the worst couldn’t happen. That no matter what they tell us, they will be okay. And because humans want to believe that, eventually they do begin to talk. And when they do, a tongue-tied perp can morph into a grand orator.”

Dark, complex, brutal but full of compassion, The Killer In Me is breathtakingly good. It is published by riverrun (a literary imprint of Quercus) and is available now in all formats.

 

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THE ARTEMIS FILE . . . Between the covers

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I redt takes a very ingenious – not to say devious mind – to fashion a fiction plot which meshes together a whole bagful of disparate elements to make a satisfying whole that challenges the imagination but does not exceed it in possibility. Adam Loxley has done just that in his latest thriller The Artemis File. George Wiggins is Mr Ordinary. He lives in what would have been called, years ago, a bijou residence in the twee Kentish town of Tenterden. He is not Mr Stupid, however. He travels into ‘town’ each day to sit at his desk in Fleet Street where he composes the daily crossword for The Chronicle under his pseudonym Xerxes. Aficionados know that in reality, all that is left of the newspaper industry in Fleet Street are the buildings, and the use of the term to denote popular journalism, but we can forgive Loxley for having the good, old-fashioned Chronicle hanging on by the skin of its teeth when all its fellows have decamped to Wapping or soulless suburbs somewhere off a dual carriageway.

front-cover-finalWhen George has a rather startling experience in his local pub after a couple of pints of decent beer, the other elements of the story – MI5, the CIA, Russian agents, immaculately dressed but ruthless Whitehall civil servants and, most crucially, the most infamous unsolved incident of the late 20th century – are soon thrown into the mix. Such is George’s conformity, it is easily compromised, and he is blackmailed into writing a crossword, the answers to which are deeply significant to a very select group of individuals who sit at the centres of various spiders’ webs where they tug the strands which control the national security of the great powers.

 

G rdeorge Wiggins might have been easily duped and he has few means to fight back, but he recruits an old chum from the Chronicle whose knowledge of the historical events of the 1990s proves key to unraveling the mystery of who wanted the crossword published – and why. While the pair rescue a dusty file from an obscure repository and pore over its contents, elsewhere a much more visceral struggle is playing out. A ruthless MI5 contract ‘fixer’ called Craven is engaged on a courtly dance of death with a former CIA agent, current American operatives and their Russian counterparts.

One of the joys of this book is Loxley’s delight in guiding us through various parts of England that he clearly loves. Winchester, the Vale of Itchen, various ‘secret’ London places – we track the characters as they play out the fateful – and frequently bloody – drama against fascinating backdrops. We are linked into real events such as the mysterious death of intelligence ‘spook’ Gareth Williams, and the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. We learn that the truth behind the events of 31st August 1997 has become an chip in an international poker game with world peace at stake. Just when we think that things have been wrapped up sweetly, however, Loxley has one final ace to play, and he lays it down with, literally, the last few words of the book.

The Artemis File is published by Matador and is available now. Adam Loxley lives in the Weald of Kent. Other than creative writing his passions are making music, world cinema and contemporary art. The first book in this series was The Teleios Ring, and the concluding novel The Oedipus Gate is currently in manuscript.

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ONE WAY OUT . . . Between the covers

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If fictional coppers need to be idiosyncratic to attract readers, then DI “Harry” Hardeep Singh Virdee ticks all the required boxes and also a good few new ones of his own devising. The Bradford policeman is a Sikh, but has enraged his father and his wider community by doing the unthinkable in marrying a Muslim woman. His brother Ronnie also happens to be a ruthless career criminal.

OWO coverThe latest novel from AA Dhand is a gripping thriller which goes well beyond the constraints of the conventional police procedural. One Way Out begins with a huge bomb going off in the centre of Bradford. Although there has been sufficient warning to minimise civilian casualties, the perpetrators – an extreme right wing group known as The Patriots – have a further trick up their sleeve. It is a Friday, and with all 105 mosques in the Yorkshire city being full of worshippers, the terrorists announce that they have planted a bomb in one of the mosques, and it will be detonated unless the police track down and hand over the members of a notorious Islamic militant group called Almukhtaroon. The Patriots have pre-empted the obvious evacuation of the mosques by stating that if one single worshipper attempts to leave, the bomb will be detonated.

Virdee’s wife Saima is trapped inside the Mehraj mosque where the massive bomb is eventually located, but that is just one of his problems. He is sought out by the Home Secretary Tariq Islam, with whom he has, shall we say, history, and given the task of rounding up  the four leading members of Almukhtaroon while the government maintains the façade of refusing to negotiate with terror groups.

What we then have is an entertaining and thoroughly readable mix of all the best thriller tropes – race against time, threatened love one, maverick cop, violence-a-plenty, double-dealing politicians and embittered fanatics – Dhand relishes every minute of it, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 20.18.59Dhand is a Bradford man, born and bred, and he paints a vivid – if occasionally depressing – picture of the results of racial and religious bigotry. While he is justifiably harsh on right-wing extremism, he doesn’t spare the blushes of the Asian community, whether they are warring Muslim factions or Sikhs with more angry pride in their hearts than compassion. I’m not sure I totally bought into the relationship between Virdee and Tariq Islam, but no matter what the plot, suspension of disbelief is what we fiction readers are good at, otherwise we would spend our days reading history books or browsing the Argos catalogue.

One Way Out is a genuine page-turner. Futuristic? Maybe, but who would have said, a decade ago, that we would have a Muslim Home Secretary? Another nod to reality is the charismatic leader of Almukhtaroon, the self-styled Abu Nazir. He is not only a genuine Geordie, but he is also a ginger-haired convert to Islam. I seem to recall that one of the notorious followers of the hate preacher Anjem Choudry fits that description, at least in his ethnicity and hair colour. Virdee is a compassionate and credible hero, but with just enough of a mean streak to allow him to go head-to-head with he genuinely bad guys. One Way Out is published by Bantam Press and will be available from 27th June

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THE WHITE FEATHER KILLER . . . Between the covers

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TWFK coverI’m a great fan of historical crime fiction, particularly if it is set in the 19th or 20th centuries, but I will be the first to admit that most such novels tend not to veer towards what I call The Dark Side. Perhaps it’s the necessary wealth of period detail which gets in the way, and while some writers revel in the more lurid aspects of poverty, punishment and general mortality, the genre is usually a long way from noir. That’s absolutely fine. Many noir enthusiasts (noiristes, perhaps?) avoid historical crime in the same way that lovers of a good period yarn aren’t drawn to existential world of shadows cast by flickering neon signs on wet pavements. The latest novel from RN Morris, The White Feather Killer is an exception to my sweeping generalisation, as it is as uncomfortable and haunting a tale as I have read for some time.

If Morris were to have a specialised subject on Mastermind, it might well be London Crime In 1914, as the previous books in the DI Silas Quinn series, Summon Up The Blood (2012), Mannequin House (2013), Dark Palace (2014) and The Red Hand Of Fury (2018) are all set in that fateful year. Silas Quinn, like many of the best fictional coppers, is something of an oddball. While not completely misanthropic, he prefers his own company; his personal family life is tainted with tragedy; he favours the cerebral, evidence-based approach to solving crimes rather than the knuckle-duster world of forced confessions favoured by his Scotland Yard colleagues.

London – like the rest of Britain in the late summer of 1914 – is convulsed with a mixture of outrage, mad optimism and a sense of the old world being overturned. There is the glaring paradox of the first BEF casualties from Mons and Le Cateau being smuggled into the capital’s hospitals on bloodstained stretchers while, the length and breadth of the city, young men are jostling and queuing around the block in a testosterone fuelled display of patriotism, with their only anxiety being the worry that it will all be over before they can ‘do their bit’.

Morris takes his time before giving us a dead body, but his drama has some intriguing characters. We met Felix Simpkins, such a mother’s boy that, were he to be realised on the screen, we would have to resurrect Anthony Perkins for the job. His mother is not embalmed in the apple cellar, but an embittered and waspish German widow, a failed concert pianist, a failed wife, and a failed pretty much everything else except in the dubious skill of humiliating her hapless son. Central to the grim narrative is the Cardew family. Baptist Pastor Clement Cardew is the head of the family; his wife Esme knows her place, but his twin children Adam and Eve have a pivotal role in what unfolds. The trope of the hypocritical and venal clergyman is well-worn but still powerful; when we realise the depth of Cardew’s descent into darkness, it is truly chilling.

rogerHistorical novels come and go, and all too many are over-reliant on competent research and authentic period detail, but Morris (right) plays his ace with his brilliant and evocative use of language. Here, Quinn watches, bemused, as a company of army cyclists spin past him:

“The whole thing had the air of an outing. It did not seem like men preparing for war. The soldiers on their bicycles struck Quinn as unspeakably vulnerable. Their jauntiness as they sped along had a hollow ring to it, as if each man knew he was heading towards death but had sworn not to tell his fellows.”

Quinn has to pursue his enquiries in one of the quieter London suburbs, and makes this wry observation of the world of Mr Pooter – quaintly comic, but about to be shattered by events:

“Elsewhere, in the bigger, flashier houses, the rich and servanted classes might indulge in their racy pastimes and let their jealous passions run wild. Here the worst that could be imagined of one’s neighbours was the coveting of another man’s gardenias, or perhaps going hatless on a Sunday afternoon.”

The White Feather Killer is published by Severn House, and is available now. Let Morris have the last word, though, and he takes us back to that autumn when, after those heady weeks when everything seemed possible, innocence finally died.

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