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LAST NOCTURNE . . . Between the covers

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I am a huge fan of MJ Trow’s books. We have some things in common. I don’t share his gifts as a writer but we did go to the same school and we both had long careers as teachers. We certainly share the same acerbic views of the bean counters and politically correct apologists who run schools these days. If you want first hand knowledge of these miserable characters, then read any of Trow’s wonderful Peter ‘Mad’ Maxwell series. They are great entertainment – very, very funny, but with a serious side, too.

Like his creator, Peter Maxwell has left the chalk face and retired to his Isle of Wight home, but Trow’s brilliance as a historian still shines in the Grand and Batchelor series, of which Last Nocturne is the seventh. Reviews of some of its predecessors are here, and the new book has the usual dazzling mix of real-life characters – try Oscar Wilde, GF Watts, John Ruskin and James McNeill Whistler for starters –  knockabout humour and murder most foul.

41xgC83kdoLGrand & Batchelor are private investigators based in 1870s London and – much to the relief of James Batchelor, who is a terrible traveller – Last Nocturne has its feet securely on home soil. Grand is from a wealthy New England family, and fought bravely for the Union in The War Between The States, while Batchelor is a journalist by trade. Murder – what else? – is the name of the game in this book, and the victims are, you might say ‘on the game’. Cremorne Gardens were popular pleasure gardens beside the River Thames in Chelsea, but after dark, the ‘pleasure’ sought by its denizens was not of the innocent kind. ‘Ladies of the Night’ are being murdered – poisoned with arsenic – but the killer doesn’t interfere with them, as the saying goes, but instead leaves books by their dead bodies.

As the two investigators become involved in the police hunt for the bookish poisoner, they are still doing the day job which, in this case, is being employed by Grand’s fellow countryman Mr Whistler – he of the painting of his mum – to dig out any dirt they can find on art critic John Ruskin who, ‘as any fule no’ (to quote Nigel Molesworth) wrote, of one of Whistler’s paintings, “never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”

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Trow has great fun
with John Ruskin’s back story, particularly his disastrous marriage to Euphemia ‘Effie’ Gray , and the disastrous first night of their honeymoon when he was so traumatised by her luxuriant pubic hair that he was unable to continue with his marital duties. The Pre-Raphaelite painter John Millais clearly had no such qualms, as he married Effie in 1855, and they produced eight children.

The search for the killer, however, continues, but G & B, along with the police, remain mystified. They even resort to a seance involving the well-known society medium, Miss Florence Cook, whose reputation has gone before her:

“The murmurs from the guests were mixed, but Florence was used to that. Speaking for herself, she couldn’t really see why people were always so surprised when she was from time to time exposed as a fraud. What did they expect? That the dead would turn up on cue to talk to people about the other side? Why would Uncle Norman come back to a seedy scullery in Acton to tell his niece that it was all very l, he was at peace, and he’d been talking to Beethoven only the other day, who told him to tell little Bessie to carry on with her piano lessons?”

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Eventually G & B solve the mystery, but rather more by accident than design and the book comes to a dramatic and entertaining conclusion. Last Nocturne is published by Severn House, and is available in hardback and as a Kindle.

NEVER ASK THE DEAD . . . Between the covers

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This is the third in a compelling series featuring police officer Owen Sheen. He is Belfast born and bred, but is currently employed by London’s Metropolitan Police. He has been seconded to work in his home city heading up SHOT – the Serious Historical Offences Team. Inevitably, these historical offences are all bound in to the  horrendous sectarian violence committed during the bizarrely euphemistic ‘Troubles’. But now, since the Good Friday Agreement, hatchets are buried, enemies have become friends and all is serene on the sunlit uplands. Isn’t it? Actually, no. Former gunmen, torturers, knee-cappers, car-bombers and violent thugs are now in politics, schmoozing and shaking diplomatic hands at the highest level. But beneath the men in suits – yes, mostly men, because parts of Ulster society remains hugely patriarchal – there are still dozens of killers, some as yet uncaught, but others pardoned by political expediency.

Sheen’s latest case concerns an investigation into ‘The Cyprus Three’ – three IRA operatives gunned down by SAS men on a street in Cyprus. The official line is that the three were about to plant a huge bomb to destroy British troops.The courts decided that the killings were lawful, despite the three Irish people being unarmed. The more elderly among us will recognise that this scenario is a mirror image of a real event – the killing of three IRA members in Gibraltar in 1988.

Screen Shot 2021-02-17 at 18.05.34Sheen is given the task of re-investigating the Cyprus shootings, with a strong hint that it would suit the contemporary political narrative were the SAS  men to be found guilty of unlawful killing. As he turns over the stones, Sheen isn’t surprised to see all kinds of unpleasant creatures scuttling away from the light. He has his own issues, as his own brother was the collateral damage of a terrorist bomb in their childhood street while they were kicking a football about.

As his investigation mines deeper into the landfill of lies and deception that makes up Belfasts’s political history, Sheen is drawn into the search for a legendary double agent, nicknamed TOPBRASS. He has played both sides – the IRA hierarchy and the British Special Branch. But why is he still ‘an item’ in the malevolent undertow of Ulster politics, and how high are his connections in ‘high places’?

Screen Shot 2021-02-21 at 18.34.42Donnelly has written a brilliant and terrifying novel that should remind people that despite the outward air of calm and reconstruction there is a parallel Belfast – a place where grievances are bone-deep and still burning white hot.

We can sit in our suburban homes and tut-tut about the barbarity of ISIS, Boko Haram or Hezbollah, but Gary Donnelly (right) reminds us that acts of incalculable horror were carried out on a regular basis on the streets of a British city by the IRA and its Unionist opponents. The only thing that I can take from this savage history lesson is that religious zealotry fuels bigotry, which in turn provides the spark to the tinder of sectarian violence. This is a great read, but not a happy one. Never Ask The Dead is published by Allison & Busby and is out now.

MURDER AT THE RITZ . . . Between the covers

MATR headerZogAny novel which features – in no particular order – Commander Ian Fleming, King Zog of Albania, a dodgy lawyer called Pentangle Underhill, and a Detective Chief Inspector named The Hon. Edgar Walter Septimus Saxe-Coburg promises to be a great deal of fun, and Murder At The Ritz by Jim Eldridge didn’t disappoint. It is set in London in August 1940, and Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli, better known as King Zog of Albania (left) has been smuggled out of his homeland after its invasion by Mussolini’s Italy, and he has now taken over the entire third floor of London’s Ritz Hotel, complete with various retainers and bodyguards – as well as a tidy sum in gold bullion.

Anyone who has studied the history of Albania will know that it has always been a chaotic place. In the 1920s, while working at the League of Nations, the famous sportsman CB Fry was reputedly offered the throne. For a rather more serious memoir of Albania during WW2, Eight Hours From England (click for the review) by Anthony Quayle is well worth a read, and we all know – thanks to the Taken franchise, starring Liam Neeson, that Albania’s chief export to the rest of the world is organised crome, drug-running, money laundering and people trafficking.

Screen Shot 2021-02-25 at 19.08.38Back to the story, and when a corpse is discovered in one of the King’s suites, Coburg is called in to investigate. The attempt to relieve the Albanian monarch of his treasure sparks off a turf war between two London gangs who, rather like the Krays and the Richardsons in the 1960s, occupy territories ‘norf’ and ‘sarf’ of the river. After several more dead bodies and an entertaining sub-plot featuring Coburg’s romance with Rosa Weeks, a beautiful and talented young singer, there is a dramatic finale involving a shoot-out near the Russian Embassy. This is a highly enjoyable book that occupies the same territory as John Lawton’s Fred Troy novels (click to read more). It is nowhere near as dark and dystopian as those books, but Murder At The Ritz is none the worse for that.

Since 2016 Jim Eldridge has concentrated on writing historical crime fiction for adults. Previously he worked as a scriptwriter and wrote books for children and young adults. As a scriptwriter he had over 250 TV and 250 radio scripts broadcast in the UK and internationally. In 2019 I read, enjoyed and reviewed an earlier book by this writer, and if you click on the title – Murder At The British Museum – you can see what I thought. Murder At The Ritz is published by Allison & Busby and is out now.

WHAT WILL BURN . . . Between the covers

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As the title suggests, What Will Burn is all about fire. It begins with an old woman, badly beaten and then set alight. There are passages which hark back to the late sixteenth century, and describe the dreadful end of women who were accused of witchcraft and burnt at the stake. A man apparently spontaneously combusts as he sits in his basement flat. It ends with a grim parallel to those scenes when one of the book’s main characters, suffers a similar fate in a grim parody of those historical executions.

So, what has all this to do with James Oswald’s Edinburgh copper
, Detective Chief Inspector Tony McLean? Or, to be more accurate, Detective Inspector McLean, as he returns to duty busted down a rank after a lengthy investigation into misconduct.

His ‘welcome back Tony” case is that of the agonising death of Cecily Slater, an elderly member of an aristocratic family, who has lived alone in a crumbling cottage in the woods above Edinburgh. Her charred remains have gone unnoticed for some time, until an estate worker who runs the odd errand for the old woman makes a grisly discovery.

McLean also becomes involved with a controversial campaign called Dad’s Army. They are not the avuncular dodderers from Walmington-on-Sea, but a group of embittered men who, for one reason or another, have been denied access to their children. They are led – and empowered – by a lawyer called Tommy Fielding, a man who who has a seemingly pathological hatred of women, and is undeterred by the fact that many of his clients have been separated from their children due to allegations of serious sexual abuse.

All good police procedural series
need a repertory company of regular characters, and the Tony McLean books are no exception. There’s Grumpy Bob, guardian of the cold case records down in the basement, Detective Constable Janie Harrison – now Acting Detective Sergeant Harrison, the lugubrious Detective Constable ‘Lofty’ Blane. McLean himself is a fascinating character. Thanks to a legacy, he has the luxury of being financially independent of his job, but loves the work. He also has the mixed blessing of being someone who is sensitive to things paranormal, and beyond the ken of the Police Scotland operational handbook. Away from the station, there is the strange character of Madame Rose, a transexual psychic who can always be relied upon to provide a sense of things “not dreamt of in our philosophy”.Last but not least, there is Mrs McCutcheon’s cat. We never see the owner, but the moggie is a permanent resident in McLean’s house.

There is a new member of the cast
in this novel, in the person of Chief Superintendent Gail Elmwood, freshly signed from the Metropolitan Police to head up Tony’s team. Let’s just say that she is not your conventional senior police officer.

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As the reviewers’ cliché has it, the body count gets higher. Readers expecting a conventional solution to the criminal activity in What Will Burn will search in vain. James Oswald takes this book to a new level of dark imaginings, intrigue, human venality and sinister happenings which, if they don’t scare you, it perhaps means that you are in a persistent vegetative state. What Will Burn is published by Wildfire, and is out today, 18th February.

I am a confirmed and long-standing fan of the Tony McLean series. To read reviews of earlier novels, click here.

THE SANATORIUM . . . Between the covers

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The Sanitorium cver026Elin Warner is an English police officer. We meet her and boyfriend Will as they ride in an over-crowded car on a funicular railway. They are travelling to Le Sommet, a luxury hotel high in the Swiss Alps, where Erin’s brother Isaac and his girlfriend Laure are about to celebrate their engagement. We soon learn a few background details. Elin has been on sick leave for many months, after a serious incident. Her mother has just died of cancer, and she and Isaac have been estranged for many years.

Le Sommet has a distinctive history, as it is a former sanatorium, where tuberculosis victims were sent in pre-vaccine days in the hope that the clean mountain air would ease their suffering. Its transformation into a five star holiday destination was masterminded by a prestigious firm of Swiss architects, one of whom mysteriously disappeared at the site in the early days of the project. No trace of him has ever been found.

Pretty much as soon as Elin and Will arrive, a fierce snow storm cuts off Le Sommet from the rest of the world, and they wake after their first night in the hotel to the news that Laure has disappeared.

After a few chapters, I pictured Le Sommet as a rather diabolical cross between The Overlook Hotel where Jack and Wendy Torrance spent such an eventful winter (“Here comes Johnny….!“) and the Hotel California (“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…“)

Unlike the residents of the hotel, we know that there is someone out there, a killer who has an agenda. Revenge, maybe? Or perhaps a psycho with neither rhyme nor reason, other than their insanity?

There is another undertow tugging at us as we move through the chapters, and it is Elin’s suspicion that Isaac had something to do with the death of her younger brother Sam years earlier. The tragedy was deemed to be accidental, but what if the unthinkable had happened, and it was a case of fraternal jealousy taken a step too far?

Sarah PearseWhen the body count starts to rise, Elin’s professional training kicks in and, after phoning the local police for permission, she takes charge of the investigation. With no access to forensic support or police databases, she has to make do with what she has – basically her own instincts as a copper. She suspects that whatever is motivating the killer lies in the history of the hotel. Sarah Pearse (right) exploits the conventions of the locked-down/cut-off-from-the-outside-world thriller for all she is worth, and we have hidden passage ways, disused tunnels, murderers in sinister masks, and the general sense that most of the key figures in the plot are hiding secrets of one sort or another.

This is a convincing debut novel, and the author doesn’t give us a moment’s downtime in terms of tension. If there is such a thing as Anxiety Porn, then The Sanatorium is a fine example of the genre. Sarah Pearse also leaves us with an Epilogue which takes one of the assumptions made by Elin – and us readers – and turns it on its head.

The novel came out as a Kindle on 4th February (Transworld Digital) and will be available as a Bantam Press hardback from 18th February. You can find out more about the author by clicking this link.

SERPENTINE . . . Between the covers

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No-one could ever accuse Jonathan Kellerman of not being industrious. It seems like only the other day that I reviewed The Museum of Desire (it was 9th November last year, in fact), but now Dr Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis are back again in the hills and canyons of LA, solving another mystery. A quick bio. for readers new to the series. Delaware is a practicing child psychologist who often (this is the 36th book in the series) helps LAPD detective Milo Sturgis with cases. Delware lives with a woman who repairs stringed instruments, while Sturgis has a partner, and has come through the dark years when being gay was something of a no-no in police ranks. The plot is as wonderfully convoluted and labyrinthine as ever. So (takes a deep breath), here goes.

Screen Shot 2021-02-04 at 18.47.53Sturgis has reluctantly taken on the coldest of cold cases. His orders have come down from some very well-connected people in the political and civic life of LA, and so he has been pulled off all other work. The mystery? What is the truth behind the death of a woman decades earlier, found in the wreckage of her burnt out Cadillac at the bottom of a canyon bordering Mulholland Drive? Careless driving? Might have been, were it not for the fact that she had also been shot in the head.

The woman pulling the strings is Ellie Barker, a millionaire former businesswoman, and daughter of Dorothy Swoboda the lady in the canyon. She was only three at the time, has no recollection of her mother, and never knew her natural father, having been brought up by her stepfather, Stanley Barker.

Anton Des Barres was a wealthy industrialist who made his money manufacturing high quality surgical equipment. After his second wife died, he became something of a womaniser, inviting young women back to his mansion where he and his children still lived. Delaware and Sturgis learn that Dorothy was one of Des Barres’s ‘harem’. They also discover a strange coincidence. Arlette Des Barres, the man’s second wife died after a fall from her horse in the rugged country near where Dorothy died. Stanley Barker was found dead, possibly as a result of a fall, in the same area.

Historic deaths are one thing, but when Ellie Barker’s boyfriend is shot, Delaware and Sturgis are faced with the uncomfortable thought that whatever the truth behind Dorothy’s murder, it is far from being dead and buried. It is alive and well, and extremely dangerous.

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PendantThe title of the book refers to a piece of jewellery, which Delaware and Sturgis eventually discover is deeply significant. Actually, the pair make many assumptions about the case, and most of them prove to be wrong, which only adds to the credibility as investigators. They are not super-sleuths; they are mortal, fallible – and consequently completely convincing.  It is only in the final pages that they – and we – learn the truth about the life and death of the woman who called herself Dorothy Swoboda, and it is dark stuff indeed.

Cynics might turn up their noses at this book and dismiss it as “formula fiction”. Fair enough, and, as the saying goes, “opinions are like (insert anatomical detail) – everyone has one”. What such critics find hard to cope with, I suggest, is that writers like Kellerman are rather like alchemists, in that they take base metal – cops, bad guys, slick dialogue, zooming around in cars, and turn it into gold – conviction, reading pleasure, empathy with the characters and a sense of “can’t wait for the next novel“. That is pretty impressive, at least in my book.

Serpentine is published by Century, and is out now.

THE NIGHT HAWKS . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2020-12-18 at 19.46.09Elly Griffiths, (left) whose real name is Domenica de Rosa, has created an endearing heroine in the person of Ruth Galloway, an English archaeologist who, over the course of a dozen novels, has managed to find herself at the centre of murder mysteries where the corpses are considerably more recent than the ones she normally excavates. She is a senior lecturer at the fictional University of North Norfolk, and the novels are set in and around the north and west of Norfolk. Griffiths uses real locations like King’s Lynn, Blakeney and Sheringham, and has also constructed a reliably entertaining cast of supporting players, principally Ruth’s once-upon-a-time lover, a refreshingly old fashioned married police detective called Harry Nelson. They have a child, Kate, who lives with Ruth, while Harry remains more-or-less happily married to Michelle, with whom he also has children.

In the thirteenth book in the series, The Night Hawks, we have the characters who long time readers of the series will recognise, including the middle aged druid who calls himself Cathbad. His real name is Michael Malone, but he can usually be relied upon to bring to bring a touch of the supernatural – imagined or otherwise – to the proceedings. The Night Hawks in this tale aren’t remotely sinister, despite their name. They are group of men whose hobby is traversing the ancient Norfolk landscape with their metal detectors, searching for buried artifacts. They operate at night, because it is quieter and they are less likely to be disturbed.

They get the story started with a classic Elly Griffiths trope – the finding of a Bronze Age hoard, including an ancient skeleton, alongside a body that is much more recently deceased. While the older gentleman can wait his turn to be studied and catalogued, the young man’s body is whisked off to King’s Lynn for the attention of the police pathologist.

51D4BGVpbxLShortly after the grim discovery, the police are called to a remote farmhouse a few miles inland, where there are reports of gunshots being heard. This time, there is no doubt about the identity or the cause of death of two dead people found inside Black Dog Farmhouse. Dr Douglas Noakes and his wife Linda are dead from gunshot wounds, and it appears to be a clear case of murder-suicide. This clear cut diagnosis becomes rather more tenuous when questions are raised about firearms technicalities, despite an apparent suicide note being found.

The plot becomes pleasantly complicated from this point on. The late Dr and Mrs Noakes had two children, from whom they had become estranged, but was the separation bitter enough to provoke murder? Noakes was not a GP, but a research scientist, and it seems that he had been working with a Cambridge lab developing vaccines. Was this why one of the rooms at Black Dog Farmhouse was kitted out like a doctor’s surgery, complete with bed? The dead young man – the twentieth century one – is eventually identified as Jem Taylor, a 25 year-old from Cromer, who had only recently been released from prison.

There is another murder. This time the victim is a member of The Night Hawks, a retired teacher with connections to several of the people in the story. He has been battered over the head with a lump of rock, and his death further complicates matters.

Elly Griffiths has great fun by introducing some ‘spookery’ by way of a local legend – that of Black Shuck. Tales of a ghostly hellhound are spread far and wide through English folklore, and this Norfolk version is equally menacing. Like all literary amateur sleuths, Ruth Galloway’s involvement with active police investigations is pretty implausible, but delightfully so. The odd relationship between Ruth, Harry Nelson and his wife makes for an intriguing read, and added to the impeccably researched location details, The Night Hawks provides a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping few hours of entertainment. The book is published by Quercus and will be out on 4th February.

END OF THE LINE . . . Between the covers

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This is the fourth in Robert Scragg’s popular police procedural series featuring London DI Jake Porter and his trusty Sergeant, Nick Styles. The story so far: Porter still grieves for his wife Holly, killed in a hit-and-run incident a few years earlier. The driver remains unidentified, and it preys upon Porter’s mind. He has cautiously begun a new relationship with fellow cop Evie Simmons. Styles is married, with a young child, and is intensely loyal to his boss.

81TTdj6ywMLThe book starts in gory style. Ross Henderson, a young left wing activist, has a YouTube channel on which he posts regular videos denouncing his bête noire, a movement called the English Welfare Party. The EWP are right wing Nationalists vehemently opposed to immigration. As Henderson is setting up his latest live video stream from an abandoned magistrates’ court, proceedings are interrupted by a group who appear to be Islamic extremists. Live and on screen, the young man is killed using the jihadists’ favourite method – decapitation. By the time the police arrive,the killers are long gone, but the shocking video has been seen by millions on social media.

At the same time that Porter and Styles are assigned to the case, Porter hears that there is something of a breakthrough in his personal hunt for the person who killed his wife. Fingerprints from the abandoned vehicle that did the damage have finally been matched to that of a minor criminal, Henry Kaumu. All good then, except that Kaumu is lying in an intensive care unit, comatose and swathed in bandages after being battered around the head with a baseball bat, wielded by an angry homeowner whose house Kaumu was trying to burgle. Porter learns that Kaumu is an employee of Jackson Tyler, a notorious London gangster. Because the case is so personal, Porter is forbidden to take any part in it and so he goes ‘rogue’ to try to find the identity of the person who was driving the fatal car. His clashes with Tyler are painful and unproductive, until he receives information from an unlikely source.

ScraggPorter’s four year search for the person who killed his wife finally ends in a violent encounter on a suburban industrial site, and the hunt for Ross Henderson’s killer takes one or two wrong turns, but eventually Porter gets his man. Or does he? There is a clever twist at the end which I didn’t see coming. Robert Scragg clearly has a strong political stance, but that’s fine – it’s his book, and readers can take it or leave it.

I have to be honest and say that I smelled a rat from the word go. Why would Islamists murder a left wing activist who would have held all the ‘correct’ views on such topics as immigration, Palestine and cultural diversity? It takes Porter & Co. rather a long time to realise they are being played, but maybe that’s just me being a curmudgeon. That caveat aside, this is a thoroughly entertaining police procedural from the author (right) with all boxes ticked, including coppers with difficult personal lives, senior officers welded to their desks, genuinely nasty villains, and authentic locations. The room containing fictional Detective Inspectors is a crowded one, but Jake Porter’s elbows are sharp enough to make sure he has room to move.

End of The Line is published by Allison & Busby, and is out now. To find reviews of the three earlier books in the series, click on the image below.

Scragg link

THE BURNING GIRLS . . . Between the covers

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CJ Tudor gets the ball rolling by inventing a rather sinister legend  and an equally disturbing little community in Sussex. Enter, stage left, a priest called Jack (short for Jacqueline) Brooks and her teenage daughter Flo. Jack’s previous ministry was in a run-down but vibrant parish in Nottingham, but after she became involved in one of those tragic social services failures – think Victoria Climbie, Baby P, Lauren Wright – her oleaginous Bishop, more concerned about PR than prayer, moves her down to Sussex.

TBG coverWe also learn fairly early on that Jack has another skeleton in her closet, but more of that – or, more accurately, him – later. Jack’s first encounter with Chapel Croft residents is the appearance of a barefooted bloodstained child wandering towards her outside the little chapel which gives the village its name. This startling apparition, however, is not from hell, but from a nearby farm where the girl came rather too close to a pig being butchered in the farm’s abattoir.

Jack’s sense of unease about the community increases as the pages turn. In no particular order, we have a former vicar who committed suicide, two teenage girls who disappeared from the village a few years earlier, a cadaverous and saturnine churchwarden. daughter Flo’s involvement with a strange young man called Wrigley who once tried to burn down his school and who suffers from a nervous condition which makes him twitch uncontrollably. Oh yes – there is also something rather nasty buried beneath the floor of the chapel.

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As Jack tries desperately to do her job as a minister, she becomes tangled up in a sticky web which involves previous incumbents and how (and why) they died. The more she struggles, the closer the rather unpleasant spider that created the web comes; what we don’t know, however, is the name of the spider.

Screen Shot 2021-01-26 at 19.19.04One of CJ Tudor’s many talents is to lead her readers up the garden path in terms of what we think is happening. I certainly thought I knew what was what, but rather like Prospero, Tudor has the gift of sorcery, and uses it to telling effect, turning Chapel Croft into an enchanted island which is certainly “full of noises”, not all of them being pleasant. Like all good writers, she saves the biggest surprise until the final pages.

One of my early reactions while reading this was to think that we have already had a female vicar and her teenage daughter interacting with things supernatural in Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series, but by the time you have reached the last page of The Burning Girls, you will be aware that we are talking about two very different beasts. This novel is suitably creepy, will appeal to crime fiction fans and horror devotees alike, and in Jack Brooks, CJ Tudor (right) presents us with a plausible and very human central character. One of the best things about the book is that the legend of the stick figures and the dark history of Chapel Croft makes one want to put it on the list of places to visit once the wretched virus recedes. Sadly, however, Chapel Croft, its haunted little church and disturbing villagers are, to return to Prospero:

“..all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air.”

The Burning Girls is published by Michael Joseph and is out now.

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