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ONE GOOD DEED . . . Between the covers

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Aloysius Archer has good cause to remember his parents for most things. Their decency, their love and their determination to do the best for him, certainly. For his Christian name, not so much. He finds that most folk can’t even pronounce it properly, so he is happiest with just Archer. This has not been a problem for the last few years, as residents of the State Penitentiary were not too precious about names. Put inside for a crime he didn’t commit, Archer has served his time, survived, and is out on parole. It is 1949, and he is on a bus heading for Poca City, a metropolis in name only. In reality, it is a parched and fly-blown settlement with a few bars, a handful of stores and diners – and a Probation Office.

Archer served his country with distinction in the war, fighting his way up the spine of Italy, watching his buddies die hard, and wondering about the ‘just cause’ that has trained him to shoot, throttle, stab and maim fellow human beings while, at the same time, preventing him from being at the deathbeds of both parents.

OGD coverWearing a cheap suit, regarded as trash by the local people, and with every cause to feel bitter, Archer checks into the Derby Hotel and contemplates the future. His immediate task is to check in with his Probation Officer, Ernestine Crabtree. Quietly impressed by her demeanour – and her physical charm – Archer goes, in spite of his parole restrictions, for a drink in a local bar, The Cat’s Meow

Propping up the bar is a middle-aged roué with a much younger woman on his arm. Hank Pittleman is clearly a big man in Poca City, and he offers Archer what appears to be a simple job – reclaim a fancy car that was held as collateral for a defaulted loan. The Cadillac is currently in the possession of Lucas Tuttle, another local man of property, but a man who seems to have fallen on hard times.

Archer accepts the job, takes an advance on the fee, and sets off on what seems to be a relatively straightforward mission. Truth be told, the Cadillac belongs to Pittleman and Tuttle has it. Archer is tough, capable of extreme violence, so what could be possibly go wrong? As Oscar Wilde wrote:

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Even before Lucas Tuttle answers the door to Archer’s knock by pointing a cocked Remington shotgun at his unwelcome visitor, Archer has learned that the floozie on Pittleman’s arm in the bar is none other than Jackie, Tuttle’s estranged daughter. Archer finds the coveted motor car hidden away on Tuttle’s ranch, but it has been deliberately torched. Cursing his involvement in this blood feud, Archer’s equilibrium and freedom both take a severe knock when Pittleman’s body is found in a bedroom just along the floor from Archer’s room in The Derby. Thrown into the cells as the obvious suspect, Archer is released when he meets up with Irving Shaw – a serious and competent detective – and convinces him of his innocence.

David BaldacciPretty much left on his own
to solve the case after a violent attempt to silence Jackie, Archer has to summon up very ounce of his military experience and his innate common sense to put himself beyond the reach of the hangman’s noose.

Implausible as it may sound, given the body count – stabbings, shootings, people devoured by hogs – One Good Deed is a wonderfully warm and feel-good kind of novel. Archer is a simple man; brave, thoughtful, compassionate, 99% honest and a convincing blend of frailty and decency. Baldacci (right) is such a skilled storyteller that the pages spin by, and anyone who loves a crime novel where goodness prevails would be mad to miss this. Mr B also gives us a rather unusual romance – for 1949, at least. One Good Deed is published by Macmillan and is available in all formats on 25th July.

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A CRIME FICTION ADVENT 2018 . . . WEEK 4

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A CRIME FICTION ADVENT 2018 . . . Week 3

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A CRIME FICTION ADVENT 2018 . . . Week 2

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A CRIME FICTION ADVENT 2018 . . . Week 1

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THE RING . . . Between the covers

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London. 1873. It would be another fourteen years before a gentleman calling himself a Consulting Detective would make his first appearance in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, but Matthew Grand and James Batchelor are just that – people consult them, and they try to detect things. That is pretty much where any resemblance to the residents of 221B Baker Street ends. Neither Grand nor Batchelor is nice but dim, nor is either given to bashing out a melancholy bit of Mendelssohn on a Stradivarius. Matthew Grand, though, has seen military service; rather than battling the followers of Sher Ali Khan in Afghanistan, he has had the chastening experience of fighting his fellow Americans during the War Between The States a decade earlier. While James Batchelor is an impecunious former member of The Fourth Estate, his colleague comes from wealthy New Hampshire stock.

The RingThe River Thames plays a central part in The Ring. Although Joseph Bazalgette’s efforts to clean it up with his sewerage works were almost complete, the river was still a bubbling and noxious body of dirty brown effluent, not helped by the frequent appearance of human bodies bobbing along on its tides. In this case, however, we must say that the bodies come in instalments, as someone has been chopping them to bits. PC Crossland makes the first grisly discovery:

“… he knew exactly what the white thing was. It was the left side of what had once been a human being, sliced neatly at the hip and below the breast. There was no arm. No head. No legs.”

 Trow gives us a Gilbertian cast of comedy coppers, in this case the River Police, led by the elephantine Inspector Bliss. While Bliss and his minions are trying to put together a case – and also the various limbs and organs of an unfortunate woman – Grand and Batchelor are visited by Selwyn Byng, an unseemly and ramshackle character, who believes his wife has been abducted, and has the ransom note to prove it. Byng may look cartoonish, and lack moral fibre; “Where’s your stiff upper lip?” “Underneath this loose flabby chin!” (quoted with due reverence to Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams) but he has a bob or two, and so our detectives take on the search for the missing Emilia Byng.

It occurs to me that in dismissing any resemblance between H&W and G&B I am missing out one very important personage, and that is the housekeeper. The much revered Mrs Hudson is felt, rather than seen or heard, but Mrs Rackstraw is another matter entirely. The formidable woman dominates the apartment supposedly ruled over by the two young gentlemen:

“Mrs Rackstraw had been brought up in a God-fearing household and didn’t really hold with young gentlemen of their calibre not going to church. Had they been asked, both Grand and Batchelor would have preferred the constant nagging; her frozen silence and the way the boiled eggs bounced in their cups as she slammed them down on the table was infinitely worse.”

MJMJ Trow (right) has been entertaining us for over thirty years with such series at the Inspector Lestrade novels and the adventures of the semi-autobiographical school master detective Peter Maxwell. Long-time readers will know that jokes are never far away, even when the pages are littered with sudden death, violence and a profusion of body parts. Grand and Batchelor eventually solve the mystery of what happened to Emilia Byng, both helped and hindered by the ponderous ‘Daddy’ Bliss and a random lunatic, recently escaped from Broadmoor. Trow writes with panache and a love of language equalled by few other British writers. His grasp of history is unrivalled, but he wears his learning lightly. The Ring is a bona fide crime mystery, but the gags are what lifts the narrative from the ordinary to the sublime:

“They adjusted their chairs and faced the wall. Mr and Mrs Gladstone stared back at them from their sepia photographs, jaws of granite and eyes of steel. Since he was the famous politician and she was merely loaded and fond of ice-cold baths, he sat in the chair and she stood at his shoulder, restraining him, if the rumours were true, from hurtling out of Number Ten in search of fallen women.”

The Fully Booked review of The Island, the previous Grand and Batchelor mystery, is here. The Ring is published by Severn House, and will be out on 28th September.

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CRIME FICTION ADVENT CALENDAR …Week 3

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There are 25 delightful windows for you to open in the countdown to Christmas. Each one reveals an excellent crime fiction novel, with a few seasonal images and some beautiful music thrown in for good measure. Here are the windows for Week 3. Clicking each one will open the window in another screen!

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COMPETITION … Win a collection of Jack Reacher short stories

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CHILD019Jack Reacher. Deadly. Calculating. Fearless. Invincible. Lee Child has probably created the nearest possible thing to James Bond, but has tailored his hero to a modern world and its expectations. Not for Jack Reacher is the lurid appeal of a Monaco casino, or the precision of a beautifully shaken (but not stirred) vodka Martini. Fast cars are not his thing, and his sexual needs seem, for the most part, to be sublimated beneath a rugged desire to mind his own business. As for tailored dinner jackets and Jermyn Street shirts, Jack normally replaces his wardrobe every hundred miles or so for a handful of dollars in a main street store. His only concession to style is a pair of beautifully made English leather brogues – which come in very handy when kicking the bejasus out of bad guys.


If you would like a lovely crisp hardback collection
of Jack Reacher short stories, then try this: simply type the words No Middle Name into the subject box of your email, and send it to:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Your entry will be put unto the proverbial hat, and a winner will be drawn from the entries.

Due to postage costs, participation limited to people living in the UK or the Irish Republic.
Competition closes at 10.00pm GMT, Monday 22nd May.
One entry per household only.

 

THE MOTHER OF ALL COMPETITIONS …

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TKOTWTHIS IS A COMPETITION TO TEST SERIOUS CRI-FI BUFFS To win a copy of Emma Kavanagh’s brilliant new psychological thriller The Killer On The Wall you will need to exercise the grey matter. It may well be a distinct advantage if you are old enough to remember the 1960s! To be in the draw, you will need to identify the title of a 2009 novel which dramatised the Hammersmith Murders, and featured several real life personalities who feature in the montage below. We will post the prize worldwide, so followers in Europe, the Far east USA or Australasia are welcome to compete.
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A: David “Screaming Lord’ Sutch, a minor pop star, who contested many elections as the leader of The Monster Raving Loony Party.
B: Michael Holliday, a popular crooner who suffered from terrible stage fright, and committed suicide in 1963.
C: Pauline Boty, an outrageously talented painter and designer, who died of cancer in 1966
D: Freddie Mills, a brave light-heavyweight boxer who made a career as a TV personality after he retired from the ring. He died, allegedly at his own hand, in 1965.
E: The cover of the mystery novel, minus any text.

To enter the draw, write the title ( three words) of the novel as the subject, and email Fully Booked at the address below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

The competition closes at 10.00 GMT on Sunday 23rd April.
Competition is open worldwide – we will post the prize anywhere!

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