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THE MONK . . . Between the covers

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The idea of an investigating detective having what some people see as a disability is an interesting one. Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme is a tetraplegic who, effectively, cannot do ‘normal detective things’; Nero Wolfe is morbidly obese and rarely leaves his apartment – his cases are solved by his brain power and Archie Goodwin‘s leg-work; more recently, Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths suffers from Cotard’s Delusion, aka Walking Corpse Syndrome, which gives her telling insights into murder investigations. Tim Sullivan introduced us to Detective Sergeant George Cross in The Dentist (2021). Cross has Asperger’s Syndrome* I will say now that this was one of those rare book that I simply didn’t want to end. I noted the advance of my bookmark through the pages with definite sadness.

*Symptoms include an inability to understand figurative speech, obsession with detail, difficulty with recognising emotional responses and lack of social awareness and empathy.

Author Tim Sullivan, very cleverly, pairs George Cross with fellow DS Josie Ottey, a married woman who is as ‘normal’ as Cross is ‘odd’. She acts as a kind of buffer between Cross and the people he must question as part of the job. What Cross brings to the party, however, is a kind of cold objectivity which, to counteract his inability to read a facial expression or tone of voice, gives him a laser-like clarity regarding the truth and logic of what witnesses or suspects tell him. The Monk is set in the Bristol area, and a body is found in the intriguingly named Goblin Combe*, a rural beauty spot beloved of hikers and tourists.

*A small dry valley beneath a hill. Commonly used in southern and south western England.

The  body, brutally beaten, is found strapped to chair and abandoned in a ditch. It turns out to be that of a Benedictine monk, Brother Dominic, who had only recently been reported missing from a nearby monastic community, St Eustace’s Abbey. The victim was killed elsewhere and the corpse dumped. There only a dozen members of the order, all men who, for whatever reason, have chosen to reject the modern world in favour of a life of prayer and contemplation. George Cross rapidly sees that there are two obvious lines of enquiry; was Brother Dominic killed because of something that happened within the walls of the monastery, or did his murder relate to something in his previous life, where he was a very successful investment banker?

Screen Shot 2023-04-05 at 18.42.44Without giving the game away, it is in Brother Dominic’s previous life where the clues are to be found, but answers don’t come easy for Cross and Ottey. Although there was a very clever plot twist involving the identity of the killer, I was far more involved with George Cross as a person than wondering who murdered Brother Dominic.The relationship between Cross and his father, the discombobulating effect of the re-emergence of his mother – lost to him since she left the family home when he was five – and his attraction to the unambiguous world of order, silence and simplicity of Dominic’s fellow monks,  all contribute to the power of this compelling read.

The book is full of little treats and bonuses. Rather in the same way that The Nine Tailors doubled as a treatise on the arcane art of bell ringing, we learn that George Cross is an accomplished church organist, despite the concept of religious faith being totally alien to him. He spends his spare time by pushing the murder case to a corner compartment of his mind, and patiently dismantling the dysfunctional abbey pipe organ, then cleaning and re-assembling the separate parts so that the instrument can once again play a part in the liturgy. Sullivan (above left) also gives the staple of police procedural novels – the recorded interview – a new twist; Cross’s ‘disability’ is a blessing when it comes to his interview technique, as neither the suspect nor the duty lawyer can make head nor tail of his literal approach to everything that is said. Mistaking him for an idiot, however, becomes a serious error of judgment.

Sullivan’s experience as a film director and screenwriter gives the narrative an intensely visual feel, but he wisely lets us picture George Cross in our own way, providing little or no physical description of him.  The Monk is a brilliant police procedural with an engaging central character and a clever plot. Published by Head of Zeus, it will be out on 27th April.

I WILL FIND YOU . . . Between the covers

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Sometimes, the best writers set themselves challenges by posing a plot problem that appears to deny a plausible solution. One such was back in 2021 when, in The Perfect Lie, Jo Spain pulled the wool over our eyes. There, the deception hinged on a few words – and our (wrong) assumptions.

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In his latest novel, Harlan Coben – to use the metaphor of Houdini – has wrapped himself in so many chains and padlocks that it seems impossible that he can set himself free. Why? Try this. Five years ago, David Burroughs was jailed for life for murdering his three year-old son, Matthew, with a baseball bat. He now languishes in the protected section of a high security jail, alongside child rapists, cannibals, and other monsters. After refusing to see any visitors for five years he is finally forced to see one – because he omitted to fill in the annual paperwork. It is his former sister-in-law Rachel; his wife, Cheryl has, inevitably, divorced him. Rachel shows David a photo (taken by a friend) of a family group at an amusement park. On the edge of the picture is a little boy, clutching the hand of an adult, otherwise out of picture. It is Matthew.

Coben gives us a drive-through account of the back story. David Burroughs was home-alone with Matthew that night. Cheryl, a surgeon,  was at work. David was in a bad mood, put his son to bed without a bedtime story, and proceeded to get outside of the best part of a bottle of Bourbon. Somehow awakened by a sixth sense that something was wrong, or perhaps by the smell of blood, David staggered to his son’s bedroom only to find a mangled and unrecognisable corpse on the bed.

The first key to the mystery is, of course, that the shattered boy’s corpse was just that – unrecognisable. It was, however, in Matthew’s bed, wearing Matthew’s pyjamas. When, a little while later a baseball bat, with David’s fingerprints all over it, is found buried in the garden, David’s status changes from bereaved father, through suspect, to convicted killer.

The next key has to be putting David in a situation – i.e. no longer behind bars – where he can investigate the possibility that the child in the photograph is Matthew, and prove that the murdered boy in Matthew’s bed was someone else. The Governor of Briggs Penitentiary is Philip Mackenzie, and he has history with David Burroughs. David’s dad, Lenny, was, long ago, a grunt in Vietnam with Phil. The pair survived and went on to become partners in crime prevention as precinct cops. Now, Phil is just months away from retirement and a double pension, while Lenny is in the advanced stages of dementia. Suffice it to say there is a fairly improbable break-out from Briggs but this is, after all, crime-fiction.

Coben then throws a fairly heavy spanner into the works by revealing that at a rough stage in their marriage, when Cheryl and David were unable to conceive, Cheryl booked an appointment at a sperm donor clinic. This cleverly opens up all manner of potential twists and questions, which the author exploits to the maximum. It certainly had me guessing right up to the final few pages. If I say this a typically American slick thriller, it is meant as an entirely positive description. Somehow – and I won’t say they are better than British writers – American novelists such as Coben, Connolly, Baldacci and Kellerman produce a polished and gleaming product which has, to extend the automobile metaphor, a distinctive ‘new car smell’. I Will Find You is published by Century and is out now.

THE DEAD WILL RISE . . . Between the covers

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Chris Nickson is a former music journalist, and has rubbed shoulders with the Great and The Good across the history of rock music, but in these latter days he has earned a considerable reputation as a historical novelist. His books are mostly centred on Leeds, and they cover different historical periods from the 1730s to the 1950s. His latest book features Georgian thief-taker Simon Westow. Back then, there was no organised police force; the only legal officials were parish constables, who tended to be elderly, infirm and incompetent. Westow is more like the 20th century concept of a Private Eye; he recovers stolen property and catches criminals – for a fee.

Here, he has an unusual assignment; Local factory boss Joseph Clark asks him to find the men who stole the buried corpse of Gwendolyn Jordan, the daughter of Harmony Jordan, one of his employees. The crime of body snatching is unique in that it involved acts of criminality carried out in the name – some might argue – of a greater good, that being anatomical and medical research. Westow wastes no time on moral philosophy, and with his assistant Jane he sets out to find the Resurrection Men.
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Jane is, for me, the most compelling character in any of Nickson’s novels. Raped by her father, disowned by her mother, the teenager has made her living on the streets. Not in the conventional sense by selling her body, but by employing preternatural skills of awareness of danger, cunning and speed of thought; most fearsome of all is the fact that she will use her knife without a moment of compassion or hesitation. She is a stone-cold killer, as many men – now dead and buried – would testify, were they still able to.

Westow’s case load becomes more complex when he and Jane are summoned to the elegant mansion of the infamous Mrs Parker – infamous because she is renowned in Leeds for  marrying a series of wealthy men, who then die, leaving her with an ever expanding fortune. Just for once, she has been bested. A lover has swindled her out of £50 – over £5000 in today’s money – and she wants recompense.

When the usually invulnerable Jane is bested by one of the thugs involved in the corpse trade, and is hurled from a bridge, she is lucky to escape with cuts and bruises. Her pride is hurt more, though, and she vows vengeance. Eventually the elusive Resurrection Men are tracked down, but Westow and his wife Rosie are convinced that there is one big player in the racket left to catch, and this leads to a thrilling – and unexpected –  end to the case,

Nickson’s narrative voice is totally authentic: Simon Westow, his family, and others in his world live and breathe as if they are they were standing with us in the same room. He makes the Leeds of April 1824 as real and vivid as if we had just stepped down from the York stagecoach. The Dead Will Rise is published by Severn House and is out now.

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ON MY SHELF . . . March 2023

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 I WILL FIND YOU by Harlan Coben

It’s the mark of a fine crime writer that they can produce excellent series (in this case my favourite is those books featuring Myron Bolitar) but also create standalone novels, such as this one. Five years ago, David Burroughs began a life sentence for murdering his son Matthew. Burroughs,  wrongly accused and convicted of the murder is rotting away in a maximum-security prison. The world has moved on without him. Then his sister in law, makes a surprise appearance during visiting hours bearing a strange photograph. It’s a holiday shot of a busy amusement park a friend shared with her, and in the background,  is a boy bearing an uncanny resemblance to David’s son. Even though it can’t be, David just knows: Matthew is still alive. Shaken out of his institutional depression, David plans to escape, determined to achieve the impossible – save his son, clear his own name, and discover the real story of what happened. From Grand Central Publishing, this is out now. Click the link below for the Amazon page:


EVERYONE HERE IS LYING by Shari Lapena

Screen Shot 2023-03-20 at 19.55.05Back in 2020 I was thoroughly gripped by Shari Lapena’s The End of Her  and I remember using the term ‘anxiety porn’. It looks as if there is more of the same here.Welcome to Stanhope is regarded as a safe neighbourhood,  and a place for families to live out the American Dream. William Wooler should fit right in there, at least on the surface. But he’s been having an affair, an affair that ends horribly one afternoon at a motel up the road. He returns to his house, devastated and angry, only to find his difficult nine-year-old daughter Avery  home from school unexpectedly. William loses his temper. Hours later, Avery’s family declare her missing. Suddenly Stanhope’s reputation as being a suburban idyll takes a sever hit. William isn’t the only one on his street who’s hiding a lie. As witnesses come forward with information that may or may not be true, the neighbourly and trusting atmosphere starts to fragment, and then disintegrates completely. Everyone Is Lying is published by Bantam and will be available in July.

NO ONE SAW A THING by Andrea Mara

Dublin author Andrea Mara certainly has a thing for those awful parental moments when you think your child may have gone missing. She takes things one stage further here with a chilling account of an apparent abduction. A woman stands on a crowded tube platform in London. Her two little girls jump on the train ahead of her. As she tries to join them, the doors slide shut and the train moves away, leaving her behind. By the time she gets to the next stop, she has convinced herself that everything will be fine. But she soon starts to panic, because there aren’t two children waiting for her on the platform. There’s only one.Has her other daughter got lost? Been taken by a passing stranger? Or perhaps the culprit is closer to home than she thinks? No one is telling the truth, and the longer the search continues, the harder the missing child will be to find. Out in May, this is published by Bantam.

THE TRAP by Catharine Ryan Howard

There seems to be an abundance of fine women crime writers from Ireland at the moment, but they aren’t all from Dublin. It’s a long time since I read a novel by Cork-based author Catherine Ryan Howard but, inspired by a series of still-unsolved disappearances, The Trap looks to be a winner.A young woman uses herself as bait to try to track down the man who took her sister. The blurb says:

“Stranded on a dark road in the middle of the night, a young woman accepts a lift from a passing stranger. It’s the nightmare scenario that every girl is warned about, and she knows the dangers all too well – but what other choice does she have? As they drive, she alternates between fear and relief – one moment thinking he is just a good man doing a good thing, the next convinced he’s a monster. But when he delivers her safely to her destination, she realizes her fears were unfounded. And her heart sinks. Because a monster is what she’s looking for.”

Published by Bantam, The Trap will be out in August

THE LAST SONGBIRD by Daniel Weizman

Back to America for the final novel in this selection, and we are in California. A struggling songwriter and Lyft driver, Adam Zantz’s life changes when he accepts a ride request in Malibu and  he picks up Annie Linden – a fabled 1970s music icon. During that initial ride, the two quickly strike a bond, and  over the next three years, Adam becomes her exclusive driver and Annie listens to his music, encouraging Adam even as he finds himself driving more often than songwriting. When Annie disappears, and her body washes up under a pier – a heartbroken Adam plays detective, only for the cops to believe he was somehow responsible. Desperate to clear his name and discover who killed the one person who believed in his music , Adam digs into Annie’s past. As he spends his days driving around the labyrinth of LA highways, Adam comes to question how well he, or anyone else, knew Annie – if at all. This is published by Melville House and will be out in May.

THE CLOSE . . . Between the covers

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Jane Casey’s DS Maeve Kerrigan series hits double figures with The Close. The London copper first has to deal with the murder of a doctor, Hassan Dawoud, found dead in his car in the hospital car park. His husband Cameron is a likely suspect, as the pair often fought, but he has an unshakable alibi. Then she is seriously sidetracked. The death of a vulnerable man called Davy Bidwell, found virtually mummified in a derelict house, has raised serious questions. Why was his broken body covered in all kinds of wounds, and what became of him after he left his last known address – in Jellicoe Close, an apparently safe middle-class suburban street?

One – or perhaps several – of the long term residents of Jellicoe Close  must know what happened to Davy Bidwell. The death has left the Met with egg all over its gold braid ceremonial uniform, and in order to make up for earlier failings, the top brass decide to  plant two officers – disguised as civilians – into the community in an attempt to discover what happened.The two chosen for this surveillance are Kerrigan – and DI Josh Derwent, They are ‘of an age’ to be a plausible couple, and are smart enough to pull off the deception that they are house-sitting for a genuine resident.

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Meanwhile, Kerrigan has to try to keep tabs on the Hassan Dawoud investigation on the phone to her colleague DC Georgia Shaw, who comes over as attractive and talkative, but perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Jane Casey uses a sizeable chunk of the middle part of the book to dwell on the “will-they-won’t-they” aspect of Kerrigan’s relationship with Derwent. As they they insert themselves into the social dynamic of Jellicoe Close, a certain amount of public affection is necessary to keep up the charade, but what happens when the pair are out of the public gaze? Jane Casey (left) lets us know that the killer is watching and observing the newcomers as they blend into the suburban lifestyle of over-the-fence gossip, barbecues, football matches and drinks parties.

Although the residents of Jellicoe Close are not on an island, Jane Casey recreates a similar sense of claustrophobia and mistrust pioneered all those years ago by Agatha Christie in And Then There Were None. The parallel, I suppose, is that what traps the people in Jellicoe Close is not the sea, but a combination of their own suspicions, misplaced loyalties and prejudices. After several false turns – and another death –  the two detectives find a way through the maze of apparently conflicting accounts of the events which led up to the death of Davy Bidwell.

Meanwhile, the not-as-dim-as-we-thought Georgia Shaw has cracked the case of the killing of Hassan Dawoud, which only leaves Kerrigan and Derwent to mull over the effects of their pretence as lovers. The romantic relationship between Kerrigan and Derwent became a bit too breathless for me, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of a cracking police procedural where the main characters are skillfully drawn on a carefully observed backdrop of suburban life and – more importantly – the reality behind the charade that “perfect” families sometimes present to the public gaze is exposed as a charade. The Close is published by Harper Collins and is available now.

 

TWIST OF FATE . . . Between the covers

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The story begins with a violent prelude in an English country churchyard. It is dark, cold and damp, Thomas Gray’s “rugged elms” are almost certainly present, and his “rude forefathers of the hamlet” still sleep beneath their headstones, but there is little else elegiac about the scene. A couple, married – although not to each other – are using the sexton’s shed for sex. Then something awful happens. How this links to the main narrative of the book is not made clear until much later.

In another place – a prestigious building in central London – we meet a brother and sister. They couldn’t be more different, Claudine Cadjou is a well-known political lobbyist, used to schmoozing the media and well-versed in the dark arts of the professional publicist. She is suave and chic. Her brother Jethro looks like a madman. His clothes are one step up from rags. He is dirty and unkempt. His home, if such it can be called, is a semi derelict farmhouse in the Lincolnshire fens. He is basically ‘in care’ with Claudine paying his neighbours to make sure he doesn’t starve. Once, he had a brilliant mind, but it has all but been destroyed by psychotic episodes linked to substance abuse. While talking, Claudine is fighting a battle between embarrassment at her brother showing up on her turf, and her love for  this wreck of a man. Then her discomfort turns to terror when an unknown man storms into the atrium of the building and stabs Jethro to death.

The man who killed Jethro has just committed several other atrocities nearby. More people are dead, and several not expected to survive. At this point we meet a London copper, DS Benny Dean. Another soul  – another torment – but of a different kind.  His wife of many years is also a copper, but she has risen through the ranks and now she is a Chief Superintendent. And she wants a divorce. Like Claudine, she is sophisticated, cultured and  ambitious. Even her name has changed from homely ‘Fran’ to the media chic ‘Cesca’  Benny has tried his best, put his career on hold while hers prospered, but now she wants out. And the cruelest irony of all? As police are mobilised to investigate the murders, Benny’s wife is put in charge of the investigation, and he has to remember to use the word ‘ma’am’ when phoning in reports.

Benny and his partner DC Helen Savage, and, separately, Claudine, travel to Lincolnshire to investigate Jethro’s’s recent history. At this point it is worth reminding readers about the fens, their geography, their place in literature, and the social history of the area. First, a geological distinction; low lying areas which were once under fresh water are known as fens, while areas reclaimed from the sea are, more properly, marshland. One of the great crime novels in history, The Nine Tailors, was set in the fens (well known to DL Sayers from her days as a rural rector’s daughter) while Jim Kelly’s Philip Dryden series takes place in and around Ely. Graham Swift’s Waterland deals entirely with the darker aspects of fenland history, while John Betjeman wrote a deeply scary poem called A Lincolnshire Tale, wherein a traveler encounters a spectral vicar who still rings the bells in his abandoned church.

“The remoteness was awful, the stillness intense,
Of invisible fenland, around and immense;
And out on the dark, with a roar and a swell,
Swung, hollowly thundering, Speckleby bell.”

I live in the fens and, to this day, there is an insularity about the remote villages and a lingering sense of suspicion about outsiders which I have never encountered anywhere else in England.

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Looking back on my previous reviews of David mark’s novels, I see that I have – more than once – likened his work to that of Derek Raymond, I won’t labour the point, but Benny Dean is a 21st century version of Raymond’s valiant but tormented nameless sergeant. Death stalks this book like some hideously deformed entity in an MR James ghost story; it is superbly written, but not for the faint hearted. Twist of Fate is published by Head of Zeus and is available now. For more by DL Mark (writing as David Mark) click the author image below.

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EMERGENCE . . . Between the covers

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It has been a while since I read a Guy Portman novel. The last one I read was Golgotha, back in 2019, and clicking the link will take you to my review. That saw the demise of his wonderfully incorrect anti-hero Dyson Devereux, but now he introduces us to someone who might be a teenage version of DD. Horatio Robinson is clearly “on the spectrum”, as Special Educational Needs and Disabilities teachers might say. I confess to having Googled that to make sure it was still the ‘correct’ term as, having been out of schools for ten years, I wondered if the terminology had mutated into something more flowery and Californian.

Horatio is fixated with Trigonometry, reads French dictionaries and Dickens to relax, and has a visceral hatred of his mother’s boyfriend – an absolute oik called Brendan. Horatio’s mother – Rakesha – is from Antigua, but his father fled the scene  when Horatio was five. Horatio is busy applying his love of sine, cosine and tangent in an art lesson, after the teacher sets the class the task of producing a completely symmetrical design. When the class bully – Dominic – damages Horatio’s work, Horatio – as you do – picks up a pair of scissors and impales Dominic’s hand to the desk. He is, of course, immediately suspended from school and, as part of the process, has to visit a counsellor. I don’t know what contact Guy Portman has had with these people but, from my experience, his version is chillingly authentic. Horatio, by the way, narrates the story:

“She does more talking, much more. She asks some questions. The spikey hair, grinning and whiny voice is  terrible combination. And she keeps leaning towards me, close enough that I could smack her in the face.

‘I’ve heard about your issue at school. Could you tell me in your own words what happened?’
‘No.’
‘Well, it would be really helpful if you could.’
‘Helpful for whom?’ ‘
‘Well, you, of course.’
She’s grinning again.”

It took me a while to twig that Horatio’s absent father is, of course, none other than than Dyson Devereux himself. Horatio, permanently excluded from his school, now has time on his hands to perfect a way of ridding his world of the loathsome Brendan. After getting chased out his local library for researching (in the interests of science) Erotic Auto-Asphxiation, he concocts a complex plan which he hopes will remove Brendan in a way that will also shame the dead man, while in no way linking the crime to himself.

Portman says:
“I have always been an introverted creature with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and a sardonic sense of humour. Throughout a childhood in London spent watching cold war propaganda gems such as He Man, an adolescence confined in various institutions, and a career that has encompassed stints in academic research and the sports industry, I have been a keen if somewhat cynical social observer.”

This cynicism is a sheer delight, especially to readers who, like me,  cast a jaundiced eye over our descent into a progressive madness, typified by those in ‘public service’ who thoughtlessly espouse every insane social fad imported from America. Portman chooses his targets well in this novel. ‘Woke’ teachers, failed psychologists masquerading as counsellors, and the frequently dystopian world of mothers deserted by fathers, and the often calamitous consequences for the children of that disunion, all come under fire. Portman turns over a heavy stone, and all kinds of nasty creatures scuttle away to avoid the light of day. Emergence may be a polemic, but in shooting down pretty much every modern moral and social balloon it is immensely entertaining, and very, very funny. It is out now.

CHRISTOPHER FOWLER . . . 1953 – 2023

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Christopher Fowler has died, and my heart is full.

He never made any secret of his illness, but kept friends and admirers up to date via his blog and Twitter messages. We all know that cancer is an absolute bastard, and its worst trait is that it is a death by a thousand cuts, Give a little – take a little bit more.

Grief is a strange thing. Too strong a word to use when someone you have never met in person dies? I remember being appalled and left feeling empty on that December morning in 1980 when people in Britain woke up to the news that John Lennon had been murdered. Sorry if this sounds about  me, but I am simply trying to show that one can grieve for the death of someone – never met –  when that person has been a substantial stone in one’s cultural wall. Lennon and The Beatles were the soundtrack to my late teens. With The Beatles, Hard Day’s Night, Revolver – scratched vinyl LPs taken from party to party, played endlessly as one tried to engineer a “slow” with some willowy teen girl, long since a grandmother. Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May books were, for me,  equally iconic. Full of silly gags about long-forgotten brand names, comedic echoes of George and Weedon Grossmith,  a knowledge of arcane London streets and alleys fully equal to that of Iain Sinclair (but more comprehensible) and – above all – a glorious distillation of the essence of what it is to be English that stands alongside the perceptions of John Betjeman and Philip Larkin. Never triumphant or xenophobic, mind you, but always with a poignant sense of the people who walked those London streets long before we did.

I never met Christopher, but we exchanged messages on social media, and I remember one lovely email from him about a review I had written of a B & M book, and he was as pleased as punch that I “got” what he was on about. We had an informal and indefinite arrangement to have a pint at some stage in The Scotch Stores on Caledonian Road. Sadly, that pint will remain undrunk.

When dear old Arthur Bryant ‘died’ at the end of London Bridge is Falling Down, I felt as one with the of thousands of grateful readers, people who loved the sounds and smells of hidden London, appreciated the jokes, chuckled quietly at the nostalgic product placing contained in the depths of Arthur’s coat pockets, and shared the poignancy of those moments when the two old gentlemen gazed down at the river from their special place, Waterloo Bridge – the final eleven words of the biblical quote known as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men will resonate as long as there are books to be read, jokes to be shared and dreams to be dreamed.

But these were merciful men whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.

THE TEMENOS REMAINS . . . Between the covers

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A temenos (Greek: τέμενος; plural: τεμένη, temenē) is a piece of land cut off and assigned as an official domain, especially to kings and chiefs, or a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, such as a sanctuary, holy grove, or holy precinct.

Screen Shot 2023-02-22 at 19.19.37This is the fourth book in a series featuring Norfolk copper DCI Greg Geldard, but author Heather Peck (left) wastes no time in providing all the back-story we need. Geldard is divorced from his former wife, Isabelle, who is a professional singer. She has now remarried a celebrated orchestral conductor, with whom she has a child, while Geldard is in a relationship with one of his colleagues, DS Chris Mathews. When he gets an early morning ‘phone call from Isabelle saying she and her son have been threatened by a foreign criminal connected to one of Geldard’s previous cases, he is forced to stay at arm’s length, but is disturbed to hear from a colleague that Isabelle may be making the story up.

With this at the back of his mind, he has to focus on human remains found during an archaeological dig. Not unusual, you might think, but this skeleton has modern dental work and was buried with a 1911 silver thruppence in its mouth. After mining down into HOLMES, the national police database, Geldard’s team discover more cases that seem to be similar, and when part of the cliff near Hemsby collapses in a violent storm, another skeleton is revealed, along with its now obligatory coin. Meanwhile, in a series of short episodes which she calls ‘Entr’actes’, Peck introduces us to the man we presume is the killer, but these paragraphs are, at first, enigmatic, and only make sense towards the end of the book when the killer becomes a person of interest to the team.

Geldard’s relationship with Chris Mathews comes under a strain as she resents what she sees as his lingering affection for his former wife, and she is equally unhappy about his working relationship with DI Sarah Laurence. Do real-life coppers get into relationships with close colleagues? I don’t know, but other fictional social partnerships I recall were Tom Thorne and Helen Weeks in the Mark Billingham books, and Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks and his feisty on-off partner Annie Cabbot.

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Eventually, the killer makes a big mistake and is pulled in, Geldard’s only problem being to convince the CPS that he is fit to stand trial and plead. There is to be no celebratory night in the pub, however. Heather Peck has kept the sub-plot featuring the foreign gangster gently simmering in the background, but right at the end she turns up the heat – and leaves us with a cliffhanger worthy of Scheherazade’s tales.

I loved the Norfolk setting of this story, and as a former resident, I can vouch for its authenticity. Greg Geldard is pleasantly ‘normal’ for a fictional senior detective, and Heather Peck relies on her mastery of modern police methods to hold our interest and keep the story ticking along. The Temenos Remains is published by Ormesby Publishing and is out now.

Heather Peck is certainly a busy woman. As well as writing novels, she has been a farmer, chaired an NHS Trust, has worked on animal welfare, sailed a boat on the Broads, volunteered in Citizens Advice and the Witness Service and vaccinated humans against Covid. To find out more, go to her website.

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