House With No Doors . . . Between the covers

HWND header007

HWND cover008This has the most seriously sinister beginning of any crime novel I have read in years. DI Henry Hobbes (of whom more presently) is summoned by his Sergeant to Bridlemere, a rambling Edwardian house in suburban London, where an elderly man has apparently committed suicide. Corpse – tick. Nearly empty bottle of vodka – tick. Sleeping pills on the nearby table – tick. Hobbes is not best pleased at his time being wasted, but the observant Meg Latimer has a couple of rabbits in her hat. One rabbit rolls up the dead man’s shirt to reveal some rather nasty knife cuts, and the other leads Hobbes on a tour round the house, where he discovers identical sets of women’s clothing, all laid out formally, and each with gashes in the midriff area, stained red. Sometimes the stains are actual blood, but others are as banal as paint and tomato sauce.

Hobbes makes a more thorough investigation of the strange house, and finds a cellar in which he discovers something even more disturbing. Author Jeff Noon introduced us to Hobbes in Slow Motion Ghosts (2019 – click for the review) and, like that earlier novel, this one is set in the 1980s. Hobbes is a bit of a misfit. He is certainly not ‘one of the lads’ back at the station. He is quiet, cerebral and single, his marriage to Glenda being certainly on the rocks and close to being sunk. As he tries to work out what secrets lie within the walls of Bridlemere, he has personal problems, the chief of which being the fact that his 17 year-old son has left home to live in a squat, where both his health and sanity are threatened.

Hobbes believes that although Leonard Graves did probably take his own life, an enigmatic note he left suggests that there is a body concealed somewhere in the house.. While an intensive search produces no human remains, what Hobbes calls The Case of The Thirteen Dresses becomes a genuine murder enquiry when the body of the old man’s son is found, battered to death in Richmond Park.


The more Hobbes learns about the Graves family, the more he feels drawn into their sinister world. Mary Estelle, Leonard’s wife, a former actress of renown, is living out her days in an old folk’s home, absorbed in her glittering memories, but was she responsible for corrupting her three children Rosamund, Camilla and Nicholas? Was there a fourth child, Adeline, mentioned in Leonard’s suicide not? And what of the grandson, David, and his obsession with Kusozu, the macabre Japanese art form that depicts the very corruption of death?

Jeff NoonMy verdict on House With No Doors? In a nutshell, brilliant – a tour de force. Jeff Noon (right) has taken the humble police procedural, blended in a genuinely frightening psychological element, added a layer of human corruption and, finally, seasoned the dish with a piquant dash of insanity. On a purely narrative level, he also includes one of the most daring and astonishing final plot twists I have read in many a long year.

Jeff Noon takes us to places unvisited since the days of the late, great Derek Raymond. This novel is crime fiction, yes, but also a journey into the darkest corners of the human soul. Raymond’s nameless copper also walked the bleaker streets of London, and he had a passion verging on obsession for avenging the victims of crime by finding the people who killed them. Henry Hobbes shares this single mindedness. House With No Doors is a chronicle of madness wearing a mask of normality. It is deeply moving and as Hobbes mines deeper and deeper into history of the Graves family, he shows us that it is not only the dead who are victims. The book is published by Doubleday and is out on 14th January.

THE GILDED ONES . . . Between the covers

TGO header

BrookeThis is a curious and quite unsettling book which does not fit comfortably into any crime fiction pigeon-hole. I don’t want to burden it with a flattering comparison with which other readers may disagree, but it did remind me of John Fowles’s intriguing and mystifying cult novel from the 1960s, The Magus. I am showing my age here and, OK, The Gilded Ones is about a quarter of the length of The Magus, it’s set in 1980s London rather than a Greek island and the needle on the Hanky Panky Meter barely flickers. However we do have a slightly ingenuous central character who serves a charismatic, powerful and magisterial master and there is a nagging sense that, as readers, we are having the wool pulled over our eyes. There is also an uneasy feeling of dislocated reality and powerful sensory squeezes, particularly of sound and smell. Author Brooke Fieldhouse (left) even gives us female twins who are not, sadly, as desirable as Lily and Rose de Seitas in the Fowles novel.

So, what goes on? A young designer who we only know as Pulse, takes a job with a north London firm headed run by Patrick Lloyd Lewis. We are introduced to Pulse via a disturbing dream where he is witness to a fatal car accident on a precipitous alpine road. Any first hand account of such a traumatic event is bound to be unnerving, but Pulse’s dream goes one step further.

“On her feet are shiny mink-hued ballet pumps, en pointe. I stare at the tips of the pumps and cover my mouth with both my hands. My spleen drops past zero, through the valley bottom and into the void. I look at her eyes, no longer scintillating as they did when she read the signpost. The figure is suspended invisibly and diabolically, one foot above the snow-covered ground.”

TGOLloyd Lewis is the Magus-like figure. He is so thumpingly male that you can almost smell him, and he rules those around him, with one exception, with an almost feral ferocity. So who are ‘those around him’? Ever present psychologically, but eternally absent physically, is his late wife Freia, the subject of Pulse’s dream. Martinique is Patrick’s girlfriend, and loitering in the background are his children, step-child and office gofer Lauren. Lauren, who has “thousand-year-old eyes”, is of the English nobility, but quite what she is doing in the Georgian townhouse we only learn at the end of the book. The one person to whom Patrick defers is his Sicilian friend Falco. Equalling the Englishman’s sense of menace, the sinister Falco appears briefly but is, nonetheless, memorable.

“There was something of the giant baby about his movements, and I wondered if he had been breastfed long after there had been a physical need for it.”

Pulse is transfixed with the idea that Freia was murdered by Patrick. But can he prove it? While ostensibly working with clients in a northern city, he discovers a link between the late Freia, the design practice, and a seedy but powerful club-owning gangster.

Patrick Lloyd Lewis is a morbidly fascinating character, and Fieldhouse does his damnedest to convince us that he is a wrong ‘un. I lost count of the number of times that Patrick’s mouth was compared to an anus, in various states of dilation. Too much information? Maybe so, but the graphic image certainly cemented in place the bas relief of an oleaginous and venal alpha male.

The Gilded Ones is an inventive and frequently entertaining enigma, written with panache and a love of language. The focus of the story is, however, occasionally soft to the point of becoming elusive, and the plot often darts off in unexpected and unresolved directions. Despite there being many questions left unanswered by the dreamlike narrative, this is as individual and different a novel as I have read all year. Fans of rum-te-tum police procedurals or blood-soaked serial killer sagas should look away now, but there is more – much more – to this novel than just another cri-fi potboiler. It is published by Matador and is available in Kindle and paperback.


THE BOOK OF MIRRORS … Between the covers

princetonIt is 1987, and a bitterly cold winter night in New Jersey. In a rambling Queen Anne-style house in West Windsor, a man is found dead, battered to death and lying in a pool of his own blood. The corpse is that of a successful but controversial academic from Princeton, Professor Joseph Wieder. For all his erudition and his insights into the human brain – particularly the workings of memory – he is still very dead. The police dutifully stumble around in the snow, interviewing those who knew the dead man, but they fail to find anyone without a decent alibi, let alone a suspect who stood to gain substantially from his death.

Romanian author Eugen Chirovici takes this unsolved crime as the centrepiece of an intriguing and original crime mystery in which he explores the nature of memory and perception from several different viewpoints. Without getting bogged down in faux psychology, Chirovici takes an almost Proustian look at the events of that winter night in 1987, and he even tips his hat to the great man in the final sentence of the book.

515ty68lplWe first learn of Wieder’s violent demise in a roundabout way. A literary agent, Peter Katz, is working his way through emails from hopeful authors, and consigning most of them to the trash icon, when his attention is grabbed by a submission from a man called Richard Flynn. Katz prints out the sample chapters of Flynn’s book and sits down to read them. He is hooked. Two hours fly past, and Katz realises that he has a possible best seller in his hands, but he is unsure if the book is a true crime confession, or a novel. So, what did Flynn have to say?

Richard Flynn has worked his way up from a decent but unremarkable upbringing in Brooklyn, and is in his third year studying English at Princeton. His new housemate is a young woman called Laura Baines, and he falls under her spell. She introduces him to Professor Wieder, who is her thesis supervisor. Flynn gets a part time job cataloguing Wieder’s extensive book collection. By this time, he and Laura are bedmates, but he is still wondering about the relationship between Laura and Wieder when the older man is brutally murdered.

At this point, Flynn’s manuscript finishes, and Katz seeks out the author, only to find that he has recently died. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Katz employs an out-of-work investigative reporter, John Keller, to do the leg work. Keller takes up the narrative at this point but, as he pans the stream, he finds only Fool’s Gold. What he does manage to do, however, is introduce us to the third witness in the saga – a retired cop called Roy Freeman.

eocThere is a very satisfying sense of a torch being handed from one runner to another, and it is during Freeman’s leg of the journey that we find out the truth of what really happened to Joseph Wieder. Or do we? Changing the metaphor, Chirovici tells us that we have been in one of those fairground attractions which involves walking in front of distorting mirrors. He says;

“They’d all been wrong, and seen nothing but their own obsessions through the windows they’d tried to gaze through, which in fact had been mirrors all along.”

This is a skilful and engaging work which is all the more remarkable for being written in English which, despite his many academic achievements, is not the author’s first language. The style is unfussy and direct; Chirovici makes the different participants in the story totally convincing, and the American scene-setting is faultless. In the acknowledgements section at the end of the novel he thanks many different people who, in his words, “enriched the manuscript and made it shine.” I would offer the simple observation that if the stone had not been precious in the first instance, then no amount of polishing would have made it a diamond.

The Book of Mirrors is published by Century, at £12.99 in hardback, and £7.99 for the Kindle. It will be available in January 2017, and you can pre-order here.

Blog at

Up ↑