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LOST SOULS . . . Between the covers

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51K-Sy2OGJL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Lost Souls is something of an oddity, and no mistake. There’s nothing at all wrong with the novel itself apart from something of an identity crisis. Search for it on Amazon UK, and up it comes, but the page URL contains the title Half Moon Bay. Search for Half Moon Bay and up comes the same novel, but with a different cover. It looks as though Half Moon Bay is the Penguin Random House American title, while on this side of the Atlantic Century are going with Lost Souls.

Deputy US Coroner Clay Edison first appeared in Crime Scene (2017). That was followed by A Measure of Darkness in 2018, and now Edison returns but this time with baby Charlotte to look after when his wife is out on shift in her hospital. The Edisons live in that eternal bastion of West Coast sensibilities, Berkeley, and it is in the infamous People’s Park that the case begins.

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Clay Edison is called to the park, scene of decades of hippy protest. Two bodies have been found during building excavation. The first is neither human nor animal. It is a stuffed blue teddy bear, missing an eye. The second is the skeleton of a baby, and the glare of the pathologist’s strip lights reveal that it was once a little boy. Edison is drawn into an investigation to see if the teddy bear and the boy are connected, and this means he has to visit a truly terrifying settlement of biker red-necks:

“I bounced along the tracks, wheels spitting gravel. Slowly the smudge began to resolve like a body surfacing in swamp water. Structures, then vehicles, then living things: gaunt dogs and children chasing one another, their roles as hunter or prey in constant flux. Bare feet raised a dusty haze. ….. Amid a weedy patch a woman slouched in a lawn chair. Pustulant acne ravaged her face; she could have been eighteen or forty. A slack-limbed toddler slept on her chest.”

51wZ1Fd-WIL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_As Edison tries to link the skeleton of the baby with the abandoned cuddly toy, he accepts an ‘off-the-books’ job. A wealthy businessman, Peter Franchette, asks him to try to find the truth about his missing sister. Possibly abducted, perhaps murdered, she has disappeared into a complexity of disfunctional family events – deaths, walkouts, divorces, remarriages and rejections.

The Kellermans clearly have an ambivalent view of Berkeley. A place perhaps, where a seventy-something former revolutionary might wake up and imagine, for a fleeting moment, before old age and reality kick in, that it is 1966, and everything is still possible. The reality is more sobering, however:

” … and the countless others, men and women alike, who’d found their way to the Pacific, only to find that it was not the golden bath they’d expected but a terrifying force of nature, immense and violent and indifferent.”

I’ll be blunt and say that I have never understood the concept of writing partnerships in fiction. Over many years I enjoyed Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware books. They are slick and formulaic, but never less than gripping, and it is obvious that Kellerman is a gifted writer. Why he should want to want to pair up with someone else – even if it is his son – is for him to know and me to be left wondering. Lost Souls reads as if it has been written by one person, so I suppose that is all that matters.

Lost Souls is cleverly written and has a plot which is, like Chandler’s immortal The Big Sleep, deeply complex. Rather like the anecdote which has Chandler being asked who killed the chauffeur, and him replying that he wasn’t sure, I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say that Edison finds Peter Franchette’s missing sister. I think he does, but you must judge for yourselves.

Lost Souls and/or Half Moon Bay are out now, and available here.

TRUTH WILL OUT … Between the covers

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Truth Will Out compNick Fennimore is a forensic psychologist, and a Professor at the University of Aberdeen. His past gives him a painful and heartfelt stake in the hunt for a serial killer, as his own wife and child were snatched. Both are now lost to him; wife Rachel, because her body was found shortly after the abduction., and daughter Suzie – well, she is just lost. Neither sight nor sound of her has been sensed in the intervening years, but Fennimore clutches at the straw of her still being alive, and he feverishly scans his own personal CCTV footage of the Paris streets and boulevards in the hope of catching a glimpse of her.

 Fennimore has an uneasy relationship with DI Kate Simms, a senior police officer now working in Manchester. They too have a past, but Kate is unhappily married to Keiron, an ambitious schoolteacher who seems more concerned with his own professional advancement than keeping their marriage alive. Keiron may have a justifiable grievance, as Kate has only just returned from a high profile secondment to America, while he has been left to keep the home fires burning, and their two children fed and watered.

 Julia Myers and her six year-old daughter Lauren have been taken, perhaps by the same killer who inflicted such trauma on Fennimore. Just as in the Fennimore abduction, the mother – Julia – turns up dead, but where is the daughter? We have the occasional chapter narrated in Lauren’s voice, and Garrett captures her intensity, bafflement and frustration perfectly.

 Fennimore has been pursued by a persistent Essex reporter, Carl Lazko, who wants to make a headline-grabbing story out of the wreckage of Fennimore’s personal life, in addition to mounting a campaign to prove that a man called Graham Mitchell is innocent of a murder which has no connection with Fennimore but has all the hallmarks of the academic’s family tragedy.

 Josh Brown is a research assistant to Fennimore and as part of his campaign to get the academic on-side, Lazko reveals that Josh is on a witness protection programme and is a member of a notorious Essex crime family. Josh has turned Queen’s Evidence, thus indicting several close family members, hence his new life and new identity. When they appear, in the later part of the book, Josh’s family – his brothers, no less – are chillingly depicted as murderous and callous hooligans. As a Briton, I do sometimes ask the question, “What is it about Essex?” That I fully expected the vindictive brothers to be thoroughly odious probably tells its own story. As I write, I can tell you that there is currently a pressure group working hard to force the removal of the term ‘Essex Girl’ from a popular and inclusive dictionary.

ADGarrett
A.D. Garrett
is the pseudonym for prize-winning novelist Margaret Murphy (above left), working in consultation with policing and forensics expert, Helen Pepper (above right). I found their latest novel well-paced and accurately researched with intense scientific detail, as one would expect from a novel co-authored by a scientist. My only criticism is that the abduction case is eventually solved in a very dramatic fashion, and this was a master-class in how an author should bring a plot to a thrilling – and bloodstained – conclusion. But then, just as we – that’s you and me, the readers – are calming down after a thrilling denouement, the authors decided to wrap up Fennimore’s own personal obsession – the whereabouts of his daughter. This is done at 110 mph, in very few pages, and I felt that it could easily have been left to another day and another novel, to allow its dramatic potential to be fully exploited.

 The two previous books in the series are Everyone Lies (2013) and Believe No One (2014). Truth Will Out will be available from 3rd November in hardback and Kindle, with a paperback version promised for early 2017. The novels are published by Corsair, which is an imprint of the Little Brown Group.

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MOSKVA … Between the covers

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It might be thought that all the books about the problems of law and order in communist and post-glasnost Russia have already been written. Didn’t Martin Cruz Smith corner the market with his accounts of Arcady Renko and his tussles with the authorities? Or what about Boris Starling and Vodka, his tale of gangsters and oligarchs in a Russia struggling to come to terms with the free market?

Moskva cover Jack Grimwood’s Moskva sets out to convince us that there is room for one more tale of conflicted lives in a modern Russia full of paradox and uncertainty. The book came out in hardback earlier this year, and is now available in paperback, from Penguin. Does Grimwood, who made his name writing science fiction and fantasy novels, hit the spot?

Tom Fox is one of those rough, tough individuals who is paid by men in suits to go to dangerous places and do unpleasant things for Queen and Country. He has, however, been doubly traumatised: firstly, a tour of duty working undercover in the bitter sectarian war in Northern Ireland has left him psychologically scarred; secondly, his marriage is pretty much over after his teenage daughter drove her Mini into a tree at 80 mph. Suicide? Drugs? No-one knows for sure, but the blame game has been played to its conclusion, and Fox has lost. Now, in the winter of 1986, his instability is such that his paymasters and handlers in London have packed him off to Moscow, ostensibly to write a report on the state of religion in Gorbachev’s Russia but, in reality, he has been sent far away to keep him out of trouble.

 As soon as Fox makes the acquaintance of ambassador Sir Edward Marston and his wife, he is left in little doubt that he is as welcome as a man with something vile on the sole of his shoe trampling over the embassy Axminster. At a reception Fox meets Sir Edward’s fifteen year-old step-daughter Alex and, noticing that she has self harm marks on her lower arms, makes a flippant remark which he soon has cause to regret.

“Beneath her cuffs, not quite visible and not quite hidden, raw welts crossed both wrists. A blunt knife would do it.
‘What’s it got to do with you anyway?’
‘Nothing.’
‘Exactly’
‘Wrist to elbow,’ he said.’Wrist to elbow. If you’re serious.’”

Despite their disdain for Fox, Sir Edward and his wife Anna soon have need of his rough talents when Alex goes missing. There is no ransom note, and no apparent motive except a possible link with the body of a dead boy found frozen in the snow near The Kremlin. Fox is an excellent linguist, and his near-perfect Russian enables him to ‘go native’ in the search for Alex.

His investigation takes him to a back street drinking den run by Dennisov – a one-legged veteran of Russia’s Afghanistan war – and his sister Yelena. Their father is a distinguished veteran of that most blood-stained period in modern history which ran from 22nd June 1941 to 9th May 1945, known with reverence by many Russians as The Great Patriotic War. The further Fox digs into the mystery of Alex’s abduction, the more he realises that there is a motive – but one which has deep roots in the days and deeds of April 1945 when the Russians unleashed 20 armies, 6,300 tanks and 8,500 aircraft to crush the defenders of Berlin.

Grimwood_3The breadth of this novel in terms of time sometimes makes it hard to work out who has done what to whom. Patience – and a spot of back-tracking – will pay dividends, however, and the narrative provides a salutary reminder of the sheer magnitude of the numbers of Russian dead in WWII, and the resultant near-psychosis about The West. To top-and-tail this review and answer the earlier question as to whether Jack Grimwood (right)  “hits the spot”, I can give a resounding “Yes!”. Yes, the plot is complex, and yes, you will need your wits about you, but yes, it’s a riveting read; yes, Tom Fox is a flawed but engaging central character, and yes, Grimwood has sharp-elbowed his way into the line-up of novelists who have written convincing crime novels set in the enigma that is Russia.

Moskva is available in hardback, paperback and Kindle.

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HOME … Between the covers

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Coming new to an established series happens more often than you might think to book reviewers, and so it is with this book. It has taken me ten previous novels to catch up with Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar. You may have been there from the beginning, which was in 1995 with Deal Breaker, and if so, bear with me for a moment. Myron Bolitar is a forty-something former top basketball player, whose career was cut cruelly short when his knee was ruined in an on-court incident. He used his sporting fame to start up an agency representing sports stars, but later expanded his client base to include other celebrities.

Home starts with a metaphorical ‘bang’ in the form of a very literal ‘slash’. The as yet un-named narrator is in the insalubrious London district of King’s Cross and we know only that he is searching for two missing boys, abducted from their American home ten years since. They were six at the time, but our narrator has been given an anonymous tip that one of them is now working as a rent boy in London. The boy seems appears to be plying his trade in a city underpass, along with a variety of other bodies for sale. When the teenager is attacked by three street hoodlums, the narrator intervenes. With a cut-throat razor. The teenager, however, escapes into the hurly burly of King’s Cross railway station, complete with its Harry Potter and Hogwarts connection.

Three dead bodies, and a ‘phone call later, we learn that we have been listening to the voice of Windsor Horne Lockwood III, a billionaire playboy, with a psychotic streak. ‘Win’ is the long term best friend of Myron Bolitar, and related to one of the missing boys. We soon meet Myron himself, as he is recovering from a bout of energetic sex with his fiancée, Terese, in Win’s New York apartment, which is in none other than the celebrated Dakota building.

Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin were on a ‘playdate’ at Patrick’s home, in the care of the Moore’s Finnish au pair, when masked men burst into the house, overpowered and tied up the young woman, and made off with the two boys. That is the history. The present? Myron is summoned to London to add his investigative skills to Win’s savagery. After some spectacular rough and tumble involving a larger-than-life human monster called Fat Gandhi, Patrick Moore is rescued and brought back to New Jersey.

That, however is very far from that. Patrick is restored to something resembling the home he was snatched from a decade earlier, but what of Rhys? Win and Myron begin to smell a rather malodorous rat, and there are more questions than answers. What does Patrick remember of the fateful day? Is he actually Patrick, or is there some scarcely imaginable scam being carried out?

Myron finally learns the the truth about the the two boys, but you may well share the former basketball ace’s bafflement along the way. Eventually, Coben lets him into the secret with a dazzling and totally unexpected revelation, rather than having him painstakingly gather evidence. I didn’t see the solution coming, but when it did, it was like being hit by a train.

This is a brilliant tale, and will be all the more dazzling to anyone like myself who is new to the series. Having yin and yang partnerships is nothing new in crime fiction, but it can seldom have been more audaciously used as with Coben’s sweet and sour pair. Win provides an unlimited supply of violence to complement Myron’s empathy and compassion. The closest comparison I can think of is that of the wise-guy persona of Robert B Parker’s Spenser, and his lethal friendship with the implacable Hawk. Home is one of those books that may well grab you by the throat and keep you mesmerised until you have reached the last page. Dogs will go unwalked. Pans will boil over on the stove. ‘Phones will go unanswered. You have been warned.

Follow the link to see buying options for Home.

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