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Aberdeen

FROM THE ASHES . . . Between the covers

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Deborah Masson is back with another gritty police thriller set in her home town of Aberdeen. This time, DI Eve Hunter (previously seen in Out For Blood and Hold Your Tongue) faces the grimmest challenge presented to police officers all over the world – the death of a child. Lucas Fyfe – dead mother, drug addicted father and unfeeling grandmother – has been in care since he was little. When someone deliberately sets fire to Wellwood, a children’s home, he is the one resident who doesn’t make it out. Why? Because the body of the eleven year-old is discovered in the cellar, and the trapdoor which is the only access is concealed under a heavy carpet.

Literally from page one, Masson gives us another perspective – that of the presumed arsonist. We know it’s a ‘he’, and we know that he was a former resident of Wellwood when it was run by the current warden’s father, William Alderton and the sadistic Sally Fields. I find that the backstory narrative trope can be irritating when an author uses too many viewpoints and too many time frames, but here it is used with subtlety and works very well.

Eve Hunter’s team consists of DS Cooper, DS Mearns and DC Ferguson, and the sparky dynamics between them provide an intriguing counterpoint to the investigation. Scott Ferguson is peripherally involved in a road accident on his way to work, but his obsession with the young man who was the main casualty starts to distract him from the Wellwood case. When a further shocking discovery is made in the cellar where Lucas Fyfe died, Ferguson’s lack of attention becomes even more serious. We eventually learn why Ferguson feels compelled to be at the bedside of the young vagrant who was badly injured in the RTA, and it turns the case on its head.

Hunter and her team soon realise that the surviving children and the three adult staff of Wellwood are not telling all that they know. That much is obvious, but penetrating the veil of secrecy proves more difficult. With both of the original owners dead, and local Children’s Services being very protective of the few remaining historic records of the children who were residents, the case seems to go round in circles, until Ferguson’s with Archie, the young RTA victim, finally pays off.

Deborah Masson is a writer who enjoys providing her readers with the unexpected, and the finale of the novel, in the grim basement of Wellwood, is a prime example. Eve Hunter comes over as tough and uncompromising in pursuit of the bad guys, but her family background has left her with a strong streak of compassion, and when Scott Ferguson finally reveals his own secrets – and his link to the Wellwood basement – she is well-equipped to provide emotional support.

This novel is dark, cleverly plotted, full of well-concealed surprises and a master class in how to write a good police-procedural. From The Ashes is published by Transworld/Penguin and is available now.

OUT FOR BLOOD . . . Between the covers

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Aberdeen, Scotland.The Granite City. To say that Police Scotland’s DI Eve Hunter has baggage would be something of an understatement. Physically and mentally damaged by a ruinous encounter with a notorious crime family, she is only allowed back to work on the understanding that she undergoes tortuous (for her) therapy sessions with Dr Shetty, the police psychologist. We first met Hunter in Hold Your Tongue, and you can read that review by clicking the link.

OFB 001We start with two corpses. One is an unidentified young woman, strung up by her neck to a tree on a golf course. The other, a young man, is found in more comfortable surroundings – his flat – but he is equally dead. As Hunter’s team begin to investigate the cases it seems that they could not be further apart. The dead man is an old boy of one of the area’s most prestigious independent schools, and has a rich father. The girl, however, is an Eastern European prostitute. Links between the two deaths slowly turn from gossamer to steel. Was one using the other? Is it that simple? Why do the names of powerful local figures crop up over and over again on the peripheries of the case?

In some ways we are on familiar territory here. We have the classic police procedural trope of the tired and overworked detectives trying to keep their family lives on track, while still having to give everything to ‘the job’. We have some coppers who are, if not actually corrupt, downright idle, their only concern being how to protect their pension Somehow, these stresses and strains of police work come over as fresh and as harrowing as if it were the first time we had read them.

This is not the first novel in recent years to highlight the deeply unpleasant trade in human lives carried out by Eastern European criminals. I live in a town where it happens, and nothing Deborah Massen (below) has written here is in any way exaggerated or fanciful. She vividly portrays the brutality of the men – and women – who run the rackets, and the misery of the girls who become enslaved.

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Masson showed in her previous book that she has a talent for having her police characters (and with them, we readers) pursue one line of enquiry, convinced that solution can only lie in that single direction, only for events to take a startling turn in another direction altogether. In proving that we are all wrong, and making the plot twist plausible, she takes a great risk, but I have to say her gamble pays off, and she produces a startling conclusion with the true flourish of a literary magician. Out For Blood is available in Kindle from Transworld Digital now, and will be out in paperback under the Corgi imprint on 10th December.

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.

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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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