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American Crime Fiction

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME . . . Between the covers

This is a strange one, and no mistake. Not the book itself, which is perfectly readable, but the title. Mainly because the one thing it isn’t is Robert B Parker’s. It’s Ace Atkins, re-imagining the world of the tough wise-cracking Boston PI, Spenser. I suppose it must be some legal stipulation from the estate of Spenser’s creator (1932-2010), but it certainly makes for an unwieldy title. I was a huge fan of the forty canonical Spenser novels and, also, the equally readable Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall books, but let’s remember that Spenser was himself something of a reinvention of Philip Marlowe: a few decades later, for sure, more up for a fist fight, but still with a good line in wise-cracks and sarcastic put-downs. Unlike Marlowe, however, Spenser had a reliable repertory company of helpers, notably his alluring psychologist girlfriend Susan and the implacable and intimidating Hawk.

So, to the novel. The characters are all present and correct including (regrettably, as far as I am concerned) the latest manifestation of the dog Pearl. Pearl and her little ways used to irritate me in the original books but, to be fair, Spenser simply wouldn’t be Spenser without the doggy love, so Ace Atkins gets a reluctant star for authenticity. Spenser is asked to investigate a sex crime. Not his normal bread and butter, but a very much under-age friend of a friend has been used and abused by someone much richer and infinitely more powerful. Peter Steiner and Poppy Palmer are disgustingly rich – and have disgusting moral values. To put it bluntly, Peter likes under-age girls, and Poppy likes that he likes them, and gets her kicks from sucking them into their decadent whirlpool.

The Steiners are also well-connected. Politicians great and small, financiers, socialites, fund-raisers – mostly anyone who is anyone in Boston and further afield – all tip their hats to the Steiners. Neither does it hurt that the Steiners’ clout enables them to hire serious muscle from the criminal underworld and, as most of the child rape is conducted on a private island somewhere in the vicinity of the Bahamas, neither the Boston Police Department nor the FBI can do anything to intervene.

Spenser is, if nothing else, an extremely moral man, and the plight of the youngsters stirs him to put his hands into the hornets’ nest. He has important allies in the shape of two other long-standing members of Spenser Inc. – tough and honest cup Quirk, and the voluptuous campaigning lawyer, Rita Fiore. Despite their authority, however, neither Quirk nor Fiore can lay a glove on the Steiners while they are despoiling young lives on their Caribbean hideaway.

Clearly, in real life, things work differently. Or maybe they don’t? Much closer to home we have witnessed the appalling abuse of thousands of young girls across English towns and cities, while those in authority, like the Jew and the Levite in the parable, passed by on the other side. Maybe they weren’t swayed by money directly, but their livelihoods in social services, the police and local government would have been under threat if they had done or said “the wrong thing”. Back to the fiction, Ace Atkins sets up a terrific finale here, with Spenser and Hawk travelling to an island close to the Steiners’ lair. Not only do they face a small army of minders and gunmen, but a man known as Ruger who, a few books ago, bested Spenser and left him for dead.

Spenser’s crusade is flawed, however, because someone he counts on is working for the bad guys, and the plans to liberate the youngsters goes pear shaped. Just when you think that this is finally “it” for Spenser and Hawk, something totally unexpected happens and a certain amount of rough justice is meted out. The scandal of powerful men – not just the rich and privileged, but men with social status in their communities – abusing young children seems to be a growth area. Ace Atkins has written a scathing account of one such atrocity in America. Someone needs to have the balls to write one set in Britain. Someone To Watch Over Me is published by Oldcastle Books and is out now.

BENEATH BLACKWATER RIVER . . . Between the covers

She looked alive, her hair drifting freely in the water, her red lips gently parted, as if to let her final breath escape. A small locket floated by her face, attached to her neck with a silver chain…”She looked alive, her hair drifting freely in the water, her red lips gently parted, as if to let her final breath escape. A small locket floated by her face, attached to her neck with a silver chain…

There are times when a book’s plot is so complex that it doesn’t hurt to pause at the half way mark and ask. “what do we know?” Beneath Blackwater River is the latest novel from American novelist Leslie Wolfe (above), and is one such book. Firstly, the author herself. Her website says, “She creates unforgettable, brilliant, strong women heroes who deliver fast-paced, satisfying suspense, backed up by extensive background research in technology and psychology.” The central figure in this book is former FBI profiler Kay Sharp. She is now working as a relatively junior detective in a California sheriff’s department. Thus far in the book, we have, in no particular order:

  • A young woman is found dead, her throat recently slashed, beneath the waters of a mountain river.
  • She is initially mis-identified by investigating officers.
  • One identity was that of a girl from a very poor home; the other girl comes from a rich family.
  • In another part of the country, a teenage runaway is abducted by a mysterious man, known only as Triple-Dollar-Sign.
  • Detective Kay Sharp is sheltering, in the home she shares with her brother, the battered wife of a fellow officer.
  • The abusive officer is in the pay of an as-yet-unidentified person – with money.

Leslie Wolfe has, then, set several hares running, to use the venerable English metaphor. The rogue cop – Herb Scott – is a truly nasty piece of work, and seems to have half the Sheriff’s Department under his thumb, as when his wife, Nicole, has reported her many beatings as a crime, nothing ever happens. The mis-identification of the murdered girl is a seemingly unsolvable mystery. Were there ever two girls, or are they one and the same? Does the conundrum stem from a complex inheritance issue involving the wealthy Caldwell family? The Caldwells are magnificently disfunctional, riven with bitterness and jealousy, and to spice matters up even more, there is the deadly whiff of incest in the air.

Meanwhile, the runaway teenagerKirsten – has fallen into the hands of a psychopath who seems to have loved and lost a beautiful girl at some stage in the past; now, he seeks out young women who resemble his lost love; when, inevitably, they don’t match up to his distorted memories, they are done away with. At the half way stage I was scratching my head to think how could Leslie Wolfe ever tie up the apparently unconnected story lines, but she does it with all the flourish of a stage magician dazzling the audience with a seemingly impossible sleight of hand. Readers who love a fast-moving melodrama will not be disappointed here.

Beneath Blackwater River is published by Bookouture, and will be available as a Kindle and an audiobook on 23rd April which, as I’m sure you’re aware, is both St George’s Day and the birthday of William Shakespeare.

LONG BRIGHT RIVER . . . Between the covers

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A wintry Philadelphia is the setting for Liz Moore’s fourth novel. A female police officer, Michaela ‘Mickey’ Fitzpatrick, works the streets of Kensington, This district’s history owes much to its proximity to the Delaware River, and the fishing, milling and transport industries, but these have long since ceased, and the area is run down, dilapidated, and one of the centres of the city’s drug trade.

LBR coverThis is not a crime novel in the traditional sense, and it certainly isn’t a police procedural, despite Mickey’s profession. The plot partly involves the search for someone who is killing young women who have been forced into prostitution to feed their drug habit but, although this is resolved, it is eventually incidental to the main thrust of the novel.

Mickey comes from a dysfunctional family. Her mother is long dead, she is estranged from her father, and both she and her sister Kacey were brought up by a rather forbidding and humourless grandmother they call Gee. Micky’s career in the police force is unspectacular, but it pays the bills for her and her young son Thomas. As the blurb on the back of the book cleverly puts it,

Once inseparable, sisters Mickey and Kacey are on different paths, but they walk the same streets. Mickey on her police beat and Kacey in the shadows of the city’s darkest corners where the drug addicts and the sex workers preside.

As more women fall victim to the mystery killer, Mickey becomes ever more frantic that Kacey will be the next body wheeled on a gurney into the mortuary to await the investigation by the police pathologist. When she hears from an old friend of Kacey’s that the killer is thought to be a police officer, she confides in her immediate boss, Sergeant Ahearn. Not only is he sceptical, but he bounces the accusation back at Mickey, and she finds herself suspended and under investigation into allegations about her own conduct.

Screen Shot 2020-12-27 at 18.57.52Liz Moore (right) treats Mickey’s search for her sister on two levels: the first, and more obvious one, is a nightmare trip through the squats and shoot-up dens of Kensington in an attempt to find Kacey – a search, find and protect mission, if you will. On a more metaphorical level, the books becomes a journey through Mickey’s own past in the quest for a more elusive truth involving her family and her own identity.

As readers we have one or two tricks played on us by the author as she allows us – through Mickey’s narrative –  to make one or two assumptions, before turning those on their heads. Liz Moore’s style is interesting, particularly in the way she replays dialogue. This is a powerful and thought-provoking novel which, despite some measure of redemption, has a truly chilling final few lines.

Long Bright River came out as a Kindle and in hardback earlier this year, and this paperback edition will be published by Windmill Books on 31st December

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LAST TIME I LIED . . . Between the covers

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Riley SagerI was working in Australia when Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic At Hanging Rock premiered. I remember pub and dinner party talk for months after being dominated by interpretations and explanations about what might have happened to the ‘lost girls’. In the endpapers of Last Time I Lied American author Riley Sager, (left) acknowledges his debt to this film (and the short story on which it was based). Instead of a 1900 Melbourne, Sager beams us into up-country New York State in, more or less, our times.

When Emma Davis, a skinny and gawky thirteen year-old just on the verge of young womanhood, wins a place at a prestigious summer camp for privileged teenagers, she falls under the spell of three older girls with whom she shares a cabin. In particular, the assured and sexually aware Vivian captivates Emma, just as she has captivated the other two, Natalie and Allison.

Camp Nightingale was created by a timber baron in the early years of the twentieth century. His master design featured a lake and, as there wasn’t one to hand, he simply evicted the inhabitants of a nearby valley, dammed the river and created his own huge water feature, Lake Midnight. Now the property is in the hands of his descendant, Francesca Harris-White, who presides in benign dictatorship over the gathering of rich city girls every summer.

LTILEmma’s summer idyll is destined to come to an abrupt and tragic end, however, when the three older girls in the cabin disappear one night, never to return. Despite the massive search and rescue operation, Vivian, Natalie and Allison remain missing, and Franny is forced to close the camp in disarray.

Now, fifteen years on, Emma Davis is a successful artist who is on the verge of giving up her day job in an advertising agency to paint full time. Her huge canvases create a stir in the New York art world, but they contain a hidden image known only to the artist. Each painting begins as a depiction of the three missing Camp Nightingale girls, who are progressively painted over by ever more intense foliage until only tantalising glimpses of them remain.

Emma is shocked when she receives an invitation to have lunch with Franny, and her shock turns to panic when she learns that the heiress plans to reopen Camp Nightingale and wants Emma to return for the season as artist in residence. Can she bear to relive the tragic events of that fateful summer? What is Franny’s real motive for reopening the camp? And, most importantly for us as readers, is Emma providing us with a classically misleading unreliable narrative?

Emma does return to Camp Nightingale and, naturally enough, since this is a thriller all about fate and coincidence, she has to sleep in the cabin called Dogwood – the selfsame one which she shared with Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Her new companions are Miranda, Krystal and Sasha. But now, of course, they are the giggly fifteen year-olds, and she is the mature and experienced woman.

Riley Sager packs the story with the literary equivalent of Improvised Explosive Devices, destined to go off at any moment with devastating consequences. We have Theo, Franny’s adoptive son, the subject of Emma’s massive and breathless crush all those years ago. There is Ben, the moody ‘bit of rough’ who has always been the camp maintenance man. Added to the mix are Lottie and Becca, both ‘survivors’ of the first downfall of Camp Nightingale. Above all – or, better, beneath all – is the moody presence of Lake Midnight itself, beneath which lie the stone memories of the displaced villages from over a century ago. Incidentally, if anyone can think of something more dramatically Gothick than Sager’s drowned lunatic asylum, whose roof appears only when the lake suffers from drought, I will give them a prize!

Bitte bei Verwendung Hinweis an: bilder@joexx.de

Last Time I Lied cleverly alternates between Emma’s recollections and the present time. Events in the reopened Camp Nightingale come to resemble nothing more nor less than a disturbing re-enactment of a cold-case crime, where the spectral presence of the fifteen-years-lost girls looms larger and larger with every page.

The eventual solution to what happened to the three girls is dazzling, ingenious, gasp-provoking – and fairly improbable – but, hey, this is a cleverly constructed and blissfully entertaining novel and no lesser person than Aristotle, in his Poetics, declared

“for it is probable that many things may take place contrary to probability.”

Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a New Jersey author who has published several mysteries under his own name, Todd Ritter. Last Time I Lied is published by Ebury Press (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and will be out on 12th July.

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THE PEOPLE vs ALEX CROSS … Between the covers

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Back in the day, James Patterson’s Alex Cross books were my go-to choice for police thrillers with something just a little different. Along Came A Spider, Kiss The Girls, Jack & Jill and Pop Goes The Weasel were all sustenance for a hungry man. But round about the time when Patterson had exhausted his nursery rhyme references for the book titles, I began to lose interest. Maybe it was the Washington cop’s implausible bad luck in choosing wives and girlfriends. For such a demonstrably clever bloke, he was becoming a serial bad judge of character. Was it his Mother Teresa of a grandmother, Nana Mama? Apart from the fact that she must have reached the age of at least 130, had her unfailing wisdom and saintliness begun to grate? Whatever the reason, I moved on. When, however, the good people at Century sent me a crisp new hardback copy of The People vs Alex Cross, I thought it would be rude not to see what the good Dr Cross was up to in his 27th outing, almost a quarter of a century after his first appearance.

Alex CrossAlex Cross is in trouble. Big trouble. He is the victim of a beyond-the-grave revenge attack from his very first opponent, Gary Soneji. Gary is long dead, blown up by his own bomb in a subway. It is not beyond Patterson’s audacity to resurrect someone, but in this case it is supporters of the late Mr Soneji who are responsible for Cross being accused of homicide. He is lured to a warehouse where members of the Soneji cult are waiting for him. In the fire fight that follows, members of the cult are killed and wounded, but when Cross summonses emergency backup, no weapons other than Cross’s own can be found. The words happy, trigger and cop are immediately rearranged into a well-known phrase or saying by the sensation-hungry media.

As Cross prepares for his trial he is, naturally, suspended from police duties. Again, perfectly naturally, since it is Dr Alex Cross we are dealing with, he becomes unofficially involved in the investigation into a series of kidnappings and murders. Whoever the kidnapper is, he or she has a penchant for willowy blonde young women. Cross’s best buddy, the almost indestructible cop John Sampson, is knee deep in the chase to find the missing girls, and the search leads the pair into the darker-than-black world of snuff movies and the mysterious cyber phenomenon known as the dark web.

Writer James Patterson promotes the new movie "Alex Cross" based on his novel "Cross" at the Four Seasons in Los AngelesHand on heart, I have to admit to really enjoying this book. Patterson (right) hasn’t achieved his world-wide pre-eminence as a best selling writer by not being able to tell a story. The action comes thick and fast and in this book at least, the portrayal of Cross disproves the old adage about familiarity breeding contempt. Yes, Nana Mama is still there, serving up delicious meals for all and sundry and being annoyingly stoical in the face of her grandson’s adversity. Yes, Cross’s annoyingly geeky nine year-old son spots something that a top FBI data analyst has missed, but at least our man’s current love interest seems to be a good sort.

The book pretty much turns its own pages. It is pure escapism, but a damn good read. Long time fans of the series will not be disappointed, and apostates like myself may well be converted back to the old religion. The People vs Alex Cross will be out on 2nd November in hardback, Kindle and as an audio CD. The paperback edition is due in April 2018.

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DON’T LET GO … Between the covers

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Napoleon. Dumas. Two names resonant of nineteenth century France. A warrior and a writer. Put them together, and you have an unusual combination. Unusual, certainly, for a New Jersey cop. He has been known as ‘Nap’ for as long as he can remember, and he takes centre stage in the latest thriller from Harlan Coben. Dumas was born in Marseilles but since his family moved to Westbridge, NJ, he hasn’t strayed far from his home town. Nap Dumas is not, however, all he seems to be. On the one hand:

DLG cover“Mr Nice Neighbour. See, I am that rarest of creatures in suburban towns – a straight, single, childless male is about as common out here as a cigarette in a health club – so I work hard to come across as normal, boring, reliable.”

That’s the Nap Dumas who waves to his neighbours Ned and Tammy and never forgets to inquire how their son’s team is doing in the little league. There is another Nap Dumas, too. He’s the man who tracks down Trey, a lowlife bully who has been beating up his girlfriend and abusing her daughter. He’s the man who explains the problem to Trey. With a baseball bat.

There’s a third Nap Dumas, who never lets a day go by without talking to his twin brother Leo. That’s the Leo who, fifteen years ago was found by the railway tracks with his girlfriend Diane. Both of them turned into little more than roadkill by the impact of 3000 tons of freight train. The sequence of events of that terrible night play on loop inside Nap’s head, along with a nightmare tangle of unanswered questions. Why did the pair commit suicide? Why did Nap’s girlfriend Maura Wells disappear that night and simply drop off the radar?

When ex-Westbridge boy Rex Canton – now a traffic cop in neighbouring Pennsylvania – takes two bullets in the back of the head while conducting a routine traffic stop, the investigators come looking for Nap Dumas. At first he is puzzled. He hasn’t seen Rex Canton in years, and they were never particularly close. But when they tell him whose fingerprints they found in the car realisation dawns:

“I have always heard the expression,’the hairs on my neck stood up,’ but I don’t think I ever quite got it until now.”

One of the investigating officers spells it out, just in case the penny hasn’t dropped:

“The prints got a hit …. because ten years ago, you, Detective Dumas, put them in the database, describing her as a person of interest. Ten years ago, when you first joined the force, you asked to be notified if there was ever a hit.”

The discovery of Maura’s prints triggers a journey into a nightmare that some people in Westbridge had tried to forget. A nightmare made up of lies, lives shattered, deception and cold blooded murder. Nap Dumas, however, is determined to prise up the stone from the ground, even though he knows that dark and deadly things will be scuttling about underneath.

Harlan Coben 2014 bis (c) Claudio Marinesco (3).jpgCoben is never anything but readable and he is great form here. This was one of those books which pose a delicious dilemma – do I carry on reading as the hook of the action bites deeper and deeper, or do I put it down for a couple of hours to make it last longer? As a regular reader of Coben’s books I knew that the big reveal – in this case the truth about the deaths of Leo and Diane – would be a definite “Oh, my God!” moment, but try as I might, I didn’t get close to guessing the actual shocking detail.

Coben doesn’t usually spend too much energy on giving us anything remotely romantic but, as a bonus, he allows himself to tug a few heartstrings at the end of this gripping – and affecting – thriller. Fans of Coben’s sporting investigator Myron Bolitar (read our review of Home here) will also be pleased to know that he puts in an appearance – albeit a brief one – in Don’t Let Go, which is published by Century and will be available in all formats from September 26th.

THE WALLS … Between the covers

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Lone mother. Single parent. Solo carer. Whatever the politically correct term currently favoured by The Taking-Offence Police, Kristy Tucker is it. Not only is she bringing up her teenage son Ryan, she is caring for her debilitated father. ‘Pops’ is paying the price for a lifetime of heavy smoking, and two things keep him alive. One is physical – the cannula connecting him to his oxygen tank – and the other is psychological – the faint hope that he can still be a father to his daughter and someone his grandson can look up to.

The WallsKristy puts food on the table and tries to make sure that Ryan isn’t disadvantaged. She has a job, and it is one that demands every ounce of her compassion and every droplet of her sang froid. Her official title? Public Information Officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. If that sounds like some bureaucratic walk-in-the-park, think again. Acting as mediator between inmates, the press and the prison system is one thing, but remember that The Lone Star State is one of the thirty one American states which retains the death penalty. Consequently, Kristy not only has to manage the fraught liaison between prisoners on death row and the media, but she is also required to be an official witness at executions.

Despite the stresses and strains of her professional and family life, Kristy is still young enough to hanker after a personal life, and when Ryan introduces his martial arts teacher, Lance Dobson, she is taken aback by his kindness and his humility. It doesn’t hurt that he is ruggedly handsome and totally charming. Dobson becomes more and more a part of the Tucker household and, despite Dobson’s “aw, shucks..” modesty, Kristy finds herself falling in love with him. She is dazzled by the man, and cannot believe her luck when her affection is returned, with interest, and he asks her to marry him.

Back at the prison, Kristy Tucker has become involved with a condemned prisoner, Clifton Harris. He has been sentenced to death for starting a fire which killed his two children. There have been frequent appeals and stays of execution, but Harris’s last ride on the gurney of death is imminent. Kristy becomes convinced that Harris is innocent, but her profession inhibits her from offering anything but sympathy and a kindly voice.

All too soon, Kristy becomes Mrs Dobson, and both Ryan and Pops think all their Christmases have come at once. For Ryan, Lance Dobson becomes the father he never had, and Pops takes on a new lease of life, knowing that at long last there is an alpha male in the house to take on the duty of care which his illness has prevented him from fulfilling. Gold at the end of the rainbow? Not quite. Within a matter of weeks a fatal chasm begins to open up between Dobson’s public persona and the man he has become when alone with Kristy. He is insanely jealous, sexually demanding, domineering – and brutal with his fists. Despite Ryan and Pops still worshipping the ground that Lance Dobson walks on, Kristy has finally had enough. Using her unique insight into the mistakes made both by criminals and police, she plans a route which will take her out of her misery.

hollieovertonIt will come as no surprise to learn that Hollie Overton (right) is an experienced writer for TV. In The Walls every set-piece, every scene is intensely visual and immediate. With consummate cleverness she sets up two story lines which at first run parallel, but then converge. Two men. One is definitely guilty. One possibly innocent. Both are condemned to death. One by the State of Texas. The other by his battered wife.

The Walls is a sheer joy to read. The pace of the narrative is breathtaking, the characters are beautifully drawn and utterly convincing. Of course Hollie Overton takes sides, and she expects us to do the same, but we can still hold our breath and chew our nails until the final pages. This is domestic drama at its very best. The Walls is out on 10th August in the UK, published by Century, and is available here.

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THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE …Between the covers

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Shelby Truman is a highly successful romantic novelist tapping out stories involving her heroine Patricia Harlow. After forty two novels, the public shows no sign of losing its appetite for the sultry Patricia and her ability to choose precisely the wrong kind of man for her peace of mind and blood pressure. It’s a grey Chicago morning, and Truman is taking a deep breath and trying type something – anything – which will trigger the latest episode of inflamed passions and yearning bodies, when she receives a piece of registered mail which her assistant, Billy, has just signed for. She is used to convincing her readers that Patricia’s heart has ‘missed a beat’, but now fiction becomes reality.

“The return address at the top of the envelope indicates that the sender is Robert Crane Esq. of Limite, Texas. I know the name. Eddie’s attorney. A twinge of anxiety starts deep in my chest. I’d been trying not to think about Eddie, but that’s impossible this week.


The thing is, I’ve always thought about Eddie. We go way, way back, to when we were children living in Limite.”

Chicory LaneEddie is Eddie Newcott, the boy who used to live across the street in Chicory Lane, Limite. The boy who was just a bit different from all the other kids at school. The kid whose dad was a rough and abusive oilfield mechanic. The kid whose mom turned to the bottle to escape her violent husband and the beatings he handed out to their only child. But that was then. Now sees Eddie fallen on hard times. Times so hard that he achieved brief notoriety in the tabloid press, and has now been sentenced to death by lethal injection for murdering his pregnant girlfriend, slashing her open, dragging the foetus out and then arranging the two corpses on his front lawn, posed in an obscene mockery of a Nativity tableau. And it was Christmas Eve.

“EVIL EDDIE…” …”SATANIST IN GRUESOME RITUAL..” … ‘SUSPECT CLAIMS TO BE THE DEVIL …”

With these headlines dancing before her eyes, Truman reads that all efforts to appeal for clemency on the grounds of insanity have failed, and that Eddie Newcott will die in four days time. As one of his last requests, the condemned man has asked for a visit from Shelby Truman.

What follows is a wonderfully written and heartbreaking account of the bond between Eddie and Shelby. It is as good a coming-of-age novel as I have read for many a year, but Benson’s skill as a storyteller doesn’t stop there. He delivers the poignancy and unbearable sensitivity of first love and sexual awakening. His account of how children escape from the shackles slapped on by their parents is masterly. Sometimes these shackles are forged from too much love, while with other children, the shackles are tempered in the fires of cruelty and hatred. There is also a very clever murder mystery, which isn’t resolved until the last few pages, and then the resolution brings only heartbreak.

I am never entirely sure what a ‘literary novel’ is, but if it consists of elegant writing, a fine ear for dialogue and a gimlet eye for the painful inconsistencies of human behaviour, then The Secrets On Chicory Lane ticks that box too.

RaymondBensonLike Shelby Truman, Raymond Benson (right) is a highly successful writer. He has written thrillers under his own name, most notably his Black Stiletto Saga, and has also written novels based on video games. He has taken up the baton from authors who are no longer with us, like Tom Clancy, and has written several James Bond stories which have either been based on established screenplays – like Die Another Day – or standalone original stories such as The Man With The Red Tattoo.

The Secrets On Chicory Lane is published by Skyhorse Publishing, and is available for pre-order.

TWO NIGHTS … Between the covers

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For-author-Kathy-Reichs-its-all-about-bones-PRA9K1L-x-largeThe muster room of hard-nosed female cops and investigators is not exactly a crowded place on Planet CriFi. Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, Fiona Griffiths, Kate Brannigan, Cordelia Gray, Kay Scarpetta and Jane Marple have already taken their seats, but Temperance Brennan has, temporarily, given up hers for another child of her creator, Kathy Reichs (left). Sunday ‘Sunnie’ Night is a damaged, bitter, edgy and downright misanthropic American cop who has been suspended by her bosses for being trigger happy. She sits brooding, remote – and dangerous – on a barely accessible island off the South Carolina coast.

A former buddy, Beau Beaumonde, comes to visit and he has a job offer. A terrorist attack on a Jewish school in Chicago has left victims dead and maimed, but one girl, Stella Bright, was not among the dead, and appears to have been kidnapped. The impossibly wealthy Opaline Drucker, Stella’s grandmother, has decided to spend serious money on an investigation to find the school attackers and discover the whereabouts – or the remains – of Stella.

Sunnie decides to accept the job and heads north to The Windy City in an effort to pick up the trail of the bad guys. To say that Sunnie is ‘street smart’ is an understatement. She hardly trusts her own shadow, and checks into several different hotels, using a different alias each time. She has created several social media profiles stating that she is searching for Stella, but her bait is accepted not online, but in the corridor of a hotel. She answers the threat with extreme violence, but is determined that she will remain the hunter while those who took Stella will easily not shrug off their status as her prey.

Two Nights CoverHalf way through the novel we realise the significance of the title. Sunnie Night is not waging this war alone: her twin brother Augustus ‘Gus’ Night is also on the case and, to use the cliche, he ‘has her back’. Together they are certainly a deadly combination. By this point, though, Reichs has bowled us an unreadable googly – or, for American readers, thrown us a curveball – and it isn’t until the closing pages that we realise that we have been making incorrect assumptions. Which is, of course, exactly what the author planned! Those last few pages make for a terrific finale, as the twins desperately try to prevent an atrocity being carried out at one of America’s most celebrated sporting occasions.

Sunnie and Gus, with a mixture of intelligence and gunfire, close in on the terrorist cell, and it is interesting that Reichs moves away from the obvious contemporary template for a group whose ideology drives their murderous activities. Instead, for better or for worse, we are presented us with the absolute opposite. Sunnie herself is not the kind of character that we readily warm to. In fact, she has trouble warming to herself. She says:

Sure, I’m damaged. I live alone with no permanent phone or Internet account. I have a scar I refuse to fix. I dislike being touched and have a temper that’s my own worst enemy. I use icy showers and grueling workouts to escape stress and trick my brain into making me feel strong.”

Kathy Reichs certainly doesn’t let the grass grow under anyone’s feet in this 110 mph novel. The dialogue – usually between the eponymous Two Nights – is whip-smart and sassy. It is certainly stylised and seems tailor made for a film or TV screenplay, but that is no bad thing in itself. There are guns and bodies galore and the action criss-crosses America with the Night twins homing in on the villains. Maybe it’s not the book for fans of leisurely narrative exposition and detailed reflection by the characters – the pace of the book doesn’t allow anyone much time for introspection – but it’s a cracking and ingeniously plotted thriller. The Kindle version of Two Nights will be available on 29th June from Cornerstone Digital, as will the hardback edition, but from William Heinemann. Follow this link to read more.

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