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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.

WE CAN SEE YOU … Between the covers

Whatever your view on lifestyle coaches, they certainly have a market, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the ever-so-socially-aware state of California. Brook Connor may not have cornered that market, but she has a best-selling ‘how to come out on top’ guide to her name, as well as wealthy clients and a regular spot on TV. She may not have absolutely everything – after all, her husband is a failed movie actor-cum-tennis coach with a roving eye, but her bank balance is healthy, her home is valued in the millions, and she has an adorable five year-old daughter.

 Correction. She did have an adorable five year-old daughter. She returns home after work one day to find both daughter Paige,and nanny Rosa gone,  and a chilling note explaining that they have been taken. A severed finger inside a prettily decorated gift box persuades Brook that these people are not fooling around.

 As ever in kidnap cases both real and fictional, the bad guys caution against any police involvement, and so Brook and husband Logan get the ransom money together and set off to make the exchange. Of course, the exchange doesn’t go to plan, and Brook is left concussed at the bottom of a gully out in the sticks, the money has gone, and there is the inconvenient matter of a body in the trunk of her SUV, lifeless mainly because of one of her own kitchen knives sticking out of his ribs.

 Brook goes on the run, confounded by her initial decision not to involve the police, and also the discovery of the body in the trunk of her car. There is nothing the media loves more than a celebrity criminal, and soon her face is plastered over every news channel. Armed only with her own automatic sidearm and a blazing desire to find her daughter, she leads the law enforcement agencies a merry dance until her race against time comes to an abrupt and bloody end in the personal gym of a notorious ‘businessman’ with links to the infamous cartels from south of the border, down Mexico way.

 Kernick very cleverly uses a split time narrative, with one showing Brook in custody facing multiple murder raps, and another detailing the events which have led to her arrest. He is not done with us, though; a seismic plot shift leads to a dramatic conclusion which even Nostradamus would not have seen coming.

This is breaking-the-sound-barrier thriller fiction at its very best; Kernick doesn’t miss a trick, and gives us the works – crooked cops, a body in the freezer, an embittered PI, an omnipotent and sadistic drug overlord (Mexican,of course), a kidnapped child and that most dangerous of creatures, a powerful female determined to protect her young. We Can See You is published by Century and is out today, 29thNovember.


AT WHAT COST … Between the Covers

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Sacramento. Capital city of California. Named after its river, which was in turn named after the most holy offering in the Catholic liturgy. But there is nothing sacred and everything profane about the butchered corpse found on the river levee. Maybe ‘corpse’ is the wrong word for what lies at Detective John Penley’s feet. The pouring rain, caught in the glare of the crime scene halogen lights, patters remorselessly on a headless, limbless trunk. It had been a man. And that man, judging by the Aztec inspired tattoo spreading over what is left of the chest, was a member of a Latino gang, The West Block Norteños.

awclThe remains of Daniel Cardozo are hauled off to the city morgue to join those of several of his professional associates who have met a similar fate in recent months. Penley and his new partner Detective Paula Newberry know only that the killer is also a butcher, perhaps not by trade, but certainly by intent. They also become aware that the human remains are minus their soft tissue organs – hearts, livers, kidneys.

Newberry and Penley make an uneasy pair. Newberry, because she is treated like a leper by fellow officers ever since she orchestrated a surveillance sting that ended the careers of a couple of corrupt cops in the department. And Penley? His mind is forever straying to thoughts about his young son Tommy whose life is slowly but inexorably drifting away as he waits his turn for a kidney transplant.

As the tale unfolds, there are echoes of England’s infamous and unsolved Whitechapel Murders. As with the person who slaughtered prostitutes in that fateful London autumn of 1888, Penley’s killer seems to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of anatomy. And, like the detectives in Victorian London, Penley is actually sent a kidney as a taunt, but unlike the Ripper’s handiwork, the one Penley receives is most definitely human.

 L’Etoile’s story rapidly adds an extra dimension to the standard hunt for a ruthless serial murderer, as it become a medical thriller, too. The villain is, we soon learn, harvesting organs for the lucrative international trade in spare body parts. Like so many other aspects of life, the search for viable organs operates on two levels; the first is, of course, the regular – and highly regulated – world of transplant waiting lists; the second operates within the freemasonry of hard cash, and the opportunities afforded to unscrupulous traders – and their desperate customers – by The Dark Web.

It all too quickly becomes horribly personal for Penley and his family. His son narrowly avoids being given an intentionally damaged kidney, and it is clear that the detective’s personal anguish has handed the killer an invaluable tool with which he can torment the man whose professional job it has become to unmask him and bring him to justice. With someone hacking into hospital records and falsifying clinical data, Penley runs out of people he can trust, and is forced to play a dangerous game of deception with the killer, his colleagues and – worst of all – his own family.

jamesThe author (right)  certainly knows his way around the American justice system, with his background in probation, parole, investigation and prison operation. An experienced Associate Warden, Chief of Institution Operations, Hostage Negotiator and Director of Parole, he has also done extensive homework on the medical background to the complex world of organ donation and transplants. The plot rattles along with scarcely a breath being drawn, and in Penley and Newberry, L’Etoile has created a partnership which is complex and attractive enough to feature in more adventures further down the line.

At What Cost is published by Crooked Lane Books and is out now.

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