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Clive Allan

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017 … Best historical crime novel

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I was delighted that John Lawton’s Friends and Traitors showcased a return for his charismatic copper, Fred Troy, and even more pleased that the beautiful and enigmatic Meret Voytek featured once again, after her ordeals in A Lily of The Field. Norman Russell certainly brought Victorian Oxford to life with An Oxford Scandal, and his consumptive Inspector Antrobus was an intriguing fellow, finishing the novel trying to avoid the sight of his bloodstained handkerchief. In Dangerous Crossing, Rachel Rhys captured beautifully the potent cocktail of snobbery, suspicion and political uncertainty among passengers on an ocean liner on the eve of World War II. In The Well Of The Dead, Clive Allan skilfully wove together two stories, the first being an account of the calamitous events surrounding The Battle of Culloden in 1746, and the second an assured modern police procedural plot.

My winner this year, in spite of the fierce competition, is On Copper Street, by Chris Nickson. I have grown to love the stories featuring Inspector Tom Harper, a brave and determined copper treading the cobblestones of Victorian Leeds. Here, Harper investigates the death of a petty crook, and the horribly modern-sounding attack on two children who have acid thrown at them. Against the background of the lonely and impoverished death of a pioneering political activist, Harper pursues the villains in his usual implacable way, supported at every turn by his admirable – and very bonny – wife. I wrote:

“I would imagine that Nickson is a good old-fashioned socialist, and he pulls no punches when he describes the appalling way in which workers are treated in late Victorian England, and he makes it abundantly clear what he thinks of the chasm between the haves and the have nots. Don’t be put off by this. Nickson doesn’t preach and neither does he bang the table and browbeat. He recognises that the Leeds of 1895 is what it is – loud, smelly, bustling, full of stark contrasts, yet vibrant and fascinating.”

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THE WELL OF THE DEAD … Between the covers

 

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TWOTD CoverIn the icy Scottish dawn of 16th April 1746, the last battle to be fought on British soil was just hours away. The soldiers of the Hanoverian army of William Duke of Cumberland were shaking off their brandy-befuddled sleep, caused by extra rations to celebrate the Duke’s birthday. Just a mile or two distant, the massed ranks of the Scottish clans loyal to Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, were shivering in their plaid cloaks, wet and exhausted after an abortive night march to attack the enemy.

One small group of Highlanders, however, had something else on their minds. Chancing upon a broken down wagon belonging to Cumberland’s paymaster, they discover a literal treasure chest of gold put aside for soldiers’ wages. They make off with the gold, and in doing so miss the ensuing carnage on Culloden Moor. McGillivray intends to use the riches to restore the fortunes of the Jacobite cause, but events take a contrary turn.

Modern Scotland. The Spring of 2010. Burglars break into Cullairn Castle, the ancestral home of the McGillivray clan. The present owners, and descendants of the McGillivrays, are brutally murdered in the course of the break-in. DCI Neil Strachan has to make sense of the violent deaths of Duncan Forbes and his wife, but is puzzled by the mutilations on the bodies. There is a crude copy of a clan emblem cut into the dead flesh, as well as an attempt to carve something even more obscure – a symbol which appears to be a character from the dead Pictic language, Ogham.

While simultaneously trying to discover who is stalking his girlfriend and sending her threatening text messages, Strachan works on the Cuillairn mystery and comes to the conclusion that someone has an insider’s knowledge of the McGillivray legend, and will stop at nothing until the treasure, now worth millions, is unearthed.

cliveThe Well Of The Dead is a winning combination of several different elements. It’s a brisk and authentic police procedural, written by someone who clearly knows how a major enquiry works. For those who enjoy a costume drama with a dash of buried treasure, there is interest a-plenty. Military history buffs will admire the broad sweep of how Allan (right) describes the glorious failure that was the Jacobite rebellion, as well as being gripped by the detailed knowledge of the men who fought and died on that sleet-swept April day in 1746, bitter both in the grim weather conditions and what would prove to be a disastrous legacy for the Scottish Highlanders and their proud culture.

If all that were not enough, Allan gives us a whole raft of characters, both engaging – and downright menacing , with a few in between. DCI Strachan sharp-elbows his way into the crowded room containing the swelling ranks of fictional British Detective Inspectors, but he certainly makes his voice heard above the clatter of conversation. Fans of the standard whodunnit are well catered for, as Allan misdirects readers with the skill of a long established master.

This is a huge chunk of a book of almost intimidating length. I confess that I started reading dutifully, rather than enthusiastically. It only took a few pages, however, and I was hooked. Chapter after chapter went by as Allan’s excellent skills as a story-teller worked their magic. He also has a spectacularly wide vocabulary and he is not afraid to use it. “Epicenism”? “Mordacious”? I had to reach for the dictionary on more than one occasion, but such a love of the more remote corners of our wonderful language made me smile, and I have set myself the task of recycling some of his re-discovered etymological gems in a future review. In conclusion, this is a crackerjack novel from an author who was previously unknown to me. Clive Allan is a writer whose future books I shall be anxiously looking out for. The Well Of The Dead is available now. Online buying options are here.

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The Postman Delivers … The Well of The Dead

WELL headerThis is the second outing for Clive Allan’s Detective Inspector Neil Strachan and, as in the first book in the series, The Drumbeater, past and present collide. Glenruthven, a tiny community in the Scottish Highlands, is dominated by its distillery. When the owner, Hugh Fraser is murdered alongside his wife, the village is shattered at the thought of there being a killer in their midst.

WELL BACK017As Strachan and his police partner DS Holly Anderson set about finding the killer, they discover that the man they suspect of the double murder is obsessed with his own ancestry, and believes that he is related to a Jacobite soldier who, like so many of his fellow rebels, was slain on the bloody battlefield of Culloden on 16th April 1746.

cliveClive Allan (right) is a former police officer of thirty years’ service, and is also a keen aficionado of his country’s military history. This mixture of experience and passion combines to create a novel which will blend the lure of momentous events of the past with the gritty reality of modern policing.

The Well of The Dead is published by Troubadore/Matador and will be available on 28th April 2017.

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