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Deborah Masson

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.

ON MY SHELF . . . Mara, Massen, Perks & Spain

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There’s some good stuff in the offing for crime fiction fans judging by this quartet of fine  writers. In alphabetical order, we have:

HIDE AND SEEK by Andrea Mara

Screen Shot 2022-05-14 at 18.23.42Confession time: while I have read and enjoyed previous novels by mesdames Massen, Perks and Spain, Andrea Mara is a new name to me. Turns out she is a compatriot of Jo Spain, also lives in Dublin’s fair City, and her previous novel All Her Fault was a bestseller. So, the loss is all mine. In Hide and Seek, it’s worst nightmare time, especially if you are a parent or, like me, a grandparent. The back-story is that little Lily Murphy goes missing from her Dublin suburb and is never found. Years later, Joanna moves into what was Lily’s home and from here, things just become more scary and spine tingling. This will be published by Bantam Press on 4th August.

FROM THE ASHES by Deborah Masson

Screen Shot 2022-05-14 at 18.25.37Eve Hunter is well established now in the sharp-elbowed assembly of fictional Detective Inspectors. Her beat is The Granite City of Aberdeen. I reviewed – and enjoyed –  two earlier novels, Hold Your Tongue (2019) and Out For Blood (2020) Ms Hunter returns now in an investigation into a fatal fire in an Aberdeen house used as a home for underprivileged children. There appears to be only one person who perished, but further enquiries uncover a rats’ nest of secrets and guilt which means all of the adults who were paid to care for the children may be implicated in an awful crime. From The Ashes is from Transworld Digital/Penguin and will be available from 21st July’

THE OTHER GUEST by Heidi Perks

Screen Shot 2022-05-14 at 18.27.12Heidi Perks is another writer whose previous books The Whispers (2021) and Come Back For Me (2019) were seriously impressive. Click the links to read my reviews. Here, we are basking in the sun in White Sands, an expensive resort on a remote Greek island. Laila and her husband have paid top dollar for their holiday in the hope that they can repair their increasingly fractured relationship. She becomes  what might be called ‘over-interested’ in another family at the poolside –  a woman called Em, her husband and their teenage sons. Then there is a horrifying event which forces Laila to question her own sanity, and what follows involves the exposure of family secrets, and human frailty stripped back to the bone. This is a very early ‘heads-up’ for a book which will be available in January 2023.

THE LAST TO DISAPPEAR by Jo Spain

This is a tiny bit of a cheat, as I have already read this book on my Kindle, and reviewed it here. However, the publishers, in their wisdom, have sent me a mint hardback copy of the book, so I am offering it as a prize to anyone in UK or RoI who retweets this post. What are you waiting for?

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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.

ON MY SHELF . . . September Harvest 2019

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What is it about September and songs? Billie Joe Armstrong wanted to sleep until it was over, Rod Stewart realised he should leave his lady friend and go back to school, while Bing, Frank, Peggy, Dinah and dozens of others remembered it in the rain. It is certainly an evocative time of year and, judging by my bookshelf, it’s also a time for publishers and publicists to get their books out there in the public eye after the languors of the summer. So, here’s an eclectic septet of criminal activity and one book, while not a crime novel, earns its place due to my enduring fascination with The Great War.

GONE by Leona Deakin

Leona_DeakinThere is a definite autobiographical seam in the character of Dr Augusta Bloom, who combines the careers of PI and psychologist. The author worked as a psychologist for West Yorkshire Police before writing this, her debut novel. She turns the serial abductor/victim trope on its head as Dr Bloom tries to convince a complacent constabulary that the alleged victims may be more to be feared that the perpetrator. This will be published by Black Swan on 12th December. A follow up novel, Lost is scheduled for release in April 2020.

CHOCOLATE HOUSE TREASON by David Fairer

David FairerAs the enthusiasm for the recent film The Favourite shows, the life of Queen Anne, thought by history to be hitherto unremarkable, has become something of ‘a thing’. Professor David Fairer of Leeds University is an acknowledged expert on the 18th century and, in, particular, its poetry. How fitting then, that his novel is set in the London of 1708 where The Queen herself is subject to scathing sexual innuendo in the gutter press, and the capital seethes with political and criminal unrest. There are, inevitably, casualties and an unlikely trio of investigators seek to solve two murders and prevent a third. This enthralling historical mystery is available now, and is published by Matador.

DARKNESS by David Fletcher

David FletcherWe could, once upon a time, refer to Africa as The Dark Continent without invoking the fury of The Woke. Working on the assumption that Africa was ‘darker’ the further you went into it, then the Congo was blacker than black. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case feasted royally on the remoteness of the Congo, and the consequent imaginings of a land where the moral code was either abandoned or perverted.  David Fletcher’s Dan Worthington has suffered loss, heartbreak, and  the almost surgical removal of his life spirit. A chance encounter offers him a renaissance and a reawakening, but there is a price to be paid. A flight to Brazzaville takes him to the divided modern Congo, and a sequence of events which will test his resolve to its core. Darkness is also a Matador title and came out in August this year.

GOOD QUESTION by VR Lyons

Back cover010Sue and Jeff work in a grocery store that is something of a throwback. Old fashioned service, the personal touch, quality products – what could possibly go wrong? The pair are amiable, kind-hearted and loved by customers. This apparent Garden of Eden turns inexorably into a wasteland when the pair become involved in a grim criminal conspiracy which is none of their own making. Published by Matador, Good Question is available now.

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HAPPY EVER AFTER by CC MacDonald

CCM009Fans of comforting and anguish-free crime novels should probably look away now. This debut psychological thriller gnaws away at our anxieties and its mission statement seems to be that no fingernail should remain unbitten. Ostensibly privileged and happily married, Naomi falls both victim of – and pregnant by – an elusive and unscrupulous charmer. His disappearance is one thing, but the threat and menace hanging over her domesticity is something else altogether. Harvill Secker are the publishers here, but you will have to wait until 23rd January next year to grab a copy.

HOLD YOUR TONGUE by Deborah Masson

DEborahEve Hunter elbows her way into the crowded room containing fictional British Detective Inspectors, but she has a reputation to save, and a serial killer to catch. Deborah Masson (left) comes from The Granite City of Aberdeen, which is totally fitting as this, her debut novel, is as dark, flint-hard and gritty as her home town. Hold Your Tongue is due on the shelves on 9th January 2020, and is published by Corgi

POETIC JUSTICE: OXFORD by Fran Raya

Fran RayaRandall Forbes has a powerful gift – or is it a curse? He is endowed with telepathy, which gives him formidable abilities as well as huge responsibilities. Set against the warm limestone and dreaming spires of Oxford, Jan Raya’s novel is a breathtaking account of how Randall Forbes challenges and frustrates the police, while sticking to his own code of conduct – slightly warpd though it may be. Musician and writer? Jan Raya is not alone, as fans of the band Fun Loving Crime Writers will testify! Fran Raya’s novel is out on 28th September and is published by Book Guild.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE LOST by Caroline Scott

CarolineThe only obvious crime here is the  disastrous waste of a generation of young lives on the killing fields of France and Flanders, but Caroline Scott’s novel explores the emotional wasteland of England in the 1920s, where countless women sought some kind of solace after the death of their fathers, husbands and brothers. The photographing of grave-sites and cemeteries was something of a huge commercial opportunity, as so many relatives were ill-equipped to make the journey across the channel to be reunited with their lost loved ones. Widowed Edie has resigned herself to mourning for husband Francis, but a random photograph sparks a search which may end in joyful reunion or shattered hopes. This book is an elegy to loss, heartbreak and the death of a generation. Out on 31st October, The Photographer Of The Lost is published by Simon & Schuster.

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