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Don’t Let Go

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017 … Best thriller

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What constitutes a thriller? I suppose that could be one of those ‘how long is a piece of string questions’. I would hope that any crime novel worth its salt would be ‘thrilling’ in some shape or form, but for the sake of clarity, I’m excluding books which rely heavily for their impact on police investigations, or are given added ambience by an historical setting. So, what did I enjoy? Harlan Coben always delivers, and his renegade policeman Napoleon ‘Nap’ Dumas left official procedural behind and certainly did the business in Don’t Let Go. Domestic Noir has become a very fruitful field for many authors and publishers, and I enjoyed having the wool pulled over my eyes by Simon Lelic in The House.

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Another writer who kept one or two brilliant tricks up his sleeve was Tim Weaver when he gave us another mystery for David Raker to solve in I Am Missing. Michael Robotham played the ‘unreliable narrator’ trick when he challenged us to decide just which of the expectant mums was telling the truth in The Secrets She Keeps, while Karen Perry dangled several versions of the truth in front of us in a brilliant tale about memory, old friendships and illusion in Can You Keep A Secret? 

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unleashed1So, who thrilled me the most? First across the line by a nose, in a very competitive field, was Unleashed, by Peter Laws. Laws sends his alter ego, Professor Matt Hunter, to the dull south London suburb of Menham to investigate a Hieronymus Bosch-like scene at a primary school concert, where the highlight of the evening is the music teacher being found dead in a cupboard full of recorders, plastic tambourines and chime bars – with her throat ripped out, apparently by her own pet dog. Hunter’s investigations lead him to to 29 Barley Street, where a young girl was found hanging from a beam in her bedroom. The soul of Holly Watson, however, is not at rest, and her presence still lingers in the claustrophobic gloom of her home. Occasionally – and unashamedly – playing to the gallery, and using every colour on his palette, Laws paints a picture that disquiets us. He makes us think to ourselves, “This is nonsense, but …..” The ‘but’ is his key weapon. He evokes old fears, conjure up ancient and deep-rooted uncertainties – and makes us glad that Unleashed is only a book.

My verdict?

“Laws takes a leaf out of the book of the master of atmospheric and haunted landscapes, M R James. The drab suburban topography of Menham comes alive with all manner of dark interventions; we jump as a wayward tree branch scrapes like a dead hand across a gazebo roof; we recoil in fear as a white muslin curtain forms itself into something unspeakable; dead things scuttle and scrabble about in dark corners while, in our peripheral vision, shapes form themselves into dreadful spectres. When we turn our heads, however, there is nothing there but our own imagination.”

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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 POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Coben, Perry and Otis

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September traditionally sees publishing houses very busy with new books, launches and showcases of debut talent – and this activity always is guaranteed to keep my long-suffering postman extremely busy!

Coben005Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben
Nap Dumas is a cop, but his dedication to the badge only goes skin deep. He tends to play the game his own way, and if this involves delivering rough justice to scumbags on the street, then so be it. Dumas has a history, though. His childhood was scarred by a double death – that of his brother Leo who died with his girlfriend Diana in what the cops dismissed as a teenage suicide pact. Nap thought that was a crock then. Now, fifteen years later, he still thinks it was a crock. As Nap learns to his cost in this latest mesmerising novel from the master of twists and double twists, some past traumas never fully heal, but lie embedded like dormant tumours just waiting to metastasize the  present.
We reviewed an earlier novel by Coben this time last year, and you can check it out by clicking this link. Don’t Let Go is published by Century and will be out in hardback on 26th September.

SEcret004Can You Keep A Secret? by Karen Perry
They often say that two heads are better than one, and this was never more true than in the case of Dubliners Paul Perry and Karen Gillece. They are both widely respected and successful writers in their own right, but their collaboration under the pen name of Karen Perry has been a triumph where the qualities of each have been enhanced rather than diluted. In this, their latest psychological thriller they use the ever-potent theme of the reunion which goes badly wrong. Patrick Bagenall held his eighteenth birthday party in the family home, Thornbury Hall. Now, years later, with the mansion too decayed to be worth restoring, he holds a reunion gathering which should be a tearfully poignant farewell to the past, but a stepping stone to a positive future. Instead, dark secrets slither into the light and buried misdeeds scrabble their way to the surface. Can You Keep A Secret is published by Penguin, and will be available in paperback and Kindle at the end of November.

Book1003Dead Lands by Lloyd Otis
London, 1977.
“He buried his tormentor under the glare of the moon and went to sleep that night, with the dirt from the makeshift grave still caked underneath his fingernails.”
Dead Lands begins with a murder and continues with a violent journey through an urban landscape which wears its hippy-happy-peaceful mantle as a poor disguise, which fools no-one.
Lloyd Otis  was born in London and graduated in Media and Communication. Having written reviews for music sites,  and after gaining several years of valuable experience within the finance and digital sectors, he completed a course in journalism. He now works as an editor. Lloyd  has blogged for The Bookseller, and The Huffington Post and also wrote a regular book review column for WUWO Magazine. Two of his short stories were selected for publication in the Out of My Window anthology. He has also had articles appear on the Crime Readers’ Association website, and in the magazine Writers’ Forum. Dead Lands, his debut full length novel, is published by Urbane Publications, and will be available on 12th October.

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