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TILL MORNING IS NIGH . . . Between the covers

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There is an debate in the Twittersphere at this time of year about whether Die Hard is, or isn’t a Christmas movie. Maybe there is also a discussion to be had as to whether this latest adventure for Rob Parker’s invincible iron man, Ben Bracken, is a Christmas thriller. Those with young children, or fond memories of their own childhood, will surely recognise the source of the book’s title. Preface it with the words “And stay by my cradle ..” and you should have the answer.

till-morning-is-nighWe are in a wintry Manchester
. The time is the present. As usual, the giant plastic Santa is hoist by his breeches on the Victorian gothic façade of the town hall, dispensing silent jollity to the shoppers and merry-makers scurrying beneath his furry boots. In Albert Square, homeless men try to find solace in their threadbare coats, wondering where the next coffee, the next Greggs pasty – or the next fix of chemical oblivion – is going to come from.

 

Among these sad footnotes to the tidings of comfort and joy, Ben Bracken moves, asking questions. The former soldier, imprisoned in nearby Strangeways for something he didn’t do, has escaped and now leads a perilous existence employed by a shadowy government agency who have uses for his particular skillset, which involves an immense capacity for violence and superb fieldcraft honed both in the killing fields of Afghanistan and the mean streets of Britain’s cities.

Bracken has been tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a young undercover police officer working for the National Crime Agency. Executed in front of an audience of drug dealers and sleazeballs, probably pour encourager les autres, DC Mark Kyle may have become too close for comfort to a dangerous new player in the Manchester drug scene. Bracken asks the right questions of the right people, and finds he is being led not towards an organised criminal gang of swarthy Albanian malcontents, but to a group which has it roots much closer to home.

Back in the real world for a moment, we are told by experts that the biggest terrorist threat to our society in Britain comes from right wing extremist organisations. Only a few days ago a number of men – all fans of Hitler, Breivik and other assorted homicidal lunatics – were convicted of planning terrorism via social media. The fictional group which Ben Bracken infiltrates are, however, not pimply twenty-somethings operating out of a bedroom in their mum’s house, but serious players, ex-military and financing their ambitions via the trade in hard drugs. They are well trained, armed with more than just a Facebook account, and they mean business.

The St George Patriots are led by Helen Broadshott. Perhaps modeled on someone across the Channel, she is vivacious, attractive, a brilliant communicator, and someone who knows how to tap into the seam of opinion which has been crystalised by feelings of resentment about immigration, perceived inequality, lack of political representation and frustration about rapid social change. The Patriots are planning a major event which will catapult them from obscurity onto the front pages of the print media, boost their social media following and make them headline news on every TV bulletin.

The irony is, of course, that in order to prevent the planned atrocity, Bracken has to ingratiate himself with the group and make them give him a central role in proceedings hoping, all the while, that his employers will be ready to intervene at the crucial moment.

Rob ParkerParker is a fine young writer. He can muse ruefully on the inadequate protection the human body has against steel wielded with extreme malice:

“Blood and organs artfully arranged on bone. No myth, no mysticism. We are made of soft material that splits and spills, nothing more.”

There is also a more reflective side to his writing. In between energetically demolishing bad people, Bracken has moments of quieter reflection:

“And they weren’t lying when they said the Guinness was the best either – it’s an epiphany as pure and revelatory as finding Jesus and Elvis, all at once, in the same tall glass.”

The spectacular and bloody climax to this excellent thriller will settle the question I posed earlier about Till Morning Is Nigh being a Christmas novel. It is a bravura finale to a thoroughly engrossing thriller.

Till Morning Is Nigh is published by Endeavour Media and will be available from 13th December. Click on the text below to read reviews of other novels by Rob Parker.

ROB PARKER NOVELS

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIGHT UNSEEN . . . Between the covers

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E bluenora Andresson is a distinguished English actress. Perhaps slightly past her youthful allure, she remains a beauty who can pick and choose her projects, and her films are highly thought of. She has three problems clouding her horizon. The first is, as they say, a bastard. She has a brain tumour. It has been treated but she is only too aware that she may have won a battle, but not the war. Problems two and three are related – literally. She is separated from her Swedish husband, but they have a son – a young man called Malo – who is something of a wrong ‘un. The third problem relates to the words “they have a son”. Fact is, she does – her husband doesn’t. Malo’s father is actually a millionaire businessman named Hayden Prentice, and Malo was conceived during a drunken one-nighter just before Enora’s wedding. So why is Harold a problem? Although he is now an honest man, with legitimate investments and business interests, he made his initial fortune as a drug baron.

Although Enora and Prentice (known hereafter as ‘H’) are now reunited after a fashion, the relationship does not extend to the bedroom, and Enora’s current interest is Pavel, an enigmatic scriptwriter. Pavel’s Eastern European allure is rather manufactured, however, as his real name is the more prosaic Paul. What he says about the art of story-telling, however, could equally apply to Graham Hurley’s own magic wand:

“The best stories detach you from real life. You float away down the river of fiction, lie back and enjoy he view. The storyteller’s challenge is to cast a spell, and the longer that spell lasts, the better.”

T bluehe main plot of Sight Unseen hinges around the kidnapping of Malo’s Colombian girlfriend Clemmie. When a ransom demand of a million dollars is received her father, who, like many rich men from that benighted republic, has kidnap insurance, simply hands the case over to the experts. H, however, has other ideas, and decides to do things his way.

SUHayden Prentice is a brilliant creation and is, in many ways, at the centre of the book, as he was when we first met Enora in Curtain Call. Formerly known as Saucy from his initials, he is hewn from the same rich vein of villainy that produced the elemental force that was Bazza McKenzie in Graham Hurley’s brilliant Joe Faraday novels. H is blunt, foul-mouthed but very, very shrewd. Hurley will not be at all perturbed were readers to visualise H rather like the formidable Harold Shand, as portrayed unforgettably by the great Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday.

As the ransom deadline passes, with the customary video as proof-of-life, and a hiking up of the cash demand, H is increasingly convinced that Malo is, somehow more involved in the affair than simply being the anxious boyfriend. The insidious and infamous County Lines drug trade raises its ugly head, and H delivers a brief but brilliantly incisive summary of the endgame he sees engulfing the England he once knew:

“You think your own little town is safe? You think those sweet kids of yours won’t ever get in trouble with drugs? Wrong. And you know why? Because something we all took for granted has gone. Families? Mums? Dads? A proper job? Getting up in the morning? Totally bolloxed. No-one has a clue who they are any more, or where they belong, and there isn’t a single politician in the country who can tell them what to do about it.”

H has a country mansion, Flixcombe, not far from the Dorset town of Bridport. Despite its artisan bakeries, galleries and twee delis there is a grim underbelly which involves, inevitably, drugs. A local tells Enora that although the main players are little more than children:

“Nothing frightens these little bastards …. streetwise doesn’t begin to cover it. They think they’re immortal. Remember that.”

T bluehe finale is astonishing – a bravura affair which only a fine writer like Graham Hurley could hope to get away with. No spoilers, but it involves a doomed English explorer and an old ballad which once inspired Bob Dylan. Sight Unseen is published by Severn House and is out now.

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BEHIND THE BADGE IN RIVER CITY … A True Crime exposé

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Young DonApril 6, 1961, I was sworn in as a brand new police officer in a ceremony held in the office of Ray Smith, the city auditor, in City Hall. I was nervous, proud of myself for passing all the tests, not least of all surviving an interview with the shrink, and now I stood with my hand up, swearing to serve the citizens in an honorable manner.”

Thus begins a memoir by Don DuPay, (pictured left as a rookie patrolman) He served the people of Portland, Oregon faithfully and well all through the turbulent sixties and seventies, but his time with the police was not to end with a gold watch and choruses of “For he’s a jolly good fellow..” from his fellow officers. Although Don’s book is full of insights into his years of policing Portland, the case which effectively ended his career is worth a detailed look. In 1975, DuPay had investigated the death of a  black youth called Zebedee Manning. The fifteen year-old was found in his bedroom, laid out with his arms and hands folded across a sawn-off .22 rifle that lay on his chest. The eyes were shut and he could see the boy had been shot at point blank range directly through the centre of his forehead. Manning (below, photographed at the funeral home) was already in a full tail spin down through a spiral of drug abuse, petty criminality and despair.

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Dupay was certain that the Manning crime scene had been set up – unconvincingly – by someone who was keen to have the death recorded as a suicide. He was shocked when he was told by a senior officer that Manning’s death was just that:

“It’s over, DuPay. Go work on something else. He’s just another nigger dope dealer who cashed in his chips – so what?”

Angered and astonished by the callous dismissal of a young boy’s life and death, DuPay resolved to work the case on his own. DuPay knew that the boy’s bedroom had not witnessed a suicide, but something more sinister. There were four key pieces of evidence which were screaming “murder!” to Dupay, if to no-one else.
(1) Who shoots themselves through the forehead, and then manages to rearrange their hands to cradle the weapon?
(2) Downstairs on the kitchen table were four empty glasses and half a bottle of whisky. Manning’s mother, Annie Mae, had been at work and came home, only to discover her son’s body. She insisted that alcohol was never allowed in the house. Who, then, were the drinkers?
(3) There were two bullet holes in Zebedee’s room, one in the wall and one in the ceiling. Was this Zebedee practicing, or could they have come from someone firing the gun to frighten him?
(4) DuPay found three car titles in the boy’s room. These are the American equivalent of UK vehicle registration documents, and were commonly used as collateral in drug dealing.

BTB009Dupay was convinced that Manning had been killed for some infraction or a bad debt in the violent and ruthless world of those who deal in narcotics. But why were senior officers of the Portland Police Bureau determined to bury the case? Why did Dupay arrive at the office the day after the body had been found, and found that all the details had been wiped from the status board listing ongoing and unsolved cases?

There could only be one logical answer, and it sent an icy chill down DuPay’s spine. Zebedee Manning was dead, because he had been involved in some kind of drug scam which involved officers from the PPB. DuPay’s suspicions were as good as confirmed when he was abruptly busted down from the Homicide division to work in the dog-end department of Burglary. DuPay stuck it out for another few years, but his faith and trust had been irrevocably shattered. By April 1978, he’d had enough:

Don“I tossed my badge on the Captain’s desk, telling him that I was sick of the job and tired of the hypocrisy of people like him. I told him my health had been suffering and I hated the work, only because I hated some of the people I was forced to work with. I also hated being told that I could not investigate a particular 1975 ‘suicide’ that I knew to be a murder.”

Don DuPay left the police force and found that his skills and experience were in demand elsewhere, in the private sector. His memoir is brimful of stories of brave men trying to confront villainy on mean and dangerous streets. He writes with disgust of people in power who have traded trust for expediency. He exposes a culture deeply embedded in a police force which viewed the folk on the streets as potential enemies at the worst, and at best time wasters and irrelevant small fry. To this day, no-one has been convicted of the killing of Zebedee Manning.

Manning grave

BEHIND THE BADGE IN RIVER CITY is available on Amazon.

and from

BARNES and NOBLE

 

 

 

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