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Emma Kavanagh

THE KILLER ON THE WALL … Between the covers

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There are towns and villages the world over which in themselves are insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but whose names are indelibly imprinted on the public consciousness for the evil deeds committed there. My Lai, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Dunblane, Hungerford: the names resonate, and cause us to shudder. In the latest novel from Emma Kavanagh, Briganton is such a place. It is a village otherwise little worthy of note, with nothing to detain either the traveller or the tourist save, perhaps, for its proximity to the remains of the winding wall built to protect the northern limits of Roman Britain from so-called Celtic barbarians.

TKOTWThe name Briganton, to most British people, conjures up a series of murders, where the victims were dragged up the steep hillside and posed, in death, gazing with sightless eyes out over the windswept moorland. But all that was long ago. The killer, Heath McGowan, was brought to justice by the determination of Eric Bell, a local policeman who has since been promoted and has achieved national celebrity due to his solving the case. His triumph had added poignancy because it was his teenage daughter, Isla, who discovered the first bodies while out for an early morning run.

Twenty years have past, and now Isla Bell is Professor of Criminal Psychology at the University of Northumberland. Her husband, Ramsey Aiken was one of the original victims of The Killer On The Wall, but he survived his injuries, and is now a freelance journalist, while her father, Superintendent Eric Bell has become something of a police legend.

Isla is working on a project to identify physical differences between the brains of serial killers and normal people, and her work takes her to the prison where Heath McGowan is serving several life sentences for his murderous activities in and around Briganton. As she persuades him to undergo an MRI scan, she tries to persuade him to talk about the killings, but he treats it as a game, and refuses to divulge any useful information.

Then, the unthinkable – even the impossible – happens. In quick succession, two more local women are murdered and take the places of the long-dead bodies propped up against the limestone blocks of Hadrian’s Wall. Clearly, McGowan is not the killer, but does he have an imitator? An accomplice, maybe, who was never caught decades earlier? A young Detective Constable, Mina Arian, has made her home in Briganton and she becomes obsessed with finding – or disproving – links between the original killings and the new murders.

Emma Kavanagh has a doctorate in psychology, and her understanding both of what we know – and what we don’t know – about the workings of the human mind give this novel a very distinct and disturbing potency. Her academic credentials aside, she is a very gifted writer. As far as the plot is concerned she gives us a trawl net full of red herrings to sift through, and her vivid characterisations, particularly of Mina Arian, Eric Bell and Isla Aiken, give the narrative an electric charge.

This is a guided missile of a book: it explodes into life, and then keeps burning, inexorably homing in on a target which you will only foresee by cheating and flipping through to the last few pages. When it comes, the detonation is as devastating as it is unforeseen. Only the very best writers have the daring and dexterity to deliver such a plot twist and make it as credible as it is shocking, and Emma Kavanagh must be a founder member of that exclusive club.

You can read our review of The Missing Hours, an earlier novel by Emma Kavanagh, and she also wrote a very perceptive feature on Trauma. The Killer On The Wall is out now.

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2016 … part one

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Newspapers, television, radio, bloggers – they’re all at it in these dog days between Christmas and New Year. Alert followers will have noticed that Fully Booked has a rather Post-Brexit feel to it, with content dating only from late June 2016. That is, as they say, is another story, but I have been reading and enjoying CriFi all year. Here are my views on the books that made a big impact during 2016. Six categories, and then one final book which, for me, was simply The Best.

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BEST DIALOGUE

The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr
Kerr has cleverly positioned Bernie Gunther – former Berlin cop, soldier, lover and sometime anti-hero – squarely astride the most eventful years of the 20th century. This enables him to meet a stellar cast of fascinating historical characters, including Eva Peron, Adolf Eichmann, Reinhardt Heydrich, Paul von Hindenberg and now, in his latest saga, the celebrated writer W. Somerset Maugham. It is 1956 and Gunther is working under an assumed name as a concierge at a smart hotel in St Jean Cap Ferrat. As well as recognising that a hotel visitor is a former high ranking Nazi, Gunther discovers a plot to blackmail Somerset Maugham.His meetings with the great man are full of excellent verbal sparring.

“I dislike a man who’s not precise about what he wants to drink,” said Maugham. “You can’t rely on a man who’s vague about his favourite tipple. If he’s not precise about something he’s going to drink then it’s clear he’s not going to be precise about anything.”

the-other-side-of-silence-e1458288166948Gunther is something of a ladies’ man, and he usually manages to attract the attention of females, most of whom are either damaged, or damaging, and sometimes both. Here, he makes a night-time visit to an English woman who says that she is anxious to meet Somerset Maugham with a view to writing a biography.

“Oh, I’m glad it’s you, “ she said. “I thought it might be the gardener.”
“At this time of night?”
“Lately he’s been giving me a funny look.”
“Maybe you should let him water the flower beds.”
“I don’t think that’s what he has in mind.”
“The heat we’ve been having? He’s in the wrong job.”
“Did you come here to mow my lawn, or just to talk?”

Despite the smart talk and the wisecracks, there is always something deeply serious going on in the Gunther novels, and in this case it’s the fact that the former Nazi who Gunther recognises  at the hotel was responsible for the death of his lover, a young woman who, along with 9,400 others, perished when the troop ship Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in January 1945. Near the end of the book, Gunther confronts Harold Hennig.

“You’re not the type to kill me, remember?” He was starting to sound scared now. “You said so yourself, Gunther. You’re a decent man. I knew that the first time I saw you.”
“No, I said I wasn’t the type to leave a man to die chained to a radiator, like an abandoned dog. But this is different.” I pointed the gun at him.
“This is for those nine thousand people who died on the Wilhelm Gustloff in January nineteen forty-five. It’s been eleven years in coming, and for them this is an act of vengeance. But for Captain Achim von Frisch, Irmela Louise Schaper and her unborn child – my unborn child – it’s revenge, pure and simple.”

Gunther is a flawed hero, but a beguiling  one, and his interactions with the famous and infamous men and women of the century are fascinating on their own, but in this novel, as in all the previous stories, it is Gunther’s speaking voice that brings the man to life. The Other Side of Silence is published by Quercus.

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BEST HISTORICAL NOVEL

A Straits Settlement by Brian Stoddart
Superintendent Christian Le Fanu is an English policeman working in Madras. Despite considerable bravery during World War I, he has vowed never to set foot in the land of his birth again. His lover is a woman of mixed race, and he strives to do his job efficiently while treating law abiding Indian people with fairness and respect.

assHe is asked to investigate a disappearance and a death. The disappearance is of a minor functionary of the Raj from the country town he helped administer, and the death is that of the son of a powerful – and widely disliked – British entrepreneur and colonialist. Le Fanu’s search for the missing Southlake, and the all-too-dead Hargood takes him far from Madras, and to the exotic Malay island of Penang, where he finds a beguiling mixture of colonial and Chinese culture. He also finds himself in the equally beguiling arms of a beautiful Chinese woman. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of a wealthy merchant who appears to be right at the centre of Le Fanu’s investigations.

Brian Stoddart is a university professor who has studied South Asia extensively, and his knowledge of India and its history is immense. The beauty of his writing, however, is that he shares his learning with the lightest of touches, so that after a chapter or two you’ll feel you know all the steps in the elaborate dance between the British administration and the steadily growing but irresistible forces of Indian nationalism.

The title refers to three British colonies at the time called Straights Settlements – Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Not least of Stoddart’s skills is his ability to weave together different themes to make a beautiful whole. Thus, we have a police procedural, a political thriller, an historical drama, a romance, and an intense portrait of a gifted but very complex man. No-one currently writing manages this with as little fuss and fanfare as Stoddart. A Straits Settlement is published by Crime Wave Press.

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BEST PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh
One of the most secretive service industries in the modern world is that of K & R consultants. The initials stand for kidnap and ransom, and the operatives who pit their wits against kidnappers play their cards very close to their collective chests. Emma Kavanagh trained as a psychologist and, after leaving university, started her own business as a psychology consultant, specialising in human performance in extreme situations. For seven years she provided training and consultation for police forces and NATO and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. Here, in this tense and  nerve-tingling novel, she puts all her insights and experience to good use, telling the tale of a woman who disappears, but then mysteriously reappears, but with no recollection of the intervening hours.

Selena Cole is a widow, her husband having been killed while working for The Cole Group. Since his death she has pretty much handed over the running of the group to her sister-in-law, Orla Britten, and her husband Seth. Their centre of operations is the Cole’s elegant period house in a village not far from Hereford. Then, Selena goes missing. One minute she is watching her girls Heather and Tara play on the swings in the playground. The next, she is gone, and a neighbour has gathered up the distressed children, and the police are called.

tmhThe police investigation into Selena’s disappearance is handled by an unusual crime fiction pairing. Finn Hale and Leah Mackay are brother and sister. Finn has leap-frogged his sister in the promotion stakes, despite her evident superiority – evident, that is, to us readers, but not the local constabulary personnel department. Kavanagh plays the relationship between the siblings with the touch of a concert violinist. There are all manner of clever nuances and deft little touches which enhance the narrative.

Kavanagh reveals the inner workings of K & R consultants by letting us browse through the files of The Cole Group in between chapters focusing on one or other of the main characters. The police procedural aspect of the novel is sure-footed and convincing, while the touches of domestic noir work well, despite following a well-trodden path. After all, who has ever read a novel where a detective has a blissfully happy marriage with a fully supportive spouse?

The plot twists come, as they should, at regular intervals, but we see the big reveal with only a few pages to go. By then you will have been totally hooked by the excellent writing, Kavanagh’s well-tuned ear for dialogue and her handling of the intricate plot. The Missing Hours is published by Century.

 

THE MISSING HOURS … Between the covers

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Dr Selena Cole is a widow. She and her late husband Ed founded The Cole Group, operators in the secretive world of K & R – kidnap and ransom. Ed’s military experience tmhand Selena’s qualifications as a psychologist made them the go-to people for corporations and wealthy families who had fallen foul of the highly lucrative business of international kidnapping. But then, on a blisteringly hot morning in Brasilia, it all went badly wrong. Selena went shopping for children’s toys prior to her addressing a meeting of fellow professionals in the afternoon. While she was selecting gifts for their little daughters, the bad guys attacked the hotel and conference centre, shooting, bombing and delivering a stark message. “You may think you are smarter than us, but look at the body count, and then tell us how clever you are.”

Ed, having a lie-in, before the presentations, is one of the victims. Now, months later, Selena has pretty much handed over the running of the group to her sister-in-law, Orla Britten, and her husband Seth. Their centre of operations is the Cole’s elegant period house in a village not far from Hereford. Then, Selena goes missing. One minute she is watching her girls Heather and Tara play on the swings in the playground. The next, she is gone, and a neighbour has gathered up the distressed children, and the police are called.

The first responder is Detective Constable Leah Mackay. She is married – albeit precariously – and has her own children who unwittingly provide instant empathy with the two little Cole girls. First, their father has been taken, and now their mother? It all seems impossibly cruel. Meanwhile Detective Sergeant Finn Hale, precisely 82 days into his promotion, has his first murder case. A body has been discovered beside a narrow road out in the mountains. The cause of death is a throat wound, but it is clear that the body has not bled out where it was found. Before the body became just that, an inanimate mass of tissue, a corpse, it was a ‘he’ and the ‘he’ had a name and personality – Dominic Newell.

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Dominic is well-known to the local police. No, not in that sense. He was a familiar face because he was a local solicitor well used to turning out and advising local villains on their rights, and when to say “no comment.” But Dominic was different. Even the police admit that. He was a decent man, nobody’s fool, and someone willing to believe the best of people. So, who had cause to kill him and leave his mortal remains exposed to the elements on a wet hillside?

When Selena reappears, less than 24 hours after she disappeared, Leah Mackay is relieved. Not only because she will not have to deliver an awful death message, but because she has become fascinated by the strange world of Selena Cole and her associates. The problem, though, is a huge one. Selena says she can remember nothing of the intervening hours. Not one thing. Not where she went. Not who she was with. Leah is told by her boss to ditch the Selena Cole disappearance and join everyone else in hunting for the killer of Dominic Newell. She nods dutifully, but does exactly the opposite.

emmalkOne of the many delights of this excellent novel is that Finna Hale and Leah Mackay are brother and sister. Finn has leap-frogged his sister in the promotion stakes, despite her evident superiority – evident, that is, to us readers, but not the local constabulary personnel department. Kavanagh plays the relationship between the siblings with the touch of a concert violinist. There are all manner of clever nuances and deft little touches which enhance the narrative.

Kavanagh reveals the inner workings of K & R consultants by letting us browse through the files of The Cole Group in between chapters focusing on one or other of the main characters. The police procedural aspect of the novel is sure-footed and convincing, while the touches of domestic noir work well, despite being a well-trodden path. After all, who has ever read a novel where a detective has a blissfully happy marriage with a fully supportive spouse?

The plot twists come, as they should, with only a few pages to go, but by then you will have been totally hooked by the excellent writing, Kavanagh’s well-tuned ear for dialogue, and the authentic setting – that mystical landscape where Western England merges into Wales.

The paperback edition of The Missing Hours is out on 17th November

COMPETITION TIME !

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Here’s your chance to win a crisp mint copy of Emma Kavanagh’s hit thriller The Missing Hours. Thanks to those generous people at Arrow/Penguin Random House, there’s a paperback edition (out on 17th November) up for grabs.

How do you enter? Pretty simple, really. Just solve the anagram Ah, pimplier owl – clue, he is perhaps the most celebrated PI in crime fiction – then put your answer as the subject of an email to Fully Booked:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

There’s no need to put any further details. There will be a draw of all the correct answers, and the winner will notified in the usual way. This time, the competition is worldwide, so we will post the USA, Australiasia or wherever. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 6th November.

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RULES

  1. Competition closes 10.00pm London time on Sunday 6th November 2016.
  2. One entry per competitor.
  3. All correct entries will be put in the proverbial hat, and one winner drawn.
  4. The winner will be notified by email, and a postal address requested

ON MY SHELF …October 2016

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Author Emma Kavanagh

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh
No-one can doubt the Welsh author’s background training to write taut crime thrillers. For many years, after gaining her doctorate in Psychology, she trained police firearms officers and military personnel to cope with the aftermath of that crucial moment when the trigger is pulled. In this novel she tackles the story of a woman psychologist who, with her husband, ran a consultancy advising the families of kidnap victims. Selena Cole’s husband is dead, killed in a Brazilian terrorist attack. Now, she goes missing from a children’s playground, while supervising her young daughters. When she returns, 24 hours later, she has no recollection of where she has been or what has happened to her. DC Leah Mackay and D.S Finn Hale must investigate if there is any connection between Selena Cole’s disappearance and a murder. This novel came out in hardback and Kindle earlier in the year, but you can check out the soon-to-be-released paperback version here.

ahx_smallHouse of Bones by Annie Hauxwell
Hauxwell’s flawed heroine Cathy Berlin returns in a mystery which has its roots in an incident in the colonial Far East in 1961. Berlin is not in good shape.

“The blanket of fog shrouding London was a perversion of the season. It drifted in dense clouds across the capital as Catherine Berlin followed a hearse through the grand arch of the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium. She wondered how long it would be before she passed under it feet first.”

As Berlin struggles with her drug addiction, she tries to clear her mind to understand the links between a seemingly motiveless murder, a rich Chinese student with powerful friends, and a decidedly bent Peer of the Realm. The author was born in London’s East End but emigrated as a teenager with her parents to Australia. She has worked as a nurse, a taxi driver and a lawyer, but left the judicial world, to settle as a private detective and screenwriter. She lives in Castlemaine, Victoria, but is regularly in Europe – whether to go on vacation, or because research beckons her here. House of Bones is out now, in Kindle and paperback.

sg-macleanThe Black Friar by S. G. MacLean
Maclean takes is back a good bit further than 1961, and we are in the London of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. It is 1655, and Cromwell’s rule is threatened by a variety of political and military plots. When a body, clothed in the robes of a Dominican monk, is found walled into the ruins of a monastery, investigator and soldier Damian Seeker soon learns that the corpse is that of an elusive secret agent who worked for John Thurloe – Cromwell’s spymaster. In a city divided by warring religious zealots, and with Royalists conspiring to restore the Stuart monarchy, Seeker must also discover  the fate of a number of abducted children. Shona MacLean, who is the niece of Alistair MacLean, Scotland’s most successful thriller writer and author of Where Eagles Dare, also manages to give a couple of celebrity ‘walk-on’ parts to Andrew Marvell and Samuel Pepys. The Black Friar is available from 6th October.

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