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Enora Anddressen

LIGHTS DOWN . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2022-07-06 at 18.26.33For those new to this wonderful series, here’s the back story. Enora Andressen is an actress  in her early forties. She has won fame, if not fortune, by starring in what used to be known as ‘art films’ – often European produced and of a literary nature. She has a twenty-something son, Malo, the product of a one-night-fling with a former drug boss, Harold ‘H’ Prentice. ‘H’ and Enora have become reunited, after a fashion, but it is not a sexual relationship. In the previous novel, ‘H’ is stricken with Covid, and barely survives. That story is told in  Intermission.

Curtain callTaking an extended break from her nursing of ‘H’ down at Flixcombe, his manor house in the south of England, Enora returns to her London flat. She is contacted by Rémy Despret,  a film director with whom she has worked many times. He is a charming as ever, but seems to have lost his touch regarding viable screenplays. He pitches his latest – Exocet – to Enora, but she thinks it is rubbish, and turns him down. She also suspects he is using his yacht to smuggle drugs, and may be in serious trouble with some very dangerous people. She also meets her agent, Rosa, who tells her she is representing  a woman who has written a potentially explosive – because real identities are thinly concealed –  novel about the extra marital affairs of a senior politician.

Enora receives a chilling ‘phone call from the woman who is in charge of things at Flixcombe. Not only is ‘H’ suffering physically from Long Covid, it seems he has developed dementia. When Enora drives down to see for herself, she is staggered to find that ‘H’ has no idea who she is. In the previous books, ‘H’ has been a force of nature. Physically imposing and nobody’s fool, the former football hooligan, has to borrow from Shakespeare, been a criminal Caesar:

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men.
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.”

sight-unseenNow, sadly, he is much reduced physically and mentally and is given to such bizarre behaviour as appearing naked at windows. Also, his money is running out. Huge sums of it went on private nursing care during his battle with Covid, as he absolutely refused to go into an NHS hospital. Incidentally, readers will always conjure up their own mental images of the characters in books they read, but I occasionally play the game of casting books ready for imaginary film or TV adaptations. My four penn’orth has a young Anne Bancroft as Enora, and Bob Hoskins as ‘H’.

Off ScriptWith the help of long time friend and former copper Dessie Wren Enora discovers that the ‘bonking politician’ novel has more sinister undertones than being simply a kiss-and-tell story. Graham Hurley makes it convincingly up to date with the inclusion of the Russian state-backed mafia and PM Boris Johnson, although with the latter, the story has been overtaken by events.

Undaunted by Enora’s rejection of Exocet, Rémy Despret has come up with an idea which she finds much more interesting. Evidently Flixcombe was used during WW2 as base for Free French intelligence agents and propagandists and the  ‘Vlixcombe‘ movie has already attracted  backers with the big money. If the project comes off, there will be a starring role for Enora, and enough money to keep at bay the predators circling the ailing ‘H’ Prentice. But then there is a murder, things begin to unravel, and Graham Hurley writes the most astonishing ending I have read in many a day.

I make no apology for my enthusiasm for  Graham Hurley’s writing. Not only was his Joe Faraday series one of the most intelligent and emotionally literate run of police procedurals I have ever read, but the sequels featuring Faraday’s former sergeant Jimmy Suttle were just as good. Hurley is also a brilliant military historian, and has written several novels centred around particular conflicts in WW2. His book Kyiv seems particularly relevant just now, and if you read it, it will give you a huge insight into the subtext of the Ukraine-Russia relationship which is barely mentioned in current news coverage.

Lights Down
is published by Severn House and is available now. If you click on the cover images above, a review of each novel should open in a new tab.

 

INTERMISSION . . . Between the covers

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For readers new to this excellent series from Graham Hurley, here’s what you need to know. The central character is Enora Andressen, an English stage and screen actress in her early forties. She is in remission from a brain tumour, lives in Holland Park and is in a platonic relationship with a former cocaine baron, now a ‘reputable’ businessman, Hayden Prentice. He is the father of Enora’s son Malo, the product of a drunken fling on a yacht moored at Cannes a couple of decades earlier. Like ‘Bazza’ Mackenzie, the memorable anti-hero of Hurley’s magnificent Joe Faraday books, Prentice – nicknamed HP or ‘Saucy’ – has his tribal roots in the violent world of Portsmouth football supporters.

412ff7zLF2SIntermission is, I am sure, the only novel I have read so far that has, as its spine, the Covid-19 pandemic. The action begins in that fateful early spring of 2020, and Hayden Prentice learns that one of his old friends, a former bent copper known as Fat Dave has been laid low with the virus and is in the local ICU, and not expected to live. Visiting is, of course, completely off limits, but the sight – via a video link –  of his friend expiring amidst a sea of tubes and monitors chills HP to the bone. He travels from his Dorset manor house and summons Enora down to Portsmouth, where they have been given the use of a shabby flat owned by HP’s solicitor.

Fat Dave dies, and the newly announced lockdown measures prevent HP from organising the kind of send-off he was planning. Then, another bombshell. HP contracts the virus himself but refuses point blank to go into hospital. Enora has previously learned, via Malo, that due to the collapse of an insurance business he has set up, HP – formerly awash with the money he made in his criminal days – is in serious financial difficulties, but trapped in the claustrophobic flat Enora and Malo have no option but to buy in private care, involving  a rotating shift of nurses, the attention of a consultant, and  specialist medical equipment. The cost of all this is going to prove ruinous, but Enora is told by a violent psychopath called Wesley Kane – a sometime employee of HP – that before the virus laid him low, HP had a little investment plan. A plan that didn’t involve the risky world of insurance, hedge funds or commodity futures, but one where huge percentage profits are almost guaranteed – class “A” drugs. Back in his Dorset mansion, HP has kept a substantial stash of cash – in the proverbial used notes – and his housekeeper Jessie delivers this to Enora.

It seems that there is a woman in town named Shanti who has a long history of drug dealing. The restaurant she runs has gone bust, the power has been cut off, and she is hungry for money. Despite her attempts to run a straight business, she has retained contacts with the wholesalers of the ever-popular pharmaceuticals, and Enora pays her a visit.

There are complications, however. Enora meets Dessie Wren, a serving police officer and former colleague of the late Fat Dave, but rather more honest. He makes it very clear that the Hampshire police have not given up on their long running campaign to nail Hayden Prentice for his past misdeeds. To add to the woes of HP – and those close to him – someone whose father died as ‘collateral damage’ in a drug deal that went wrong is out for revenge.

There are so many good things about this series (click the links to read reviews of the earlier books Off Script, Sight Unseen and Curtain Call). Graham Hurley is a brilliant storyteller and a man of great learning and wide interests; as if the Joe Faraday books, the Jimmy Suttle series and these books are not sufficient evidence of that, he also writes superb military history thrillers like Kyiv. Enora herself is a wonderfully nuanced character. There is nothing remotely criminal about her, but through loyalty she is drawn into the murky world of Hayden Prentice, rather like Chandler’s investigator who finds that, “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

The best contemporary English crime writers always give us an almost palpable sense of place; Christopher Fowler gives us London, Phil Rickman draws us into the haunted borderland between England and Wales; Chris Nickson has us treading the cobbles and breathing in the dense air of industrial Leeds, while Jim Kelly leaves us with the quiet menace of the Fen country. Graham Hurley has a recurrent major character in many of his novels, and it is the city of Portsmouth itself. Enora muses:

It’s an island community. It’s a bit cut off, a bit claustrophobic. It seems to expect the worst, and I get the feeling that it’s rarely disappointed, but for all its stoicism, it remains oddly upbeat. It also has a long memory. The thirst for a fight evidently lies deep in the city’s DNA, and I get the feeling the Pompey tribes have been picking quarrels for ever. Tim, my thespy friend, is very good on this. First, he says, Pompey’s finest went to sea and took on the Spanish, then the Dutch, and then the French. Trafalgar was a great moment, a really tasty ruck, and then came two world wars and shoals of sneaky U-boats. The monument on the front, visible from this flat, tallies the thousands of lives lost, but even so the city has never abandoned its passion for lots of blood and lots of treasure.”

Intermission is published by Severn House and is out now.

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