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Girl On Fire

GIRL ON FIRE . . . Between the covers

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The story begins in a kind of deathly silence. A silence not brought about by the absence of noise, but by the inability of anyone to hear the screams of the dying, the crash of falling masonry, and the desperate and distant howl of emergency sirens. The people can’t hear, either because their ears have been rendered temporarily useless by a massive explosion or, more simply, because they are already dead. London copper DC Max Wolfe has been on a shopping trip to buy a new backpack for his daughter, and his bad luck has placed him smack dab in the middle of a shopping London mall as an emergency services helicopter is brought down by a drone, presumably operated by terrorists.

AGOFWolfe survives, and shoulders his way into the hit team which raids a nondescript terraced house in Borodino Street in East London. Their target? To capture two Pakistani brothers who have adapted simple commercially available drones into weapons of terror. Needless to say, the raid does not go according to plan. The lead police officer is shot dead at the outset, by one of the brothers disguised in a niqab. He is eventually shot dead, as is the remaining brother. But there are questions raised about the death of the latter. Was he shot as he was trying to surrender, or was he simply assassinated by a vengeful police marksman? And where are the two ex-Croatian hand grenades which informers say had been sold to the Khan brothers?

The Borodino Street incident becomes something of a cause célèbre. Characters all-too-familiar to us from contemporary real life step into the limelight. We have a charismatic English orator, whose message is that ‘enough is enough’, and now action rather than words is the only way forward. We have a high profile human rights barrister who clearly senses that the Borodino Street killings will be yet another notch on his adversarial gun.

Playing along in the background, like a melancholy country soundtrack, is the heartache of Max Wolfe’s personal life. He is long separated from his wife, but brings up his daughter Scout, and tries to be the best dad he can. When his former wife and her new husband decide that Scout will be better off with them, Wolfe is faced with the most terrible of dilemmas. Does he simply let Scout go into the affluence and normality of a new family, or does he fight the request, in the full knowledge that whatever the court decides, Scout will have to go through a nightmare?

Parsons011The novel frequently holds you by the hand – no, make that puts you in an arm lock – and takes you to places you would rather not go. Parsons (right) is not someone with a well stocked cupboard full of tea lights, bunches of flowers and anodyne pleas for togetherness. He is not going to link arms with anyone and place these tributes at scenes of murder and carnage. Least of all will he, via Max Wolfe, be tweeting Je Suis Borodino Street any time soon. Some might say that for a humble DC, Max Wolfe certainly seems to get about a bit, but this is an irrelevant criticism, because what he thinks and sees are essential to the story. Wolfe is a a man of deep compassion and perception. Not only is his narrative reliable – it is painfully accurate and candid. Readers have, of course, the option of averting their gaze or thinking about gentle deaths in Cotswold villages, solved by avuncular local bobbies. Those who choose not to turn away from this brutal autopsy of Britain – and specifically London – in 2018 will not, I suggest, feel rejuvenated, life-enhanced or particularly optimistic by the end of this novel. Rather, they will follow the emotional journey of the celebrated wedding guest:

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone; and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn.

If there were any doubts before, then this powerful novel will confirm that Tony Parsons sits in his rightful position among the top echelon of contemporary British writers. Girl On Fire is published by Century and will be available on 8th March.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Hall & Parsons

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OUR KIND OF CRUELTY by Araminta Hall

AramintaI had the pleasure of meeting Araminta Hall (left) recently at a publisher’s ‘do’ and so I was doubly delighted when a copy of Our Kind of Cruelty arrived at Fully Booked Towers. It is due to be published later this year, and it concerns a couple, Mike and Verity, whose relationship features a deadly game called the Crave. Mike describes the rules:

“The rules of the Crave were very simple. V and I went to a nightclub in a pre-determined place a good way from where we lived, but entered separately. We made our way to the bar and stood far enough apart to seem that we weren’t together, but close enough that I could always keep her in vision.”

Verity basically makes herself very visible, catching the eyes of any lone male who might be interested, and then drawing him into her web with her stunning looks and overt sexuality. Then, the game kicks in:

“We have a signal: as soon as she raises her hand and pulls on the silver eagle she always wears around her neck I must act. In those dark throbbing rooms I would push through the mass of people, pulling at the useless man drooling over her, and ask him what he was doing talking to my girlfriend.”

When the relationship eventually sours, and Verity needs to move, she finds to her cost that the perverse twist in her relationship with Mike cannot be simply cast off like an unwanted piece of clothing.

Sounds a cracker, doesn’t it? The bad news is that you will have to wait until May to get your hands on a copy, but I can guarantee it will be worth the wait.

GIRL ON FIRE by Tony Parsons

Tony PI may as well continue the shameless name dropping and say that I was lucky enough to meet Tony Parsons (right) too, at the same Cornerstone  event where I met Araminta Hall. He was full of fascinating background information about the mysterious and hidden world beneath The Old Bailey in London – the setting for an earlier DC Max Wolfe novel, The Hanging Club. Now, Max Wolfe returns with another London based case, but this time the stakes have ratcheted even higher. There is a very heated argument playing out on social media just now about what kind of city London has become, with acid attacks, knifings and terror threats becoming – some would say – commonplace. As topical as you like, Girl On Fire has terrorists using a drone to bring down an aircraft on a crowded London shopping centre, and in the ensuing chaos, Max Wolfe finds himself in clear and present danger. The book is due out in March, but I am going to pull rank and read my copy in the next few days. Why? Four words sum up Mr Parsons – top books, top bloke.

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