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COMPETITION … Win ‘Home’ by Harlan Coben

Home Comp

HERE AT FULLY BOOKED TOWERS  we have a lovely crisp new paperback edition of Home, the mesmerising thriller by suspense-meister Harlan Coben, and it is crying out for a new owner. We reviewed the hardback edition a while ago, and were knocked out by the incredibly clever plot which twists and turns this way and that.

SO, HOW DO YOU ENTER? Dead simple. Fans of Coben’s investigator Myron Bolitar will already know the answer, but if you are new to the series, read our review, which is on the end of this link. You will see that Bolitar is a former professional sportsman. Simply use that sport as the email subject, eg “Cricket” and email Fully Booked at the address below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

ALL CORRECT ANSWERS will be put into the digital hat, and the winner will be notified in due course. To keep postage costs down, the competition on this occasion is only open to readers from the UK and the Irish Republic. We have a Bank Holiday next weekend, and so the competition closes at 10.00pm UK time on Monday 1st May.

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MOSKVA … Between the covers

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It might be thought that all the books about the problems of law and order in communist and post-glasnost Russia have already been written. Didn’t Martin Cruz Smith corner the market with his accounts of Arcady Renko and his tussles with the authorities? Or what about Boris Starling and Vodka, his tale of gangsters and oligarchs in a Russia struggling to come to terms with the free market?

Moskva cover Jack Grimwood’s Moskva sets out to convince us that there is room for one more tale of conflicted lives in a modern Russia full of paradox and uncertainty. The book came out in hardback earlier this year, and is now available in paperback, from Penguin. Does Grimwood, who made his name writing science fiction and fantasy novels, hit the spot?

Tom Fox is one of those rough, tough individuals who is paid by men in suits to go to dangerous places and do unpleasant things for Queen and Country. He has, however, been doubly traumatised: firstly, a tour of duty working undercover in the bitter sectarian war in Northern Ireland has left him psychologically scarred; secondly, his marriage is pretty much over after his teenage daughter drove her Mini into a tree at 80 mph. Suicide? Drugs? No-one knows for sure, but the blame game has been played to its conclusion, and Fox has lost. Now, in the winter of 1986, his instability is such that his paymasters and handlers in London have packed him off to Moscow, ostensibly to write a report on the state of religion in Gorbachev’s Russia but, in reality, he has been sent far away to keep him out of trouble.

 As soon as Fox makes the acquaintance of ambassador Sir Edward Marston and his wife, he is left in little doubt that he is as welcome as a man with something vile on the sole of his shoe trampling over the embassy Axminster. At a reception Fox meets Sir Edward’s fifteen year-old step-daughter Alex and, noticing that she has self harm marks on her lower arms, makes a flippant remark which he soon has cause to regret.

“Beneath her cuffs, not quite visible and not quite hidden, raw welts crossed both wrists. A blunt knife would do it.
‘What’s it got to do with you anyway?’
‘Nothing.’
‘Exactly’
‘Wrist to elbow,’ he said.’Wrist to elbow. If you’re serious.’”

Despite their disdain for Fox, Sir Edward and his wife Anna soon have need of his rough talents when Alex goes missing. There is no ransom note, and no apparent motive except a possible link with the body of a dead boy found frozen in the snow near The Kremlin. Fox is an excellent linguist, and his near-perfect Russian enables him to ‘go native’ in the search for Alex.

His investigation takes him to a back street drinking den run by Dennisov – a one-legged veteran of Russia’s Afghanistan war – and his sister Yelena. Their father is a distinguished veteran of that most blood-stained period in modern history which ran from 22nd June 1941 to 9th May 1945, known with reverence by many Russians as The Great Patriotic War. The further Fox digs into the mystery of Alex’s abduction, the more he realises that there is a motive – but one which has deep roots in the days and deeds of April 1945 when the Russians unleashed 20 armies, 6,300 tanks and 8,500 aircraft to crush the defenders of Berlin.

Grimwood_3The breadth of this novel in terms of time sometimes makes it hard to work out who has done what to whom. Patience – and a spot of back-tracking – will pay dividends, however, and the narrative provides a salutary reminder of the sheer magnitude of the numbers of Russian dead in WWII, and the resultant near-psychosis about The West. To top-and-tail this review and answer the earlier question as to whether Jack Grimwood (right)  “hits the spot”, I can give a resounding “Yes!”. Yes, the plot is complex, and yes, you will need your wits about you, but yes, it’s a riveting read; yes, Tom Fox is a flawed but engaging central character, and yes, Grimwood has sharp-elbowed his way into the line-up of novelists who have written convincing crime novels set in the enigma that is Russia.

Moskva is available in hardback, paperback and Kindle.

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HOME … Between the covers

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Coming new to an established series happens more often than you might think to book reviewers, and so it is with this book. It has taken me ten previous novels to catch up with Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar. You may have been there from the beginning, which was in 1995 with Deal Breaker, and if so, bear with me for a moment. Myron Bolitar is a forty-something former top basketball player, whose career was cut cruelly short when his knee was ruined in an on-court incident. He used his sporting fame to start up an agency representing sports stars, but later expanded his client base to include other celebrities.

Home starts with a metaphorical ‘bang’ in the form of a very literal ‘slash’. The as yet un-named narrator is in the insalubrious London district of King’s Cross and we know only that he is searching for two missing boys, abducted from their American home ten years since. They were six at the time, but our narrator has been given an anonymous tip that one of them is now working as a rent boy in London. The boy seems appears to be plying his trade in a city underpass, along with a variety of other bodies for sale. When the teenager is attacked by three street hoodlums, the narrator intervenes. With a cut-throat razor. The teenager, however, escapes into the hurly burly of King’s Cross railway station, complete with its Harry Potter and Hogwarts connection.

Three dead bodies, and a ‘phone call later, we learn that we have been listening to the voice of Windsor Horne Lockwood III, a billionaire playboy, with a psychotic streak. ‘Win’ is the long term best friend of Myron Bolitar, and related to one of the missing boys. We soon meet Myron himself, as he is recovering from a bout of energetic sex with his fiancée, Terese, in Win’s New York apartment, which is in none other than the celebrated Dakota building.

Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin were on a ‘playdate’ at Patrick’s home, in the care of the Moore’s Finnish au pair, when masked men burst into the house, overpowered and tied up the young woman, and made off with the two boys. That is the history. The present? Myron is summoned to London to add his investigative skills to Win’s savagery. After some spectacular rough and tumble involving a larger-than-life human monster called Fat Gandhi, Patrick Moore is rescued and brought back to New Jersey.

That, however is very far from that. Patrick is restored to something resembling the home he was snatched from a decade earlier, but what of Rhys? Win and Myron begin to smell a rather malodorous rat, and there are more questions than answers. What does Patrick remember of the fateful day? Is he actually Patrick, or is there some scarcely imaginable scam being carried out?

Myron finally learns the the truth about the the two boys, but you may well share the former basketball ace’s bafflement along the way. Eventually, Coben lets him into the secret with a dazzling and totally unexpected revelation, rather than having him painstakingly gather evidence. I didn’t see the solution coming, but when it did, it was like being hit by a train.

This is a brilliant tale, and will be all the more dazzling to anyone like myself who is new to the series. Having yin and yang partnerships is nothing new in crime fiction, but it can seldom have been more audaciously used as with Coben’s sweet and sour pair. Win provides an unlimited supply of violence to complement Myron’s empathy and compassion. The closest comparison I can think of is that of the wise-guy persona of Robert B Parker’s Spenser, and his lethal friendship with the implacable Hawk. Home is one of those books that may well grab you by the throat and keep you mesmerised until you have reached the last page. Dogs will go unwalked. Pans will boil over on the stove. ‘Phones will go unanswered. You have been warned.

Follow the link to see buying options for Home.

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Coben & Byron

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The New Jersey based author is one of the bigger beasts in the crime fiction jungle, and he has created one of the more distinctive ‘accidental detectives’ in the genre. Myron Bolitar, the 6 feet 4 inches tall former basketball player, has already won three major awards for his creator, an Edgar (for Fade Away), a Shamus (Drop Shot) and an Anthony (Deal Breaker). In this latest adventure for the sports agent, he tackles the case of a disappeared boy who has, almost inevitably, been assumed dead. But now he shows up after a decade. Is he the real deal, or is he part of a sinister and devious scam? Home will be out in a variety of formats on 22nd September, and you can check the details here.

BODY ON THE BAYOU by Ellen Byron
Away from the city lights we go and we pay a visit to the town of Pelican, Louisiana, and as the title suggests we can expect plenty of alligators, snakes, spoonbills and other assorted fauna who make their homes in the mysterious watery glades. But this isn’t a wildlife Ellen Bdocumentary – it’s a case of murder. Byron (right) reintroduces the characters she created in Plantation Shudders (2015) and this time the Crozat family have another murder on their hands when a woman’s body is found floating on the still waters of their plantation. The publicity tells us that the Crozats have “a gumbo potful of suspects on their hands.” Just to be clear, this isn’t Southern Noir, but more an example of Southern Cosy, and it’s out on 13th September. Find out more here.
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