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Jo Spain

THE BOY WHO FELL . . . Between the covers

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TBWFThis is a chillingly clever whodunnit shot through with a caustic examination of life among the moneyed classes of contemporary Ireland, particularly Dublin’s nouveau riche and their over-indulged teenage children. Fans of Jo Spain’s DI Tom Reynolds will be overjoyed to see him return for his fifth case, and those who know the author only through her spellbinding standalone novels such as The Confession and Dirty Little Secrets should make up for lost time immediately!

Glenmore House has a dark reputation. A few years ago, a husband killed his wife and child with a kitchen knife before hanging himself. Since that trauma, the house has stood empty, slowly being reclaimed by nature. Unholy. Unvisited. Unloved. Except by a little clique of privately educated teenagers who use the place to smoke a little dope and drink a little alcohol. Well, OK, rather too much of both, but our story begins, like many another good yarn on One Dark Night ….

This particular dark night ends in tragedy, as after he and his friends indulge in some horseplay with an ouija board, young Luke Connolly plunges to his death from an upstairs window. The youngsters involved in the escapade are not, however, from some run down social housing estate, the victims of neglect, poor schooling and brutalised by deprivation. No, Luke, Charlotte, Hazel, Brian, Jacob and Dylan are all students at the prestigious and very expensive Little Leaf College and their parents, while possibly having more money than sense, are pillars of the community. But. And there is a rather large but in the person of Daniel Konaté Jones. Daniel is mixed race, has a ‘job’ as a DJ, and is tolerated by the group as something rather exotic, like a strange tropical orchid springing up in the herbaceous border . The police investigating the death are quick to arrest Daniel, and their case against him is sewn up with speed and, to mix metaphors, seen as tighter than a camel’s arse in a sandstorm.

Daniel is related to one of Tom Reynolds’ most respected officers, and when she asks him to take a look at the case, he reluctantly agrees. There are just one or two complications, though. First, Daniel is refusing to say anything – not a word – to investigating officers or his lawyer. Then, Reynolds becomes aware that Daniel is gay, and that, despite protestations from parents and friends, it appears that Danny and Luke were “an item.” Thirdly, the grief of Luke’s parents at his death has to run alongside the tragic demise of Luke’s twin brother Ethan, who is near death in a local hospice.

JSJo Spain is the literary Diva of Deviousness, and while we learn early in the piece that Glenmore House has a bloody history, she waits for some while before reconnecting the earlier slaughter with the death of Luke Connolly. When she does – and Reynolds realises the connection a paragraph or three before we do – the investigation takes on a whole new slant.

It should be a serious criminal offence for someone to write with the fluency, panache and skill at misdirection as Jo Spain, but while she remains a free woman, enjoy The Boy Who Fell. You will find beautiful prose, conundrums-a-plenty and enough of the dark side to satisfy any fan of Noir fiction. Regarding her portraits of people, I can only suggest that if Rembrandt had laid down his brushes and taken up the pen, he would be pushed to make his subjects as alive – with all their flaws – as she does. The Boy Who Fell is published by Quercus and will be available on 27th June.

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ON MY SHELF . . . June 2019

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A MISCHIEVOUS BOOK PERSON on Twitter last week sought suggestions on trigger words in CriFi book titles which induce an automatic sinking feeling in the prospective reader. I weighed in with  ‘Papers‘, ‘Code‘, ‘Conspiracy‘, ‘Legacy‘, ‘Ultimatum‘ and, worst of all, the one which will have me reaching for the nearest box set of DVDs or even checking out the backlog of Peppa Pig episodes I record for my granddaughter, the dreaded four-letter word ‘Girl‘. Happily, those fateful words are missing from a bumper crop of new books on my shelf.

KEEP YOU CLOSE by Karen Cleveland

Keep You CloseA writer who spent years working for the CIA and the FBI – as well as graduating from Trinity College Dublin and Harvard – is going to be an author to be reckoned with. Karen Cleveland’s 2018 best-seller Need To Know hit all the right buttons for readers who like psychological anxiety, tension and that delicious schadenfreude  that washes over us when we watch someone’s domestic bliss unravel. Cleveland taps into her FBI background with her latest thriller, as FBI analyst Steph discovers something in her teenage son’s bedroom which turns her world on its head. This is out in Kindle on 13th June, in hardback on 27th of the month, and is published by Bantam Press.

 

CLEAR MY NAME by Paula Daly

Cover037Carrie Kamara languishes in prison, sent down after an open-and-shut investigation and trial where she was convicted of murdering her husband’s mistress in a cold blooded attack fueled by humiliation and jealousy. The evidence? DNA. Conclusive, isn’t it? Or is it? Tess Gilroy is a tireless campaigner for Innocence UK, a charity which exists to overturn miscarriages of justice. When she takes on Carrie’s case she is initially swept along by her burning desire to establish the truth, but as she mines down into the detail of the case, she realises, to her horror, that she will be forced to confront some very uncomfortable issues of her own if she is to secure Carrie’s freedom. Again, this is from Bantam Press but you will have to wait until 8th August to get your hands on a copy.

ONE WAY OUT by AA Dhand

One Way OutThe issue of Muslims in Britain, and the extent to which they do – or don’t – integrate with mainstream non Islamic communities is a source of continuous political and social media debate where, as a rule, more heat than light is generated. Dhand has established his Bradford-based copper D.I. Harry Virdee with three previous novels, Streets of Darkness (2016), Girl Zero (2017) and City of Sinners (2018). Now, Virdee becomes personally involves in a campaign by an extreme right wing group who are targeting Muslims in the Yorkshire city of Bradford. The Patriots have one specified target, the leaders of a group of Islamic extremists known as Almukhtaroon. Virdee has to make decisions which threaten not only his own life, but the lives of his family – and the future well-being of thousands of fellow Bradford citizens. I promise I am not it the pay of Bantam Press, but this is one of theirs, too, and it will be available from 27th June.

J SS BACH by Martin Goodman

JSSBThe author is a distinguished British academic who has written extensively on Roman and Jewish history. There are no Romans in his latest book – a work of fiction – but the fate of European Jews in the late 1930s is examined here in painful detail. Otto Schalmik and his family are dragged from their Vienna home and sent first to Dachau, and then to Birkenau. Due to his consummate skill as a cellist, and the intense love of Bach displayed by the camp commandant and his wife, Otto survives. Years later, when he is an internationally revered artist, his world and that of the commandant’s wife and granddaughter collide, with unexpected personal consequences. Published by Wrecking Ball Press, Martin Goodman’s novel is available now.

A KILLING SIN by KH Irvine

AKSIrvine’s novel, like One Way Out, visits the fraught and potentially explosive world of relations between British Muslims and their host country. Islam. Is it a religion? Certainly. Is it a race? Well. clearly not, as the faith bestrides many nationalities. Is Islam immune from criticism? Here lies the rub, explored in painful detail in this startling debut from an author who grew up in Scotland and now lives near London. The book was her 50th birthday gift to herself, believing you are never too old to try something new. Her day job has taken her to board rooms, universities and governments all over the world and has included up close and personal access to special forces. In A Killing Sin, three women from across the religious, political and racial divide in modern Britain find that their lives mesh together against the backdrop of a national political and social emergency. A Killing Sin will be published by Urbane Publications on 4th July.

THE BOY WHO FELL by Jo Spain

TBWFJo Spain has a dazzling ability to write stand-alone crime novels which hit the spot every time, but she is also canny enough to know that most crime readers like a good series, and hers is right at the top of the  ‘unmissable’ list of modern police procedurals. In his latest case, Dublin copper Tom Reynolds has just been promoted, but he is asked to take an interest in an uncomfortable case which is well below his new pay grade. A teenager appears to have been pushed to his death from the window of an abandoned house. The case has extra spice because the house was the scene of a savage domestic murder years earlier and the dead boy is judged by the pathologist to have been the victim of a homosexual rape shortly before his death. Reynolds takes on the case as a favour to a fellow Garda Síochána officer who is related to the mixed race teenager suspected of the rape and murder. Quercus will be publishing this latest episode in the casebook of Tom Reynolds on 27th June. For more on Jo Spain and to discover why I am a huge fan of her writing, click this link.

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DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS . . . Between the covers

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Jo Spain’s latest stand-alone crime novel begins with a death which is as sudden as it is violent. The victim of this savagery is only a bluebottle fly, slain by a passing bird, but the important part is where the fly has been before it became a Blackbird’s breakfast. Like countless thousands of its fellow Calliphora Vomitoria it has been innocently feasting and laying its eggs on a corpse. A very human corpse. The mortal remains (and not much does) of Olive Collins has been gently liquefying inside her cottage for months. Her neighbours in the exclusive gated hamlet of Withered Vale have been going about their business oblivious to Olive’s fate.

DLS coverWithered Vale? Hardly your standard estate agent euphemism. Honeysuckle Meadows, Skylark Leys, Virginia Reach, Lakeside View, maybe, but Withered Vale? Years ago, the man who farmed the fields now built over was over-zealous with his pesticide, and nothing grew ever again. The enterprising developer, alert to a possible marketing triumph, chose to retain the local name, thinking that it had a certain ironic snap to it which might appeal to wealthy young professionals. He was right. No. 4 The Vale – Olive’s cottage – dates from before the development, however, and is dwarfed by the arrivistes.

Once Olive’s demise is discovered, the police descend. Frank Brazil, desperate for retirement and a quiet life, has said his prayers hoping that it is a suicide. His young partner Emma Child gleefully discovers taped up ventilation outlets and a boiler that has been fatally tinkered with, thus suggesting something darker, however, and Spain sets to work describing the other residents of the Vale as, one by one, they all become suspects – and what a brilliantly wicked job she makes of it.

There’s poor porn-addicted George Richmond, set up in his designer home, No. 1, by his wealthy showbiz father, and No. 7 houses debonair ladies’ man Ron Ryan with his sunbed tan and simple philosophy of ‘get it while – and when – you can’. At No. 5 live the Hennessys, Matt, Chrissy and their rather odd son Cam. Spain has shown flashes of dark humour in her previous novels, but she lets her considerable talent for satire off the leash when she lays into David and Lily Solanke, in their self-righteous vegetarian paradise within the walls of No.2. David is so exasperatingly ‘woke’ that Lily, pregnant with the twins, curses his kindness:

“Soon, David was playing music to her bump and lying with his head in her lap so her could hear the twins gurgling in the amniotic fluid. He treated her belly with reverence, gentle and worshipping. She felt like a Faberg
é egg. A Fabergé egg that wanted her husband to do her doggy-style because she was so damned horny.”

We meet Ed and Amelia Miller
from No. 6 while they are soaking up the sun in their Andalusian apartment, but their reaction when they hear of Olive’s death suggests that her passing lifts a shadow that has been cast over their lives. No. 3 is home to Alison and Holly Daly, single mum and teenage daughter and, like the Millers, neither of them sheds anything resembling a tear.

JSThus Spain sets up a writhing nest of vipers, every one of whom has a very good reason for wanting Olive Collins dead and out of its life. The narrative darts back and forth between the homes as we learn the hopes, sins and insecurities of the residents, each with a flimsy alibi and united by a mixture of fear and loathing for the apparently mild-mannered resident of No. 4 The Vale. As we scratch our heads wondering whodunnit, could we be looking at some kind of collective guilt, à la An Inspector Calls? The solution, when it comes, is deliciously perverse and very satisfying. Jo Spain (right) has a talent to enthrall, and in an afterword to this book she writes of her early love of reading:

“My heart was won by the written word. It’s been a lifelong affair. If I can give anybody the gift of a good story, a gift I still treasure when I cuddle up in the chair with a book at night, then my job is done.”

Her job is indeed done, and done with a sense of élan and literary devilment unmatched by anyone currently writing crime fiction. Dirty Little Secrets is published by Quercus and will be available on 7th February.

Click the links below to read reviews of earlier novels by Jo Spain.

The Darkest Place

The Confession

Sleeping Beauties

Beneath The Surface

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2018 . . . (6) Best novel

The Confession is my Best Novel of the year 2018, and it left the competition for dead. Here’s why I feel that way:
 https://fullybooked2017.com/2018/01/03/the-confession-between-the-covers/

 

 

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2018 . . . (4) Best police procedural

The Fully Booked review of Mark Billingham’s The Killing Habit is just a click away:
https://fullybooked2017.com/2018/05/22/the-killing-habit-between-the-covers/

THE DARKEST PLACE … Between the covers

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There can be few tropes – either using visual imagery or words – to match the allure of an disused and desolate lunatic asylum. The more Victorian and ‘Gothick’ the building is, the more it is likely to attract both those brave but foolhardy folk known as Urban Explorers – and writers of atmospheric thrillers. Place the building on a desolate island off the south western coast of Ireland and we have a dream – or nightmare – location for a murder mystery. Then let the tale be told by one of our finest modern writers of crime fiction and, as Wilkins Micawber once said, “Result, happiness.” Happiness at least for those of us who love a good read, but there is less joy for the characters in Jo Spain’s latest novel, The Darkest Place.

TDP coverDublin copper DI Tom Reynolds is summoned from the dubious delights of his family Christmas to solve a murder. Readers of the previous three Tom Reynolds books might think there is little remarkable about that, but this time the corpse has been in the ground for rather longer than usual. Forty years, in fact. On the island of Oileán na Caillte, the pathologists have been disinterring corpses from a mass grave of the unfortunates who passed away as patients of the long-defunct psychiatric institution, St Christina’s. Those involved in the grim task discover nothing illegal, as all the residents of the burial pit were laid to rest in body bags, tagged and entered onto the hospital records. With one exception. That exception is the corpse of one of St Christina’s medical staff Dr Conrad Howe, who mysteriously disappeared forty Christmases ago. No body bag or tag for Dr Howe, but a rather surreptitious last resting place wedged between two other corpses.

For Howe’s widow Miriam the discovery comes as a shock but a release of sorts. For all the Christmases in between she has, like a latter day Mrs Hailsham, laid out the seasonal trappings in the same way each year, half hoping that her husband would return. Her children, now grown up, have humoured her in this ritual up to a point, as has a doctor colleague of her husband’s, Andrew Collins, who retains his connection to Oileán na Caillte. The fact that Collins has been hopelessly in love with Miriam all this time is not lost on Reynolds as he tries to discover who killed Howe with – as tests on his bones reveal – a length of electrical flex which left copper traces on his thoracic vertebrae.

Reynolds is no-one’s fool. As he pores through the almost indecipherable scrawl of Howe’s diary (we share that task with him, but minus the scrawl) he realises that the truth about who killed the idealistic physician involves not only the dead of Oileán na Caillte, but those who are still very much alive. One of the most telling lines in the diary says:

“It is though we are sharing this island with the devil.”

JSOther than that dark angel, the cast of suspects includes another former physician, now himself just days away from death, and others whose culpability in the inhuman treatment of St Christina’s patients has left psychological scars, some of which have become dangerously infected. Of course, this being, among other things, a brilliant whodunnit, Jo Spain (right) allows Tom Reynolds – and us readers – to make one major assumption. She then takes great pleasure, the deviously scheming soul that she is, in waiting until the final few pages before turning that assumption not so much on its head as making it do a bloody great cartwheel.

Jo Spain is a brilliant writer. It really is as simple as that. She takes the humble police procedural and not only breathes new life into it, but makes it dance and jitterbug like a flapper on cocaine. Not content with that, she shifts a heavy old stone covering some of the less palatable aspects of her country’s history, and lets us gaze squeamishly at some of the nasty things that click and scuttle about beneath, disturbed by exposure to the light.

The previous Tom Reynolds novel was Sleeping Beauties, and you can check that out by clicking the blue link. Do the same to see the review of her brilliant standalone novel The Confession. The Darkest Place is published by Quercus and will be available on 20th September.

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NO JANUARY BLUES FOR SPAIN!

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DUBLIN AUTHOR JO SPAIN AND HER AGENT NICOLA BARR had very reason to be cheerful last Thursday evening, in the atmospheric surroundings of The Harrow, just off London’s Fleet Street. Spain’s breakaway psychological thriller, The Confession, has hit the ground running and is already heading the best-seller charts in Ireland.

The Confession moves away from the police procedural world inhabited by Spain’s Dublin copper Tom Reynolds, and into a different territory altogether. The Confession is a daring and bravura performance by one of our finest writers. We know within the first few pages who did it (the bludgeoning to death of a disgraced investment manager) but Spain spins a dazzling and complex web over the next 380 pages or so, as we try to work out why?

Follow the links below to read the Fully Booked take on The Confession, and also two cases for DI Tom Reynolds.

The Confession

Sleeping Beauties

Beneath The Surface

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR, 2017 … Best police procedural

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Police procedural novels are the core items of crime fiction and, if you like, its beating heart. Police officers, young and old, serene and anguished, drunk and sober, are endlessly attractive to both readers and writers. There have been several outstanding examples during 2017, and special mention should go to Eva Dolan’s Peterborough partners, Zigic and Ferreira in Watch Her Disappear, Max Wolfe, as imagined by Tony Parsons in Die Last and, from another era, the dogged and warm-hearted copper from Victorian Leeds, Chris Nickson’s Tom Harper in On Copper Street. There was yet another strong story, Wild Chamber, featuring Arthur Bryant and John May but, as fans will be well aware, Christopher Fowler loves having his ancient investigators do anything but follow accepted police procedure. I also loved the distinctly different talents of Chief Superintendent Simon Collison, Inspector Bob Metcalfe and Sergeant Karen Willis as they probed the eccentric criminal classes in Guy Fraser Sampson’s Hampstead in A Death In The Night.

The clear winner this year, however, was another case for thoroughly decent, well-mannered, but extremely perceptive copper, Inspector Tom Reynolds, of Dublin’s An Garda Síochána, and his pursuit of a serial killer in Sleeping Beauties. The book was outstanding in so many ways. It has a brilliant plot, with the author joyfully deceiving us on several occasions. The astonishing sense of place makes the Irish landscape a character in its own right. Thirdly, but perhaps most telling, is Spain’s uncanny ability to create characters so real and so convincing that they are in the room with us, talking to us, as we turn each page of the book. The full review is here and, if you will forgive me the conceit of quoting myself:

“Jo Spain writes like an angel. No fuss. No bother. No pretension. The narrative flows as smoothly as a glass of Old Bushmills slips down the appreciative throat”

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SLEEPING BEAUTIES … Between the covers

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Spain014In the beautiful valley of Glendalough there are ancient stones, shades and spirits of the holy men who prayed in the monastery – and in the cemetery, lichen-covered headstones of generations of Byrnes, Cullens, Farrells, Nolans, Waldrons – all, both monks and villagers, at peace now. But the body of a young woman has been found. Interred without sacrament, beyond the gaze of those who would mourn her. In a shallow grave on a hillside, wearing the clothes she disappeared in. It is all that remains of Una Dolan, a twenty four year-old lass from Waterford. Last seen April 29th, 2011.

Inspector Tom Reynolds, of Dublin’s An Garda Síochána, is called to the scene on a blisteringly hot summer afternoon. The police tapes are strung out, a tent is put over the body, the hundreds of tourists shepherded away beyond gawping distance, but Una does not lie alone in her woodland grave:

“The Inspector frowned and examined the earth under the trees. As he scanned the glade, his stomach lurched.
One, two, three, four. Five, counting the mound of earth disturbed under the tent.
Tom counted five separate patches where the same delicate blue flower was blooming. And then he saw it …
Somebody had cleared the earth of its natural layer and sown their own flowers.
In five places.
Five graves.”

Reynolds and his team are already searching for another missing woman, Fiona Holland, but as the forensic experts do their macabre job and try to identify the five Glendalough women, Fiona’s name doesn’t seem to be among them. Instead, the unresolved disappearances of the last few years are narrowed down in a business-like but brutal fashion.

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While the guards go about the melancholy business of dashing the hopes of the girls’ relatives, Tom Reynolds has more than one disagreeable offering on his plate. One unpalatable mouthful is his immediate superior. The very model of a modern career policeman, Joe Kennedy sits in the ergonomically designed executive chair which Tom himself was offered, but turned down because the job would have distanced him from all the aspects of policing which energise and inspire him. Kennedy is, to put it bluntly, a prick. Worse, far worse, is that Sean McGuiness, Tom’s previous boss and mentor, is facing the retirement from hell as he tries to cope with the regressive dementia of his wife, June. Tom and his wife Louise feel helpless as their old friends face the worse crisis of their lives.

Tom Reynolds is compassionate and perceptive, but he is also driven by his own desire to see justice done. His investigative team are sympathetically drawn, and the sense of police teamwork is palpable. The guards must combat the possibility of police corruption and deal with the pent-up anger of frustrated and grieving families but, just as the killer appears to be cornered, caught and convicted, the gut-wrenching possibility arises that the case may not be ready for filing in the “solved” drawer.

50a-4glSJo Spain writes like an angel. No fuss. No bother. No pretension. The narrative flows as smoothly as a glass of Old Bushmills slips down the appreciative throat, and she has us looking this way and that as we stand beside Tom Reynolds as he searches for the killer. This is, on one level, a police procedural, but Jo Spain doesn’t let methodology bog the story down. We know that she knows how the police operate, and that is more than enough. Her rural Ireland is beautifully described without unnecessary frills and furbelows, and she gives us as perceptive a story of the heights and depths of human behaviour as you will read all year. If you have come a little late to the Tom Reynolds party, the first episode of his career is With Our Blessing, followed by Beneath The Surface.

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