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Jo Spain

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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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Patterson and Spain

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                          The People vs Alex Cross by James Patterson

Cross013 I used to be a massive fan of Patterson and his Washington DC profiler Dr Alex Cross, and particularly when he was battling his two most deadly opponents Kyle Craig and Gary Soneji. Recently, though, I have felt that Patterson, particularly with his collaborative novels, has spread himself a bit thin. I am mindful, however, of the massive work he does for charities, and no-one can accuse him of just wanting to make money. This is the first Alex Cross novel I have been sent for a long time, and I am actually looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with Dr C,  and his regular cast of co-stars. Although the saturnine Gary Soneji is long dead, he still has followers, and it is after a shoot-out with them that Cross finds himself on the wrong side of the court room. The People vs Alex Cross is published by Century, and will be available in all formats on November 2nd. Watch our home page for a full review nearer the time.

                                  Sleeping Beauties by Jo Spain

Spain015This is the third outing for Dublin copper Inspector Tom Reynolds. He first appeared in With Our Blessing in 2015, and you can read our review of the second in the series, Beneath The Surface by clicking the link. Now Reynolds returns with a case which is brutal, barbarous – and baffling. During the search for a missing woman, a makeshift grave is found near the tourist village of Glendalough, in Wicklow. The medical examiner quickly discounts the body as being that of the missing woman, but then Reynolds and his team make a chilling discovery:

“Somebody had cleared the earth of its natural layer and sown their own flowers.

In five places.
Five graves.”

Sleeping Beauties is published by Quercus. If you have a Kindle, you can get hold of a copy now, but if you want the paperback, you will have to wait until 2018. Meanwhile, our full review of the novel will be on our main page within the next few days.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Beneath The Surface

Beneath The SurfaceIRISH CRIME FICTION seems to be on a roll at the moment. With writers like Anthony Quinn, Stuart Neville, Ken Bruen, John McAllister and Sinead Crowley making headlines, it’s not too fanciful to see Ireland – North and South – rivaling its neighbour across the sea, Scotland, as everyone’s favourite setting for moody and intense crime tales. Is there room for one more at the top table of Irish crime? There certainly is, when it’s Jo Spain asking for a seat. Her debut novel With Our Blessing was named as an Irish Times crime fiction book of the year by Declan Burke in 2015, and achieved great critical acclaim.

Now, DI Tom Reynolds and his team return for another sortie against the many-headed monster of Irish crime. This time a government official is murdered in Leinster House, the former ducal residence in Dublin which has housed the Irish Parliament since 1922.

Everyone makes the assumption, that Ryan Finnegan’s death has been orchestrated by one of his political opponents, but before too long, Reynolds is uncovering evidence that points in a different direction altogether. The novel will be available very soon from the usual sources, and it looks from this angle that Jo Spain (below) and her publishers Quercus, have another hit on their hands. You can also keep in touch with Jo by following her on Twitter.

Jo Spain

 

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