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Karen Cleveland

KEEP YOU CLOSE . . . Between the covers

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Steph Maddox is something of an Alpha female. She has punched her way through the law enforcement glass ceiling during her training at the legendary Virginia military training base known as Quantico, and now she is a senior operative at the HQ of The Federal Bureau of Investigation which, as the organisation’s website tells us, helpfully, is:

“… located between 9th and 10th Streets in northwest Washington, D.C. The closest Metro subway stops are Federal Triangle on the Orange/Blue lines, Gallery Place/Chinatown and Metro Center on the Red line, and Archives/Navy Memorial on the Yellow and Green lines.”

The site goes on to offer a very individual kind of day out:

“The FBI Experience is a self-guided tour at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Open to the public, visits may be requested up to five months in advance of, but no later than four weeks prior to the desired visit date.”

KYC coverFor Agent Maddox, however, The FBI Experience is something other than a theme park visit. Gender equality has come at a price, and she is viewed with a certain degree of suspicion by many of her male colleagues, particularly as she is – and feel free to use the ‘woke’ description of your choice – a single mother, lone parent or head of a one-parent family. The blunt truth is that Steph has brought up Zachary largely on her own from day one. Not only that, but she has steadfastly refused to reveal the identity of his father.

Zachary is a walking embodiment of a male teenager. Monosyllabic, tech-savvy, frequently tongue-tied and often a recluse in his bedroom. As mums do, Steph is casually going through the things on his clothing shelves when her hand touches something which makes her recoil in horror. No, not a particularly nasty piece of unwashed personal attire, but the cold, brutal steel of a Glock 26 pistol – a compact version of her own official firearm.

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To say that Steph is now unsettled is a massive understatement. Choosing a rather more indirect route to confronting Zach about her discovery, she also learns that the boy is on the mailing list of a known terrorist organisation, the Freedom Solidarity Movement. Her anxiety deepens when Scott, a fellow agent and former boyfriend, reveals that Zachary is a person of interest.

karen-clevelandKaren Cleveland, to say the very least, knows of what she writes. She is a former CIA analyst herself, and her experience translates into a swiftly moving and convincing narrative. Steph Maddox is torn between fighting her son’s corner – he is innocent, surely? – and preventing a major terrorist assassination attempt. As in the real world of political and military intelligence gathering, nothing is what it seems, and no-one is above suspicion.

The tension of the plot is wound higher and higher until, like an over-stretched guitar string, you know it’s going to snap. When it does, the results are catastrophic for all concerned. Cleveland (right) , however, is not just a one-trick pony. Her account of Steph struggling to be a decent mother, despite the dramatic chaos of her professional life, is perceptive and moving. Keep You Close is published by Bantam Press and is out now.

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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TRANSWORLD TAKES ON THE WORLD

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Larry FinlayI was lucky enough to be invited to the distinctly upmarket Charlotte Street Hotel in London’s Fitzrovia, as a guest of Transworld for their evening showcasing what they hope will be their best-sellers for 2018. Managing Director Larry Finlay (left) took the stage first, and showed his perfectly justifiable pride in how the group’s editors had managed to pick some astonishingly successful novels over the last few years. Judging what readers might want to read months – if not years –  ahead, taking a punt on the talent of someone as yet unknown to book fans, and then backing your judgment with publicity and marketing; these are the skills by which publishers stand or fall, and  Larry and his team at Transworld seem to be getting the hard bits right.

Journalist, editor and host of The Vintage podcast, Alex Clark, then invited the featured authors to join her on-stage. Ruth Jones is no stranger to the world of entertainment. Television viewers will know her as writer and co-star of Gavin and Stacey, and her compelling portrayal of Hattie Jacques in Hattie. Her debut novel, Never Greener is all about the dangers of taking second chances in life. Referring to the grass implied by the title, she says,”It’s still grass. Just a different patch of it, that’s all.” As to her writing, she says that she falls in love with her characters, and relishes the fact that this work doesn’t require the make-up trolley. Her tip? Always make a note of every experience, no matter how inconsequential – you never know when it will come in handy.

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Karen Cleveland had the furthest to travel for the event – a little matter of 4,000 miles or so – from her home in Virginia. Avid readers of espionage thrillers will be well aware of the principle employers in the town of Langley, Virginia – none other than the staple ingredient of most international conspiracy novels, The Central Intelligence Agency. Karen actually spent years behind The Agency’s high security gates, working as an analyst and specialising in identifying potential foul play from Russia. It’s no surprise then, that her debut novel Need To Know describes a young mother and CIA analyst digitally searching files in hopes of unmasking a Russian sleeper cell in the US, but then making a shocking discovery that threatens her job, her family and her life. Karen’s tip for tyro authors – fit in your writing in any time you can, no matter what other balls you have in the air at the same time.

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Anne Youngson is one of my generation – she has reached her biblical allowance of three score and ten – but she is living proof that it is never to late to write a debut novel. Unsurprisingly, Meet Me at the Museum features two people with more of their lives behind them than ahead. Anne has a formidable CV away from her writing; she worked for Land Rover, as Chief Engineer, Defender replacement and, finally, MD of the Special Vehicle Operations. Her two fictional protagonists make an unexpected connection through a love of ancient history, personal treasures, and nature. Anne’s writing tip is simple, but powerful – the more you write, the better you get.

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There is nothing more intriguing than other people’s houses. A bourgeois  obsession, maybe, but one to which many of us, given the thumbscrew treatment, would reluctantly admit. Rebecca Fleet’s debut novel makes the most of the darker side of the swap. A failing marriage, a  mutual loss of faith, no future except one in which personal conflicts guarantee to destroy love; Caroline and Francis hope that new surroundings will provide a jump start to their stalled relationship. Marrying domestic noir with the psychological drama, The House Swap is guaranteed to chill and thrill in equal measure. Rebecca was happy to quote Samuel Johnson as her writing tip.

A man may write at any time if he will set himself doggedly to it.”

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Simon Mayo is a widely respected radio presenter. His weekly good-natured sparring with Mark Kermode on Friday afternoons on BBC Radio Five Live are not to be missed. But Mayo the writer? I have to put my hand up and say that I was unaware of his popular young adult fiction. My excuse is that I am certainly not young, and my detractors will query my being described as adult. However, Simon Mayo’s forthcoming debut in adult fiction sounds fascinating. The Anglo-American conflict of 1812 is one of history’s forgotten episodes, but as well as The White House being torched by British troops, many Americans were taken prisoner and shipped back to Britain, where they were incarcerated within the iconically grim granite walls of Dartmoor Prison. The Shakespearean title of Mayo’s novel is Mad Blood Stirring (Romeo and Juliet) and it tells the story of the violent consequences that followed the segregation of black and white prisoners in Dartmoor. Mayo offers this advice to aspiring novelists. (1) Write to find out, (2) Never be intimidated – if you have an idea that you believe in, stick with it, hold on to it, and to hell with the detractors.

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