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BREAKING THE CIRCLE . . . Between the covers

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MJ Trow introduced us to the principle characters in this novel in the autumn of 2022 in Four Thousand Days (click to read the review) That was set in 1900, and had real-life archaeologist Margaret Murray solving a series of murders, helped by a young London copper, Constable Andrew Crawford. Now, it is May 1905, Andrew Crawford is now a Sergeant, has married into a rich family, and Margaret Murray is still lecturing at University College.

When a spiritualist medium is found dead at her dinner table, slumped face down in a bowl of mulligatawny soup, the police can find nothing to suggest criminality. It is only later, when a black feather appears, having been lodged in the woman’s throat, that Andrew Crawford suspects foul play. His boss, however is having none of it.

Two more mediums go to join the actual dead whose presence they ingeniously try to recreate for their clients, and the hunt is on for a serial killer. Crawford enlists the help of Margaret Murray, and under a pseudonym, she joins the spiritualist group to which the first murder victim has belonged. After an intervention by former Detective Inspector Edmund Reid who, amazingly, manages to convince people attending a seance that he is one of Europe’s most renowned spiritualists, we have a breathtaking finale in Margaret Murray’s dusty little office in University College.

Without giving too much away, I will tease you a little, and say that the killer is trying to find something, but isn’t sure who has it. There is a pleasing circularity here, by way of Jack the Ripper. Edmund Reid was one of the senior coppers who tried to bring the Whitechapel killer to justice, and MJ Trow has written one of the better studies of that case. One of the (many) theories about the motivation of JTR was that he was seeking revenge on the woman who gave him – or someone close to him – a fatal dose of syphilis, and he was simply working his way down a list.

Trow was for many, many years a senior history teacher at a school on the Isle of Wight, and he appeared as his thinly disguised ‘self’ in the long running series of books featuring Peter ‘Mad Max’ Maxwell. I can’t think of another writer whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the past has been the steel backbone of his books. Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking there is an overload of fact to the detriment of entertainment. Trow is a brilliantly gifted storyteller and, as far as I am concerned, Victorian and Edwardian London belong to him. Breaking The Circle is published by Severn House, and is out now. For our mutual entertainment, I have including a graphic which shows some of the real life individuals who appear in the story.

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For more on MJ Trow and his books, click on the author image below.

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THE POISON MACHINE . . . Between the covers

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There is nothing new in historical fiction writers having their own invented characters  mix with real life figures. Among the writers who have done this with great success in the crime genre are Philip Kerr, John Lawton, Chris Nickson, and MJ Trow (click the links for further information). I was delighted to be able to review The Bloodless Boy by Robert J Lloyd just about a year ago. He introduced us the (fictional) scientist Harry Hunt and brought back personal memories of ‘O’ Level Physics by featuring Robert Hooke, of Hooke’s Law* fame.

*Hooke’s Law states that the force (F) needed to extend or compress a spring by some distance (x) scales linearly with respect to that distance—that is, Fs = kx, where k is a constant factor characteristic of the spring (i.e., its stiffness), and x is small compared to the total possible deformation of the spring.

I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t, but no matter. In The Bloodless Boy King Charles II played quite a significant part, but his Roman Catholic wife, Queen Catherine is more to the fore in The Poison Machine, principally because after an eventful sojourn in France, Harry Hunt discovers a plot to murder her. The story begins in London in 1679, where Harry is humiliated when an experiment he is conducting in front of some very distinguished men goes badly wrong. Feeling unsupported by Robert Hooke, he distances himself from the London scientific world by taking on a criminal investigation,

Screen Shot 2022-10-16 at 19.18.26In far-off Norfolk, men repairing flood defences near Denver Sluice have discovered what appears to be the remains of a child inside the rotted skeleton of a boat. Hunt, accompanied by Colonel Michael Field, a grizzled veteran of Cromwell’s army, and Hooke’s niece, Grace. When the trio arrive in Norfolk, Hunt soon determines that the remains are not those of a child, but the mortal remains of Jeffrey Hudson, who was known as the Queen’s Dwarf – the Queen in question being the late Henrietta Maria (left), wife of Charles I. The situation becomes more bizarre when Hunt learns that Hudson is not dead, but living in the town of Oakham, 60 miles west across the Fens. Hunt and his companions’ journey only delivers up more mystery when they find that ‘Jeffrey Hudson’ has left the town. Hunt knows that the jolly boat* which contained the skeleton belonged to a French trader, Incasble, which worked out of King’s Lynn.

*Jolly boats were usually the smallest type of boat carried on ships, and were generally between 16 feet (4.9 m) and 18 feet (5.5 m) long. They were clinker-built and propelled by four or six oars. When not in use the jolly boat normally hung from davits at the stern of a ship, and could be hoisted into and out of the water. Jolly boats were used for transporting people and goods to and from shore.

Sancy diamond ndexHunt’s odyssey continues. In King’s Lynn, Hunt and his companions are summoned to the presence of the Duchesse de Mazarin. Hortense Mancini is one of the most beautiful women in Europe. She is highly connected, but also notorious as one of Charles II’s (several) mistresses. She reveals that the mysterious dwarf – or his impersonator – may be in possession of a a legendary gemstone – the Sancy – a diamond of legendary worth, and the cause of centuries of intrigue and villainy. The Duchesse bids Harry to travel to Paris, but once there, his fortunes take a turn for the worse.

The layers of deception and double dealing in Lloyd’s plot are sometimes breathtakingly complex, but the page-and-a-half of dramatis personnae at the front of the book is a great help. When Harry Hunt, apparently betrayed by Colonel Fields, finds himself incarcerated sine die in la Bastille, one fears the worst for our intelligent (but not particularly swashbuckling) hero.

Robert J Lloyd once again works his magic in the twin roles of formidable historian and fine storyteller. We have fantastical escapes, improbable machines (a kind of 17thC steampunk) and perilous journeys to entertain us, and they do this most royally. The Poison Machine is published by Melville House and is available now.

FOUR THOUSAND DAYS Days . . . Between the covers

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I am pushed to think of another modern writer who is more prolific, but yet so consistently readable as MJ Trow. Not only that, until a few years ago he actually ‘worked for a living’ outside of his writing career. He and I walked along one or two shared paths. We went to the same school, but I was a couple of years ahead of him, and neither of us noticed one another’s presence. We both took up a career in teaching, and shared a deep contempt for the corporate management styles in English comprehensive schools. He exploited that in his superb series centred on the world of Peter ‘Mad’ Maxwell, Head of History at a fictional school in the Isle of Wight. I say fictional, but Maxwell was, to all intents and purposes, the author himself. One imagines (and hopes) that the murders in the books were purely imaginary ones, but the troubled and often complex teenagers and preposterous members of the Senior Leadership Team were all too true to life.

Before Maxwell came Trow’s homage to Conan Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade. Bumbling and incompetent in the original books, Lestrade is portrayed by Trow as a decent copper, nobody’s fool, and doing his best, but frequently upstaged by his flashier nemesis from Baker Street. There are also series featuring Kit Marlowe, the Elizabethan dramatist, here recast as one of Gloriana’s secret agents. I have also enjoyed the Grand and Batchelor Victorian mysteries. Trow is a great humorist and punster. mixing comedy and word play with superb plotting and  – the real pull, for me – the introduction of real historical characters in to the narrative. In addition he has written extensively in other genres, including True Crime.

Having just realised I am over 200 words into the review without mentioning the book in question, I must get back on task. Margaret Murray was the first celebrated woman archaeologist, and in Four Thousand Days she is at the centre of an intriguing mystery. We are in London, October 1900, and while the Boer War is still very much alive, the Boer leader Paul Kruger has fled to Europe, the ‘game’ is pretty much over, and the first British troops are returning from South Africa.

A young woman is found dead, apparently by her own hand, in a sleazy tenement bedroom. Further investigation reveals that she led at least two different lives, one as a prostitute, but another as a modest and attentive student, a regular attendee at Margaret Murray’s free Friday afternoon lectures at University College London. Another student of Em-Em, (Margaret Murray) Angela Friend, is drawn into the case by her soon-to-be boyfriend, Police Constable Andrew Crawford.

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Enter another real-life character in the shape of retired copper, Edmund Reid (above). Troubled by the recent death of his wife and his conspicuous failure a dozen years earlier to catch Jack the Ripper, he has resigned himself to a solitary existence down in Hampton on Sea, a village near Herne Bay in Kent. Hampton would eventually be obliterated by erosion and the force of the waves, but an early part of this process – the collapse of a sand dune – reveals to Reid the body of another woman, dead for some time. The fact she was another archaeologist, is too much of a coincidence. It transpires that she was attempting to excavate a Roman coastal fort. What she found – and was murdered for – has the potential to turn Christian history on its head. He teams up with Margaret Murray to solve the mystery. The book’s enigmatic title? All is revealed in the final pages, but I will not spoil it for you.

Trow introduces other historical characters, and one of his many skills is to make us believe that how they behave in his book is just how they were in real life. As in all of his novels, Trow reminds us in Four Thousand Days that his grasp of history is second to none. Add that to his wizardry as a storyteller, and you have a winning combination. Four Thousand Days is published by Severn House and is available now.

For more on the novels of MJ Trow, click the image below.

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BRYANT & MAY’S PECULIAR LONDON . . . Between the covers

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Yes, yes, Arthur Bryant died peacefully at the end of London Bridge Is Falling Down, but the old boy isn’t speaking from beyond the grave, or ectoplasmically appearing at his former landlady’s spritualist church. This delightful conceit – and I use the word in its literary sense – is Christopher Fowler (aka @Peculiar on Twitter) imagines a long conversation between Arthur and his long-time colleagues from the Peculiar Crime Unit, to put in print a kind of concordance of the wonderful quirks and hidden histories of London which underpinned the memorable series of novels featuring the two detectives.

This is not a geographical street-by-street tour, but more a recollection of bizarre events and strange legends that darts this way and that, rather like the working of Arthur’s mind. Most of the PCU team have an input with something that has taken their fancy, except (naturally) poor old Raymondo – Raymand Land, the exasperated, ineffectual and much mocked titular head of the PCU. He is given the wrong time for the meeting, and so when he arrives, everything is done and dusted. This little episode is a reminder that (imaginary) cruelty is an essential ingredient of English comedy.

The reader can dip in and out of this book pretty much taking the chapters in any order There is, quite rightly, no sense of one thing leading to another as, perhaps for the first and only time in this series, there is no need for a coherent plot. The events described have already happened – or not, as the case may be. Christopher Fowler, as an expert Londoner, is well aware that fable and legend do not need to cling too closely to probability.

For those wondering where this blissful blend of the arcane, the shocking, the macabre, the comical and the eccentric comes from, the author provides a ‘further reading’ list.

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It is right and fitting that the closing words in this book should be spoken by Artur Bryant himself:

“London.
According to the playwright Ben Jonson it was the city of bawds and roysters, claret-wine and oysters. To me it is just home, where I am on the inside looking out instead of somewhere outside looking in. It’s my city, not yours. Which is to say that I see it in a certain way that you do not, and vice-versa.
I have no fantasies involving a comatose retirement on the Isle of Wight, like poor old Raymondo. I have no intention of leaving this grubby, exhausting, maddening city.
London is like a greedy old landlady. She didn’t ask me to come, didn’t invite me to stay and won’t miss me when I’ve left.
And that suits me fine.”

Bryant and May’s Peculiar London is published by Doubleday, and is available now.

For more about Christopher Fowler and the Bryant & May novels, click the image below.

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THE APARTMENT UPSTAIRS . . . Between the covers

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Author Lesley Kara returns to the world she excels in describing – the apparently mundane suburban milieu where the streets and houses  serve as a  stage where families and friends act out a drama riddled with lies, secrets and deception.

Scarlett Quilter, a forty-something accountant, lives in the ground floor apartment of a suburban London house. She has a debilitating illness but is able to work from home. The titular ‘apartment upstairs’ was once occupied by her aunt, Rebecca, a former school teacher. Rebecca made a wrong romantic choice late in life by forming a relationship with a man called Clive Hamlin. Hamlin murdered Rebecca, and then committed suicide, so we know from the start that the apartment upstairs has deeply sinister connotations for Scarlett, as well as for her younger brother Ollie (who has inherited the house) and her father, Peter.

The Quilters have entrusted Rebecca’s funeral arrangements with a firm called Fond Farewells, which is run by Dee Boswell and her business partner Lindsay. Dee and Lindsay had a shared friend called Gina Caplin, who mysteriously disappeared ten years earlier, and they have both supported a campaign to find out the truth about what happened to their friend.

All is not sweetness and light between Dee and Lindsay. Lindsay has abused the trust placed in her by the friend of a dead man – think treasured possessions and eBay. She is caught out but manages to placate the grieving customer in a way which leaves Dee fuming. The contrast between the two women is cleverly drawn. Lindsay is more confident, perhaps even reckless and, in contrast to Dee, is knowingly certain of her sexuality.

When Scarlett discovers that her late aunt was connected to the missing girl, Gina, things start to get interesting. Lesley Kara lays a trail of particularly juicy red herrings which include the possibility that the truth about Gina’s disappearance might lie very close to Scarlett’s home, in a ‘Fred West patio’ kind of way.

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Lesley Kara always enjoys directing her readers up the proverbial garden path in terms of plot, and here she serves up a couple of turns which are more like double somersaults than twists. The clues are there for more suspicious readers, but they are far from obvious.

The Apartment Upstairs is a dark journey into a world where a violation of trust is made even worse because it is happening between close friends and family members.  It is published by Bantam Press and is available now. For more on Lesley Kara, click on the image (below)

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THE MIRROR GAME . . . Between the covers

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Even before I read the first page, this book ticked a number of important boxes for me, including:
1920s ✔️
London ✔️
Great War background ✔️
Beautifully imagined cover graphics ✔️
I’m happy to say my initial optimism was not to be shattered. So, what goes on? We are in 1925 and in a London that has borne relatively little structural damage from the recent war compared to what it was to suffer less that two decades later. The major damage, however is to the people and families of the city. Across Britain, the war has claimed the lives of  886,000 participants, mostly men between the ages of 18 and 40, and London has more than its fair share of widows, children without fathers and parents without sons.

TMG FIGURE013Investigator and journalist Harry Lark fought for King and Country and emerged relatively unscathed although, like so many other men, the sounds, smells and images of the trenches are ever present at the back of his mind and he has also become addicted to laudanum – a tincture of opium and alcohol. When he is contacted by a friend and benefactor, Lady Charlotte Carlisle, she tells him that she thinks she has seen a ghost. Sitting in Mayfair’s Café Boheme, she has seen a man who is the image of Captain Adrian Harcourt, a pre-war politician who was killed on the Western Front in 1918, and was engaged to be married to her daughter Ferderica. But this man is no phantom who can fade into the wallpaper. Other customers notice him. He is flesh and blood, and approaches Lady Charlotte’s table, stares into her eyes, but then leaves without saying a word. She asks Lark to investigate.

Harry’s search takes him to Harcourt’s father who throws him out on his ear. He then visits an exclusive gentleman’s club, where he asks one too many questions, and is beaten within an inch of his life by thugs in the pay of someone powerful. Helped by an old friend, retired policeman Bob Clements, he learns that Adrian Harcourt was listed as being killed in a firefight near a ruined French village, when the company he commanded were slaughtered. There were a mere handful of survivors, one of which was the son of an influential London gangster, Alec Ivers.

Harry Lark begins to get the sense that something terrible caused the death of most of Harcourt’sTMG FIGURE012 company, and that some seriously well-connected people have ensured that the truth about their demise has been successfully covered up. Iver’s son has been committed to an institution for mentally and physically damaged WW1 soldiers, and Filton Hall is Harry’s next port of call.

As he tries to learn the truth Harry himself takes both mental and physical batterings, while there are a string of deaths around the fringes of the affair. His growing love for Ferderica seems to be reciprocated, but then they both receive a huge shock which turns the case on its head.

Author Guy Gardner’s day job – or, more likely, night job – was jazz pianist, but now he teaches piano at home in  Dorset and is planning to write more novels. He also says he enjoys a glass of single malt, so I raise a glass of my favourite, Lagavulin, in his honour!

The book is certainly not short on action, intriguing characters and plot twists but, unsurprisingly, Guy Gardner is at his best when describing the occasions when music (Ferderica is a violinist, and Harry is a music journalist) is woven into the story. The Mirror Game is atmospheric and has a convincing sense sense of time and place. It would be good even coming from an established novelist, but as a debut it is excellent.  It is published by The Book Guild, and is available now.

FOR MORE FICTION WITH A GREAT WAR BACKGROUND, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

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MURDER AT CLARIDGES . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2022-03-14 at 19.49.22Jim Eldridge (left) and his aristocratic Detective Chief Inspector Edgar Saxe-Coburg are working their way around the best hotels in 1940s London, investigating murder We have had The Ritz  (click for my review), The Savoy, and now Claridges. Setting a murder against a grand backdrop is a simple but agreeable  formula which Eldridge has employed in his ‘museum series’, which are set in late Victorian England. The action takes place in October 1940, with Londoners under the hammer from Hitler’s bombers each and every night.

The concept which underpins the plot is similar to the one used in Murder at The Ritz. In the late 1930s, there were still countries in Europe ruled by what we might dismiss as ‘minor monarchies’. Albania, Yugoslavia and Romania all had ruling families, and some of them decamped to London, along with their coffers of gold. Also in London, which adds spice to the plot, were less fortunate people, some of them with a political agenda. One such, a Romanian kitchen hand at Claridges, is found garotted outside on the pavement. Saxe-Coburg’s boss calls hands him the murder investigation. The reason he wants Edgar on the case is touchingly naive. He thinks that when peace returns, and the ruling families of the Balkans resume their thrones, they will remember fondly the  discretion and tact used by an English detective. The garotter then finds another victim, but what possible connection does a young woman working for the Free French headquarters in London have the unfortunate Romanian?

murder-at-claridge-sLurking in the background of this tale is a man who is less than noble, but with more power than all the kings and queens sheltering in London’s best hotel suites. Henry ‘Hooky’ Morton is a London gangster who is building his empire on black market scams, the most profitable of which is his manipulation of the petrol market. We think of fuel supply – or lack of it – as a very modern problem, but in 1940, having fuel to put in your car was crucial to many organisations. Hooky Morton has a problem, though. Someone has infiltrated his gang, and is making him look stupid. Then, Hooky does something really, really stupid and, no nearer identifying the garotte killer or their motives, Saxe-Coburg becomes involved in investigating what is, for any copper, the worst crime of all.

Saxe-Coburg’s wife Rosa, a popular pianist and singer does her bit for morale in concert halls and hotels in the evening, but her day job is more exacting and brings her face to face with the havoc raining down on London from the sky – she drives an ambulance. Her assistant is killed when a bombed building collapses on him, and a little while later, when Rosa goes to visit his widow. she is horrified to find the woman dead on the kitchen floor, killed with the same method used to despatch the Romanian kitchen hand and the young Frenchwoman.

I suppose Murder at Claridges is, if genres mean anything, on the fringe of cosy crime, but is a genuine page-turner. Despite the grimly authentic background of London being battered by the Luftwaffe, it gives us larger-than-life characters and, of course, it allows us to peep into a world which only the truly rich inhabit. The suave Saxe-Coburg is a timely antidote to the damaged, troubled and – frankly – disturbing world of so many fictional Detective Inspectors who inhabit our contemporary world. Eldridge is a fine writer and never has escapism been so elegantly penned. This book is published by Allison & Busby, and will be out in Kindle and hardback on 21st April, with a paperback edition due in the autumn. To read my reviews of two of Jim Eldridge’s ‘museum series’, click the links below.

Murder at Madame Tussaud’s

Murder at the British Museum

SHAKING HANDS WITH THE DEVIL . . . Between the covers

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There is an interesting debate which raises its head periodically, and it involves the tricky subject of what can – or should not – become the subject of comedy. Jimmy Carr was in the news only the other day, because he made a joke about the deaths of Roma people in The Holocaust. There are numerous TV sitcoms from back in the day which are fondly remembered by us older folks, but would not survive the heightened sensibilities of modern publicists and producers. This preamble is by way of a warning that Bryan J Mason’s novel, Shaking Hands With The Devil, will not be for everyone. There are jokes and themes in here which, as they say, push boundaries, so if you are someone who takes offence at words on a page, then I think it’s probably ‘Goodnight Vienna‘. For those made of sterner stuff, here’s the story.

We are in late 1980s London – the autumnal years of Thatcher’s Britain – beset by strikes and endless assaults by the IRA. A predatory killer called Clifton Gentle – think Denis Nilsen – is enticing young homosexuals to come back to his home, where they have sex, but the post coital routine is that he kills them and chops them up into pieces. Sometimes the pieces stay in his flat, but when they become too noxious, he leaves them spread about the capital, in skips, under bushes or in Biffa bins.

SHWTD coverOn his trail is a grotesque cartoon of a copper – DCI Dave Hicks. He lives at home with his dear old mum, has a prodigious appetite for her home-cooked food, is something of a media whore (he does love his press conferences) and has a shaky grasp of English usage, mangling idioms  like a 1980s version of Mrs Malaprop.

The other gags come thick and fast. We have three new police cadets – Oldfield, Abberline and Slipper –  working on the case (Google if you’re not sure}, while the editor of The Herald Review (one of the newspapers covering the case) is a certain Mr Charles Manson.

Mason’s final audacious name-check is when he reveals that there is a second killer on the loose, a young man who has won all the glittering prizes, but has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Peter Kurten is determined to make the most of his final six months by a bit of casual ‘triple D’ – Date, Death, Dismember. A confession. Suspecting that this was another joke, I Googled the name (so you don’t have to) and found that Peter Kurten a.k.a The Vampire of Düsseldorf was a notorious German serial killer who went to the guillotine on 2nd July 1931.

When he learns that he has a rival, Clifton Gentle is most aggrieved. That is not his only problem, however, because a young rent boy called Jimmy is Clifton’s only failure. Not only did Jimmy escape before fulfilling his date with the cleaver and hacksaw, he has now located his would-be assassin and is blackmailing him.

Hackney’s finest, Dave Hicks or, as he prefers to be known, ‘The Dick from The Sticks’ is also up against it. As clueless as ever, he unwisely announces in a news conference that he had set himself just fourteen days to bring the killer to justice. The days and hours tick by, without Hicks having any genuine leads. Then, on the eve of the expiry of his deadline, he decides to save his reputation. In a a bizarre attempt to blend in with the crowds in London’s gay clubs, Hicks sets out to attract the killer (he is unaware that there are two) and is dressed to kill, decked out in:

BJM“A fuchsia -pink shirt with outsize wing collar, over-tight lime green denim jeans, a brand new squeaky-clean leather jacket and, just for good measure, a black beret with white trim.”

The finale of Dave Hicks’s  quest to catch his man is set in an old fashioned Soho of seedy clubs, touts and pimps that would be unrecognisable to the trendsetters who frequent it today. Bryan Mason (right) has written a dystopian novel which is, in turn, ghastly, eyebrow-raising and hilarious, but is also a must for those who like their satire as black as night.

Shaking Hands With The Devil is published by Vanguard Press/Pegasus Publishing, and is available now.

MURDER MOST VILE . . . Between the covers

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Having not come across author Eric Brown before, I did a quick search, and Wiki told me that he was a prolific science fiction writer, and I immediately thought I must have got the wrong chap, but he is one and the same. His versatility in writing Golden Age-ish mysteries set in the 1950s as well as futuristic fantasies is to be commended, but after all, he was born and raised in Haworth which, if you are looking for literary connections, is as good a place as any, and better than most.

MMV coverWhat is happening then, in Murder Most Vile? All too often these days, I am a late arrival at the ball and this is the ninth in a series centred on a pair of investigators in 1950s England. Donald Langham is a London novelist, who runs an investigation agency with business partner Ralph Ryland. Langham’s wife, Maria Dupré,  is a literary agent. Here, Langham is engaged by a rather unpleasant and misanthropic – but very rich – old man named Vernon Lombard. Lombard has a daughter and two sons, and the favourite one of the two boys, a feckless artist called Christopher, is missing.

Old Lombard has history, and not a particularly salubrious one in terms of British politics in the 1930s. He was a fervent supporter of Oswald Mosley and his fascists, and while this years ago, it is to rake up uncomfortable memories for  Ralph Ryland when it emerges that the boss of a London brewery is also a pervert, a gangster – and, like Vernon Lombard – someone who longs for the glory days of the British Union of Fascists.

Langham and Ryland are an interesting team, with Langham the more urbane and middle class of the two, while Ryland’s father was a London docker who was on what we now consider to be the wrong side of things during the infamous Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when Mosley’s fascists went head to head with an opposing force of trade unionists, Jewish groups and communists, with the police trying to keep the sides apart. Out of loyalty to and, perhaps, fear of his father, Ryland was there that day, and what he saw – and did – has continued to haunt him, especially since he was among the Allied troops who liberated Belsen in April 1945 – a month that has special significance for some of the characters in this novel.

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What the pair uncover is that most poisonous of situations – bitter family jealousy. It transpires that Christopher Lombard’s apparent success as an artist is due to his father buying up most of his canvases, and the other two siblings are not happy. There are abductions, murders and mysteries – and Eric Brown provides a clever plot twist which I never saw coming.

It’s not always helpful to shepherd crime novels into genres, but I know that many readers are not comfortably retired like me, and the time they have for settling down with a good book is limited, and that is why they sometimes welcome a ‘heads-up’ as to what kind of book to pick up next. I would say that Murder Most Vile is cosy crime, but with a hard edge. It is also, I suppose, historical crime fiction, because, for some, 1957 is as far away as 1757 in terms of social attitudes and the trappings of technology. It might also be doffing its trilby to the world of bygone investigators – Paul Temple, certainly, with maybe just a hint of Bulldog Drummond. We have dead bodies, escapes from dungeons, powerful embittered and influential old men and  – essential to all private investigators – friends in the police force. The bottom line, however, is that this is cleverly written by Eric Brown, and is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time. Murder Most Vile is published by Severn House and is out now.

ERIC BROWN’S WEBSITE IS HERE

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