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Mark Billingham

ON MY SHELF . . . April 2019

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ELIOT’S PESSIMISM comes to mean more and more the older I get. The contrast between the annual rebirth of ‘the dead land’ gets starker with every little personal infirmity that old age brings. But, hey-ho, that’s another winter ticked off, and the poignant lines from Bilbo’s song can be put back in the box for another few months:

BilboLeaving aside the morbid musings, there’s no shortage of cruelty in the latest crop of excellent crime reads on the Fully Booked shelf. For me, the highlight has to be the latest Tom Thorne novel, where our man goes head-to-head with a particularly nasty specimen of humanity who bears out the adage that the female is deadlier than the male.

DECEPTION by Maggie Belvoir

DeceptionSet in the university town of Cambridge, Deception tells the tale of a how an ostensibly ideal family of perfect children, loving parents and comfortable circumstances is rent asunder when their good deed – adopting a troubled schoolgirl – certainly does not go unpunished. Add to the mix a nasty murder and a conflicted police officer, and we have a witches’ cauldron of dark deeds against the serene background of an ancient seat of learning. Maggie Belvoir has lived in Cambridge for 40 years. She is writing under a pseudonym as members of her social and family circle, may be shocked at some of the scenes depicted in her novel. Published by Matador, Deception is out now.

THEIR LITTLE SECRET by Mark Billingham

TLSLondon copper Tom Thorne has become an institution for those who like a brilliant police procedural with a distinctly individual cast list, a Pandora’s Box of nasty villains and plot twists to confound the best of us. A conman whose set-piece scam is to befriend wealthy women and separate them from their fortune meets his match when he chooses his next victim – only to find that she is a borderline insane psychopath. You can get your copy of Their Little Secret from 2nd May, and it’s published by Little, Brown.
For more on Mark Billingham on Fully Booked, follow this link.

THE UNSEEN PATH by JD De Pavilly

TUPFor starters, the copy I received today is a beautifully presented hardback, with that simplest, but most welcome delight – a ribbon bookmark. The novel is centred around the life of a security officer, Andy Bowson whose witnessing of the death of a notorious jihadi draws him down into a vortex of corruption, international subterfuge and political mayhem. As if Bowson hasn’t enough to deal with, his personal life has begun to unravel at an alarming rate, and when his wife disappears on Exmoor while driving to visit her parents, he discovers a sinister link to what appears to be a vigilante campaign against the Islamic community. I normally take publicity blurbs with several sizeable grains of NaCl, but one line intrigued me here:
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This thriller marks the debut of an exciting new writing talent, and will be published by Matador on 28th April.

THE LOST SHRINE by Nicola Ford

Lost ShrineI confess a vested interest here in that one of my sons is a professional archaeologist who is employed by a major construction company. He identifies and records ancient traces before they are covered with tons of steel and concrete. In the real world, this commercial work keeps archaeology alive, and so the Nicola Ford’s fictional sleuth Clare Hills and her university colleague Dr David Barbrook know they have to accept, albeit reluctantly the developers’ shilling. Murder, however, is a different matter, and a corpse found on an historical site high on a Cotswold hill leads Hills and Barbrook into dangerous territory. The Lost Shrine is published by Alison &Busby and is out on 23rd May. Please read the Fully Booked review of the first novel in this series, The Hidden Bones.

ULTIMATUM by Frank Gardner

UltimatumIntelligence agent Luke Carlton is the creation of the celebrated BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner. Carlton made his debut in the 2017 best-seller Crisis, and now he returns for a second adventure set in that apotheosis of anti-Western malice, Iran. The feared Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are working on a weapon which will destroy the fragile international balance of power. When a search-and-destroy mission involving Carlton goes disastrously wrong, the clock starts to tick on a potentially devastating military and political time bomb. Ultimatum is published by Corgi and will be available from 31st May.

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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 KILLING HABIT . . . Between the covers.

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Mark Billingham’s perpetually disgruntled and discomforted London copper DI Tom Thorne returns in The Killing Habit for another three way battle. Three way? Yes, of course, because Thorne and his resolute allies sit on their stools in one corner of the triangular boxing ring, while in the blue corner are his politically correct bosses. In the red corner, of course, are the various chancers, petty and not-so-petty crooks who challenge the law on a daily basis.

TKHThe Thorne novels have a recurring cast list. As Salvatore Albert Lombino, aka Ed McBain said, quoting a 1917 popular song, “Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here!” Indeed they are. Its members include Helen, Tom Thorne’s long suffering partner plus little boy Alfie, and the bizarrely tattooed and pierced Mancunian pathologist Phil Hendricks. We have Nicola Tanner the police officer scarred by the murder of her alcoholic partner, Susan, and the perpetually cautious DCI Russell Brigstocke. Between them, they pursue two killers; one who murders losers-in-the-Game-of-Life on the periphery of a drugs gang, and another who seems to be targeting lonely women via a match-making service.

It’s a staple of serial killer crime fiction that the bad guy starts out as a youngster by pulling wings off flies or torturing hamsters before graduating to ever darker deeds. Either that, or he is the victim of some terrible childhood trauma which poisons his view of humanity. I say ‘he’ and realise that I may be risking the wrath of the Equal Opportunities Police here, but I don’t recall reading a novel about female mass murderers. They may be out there. Numbered among their ranks may be homicidal Two Spirit Persons or Gender Fluid Otherkins. I do not know. If I have offended any potential killers by using the wrong pronoun, please accept my (almost) sincere apologies.

But I digress. Billingham puts Thorne on the trail of a serial killer – of cats. Why on earth? Two reasons. One is that nothing inflames the fury of Middle England like the killing of domestic animals. The debate that compares this crime with that of the murder of humans is for another day, but Billingham recognises that we are more likely to become incandescent over the death of a domestic pet than the death of a child. The second reason I have already suggested. If someone is waging a covert war on cats, is this just a prelude to something far, far worse? Indeed, it seems so. A succession of women meet their deaths at the hands of a killer who has hacked into the database of Made In Heaven, a low-rent match-making website.

Billingham gives us a parallel plot which eventually converges with the main story. A shadowy but powerful criminal organisation smuggles addictive synthetic drugs into British prisons. The recipients, grateful at the time, are eventually released into the wider world owing the gang an impossible amount of money, repayable only by becoming foot soldiers of the gang itself. An elderly woman, known only as “The Duchess” plays Postman Patricia in this deadly cycle of addiction and dependence and, when her role as amiable ‘auntie’ visiting prisoners is exposed, the connection between the drug scam and the dating killer is made.

As with every Mark Billingham novel, The Killing Habit is incisively written, impeccably authentic as a police procedural and, above all, totally human. No character walks onto the stage without their weaknesses and their frailties becoming exposed in the icy blue of the spotlight. We are not reading about cardboard cut-out people here: they are real, fallible and convincing. They may even be living a couple of doors down from you.

1430895baJust when you think that he has provided all the answers to the complex plot, and the characters are, to quote the only bit of Milton I can remember from ‘A’ Level, “calm of mind and all passion spent,” Billingham (right) provides a breathtaking epilogue which, in addition to turning my preconception on its head, (feel free to add your own metaphor) bites you on the bum, punches you in the gut, hits you over the head with a piece of four by two, takes the wind out of your sails and grabs you by the short-and-curlies. Hopefully recovering from this multiple assault, you will be hard pushed to disagree with me that this is a brilliant crime thriller written by a master storyteller at the very top of his game.

The Killing Habit is published by Litte, Brown and will be available on 14th June. For a review of the previous Tom Thorne novel, click the link to Love Like Blood.

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ON MY SHELF . . . May 2018 (2)

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LONDON, TOKYO, ROME, RURAL ENGLAND, WASHINGTON DC – and TRANSYLVANIA! Anyone fancy a round the world trip via the pages of crime and mystery thrillers? If so, stay tuned. We are hardly ten days into May, and the intriguing books keep thudding onto my front door-mat.

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Kill Angel

rocambolesqueTHEY SAY THAT YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN – and reading the Amazon description of Dazieri’s novels I came across the amazing word Rocambolesque. As ever, Google had an answer of sorts, and I am now waiting for the opportunity to drop the word into casual conversation with my friends and family. That aside, Dazieri returns with another case for detectives Torre and Caselli. An express train from Milan arrives in Rome, but several of its passengers and train crew won’t be disembarking, at least without the help of medical teams, stretchers and body bags. This is Italian Noir at its finest, and not for the faint of heart. Published by Simon & Schuster, Kill The Angel is translated by Anthony Shugaar, and is out now.

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I’LL RISK A SMALL WAGER WITH YOU. I say a word, and you respond instantly with another word. Yes, I know, it’s that old word association game associated with bogus psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Anyway, I have written two words on a slip of paper, and I win if either is the word you come up with. Ready? OK, here goes…

“TRANSYLVANIA”

VVIf you said either “Dracula” or “Vampire”, I win. But maybe you’ve been reading the novel by Irish-Hungarian actress and poet, Vivienne Vermes? If so, you’ll know that her novel The Barefoot Road definitely doesn’t involve teeth, cloaks, garlic or unconventional blood transfusions. It dos however, involve blood which is shed by violence. A young woman is found near a Romanian village. She is unconscious, half -starved, and barely alive. She is from an ethnic group which were brutally expelled by the ancestors of the present villagers. Humanity temporarily triumphs over tribal bigotry and she is nursed back to health, but when she begins a relationship with one of the villagers, and a child disappears, the embers of old hatreds burst into flames. The Barefoot Road is published by Matador, and is available as a Kindle or a paperback.

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WHO WANTS TOM THORNE? . . . Prize Draw

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TOM THORNE, ANYONE …? Our February giveaway is a crisp new paperback edition of Mark Billingham’s hard-hitting Love Like Blood. Now, read carefully, because this is is a pretty difficult competition. Here’s what you must do. I’ve broken it down into easy steps. Ready?

  1. email Fully Booked at fullybooked2016@yahoo.com
  2. Put the words ‘Tom Thorne’ in the subject box

ALTERNATIVELY

1. Go to our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FullyBooked2017/
2. Click ‘like’ on the feature for the competition.

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Phew! Seriously though, it’s that easy. The competition closes at 2200 hrs on Sunday 4th March. One entry per person, naturally, and I will draw the winner’s name out of the digital hat and let them know the good news!

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ON MY SHELF . . . February 2018

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I am writing this on a cold Friday evening in Fenland where hopes of a Spring just around the corner have been dashed by weather warnings of severe cold over the next few days. Despite this, publishers are coming out of their winter quarters to prepare for the Spring Offensive, and thus we have four tasty novels on offer here.

LOVE LIKE BLOOD by MARK BILLINGHAM

BillinghamThis is the paperback edition of the Tom Thorn novel which came out in June 2017 and was reviewed on Fully Booked here. Suffice to say that it tackles head on one of the most iniquitous so-called cultural practices prevalent in the diverse Britain of the Twenty First Century. It is hard to avoid using the grossly inappropriate term ‘honour killing’ but until someone comes up with something more fitting, it will have to do. Love Like Blood will be out on 8th March as a Sphere paperback, and will set you back £5.99. HOWEVER, we will be running a prize draw to win a copy, so watch out for alerts on Twitter and Facebook.

MUNICH (THE MAN WHO SAID NO)  by DAVID LAWS

David LawsIn this imaginative retelling of the now infamous events in the Bavarian capital in 1938, David Laws gives us a young present-day researcher trying to find out the truth about her grandfather’s part in a series of meetings which shaped history. What evidence did he have that Neville Chamberlain was being duped by Hitler? Why did he almost certainly give his life to prevent the deal going through? Emma Drake finds the answer not in dusty telegrams or carbon copied communiques, but in a present day forest just fifty miles from the site of the lasting testament to Nazi infamy – Oświęcim. Munich is published by Matador, is out now, and will cost you £8.99.

THE TEMPTATION OF FORGIVENESS  by DONNA LEON

DonnaLeonFrom the grim and silent testimony of a Polish forest to the bustling and utterly cosmopolitan world of Venice, courtesy of Donna Leon and her immensely popular Italian copper, Commissario Guido Brunetti. It seems barely credible that this is number twenty seven – no, that’s no misprint, 27 – in the series. While trying to discover the source of an information leak from within his own department, and investigating the savage attack on a family friend, Brunetti seeks solace – and a possible solution – from the pages of Sophocles’ Antigone. The Temptation of Forgiveness will be out on 5 April from William Heinemann/Cornerstone in Kindle and hardback. The paperback edition will be out in the autumn of 2018.

AMERICAN BY DAY by DEREK B MILLER

Derek B MillerMiller created quite a stir with his debut novel, Norwegian By Night, and now he aims to repeat the  achievement with the story of Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård who has to leave her native Norway and travel to America to find the truth behind her brother’s disappearance. In addition to apparently disappearing off the face of the earth, he is implicated in the death of a prominent African-American academic. And this is 2008, election year, nerves are in shreds, and across the political world innocent mistakes are treated as mortal insults. In addition to plying her police officer skills, Sigrid Ødegård needs to learn a whole new set of behavioural responses if she is to get the the bottom of her brother’s disappearance. American By Day is published by Transworld/Doubleday and will be available on 19 April.

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LOVE LIKE BLOOD … Between the covers

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For those customers who boarded the Tom Thorne Express (driven by Mark Billingham) at the last station, here is the story so far. Tom Thorne is a middle-aged policeman currently – and probably permanently – of Detective Inspector rank. His home turf is predominantly North London, but he has survived being busted down to uniform, and banished to that godless region south of the Thames. He is a maverick’s maverick. Grumpy, impulsive, reckless, no respecter of seniority, but grudgingly admired by fellow officers who know a good copper when they see one. He lives with a child protection officer and her young son. His long time best mate is pathologist Phil Hendricks who is totally conventional apart from his addiction to body piercings, tattoos, and the Gay lifestyle. Of Thorne’s many vices, the one which exasperates his friends more than anything is his passion for country music, where his drug of choice is Hank Williams. Thorne tries not to give the many ghosts in his past free reign, but the spectre that haunts him the most is that of his late father, who suffered a long and ultimately fatal slide down into the hell of dementia.

LLB coverNow, Thorne becomes involved in another kind of hell on earth, and one where all absent devils have been called home, all leave cancelled, and any recently retired fallen angels pressed back into duty. The fires stoked in this particular hellish pit illuminate the ghastly world inhabited by some British Asian communities who sanction murder in the name of their warped concept of family honour. Among the ghosts which inhabit the darker parts of Thorne’s memory is that of Meena Athwal. She was killed, he is certain, at the behest of her family, but her death remains unavenged in a court of justice.

Thorne is approached by a fellow officer, Nicola Tanner. Her partner, schoolteacher Susan Best, has been murdered in their shared home, and Tanner is convinced that it is a case of mistaken identity. She believes that the killers are a pair of professional murderers she is tracking for their role in so-called ‘Honour Killings’. Tanner wants Thorne’s help because she thinks his sheer bloody-mindedness and contempt for procedure will cut through the layers of police timidity caused by misplaced sensitivity to multicultural issues.

Thorne, reluctantly, agrees to help, but then two youngsters – Amaya and boyfriend Kamal – are abducted. They were planning to run away together to escape the stifling expectations of their families, but the CCTV shows them being abused by a drunken Irish lout on a train, but then rescued by a smartly dressed Asian man. When Amaya’s body turns up in a shallow grave, apparently raped and strangled, Thorne abandons any reluctance he may have felt, and begins to put pressure on those he feels may be responsible.

Billingham dedicates the book to two real-life victims of religious murder, Banaz Mahmod and Rahmat Sulemani. He barely keeps his anger in check, but is too good a writer to allow the novel to be just a diatribe against disgusting and inhuman beliefs. Still, his controlled fury burns white hot on every page. Here, he discusses motives for the killings with his boss:

“It’s hard to accept these are motives.”
“Because they’re not, “ Thorne said. “Not to you or me or to anyone else with an ounce of sodding humanity. The people we’re dealing with have different … standards. A different code. If you can kill your own flesh and blood because something they’ve done means you don’t think you can hold your head up in a temple or in some poxy neighbourhood café….”

We watch with anguish as another possible victim becomes a target for the deadly pair who Tanner has correctly identified. A teenage girl keeps a diary and, having realised that her brother Jad has taken to reading it, writes this entry:

“What makes me angriest is that Jad doesn’t believe a lot of this stuff any more than I do. It’s perfect for him, because of what he’s got between his legs. He gets to do what he likes while I’m bringing dishonour into the house because I’m not ashamed to use what’s BETWEEN MY EARS!”

The plot twists are little short of masterly. Billingham encourages us to make a series of assumptions, but then delights in confounding us as he reveals that the reality is something different altogether. Love Like Blood is the sixteenth Tom Thorne novel and I am certain that the series, which started in 2001 with Sleepyhead, will come to be seen as a classic of its kind. I have read every one of them, but can say with complete conviction that Love Like Blood is the most powerful and impressive yet.

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