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Metropolitan Police

END OF THE LINE . . . Between the covers

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This is the fourth in Robert Scragg’s popular police procedural series featuring London DI Jake Porter and his trusty Sergeant, Nick Styles. The story so far: Porter still grieves for his wife Holly, killed in a hit-and-run incident a few years earlier. The driver remains unidentified, and it preys upon Porter’s mind. He has cautiously begun a new relationship with fellow cop Evie Simmons. Styles is married, with a young child, and is intensely loyal to his boss.

81TTdj6ywMLThe book starts in gory style. Ross Henderson, a young left wing activist, has a YouTube channel on which he posts regular videos denouncing his bête noire, a movement called the English Welfare Party. The EWP are right wing Nationalists vehemently opposed to immigration. As Henderson is setting up his latest live video stream from an abandoned magistrates’ court, proceedings are interrupted by a group who appear to be Islamic extremists. Live and on screen, the young man is killed using the jihadists’ favourite method – decapitation. By the time the police arrive,the killers are long gone, but the shocking video has been seen by millions on social media.

At the same time that Porter and Styles are assigned to the case, Porter hears that there is something of a breakthrough in his personal hunt for the person who killed his wife. Fingerprints from the abandoned vehicle that did the damage have finally been matched to that of a minor criminal, Henry Kaumu. All good then, except that Kaumu is lying in an intensive care unit, comatose and swathed in bandages after being battered around the head with a baseball bat, wielded by an angry homeowner whose house Kaumu was trying to burgle. Porter learns that Kaumu is an employee of Jackson Tyler, a notorious London gangster. Because the case is so personal, Porter is forbidden to take any part in it and so he goes ‘rogue’ to try to find the identity of the person who was driving the fatal car. His clashes with Tyler are painful and unproductive, until he receives information from an unlikely source.

ScraggPorter’s four year search for the person who killed his wife finally ends in a violent encounter on a suburban industrial site, and the hunt for Ross Henderson’s killer takes one or two wrong turns, but eventually Porter gets his man. Or does he? There is a clever twist at the end which I didn’t see coming. Robert Scragg clearly has a strong political stance, but that’s fine – it’s his book, and readers can take it or leave it.

I have to be honest and say that I smelled a rat from the word go. Why would Islamists murder a left wing activist who would have held all the ‘correct’ views on such topics as immigration, Palestine and cultural diversity? It takes Porter & Co. rather a long time to realise they are being played, but maybe that’s just me being a curmudgeon. That caveat aside, this is a thoroughly entertaining police procedural from the author (right) with all boxes ticked, including coppers with difficult personal lives, senior officers welded to their desks, genuinely nasty villains, and authentic locations. The room containing fictional Detective Inspectors is a crowded one, but Jake Porter’s elbows are sharp enough to make sure he has room to move.

End of The Line is published by Allison & Busby, and is out now. To find reviews of the three earlier books in the series, click on the image below.

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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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A DEATH IN THE NIGHT … Between the covers

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GFSAfter I had read Death In Profile, and saw that it was billed as the first of an intended series, I did softly uttered something akin to “hmmmm…?”, quietly questioning if there was any room in the crowded contemporary crime fiction market for books which unashamedly borrowed tropes and mannerisms from books written seventy years ago. I have just finished A Death In The Night, the fourth in the series, and I am now a true believer, and devoted disciple. Guy Fraser-Sampson (left) has created a delightful repertory company of characters, and set them to work catching killers in the highly exclusive avenues and cul de sacs of London’s Hampstead.

Principally, we have a quartet of investigators. Chief Superintendent Simon Collison, Inspector Bob Metcalfe and Sergeant Karen Willis all work for the Metropolitan Police, while Dr Peter Collins is a psychologist and criminal profiler who acts as consultant to the Hampstead coppers. In the first three books, Metcalfe and Collins are jointly suitors of the radiant and ravishing Willis. This strange ménage à trois has now resolved itself, however; Collins has Willis to himself, and Metcalfe has a new object of his passion. (To read our review of an earlier book in the series, A Whiff of Cyanide, just click the link)

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 Naturally enough, this being a murder mystery, the examining pathologist discovers not only that Bowen was murdered by smothering, but she was also three months pregnant. Further investigations by Collison and colleagues uncover that Bowen was in a relationship – along with countless other bedazzled women – with a libidinous and charismatic QC, Simon Fuller. It seems that he and his wife have come to ‘an arrangement’. Mrs F has neither interest nor ability in the sexual side of marriage, so she is quite content to let Mr F seek his pleasures where he will, provided that he remains her husband, in a strictly social sense.

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 As Collison and Co. scrape away at the wall of lies and deflection which surrounds the truth about Bowen’s murder, they get the distinct feeling that as fast as they chip and chisel, someone else is busy repairing and replacing the brickwork. Of course, the killer is revealed in the end, but not before Fraser-Sampson puts his company through their paces. Collison is educated, urbane and thoroughly professional. Metcalfe is dogged, decent and determined. Willis belongs on the cover of Vogue, but is also blindingly intelligent, and a damn good copper. Collins? Well, he is an exercise in eccentricity. He is possessed of a mind which can think three or four steps ahead of less gifted people, but he does have his little moments. Such as when, in times of great stress, he imagines that he is Lord Peter Wimsey, and that Karen Willis is his Harriet Vane.

 To borrow and adapt from Matthew chapter 7, verse 20, “Therefore by their tea-times ye shall know them..”, we are not surprised that Peter Collins serves up Earl Grey to accompany anchovy toast: we would expect nothing less of him. Without extending the metaphor too much beyond its breaking point, I can say that Fraser-Sampson’s writing is – just like Dr Peter’s four o’clock fare – elegantly presented, fragrant, but with a salty piquancy to add balance. I have become a great admirer of the Hampstead Murders series. They may be making a reverential nod in the direction of Christie, Sayers and Allingham et al, but they are beautifully written, cleverly plotted and, above all, superbly entertaining. After all, isn’t that why we open crime fiction books in the first place?

You can buy A Death In The Night here, but if you fancy a freebie, simply click on the image below, and that will take you to our competition page.

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THE MURDER OF STEPHEN LAWRENCE

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Some would say that no murder in British history has resonated so loudly – and for so long – as the killing of Stephen Lawrence on the night of 22nd April 1993. While waiting for a bus home on a street in the London suburb of Eltham, Lawrence was surrounded by a gang of white youths and fatally stabbed.

It has become axiomatic in the reporting of murdered black youths to say that they were promising footballers, ambitious musicians or innocent victims in gang warfare, but Stephen Lawrence was a genuinely decent person, with caring and supportive parents. He was working his way through the education system, and had no connection with the debilitating street culture which still condemns many such young men to lives of crime and hopeless underachievement.

Although immediate investigations into Stephen’s murder identified credible and likely suspects, the police who were involved at the time have been forever tainted with accusations of – at best – total incompetence, and – at worst – breathtaking corruption. The young men who were suspected of Stephen’s murder were all part of the criminal underworld in that part of London. Their parents were career criminals, and the grip that such people can have on a community has been seen time and time again, as in the case of the dreadful Sonnex family, whose fiefdom is the south east London district of Deptford.

Jamie Acourt, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight were the initial suspects in the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, alongside Gary Dobson and David Norris. All were, to differing degrees, the product of their upbringing by adults on the fringes of – if not deeply embedded in – institutionalised criminal behaviour, contempt for the law, and a visceral hatred of anyone outside their own tribal group.

After a bungled, and possibly corrupt, police investigation failed to bring anyone to court, Stephen Lawrence’s parents brought a private prosecution in 1994. Despite top QCs working pro bono, the case failed due to grave doubts about the reliability of the key witness, Duwayne Brooks, who had been with Stephen at the time of his murder.

KillersIn 1997, at the long-delayed inquest into the murder, the five men suspected of the killing refused to co-operate and maintained strict silence. Despite direction to the contrary by the Coroner, the jury returned the verdict that Stephen Lawrence was killed “in a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths.” Later that year, The Daily Mail named the five as Stephen’s killers, and invited them to sue for defamation. Needless to say, none of the five took up the challenge. Below, the five suspects run the gauntlet of a furious crowd after the inquest.

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Also in 1997, the Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered an enquiry into the affair, headed by Sir William Macpherson. The findings, in 1999, were sensational. Among other conclusions, Macpherson stated that the original Metropolitan Police Service investigation had been incompetent and that officers had committed fundamental errors, including: failing to give first aid when they reached the scene; failing to follow obvious leads during their investigation; and failing to arrest suspects. Most damning of all was the view that The Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist.

Despite the devastating views of The Macpherson Report, the five suspects continued their criminal lives, occasionally being convicted, serving short sentences, and then returning to their normal lifestyle. It wasn’t until November 2011, eighteen years after Stephen Lawrence had been struck down, that two of the five suspects were brought to court for his killing. In conditions of absolute secrecy and press lockdown, Gary Dobson and David Norris were tried at The Old Bailey. On 3 January 2012, Dobson and Norris were found guilty of Lawrence’s murder. The two were sentenced on 4 January 2012 to detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, equivalent to a life sentence for an adult, with minimum terms of 15 years and 2 months for Dobson and 14 years and 3 months for Norris. The relative leniency of the sentences reflects the age of Dobson and Norris (below) at the time of the killing.

Dobson and Norris

And the legacy of that night on a chilly spring evening on a suburban London street, almost a quarter of a century ago? This is from a recent article in The Daily Telegraph.

“Ennobled last year (2013), the Baroness, 60, maintains a relatively high profile as an activist and arbiter on community relations, and has appeared everywhere from the Tate gallery (as the subject of a Turner Prize-winning painting) to the Olympic Games opening ceremony and Desert Island Discs. In public, she comes across as imperturbable, even detached from the fiercely emotional issues that surround her. There is an unmistakeable Britishness about her that speaks both to her generation and the manner in which she was brought up.”

Neville Lawrence, however has fared differently.

“Today, Mr Lawrence lives in Jamaica, a short distance from Stephen’s grave. The only public memorial to the teenager in Britain is a pavement plaque in Eltham, south-east London, close to where he died. It has been repeatedly defaced with eggs, excrement and racist graffiti, and the family decided that Stephen would rest more peacefully in their ancestral homeland.

The distance – physical and otherwise – between the Lawrences now is so great that neither can really say if it was Stephen’s death that ended their marriage. Baroness Lawrence has hinted that it was headed for trouble anyway, but Neville tends to differ.

“Our world began falling apart from the moment the hospital staff told us our son had died,” he has said. “For some reason that I have tried to understand, and can’t, we couldn’t reach out to each other. We stayed together for another six years, but from that day we never physically touched each other again.”

Below – Doreen and Neville Lawrence

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