Search

fullybooked2017

Tag

Norman Russell

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017 … Best historical crime novel

historical header

I was delighted that John Lawton’s Friends and Traitors showcased a return for his charismatic copper, Fred Troy, and even more pleased that the beautiful and enigmatic Meret Voytek featured once again, after her ordeals in A Lily of The Field. Norman Russell certainly brought Victorian Oxford to life with An Oxford Scandal, and his consumptive Inspector Antrobus was an intriguing fellow, finishing the novel trying to avoid the sight of his bloodstained handkerchief. In Dangerous Crossing, Rachel Rhys captured beautifully the potent cocktail of snobbery, suspicion and political uncertainty among passengers on an ocean liner on the eve of World War II. In The Well Of The Dead, Clive Allan skilfully wove together two stories, the first being an account of the calamitous events surrounding The Battle of Culloden in 1746, and the second an assured modern police procedural plot.

My winner this year, in spite of the fierce competition, is On Copper Street, by Chris Nickson. I have grown to love the stories featuring Inspector Tom Harper, a brave and determined copper treading the cobblestones of Victorian Leeds. Here, Harper investigates the death of a petty crook, and the horribly modern-sounding attack on two children who have acid thrown at them. Against the background of the lonely and impoverished death of a pioneering political activist, Harper pursues the villains in his usual implacable way, supported at every turn by his admirable – and very bonny – wife. I wrote:

“I would imagine that Nickson is a good old-fashioned socialist, and he pulls no punches when he describes the appalling way in which workers are treated in late Victorian England, and he makes it abundantly clear what he thinks of the chasm between the haves and the have nots. Don’t be put off by this. Nickson doesn’t preach and neither does he bang the table and browbeat. He recognises that the Leeds of 1895 is what it is – loud, smelly, bustling, full of stark contrasts, yet vibrant and fascinating.”

ocs-header

AN OXFORD SCANDAL … Between the covers

AOS header

AOSOxford, 1895. The spires may well be dreaming, but for Anthony Jardine, Fellow of St Gabriel’s College, the nightmare is just beginning. His drug addicted wife is found stabbed to death, slumped in the corner of a horse tram carriage. His mourning is shattered when his mistress is also found dead – murdered in the house she shares with her elderly eccentric husband. With a background story of an archaeological discovery threatening to shake the English religious establishment to its very roots, Inspector James Antrobus must avoid the temptation to make Jardine a swift and easy culprit. Helped by the uncanny perception of Sophia Jex-Blake, a pioneering woman doctor, Antrobus finds the answer to the killings lies in London, just forty miles away on the railway.

norman-russellNorman Russell (right) is a writer and academic, who has had fifteen novels published. He is an acknowledged authority on Victorian finance and its reflections in the literature of the period, and his book on the subject, The Novelist and Mammon, was published by Oxford University Press in 1986. He is a graduate of Oxford and London Universities. After military service in the West Indies, he became a teacher of English in a large Liverpool comprehensive school, where he stayed for twenty-six years, retiring early to take up writing as a second career.

Russell skilfully avoids the trap into which some well-intentioned historical fiction writers fall – that comprising copious and elaborate period detail which chokes the plot itself. Yes, all the Victoriana boxes are ticked; we have horse-drawn trams, the ‘upstairs-downstairs’ ambience of prosperous homes, extravagant dinner menus – and even the doomed but heroic consumptive so beloved of period painters and dramatists. Despite all these familiar tropes, the search for the killer is a genuine whodunnit, and the narrative rattles along nicely.

Not the least of the pleasures of An Oxford Scandal for me was to be reminded of the prickly – not to say downright malevolent – relationships between various versions of the Christian church. Russell enjoys a joke at the expense of the Roman Catholics, the ‘High’ Anglicans, and their humourless cousins in the ‘Low’ Church of England. The joke will probably be shared by just the few of us but I do remember, back in the day when I thought such things were important, that St Ebbe’s church in Oxford was a place to be studiously avoided by those of us who liked a whiff of incense with our worship.

Although Inspector Antrobus ends the novel frail, housebound, and trying to avoid the sight of his bloodstained handkerchief, it looks as though he may survive to undertake another adventure as a consultant detective. I do hope so. The earlier books in the series were An Oxford Anomaly and An Oxford Tragedy. An Oxford Scandal is published by Matador, and is available here.

AOS footer

COMPETITION … Win An Oxford Scandal

AOS header

OUR LATEST PRIZE DRAW COMPETITION is to win a copy of the latest in Norman Russell’s popular Inspector Antrobus mysteries, set in late Victorian Oxford.

Anthony Jardine is a successful and popular tutor at St. Gabriel’s College, and he finds his loyalties divided between his work, his wife Dora and his mistress Rachel. Unbeknown to Anthony, Dora is an advanced cocaine addict and he comes to resent her outrageous activities more and more, absorbing himself with the discovery of the remains of St Thomas a Becket in a hidden vault at the college. One rainy night Dora is found murdered in a tramcar out at Cowley and Jardine, who had been visiting Rachel in that area, becomes a suspect. The case is investigated by Inspector James Antrobus and his friend Sophia Jex-Blake, the pioneer woman doctor. A complex investigation follows and after Jardine’s mistress is murdered, the clues take Antrobus to London, when the mystery starts to unravel and the killer is revealed in a grand climax.

If you are a fan of the Golden Age style of mystery, and classic detective stories with an academic angle, then this is not one not to miss. And, even better, you could be getting your copy for free! There are two ways to enter: First, go to the Fully Booked Facebook page, and simply ‘like’ the competition post. Clicking on the image below will get you straight there.

AOS advert

If you prefer email, then send an email to the address below, putting the word Oxford as the subject. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT, on Sunday August 20th.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

 

Scroll

ON MY SHELF … August 2017

OMS HEADER

KFC

Brian MastersThe grisly exploits of the Muswell Hill murderer Denis Nilsen still defy belief over thirty years later. As you read the story you can rub your eyes and hope that you have woken up from a particularly sordid and violent dream, but you haven’t: everything on the page in front of you is the grim reality. We covered the case briefly in our True Crime section, but Brian Masters (left) has written the definitive account of one of London’s worst serial killings.

This is a brand new edition of the book, which first came out in 1985. Masters subsequently wrote The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer and She Must Have Known: The Trial of Rosemary West. Killing For Company is published by Arrow Books, and will be available on 24th August.

 

TRT
Gus-Rose2From the ghastly to the ghostly – or at least, a world where fantasy and literary trickery take us away from the mundanity of murder. The Readymade Thief is the debut novel from the Chicago based teacher and screenwriter Augustus Rose, (right) and has just been published by William Heinemann. It is set in Philadelphia, and we follow the progress of a teenage delinquent girl, Lee Cuddy, as she casts herself adrift in a city full of shadows and shocks. Escaping a juvenile detention centre, Lee finds herself in The Crystal Castle, a sinister place where reality blurs with the imagination, and her world begins to develop echoes of the disturbing images created by the chess-playing surrealist painter Marcel Duchamp. (below)

Duchamp

Samantha KingSamantha King (left) also serves up a nightmare, but unlike the shifting and illusory Philadelphia of Augustus Rose and Lee Cuddy, hers is very real and down-to-earth, but equally chilling. Madeleine and Dom have twins, Aidan and Annabel. Make that past tense. Had twins. For now Annabel is gone. Just a memory of red-gold curls in a photograph. “Choose one, bitch,” the killer said, and Madeleine chose. This terrifying psychological thriller is a startling debut from an author who is a former editor and is also a qualified psychotherapist. You can find out more on her Twitter account. The Choice is published by Piatkus, which is an imprint of Little, Brown Publishing.

The Choice

Mark PepperMark Pepper is an actor, and in his wryly self- deprecating potted biography he wonders why he never received the Oscar he deserved for his pivotal role in TitanicBest Floating Corpse in a Motion Picture. He was the one Leonardo pushes away from him in disgust. Pepper (right) has also appeared in many fine British TV shows, including Coronation Street, Heartbeat, Prime Suspect and Once Upon A Time In The North. His third novel Veteran Avenue was self published in 2015, but will be reissued by Urbane Publications in September. It tells the tale of John Frears who was the victim of a bizarre kidnapping when he was on holiday in America with his parents. Frears survives, returns to England, and goes on to serve in the army and fight in the Gulf War. Thirty five years after his abduction he returns to America to attend the funeral of a fellow veteran, who has been murdered. After paying his respects, Frears embarks on a sightseeing expedition, but things take a strange turn as the traumatic events of 1978 burst through into the present.

VA

AOSFrom the badlands of Oregon to the cloistered calm of Oxford, in the late nineteenth century. The opening lines set the tone:

“A bird of ill-omen, a rook or a raven, flapped its way through the bright November sky on its journey from Magdalen Deer Park to its lair in Christchurch Meadows.”

This is the Oxford of scholars, eccentric academics, ivy clinging to honey coloured Cotswold stone, lights twinkling through the darkness – the line of festal light in Christ Church hall – and, of course, murder. The unique atmosphere of Oxford, so memorably used as a backdrop to the investigations of Inspector Morse, is the setting for the third novel in Norman Russell’s Oxford series. The central character is not an opera-loving, crossword solving connoisseur of decent beer, but Inspector James Antrobus. A successful and popular tutor at St Gabriel’s College, Anthony Jardine, becomes the focus of a murder case when his wife, Dora, is found dead in a tram out in the suburb of Cowley. When Jardine’s mistress is also killed, Antrobus and his friend Dr. Sophia Jex-Blake are led to London in pursuit of the killer. An Oxford Scandal is published by Matador, and is out now.

OMS footer

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑