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Police Procedural

DEMOLITION . . . Between the covers

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Former Lancashire copper and now best-selling novelist Nick Oldham doesn’t muck about. By the time you have read the first half dozen pages of his latest Henry Christie novel, we have had a gangster shot dead in his own swimming pool, another very rich but rather ‘iffy’ businessman bludgeoned to death with a huge spanner he has been using to rebuild a WW2 aircraft – and Henry himself dodging bullets.

High speed back story for new readers (Where have you been? This is book 30 in the series!) Henry Christie, former senior copper, now in his 50s, rather tragic ‘love life’, runs a pub in Kendleton on the Lancashire moors, frequently engaged by his former employers as a civilian investigator, usually involving crimes committed by local gangsters operating a kind of triangle-of-death between Preston, Blackpool and Fleetwood. No kiss-me-quick hats here, just deprivation, drugs and violence.

As has been customary in the recent novels, Christie is signed back on to help with the two murders – a perfectly plausible move by the Lancashire Constabulary, as  their staffing levels have taken a hit through Covid. Henry’s police ‘chaperone’ is DS Deb Blackstone. She is a feisty and competent officer who just happens to dress like a slightly deranged Goth, with spiked pink hair and all the trimmings.

Our man has other things on his plate, too. One of the regular groups to meet in his pub rather like rural Lancashire’s answer to The Thursday Murder Club, and the case they are currently working on is not so much cold as embedded in the permafrost. It concerns the murder of Lucas Grundy, back in 1941, and spice is added to the investigation by the fact that Eric, the murdered man’s brother is still alive, albeit aged 100. Christie learns from an elderly woman in the village that she believes Eric Grundy raped her, many decades earlier, but the crime was never properly dealt with.

A couple of days before Lucas Grundy was murdered, a Heinkel bomber, damaged in a raid, crashed on the moors nearby. Three of the five-man crew died at the scene and were buried in the local churchyard, but nothing was ever found of the other two. Was it possible that they were somehow involved in Grundy’s death, and how did they simply seem to disappear of the face of the earth?

As a humble reviewer, I can’t begin to comprehend how Nick Oldham keeps so many sub plots going at the same time without the narrative collapsing in confusion. One metaphor, I suppose, is that of the plate-spinning juggler, who manages not to break any of the plates, but stacks them neatly one on top of the other at the end of his performance. Oldham rounds off the action with his customary inventiveness and panache, but be warned  – there is a particularly venomous sting in the tail. Demolition is published by Severn House, and is available now.

FOR REVIEWS OF EARLIER NOVELS IN THE SERIES,
CLICK THE AUTHOR’S IMAGE BELOW

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FROM THE ASHES . . . Between the covers

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Deborah Masson is back with another gritty police thriller set in her home town of Aberdeen. This time, DI Eve Hunter (previously seen in Out For Blood and Hold Your Tongue) faces the grimmest challenge presented to police officers all over the world – the death of a child. Lucas Fyfe – dead mother, drug addicted father and unfeeling grandmother – has been in care since he was little. When someone deliberately sets fire to Wellwood, a children’s home, he is the one resident who doesn’t make it out. Why? Because the body of the eleven year-old is discovered in the cellar, and the trapdoor which is the only access is concealed under a heavy carpet.

Literally from page one, Masson gives us another perspective – that of the presumed arsonist. We know it’s a ‘he’, and we know that he was a former resident of Wellwood when it was run by the current warden’s father, William Alderton and the sadistic Sally Fields. I find that the backstory narrative trope can be irritating when an author uses too many viewpoints and too many time frames, but here it is used with subtlety and works very well.

Eve Hunter’s team consists of DS Cooper, DS Mearns and DC Ferguson, and the sparky dynamics between them provide an intriguing counterpoint to the investigation. Scott Ferguson is peripherally involved in a road accident on his way to work, but his obsession with the young man who was the main casualty starts to distract him from the Wellwood case. When a further shocking discovery is made in the cellar where Lucas Fyfe died, Ferguson’s lack of attention becomes even more serious. We eventually learn why Ferguson feels compelled to be at the bedside of the young vagrant who was badly injured in the RTA, and it turns the case on its head.

Hunter and her team soon realise that the surviving children and the three adult staff of Wellwood are not telling all that they know. That much is obvious, but penetrating the veil of secrecy proves more difficult. With both of the original owners dead, and local Children’s Services being very protective of the few remaining historic records of the children who were residents, the case seems to go round in circles, until Ferguson’s with Archie, the young RTA victim, finally pays off.

Deborah Masson is a writer who enjoys providing her readers with the unexpected, and the finale of the novel, in the grim basement of Wellwood, is a prime example. Eve Hunter comes over as tough and uncompromising in pursuit of the bad guys, but her family background has left her with a strong streak of compassion, and when Scott Ferguson finally reveals his own secrets – and his link to the Wellwood basement – she is well-equipped to provide emotional support.

This novel is dark, cleverly plotted, full of well-concealed surprises and a master class in how to write a good police-procedural. From The Ashes is published by Transworld/Penguin and is available now.

BAD FOR GOOD . . . Between the covers

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This hard-hitting police thriller is set in an English city renowned for its sea air, Regency buildings and – latterly – the Green-ness of its politics. It has also been a surprisingly popular setting for crime novels. Think Pinkie Brown, Roy Grace and Colin Crampton. We are talking, of course, about Brighton. Now we have a new character on the scene, in the shape of Joanne Howe, Detective Superintendent with Sussex police.

BFG coverThe plot hinges around a series of dire events in the life of Jo Howe’s boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Cooke. Already trying to keep his mind on the job while his wife is dying of cancer, fate deals him another cruel blow when his son Harry, a promising professional footballer, is murdered, seemingly a casualty in a drug turf war. He steps down, but then comes into contact with a shadowy group of apparent vigilantes, who tell him that Harry was not the clean-cut sporting hero portrayed in the local media – he was heavily into performance enhancing drugs. The vigilantes – whose business plan is to provide a highly illegal alternative police force, where customers pay for the quick results that the Sussex Constabulary seem unable to provide – blackmail Phil into standing in the election of Police and Crime Commissioner. He is forced to agree, and is elected.

Meanwhile, things go from bad to worse for Jo Howe and her team. As they try to get to the bottom of Harry Cooke’s murder, an arrest goes badly wrong, and one of her Detective Inspectors – Bob Heaton – kills the suspect with his baton. He is jailed. Howe realises that there is some kind of vigilantes-for-profit group at large and she organises a sting operation at a local pub. When the bad guys flee the scene the ensuing pursuit goes pear-shaped, an officer is badly injured and the targets escape. Then the vigilantes fire bomb the pub in retaliation, the landlord dies and Howe has a furious dressing down from her chief constable. All is not what it seems, however, and Graham Bartlett lets us know that people very high up in the senior ranks of the police are as crooked as the proverbial dog’s hind leg.

The vigilantes are operating under the banner of an ostensibly respectable security outfit, but both they and the police seem equally clueless as to the identity of Harry Cooke’s killer. Bob Heaton’s boyfriend Chris – aka ‘Crush’ – works for the security firm, and Jo Howe persuades Bob – now released from jail but jobless – to infiltrate the organisation. Harry Cooke’s killer is finally identified, and the race is on to see who can get to him first, the police or the vigilantes.

Screen Shot 2022-06-19 at 20.35.27Graham Bartlett (right) was a police officer for thirty years and mainly policed the city of Brighton and Hove, rising to become a Chief Superintendent and its police commander, so it is no accident that this is  a grimly authentic police procedural. It is also very topical as, away from the violence and entertaining mayhem, it focuses on the seemingly insoluble problem of the divide between the public’s expectations of policing, and what the force is actually able – or willing – to deliver. Bartlett doesn’t over-politicise his story but, reading between the lines – and I may be mistaken – I suspect he may feel that, with ever more limited resources, the police should not be so keen to divert valuable time and resources away from their core job of catching criminals. My view. and it may not be his, is that effusive virtue signaling by police forces in support of this or that social justice trend does them – nor most of us –  no favours at all.

Bad From Good is an excellent debut novel. I hope it heralds a long running series, and I eagerly await the follow-up. Published by Allison & Busby, the book is out in all formats on 23rd June.

THE FIRE KILLER . . . Between the covers

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My excuse is that I am a one-man-band here at Fully Booked, and notwithstanding  the occasional erudite contribution from Stuart Radmore (who has forgotten more about crime fiction than most people will ever know), there are only so many books I can read and review properly. My first experience of Peterborough copper DI Barton  is the fifth of the series (written by Ross Greenwood), The Fire Killer. Peterborough is a big place, at least for us Fenland townies, but is rarely featured in CriFi novels. I am pretty sure that Peter Robinson’s DI Banks grew up there (The Summer That Never Was) and Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreira books are certainly set in the city.

Peterborough is a strange city in some ways. Its heart is divided in three. One third is its medieval heritage and its magnificent cathedral; another third is its railway history, while the final slice belongs to the fact that some anonymous civil servants decided, in the 1950s, that it should be a ‘new town’. Hence its sprawling suburbs, divided by interminable dual carriageways and countless roundabouts, stippled with anonymous housing developments, most with the faux-pastoral suffix – choose your own – such as Meadows, Leys, Gardens, Fields and even Waters. I digress. No matter that Peterborough isn’t quite sure whether it is in Cambridgeshire or Northamptonshire, this novel is rather good.

We are in standard police procedural territory here. DI John Barton is large, bald, busy, rather unglamorous, but a decent copper. He and his team are called in to investigate a body found in a skip that has been deliberately set alight. The body is eventually identified as that of a young woman whose life has unraveled after she had fleeting success as a fashion model. Barton and his ‘oppo’, Sergeant Zander, are sure that the culprit lives in one of a row of four shabby terraced houses not far from the skip, but which one is the home of the arsonist?

Screen Shot 2022-05-20 at 19.51.23Ross Greenwood (right) has fun inviting us to make out own guesses, but also makes the game a little more interesting by giving us intermittent chapters narrated by The Fire Killer, but he is very wary about giving us too many clues. The dead girl, Jess Craven had been involved with a very rich dentist with links – as a customer – to the London drug trade.

There are a couple of other mysterious blazes, but when one of Barton’s suspects meets a horrifying end in another fire – but this time in a torched Transit van – the search for The Fire Killer just seems to be chasing its own tale. The rich dentist, Stefan Russo, is clearly hiding something, but he is ‘lawyered up’ and even though he has some very questionable contacts in London, the police are unable to get close to him.

Then, there is a breakthrough – or at least Barton thinks it is – and someone confesses to being The Fire Killer. As readers we can judge how much of the book is left, and it is clear to us that Barton has some work still to do before he closes the case. There is, as we might predict, a very clever twist in the tale, but when an exhausted Barton finally goes off for a family caravan holiday in Sunny Hunny (Hunstanton), we suspect that at the back of his mind there is still a some doubt about the true identity of The Fire Killer.

John Barton is an excellent creation, and this book is cleverly plotted, with one or two spectacular bursts of serious violence. It is published by Boldwood Books, and will be available in paperback and Kindle from 30th May.

LAST SEEN ALIVE . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2022-04-16 at 20.05.42Last Seen Alive is the third  book by Jane Bettany (left) featuring the Derbyshire copper DI Isabel Blood. The story begins when Anna Matheson, a single mother who works at a large confectionery firm, fails to pick up her infant son from the child minder after a social event at work. Lauren Talbot, the child minder, raises the alarm late at night, but precious hours elapse before morning comes and the police are able to start making enquiries.

I wonder where crime stories would be without the ever-reliable assistance of dog walkers? Inevitably, it is one such who makes the grim discovery of a body which turns out to be that of Anna Matheson. She has been strangled, but there is no evidence of sexual assault. Isabel Blood’s team begin their investigations at Allwoods – the successful firm where Anna was marketing manager. The firm is jointly owned by Fay Allwood – widow of Barry – and their son, Ross. Suspicion initially falls on a member of the management team, James Derenby, who has been unsuccessfully trying to date Anna for some time, but this is, apparently, a blind alley.

Isabel Blood is convinced that the key to the mystery lies in discovering who was the the father of Benedict – the dead woman’s baby son. Anna Matheson had steadfastly and consistently refused to reveal his identity – even to her own mother. What follows is an intensely complex voyage of discovery for the detectives, as they encounter what becomes almost a criminal version of Who Do You Think You Are? Old secrets are revealed and – like creatures scuttling away from the light when a large flat stone is lifted – many people try to avoid their past indiscretions being made public.

DI Blood is an interesting character. Lord knows, there are probably as many Detective Inspectors in crime fiction as there are real ones, so what makes her stand out? Thankfully, she is happily married, comfortable in her own skin and, praise be, we don’t have regular updates about her CD collection. Like many of her fictional counterparts, she is constantly being admonished by her boss for becoming too involve with cases and doing more investigating than inspecting. Another reason for the empathetic portrayal of the Derbyshire detective is, I suspect, that she and her creator are in more or less of the same age and, perhaps, family circumstances.

Last Seen Alive is elaborately plotted, totally convincing, and as good an example of a contemporary English police procedural as you are likely to find. It is published by HQ Digital (Harper Collins), is out now in Kindle, and will be available as a paperback on June. If you want to read my review of the previous novel Without A Trace click the link.

BLIND JUSTICE . . . Between the covers

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In the thirteenth episode of what is a genuinely impressive series, David Mark’s Hull copper Aector McAvoy returns, along with the established cast – his wife Roisin and their two children, and his boss, Detective Superintendent Trish Pharoah. McAvoy is, as the name suggests, a Scottish exile, and he is built like the proverbial brick you-know-what. Despite his forbidding appearance, McAvoy is a peaceable and studious man, shy with other people, but perceptive and with an attention to detail that matches his formidable appearance.

Screen Shot 2022-03-15 at 19.07.34The book begins with a flashback to an attempt by young men to carry out what seems to be a robbery in an isolated rural property. It ends in horrific violence, matched only by the destructive storm that rages over the heads of the ill-advised and ill-prepared group. Cut to the present day, and another storm has lashed Humberside, bringing down power lines, flooding homes, and uprooting trees. One such tree, an ancient ash, reveals something truly awful – a human body, mostly decayed, entwined within its roots in a macabre embrace.

McAvoy is called to the scene, and it doesn’t take too much evidence – in this case a pair of fashionable trainers – for McAvoy to deduce that this body has been put into the ground in living memory. What is astonishing, however, is that two Roman coins have been nailed into the victim’s eyes. The gentle policeman can only hope and pray that this act was not done while the victim was still alive. To make matters more disturbing, the fragile bones of two babies are also found.

The body is soon identified as that of a university student who went missing in the 1990s, but what on earth was he doing in this remote spot, and who had cause to kill and maim him in such a fashion? The owners of the adjacent property are interviewed, but add nothing to the investigation. Pharoah and McAvoy discover that the case may be linked to the trade in ancient artifacts discovered by illegal metal detectorists – nighthawks – and there is disturbing evidence that a notorious Manchester gangster – convicted of horrific torture just a few years earlier – may be involved on the fringes of the case.

Screen Shot 2022-03-20 at 19.29.57David Mark (right) writes with a sometimes frightening intensity as dark events swirl around Aector McAvoy. The big man, gentle and hesitant though he may seem, is, however, like a rock. He is one of the most original creations in a very crowded field of fictional British coppers, and his capacity to bear pain for others – particularly in this episode his son Fin and Trish Pharoah – is movingly described. Mark’s work may – at first glance – seem miles away from the Factory novels of that Noir genius Derek Raymond, but McAvoy shares the same compassion, the same sworn vow to find justice for the slain, and the same awareness of suffering shown by the nameless sergeant in masterpieces like I Was Dora Suarez.

The terrifying climax to Blind Justice is also straight out of the Derek Raymond playbook and is not for the squeamish, but vivid and visceral. Where David Mark does differ from his illustrious predecessor is that he allows McAvoy the redemption and respite denied to Raymond’s sergeant with his dead child and mad wife, and it comes in the shape of his intriguing part-gypsy wife and their children.

If I read a better book all year, be sure that I will let you know. Blind Justice is published by Severn House and will be out on 31st March.

ALL THAT LIVES . . . Between the covers

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Back in the day I was a school music teacher, and I remember one Christmas – always the busiest time of year – turning out one cold night for yet another carol service. I remember saying something along the lines of, “I never want to hear ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ ever again in my life!” An older and wiser colleague said, “Yes this is the sixth carol service you’ve played at in as many days, but you need to remember that for most of the people here tonight, it’s their only one this Christmas, and those are the people you are playing for.”

ATL coverThat reminiscence may seem unrelated to a book review, but it is relevant. When reviewing the latest book in a long and successful series it is tempting to think that all prospective readers will be fully up to speed with the quirks and history of the main characters. But that’s not so. Thankfully, people come to books at different times and for different reasons, so a paragraph about Edinburgh copper DI Tony McLean won’t be wasted. If you already know, then just skip ahead.

DI Tony McLean is a middle-aged police officer, but not your normal fictional copper. For a start he is very rich, thanks to a family inheritance. He was educated privately at a boarding school in England, an experience he hated at the time, and it still gives him nightmares. His significant other is a woman called Emma, and author Oswald gives her an interesting role in the books. She has been subject to various health scares in the past – including a tragic miscarriage – and she has always seemed the vulnerable one in the partnership. McLean has been gifted – or cursed – with a certain sensibility towards things paranormal, and although the supernatural is not overplayed in the books, there is a sense that McLean sees – and feels – things that his colleagues cannot. One of his acquaintances is a person who lives his life as a female psychic called Rose, and she is frequently warns McLean of things which he may not yet be aware of. McLean’s nemesis (apart from his various bosses) is a mysterious woman called Mrs Saifre, ostensibly a rich patron of charitable causes, but with a sinister hand in all manner of more dubious enterprises.

Still with me? Good! So, to All That Lives, the twelfth in an unfailingly brilliant series. The core of the novel is the police search for the source of a virulent narcotic which, when ingested, causes extremely violent – and fatal –  seizures. Just as troubling for McLean is a pair of discovered bodies – one from medieval times, and another from the 1990s. What disturbs him, is that the positioning of the bodies is unusual – and identical in both cases. A third body is discovered and the circumstances match the previous two. What hellish connection links the three corpses over a period of 700 years?

Things go from bad to worse for McLean’s major Incidents Team. First McLean is distracted by Emma falling seriously ill, and he wears himself thin between being at her bedside and trying to solve the case. When he himself disappears, the investigation is in danger of imploding. Detective Sergeant Janie Harrison, with the help of Grumpy Bob – the pensioned-off copper who is in charge of old case files – manages to find what links the bodies and the fatal drug, and the conclusion is violent and dramatic. James Oswald always likes to end these stories with a shock, and the final few paragraphs of All That Lives which is published by Wildfire on 17th February – are no exception. For reviews of earlier books in this series, click the author’s image below.

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HANGMAN’S END . . . Between the covers

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Where would crime-writers be without dog-walkers? Michelle Kidd’s latest novel begins with this most reliable of tropes when a dog sniffs out a suitcase in the low tide mud beneath a bridge over the River Thames. The contents are not for the squeamish. Inside is the torso, arms and legs of a little girl. The head is elsewhere. DI Jack MacIntosh and his team are soon on the case, but there investigations of the crime scene are hindered by the rising tide of Old Father Thames.

Screen Shot 2022-01-06 at 18.37.43We have the advantage over the police in that we are introduced early on to the man who dropped the suitcase from the bridge into the mud. We are not sure if he is the actual slaughterman, or merely the butcher, but we do learn the whereabouts of the child’s head. The victim is soon identified as Maisie Lancaster, but a visit to her parents’ house brings MacIntosh into a collision with the metaphorical runaway car of one of his previous cases.

“Previous” is the key word here, as Michelle Kidd delicately negotiates the problems of having a main character with a troubled past, with the  events having occurred earlier in the series. This is the fifth in the Jack MacIntosh series, and so Kidd has to strike a balance between boring the readers who are well aware of the back-story, and not baffling those new to the books. She carries out this piece of legerdemain very cleverly. Looking at the title, readers will think, “Hang on, we haven’t had capital punishment in the UK since the mid 1960s, so why the reference?” Again , Michelle Kidd has the answers, and they lie in a macabre piece of London history While dodging the tides and trying to investigate the gruesome suitcase, the investigators find more human remains, but this time they are much older. The bleached skull and assorted remnants of its skeleton pose just another headache for MacIntosh and his team.

At one point, I was beginning to feel that there were too many loose ends and plot threads going off at a tangent, and I wondered if Michelle Kidd could – or would – resolve them, but my lack of faith was knocked firmly on the head as the different directions merged, and even the back-story behind the back-story became transparent and lucid. In a startling conclusion, Jack MacIntosh comes face to face with the demons – both human and metaphorical – who plague both his dreams and his waking hours

This is a tense and brutal journey through the dark waters of life that Jack MacIntosh and his colleagues have to wade through. Past and present collide in unpredictable ways. Hangman’s End is published by Question Mark Press and is out now.

I reviewed an earlier book, Guilt, from a different series by Michelle Kidd, and you can read what I thought by clicking the link.

Michelle Kidd is a self-published author best known for the Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh series of novels set in London. She has also recently begun a new series which is set in her home town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk – starring Detective Inspector Nicki Hardcastle.

She qualified as a lawyer in the early 1990s and spent the best part of ten years practising civil and criminal litigation.

In 2018 Michelle self-published The Phoenix Project and has not looked back since. There are currently five DI Jack MacIntosh novels, and the first DI Nicki Hardcastle story was released in August 2021. Follow her at:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/michellekiddauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/michellekiddauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorKidd

Website : www.michellekiddauthor.com

 

CITY OF THE DEAD . . . Between the covers

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This is another case for psychologist  Professor Alex Delware and his buddy, LAPD cop Lieutenant Milo Sturgis. As ever, the book is brimming with all the joys of Californication – fake lifestyle gurus, washed-up former pop stars, bent lawyers, damaged families and dead bodies – always plenty of dead bodies. The first of these is of a young man, stark naked, who – in an apparent psychotic episode – runs out from a house in a smart district in the LA suburbs, at 4.00am – and straight into the side of a moving truck. Instant fatality.

cotd013When the cops investigate the house from which the young man ran, they find the second corpse of the morning, with her throat slit. She is – or rather was – Cordi Gannet. She made a decent living producing lifestyle videos for YouTube, full of cod psychology and trite advice about life improvement strategies. Her psychology degree was apparently bought mail-order from an on-line university, and when Alex Delaware gets to the scene with Milo, he remembers that he was once involved in a child custody case where Cordi Gannet was introduced as an expert witness – with disastrous consequences.

They soon find that Cordi Gannet’s family background was suitably California Chaotic – no known father, a mother who scraped by waiting tables until she got lucky and married an affluent surgeon. As for the young man, after much tail-chasing they learn that he was a harmless and affable young hairdresser who had something of a ‘gay-crush’ on Ms Gannet with all her pan flutes and whale songs, but had no obvious enemies.

The investigation meanders, slows – and then grinds to a halt. Delaware and Sturgis are sidetracked by another murder – the killing of a violent testosterone-fueled bodybuilder whose onetime business partner was a former adversary of Delaware’s in the family courts. This one they manage to crack, but it is not until Delaware goes back to the day job and begins consultation sessions with another pair of warring parents – one of whom was a  near neighbour of Cordi Gannet, that the breakthrough comes.

Screen Shot 2022-01-19 at 19.13.17Watching the Delaware-Sturgis partnership work on a case is fascinating. Yes, by my reckoning this is the 37th in the series. No, that’s not a typo. Thirty seven since their debut in When The Bough Breaks (1985). 1985. Blimey. Amongst other ground-breaking events in that year, I read that Playboy stopped stapling its centrefolds, the first episode of Eastenders was broadcast, and Freddie Mercury stole the show at Live Aid. But I digress.

There are no surprises in City of The Dead, at least in terms of the personal dynamics between the investigators. Delaware is super-cool, Sturgis has zero dress sense and is inveterate fridge raider, and the pair never really get ‘down and dirty’ with the criminals they hunt. In spite of the familiar formula, this is still a cracking read and cleverly plotted, with Kellerman (right)  setting several snares for the unwary reader. City of The Dead is published by Century, and will be available from 17th February.

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