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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.

CRIME ACROSS ENGLAND . . . 4. York and Preston

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NecroEver onwards, and ever northward to the ancient city of York. For all that it houses the magnificent medieval minster and has a history going back to the Eboracum of Roman times, fewer people remember that York was also a great railway city, and there can be no more appropriate place to house the National Railway Museum. Like many men now in the autumn of their years I was an enthusiastic trainspotter back in the days of steam, so it is – I hope – perfectly understandable that I have chosen the Jim Stringer novels by Andrew Martin for this stop on our trip. Martin introduced Stringer in The Necropolis Railway (2002) when Stringer is very much at the bottom of the railway hierarchy, and working in London, but by 2004 in The Blackpool Highflyer, Stringer has married his landlord’s daughter – the beautiful Lydia – and has been promoted to a job in York.

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The next four novels see Jim rising steadily through the ranks of railway nobility, but in 1914 the world changes for ever, and Jim, like tens of thousands of other fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, answers the country’s call and joins up to fight the Kaiser, but with his expertise as a railwayman. The Great War, while not as completely global as the conflict that followed just twenty five years later, was not confined to the blood-soaked farmlands of France and Flanders. After solving a front-line murder in The Somme Stations (2011) Jim goes east in The Bagdhad Railway Club (2012) and Night Train To Jamalpur (2013) and emerges some years after the war, more or less unscathed and back home in York, in Powder Smoke (2021)

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Andrew Martin is many things – steeped in railway lore from his childhood, Oxford graduate, qualified barrister, performing musician, born in York and writer of novels light years distant from crime fiction. If he were ever to have a tombstone inscription, I do hope he would include (in brackets) “also known as Jim Stringer”. Stringer is a brilliant creation; not a ‘bish-bash-bosh’ hero, for sure, but a man with a well-defined moral compass and a gimlet eye for wrong-doing – be it in railway procedure or life in general.

Although I don’t quite belong to Jim Stringer’s era, when I read his books I am back in my relatively blameless youth (remember when Philip Larkin said sex was invented) and I am on a station platform somewhere in the Midlands, probably showered with soot from a venting steam engine, pen in one hand, notebook in the other, and with a school satchel containing sandwiches and a bottle of pop slung over my shoulder.

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We now face a long haul over The Pennines and, just after the ancient town of Skipton, we trade the white rose for the red, and pass into the County Palatine of Lancashire. It is just possible that we might pass within a stone’s throw of a moorland pub called The Tawny Owl. Were we to call in for refreshment we might be serves by a fifty-something chap called Henry Christie. More than likely, though he will be out somewhere between Preston and Blackpool ‘helping police with their inquiries’. In Henry’s case, however, this is not the standard police cliché for being ‘nicked’ but is to be taken absolutely literally, as retired copper Christie has a new role as a consultant to his former colleagues.

ATFJHis creator, Nick Oldham, knows of what he writes, as he is a former police officer, and the 29th book in this long running and successful series is due out at the end of November. So, what can readers expect from a Henry Christie story? It depends where you start, of course, because if you go back to the beginning in 1996, Peter Shilton was still in goal, but for Leyton Orient, England lost to Germany (on penalties, naturally) in the Euros semi-final, the trial of men accused of murdering Stephen Lawrence collapsed and John Major was in his second term as British Prime Minister. In A Time For Justice Christie is a relatively junior Detective Inspector – and someone who is seriously out of favour with his bosses, and has to tackle a cocky mafia hitman who thinks the English police are a joke. As the novels progress over the years, Christie rises through the ranks, but he is still someone who is viewed with some suspicion by the few officers who outrank him – the chief constables and their assistants.

NOHenry Christie is always hands on, and he has the scars – mostly physical, but one or two mental lesions – to prove it. His personal life has been a mixture of love, passion, tragedy and disappointment. His geographical battle grounds are usually confined to the triangle formed of Preston, Lancaster and Blackpool. This is an area that Oldham (right) himself knows very well, of course, thanks to his years as a copper, but it is also very cleverly chosen, because it allows the author to play with very different human and geographical landscapes. The brooding moorland to the east is a wonderful setting for all kinds of wrong-doing, while the seaside town of Blackpool, despite the golden sands, donkey rides, candy floss and cheerful seaside ambience, houses one of the worst areas of deprivation in the whole country, with run-down and lawless former council estates controlled by loan sharks, traffickers and criminal families of the worst sort.

What comes as standard in this superb series is tight plotting, total procedural authenticity, some pretty mind blowing violence and brutality but – above all – an intensely human and likeable main character. Click on the images below to read reviews of some of the more recent Henry Christie novels.

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WITHOUT A TRACE . . . Between the covers

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We are in the fictional Derbyshire town of Bainbridge. Recently divorced Ruth Prendergast has finished work for the day, done her shopping, and is keen to be inside her new house in Hollywell Close, warm, snug and out of the icy winter rain. She fancies a night in, with a pizza and a glass or two of wine. What she gets, however, is a ghastly shock. Turning on the bedroom light she finds a man apparently asleep under her duvet. When she plucks up the courage to wake him, she finds she cannot. Because he is dead. Stone dead, with a knife embedded in his body.

WAT coverThe team investigating the murder is led by Detective Inspector Isabel Blood, her Sergeant and a brace of DCs. They soon learn that the dead man is Kevin Spriggs, a middle-aged car mechanic, with a failed marriage behind him, an estranged son – and an argumentative temperament often fueled by drink. The murder raises many questions for Blood and her people. How did Spriggs and the person who killed him gain access to a locked house? Who hated Spriggs – admittedly not one of life’s natural charmers – enough to kill him? After all, he was something of a nobody, tolerated rather than loved by most people who knew him, but why this brutal – and mysterious – death?

The investigation – code named Operation Jackdaw – has achieved precisely three-fifths of five-eighths of diddly-squat, when it is rocked by the discovery that Ruth Prendergast, who discovered the corpse of the unfortunate Spriggs has herself disappeared. She was due to go on a walking trip with a lady friend, but she failed to make the rendezvous and, to borrow from The Bard, she has “melted into air, into thin air ….. leaving not a rack behind.

There are enough fictional Detective Inspectors out there in the world of crime fiction to run a large county police force, so what makes Isabel Blood – to steal a sporting cliché  – achieve a podium finish? Refreshingly, she is middle-aged, comfortable in her skin and appears to have no hidden demons. She is happily married with two teenage daughters, and the only kink in this domestic bliss is that her father was apparently bigamously involved with Isabel’s mother, and now lives in France where he has two grown up sons with his legal wife. Now, Isabel’s father and her half-brother have arrived in Bainbridge for a visit at precisely the time that the unfortunate Kevin Spriggs is discovered in Ruth Prendergast’s bed. Eventually, the team discover how – and why – the man was murdered, and the solution is complex, but it very neatly echoes Isabel’s own difficulties with her double family and half-siblings.

Without A Trace is a well plotted and nuance police procedural with credible coppers and equally convincing villains. It is published by HQ Digital, and will be out in Kindle on 29th October. A paperback edition will be available in January.

ORDERS TO KILL . . . Between the covers

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It’s always a pleasure to find a new (to me) historical police series, and especially one set during The Great War. I have read most of the Inspector Hardcastle series but, sadly, Graham Ison is no longer with us. RN Morris’s Silas Quinn books are great fun too, but most of those I have read recently are re-published editions of books written some years ago. Orders To Kill, by the accomplished and prolific historical novelist Edward Marston, is bang up to date, publishing wise, and it is the ninth in what is called the Home Front Detective series.

OTK cleanInvestigating duos are always a reliable way to spin a police novel, and in this case we have Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy of the Metropolitan Police. Marmion is married to Ellen, with a son and daughter. Son Paul has been mentally damaged by his time on the Western Front, and has now disappeared leaving no clue as to his whereabouts, while daughter Alice – also a service police officer – is engaged to Keedy.

It is December 1917 and Marmion and Keedy are investigating the brutal murder of a prominent surgeon, Dr Tindall, who has been working at a military hospital in London. He is found dead in his house, horribly mutilated by – according to the pathologist – a large bladed weapon, perhaps a bayonet. The dead man was highly thought of at his hospital, and widely admired by others who knew him, but when attempts are made to establish a possible motive, serious questions arise. Why, for example, can police find no trace of George Tindall’s parents at the Scottish address listed on his file? Why does the current owner of what was named as his Brighton home say that she has never heard of him?

He was clearly a wealthy man, and one who paid cash for his elegant Savile Row suits, but what motive could he possibly have had for fabricating a personal background? As the equanimity of the Marmion household is disrupted by alarming family news from Somerset, the women take a train to Shepton Mallett, while Marmion himself is confronted with fresh discoveries about the George Tindall many thought they knew well.

edward-marston-new-bestwbEdward Marston (real name Keith Miles, right) keeps us well tuned in to the news from abroad, as the Tindall case plays out against news of General Allenby’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and how the initial British success at Cambrai was tainted by a fierce German fight back. For Marmion and Keedy however, the Tindall case seems to be spiraling out of control as it seems his killers are two men taking their orders from a higher authority – and Tindall is not their first victim. The detectives travel to Brighton, Kent, Bristol and Staffordshire in their efforts to make the case make sense, but ultimately they must make one last – and infinitely more dangerous journey – before they reach a solution to this most intractable of mysteries.

Orders To Kill is highly readable, written by an author who clearly knows his history and is an accomplished storyteller. Published by Allison & Busby, it will be available on 21st October.

PAST LIFE . . . Between the covers

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I won’t repeat my spiel about coming late to an established series (which I seem to do all too often), so here’s a brief account of where we are in Past Life. Aector McAvoy is a Detective Sergeant working in Hull, on the north bank of the Humber Estuary. He is married to Roisin, who is of Irish Traveller heritage, and they have two children, Fin and Lilah. His boss is Detective Superintendent Trish Pharoah. McAvoy is a bear of a man, born to a Scottish crofter family. He is capable of great violence, but is fundamentally a gentle soul but perhaps too conciliatory and thoughtful for his own good. Author David Mark tells us:

“He is not a man at ease with the world or his place in it. He feels permanently displace; dislocated – endlessly cast as an outsider. He’s still the lumbering red-haired Scotsman who left the family croft at ten years old and has been looking for home ever since.”

Screen Shot 2021-10-10 at 20.06.34The story begins with a murder, graphically described and, at this point in the review, it is probably pertinent to warn squeamish readers to return to the world of painless and tidy murders in Cotswold manor houses and drawing rooms, because death in this book is ugly, ragged, slow and visceral. The victim is a middle-aged woman who makes a living out of reading Tarot cards, tea leaves, crystal balls and other trinkets of the clairvoyance trade. She lives in an isolated cottage on the bleak shore of the Humber and, one evening, with a cold wind scouring in off the river, she tells one fortune too many.

When McAvoy and Pharoah arrive at the scene they find the ravaged remains of Dymphna Lowell, and understand why one or two of the police officers first to respond to the 999 call have parted company with their last meal. Trish Pharoah has seen worse, but then she has been a regular onlooker at grisly tableaux that demonstrate the depths that humans can sometimes plumb. She is the wrong side of middle age, but not going gently into that good night. She has four daughters and nursed her husband – although he was an absolute bastard – day and night as he took a long time to die from an aneurism.

As McAvoy and Pharoah hunt the killer, the back-story is crucial and it needs to be explained. Roisin’s family have been engaged in a decades-long blood feud with another clan, and there has been copious amounts of blood shed along the way. Part of this history involved Roisin saving McAvoy from an infamous killer nicknamed ‘Cromwell’. Cromwell was then gruesomely punished by Roisin’s father, she and McAvoy fell in love and married, but the savage murder of Roisin’s aunt – another fortune teller – cloaks the narrative like a shroud. Roisin is a woman not at ease with the world or herself:

Screen Shot 2021-10-12 at 10.29.37“She has found herself some mornings with little horseshoe grooves dug into the soft flesh of her palms. Sometimes her wrists and elbows ache until lunchtime. She sleeps like a toppled pugilist: a Pompeian tragedy. She sees such terrible things in the few snatched moments of unconsciousness.”

When the satanic Cromwell strikes hard at McAvoy’s family, the big man goes off the radar and hunts down the killer. David Mark (right) gives us what we think is the climax as McAvoy and Cromwell go head to head in a terrifying and violent  battle in a disused WW1 sea fort, but just as we relax and think “job well done”, there is a plot twist that few will see coming, and we learn that there is a final trauma to be endured by the McAvoy family.

This is a dark, brooding novel, with more than a touch of Derek Raymond-esque nihilism and despair but, like his late, great Noir predecessor, David Mark also gives us searing honesty and compassion. Past Life is published by Severn House and is available now in hardback, and as a KIndle in November.

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