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LONG BRIGHT RIVER . . . Between the covers

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A wintry Philadelphia is the setting for Liz Moore’s fourth novel. A female police officer, Michaela ‘Mickey’ Fitzpatrick, works the streets of Kensington, This district’s history owes much to its proximity to the Delaware River, and the fishing, milling and transport industries, but these have long since ceased, and the area is run down, dilapidated, and one of the centres of the city’s drug trade.

LBR coverThis is not a crime novel in the traditional sense, and it certainly isn’t a police procedural, despite Mickey’s profession. The plot partly involves the search for someone who is killing young women who have been forced into prostitution to feed their drug habit but, although this is resolved, it is eventually incidental to the main thrust of the novel.

Mickey comes from a dysfunctional family. Her mother is long dead, she is estranged from her father, and both she and her sister Kacey were brought up by a rather forbidding and humourless grandmother they call Gee. Micky’s career in the police force is unspectacular, but it pays the bills for her and her young son Thomas. As the blurb on the back of the book cleverly puts it,

Once inseparable, sisters Mickey and Kacey are on different paths, but they walk the same streets. Mickey on her police beat and Kacey in the shadows of the city’s darkest corners where the drug addicts and the sex workers preside.

As more women fall victim to the mystery killer, Mickey becomes ever more frantic that Kacey will be the next body wheeled on a gurney into the mortuary to await the investigation by the police pathologist. When she hears from an old friend of Kacey’s that the killer is thought to be a police officer, she confides in her immediate boss, Sergeant Ahearn. Not only is he sceptical, but he bounces the accusation back at Mickey, and she finds herself suspended and under investigation into allegations about her own conduct.

Screen Shot 2020-12-27 at 18.57.52Liz Moore (right) treats Mickey’s search for her sister on two levels: the first, and more obvious one, is a nightmare trip through the squats and shoot-up dens of Kensington in an attempt to find Kacey – a search, find and protect mission, if you will. On a more metaphorical level, the books becomes a journey through Mickey’s own past in the quest for a more elusive truth involving her family and her own identity.

As readers we have one or two tricks played on us by the author as she allows us – through Mickey’s narrative –  to make one or two assumptions, before turning those on their heads. Liz Moore’s style is interesting, particularly in the way she replays dialogue. This is a powerful and thought-provoking novel which, despite some measure of redemption, has a truly chilling final few lines.

Long Bright River came out as a Kindle and in hardback earlier this year, and this paperback edition will be published by Windmill Books on 31st December

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DIE LAST … Between the covers …

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Tony Parsons has passionately held political views, and he takes no prisoners in this searing account of how human life has become a mere commodity in the biggest criminal racket ever to infect British society. Worse than drugs, more damaging than financial fraud and with a casualty list that makes the Kray twins and the Richardson brothers look like philanthropists, the trafficking of people into Britain is a growth industry which attracts the investment of evil men and women, and pays guaranteed dividends – in blood money.

DLHis London copper, DC Max Wolfe, becomes involved when a refrigerated lorry is abandoned on a street in London’s Chinatown. The emergency services breathe a huge sigh of relief when they discover that the truck is not carrying a bomb, but their relaxed mood is short-lived when they break open the doors to discover that the vehicle contains the frozen bodies of twelve young women. The bundle of passports – mostly fake – found in the lorry’s cab poses an instant conundrum. There are thirteen passports, but only twelve girls. Who – and where – is the missing person?

One of the young women shows a flicker of life, and she is rushed off to hospital, but hypothermia has shut down her vital organs beyond resuscitation, and she dies with Max Wolfe at her bedside. He discovers her true identity and vows to bring to justice the people responsible for her death, the people who brought her from poverty in Serbia, the people who promised her that she would find work as a nurse.

The search for the slavers – and the missing girl – takes Wolfe and his colleague Edie Wren to the hell on earth that is the makeshift migrant camp near Dunkerque. They discover a brutal racket run by a group of anarchists posing as voluntary workers, but police attempts to infiltrate the network – whimsically called Imagine – end in tragedy.

Wolfe feels that he has blood on his hands, but this makes him all the more determined, and the deeper he digs, the more convinced he is that someone more powerful and with a much bigger bank balance than the hippies of Imagine is at the heart of the operation. From the mud, despair and violent opportunism of the Dunkerque camp Wolfe follows the trail to millionaire properties in central London and the influential men and women whose lifestyles reek of privilege and wealth.

tony_400x400Max Wolfe certainly gets around for a humble Detective Constable, but he is an engaging character and his home background of the Smithfield flat, young daughter, motherly Irish childminder and adorable pooch make a welcome change from the usual domestic arrangements of fictional London coppers with their neglected wives, alcohol dependency and general misanthropy. Parsons (right)  is clearly angry about many aspects of modern life in Britain, but he is too good to allow his writing to descend into mere polemic. Instead, he uses his passion to drive the narrative and lend credibility to the way his characters behave.

The plot twists cleverly this way and that, and Parsons lays one or two false trails to entice the reader, but in the end, a kind of justice is done. This is compelling stuff from one of our best crime writers, and his anger at the utter disgrace of modern slavery drives the narrative forward. Die Last is a novel that will hook you in and keep you turning the pages right to the end. Your natural disappointment at finishing a terrific book will be tempered by the excellent news that Max Wolfe returns in 2018 with Tell Him He’s Dead. You can grab a copy of Die Last from all good booksellers, or by following this Amazon link.

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