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revenge

THE BURNING . . . Between the covers

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The Kellerman family – Jonathan, Faye and now Jesse – seem to be able to turn out highly readable thrillers at the flick of a switch. My personal favourites are the Alex Delaware novels, but this is the second Clay Edison book I’ve read, and it’s excellent. The Burning is billed as 4 of 4, so the series will come nowhere near the astonishing 36 books books of the Delaware series (with the 37th due next year) You can read my review of the 36th, Serpentine, by clicking the link. My review of the third Clay Edison book, Lost Souls is here.

Burning028But back to Clay Edison. He is a Deputy US Coroner in Berkeley, California, and The Burning begins, quite topically, with a destructive bush fire that has knocked out power supplies for everyone except those with their own generators. When Edison and his partner are summoned to retrieve a corpse from a mansion up in the hills, they find that Rory Vandervelde – a multi millionaire – has died from gunshot wounds. He was an avid collector. Rare baseball and basketball memorabilia, Swiss watches, antique knives – you name it, and Vandervelde had bought it. It is when Edison is inspecting the dead man’s astonishing collection of classic cars, stored in a huge garage, that he discovers something that sends a shiver down his spine, and not in a pleasant way.

“I’d missed the Camaro on my way in. So much to gawk at. Eyes not yet adjusted. I saw it now. It was, to be specific, a 1969 SS/Z28. V8 engine, concealed headlights, black racing stripes, custom leather upholstery.

A hell of a car. One that I recognised specifically. I had seen it before. Not once, but many times.

It was my brother’s.”

Edison muses that there has to be an innocent explanation why his brother’s prize possession – a car he had restored from near junk – is in the murdered man’s garage. He surely wouldn’t have sold it to him? Luke Edison is a reformed addict who has done jail time for killing two women in a drug fuelled car theft, but he has rebuilt not only the car, but his life. Simple solution – call Luke on his cell phone. No answer. Repeated calls just go to voice mail. Clay Edison has the black feeling that something is very, very wrong, but in an instinct for family protection, he tries to prevent any of his law enforcement colleagues from identifying the vehicle’s owner and linking him with the murder.

No-one – Luke’s neurotic hippy partner, his parents, his boss at a marijuana-based therapy start-up – has seen or heard of Luke for several days. Working off the record, explaining to no-one what he is doing, and sensing that his brother is a victim rather than a perpetrator, Clay Edison finally discovers that his brother is being used as bait by some seriously evil characters who – as payback for deaths in their family for which they hold him, Clay, responsible – are prepared to stop at nothing to exact their revenge.

I finished this book during a return train journey and a quick hour before bedtime. It is ridiculously readable. Yes, it’s slick, unmistakably American, and probably formulaic but, as the late, great British film reviewer Barry Norman used to say, “And why not?” Just shy of 300 pages, it is everything that is good about American thriller fiction – fast, exciting and  – like Luke Edison’s Camaro – a bumpy but exhilarating ride. I have no idea who wrote what in the Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman partnership, but who cares? Published by Century, The Burning is out on 21st September in Kindle and hardback, and will be available next year in paperback.

Camaro

THE NAMELESS ONES . . . Between the covers

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Fans of the series can skip this paragraph. Charlie Parker is private eye based in Portland, Maine. His life has been shaped by the savage murder of his wife and daughter some years earlier, and he is – literally – haunted by the spirit of the dead daughter Jennifer. His cases frequently involve contact with people who are not actually spirits but although they have human shape, they are not entirely of this world. Long standing members of the dramatis personnae of the novels include Louis – an African American assassin, very loyal to Parker, and his personal and professional partner Angel, a skillful thief and locksmith who is recovering slowly from cancer. For more on Charlie Parker, click this link.

nameless046Parker takes something of a back seat in this novel (which is the 20th in a magnificent series) as Louis & Angel take centre stage. The first backdrop to this stage is Amsterdam, where a criminal ‘fixer’ called De Jaager goes to an address he uses as a safe house to meet three of his colleagues. He finds one of them, a man called Paulus, shot dead, while the two women, Anouk and Liesl, have been tied up. In control of the house are two Serbian gangsters, Radovan and Spiridon Vuksan. They have come to avenge the death – in which De Jaager was complicit – of one of their acquaintances, who was nicknamed Timmerman (Timber Man) for his love of crucifying his victims on wooden beams. What follows is not for the faint of heart, but sets up a terrific revenge plot.

At this point it is essential to replay what author John Connolly tells us about modern Serbia. Those with a strong stomach can find plenty on the internet and in books about the atrocities committed by Serbians against Bosnian Muslims – and others – in the brutal wars which erupted after the death of President Tito, the communist strongman who had kept the historical enemies – Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia – from each others’ throats between 1945 and 1980. Connolly paints a picture of a state where, despite former leaders like Milošević, Karadžić and Mladić being brought to justice by war crimes courts, Serbia is still largely run by career criminals who, while they may wear suits rather than Kevlar vests, are at the centre of a huge web of international crime which ranges from human trafficking to the drug trade.

I am guessing that John Connolly might not be on the top table of any future festival of crime fiction in Belgrade, but no matter – we have a seriously good story on our hands. Louis, for a variety of reasons, owes De Jaager, and when news reaches him of the Dutchman’s death he prepares to fly to Europe with the physically fragile Angel, but he is also aware that key USA figures inside The White House and the CIA would not be too dismayed were the Vuksan brothers to come to a sticky end.

With Parker otherwise engaged back in Maine, the supernatural element is largely absent here, as Louis and Angel don’t operate on the same psychic wavelength as their buddy. Largely absent, but not totally. Spiridon Vuksan has a murderous little friend called Zorya. She looks, at first glance, like a little girl, but on closer inspection she is a woman, and not a young one. She reminded me of the malevolent red-hooded little figure in Don’t Look Now – and we all know how that ended. Zorya is, as far as her human form goes, one of the Vlachs people, an ethnic group from the southern Balkans. She is also a strigoi.  in Romanian mythology they are troubled spirits that are said to have risen from the grave. They are attributed with the abilities to transform into an animal, become invisible, and to gain vitality from the blood of their victims. Her fate is not in the hands of Louis and Angel, however, but governed by the spirit of Jennifer Parker who, once a victim, is now distinctly menacing.

John Connolly is an inspired storyteller, and if this novel doesn’t play merry hell with your heartbeat, then you may need medical attention. The Nameless Ones is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is out now.

WATCHING YOU . . . Between the covers

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Josephine “Joey” Mullen has returned home to Bristol from living and working hand-to-mouth in sunny Spain. With empty pockets and zero job prospects, she might be downhearted, but on the positive side she has a handsome new husband and a generous older brother who is prepared to share his home with the newly-weds. While Joey finds a job dishing out chicken nuggets and mopping up puke at a children’s party venue, Alfie (nice-but-dim and with a very fit bum, if you are into that sort of thing) works in a bar and is trying to establish a painting and decorating business.

Watching You front011Watching You by Lisa Jewell takes us to the chic urban village of Melville Heights. Jack Mullen is a successful consultant in cardiology, while his wife Rebecca is “something in systems analysis.” A couple of doors down live the Fitzwilliam family. Tom is a charismatic and nationally renowned Head Teacher with an impressive record of turning round failing high schools. His adoring wife Nicola has no CV as such, unless you want to list an over-awareness of body image and a devotion to the latest fads in fashion and diet. Their teenage son, Freddie – an only child, naturally – is very keen on all things technical, particularly digital binoculars, spy software, and a fascination with the lives and movements of anyone he can see from his bedroom window.

Watching You back012This is a clever, clever murder mystery. Lisa Jewell gives us the corpse right at the beginning – while keeping us guessing about whose it is – and then, by shrewd manipulation of the timeline we are introduced to the possible perpetrators of the violent death. By page 100, they have formed an orderly queue for our attention. Of course there’s beautiful, feckless Joey and her husband Alfie. Freddie Fitzwilliam is clearly at the sharp end of the Asperger spectrum, but what about his bird-like – and bird-brained mother? Schoolgirls Jenna and Bess are clearly fixated – for different reasons – on their headteacher, and as for Jenna’s mum, with her persecution complex and incipient madness, she is clearly on the brink of doing something destructive, either to herself or someone else. And who is the mysterious woman who flew into a rage with Tom ten years earlier while the Fitzwilliams were on a family holiday to the Lake District?

Domestic Noir in crime fiction borrows jealousy, lust, anger, greed and pride from the early Christian list of vices but no modern thriller in the genre ignores the fatal flaw of obsession. The Big ‘O’ is certainly at the root of the plot of Watching You, and we willingly suspend our disbelief that so many disturbed characters should end up within a stone’s throw of each other in a posh Bristol suburb.

Lisa JewellLisa Jewell peels away veil after veil, but like Salome in front of Herod, she tantalises us with exquisite cruelty. Just when we think we have understood the truth about the complex relationships between the characters, we are faced with another enigma and a further conundrum. There are flashes of absolute brilliance throughout this gripping novel. The relationship between Jenna and Bess is beautifully described and even though we suspect he may end up with blood on his hands, Freddie’s strange but exotic view of the world around him makes him completely appealing. In the end, of course,we learn the identity of the corpse and that of the murderer but, just like the Pinball Wizard, there has got to be a twist. Lisa Jewell (left) provides it with the last 39 words of this very special book, and it is not so much a twist as a breathtaking literary flourish.

Watching You is published by Century, and is out on 12th July.

Watching You spine

PAPERBACK PICK … The Hanging Club

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Tony Parsons has created an intriguing character in the shape of DC Max Wolfe, and Thursday sees the paperback release of his London based thriller, The Hanging Club.

When the video of an apparent execution is posted online, DC Max Wolfe and officers of the Major Incident Team, along with thousands of online viewers, watch in horror as the kitchen stool is kicked out from under the feet of a Pakistani taxi driver, and he chokes to death, swinging by an improvised noose.

thcThe random murder of an innocent man? Not exactly. Mahmud Irani was part of a gang of men who groomed, raped and abused a number of white teenage girls. He served a jail term which many believe was too short, considering his crimes.

Another video surfaces. A handful of masked executioners use the same location, apparently deep underground somewhere. The hanged man? A young city trader who killed a boy cyclist, served a few months in jail, and then returned to his job, which had thoughtfully been kept open for him.

Wolfe and the MIT realise that they have a vigilante group on their hands, and their search for the culprit takes them to some of London’s hidden places, including the eventual location of the hangings. A little research on Google reveals that the surprise underground setting still actually exists, and is in remarkable good state.

The Hanging Club is out on Thursday 23rd February, published by Arrow. Watch out for our forthcoming review of Die Last, the new Max Wolfe story, coming soon.

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