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Rob Parker

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2019 . . . Best thriller

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In the dear, dead days beyond recall, when I was still working as a teacher – casting (as a friend once memorably said) artificial pearls before real swine – someone suggested we apply the WILF principle when explaining to sullen teenagers how to improve their work. WILF stood for What I’m Looking For. Applying the WILF principle to what constitutes a thriller, I would suggest a mixture of the following: severe personal stress, violence, unexplained events, evil masquerading as benevolence, mysterious threats – feel free to add your own criteria, but those will do for me. Click the links to read a full review of each novel.

nohTim Weaver’s intrepid searcher
for the physically lost, David Raker, faced his hardest challenge yet in No One Home when he was hired to find not merely a missing husband or a disappeared friend, but an entire community, albeit a tiny moorland hamlet. As ever Tim Weaver provided a plausible solution to what seemed an impossible conundrum.

severedClergymen writing crime novels? That can only mean cosy village mysteries centred around tweedy villages and eccentric old ladies, surely? Not if Peter Laws has his way. He is a minister in the Baptist Church in Bedforshire, but his Matthew Hunter novels are dark, scary and blood-spattered. In Severed, Hunter encounters a reclusive sect whose primitive and baleful version of Christianity has left a trail of death and disruption.

till-morning-is-nighBen Bracken is a Jack Reacher do-alike transported to contemporary England. Much as I have enjoyed the invincible Reacher over the years, Rob Parker has created a more thoughtful and vulnerable – at least psychologically – version in Ben Bracken, a former soldier who exists in the shady hinterland which lies between law enforcement, special services and officially-sanctioned skullduggery. Till Morning Is Nigh is the fourth in the series and is, by some way, the best yet. Our man infiltrates an extremist far-right group and contributes to a spectacular shootout at a school nativity play.

tbl-coverSad to say, there is no-one more vulnerable in modern society – at least in novels – than a single mother trying to bring up her child. In The Body Lies Jo Baker takes a look at the dichotomy between fictional tropes and reality. Her unnamed protagonist is a lecturer at a minor university, separated from her husband and trying to juggle a job and childcare. Baker spins a delightfully elaborate yarn which begins when the woman is targeted by a stalker.

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Click the image above to read just why I thought A Book Of Bones is
MY BEST THRILLER 2019

TILL MORNING IS NIGH . . . Between the covers

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There is an debate in the Twittersphere at this time of year about whether Die Hard is, or isn’t a Christmas movie. Maybe there is also a discussion to be had as to whether this latest adventure for Rob Parker’s invincible iron man, Ben Bracken, is a Christmas thriller. Those with young children, or fond memories of their own childhood, will surely recognise the source of the book’s title. Preface it with the words “And stay by my cradle ..” and you should have the answer.

till-morning-is-nighWe are in a wintry Manchester
. The time is the present. As usual, the giant plastic Santa is hoist by his breeches on the Victorian gothic façade of the town hall, dispensing silent jollity to the shoppers and merry-makers scurrying beneath his furry boots. In Albert Square, homeless men try to find solace in their threadbare coats, wondering where the next coffee, the next Greggs pasty – or the next fix of chemical oblivion – is going to come from.

 

Among these sad footnotes to the tidings of comfort and joy, Ben Bracken moves, asking questions. The former soldier, imprisoned in nearby Strangeways for something he didn’t do, has escaped and now leads a perilous existence employed by a shadowy government agency who have uses for his particular skillset, which involves an immense capacity for violence and superb fieldcraft honed both in the killing fields of Afghanistan and the mean streets of Britain’s cities.

Bracken has been tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a young undercover police officer working for the National Crime Agency. Executed in front of an audience of drug dealers and sleazeballs, probably pour encourager les autres, DC Mark Kyle may have become too close for comfort to a dangerous new player in the Manchester drug scene. Bracken asks the right questions of the right people, and finds he is being led not towards an organised criminal gang of swarthy Albanian malcontents, but to a group which has it roots much closer to home.

Back in the real world for a moment, we are told by experts that the biggest terrorist threat to our society in Britain comes from right wing extremist organisations. Only a few days ago a number of men – all fans of Hitler, Breivik and other assorted homicidal lunatics – were convicted of planning terrorism via social media. The fictional group which Ben Bracken infiltrates are, however, not pimply twenty-somethings operating out of a bedroom in their mum’s house, but serious players, ex-military and financing their ambitions via the trade in hard drugs. They are well trained, armed with more than just a Facebook account, and they mean business.

The St George Patriots are led by Helen Broadshott. Perhaps modeled on someone across the Channel, she is vivacious, attractive, a brilliant communicator, and someone who knows how to tap into the seam of opinion which has been crystalised by feelings of resentment about immigration, perceived inequality, lack of political representation and frustration about rapid social change. The Patriots are planning a major event which will catapult them from obscurity onto the front pages of the print media, boost their social media following and make them headline news on every TV bulletin.

The irony is, of course, that in order to prevent the planned atrocity, Bracken has to ingratiate himself with the group and make them give him a central role in proceedings hoping, all the while, that his employers will be ready to intervene at the crucial moment.

Rob ParkerParker is a fine young writer. He can muse ruefully on the inadequate protection the human body has against steel wielded with extreme malice:

“Blood and organs artfully arranged on bone. No myth, no mysticism. We are made of soft material that splits and spills, nothing more.”

There is also a more reflective side to his writing. In between energetically demolishing bad people, Bracken has moments of quieter reflection:

“And they weren’t lying when they said the Guinness was the best either – it’s an epiphany as pure and revelatory as finding Jesus and Elvis, all at once, in the same tall glass.”

The spectacular and bloody climax to this excellent thriller will settle the question I posed earlier about Till Morning Is Nigh being a Christmas novel. It is a bravura finale to a thoroughly engrossing thriller.

Till Morning Is Nigh is published by Endeavour Media and will be available from 13th December. Click on the text below to read reviews of other novels by Rob Parker.

ROB PARKER NOVELS

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PENNY BLACK . . . Between the covers

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No, this is not a novel about stamp collecting, and it would be a skillful writer who could turn the rather dry pursuit of philately into a thriller. The Penny Black is a pub – one of three – in the apparently languid and peaceful Norfolk riverside village of Horning. On the river pleasure boats glide, coots skate and squabble while, beneath the ripples, Esox Lucius bides his time, ready to snap up an unwary Roach or two, or perhaps a duckling who has strayed too far from its siblings.

Rob ParkerThis riparian idyll is about to suffer a tsunami of turbulence however, partly due to one of its temporary residents. To call Ben Bracken, the creation of author Rob Parker (left), a Wild Card is something of an understatement. In A Wanted Man and Morte Point (review here) Bracken manages to use his Special Forces training to run rings around his government handlers, notch up an impressive body count, and still evade the clutches of the men, both good and bad, who would rather like to see him incarcerated either in a prison cell or – better still – a coffin.

Bracken has assumed the identity of an itinerant nobody. His day job is swilling out the chemical toilets on the hire boats which putter up and down the river on their journey through the Norfolk Broads. He lodges with an unassuming local couple who have no idea about his turbulent background. After a chance midnight encounter on the river Bracken learns that one of the local pleasure boats, owned by a villager, is actually a floating cannabis farm. A separate incident involving local yobs pushes Bracken into a limelight that he has to escape from, and in order to establish a new identity, he stages a bank robbery with a difference – he only steals money from his own account.

Penny coverWith the cash needed to pay for a fake passport and drivers’ licence Bracken prepares to bid farewell to Horning, a brutal murder and an encounter with a new enemy puts him – literally – on his back, recuperating in a lonely farmhouse. We learn that Norfolk’s would-be Medellin Cartel are actually dancing to the tune played by a London mobster called Terry “Turn-up” Masters, with whom Bracken has serious history. When Masters and his thugs turn up in Horning at the same time as a government Black Ops unit determined to eliminate Bracken, the scene is set for a spectacular shootout involving a buried cache of Home Guard weapons, gallons of blood sprayed liberally over the walls of The Penny Black and enough corpses to keep the local pathologist busy for weeks.

Rob Parker writes in a full-on style which frequently exceeds the speed limit and sometimes skates dangerously on the thin ice of probability, but he is never less than entertaining. Amid the mayhem, there are some sharp social observations:

“….he looks as retired as anyone I’ve ever seen. Natty purple v-neck sweater over cream chinos, wire glasses on a face near split by age-old laughter lines. He’s the poster boy for an over-fifties life insurance plan.”

There is also poignancy, such as when the elderly villager Eric recalls his late wife, collateral damage in the Horning drug wars:

“She had a mouth on her, at times. Sometimes she would put us in a sticky situation, simply because she had something to say, and couldn’t persuade herself not to say it. I’d sit there sometimes waiting for her to do it, just like a time bomb, waiting for her to go off…… But that’s all. That was the only thing. I used to get a bit wound up by it ….. Everyone’s allowed to have flaws, you’re not human if you don’t have flaws.”

The Penny Black is published by Endeavour Media and is available now.

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MORTE POINT . . . Between the covers

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There is a hoary old cliché sometimes heard in football or rugby games, when the manager exhorts his team “to leave nothing in the changing room”. In plain English, he wants, to unearth another classic, “110% effort” from his lads. Robert Parker certainly leaves nothing behind on his keyboard, if I can extend the metaphor. As I noted in my review of his previous novel, Crook’s Hollow:

“If you are a fan of leisurely paced pastoral crime novels, complete with all the tropes – short-sighted vicars, inquisitive spinsters, toffs at the manor house with a dark secret – then maybe this book isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you want 200 pages of non-stop action …..”

Morte PointParker is on similar form here in Morte Point which, as Devonians know, is a rocky peninsula on the north west coast of that county. Rather than the bitterly feuding rural families in Crook’s Hollow, Mr P gives us a jailbird ex SAS soldier, a mysteriously beautiful Kosovan biochemist, a sunken plane wreck containing only the body of a woman (minus her head), a senior British government minister determined to engineer the biggest international shock since Hitler declared war and Stalin, a bloody shoot-out in London’s most prestigious hotel and – at the centre of the drama – a phial containing a synthesised botulism capable of killing millions.

Ben Bracken is the former SAS trooper who has fallen foul of The Regiment and ended up in jail. Escaping, but taking out an insurance policy by way of blackmail material on the governor, he is officially still “inside”. He is not far enough under the radar of a certain officer in the National Crime Agency, however, and Jeremiah Salix contacts Bracken with an offer he cannot (for various reasons) refuse.

An aircraft is due to land at a Devon Royal Marines airbase, but Salix tells Bracken that it will not reach its destination, but instead end up on the seabed. It will be carrying something of great interest to a certain group of individuals, but Bracken’s mission is to dive to the wreck and snatch that certain “something” before the bad guys arrive. Bracken does as he is bid, and despite being kept in the dark about the exact nature of what he was meant to retrieve, he is soon left in no doubt that the people who arrive just too late to prevent him from carrying out Salix’s orders are deadly serious.

robertparkerWhat follows is, to my mind, the best part of the book. Back in the day when the mysterious Andy McNab (and his ever-present black rectangle) was the media’s darling, survival skills, initiative in the wild and hiding in plain sight were familiar tropes in thrillers and on the screen, but Parker (right)  has revitalised the idea. Bracken manages to stay half a step – but no more – ahead of his pursuers as he travels rough on his way north to meet up with Salix. You might scoff, and say that rural Devon is hardly the Iraqi desert, but Bracken realises that he is Britain’s most hunted man and, in these days of 24 hour news coverage on a bewildering range of devices, he knows that he has no friends, and no ally except his own resources and awareness of nature. He comes unstuck, however, after a chance encounter with vipera berus, and from this point the story takes a very different direction.

With the caveat stated at the beginning, this thriller will not tick every CriFi box. Midsomer Murders it ain’t, but in Ben Bracken we have a dangerous and complex man who certainly has every reason to bear a grudge against society while not being entirely without a conscience. The spectacular conclusion in, of all places, a turkey rearing farm, may not be “bootiful”, but it is certainly high-octane drama. Morte Point is published by Endeavour Quill and will be available on 27th July.

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CROOK’S HOLLOW . . . Between the covers

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My goodness, where to begin! If you are a fan of leisurely paced pastoral crime novels, complete with all the tropes – short-sighted vicars, inquisitive spinsters, toffs at the manor house with a dark secret – then maybe this book isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you want 200 pages of non-stop action which includes, in no particular order, attempted homicide by combine harvester, a centuries-old family feud, a touch of incest, more shotgun shootouts than the OK Corral and a flood of Old Testament intensity, then stay tuned.

We are in rural Lancashire, the English county which includes Liverpool, Manchester and Preston, but still has its open spaces and farms which have been in the same hands for generations. Thornton ‘Thor’ Loxley is the youngest of the Loxley clan, and something of a black sheep. Despite inheriting a patch of land according to family custom, he has chosen to cock a snook at the family’s most entrenched tradition by not pursuing the generations-old enmity with a neighbouring family – the Crooks. Thor has gone about this in a manner most likely to cause maximum offence to both houses – he has taken the youngest Crook daughter, Roisin, as his lover.

Crooks Hollow CoverThor scrapes by as a barman in a local pub, and has a rudimentary bedsit over the local post office, but his world is turned on its head when he discovers that someone is trying to kill him. Not without taking a knock or two, Thor survives, and concludes that the attempts on his life are connected to the efforts of developers to buy up his patch of the Loxley land to add to a much bigger chunk of Crook territory. The result will be thousands of newcomers to the area, complete with pressing demands for new schools, new infrastructure and new services.

As Thor staves off yet more attempts on his life, nature takes a hand. A constant deluge of rain turns meadows into swamps, streams into rivers, and rivers into torrents. The local village is becoming an unwanted version of Venice, but just as nature seems to be wreaking vengeance on humanity, the ancient feud between the Loxleys and the Crooks ignites with a white-hot flame that not even the constant rain can extinguish. Pure survival instinct takes over as Thor Loxley fights to keep both body and sanity in one piece, but in a dramatic few hours amid the biblical flood, he realises that he has been betrayed in the worst possible way.

This novel moves as fast – and with as much menace – as the catastrophic flood through which the Loxleys and the Crooks struggle to exact terrible vengeance on one another. It is not a long book – you will finish it in a couple of sessions – but it is powerful stuff and illustrates that not everything in rural England is fragrant honeysuckle on a summer evening or a kind sun highlighting the amber stone of ancient cottages.

Robert Parker lives in a village near Manchester with his family. He has degrees in both film and law and, while writing full time, still has the energy to enjoy boxing and helping local schools with literacy projects. He is a self-confessed readaholic and says that his glass is always half full. Crook’s Hollow is published by BLACK ROSE WRITING www.blackrosewriting.com and is out on 22 March 2018.

Black Rose

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