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Robert Goddard

PRIZE DRAW . . . Win PANIC ROOM by Robert Goddard

The FULLY BOOKED competitions attract many entrants, and the prizes are always brand new editions of top quality crime novels by the best authors. The most recent winner is Stephen Fraser of Linlithgow, and he has a spellbinding Tom Thorne novel, from Mark Billingham, on its way to him now. The latest book on offer is another cracker. You can read our review of Robert Goddard’s thriller Panic Room by clicking the image below.

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PANIC ROOM . . . Between the covers

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There are some professions that give the noble art of lying a bad name. Politicians, for starters, and then their brothers and sisters in arms, lawyers. Have you ever noticed that both jobs share the same skillset? But I digress. It could be argued that novelists are born liars, but at least we know that what they are telling us never actually happened. But the true monarchs of misinformation, the sovereigns of sophistry and the bards of bullshit are, surely, estate agents (for any American readers, that’s what we call realtors here in Britain.)

Panic RoomDon Challenor is what Monty Python might have called at ex-estate agent. He is no more. He has over-egged his last pudding and hyped up his last hovel. The prestigious London property sellers Mendez Chinnery have, as the saying goes, let him go. He has been, to quote the late lamented Alan Clark, economical with the actualité once too often. He is at that stage of life when it is becoming harder and harder to slip into a new job. Not only is he sans employment, but he is also sans wife. Fran has married again and is still lawyering away, but with a new husband and his children. Challenor is surprised, then, when she makes contact to offer him a cash in hand one-off job. It sounds simple. He is to travel down to Cornwall, assess an executive-style property, and present her with a glowing file which will attract well-heeled buyers like moths to a flame. The house, Wortalleth West, was formerly owned by millionaire businessman Jack Harkness, but it has now been signed over to his former wife as part of a divorce settlement.

Wortalleth West is a futuristic building perched on a promontory overlooking the ocean, but as Challenor goes about his business he notices that within the house, the measurements don’t add up, and he comes to the conclusion that there is a hidden room within the building. Not only that, he has encountered a mysterious young housekeeper who calls herself Blake. Most troubling, however, is the fact that his visit to Cornwall has attracted the attention of a follower, complete with sinister dark glasses and blacked-out four-by-four vehicle.

Challenor had hoped for a breezy few days doing what he does best – romancing about the many virtues of a property and preparing an irresistible package of enhanced photographs and wildly colourful descriptions of its charms. Instead, he realises that Jack Harkness is on the run from the authorities for financial fraud, and deep within Wortalleth West lies a secret which desperate men are prepared to kill for.

Fran has insisted that Challenor send Blake packing, but things are not so simple. Blake has discovered a secret which links the fugitive Harkness to both a young woman who simply disappeared off the face of the earth many years earlier, and a local woman who appears to have supernatural powers.

The tone of the novel gets progressively darker with every page turned. The bland and eternally optimistic Challenor finds himself totally out of his depth in a swirling intrigue of financial fraud, a biochemical time-bomb and international gangsters who are determined to solve the mystery of Wortalleth West’s panic room.

I have read – and very much enjoyed – Robert Goddard’s trilogy (pictured below) set in the turbulent aftermath of The Great War, and featuring former pilot James Maxted, but Panic Room is the first of Goddard’s standalone novels I have come across. It is published by Bantam Books and will be available on 22nd March.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . And how!

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Robert_Goddard_author_photographI became a firm fan of Robert Goddard (left) after reading and reviewing his excellent Maxted trilogy, set in the turbulent days after The Great War. The best novelists are, in a way, both gamblers and alchemists. They are never afraid to try something different, to alter the formula, to ‘go for it’ with a fresh set of characters or, in extreme cases like Graham Hurley’s Joe Faraday, kill off the golden goose and incubate a new brood. Due out on 22 March, Goddard’s Panic Room draws us away from the post-Versailles world of James Maxted, and positions us firmly in the modern era. Part political thriller, part psychological drama and part social nightmare, Panic Room deals with the trauma of a young woman escaping those who would do her harm. She takes refuge in a huge empty villa, perched on a wind-buffeted Cornish cliff top. It is vast, and its array of unexplored rooms contains that most modern of social constructs – a panic room. Can Blake find it, and will it be secure enough to save her life?

ParkerRobert Parker is one of CriFi’s ‘bright young things’. His debut novel, A Wanted Man was published in 2017, but hard on the heels of that tale of a released prisoner seeking revenge on his enemies in the violent criminal hinterland of Manchester, he returns with Crook’s Hollow. Who knew that there was a CriFi genre called Country Noir? Not me, but the ‘Country’ in this case is not pedal steel guitars, yee-haw, banjos and frilled shirts, but the rough and ready hardscrabble rural landscape of north west England. The isolated village of Crook’s Hollow is not Ambridge, and readers hoping for an everyday tale of country folk should look away now. The Loxley family, with their extensive farms, have exerted an almost feudal influence over the valley for generations. But now their hegemony is being challenged by rapacious property developers, hired muscle and – above all – another local family whose grudges go back a century or more, and will only be expiated in blood. Crook’s Hollow is out at the end of March.

McDermid-Val-author-photo_credit-Alan-McCredie-crop-318x318Some modern writers are so popular, so much read and so far down the road to becoming national treasures, that it almost seems like an affront to their status for (adopting Uriah Heep-like crouch and wringing hands) ‘umble reviewers to voice an opinion. Kirkcaldy’s First lady, Val McDermid, (left) is one such daunting figure. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Ms M, but she comes over on social media as being good- natured, endlessly patient and courteous to a fault. It goes without saying that she is a bloody fine writer and there can be few modern CriFi partnerships to match that of DCI Carol Jordan and Tony Hill. Now, heaven be praised, they return in paperback. Insidious Intent came out in Kindle and hardcover in summer 2017, but if you can hang on until the last week in February, you can get your paws on a paperback edition. Carol and Tony have to solve a macabre mystery; what is the true story behind the burned body found in a torched car on a remote country road?

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THE GREAT WAR AND CRIME FICTION … part 2

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PREVIOUSLY …
The Great War and Crime Fiction … Introduction
The Great War and Crime Fiction … Part 1

Robert Goddard and his ex-RAFC/RAF pilot and family black sheep James ‘Max’ Maxted start the ball rolling in our continuing look at crime fiction set in, or influenced by The Great War. Goddard introduced Maxted in 2013 with the first part of a trilogy, The Ways of the World. It is Spring 1919. The Great War is over. but a new war is beginning – a war of words and promises, both kept and broken and a war fought in the splendid hotels and conference halls of Paris. The victorious powers – Britain, France, the US, Italy and Japan – have sent their politicians and diplomats to the French capital to pick over the carcass of the old Europe. Amid the great and the good stands a young Englishman, James ‘Max’ Maxted. The ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot has come to Paris to investigate the mysterious death of his father, minor diplomat Sir Henry Maxted.

 

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Max is used, first by an American wheeler-dealer called Ireton, then by the British Secret Service and other more shadowy organisations, to try to smoke out a German renegade called Lemmer. The story continues in The Corners of the Globe (2014). Max has still to uncover the truth about his father’s demise, and in addition to the Germans who will not accept defeat, there are some equally villainous Japanese thrown into the mix. The series concluded in 2015 with The Ends of the Earth, and it finds Max still battling the elusive Lemmer, but also locking horns with an evil Japanese aristocrat, Count Tamura. In some ways this is old-fashioned stuff, but there are hours of entertainment here for those who like their history spiced with danger and a couple of alluring femmes fatales. Max is an engaging character; a little old-school perhaps, with a nostalgic touch of Biggles and Bulldog Drummond, but equally brave and resourceful.

DMLRobert Ryan, also known as Tom Neale, is an English author, journalist and screenwriter. He has written a host of successful adventure novels and thrillers, but our microscope focuses on his Dr Watson novels. He is not the first writer to exploit the potential of Sherlockiana, nor will he be the last. M J Trow wrote an entertaining series of books featuring the much-maligned Inspector Lestrade, so the earnest, brave, but slightly dim companion to the great Consulting Detective must surely be worth a series of his own. Ryan takes our beloved physician and puts him down amid the carnage of The Great War. Too old to fight, Watson’s medical expertise is still valuable. In Dead Man’s Land (2013) Watson investigates a murder in the trenches which is due, not to a German bullet or shell, but to something much more sinister, and much closer to home.

The Dead Can Wait followed in 2014, and our man has returned from the trenches, mentally shattered by his experience. He has little time to recuperate however, as he is called to investigate what appears to be a mass killing – in a top secret research facility set up to develop a weapon that will be decisive in ending the war.

 

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2015 brought A Study In Murder, and Watson has mismanaged his life to the extent that he is now in a wintry prisoner of war camp, far behind German lines. It is 1917, and the outcome of the war hangs in the balance. Murder, however, is no respecter of history, and when some poor fellow inmate is murdered, ostensibly for his Red Cross food parcel, Watson smells a sizeable and malodorous rat. January 2016 brought The Sign of Fear. The rather clumsy amalgam of two canonical Sherlock Holmes stories finds the indefatigable Watson once more at home, but a home at the mercy of a new terror – bombing raids from German aircraft. Our man is forced to untangle a mystery involving kidnap and a floating ambulance sunk by a German torpedo.

MaisieMaisie Dobbs is both the title of a novel by Jacqueline Winspear, and the name of the central character in a series which has now run to twelve novels. In the first of the series we learn that Maisie has seen the worst of The Western Front during her time as a nurse, but now she has returned to an England which is definitely not a land for heroes. She uses her acquaintance with a distinguished French investigator to set up her own agency.   Although the series takes Maisie through the years between the wars, right up to the rise of Nazism, the shadow of the dreadful years of The Great War is cast over many of Maisie’s cases. The author herself says:

“The war and its aftermath provide fertile ground for a mystery. Such great social upheaval allows for the strange and unusual to emerge and a time of intense emotions can, to the writer of fiction, provide ample fodder for a compelling story, especially one concerning criminal acts and issues of guilt and innocence. After all, a generation is said to have lost its innocence in The Great War. The mystery genre provides a wonderful vehicle for exploring such a time,”

MametzDr Jonathan Hicks is a Welsh academic with an abiding interest in The Great War, and he has written a graphic and superbly researched history of a battle which was both one of his countrymen’s finest hours, but in terms of loss of life, arguably their darkest. A detailed look at The Welsh at Mametz Wood, The Somme 1916 is outside of our remit here, but its scholarship and interpretation of history is clearly reflected in what was his first fictional Great War novel, The Dead of Mametz (2011). His central character is Captain Thomas Oscendale of the Military Foot Police, and he has a problem to solve. An attractive French widow has been found raped and murdered in a nearby town. In her clenched fingers is a button from a British army tunic. A Welsh NCO, reputedly her lover, has just turned his Lee Enfield rifle on himself after apparently killing two of his colleagues. A mysterious British officer attends the crime scene, but then disappears. As Oscendale tries to unravel the tangle of clues, he finds a map purporting to show a site in the middle of Mametz Wood where a fortune is buried. Blind-sided by German spies and a conspiracy way above his rank, Oscendale must apply his police training to combat corrupt officials, military incompetence and the disdain – bordering on hatred – felt by front-line soldiers for ‘Red Caps’.

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in Demons Walk Among Us (2013) and he falls for a beautiful war widow in the process. When he finds that his most likely witness to corruption in high military places has been invalided home with neurasthenia, he has to resort to drastic measures that threaten his own life and sanity. The action takes us from the dust, heat, flies and bloated corpses of 1915 Gallipoli, through the bleak and devastated flatlands of Flanders, to small-town Wales, with its shattered and impoverished war widows, deserters at their wits’ end, and heroes who have been crippled both physically and mentally. One of the strengths of the Oscendale novels is that Hicks combines the horror of The Front Line with less dramatic but equally menacing events back home in Wales.

History. Crime Fiction. Railways. It’s as if Andrew Martin has written a series of books specifically tailored to three of my abiding interests, but within his Jim Stringer, Steam Detective series there is even more icing on the cake – a pair of novels set in The Great War. Jim Stringer is a railwayman through and through, and we first met him as a young man in an intriguing account of The Necropolis Railway, where he investigated shenanigans connected with the funeral trains that used to run from near Waterloo Station out to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

the-somme-stations-andrew-martinBy 1916, however, Stringer has several years of crime detection under his belt, but he is sent to France where he survives the carnage of 1st July, and is picked out to supervise the running of ammunition trains carrying vital supplies up to the front line. The Somme Stations (2012) is both a chilling account of everyday life on The Western Front, but also an excellent murder mystery, with Stringer investigating a criminal death – as opposed to one of the scores of men killed daily by bullets and shells.

1917 sees Stringer invalided away from the trenches, but sent out to Mesopotamia to investigate apparent treachery within the British military establishment. In The Baghdad Railway Club (2012) Lieutenant-Colonel Shepherd is said to have accepted a bribe from the fleeing Turks.

BaghdadStringer goes undercover as a railway advisor to investigate, but his contact Captain Boyd is discovered murdered in an abandoned station. No further help will be sent, so Stringer is on his own catching the murderer, and preventing a giant betrayal of the British effort. He has to do so whilst navigating an unfamiliar landscape, avoiding getting caught up in an Arab uprising, fighting off a case of malaria during a sweltering Baghdad summer, and treading a careful path as he investigates members of the officer class.

We will finish with the Inspector Hardcastle novels by Graham Ison. In one sense they are well-crafted – but otherwise unremarkable – police procedurals with a period setting, but Ison has created a sequence in the series where criminal events in London are set against successive years of the war. Hardcastle is a bluff, tough, pipe-and-slippers kind of copper, but the novels have a subtle sub-plot which reflects how the war is being fought on the home front, with the inevitable shortage of manpower in the police service, and the ruthless advantage taken by those who live outside of the law. The books have a cosy tinge to them, but are none the worse for that. Ison doesn’t flinch in his portrayal of the effect of a brutal war on hard-pressed families as well as those who are financially more comfortable. For those who like a good London novel, you will find no current writer who is better than Ison at period detail and the creation of an authentic atmosphere.

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