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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 …..”
Parker 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.
What 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.
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.
Thor 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.
I 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?
Robert 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.
Some 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?