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Robert Scragg

ALL THAT IS BURIED . . . Between the covers

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ATIB coverAll the fun of the fair? They are strange throwbacks to an earlier, perhaps more innocent time, these funfairs that travel the country setting up in this or that town for a few days of loud music, strings of multicoloured light bulbs swinging in the wind, the shrieks of excited children and the unique smell of candyfloss and toffee apples. All That Is Buried, the latest case for Robert Scragg’s coppers Jake Porter and Nick Styles begins with an abduction in one such fair, pitched on a field in a London suburb. We see some of the story through the eyes of the killer. Our man – if he is indeed the culprit – describes the fair:

“Around him, the ebb and flow of the people is a chaotic palette of colour. Sounds swirl, overlap, conversations impossible to separate from the cloud of white noise as he picks his way between rides. Oversized teacups spin in lazy circles.Squeak of socks on rubber as children launch themselves skywards on a bouncy castle.”

One minute, seven year-old Libby Hallforth is at the fair. Next minute, she is gone, her mum and dad distracted for a few seconds. That’s all it takes for a child to vanish. When Porter visits the parents in their grim tower block flat he finds “lives of quiet desperation”, to be sure, but he is not convinced that Libby’s parents are quite what they seem to be at first glance.

The search for Libby goes round in ever decreasing circles until a chance sighting of someone who might be her takes Porter and his team to an East London park. They don’t find Libby, but what they do find turns the case on its head. On an island in a boating lake, they find roses:

“A mixture of blood reds, soft whites, pale peaches and buttery yellows..”

But beneath the roses lies something lacking their fragile beauty, far less fragrant and indescribably more sinister. The search for Libby Hallforth, in the time it takes for a man to turn a sod of earth with a spade, takes on a whole new dimension.

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The book, to a degree, is formulaic. We have all the usual components of a British police procedural: a DI and a Sergeant are the main characters, the DI having the shadow of personal tragedy hanging over him; the DI has a boss who is more of a desk copper than a crime fighter; there are an assortment of nasty gangsters, druggies and petty crooks on the fringes of the story; deep at the heart of the plot, however is a distinctly malevolent individual who takes human lives – many of them.

Th said, Robert Scragg brings much more to the party. What impressed me most was the genuine sense of humanity, compassion and mutual respect between Porter and Styles. To call it a symbiosis is perhaps rather too grand, but they fight each other’s corner and make allowances when either of them slips up. There is a feel-good factor about the novel, despite the harrowing nature of the crimes the pair are trying to solve.

It would be giving too much away to divulge the outcome, but the eventual solution caught me unawares and was an imaginative plot twist that worked beautifully without being too extravagant or showy in a “look at me, no hands!” kind of way.

All That Is Buried is published by Allison & Busby and will be out in hardback and Kindle on 23rd January. For reviews of the previous two Porter and Styles novels, click on the images below.

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NOTHING ELSE REMAINS . . . Between the covers

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WFBTCWe first met London’s Detective Inspector Jake Porter and Sergeant Nick Styles in Robert Scragg’s debut novel What Falls Between The Cracks (review here) almost exactly a year ago. This description of the pair is from that book:

“Styles had his weakness for all things Hugo Boss, his image neat and orderly, close cropped hair, number two all over. A few had referred to him as the Met’s answer to Thierry Henry, until they saw him play five-a-side football. Porter was from Irish stock, his wardrobe more high street fashion and his appearance, while not unkempt, had a more lived-in feel to it; hair so dark it bordered on black, refusing to be fully tamed by gel, but with a sense of messy style to it.”

NERPorter is still haunted by the death of his wife in a hit-and-run accident and, like all good fictional DIs, he is viewed by his bosses – in particular the officious desk jockey Milburn – as mentally suspect. He is forced to go for a series of counselling sessions with the force’s tame psychologist, but after one hurried and fruitless encounter, he becomes totally immersed in a puzzling case which involves an old friend of his, Max Brennan. Brennan has arranged to meet his long-estranged father for the first time, but the older man fails to make the rendezvous. When Brennan’s girlfriend is abducted, he turns to Porter for help.

The heavy stone that Porter turns over in his search for Brennan’s missing father reveals all kinds of nasty scuttling things that recoil at the daylight. Principal among these is a list of missing people, all businessmen, whose common denominator is that they have each resigned from their jobs with minimal notice given, citing personal health issues as the reason.

Meanwhile, Styles has a secret. His wife is expecting their first child and she has grave misgivings about her husband continuing as Porter’s partner, as their business puts them all too often – and quite literally – in the line of fire. Understandably, she recoils at the possibility of raising the child alone with the painful duty, at some point, of explaining to the toddler about the father they never knew. Styles has accepted her demand to transfer to something less dangerous, but as the Brennan Affair ratchets up in intensity, he just can’t seem to find the right moment to break the news to his boss.

This is a well written and entertaining police procedural with all the necessary tropes of the genre – maverick cop, desk-bound boss, chaotic personal lives, grimy city background and labyrinthine plot. Naturally, Porter finally gets to the bottom of the mystery of the missing businessmen, but this point was reached with a fair few pages left to go, so clearly something else is about to happen. Sure enough, it does, and it is clever plot twist which I certainly didn’t see coming. Robert Scragg may be a relative novice in the crime fiction stakes but, to mangle a metaphor, he casts his red herrings with the ease and accuracy of an expert.

Nothing Else Remains is published by Allison & Busby and is available now.

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WHAT FALLS BETWEEN THE CRACKS … Between the covers

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A maintenance man is called to a nondescript block of London flats. Water is dripping through a ceiling. Up he goes to the flat above. Problem solved. It’s a broken down fridge-freezer. He opens the door of the offending item of kitchen furniture. No problem? Big problem. Among the usual items – past-sell-by yoghurts, limp lettuce, yellowing chunks of Cheddar and a couple of shriveled courgettes – is something that really, seriously, does not belong. I mean, who would put a severed hand (minus a finger) in a domestic freezer?

ScraggWith that grim discovery acting as a starting pistol, debut author Robert Scragg (left) starts a middle-distance race to discover who murdered Natasha Barclay. For she is the person, identified by simply reading the opened mail strewn around the tomb-like flat, and checking rental records, whose hand lies in the freezer drawer.

Detective Inspector Jake Porter and Sergeant Nick Styles face enough questions to serve a whole series of University Challenge. Why did Natasha Barclay simply disappear from the radar in 1983? Is she dead? If so, where is the rest of her body? Why have those in her extended family – a stepmother and her second husband – remained silent about her disappearance. Why did her blood father shoot himself all those years ago?

Porter and Styles certainly have the required chemistry to succeed as fictional cop duos. Porter is the senior: he tries not to be trapped in a mindset dominated by the senseless death of his wife Holly, mown down by a hit-and-run driver. Porter seems to be the thinker, while Styles is the doer.

“Styles had his weakness for all things Hugo Boss, his image neat and orderly, close cropped hair, number two all over. A few had referred to him as the Met’s answer to Thierry Henry, until they saw him play five-a-side football. Porter was from Irish stock, his wardrobe more high street fashion and his appearance, while not unkempt, had a more lived-in feel to it; hair so dark it bordered on black, refusing to be fully tamed by gel, but with a sense of messy style to it.”

Porter and Styles scrape away like archaeologists. First one layer of deception is removed, then another, until they uncover substantial foundations hidden beneath decades of criminality, terrible violence and – most shocking of all – police corruption on a devastating and appalling scale. A thrilling shoot-out as a team of officers raid the HQ of the villains involved seems to bring the novel to an end, but Scragg has a couple more twists yet to apply to what is already a very complex and riveting story.

WFBTC coverIf ever there were an single implausible plot device, it might be the premise that a suburban London flat, complete with a severed hand sitting quietly in a freezer compartment, could remain untouched, unvisited and unnoticed for over thirty years. It is, however, a tribute to Robert Scragg’s skill as a storyteller that this oddity was so easily forgotten. The dialogue, the twists and turns of the plot, and the absolute credibility of the characters swept me along on the ride. Porter and Styles have made an impressive debut, and the author may well have elbowed them into that crowded room full of other fictional police partners. They are all out there; Bryant & May, Zigic & Ferrera, Rizzoli & Isles, Wolfe & Goodwin, Morse & Lewis, Jordan & Hill, Kiszka and Kershaw – watch out, you have company!

What Falls Between The Cracks is published by Allison & Busby and is available on 20th September.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Knight & Scragg

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OH….SEPTEMBER … Such a cause for melancholy. Even though it is six years since the end of August, for me, meant one terrible truth. The days ahead would mean a return to work. A return to the classroom.  A return to hour upon hour of dreadful, pointless and unproductive staff meetings. A return to the sight of six hundred – well maybe twenty or thirty – shining young faces turned in my direction, desperate to hear my wise words, to share my hard-earned wisdom, to rejoice in a mutual love of learning. (Spot the bare-faced lie or three)

OH….SEPTEMBER … even though I am retired your first dawns still bring a little shiver of fear, but then I roll over in bed, hug my Teddy, and lapse into a smug sleep, safe in the knowledge that I am no longer responsible for shaping the lives of Britain’s future leaders, scientists, composers, authors and philosophers. Nor the lives of apprentice muggers, drug dealers, drunk drivers, sex pests, wife beaters and Jeremy Kyle guests.

OH….SEPTEMBER … thank you for new books, new plots, new writers and the prospect of afternoons spent feet up on the sofa, worlds away from the beige mundanities of small town Cambridgeshire, transported to the world of murder, deception, intrigue and violence. New books, then.

KNIGHTSCRAGGS2Renée Knight worked for the BBC directing arts documentaries before beginning her writing career. She has written television and film scripts for the BBC, Channel Four and Capital Films. Her first screenplay, Mother’s Day, made it onto the 2010 Brit List of best unproduced scripts of that year.

Her first novel, Disclaimer, was published by Transworld in 2015, and she is currently adapting for the screen for Fox Searchlight. Renée lives in London with her husband and two children.

Her new novel, The Secretary, is a psychological thriller based around the concept of someone who is largely ignored and taken for granted, but is always there listening, making mental notes of indiscretions, weaknesses and fallibility. What if that someone, Christine Butcher for example, is pushed to her limit and needs to strike out? Her knowledge and little book of secrets may well prove to be fatally powerful. The Secretary is published by Doubleday, and will be out in early 2019.

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KNIGHTSCRAGGS2What Falls Between The Cracks is the first published novel from Robert Scragg.He is a northerner born and bred, and has had a random mix of jobs to date, including bookseller, pizza deliverer, Karate instructor, and Football Coach. He originally intended to join the legal profession, but after getting his degree, ended up with a job in Telecoms.

Writing was something he hadn’t done much of since he left school, until around seven years ago when an idea for a book popped up that he found too interesting to ignore, and his lead character, Jake Porter, plus his partner Nick Styles started to nag him to write it. His first novel, What Falls Between the Cracks, is the first in the Porter & Styles series. It was pitched during the 2016 Theakston’s Crime Festival at the “Dragon’s Pen”, to a panel of agents and editors, managing to get four ‘yes’ votes, and has since been picked up by Allison & Busby. It was released in hardback and e-book on 19th April 2018, and the paperback follows on 20th September.

Robert lives in Tyne & Wear, with his wife, children and dog. Away from work and writing, he’s a long-suffering follower of Newcastle United, fan of all things martial arts, scuba diving and mountain climbing, and self-confessed crime fiction junkie. His favourites in the genre include Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Linwood Barclay, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Sarah Hilary, Mari Hannah, Mark Billingham and Howard Linskey to name but a few.

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