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BLAME . . . Between the covers

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JeffAbbottI guess we all play the game. We know the rules, every one of us. No expensive equipment required and no real skill needed, that’s for sure. The Blame Game, it’s called, and when something bad happens in the world it plays out on every social media feed, every newspaper paragraph and every breathless sentence from every permatanned TV news anchor. Bestselling thriller writer Jeff Abbott (left) convinces us that it’s also very popular in the little Texas town of Lakehaven where, just two years ago, a car carrying two teenage friends plummeted off a lonely road and down into a deep gully.

When the paramedics arrived, all they could do for young David Hall was to get his body clear of the wreckage – and then zip up the body bag. Jane Norton, the driver? Well she got lucky. After a fashion. Multiple broken bones, but nothing fatal. And a major bang to the head, which has left her with partial amnesia. When a suicide note surfaces, written by Jane, the Lakehaven rumour mill starts to grind, and it grinds exceeding small. Obviously, Jane intended to kill herself, and she took David – the trusting, popular, talented, handsome David – down with her.

Two years on, Jane has learned to recognise her mother and her college friends, but as to what actually happened on that dreadful night, nothing. Nada. A big fat blank. This big fat blank makes her the perfect hate figure for many former school and college buddies, and she has shrunk into what is left of herself. She has left home, and is ‘crashing’ in the dorm room of one of the few friends who is still prepared to give her – literally – house room.

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Jane and David were inseparable childhood friends. Their parents still live next door to each other. Perri Hall and her soon to be ex- husband Cal no longer speak to Laurel Norton who is also on her own for a different reason. Her husband Brent is three years dead from a gunshot from his own weapon, either intentionally or maybe through a tragic accident; the gossip jury is still out but, like Old Jacob Marley, Brent Norton is as dead as a doornail.

The two year anniversary of David’s death is being commemorated in the modern way, along with other tragedies, baby scans, bad moods, good moods, cute cats, photos of ‘what I had for dinner’ and Trump memes on the (strangely familiar) social media hub, Faceplace. David is the martyr, Jane and her mother equally culpable as the villains.

blame017In a nutshell, the novel is an account of Jane’s attempt to find the truth about what actually happened on that dreadful night on High Oaks Road. We have to assume – because we are seasoned readers of crime thrillers – that Jane is innocent of a brutal suicide mission which claimed the life of a boy whose only crime was to be in love. As Jane turns over rock after rock, and unpleasant critters scuttle about, exposed to the light of truth, the novel builds to a dramatic and breathless finale. As might be expected from a writer of Jeff Abbott’s pedigree, he keeps his cards close to his chest, and keeps us guessing until the final few pages.

I particularly loved how Abbott works the Jane character; at the beginning, despite her having suffered a terrible physical trauma, she still comes over as being something of a pain in the butt; as the novel develops, and the web of possible suspects widens, her courage and determination not to take shit from anyone began to grow on me. Remember, as well as having lost her memory, the boy they tell her was her best buddy is also gone, and she has completely forgotten how to talk properly to people. As for normal social and conversational responses, they are also an unfathomable mystery. Blame came out earlier in the year in hardback, but will be available in paperback from 28 December.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Abbott, Greaney & Svensson

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The generous people at Sphere came up trumps (whoops, can we still use that expression?) last week with a triple whammy to make my day, but sadly add to the seasonal woes of my postman. Three lovely new books to examine, the first being from one of my favourite American thriller writers, Jeff Abbott (below left).

JeffAbbottBLAME came out in hardback and Kindle earlier this year, but is due in paperback on 28 December. We are in the author’s home state of Texas, and two years on from a fatal road accident. Jane Norton drove her car down into a steep ravine below a remote road, killing her passenger and coming within a whisker of death herself. David Hall is cut from the wreckage but dies in the arms of a paramedic. Jane survives her multiple fractures, but loses her memory. After an incriminating note is found, it becomes the received wisdom in the small town of Lakehaven that Jane Norton was hell bent on committing suicide, and had decided to take her best friend with her. Reviled on social media and snubbed at school, Jane becomes a reclusive outcast until a mysterious person calling themselves Liv Danger begins a campaign of hate against all those involved in the tragedy. Can Jane – and her tangled memories – solve the mystery of what happened that fateful night on High Oaks Road?

markGUNMETAL GRAY by Mark Greaney (right) takes us away from small-town intrugue and places us on a much bigger stage altogether. Readers who know their spy thriller genre will be well aware that Greaney has pedigree – he collaborated with the late Tom Clancy on his final three books, and has continued the Jack Ryan series under his own name. This novel sees the return of Court Gentry, ‘The Gray Man’. Gone are the days when the only international villains had snow on their boots and answered to the name ‘Ivan”. Gentry becomes involved in a winner-takes-all struggle with ruthless agents from The People’s Republic of China, and he finds that they are every bit as resourceful and relentless as their Russian counterparts. Played out against the background of of Hong Kong and South East Asia, Gunmetal Gray came out in hardback in February this year, but will be available in paperback on 4 January 2018.

The Sons

ANTON SVENSSON is the pseudonym of the successful Swedish writing partnership between Stefan Thunberg and Anders Roslund. The Sons (originally published as En Bror Att Dö För earlier this year) has been translated into English by Hildred Crill. It is the second in a series called Made In Sweden. The first novel was called, logically enough, The Father. The story is centred on that most lucrative – and dangerous – of trades, bank robbery. Leo Duvnjac emerges from a lengthy prison sentence for bank heists, but inside he has made friends with killer Sam Larsen. Released and together outside, they plan the climactic job-to-end-all-jobs, but they face a stern opponent in the hard-nosed cop Detective John Broncks – who just happens to be Larsen’s brother. If you were of a mind to question the authenticity of the tale, you should know that co-author Thunberg is the only ‘straight’ member of his family – the rest are infamous real-life bank robbers. The Sons will be out in the UK on 9 January 2018.

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CLOSE YOUR EYES … Between the covers

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A BRUTAL DOUBLE MURDER in a remote Somerset cottage has baffled the police, and inflamed local opinion over what they see as the ineptitude of the investigating officers. In charge of the case is DCS Ronnie Cray – and yes, she has changed the first letter of her surname – and almost in desperation she enlists the help of forensic psychologist Dr Joseph O’Loughlin.

O’Loughlin is reluctantly drawn into the efforts to track down the killer who butchered Elizabeth Crowe beneath the satanist pentangle daubed on her wall, and efficiently suffocated her teenage daughter, Harper, in her bed upstairs. To say the very least, O’Laughlin has enough problems of his own. He is trying to live a normal life while battling the early symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, and his delight at being invited to return to the cottage occupied by his daughters Charlie and Emma, and his estranged wife, is tempered when he learns that Julianne has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Robotham introduces us to  a possible culprit in the opening pages of the book. This man describes his assaults on various women, while describing his awful childhood. His once-brutal father is now in a care home, and has advanced dementia, but our narrator recalls with hatred the beatings – both physical and psychological – he suffered at his father’s hands. Even more telling is the lasting legacy of his mother’s death. She was, perhaps understandably, given her husband’s predilection for violence,’playing away’, but was killed in a bizarre road traffic accident.

Elizabeth Crowe was, to use the old cliché, “no better than she should have been”. After an acrimonious divorce, she has used her new-found freedom to explore the dubious delights of dogging, and it is the participants of that strangely British open-air activity who are the obvious suspects in the investigation. There is no shortage of other suspects, however. How about the dim-witted Tommy Garrett who lives with his grandmother in the neighbouring property? Or maybe Elizabeth’s former husband, Dominic? Not only did Elizabeth cheat on him with her body, but she also ruined him financially.

Robotham leads O’Loughlin – and you, the reader – a merry dance. There are red herrings a-plenty, as O’Loughlin tries to establish the connection between the contrasting deaths of Elizabeth and Harper Crowe, and a seemingly random series of attacks on people which leaves some of them dead, but all with a crude letter ‘A’ cut into their foreheads. But of course, in detective novels, nothing is ever really random, or no fictional crime would ever be solved. Robotham is a clever enough writer to allow O’Loughlin to make the mother of all mistakes before a terrifying climax is played out on a storm blasted cliff top above the raging seas of the Bristol Channel.

Remember the famous scene in Jaws, where we are watching the Richard Dreyfuss character probing the hole in the half-sunken boat? Just as we are expecting the shark to come charging in, Spielberg gives us an even greater shock when the severed head rolls in to view. Robotham does something rather similar at the end of Close Your Eyes as he blind-sides us with a killer blow that we never see coming. This novel, which came out in hardback and digital versions last year, and is now out as a Sphere paperback, will further cement Robotham’s reputation as one of the cleverest and most effective writers of modern crime thrillers.

Click the link to check out buying option for Close Your Eyes

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Robotham
was born in Casino, New South Wales in 1960, and after serving an apprenticeship on a Sydney newspaper, moved to London, where he eventually became deputy features editor for The Daily Mail. In 1993 he began his literary career, first as a ghostwriter for several notable personalities who were writing their autobiographies. His first hit crime novel was The Suspect in 2004, and he has since won many awards for his books.  He has returned to Australia, and Close Your Eyes is the eighth novel in the Joseph O’Loughlin series.

Michael Robotham, international crime writer visiting London 26.07.2010 picture: Stefan Erhard

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