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A BOOK OF BONES . . . Between the covers

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ABOB COVERIn the previous Charlie Parker novel, The Woman In The Woods, John Connolly introduced us to a frightful criminal predator, Quayle, and his malodorous and murderous familiar, Pallida Mors. Even those with the faintest acquaintance with Latin will have some understanding what her name means and, goodness gracious, does she ever live up to it! Both Quayle and Mors are seeking the final pages of a satanic book, The Fractured Atlas which, when complete, will deliver the earth – and all that is in it – to the forces of evil.

Unusually for a Charlie Parker novel, most of the action takes place far from our man’s home in Portland, Maine. Parker and his customary partners Louis and Angel travel to England via the Netherlands for what may well be the final encounter with their adversaries. All is not well, however. The implacable Louis is still wounded – physically and mentally – after a previous encounter with Pallida Mors, and Angel is undergoing chemotherapy after having a significant part of his intestines removed. There is something of Tennyson’s Ulysses about Parker, Louis and Angel in this epic encounter:

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Charlie Parker aficionados will remember that in The Wolf In Winter (2014) Parker tangled with the sinister residents of a tiny village called Prosperous. They were descendants of The Familists, a pagan cult which had originated in northern England but then emigrated to America, taking the stones of their church with them in their ships. The original village, high up on the lonely moors of Northumberland is now little more than a series of ruined cottages, but it comes into dramatic focus when the body of a young schoolteacher is found with a ring of Muslim prayer beads lodged in her slashed throat.

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JCA Book of Bones is a tour de force, shot through with the grim poetry of death and suffering. Connolly (right) takes the creaky genre of horror fiction, slaps it round the face and makes it wake up, shape up and step up. He might feel that the soubriquet literary is the kiss of death for a popular novelist, but such is his scholarship, awareness of history and sensitivity that I throw the word out there in sheer admiration. Jostling each other for attention on Connolly’s stage, amid the carnage, are the unspeakably vile emissaries of evil, the petty criminals, the corrupt lawyers and the crooked cops. Charlie Parker may be haunted; you may gaze into his eyes and see a soul in ruins; his energy and motivation might be fueled by a desire to lash out at those who murdered his wife and daughter; what shines through the gloom, however, is the tiny but fiercely bright light of honesty and goodness which makes him the most memorable hero of contemporary fiction.

Astonishingly, it is twenty years since Every Dead Thing introduced Charlie Parker to the world. Seventeen books later, A Book Of Bones will be published by Hodder & Stoughton on 18th April.

For more on Charlie Parker at Fully Booked, click the image below.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . A Book of Bones

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Parker parcel

PackageI would be lying if I said I hadn’t been counting the days until this arrived. Kerry Hood at Hodder & Stoughton is to be commended for showing great patience in the face of my impatience, but it finally arrived. Kerry had mentioned that it might be something special, but then publicists always say that, don’t they? So, ripping off the sturdy cardboard wrapper ….

 

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UnwrappedTa-da! And there it was, the long awaited latest journey into the darkness of men and angels for the Maine PI, Charlie Parker. The adjectives are easy – haunted, conflicted, convincing, troubled, angry, brave … fans of the series can play their own ‘describe Charlie Parker’ game, but most importantly, our man is back.

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ScalesCharlie Parker is back, and how! I was advised  that I might want to set aside a fair amount of time to read A Book of Bones but, blimey, Kerry was not wrong. At a little short of 700 pages, and weighing nearly 2lbs in old money, the book is certainly a big ‘un. New readers shouldn’t be daunted, though. John Connolly couldn’t write a dull sentence even if he went off to his Alma Mater, Trinity College Dublin, to do a doctorate in dullness.

 

PARKER PIECES

PiecesBut there was more! Book publicists are an inventive lot, and over the years I’ve had packets of sweets, tiny vials of perfume, books wrapped in funereal paper and black ribbon, facsimiles of detective case files – but never a jigsaw. Wrapped up in a cellophane packet with a lovely Charlie Parker 20 year anniversary graphic were the pieces.

 

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PuzzleAs I was always told to do by my old mum, I isolated the bits with the straight edges first. There was clearly a written message in there, set against the lovely – but sinister – stained glass background. Confession time; although the puzzle didn’t have too many pieces, I got stuck. Fortunately, Mrs P was taking a very rare day off work with a flu bug, and as she is a jigsaw ace, she finished it off for me.

So the publicity is brilliant. but what about the book? Parker could never be described as having a comfort zone, but over the last two decades he had been battling the bad guys on his home ground – usually the forests and shores of Maine. A Book of Bones sees him on unfamiliar territory, but heading for a winner-takes-all struggle with his adversaries Quale and Pallida Mors. They have chosen the battlefield, and it is the windswept and haunted moors of northern England. Quale and Mors are close to achieving a lifetime ambition – to reassemble the pages of The Fractured Atlas, a book which, when complete, spells death and a spiritual apocalypse. Parker is older, slower, and weakened by his battles with the killer angels, but this time, he is playing for keeps. A Book of Bones will be on sale from 18th April 2019.

The last inclusion in this delightful package from Hodder & Stoughton was a lovely postcard from the man himself, John Connolly. If you click on the image, you can read more about the author and his most memorable creation.

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COLD AS THE GRAVE . . . Between the covers

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This is a welcome return to the world of Edinburgh copper Tony McLean. He is now Chief Inspector, and to quote, appropriately enough, the Scottish Play, he feels he is dressed in ‘borrow’d robes’. On his desk are small mountains of files, reports, initiatives and consultation documents: beyond the door of the nick are thieves, rapists and murderers. McLean knows where his heart is leading him, and it is out away from his desk and onto the mean streets.

When McLean uses the excuse of a potential clash between rival demonstrators to desert his office, he discovers a corpse abandoned in a derelict cellar. As the technicians and medics swarm round the body it seems obvious that the remains – of a young girl – have been there for some considerable time. When, however, the pathologist is able to take a closer look under the spotlight above the mortuary slab, he comes to the astonishing conclusion that the girl has only been dead for a matter of days, despite her desiccated and leathery skin.

indexCold As The Grave is the ninth novel in the Tony McLean series, but fine writers – and Oswald is up there with the very best – make sure that it is never too late to come to the party. For anyone new to the series, McLean is something of an individual. Due to an inheritance, he is exceedingly wealthy, but has a modest lifestyle and chooses to remain a police officer. He has a long-standing ‘significant other’ in Emma Baird, but the previous novel, The Gathering Dark, (click to read the review) ended with her having a disastrous miscarriage. McLean is a fine detective, but he is blessed, or perhaps cursed, with an awareness of the supernatural. The two characters in the books who operate in this sphere are Madame Rose, a bizarre but benign transvestite clairvoyant, and the considerably more sinister Mrs Saifre. She is, on the surface, merely a very rich and influential owner of newspapers and media outlets, but McLean senses that there is something existentially evil and elemental behind her smooth corporate image.

Back in Cold As The Grave, more bodies are found, each apparently mummified in the same way as the poor child found in the tenement cellar. McLean makes an important connection between the deaths and the rising tide of people trafficking which has hit the city. Girls and young women from the war zones of the Middle East are being brought in and, at best, set to work for a pittance in local factories but, at worst, forced into prostitution.

With his bosses exasperated at the amount of time he is spending away from his paper shuffling duties, McLean’s investigation reaches a crucial fork in the road. To the left is the grim possibility that someone at the heart of the trafficking gang is using some kind of deadly serum, derived from snake venom, to carry out murders and threaten other victims: to the right, however improbable, is the presence of some kind of evil djinn reincarnated from Aramaic legend and folklore. McLean knows that following the road to the right will lead only to ridicule by both his superior officers and those who work for him, but he has learned to trust his instincts, even if they terrify him.

joDoes McLean follow his head or his heart? The road to the left or the right? Cold As The Grave is a brilliant police procedural, but there is more – so much more – to it. For those who love topographical atmosphere Oswald (right) recreates a wintry Edinburgh that makes you want to turn up the central heating by a couple of notches; for readers drawn by suggestions of the supernatural there is enough here to induce a shiver or three, while making sure the bedroom light remains on while you sleep. The sheer decency and common humanity of Tony McLean – and the finely detailed portraits of the people he works with – will satisfy the reader who demands authentic and credible characterisation. Cold As The Grave is published by Wildfire/Headline and will be out on 7th February.

McLean books

 

SEVERED . . . Between the covers

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In a structurally ramshackle – but otherwise unremarkable – rural parish church in the gently undulating Chiltern Hills, the scant congregation is watching their parish priest reach the most sacred part of the Sunday morning Holy Communion service, where they join together in the belief that “God was man in Palestine, and lives today in Bread and Wine”. In a few violent seconds, however, the wine symbolising Christ’s blood is dramatically spilled and mixed with real human blood, as the vicar is savagely attacked by a young man wielding an axe.

severedThus begins another case for Professor Matt Hunter, a university lecturer in religion and belief. He has previously helped the police in cases which involve sacred or supernatural matters (see the end of this review) and he is called in when it becomes clear that the wielder of the axe was none other than the teenage son of the Reverend David East, and that the boy was under the spell of a cult of deviant Christians whose central belief is that God The Father is a brutal tyrant who murdered his only son. They are also convinced that all other humans but them are ‘Hollows’ with evil in their eyes. Consequently, they shun all contact with the outside world, and live in a remote farmhouse, deep in the hills at the end of a rutted farm track.

Laws manages to recast the relatively benign uplands of the Chilterns as a scarred and brooding landscape with many a nameless terror lurking in its valleys, waiting to pounce on the unwary. There is blood by the pint, a coven of homophobic Christian evangelicals, a storm of biblical ferocity plus every Gothick image you could ever think of – plus a few more besides. Oh yes, I almost forgot – a very convincing and horribly plausible shape-shifter.

As the chapters spin by, Laws dusts off one of the oldest tricks in the book of narrative devices, but deftly breathes new life into it. There are basically two stages in his theatre of horrors; one shows us what is happening around Matt Hunter, while on the other, the members of the sect enact their weird dance of death. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, so we whirl through the next few pages to see what is going to happen, but then that chapter leaves us in suspense too, so we become caught up in an addictive mad scramble. It’s a ridiculously simple ploy but, good heavens, how well it works.

LawsOne of the most intriguing aspects of the Matt Hunter books is the relationship between the fictional former man of God and the very real and present minister in the Baptist church, the Reverend Peter Laws himself . We get a very vivid and convincing account of how Hunter has lost his faith, but also the many facets of that belief that he has come to see as inconsistent, illogical, or just plain barbaric. It suggests that Laws has identified these doubts in his own mind but, presumably, answered them. In these days of CGI nothing is impossible, so a live debate between Reverend Laws and Professor Hunter would be something to behold.

The finale of this brilliant thriller is apocalyptic enough to satisfy the most ardent fan of the horror genre, but Laws is smart enough – like Phil Rickman in his Merrily Watkins novels – to give everything (well, almost everything) a natural explanation, and when the emotional roller-coaster finally comes to rest we know that it is human beings, images and clones of ourselves if you will, that are capable of far more dreadful deeds than any supernatural monster conjured up from the bowels of Hell. Severed is published by Allison & Busby, and will be available at the end of January 2019.

For more on the extraordinary adventures of Professor Matt Hunter, read the reviews of:

Unleashed

Purged

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THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS . . . Between the covers

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TWITWIn the dark woods of Maine a tree gives up the ghost and topples to the ground. As its roots spring free of the cold earth a makeshift tomb is revealed. The occupant was a young woman. When the girl – for she was little more than that – is discovered, the police and the medical services enact their time-honoured rituals and discover that she died of natural causes not long after giving birth. But where is the child she bore? And why was a Star of David carved on the trunk of an adjacent tree? Portland lawyer Moxie Castin is not a particularly devout Jew, but he fears that the ancient symbol may signify something damaging, and he hires PI Charlie Parker to shadow the police enquiry and investigate the carving – and the melancholy discovery beneath it.

Those who are familiar with the world of Charlie Parker may, as they say, look away now. Or, at least, skip to the next paragraph. New readers expecting a reprise of the standard US gumshoe who is a hard drinking, wise-cracking, fast moving womaniser, will not find Parker ticking those boxes. He is a deeply reflective man who bears the scars of tragic events. The physical scars are deep enough, true, but the mental and spiritual damage is far more severe. Years before, his wife and daughter were butchered in front of him by a man-creature not entirely of this world. Now Parker is literally haunted by the shade of that daughter, Jennifer, although he has played the relationship game again, but unsuccessfully. He now has another daughter, Sam, who shares his ability to see things that more mundane folk would would say are “just not there.” Parker scratches a living as an investigator, helped by two colleagues, Louis and Angel. It has to be said that they are both criminals but, if there are such things as good criminals, then that is what they are.

The crumbling remains of the woman in the woods give up few clues, but Parker slowly pieces together the jigsaw. The picture that emerges is not one to grace the top of a festive biscuit tin, nor is it likely to be reproduced as a popular wall decoration. Karis Lamb has had the misfortune to be in a relationship with a disturbing and menacing man called Quayle. She fled the abusive relationship carrying not only his unborn child, but an antique book from Quayle’s collection. Remember the story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad? The network of safe houses which formed a chain of refuges for escaped slaves? Parker learns that a similar system exists to aid abused and battered women and that Karis Lamb used it in her flight from Quayle. As individuals who provided refuge for the women go missing, or are found dead, Parker realises that he is in a deadly race with Quayle to find the missing book – and Karis Lamb’s child.

JCIn another life John Connolly would have been a poet. His prose is sonorous and powerful, and his insights into the world of Charie Parker – both the everyday things he sees with his waking eyes and the dark landscape of his dreams – are vivid and sometimes painful. Connolly’s villains – and there have been many during the course of the Charlie Parker series – are not just bad guys. They do dreadful things, certainly, but they even smell of the decaying depths of hell, and they often have powers that even a gunshot to the head from a .38 Special can hardly dent.

Connolly brings to the printed page monsters unrivalled in their depravity, and vileness unseen since the days when MR James created his dreadful beings that skipped, scraped, slithered and scrabbled into the terrified minds of the schoolboys for whom, it is said, he wrote the stories. Transpose these horrors into the modern world, and add all the ingredients of murder mysteries, police investigation and the nerve-jangling thriller and you have the distinctly uncomfortable – but wonderfully gripping – world of Charlie Parker. The Woman In The Woods is published by Hodder & Stoughton, and is out now.

An earlier Charlie Parker novel, Time of Torment, won our Best PI Novel Award in 2016.

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THE GATHERING DARK … Between the covers

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DI Tony McLean is an Edinburgh copper who is just a tad different from your standard tick-box fictional Detective Inspector. Yes, he works long hours, to the detriment of his home life, and doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with his superiors. Yes, he is occasionally given to special insights into crimes and criminals and, of course, he always gets his man (or woman). McLean, though, is something of a breed apart. His personal background is, well, unusual. After unhappy schooldays at a private school he hated, he has inherited money and property which make him a wealthy man after his parents were killed in a plane crash. He is gifted – or cursed – with a heightened sense of perception which may, or may not be, occult in nature. Despite his unwillingness to come to terms with this, he has an interesting friendship with a transvestite spirit medium called Madam Rose, who should be a comic character, but is anything but that.

billwaters_JamesO__10525-smaller-683x1024I should add, at this point, that James Oswald (left) is not your regulation writer of crime fiction novels. He has a rather demanding ‘day job’, which is running a 350 acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep. His entertaining Twitter feed is, therefore, just as likely to contain details of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ obstetrics as it is to reveal insights into the art of writing great books. But I digress. I don’t know James Oswald well enough to say whether or not he puts anything of himself into the character of Tony McLean, but the scenery and routine of McLean’s life is nothing like that of his creator.

TGDMcLean is going about his daily business when he is witness to a tragedy. A tanker carrying slurry is diverted through central Edinburgh by traffic congestion on the bypass. The driver has a heart attack, and the lorry becomes a weapon of mass destruction as it ploughs into a crowded bus stop. McLean is the first police officer on the scene, and he is immediately aware that whatever the lorry was carrying, it certainly wasn’t harmless – albeit malodorous – sewage waste. People whose bodies have not been shattered by thirty tonnes of hurtling steel are overcome and burned by a terrible toxic sludge which floods from the shattered vehicle.

The police are desperate to reassure the Edinburgh public that this is not a terrorist attack, but a tragic accident, a fateful coming together of coincidences. McLean and his team are tasked with the grim business of identifying all those who died in the crash, but also with investigating the company which owned the lorry, and what on earth the chemical cocktail was that literally burned the flesh and bones of those who came into contact with it.

As McLean starts to peel back the layers of deception and corruption which are wrapped around the truth about the disaster, he senses a sinister element in the case which exudes the stench of pure evil, far beyond that of the already grim death toll. His own personal life – most crucially involving his partner Emma, carrying their unborn child – becomes entangled with the case. McLean’s investigations turn over a heavy stone which reveals myriad guilty and repulsive things scuttling around as they are exposed to the light.

Sometimes titles of crime and thriller novels seem to have been chosen more to catch the eye of potential purchasers rather than for their relationship to the plot, but in this case those three words are chillingly apt. This disturbing story may start off as a relatively straightforward police procedural. All the familiar elements are there: the internal rivalries between officers, the bustling incident room, decent men and women trying to keep a lid on the thousand misdemeanours a big city throws up every week. But. But. A word to the wise. No, scrap that, and replace it with a much more suitable phrase – borrowed from a nightmarish MR James ghost story from 1925 – A Warning to the Curious. I have to tell you that The Gathering Dark is superbly written and gripping from the first page to the last, but it turns hellishly black and may trouble your dreams.

Click the link to read the Fully Booked review of an earlier DI Tony McLean novel, Written In Bones. The Gathering Dark is published by Michael Joseph/Penguin, and will be available on 25th January 2018.

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THE FORGOTTEN…. A series re-evaluating forgotten authors. Part One – Philip Maitland Hubbard (2)

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Hubbard_DancingThe Dancing Man was published in 1971, and is set in Welsh hill country. An engineer, Mark Hawkins travels to a remote house to collect his late brother’s belongings. Dick Hawkins was an archaeologist by profession and mountaineering was his drug of choice. He set off one day for the nearby mountains, and never returned.

The house where Dick Hawkins was staying when he disappeared is called Llanglas and it is owned by Roger Merrion, another archaeologist, who lives there with his wife Ethel and sister Cynthia. Near the house is the site of a ruined Cistercian monastery circled by a much more ancient earthwork, and the woods which surround the ruin also contain a strange obelisk on which is engraved a primitive but sinister figure – of a dancing man.

Of the Hubbard novels I have read, this one reveals most about what I believe to be one of the major influences on his work. The ghost stories of MR James are uniquely frightening, due in no small part to the writer’s skilful powers of suggestion. In A School Story, a boy in a boarding school sees something frightful trying to creep in through the window of one of the masters in the dead of night. He tries to describe it to a chum:

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In The Dancing Man, Mark Hawkins describes his first sight of the shiveringly disturbing Old Evans.

“He was enormously tall. His clothes flapped round him in the wind, but I got the impression that he was very thin under them, and his head looked disproportionately small. He was too much like a walking scarecrow for comfort.”

That description also immediately brought to mind the hideous entity which conjures itself up out from bedsheets and pursues the unfortunate Professor Parkins along the seashore in Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.

In James’s A View From A Tower, Mr Fanshawe makes the mistake of using a particularly strange pair of field glasses, and finds himself in a very unfriendly wood:

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Hawkins has a similar experience in the woods by Llanglas, but his is made infinitely worse by the fact that he is about to have company:

“I came to the stone as unexpectedly as I had that first evening. I never seemed to know how far it was. I stopped about fifteen yards from it, suddenly unwilling to go any further. I could see it quite clearly, standing up and motionless, while the trees threshed about over it. I started to turn my back on it, and then the dancing man came out from behind it, white all over and capering in the moonlight with his white matchstick arms straight up over his head.”

Mark Hawkins ponders his brother’s mysterious disappearance, becomes erotically involved with both Mrs and Miss Merrion, but the climax of the story involves the discovery of the hidden twin of the standing stone – and what lies beneath it.

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Hubbard_Thirsty_Evil2With A Thirsty Evil (1974) Hubbard once again mines Shakespeare for his title, in this case, Measure For Measure.

“Our natures do pursue
Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,
A thirsty evil; and when we drink, we die.”

In almost every respect this has a much less complex plot than The Tower or Flush As May, but one which is just as powerful and – ultimately – shocking. It is the story of an obsession. Ian Mackellar is a fledgling novelist with the added luxury of a private income from his family business. He sits opposite a woman on a train for a couple of hours, and although not a word – and scarcely a glance – is exchanged between them, he is hopelessly smitten. She leaves the train – and Mackellar – at her destination. He says:

“That could have been the end of it, but in fact it was only the beginning.”

By sheer chance, Mackellar sees the woman again, at a publishers’ party. She is with an older man, but convinced that this is not her husband, he makes small talk and gives her his telephone number.The next few weeks are something of an agony for Mackellar as he waits for her call, but just when he has given up hope, she does ring from a call box, reversing the charge. She makes it clear that she has only called out of good manners, and that it would be quite impossible for them to actually meet. She does, however, tell him that her name is Julia Mellors.

Her call is like one of those intrinsically harmless incidents, so beloved of Thomas Hardy, which trigger a sequence of unintended – and fatal – consequences. Mackellar traces her to a farm called Windbarrow (again, strange echoes of Hardy). Such is his persistence, Mackellar presents himself, and finds that Julia heads a household consisting of herself and her younger siblings Beth and Charlie.

The relationship between the three is complicated by Julia’s remoteness, Beth’s unashamed sexuality and Charlie’s mental condition. He is physically fit and active, but with a psychological flaw which is only controlled by medication. Despite himself, Mackellar is both magnetised and repelled by Beth:

“… it was the way she looked at you. There was nothing secretive about her. Like Cressida, there was language in her eyes, her cheeks, her looks, and like Ulysses I set her down instantaneously as a daughter of the game.”

As with the other Hubbard stories under consideration, the power of the landscape is never far away, and while he tends to deal in tumps, tumuli, barrows and other high places which our ancestors carved out of the landscape, here he gives us something quite different. In the valley carved out by the stream which runs near Windbarrow, long ago, someone dammed the stream and created a deep pool, known as Grainger’s. The Mellors use it as a swimming pool, but Charlie takes Mackellar beneath the surface – literally – and shows him a strange and menacing stone obelisk which rises from the impenetrable depths of the dam.

PMHThe story moves swiftly on. Hubbard’s novels are, anyway, relatively short but his narrative drive never lets us rest. Beth’s carnality and opportunism get the better of Mackellar in a brief but shocking encounter, but this is only a staging post on the path to a violent and tragic conclusion to the novel. Mackellar survives, but he writes his own epitaph in the very first chapter.

“She was the only woman I have ever really wanted. For the matter of that, she still is. I suppose she may always be.”

I came fresh to Hubbard’s books, and I read three or four in quick succession. I found them powerful, frightening and written with icy brilliance The novels are still available, thanks to the Orion imprint, The Murder Room. It must be said, however, that the paperbacks are very expensive, but the KIndle versions are more accessible for readers on a limited budget.

PM Hubbard – Amazon UK author page

UNLEASHED … Between the covers

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Matt Hunter was once a man of God. Now he is a man of gods. The beliefs that led him to ordination and the ministry of the church have, like Prospero’s insubstantial pageant,

“ .. melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

“Not a rack behind…”? Not strictly true. His former faith has left a bequest in the form of an encyclopaedic knowledge of religious symbols, liturgies both sacred and profane, and profound knowledge of different theologies across the world. The former Reverend Hunter is now Professor Hunter, and he lectures in the Sociology of Religion. He also acts as unpaid advisor to the police in cases where there seems to be a supernatural element.

UnleashedIf the South London suburb of Menham could be described as unremarkable, then we might call the down-at-heel terraced houses of Barley Street positively nondescript. Except, that is, for number 29. For a while, the home of Mary Wasson and her daughters became as notorious as 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville. But the British tabloid press being what it is, there are always new horrors, fresh outrages and riper scandals, and so the focus moved on. The facts, however, were this. After a spell of unexplained poltergeist phenomena turned the house (almost literally) upside down, the body of nine year-old Holly Wasson was found – by her older sister Rachel – hanging from a beam in her bedroom.

Now, years later, Menham hits the headlines again. At an otherwise uneventful open evening for future parents of a local primary school, events take a tragic and horrific turn. A much loved music teacher is found dead in her own store cupboard, the life ripped out of her, apparently by her own pet dog. The dog, crazed and covered in blood, is battered to death by panic-stricken dads who, expecting a recorder ensemble, are instead treated to a scene more suited to the hellish imagination of Hieronymus Bosch.

The local police are totally unable to make any sense of the carnage in the classroom and are puzzled by several pieces of evidence which seem to indicate a supernatural – or at least Satanic – element to the death of Steph Ellis. Investigating officer DS Larry Forbes enlists the help of Matt Hunter, who soon discovers a sinister collection of potential ‘persons of interest’, including a pair of self-styled demonologists and a troubled – and troubling – evangelical sect. For good measure we have a dark history of child abuse carried out in old air-raid shelters far beneath the local park, and a terrifying witch’s familiar straight from the pages of a seventeenth century grimoire.

LawsLaws (right) takes a leaf out of the book of the master of atmospheric and haunted landscapes, M R James. The drab suburban topography of Menham comes alive with all manner of dark interventions; we jump as a wayward tree branch scrapes like a dead hand across a gazebo roof; we recoil in fear as a white muslin curtain forms itself into something unspeakable; dead things scuttle and scrabble about in dark corners while, in our peripheral vision, shapes form themselves into dreadful spectres. When we turn our heads, however, there is nothing there but our own imagination.

Unleashed is terrific entertainment. Laws lays on the shocks thick and fast, but never loses sight of the fact that he is writing a well-plotted crime story. We certainly have victims but, in the end, we also have flesh and blood criminals. Unleashed is out now, and you can read a review of the first Matt Hunter novel, Purged, by clicking the blue link.

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COMPETITION … Win UNLEASHED by Peter Laws

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OUR LATEST COMPETITION PRIZE is an absolute rip-snorter. It’s the second novel in the Matt Hunter series by Peter Laws. Those who read the first tale, Purged (read our review) will have some idea what to expect, but for new readers, Matt Hunter is a former clergyman who, having had a Road To Damascus (but in reverse) now lectures in the sociology of religion and faith at a university.

UnleashedIn Unleashed, his scepticism is shaken by events at an otherwise unremarkable terraced house in South London where, several years ago, a troubled nine-year-old girl committed suicide in the midst of a troubling sequence of poltergeist phenomena.

Now, little Holly Wasson appears to lie uneasy – her mother and sister are convinced she is trying to reach them from beyond the grave. Matt Hunter is recruited by local police to make sense of the disturbing events, but even he is unsure if he is dealing with straightforward murder or something much darker.

YOU HAVE TWO WAYS TO ENTER THE PRIZE DRAW

(1) Simply email fullybooked2016@yahoo.com putting the word Unleashed in the subject box.

(2) Go to our Facebook page (click the blue link) and ‘like’ the post.

All entrants will have their names put in the proverbial hat, and a winner selected. The winner will be notified by email or Facebook personal message.

Competition closes 10.00pm GMT, Tuesday 25th July, 2017

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