The Killer On The Wall

THE KILLER ON THE WALL … Between the covers


There are towns and villages the world over which in themselves are insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but whose names are indelibly imprinted on the public consciousness for the evil deeds committed there. My Lai, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Dunblane, Hungerford: the names resonate, and cause us to shudder. In the latest novel from Emma Kavanagh, Briganton is such a place. It is a village otherwise little worthy of note, with nothing to detain either the traveller or the tourist save, perhaps, for its proximity to the remains of the winding wall built to protect the northern limits of Roman Britain from so-called Celtic barbarians.

TKOTWThe name Briganton, to most British people, conjures up a series of murders, where the victims were dragged up the steep hillside and posed, in death, gazing with sightless eyes out over the windswept moorland. But all that was long ago. The killer, Heath McGowan, was brought to justice by the determination of Eric Bell, a local policeman who has since been promoted and has achieved national celebrity due to his solving the case. His triumph had added poignancy because it was his teenage daughter, Isla, who discovered the first bodies while out for an early morning run.

Twenty years have past, and now Isla Bell is Professor of Criminal Psychology at the University of Northumberland. Her husband, Ramsey Aiken was one of the original victims of The Killer On The Wall, but he survived his injuries, and is now a freelance journalist, while her father, Superintendent Eric Bell has become something of a police legend.

Isla is working on a project to identify physical differences between the brains of serial killers and normal people, and her work takes her to the prison where Heath McGowan is serving several life sentences for his murderous activities in and around Briganton. As she persuades him to undergo an MRI scan, she tries to persuade him to talk about the killings, but he treats it as a game, and refuses to divulge any useful information.

Then, the unthinkable – even the impossible – happens. In quick succession, two more local women are murdered and take the places of the long-dead bodies propped up against the limestone blocks of Hadrian’s Wall. Clearly, McGowan is not the killer, but does he have an imitator? An accomplice, maybe, who was never caught decades earlier? A young Detective Constable, Mina Arian, has made her home in Briganton and she becomes obsessed with finding – or disproving – links between the original killings and the new murders.

Emma Kavanagh has a doctorate in psychology, and her understanding both of what we know – and what we don’t know – about the workings of the human mind give this novel a very distinct and disturbing potency. Her academic credentials aside, she is a very gifted writer. As far as the plot is concerned she gives us a trawl net full of red herrings to sift through, and her vivid characterisations, particularly of Mina Arian, Eric Bell and Isla Aiken, give the narrative an electric charge.

This is a guided missile of a book: it explodes into life, and then keeps burning, inexorably homing in on a target which you will only foresee by cheating and flipping through to the last few pages. When it comes, the detonation is as devastating as it is unforeseen. Only the very best writers have the daring and dexterity to deliver such a plot twist and make it as credible as it is shocking, and Emma Kavanagh must be a founder member of that exclusive club.

You can read our review of The Missing Hours, an earlier novel by Emma Kavanagh, and she also wrote a very perceptive feature on Trauma. The Killer On The Wall is out now.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS …Ewens, Kavanagh & Parsons

Dear God, I hate the winter and all its dismal,dripping, dank, defeated dreariness. (enough alliteration already! – Editor) In my youth, distant though it now is, I was a great fan of the stories of Billy Bunter, written by the wonderful Frank Richards, aka Charles bb_among_the_cannibalsHamilton. The tales were strewn with classical and biblical references which, in those days, most of us understood. One of my favourites was used whenever Bunter was at low point in life, but then, miraculously, found a forgotten toffee in his pocket, or perhaps an unguarded slice of chocolate cake in the common room. Richards would say, “but for Bunter, there was Balm in Gilead.” This meant, of course, that the woes of the world inhabited by The Fat Owl of The Remove were, temporarily, eased. Gilead is a hilly region in modern day Jordan, and the balm was a herbal medicine known to the inhabitants in biblical times.

My ‘Balm In Gilead’, particularly at this time of year, could be described as deliverance by delivery. ( Fret ye not, I have exhausted the ‘d’ page of my Bloggers Dictionary) Three lovely books arrived this week. One has been out for a while, but by the time the other two are available, Spring will hopefully have sprung. So, after the lengthy preamble, to the books.

davidrewensDavid R Ewens (right) lives and works in Kent, and Fifth Column is the fourth book featuring PI Frank Sterling. We are in the world of international skullduggery, but it isn’t all first class lounges and dangerous blondes. Sterling says:

“People wonder what a PI gets up to. Most of the time, the work is really tedious. It means a lot of hanging around and getting involved in some of the more sordid aspects of human behaviour. It can be really dangerous too – like the time I got banged up in a cellar in a Flanders farmhouse and tortured with a cigarette. But sometimes it’s interesting and exciting. And fifth-columnone of the best things about it is that I can pretty much do as I damn well please, and that wasn’t the case when I was on the job and had a sergeant or inspector breathing down my neck. One thing is certain. I was never a team player so how I currently earn my living suits me just fine…”

Now, the former police officer is entrusted with foiling an impending terrorist atrocity, and so we can assume that his days of hanging around and doing nothing particular are – temporarily – over. The books is already available, and you can check out buying options here. It is worth saying that the paperback edition is beautifully printed and bound and has a very classy feel to it. Fifth Column is published by Grosvenor House Publishing.

killer-on-the-wall“April, come she will,
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain.”

So sang Paul Simon in 1966, and most of you will have to wait until then to read the latest book from Emma Kavanagh. We reviewed – and loved – her previous book, and you can read why it was so good by clicking the link to The Missing Hours Now, we travel north from Herefordshire to the rugged grandeur of Northumberland, and Hadrians Wall. Emma Kavanagh (below) is a professional forensic psychologist, and she has put this experience to good use by relating the story of Isla Bell, a specialist who is trained to get into the minds of serial killers. She has a very special expertise, though. As a teenager, she found three bodies propped up against the crumbling remains of the great Roman defensive rampart. The killer was eventually found and convicted, but for Isla, years on from that trauma. there are more deaths, and she has to face the prospect that the killer has returned. The Killer On The Wall is published by Arrow, and will be out on 20th April.

Author Emma Kavanagh

tony-parsons-autho_2905921bDC Max Wolfe has become established in the crime fiction firmament, thanks to his creator, Tony Parsons (left). Of the previous book in the series, The Hanging Club, I wrote:

“I am a sucker for a good London setting, and Parsons doesn’t disappoint. Wolfe’s little rooftop flat within sight and sound of St Paul’s Cathedral is a delight, and the eventual location of the hangings is a complete surprise. I finished The Hanging Club in just a couple of long sessions, such was its grip.”

One of the reasons I admire Tony Parsons as a writer is that he is not afraid to get to grips with the undoubted problems in many of our big cities caused by foreign gangs, imported criminal networks, and the resuscitation of an die-lastabomination that we thought we had seen the back of in the nineteenth century – slavery. Parsons doesn’t flinch from portraying evil for what it is, but neither does he preach. Wolfe’s latest case starts when a refrigerated lorry is found abandoned in London’s Chinatown. Inside are twelve women. Twelve corpses – frozen to death. But in the cab of the lorry are thirteen passports. Where is the missing woman? Max Wolfe’s determination to solve this conundrum takes him to darker places than even his world-weary soul could ever have imagined. Die Last is published by Century, and will be available on 6th April.


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