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Thriller

THE SANATORIUM . . . Between the covers

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The Sanitorium cver026Elin Warner is an English police officer. We meet her and boyfriend Will as they ride in an over-crowded car on a funicular railway. They are travelling to Le Sommet, a luxury hotel high in the Swiss Alps, where Erin’s brother Isaac and his girlfriend Laure are about to celebrate their engagement. We soon learn a few background details. Elin has been on sick leave for many months, after a serious incident. Her mother has just died of cancer, and she and Isaac have been estranged for many years.

Le Sommet has a distinctive history, as it is a former sanatorium, where tuberculosis victims were sent in pre-vaccine days in the hope that the clean mountain air would ease their suffering. Its transformation into a five star holiday destination was masterminded by a prestigious firm of Swiss architects, one of whom mysteriously disappeared at the site in the early days of the project. No trace of him has ever been found.

Pretty much as soon as Elin and Will arrive, a fierce snow storm cuts off Le Sommet from the rest of the world, and they wake after their first night in the hotel to the news that Laure has disappeared.

After a few chapters, I pictured Le Sommet as a rather diabolical cross between The Overlook Hotel where Jack and Wendy Torrance spent such an eventful winter (“Here comes Johnny….!“) and the Hotel California (“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…“)

Unlike the residents of the hotel, we know that there is someone out there, a killer who has an agenda. Revenge, maybe? Or perhaps a psycho with neither rhyme nor reason, other than their insanity?

There is another undertow tugging at us as we move through the chapters, and it is Elin’s suspicion that Isaac had something to do with the death of her younger brother Sam years earlier. The tragedy was deemed to be accidental, but what if the unthinkable had happened, and it was a case of fraternal jealousy taken a step too far?

Sarah PearseWhen the body count starts to rise, Elin’s professional training kicks in and, after phoning the local police for permission, she takes charge of the investigation. With no access to forensic support or police databases, she has to make do with what she has – basically her own instincts as a copper. She suspects that whatever is motivating the killer lies in the history of the hotel. Sarah Pearse (right) exploits the conventions of the locked-down/cut-off-from-the-outside-world thriller for all she is worth, and we have hidden passage ways, disused tunnels, murderers in sinister masks, and the general sense that most of the key figures in the plot are hiding secrets of one sort or another.

This is a convincing debut novel, and the author doesn’t give us a moment’s downtime in terms of tension. If there is such a thing as Anxiety Porn, then The Sanatorium is a fine example of the genre. Sarah Pearse also leaves us with an Epilogue which takes one of the assumptions made by Elin – and us readers – and turns it on its head.

The novel came out as a Kindle on 4th February (Transworld Digital) and will be available as a Bantam Press hardback from 18th February. You can find out more about the author by clicking this link.

BEFORE SHE DISAPPEARED . . . Between the covers

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It was around this time last year when I reviewed Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me, and in January 2018 Look For Me came under the Fully Booked microscope. These both featured the ‘odd couple’ Flora Dane and DD Warren, but this January the New Hampshire author has produced a standalone thriller – Before She Disappeared.

BSD coverCentre stage is a woman called Frankie Elkins. She is middle-aged and a recovering alcoholic. Her purpose in life is to find missing people. People who have been taken. People who have just walked away into oblivion. People who the police have made an effort to find, but have given up. This mission may remind British readers of the David Raker books by Tim Weaver (click the link to read more), but Frankie is rather different in that she doesn’t work for a fee. She follows cases on internet message boards and then just ups sticks, and with all her belongings in a suitcase heads of to where the trail went cold. I have to say that this was, initially, a fairly improbable premise. Frankie seems to have no money, little other than the clothes she stands up in, so why would she do this? Stay with it, though, like I did, and there will be an explanation. She carries the burden of a terrible trauma, and Lisa Gardner teases us about its actual nature until quite late in the story, and when we learn what happened, the past has a terrible resonance with the present.

In Before She Disappeared, Frankie goes to Boston, but this isn’t the upper crust Boston of the Kennedy dynasty, Leonard Bernstein or Harvard. She heads for Mattapan, a hard-scrabble and tumbledown district home to thousands of Haitians and other refugees from strife, poverty and natural disasters. Her mission? To find out what happened to Angelique Badeau, The Haitian teenager had been living with her aunt, sent to America after an earthquake devastated her home. One day she set of for school as normal, and nothing has been seen or heard of her since.

As a white woman in Mattapan Frankie is something of a curiosity, but she takes a job in a bar and slowly makes friends. The downside is that as her probing into Angelique’s disappearance starts to uncover some dark secrets, she also makes some serious – and deadly – enemies.

Frankie gains the begrudging trust of a local cop, Detective Lotham, and the pair begin to generate a certain electricity between them. This is, of course, a very handy – but perfectly plausible – plot device,as it enable Frankie to have access to all kinds of information, such as CCTV footage which, as a civilian she would otherwise not have.

The problem for Frankie is that Angelique was almost too good to be true. Studious, punctual, respectful, no boyfriend interest and certainly no connection to the local gangs, there seems to neither rhyme nor reason behind her disappearance. Then, after a more thorough search of the Badeau’s apartment Frankie makes a shocking discovery. She finds a huge stash of cash hidden in the hollow base of a standard lamp. When most of these bills are found to be rather good forgeries, the case swerves in a totally different direction.

I had in the back of my mind the comment, “a typical American thriller.” This is in no way derogatory. In the best of these books there is a slickness, a tight control over the flow of events, a sense of darkness that gives an edge without being too disturbing, and a cinematic quality. Before She Disappeared certainly fits into this slot. It is taut, sharply original and very, very readable. It is published by Century/Penguin Random House and is out now.

DOUBLE AGENT . . . In brief

DA 1Political journalist, TV news presenter – and novelist – Tom Bradby is as close to the centre of British international relations as it is possible to get without signing The Official Secrets Act. His first novel, Shadow Dancer, was published in 1998, and now his eighth book – Double Agent – which came out in hardback earlier this year, is available from 7th January in paperback.

The central character in this spy thriller is MI6 agent Kate Henderson, and fans of Bradby’s work will know her from Secret Service, which came out in 2019. Then, as now, the villains of the piece are the Russians – and those in the West who share the Russian ideology behind a mask which allows them to operate at the very centre of the British establishment.

51UTZczpwoL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_If this has an echo of the late and much-lamented David John Moore Cornwell, better known to us as John le Carré, then so be it. Bradby carries the torch for a younger generation of novelists who are intrigued by the complex relationship between the Russian soul and the British mind. In Double Agent, Kate Henderson becomes the reluctant keeper of a terrible secret – the British Prime Minister is working for the Kremlin.

How she handles this potentially deadly information makes for a riveting read for anyone who likes political thrillers. Double Agent is published by Corgi/Penguin, and is available here, and from all good bookshops. Fans of Kate Henderson will be pleased to know that a third book in this series – Triple Cross – will be out in May this year.

ONE WAY STREET . . . Between the covers

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TrevorWood-600x600Trevor Wood (left) introduced us to Jimmy Mullen in The Man On The Street (click to read my review) in October last year. Mullen is a Royal Navy veteran who has fallen on hard times. Not the first man to struggle after a military career ends, he has served time for manslaughter, lost his wife and daughter, and lives in a Newcastle hostel for homeless men. His PTSD means that his dreams are often invaded by visions of the several hells he went through in his service career. In the previous book he gained a certain temporary celebrity as the ‘Homeless Private Eye’ when he tracked down a murderer, but now life has returned to its drab normality. He still lives in the hostel, dines at The Pit Stop, a drop-in centre that feeds the homeless, goes everywhere with his dog (called ‘Dog’) and has a precarious friendship with a man called Gadge who is also homeless, but is a regular user of the computers in the local library, and has a grasp of modern technology that is often useful to Mullen.

Into Mullen’s life comes a young man called Deano. Deano is a wreck of a boy with a stack of criminal convictions, addicted to whatever can ease the pain of the next couple of hours, traumatised by being pimped out as a male prostitute, and forever searching for his missing mother and brother. Deano’s brother Ash has turned up dead in nearby Sunderland, and Deano convinces Mullen to take a look at the case, as several other youngsters have turned up dead in a variety of unpleasant ways, apparently out of their heads on Spice – a cheap and potent chemical version of cannabis.

OWS coverThe search for answers takes Mullen not just into the grimy underworld of the Newcastle drug scene, but brings him face to face with a prominent local politician, a clergyman whose teenage daughter has been leading a double life and – more painfully – the wreckage of his relationship with his ex-wife and their daughter.

On the way to resolving the mystery of the murdered children, Mullen survives attempts on his life and struggles hard to subjugate his own violent and retaliatory instincts as he encounters some seriously depraved individuals.

As you may gather, this book is not a bundle of laughs. Mullen is convincing, likeable even, but his world is full of human shipwrecks. To extend the analogy, Mullen appears at low tide, but some of the other characters are many leagues down at the bottom of the human ocean. I cannot imagine what personal research has gone into this, but Trevor Wood has produced another addictive read. One Way Street is published in Kindle by Quercus, and will be available on October 29th. It will be out in hardback in March next year.

 

LOST . . . Between the covers

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Leona Deakin introduced to Dr Augusta Bloom, her psychologist-turned-PI in Gone, which came out in 2019. Click here to read the review of that and get something of the background to Lost, the second novel in the series.

Augusta and her professional partner Marcus Jameson have had a major professional and personal falling out after their involvement with a manipulative psychopath called Seraphine. Jameson is a former military intelligence analyst, and has a decent pension, so he hasn’t needed the work, but Bloom’s latest case is just too intriguing for him to turn down.

An apparent Islamic terrorist has bombed a social event at the Royal Navy base of Devonport. There have been a handful of fatalities, but one of the injured – a Navy officer called Harry Peterson – has disappeared. He was seemingly taken away by ambulance, but his girlfriend Karene – dazed but uninjured in the bomb blast – has been unable to locate him in any of the local hospitals.

Karene gets no joy from either the Navy or the police, and so she turns to her friend Dr Augusta Bloom for help. Peterson eventually turns up, smuggled into a hospital by person or persons unknown. He has head injuries which were not sustained in the Devonport bombing and, when he wakes, he has suffered a substantial loss of memory.

Someone, somewhere is desperate for Harry Peterson to have no memory of the previous four years. Unfortunately for, those four years saw Peterson’s wife begin an affair which led to the breakup of their marriage and, more crucially, the beginning of Peterson’s romance with Karene. Now, he has literally no idea who Karene is.

As Bloom and Jameson chip away at what seems to be a granite wall of military secrecy, Peterson’s cousin, living a blameless and apparently mundane life in rural France, is found tortured to death. Photographs found in his cottage hint at a link to the goings on in England.The re-appearance of the malevolent Seraphine does nothing to clear the miasma round who is cleverly messing around with Harry Peterson’s mind – and why?

In the last quarter of the book, the pace turns frenetic, the plot ever more knotted and the scenery – from a torture room in a Central African Republic military base to a bank safe deposit vault in Peterborough – diversifies. Leona Deakin has great fun mystifying not only Bloom and Jameson but us the readers. The relationship between the pair of investigators is tested to breaking point with Jameson increasingly believing that he is being played for a fool, and when the case splits wide open to reveal not only political chicanery but links to people trafficking, then all bets on a peaceful and tidy solution are definitely off.

Lost, published by Transworld Digital, first came out in Kindle in the summer of this year. It will be available as a paperback, under the imprint of Black Swan, at the end of October.

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Making Wolf

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I don’t know how other reviewers are getting on, but here in the Fens the lock-down in publicity departments has meant that the normal flow of printed ARCs has shrivelled. I know of several launch dates that have been postponed until happier times, so I was especially pleased to receive an actual printed book this week.

Making Wolf by Tade Thompson tells the tale of a London supermarket security bloke who travels to his former home in West Africa to attend a funeral. As the beer flows and he meets old friends, Weston Kogi can’t resist egging the pudding a little by telling his mates that he is a murder detective in far-off London.

His little charade explodes in his face, however, when he becomes involved in a bloody feud between two political factions, and made to investigate a real life killing.

Making Wolf is published by Constable, and will be out on 7th May. I will be reading the book soon, and writing a full review.

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THE DIRTY SOUTH . . . Between the covers

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John Connolly’s private eye Charlie Parker rarely ventures south of the Mason Dixon line; his natural habitat is the brooding forest wilderness of Maine, a place where he communes with ghosts older than those of his murdered wife and daughter. As the name suggests, The Dirty South, his 18th case, sees him in Arkansas. The books begins and ends in the present day, but the greater part of the action takes place in 1997. The state’s former Governor and Attorney General has gone on to greater things, but his elevation has brought little in the way of material benefits to the small town of Cargill.

81hCyWuPLKLParker is still hunting the man who brutalised and then murdered his family and, thanks to former colleagues on the NYPD, he has a file on a girl murdered near Cargill, the manner of her death – and that of two others – give him cause to believe that her killer may be of interest to him. At this point, Connolly has a little fun with what might be called the In The Heat Of The Night trope. OK, so Parker isn’t black, but he is a stranger in town, asking questions. He is not inclined to say much about who he is and what his intentions are so he gets to spend a night in the town’s jail. While he is under lock and key, the body of another missing girl is found – horribly brutalised and left in woodland on the edge of the Ouachita mountains.

Parker’s back story is determined by a police civilian clerk making a call to New York:

“She picked up and listened as the caller identified himself. She wrote the name CHARLIE PARKER in block capitals across the top of a fresh page, and began taking notes.
‘Christ,’ she thought, as the lines began to fill with her handwriting, ‘Kel and the chief need to get back here, and fast. They need to let this man out of his cage before he has a mind to break out of it himself.’”

P Capitalarker is given an apology, and asked to help with the hunt for Donna Lee Kernigan’s killer. He soon learns that the Jurel Cade, a special investigator for Burden County, has been involved in the investigations – or lack thereof – into the earlier deaths. The Cade family are rich, influential and undoubtedly corrupt. They have also managed to entice Kovas, a massive defence procurement company, to build a plant in the vicinity, a deal which will put food on tables, dollars in wallets and hope in hearts for the long neglected locals. A few murdered black girls mustn’t be allowed to embarrass the PR machine that deals with the Kovas public image.

This is a very different Charlie Parker novel. The only supernatural element comes when Parker communes with his daughter who may be dead in physical terms, but is very much alive in his heart, mind and soul. The unspeakably malign villains of previous novels, all of whom were, in some way, connected with the paranormal, are absent. The disfunctional Cade family, and the malign shadow of serial child abuser Hollis Ward are bad enough, but they are flesh and blood. We do, happily for their fan club, have a brief appearance from Louis and Angel. They are as potent a force as ever, but Angel’s possibly terminal illness is many years away.

C Capitalonnolly writes like an angel, and there is never a dead sentence, nor a misplaced word. Occasionally, within the carnage, there is a wisecrack, or a sharp line which sticks in the memory:

“The radio was playing in Rhinehart’s back office: KKPT out of Little Rock, one of only two classic rock stations the device was able to pick up. Nobody was permitted to change the station for fear that it might never be located again, thereby leaving Rhinehart to subsist on a diet of Christian Contemporary Gospel, and Regional Mexican, until he eventually blew his brains out.”

If ever we needed an absorbing and substantial read to distract us from our nightmare, it is now. The Dirty South is published by Hodder and Stoughton and is out on 20th August. Buy it, blag it or borrow it – but don’t ignore it. It is a brilliant read which will provide a few hours of enchantment away from the miserable present.

More Fully Booked musings on John Connolly and Charlie Parker are available here.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS . . . Between the covers

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Harlan Coben’s ability
to write gripping stand-alone crime thrillers is little short of astonishing. Yes, we loved his character series featuring Myron Bolitar and then the three novels centred on his nephew Mickey, but here’s the thing. In The Boy From The Woods he introduces us to a couple of characters right out of the blue, as it were, but after just a few pages we feel that we have known them for ever. We might resolve to catch up on the previous books in the series, but then we remember there are none. This is our first acquaintance with the enigmatic young man known only as Wilde, and his hotshot lawyer friend Hester Crimstein.

91ZT8HhFQnLSo, who is Wilde? No-one knows his real name. He was rescued (if that’s the right word) as a child, after living alone and by his own wits in remote woods not far from New York City. How he got there, no-one in authority knows, and if he does, he isn’t telling. Subsequently fostered, he then went on to have a distinguished career in the special forces, and he now earns a living as a security consultant.

Hester? She is a delightfully sharp Jewish lawyer with a laser mind and a tongue as keen as a Damascus knife.Widowed some years earlier when husband David died in a car crash, she defends high profile clients as well as being the central attraction in a reality TV show featuring legal cases.

Naomi Pine, a socially awkward teenage girl who is the subject of relentless bullying at school, goes missing. Is it foul play, or is it somehow connected with Naomi’s relationship with Crash Maynard, the silver-spoon son of Dash Maynard, a millionaire TV producer who is connected to all that is good, bad and ugly about East Coast politics.

The plot of The Boy From The Woods is complex and intriguing. While Wilde and Hester try to find out why Naomi has disappeared and where she is, there is another plot strand involving Rusty Eggers a rich and ambitious politician whose bid for power may be derailed by old #meetoo tapes held by Dash Maynard.

One of the cover blurbs for The Boy From The Woods says “Coben never, ever lets you down.” Many such claims these days are just spin, but this one is totally correct. The book is published by Century and is out now. For more Fully Booked features and reviews of Harlan Coben’s books, click the image below.

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NINE ELMS . . . Between the covers

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Kate Marshall lectures in criminology at a university in the south west of England, but when she speaks to her students it is not as an academic, making judgments based purely on the research of others; neither does she approach the subject as an outsider, albeit one who is well read and well prepared. Fifteen years earlier, when she was a humble detective constable with London’s Metropolitan Police, she brought to justice one of the country’s most prolific and perverted serial killers. In doing so, she paid a heavy price; only skilled surgeons prevented her death from terrible injuries, but her career – and personal reputation – were both beyond saving.

Nine ElmsFifteen years on, the former police officer dubbed The Nine Elms Cannibal is serving multiple life sentences in a secure mental institution, and Kate Marshall, if not exactly dining out on her experiences, uses her involvement in the case as part of the course she delivers. She lives alone and while not exactly lonely, she is a changed woman from her days as part of London’s police force. She battles alcoholism, but with the support of Alcoholics Anonymous and, in particular, a local AA member called Myra, Kate sips her iced tea and pretends it contains a hefty shot of Jack Daniels.

Kate Marshall has a rather distinctive connection with The Nine Elms Cannibal, aka Peter Conway, but to elaborate further would be to spoil your fun. Suffice it to say that when a series of copycat killings – young women found dead with savage bite marks on their bodies – Kate is drawn into the investigation despite the misgivings of some police officers, who are only too aware of her back-story.

Of course the new killer can’t be Peter Conway – he is held under Hannibal Lecter – style restraints in prison, but what is his mother – author of a best-selling lurid true crime book called No Son Of Mine – up to? Is she acting as malignant go-between, a conduit between her son and an admirer who seems to have studied Conway’s modus operandi, and is proving the old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

With her research assistant Tristan Harper, Kate tries to reassemble the pieces of an increasingly complex puzzle, but it is not until events take a spectacular turn that she comes face to face with both the apprentice New Elms Cannibal – and his master – in a fast and furious finale which is not for the faint of heart.

Author Robert Bryndza is British, but lives and works in Slovakia. He has a successful series featuring Detective Erika Foster already under his belt. Nine Elms is published by Sphere, and will be out on 9th January.

I have an unopened hardback copy of Nine Elms up for grabs. Watch the Fully Booked Twitter feed for a prize draw competition – coming soon.

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