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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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TILL MORNING IS NIGH . . . Between the covers

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There is an debate in the Twittersphere at this time of year about whether Die Hard is, or isn’t a Christmas movie. Maybe there is also a discussion to be had as to whether this latest adventure for Rob Parker’s invincible iron man, Ben Bracken, is a Christmas thriller. Those with young children, or fond memories of their own childhood, will surely recognise the source of the book’s title. Preface it with the words “And stay by my cradle ..” and you should have the answer.

till-morning-is-nighWe are in a wintry Manchester
. The time is the present. As usual, the giant plastic Santa is hoist by his breeches on the Victorian gothic façade of the town hall, dispensing silent jollity to the shoppers and merry-makers scurrying beneath his furry boots. In Albert Square, homeless men try to find solace in their threadbare coats, wondering where the next coffee, the next Greggs pasty – or the next fix of chemical oblivion – is going to come from.

 

Among these sad footnotes to the tidings of comfort and joy, Ben Bracken moves, asking questions. The former soldier, imprisoned in nearby Strangeways for something he didn’t do, has escaped and now leads a perilous existence employed by a shadowy government agency who have uses for his particular skillset, which involves an immense capacity for violence and superb fieldcraft honed both in the killing fields of Afghanistan and the mean streets of Britain’s cities.

Bracken has been tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a young undercover police officer working for the National Crime Agency. Executed in front of an audience of drug dealers and sleazeballs, probably pour encourager les autres, DC Mark Kyle may have become too close for comfort to a dangerous new player in the Manchester drug scene. Bracken asks the right questions of the right people, and finds he is being led not towards an organised criminal gang of swarthy Albanian malcontents, but to a group which has it roots much closer to home.

Back in the real world for a moment, we are told by experts that the biggest terrorist threat to our society in Britain comes from right wing extremist organisations. Only a few days ago a number of men – all fans of Hitler, Breivik and other assorted homicidal lunatics – were convicted of planning terrorism via social media. The fictional group which Ben Bracken infiltrates are, however, not pimply twenty-somethings operating out of a bedroom in their mum’s house, but serious players, ex-military and financing their ambitions via the trade in hard drugs. They are well trained, armed with more than just a Facebook account, and they mean business.

The St George Patriots are led by Helen Broadshott. Perhaps modeled on someone across the Channel, she is vivacious, attractive, a brilliant communicator, and someone who knows how to tap into the seam of opinion which has been crystalised by feelings of resentment about immigration, perceived inequality, lack of political representation and frustration about rapid social change. The Patriots are planning a major event which will catapult them from obscurity onto the front pages of the print media, boost their social media following and make them headline news on every TV bulletin.

The irony is, of course, that in order to prevent the planned atrocity, Bracken has to ingratiate himself with the group and make them give him a central role in proceedings hoping, all the while, that his employers will be ready to intervene at the crucial moment.

Rob ParkerParker is a fine young writer. He can muse ruefully on the inadequate protection the human body has against steel wielded with extreme malice:

“Blood and organs artfully arranged on bone. No myth, no mysticism. We are made of soft material that splits and spills, nothing more.”

There is also a more reflective side to his writing. In between energetically demolishing bad people, Bracken has moments of quieter reflection:

“And they weren’t lying when they said the Guinness was the best either – it’s an epiphany as pure and revelatory as finding Jesus and Elvis, all at once, in the same tall glass.”

The spectacular and bloody climax to this excellent thriller will settle the question I posed earlier about Till Morning Is Nigh being a Christmas novel. It is a bravura finale to a thoroughly engrossing thriller.

Till Morning Is Nigh is published by Endeavour Media and will be available from 13th December. Click on the text below to read reviews of other novels by Rob Parker.

ROB PARKER NOVELS

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIE ALONE . . . Between the covers

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Readers of a Simon Kernick thriller should know by now what they are getting. There will be violence a-plenty, betrayal, corrupt cops, unscrupulous politicians, improbable escapes from certain death and a narrative style which grips the reader from start to finish. Like many popular writers he has separate series on the go, but Kernick isn’t averse to cross-referencing characters. By my reckoning, Die Alone is the eleventh book to feature the abrasive and resourceful Tina Boyd – once a copper but, in this novel a private investigator. The main man I Die Alone is another copper – Ray Mason. He first featured in The Witness (2016). Then came The Bone Field (2017) and The Hanged Man (2018) but with Tina Boyd – and her former lover Mike Bolt – in attendance.

Die AloneWe start with Mason in the Vulnerable Prisoner wing at a high security British prison. He is serving life sentences for the killing of two deeply unpleasant characters in the course of his duties. The deaths were judged not to be judicial, and so Mason inhabits a world shared with paedophiles, rapists, child pornographers – and disgraced coppers. When he is injured on the periphery of a prison riot, he is taken off to hospital in a supposedly secure van, which is then hijacked – the target being Mason himself. He is taken to what seems to be some kind of safe house run on government lines and, after being well fed and housed for a couple of days, he is given an ultimatum by the masked official who is in charge of things – carry out a hit on a Very Important target. He is left in no doubt as to what will happen if he refuses, but he takes little persuading, as the intended victim is someone whose life Mason would have little compunction in ending.

By now Kernick has introduced us to the repulsive Alastair Sheridan, a millionaire former hedge fund manager who has found his niche in politics and is regarded as everyone’s favourite to reach the top because of his affable style, movie star good looks and undoubted charisma. What the adoring public, and a bevy of fellow MPs who are about to support his leadership don’t now is that Sheridan is a sadistic sexual killer with links to organised crime and some of the most evil people in Europe.

Implicated in a series of brutal murders reference in earlier books, Sheridan has so far deflected any efforts by the police to link him irrefutably to the crimes, but the shadowy people who sprang Mason from jail know that he is a frequent customer at a very exclusive London brothel, and it is here that Mason is to make the hit. Almost inevitably, as the attempt occurs quite early in the book, everything goes pear-shaped, and Mason is forced to face the fact he has been set up. He escapes the trap, but is now the number one wanted criminal in the country.

Securing the help of former colleague Tina Boyd gets Mason out of one scrape, but as he avoids the clutches of one set of villains, the next shootout or escape in the boot of someone’s car is just around the corner, with the action ranging from oily Tottenham car workshops, to rural Essex and then via Brittany to the bloodstained hills surrounding Sarajevo.

This is all good knockabout stuff, and even if there is a touch of “with one bound he was free” about Mason’s superhuman ability to avoid bombs, bullets and knives, such is Kernick’s skill as a storyteller that Die Alone is a brilliantly addictive addition to the thriller catalogue. It is published by Century, and will be available on November 28th.

TO WIN YOUR OWN COPY OF THIS NOVEL, JUST CLICK THIS LINK

IT WILL TAKE YOU TO THE COMPETITION PAGE

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ALL HIS PRETTY GIRLS . . . Between the covers

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AHPG coverAlyssa Wyatt is pretty much your showcase American Mom. Not Middle American geographically, as she lives in New Mexico, but she ticks most of the other boxes; handsome successful husband, two teenage kids, nice house and a fulfilling career – as a cop. Like so many fictional law enforcement types, she has a dark past centred in childhood trauma, but what is done is done, and she lives for Holly, Isaac and husband Brock.

Detective Wyatt and her professional partner Cord are at the forefront of the investigation into a missing woman. Callie McCormick has no apparent enemies apart from the person who has abducted her from her smart home. There is no ransom demand, no body and no progress in the police investigation. What we do have is an increasingly angry Mr McCormick and a detective squad room with a worryingly empty whiteboard, and fanciful sightings multiplying by the hour once McCormick offers a hefty cash reward for information.

Charly CoxCharly Cox reveals to us the identity of the bad guy fairly early in the piece. Or, rather, she doesn’t. Over enigmatic? Quite probably, but to say more would ruin the fun. Alyssa and Cord chase their tails with more determination than success, while the sadist at the centre of the mayhem plans his next atrocity.

What it may lack in nuance, All His Pretty Girls more than compensates for in punch, narrative drive and sheer energy. Albuquerque, New Mexico, is known as The Land of Enchantment, and also the setting for the epic TV series Breaking Bad. It is also home to author Charly Cox. She says that she enjoys eating copious amounts of green chili and other spicy foods, and there is plenty of heat and burn in this novel. She has come up with a sensational – and very clever – plot twist in this, her debut novel and, although the first half of the story is familiar Silence of The Lambs territory – serial killer, murdered women, frustrated cops desperate for clues – Cox then springs a breathtaking surprise on us and the remaining pages just fly by.

All His Pretty Girls is available as a Kindle on 23rd October, and is published by Hera. Hera is a brand new, female-led, independent digital publisher, founded in 2018. They say:

“We’re on a mission to publish the very best in commercial fiction. From gripping psychological suspense, police procedurals and serial killer thrillers, to romance, heartwarming sagas, quirky uplifting fiction and sexy, glamorous contemporary fiction.”

Don’t be misled, however, into thinking that All His Pretty Girls is Chick Lit. Yes, a female is the central character, but there’s no shortage of graphic violence and enough of the ‘mean streets’ to satisfy fans of hard-boiled crime.

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BETWEEN THE PAGES . . . The Unseen

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Lisa Towles is a California Girl by residence, but she hails from New England. She writes crime novels when she isn’t putting her IT Management MBA to good use in The Sunshine State’s tech industry. Long time followers of Fully Booked will recall my enthusiastic review of her earlier book Choke (2017) and will remember that I began that review with the words:

“Lisa Towles is over-cautious. Said no-one, ever.”

TU051She is back with a vengeance – and that same imaginative flair – with her new mystery thriller The Unseen and the action is just as breathless. We have a story that spans five decades and whirls us between Dublin, the Egyptian desert, Boston Massachusetts, London and Rome. With a cast of larger-than-life characters including archaeologists, journalists, hit men – and a direct descendant of an Eastern Orthodox Pope – the story is never short of surprises and dramatic twists.

The basic plot is that back in 1970, an archaeologist unearths a series of documents which, if they are authentic, could re-write the history of early Christianity. That archaeologist, Rachel Careski, disappears in mysterious circumstances, and the artifacts are believed to be in the safe keeping her brother, Soren. The story moves to 2010,  Soren Careski is long dead, and the secrets of the scrolls are assumed to have accompanied him to the grave.

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lisaWhat starts off in a rather Indiana Jones vein quickly morphs into Robert Langdon territory and there’s no shortage of rapidly-changing locations, sinister ancient manuscripts and malevolent religious freaks. Lisa Towles shows great skill in taking these well-visited elements and stamping her own imprint on them. The Unseen is published by 9mm Press and is out now.

 

Lisa Towles has a Facebook page, her own website, and can be found on Twitter as @bridgit66

KEEP YOU CLOSE . . . Between the covers

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Steph Maddox is something of an Alpha female. She has punched her way through the law enforcement glass ceiling during her training at the legendary Virginia military training base known as Quantico, and now she is a senior operative at the HQ of The Federal Bureau of Investigation which, as the organisation’s website tells us, helpfully, is:

“… located between 9th and 10th Streets in northwest Washington, D.C. The closest Metro subway stops are Federal Triangle on the Orange/Blue lines, Gallery Place/Chinatown and Metro Center on the Red line, and Archives/Navy Memorial on the Yellow and Green lines.”

The site goes on to offer a very individual kind of day out:

“The FBI Experience is a self-guided tour at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Open to the public, visits may be requested up to five months in advance of, but no later than four weeks prior to the desired visit date.”

KYC coverFor Agent Maddox, however, The FBI Experience is something other than a theme park visit. Gender equality has come at a price, and she is viewed with a certain degree of suspicion by many of her male colleagues, particularly as she is – and feel free to use the ‘woke’ description of your choice – a single mother, lone parent or head of a one-parent family. The blunt truth is that Steph has brought up Zachary largely on her own from day one. Not only that, but she has steadfastly refused to reveal the identity of his father.

Zachary is a walking embodiment of a male teenager. Monosyllabic, tech-savvy, frequently tongue-tied and often a recluse in his bedroom. As mums do, Steph is casually going through the things on his clothing shelves when her hand touches something which makes her recoil in horror. No, not a particularly nasty piece of unwashed personal attire, but the cold, brutal steel of a Glock 26 pistol – a compact version of her own official firearm.

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To say that Steph is now unsettled is a massive understatement. Choosing a rather more indirect route to confronting Zach about her discovery, she also learns that the boy is on the mailing list of a known terrorist organisation, the Freedom Solidarity Movement. Her anxiety deepens when Scott, a fellow agent and former boyfriend, reveals that Zachary is a person of interest.

karen-clevelandKaren Cleveland, to say the very least, knows of what she writes. She is a former CIA analyst herself, and her experience translates into a swiftly moving and convincing narrative. Steph Maddox is torn between fighting her son’s corner – he is innocent, surely? – and preventing a major terrorist assassination attempt. As in the real world of political and military intelligence gathering, nothing is what it seems, and no-one is above suspicion.

The tension of the plot is wound higher and higher until, like an over-stretched guitar string, you know it’s going to snap. When it does, the results are catastrophic for all concerned. Cleveland (right) , however, is not just a one-trick pony. Her account of Steph struggling to be a decent mother, despite the dramatic chaos of her professional life, is perceptive and moving. Keep You Close is published by Bantam Press and is out now.

THE ARTEMIS FILE . . . Between the covers

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I redt takes a very ingenious – not to say devious mind – to fashion a fiction plot which meshes together a whole bagful of disparate elements to make a satisfying whole that challenges the imagination but does not exceed it in possibility. Adam Loxley has done just that in his latest thriller The Artemis File. George Wiggins is Mr Ordinary. He lives in what would have been called, years ago, a bijou residence in the twee Kentish town of Tenterden. He is not Mr Stupid, however. He travels into ‘town’ each day to sit at his desk in Fleet Street where he composes the daily crossword for The Chronicle under his pseudonym Xerxes. Aficionados know that in reality, all that is left of the newspaper industry in Fleet Street are the buildings, and the use of the term to denote popular journalism, but we can forgive Loxley for having the good, old-fashioned Chronicle hanging on by the skin of its teeth when all its fellows have decamped to Wapping or soulless suburbs somewhere off a dual carriageway.

front-cover-finalWhen George has a rather startling experience in his local pub after a couple of pints of decent beer, the other elements of the story – MI5, the CIA, Russian agents, immaculately dressed but ruthless Whitehall civil servants and, most crucially, the most infamous unsolved incident of the late 20th century – are soon thrown into the mix. Such is George’s conformity, it is easily compromised, and he is blackmailed into writing a crossword, the answers to which are deeply significant to a very select group of individuals who sit at the centres of various spiders’ webs where they tug the strands which control the national security of the great powers.

 

G rdeorge Wiggins might have been easily duped and he has few means to fight back, but he recruits an old chum from the Chronicle whose knowledge of the historical events of the 1990s proves key to unraveling the mystery of who wanted the crossword published – and why. While the pair rescue a dusty file from an obscure repository and pore over its contents, elsewhere a much more visceral struggle is playing out. A ruthless MI5 contract ‘fixer’ called Craven is engaged on a courtly dance of death with a former CIA agent, current American operatives and their Russian counterparts.

One of the joys of this book is Loxley’s delight in guiding us through various parts of England that he clearly loves. Winchester, the Vale of Itchen, various ‘secret’ London places – we track the characters as they play out the fateful – and frequently bloody – drama against fascinating backdrops. We are linked into real events such as the mysterious death of intelligence ‘spook’ Gareth Williams, and the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. We learn that the truth behind the events of 31st August 1997 has become an chip in an international poker game with world peace at stake. Just when we think that things have been wrapped up sweetly, however, Loxley has one final ace to play, and he lays it down with, literally, the last few words of the book.

The Artemis File is published by Matador and is available now. Adam Loxley lives in the Weald of Kent. Other than creative writing his passions are making music, world cinema and contemporary art. The first book in this series was The Teleios Ring, and the concluding novel The Oedipus Gate is currently in manuscript.

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ONE WAY OUT . . . Between the covers

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If fictional coppers need to be idiosyncratic to attract readers, then DI “Harry” Hardeep Singh Virdee ticks all the required boxes and also a good few new ones of his own devising. The Bradford policeman is a Sikh, but has enraged his father and his wider community by doing the unthinkable in marrying a Muslim woman. His brother Ronnie also happens to be a ruthless career criminal.

OWO coverThe latest novel from AA Dhand is a gripping thriller which goes well beyond the constraints of the conventional police procedural. One Way Out begins with a huge bomb going off in the centre of Bradford. Although there has been sufficient warning to minimise civilian casualties, the perpetrators – an extreme right wing group known as The Patriots – have a further trick up their sleeve. It is a Friday, and with all 105 mosques in the Yorkshire city being full of worshippers, the terrorists announce that they have planted a bomb in one of the mosques, and it will be detonated unless the police track down and hand over the members of a notorious Islamic militant group called Almukhtaroon. The Patriots have pre-empted the obvious evacuation of the mosques by stating that if one single worshipper attempts to leave, the bomb will be detonated.

Virdee’s wife Saima is trapped inside the Mehraj mosque where the massive bomb is eventually located, but that is just one of his problems. He is sought out by the Home Secretary Tariq Islam, with whom he has, shall we say, history, and given the task of rounding up  the four leading members of Almukhtaroon while the government maintains the façade of refusing to negotiate with terror groups.

What we then have is an entertaining and thoroughly readable mix of all the best thriller tropes – race against time, threatened love one, maverick cop, violence-a-plenty, double-dealing politicians and embittered fanatics – Dhand relishes every minute of it, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 20.18.59Dhand is a Bradford man, born and bred, and he paints a vivid – if occasionally depressing – picture of the results of racial and religious bigotry. While he is justifiably harsh on right-wing extremism, he doesn’t spare the blushes of the Asian community, whether they are warring Muslim factions or Sikhs with more angry pride in their hearts than compassion. I’m not sure I totally bought into the relationship between Virdee and Tariq Islam, but no matter what the plot, suspension of disbelief is what we fiction readers are good at, otherwise we would spend our days reading history books or browsing the Argos catalogue.

One Way Out is a genuine page-turner. Futuristic? Maybe, but who would have said, a decade ago, that we would have a Muslim Home Secretary? Another nod to reality is the charismatic leader of Almukhtaroon, the self-styled Abu Nazir. He is not only a genuine Geordie, but he is also a ginger-haired convert to Islam. I seem to recall that one of the notorious followers of the hate preacher Anjem Choudry fits that description, at least in his ethnicity and hair colour. Virdee is a compassionate and credible hero, but with just enough of a mean streak to allow him to go head-to-head with he genuinely bad guys. One Way Out is published by Bantam Press and will be available from 27th June

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THE BODY LIES . . . Between the covers

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As the immortal Juliet once asked, “What’s in a name?” To her, not very much, as I recall, but it takes a brave novelist – such as Daphne Du Maurier in Rebecca – to keep the narrator and central character anonymous. Jo Baker uses this literary ploy in her latest novel, The Body Lies. Even the title is ambiguous, but the young woman at the centre of this dark domestic thriller is anything but anonymous or sketchily drawn.

TBL coverIn the absence of a name, what do we know of her? She is a writer who, like so many others in real life, has been published but needs a day job to stay afloat. She is married to a rather dull but worthy London schoolteacher. They have a young son, Sammy and, in an effort to re-establish her identity she makes a successful application for a lecturing job at a university in the north of England. Husband Mark is unwilling to leave his post, and so they agree to live separately but meet up at weekends. At the very beginning of the novel the woman is assaulted by a stranger while she is out jogging: the attack is not physically serious but leaves deep mental scars.

She finds herself in a provincial university which is aspirational rather than distinguished, and once she has conquered her nerves about delivering lectures, her main challenge is to conduct tutorial sessions with a group of would-be authors, each drawn to the crime fiction genre. The students are a diverse bunch: a voluble and emotive American woman who is, if nothing else, extremely ‘woke’; a suit-and-tie solicitor who is a fan of gritty police procedurals where the corpses are invariably female; most troubling – and troubled – is a young man called Nicholas who is writing a stream-of-consciousness narrative about a mysterious death which could be suicide, or then again….

When Nicholas and his tutor go beyond the accepted boundaries of student-teacher relationships, the story moves from a wry and sardonic satire on the political and social politics of schools and universities, and takes on a much darker hue. Nicholas disappears, but sends in the weekly updates to his work-in-progress via email – and they are nothing more or less than a blow-by-blow account of his most recent sexual encounter.

Jo BakerAll the familiar tropes of modern British domestic noir kick in, to good effect. We have a stalker, marital infidelity, a woman alone in a remote cottage, the debilitating after effects of recreational drug use, a murder disguised as a suicide and, tellingly, a very scary confrontation on a Wuthering Heights-style moor.

Jo Baker has written an intriguing and very clever novel which, while asking probing questions of readers and writers of crime fiction regarding their tolerance of the woman-as-victim trope, never preaches. Her nameless but vividly real central character is memorable for her courage, resilience and sheer humanity. The Body Lies is published by Doubleday and is out on 13th June.

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