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fullybooked2017

CRIME FOR THE COGNISCENTI!

WELCOME TO FULLY BOOKED! If you are a fan of crime writing – old, new, true or fiction – you should find something to entertain you here. Among the regular features will be a focus on real life crimes, both in the UK and further afield, the classic fiction of The Golden Age, and the latest new releases from top authors and publishers.

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VEHICLES FOR THE VIOLENT …by Frank Westworth (part 1)

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Six StringsJJ Stoner – the musician, motorcyclist and murderer – returns in a new quick thriller this week. Like any competent contract killer, Stoner needs to relocate rapidly but blend in unobtrusively. In ‘Six Strings’, he uses two wheels and more to confound his enemies. Author Frank Westworth (who freely admits to being a fellow motorcyclist and a musician, but keeps quiet about any other similarities with his fictional creation) explains about Stoner’s transports of delight…

James Bond. Bentley or Aston Martin? Tough choice, huh? We can only sympathise. When I first sat down to write an actual full-length thriller, all I knew about Stoner, the central character, was that he rides a motorcycle. Of course he does. It’s best to write about what you know, otherwise your own ignorance becomes bliss for someone else, as The Reader always enjoys pointing out the idiocies, the inaccuracies, the foolishnesses. Best not to make them.

So I knew he rode a motorcycle. A big one, a black one, a very loud one, one with the proud British name ‘Norton’ in gold on its gleaming black tank. I have one of those, you know. Surprised?

While waiting for the nice man in the nice yellow van to come and cart the Norton and its hapless rider back home, again, I pondered upon exactly why ace-guitarist, top gunner JJ Stoner would ride a motorcycle which was less than 100 percent reliable and not entirely faster than a speeding bullet (well…). He wouldn’t.

HarleyThe rider wears a helmet – great head protection, that’s why the law compels them. He wears a face mask, great precaution against suicidal 100mph wasps, and a perfect disguise. He wears leather, and body armour tough enough to slow a small calibre handgun round to the point where it hurts, but is unlikely to be fatal. All of that in full view of anyone who might be looking.

Except that they aren’t. Looking. Looking at him. They’re looking at the motorcycle, the Harley-Davidson, and they hate it. And they despise the rider. Maybe they did see Wild Angels on Netflix. Biker theory has it that they’re just jealous. Envy is a proud thing.

Bikes carve through traffic. They can do great getaways. And you can just lose them in a crowd – a crowd of other bikes, of course. All those shades-wearing, beardy guys in their dirty leathers – they look the same, right? Right.

So our hero gets in quick, gets dirty, then gets out quick on a motorcycle. This happens a lot; read the news, endless crime gets committed on motorcycles, usually small ones, small ones stolen for the purpose and abandoned after the bag has been snatched, the Uzi emptied into the crowd, then they’re gone. Unfindable.

But… motorcycles are vulnerable. Never be fooled by the movies where our hero ditches the motorcycle into the side of a truck, car, wall, whatever, then gets up, shrugs and carries on doing whatever he was doing before. That doesn’t happen. Think great pain, bones poking through leathers, teeth dislodged and very many abrasions. A road is not a race track. There are no run-off areas.

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So Stoner also needed a car. More comedy sets in here. Why would any spook or similarly sly soul choose to drive a car like an Aston Martin? Parading your personal vanities is really not what spooking is about – unless the whole point is to make yourself wildly visible, of course. And in any case, although a super-powerful motor is great for chasing and/or running away, unless the great getaway takes place on a deserted highway late at night there are always other happy families ambling merrily along, innocently getting in the way. So … ditch that idea

TO BE CONCLUDED

You can read more from Frank Westworth on Fully Booked by following the links below.

KILLING ME SOFTLY

THE REDEMPTION OF CHARM

THE MUSIC OF CRIME FICTION

INSIDIOUS INTENT . . . Between the covers

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Crime Fiction’s Most Distinctive Odd Couple? There would be several nominations in this category, were it to be at an awards dinner of some kind. You can make your own suggestions, using whatever criteria you wish; eccentricity, diversity of character and background, problem-solving methods – the choice is yours. I am going for sheer darkness, grim back stories, and an occasional incompatibilty that sometimes verges on the disastrous, but also a symbiotic need for each other that has no sexual element but is unique in the annals of crime fiction If this sounds like the relationship between DCI Carol Jordan and clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill, then we are spot on.

Val McDermid introduced them to us in 1995, with The Mermaids Singing, and now they are back for the tenth episode in their turbulent career. As we turn the first page, Jordan is already in trouble. She has tried to drink her way out of the life-shattering experience of feeling responsible for the terrible murders of her brother and his wife but, inevitably, one glass too many has resulted in a drink driving charge. Her bosses, not always as supportive, have conspired to declare the breathalyser equipment faulty, and Jordan is aquitted. But, having been tested with the same equipment, so is hell-raising young driver Dominic Barrowclough. When Barrowclough celebrates his freedom by killing himself and four other road users, Jordan’s guilt begins to reach crisis level.

II CoverBut there is still a job to be done, and in Carol Jordan’s case this is to head up a new police unit, called ReMIT – Regional Major Investigations Team – and their first case is a shocker. In a windswept lay-by on a lonely moorland road, a car is discovered, blazing out of control. When the flames die back sufficiently for the emergency services to get close, the charred remains of a young woman are discovered in the driving seat. The post mortem reveals that she has been strangled, and the blaze started, of all things, by a large box of potato crisp packets. Another such death soon follows, and the ReMIT team discover that they are dealing with a supremely clever killer who befriends his victims at weddings. He ‘crashes’ the wedding with consummate ease, and then targets young women who have attended the wedding unaccompanied. Spinning a yarn that he is a widower still mourning his late wife’s death from cancer, he seems to be the perfect gentleman. Caring, considerate, sexually undemanding – to the unfortunate women he seems like all their Christmases have come at once.

By sheer persistence and a stroke of good fortune, Jordan and her team find themselves a suspect, a young businessman called Tom Elton. But the evidence against him is, at best, circumstantial, and he attends the police interview alongside one of the smartest and most abrasive criminal defence lawyers in the region. Elton is scornful, triumpant, and he literally laughs in the faces of his accusers.

“I thought you lot were supposed to be the elite? I remember the news stories when you were formed. Top Guns, they said,” He scoffed, “Top Bums, more like. If I was your man, I’d be dancing in the streets. With you lot running the show, anyone could get away with murder.”

 All the while, as the investigation gathers speed – and then founders – McDermid demonstrates why she is considered by many to be the greatest contemporary British crime writer. The black clouds loom ever lower over Carol Jordan. Her team, some with their own demons to exorcise, look in vain to their boss for inspiration, while Tony Hill, perhaps for the first time in his career, can see no obvious way out of their travails.

Thomas Hardy, in his Wessex novels, was the master of wicked coincidences; a misinterpreted gesture, words said or unsaid, a lover innocently going to the wrong church for her wedding – these all set in train events which will bring the worlds of these characters down around their heads. McDermid creates one here, albeit one very much of the 21st century. and it contributes to the dramatic and totally unexpected finale of this fine novel. Insidious Intent came out in hardback and Kindle in 2017, and this paperback edition will be available on 22nd February from Sphere.

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THE GREAT DARKNESS . . . Between the covers

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Cambridge, in the early autumn of 1939, is like every other city and large town across Britain: war has been declared, the army is everywhere – as are rumours of German spies and infiltrators under every metaphorical bed. Observers scan the skies night and day vainly searching for enemy aircraft while in Belgium, the British Expeditionary Force sit waiting the German Army’s first move. In hindsight, of course, we know that this was the ‘phony’ war, and that Hitler’s forces had, for the moment at least, more pressing work further east.

Jim004In this febrile atmosphere are many men and women who have memories of “the last lot”. One such is the latest creation from Jim Kelly, (left) Detective Inspector Eden Brooke. He saw service in The Great War, but were someone to wonder if his war had been ‘a good war’, they would soon discover that he had suffered dreadful privations and abuse as a prisoner of the Turks, and that the most physical legacy of his experiences is that his eyesight has been permanently damaged. He wears a selection of spectacles with lenses tinted to block out different kinds of light which cause him excruciating pain. For him, therefore, the nightly blackout is more of a blessing than a hindrance.

One of Brooke’s stranger habits is moonlight bathing in the River Cam. It is on one such visit to the river that he overhears a conversation. Because of blackout, he can see nothing, but it seems a group of ‘squaddie’ soldiers under the command of an NCO are digging pits to bury something – and it is not a pleasant job. Daylight, and an inspection by one of Brooke’s officers, provides no answer.

With the mysterious burials in St John’s Wilderness nagging away at him like a toothache, Brooke must divert his attention to violent deaths. With military minds convinced that barrage balloons will prove the answer to death being delivered from the skies by the Luftwaffe, the ‘blimps’ are tethered all over the city. To us, they have a slightly comedic aspects, but when one breaks free from its mooring and catches fire, the results leave no-one laughing. As the balloon careers across the Cambridge rooftops it trails a deadly mesh of netting and steel cable. A man, subsequently identified as American research student Ernst Lux, has been caught up in this obscene accidental fishing expedition and when his body eventually returns to the ground it looks as if it has been savaged by some dreadful predatory beast. The second death is just as brutal but mercifully quicker. The body of Chris Childe, a conscientious objector and an active member of the Communist Party, is found slumped over his parents’ grave in Mill Road Cemetery. He has been shot through the head at point blank range.

Brooke is pulled this way and that with the investigations, but then there is a further complication. Three lorries, running on false plates, are found parked up on Castle Hill, their drivers gone. When the investigation gathers speed it becomes clear that this is an operation in black market meat, controlled by criminal gangs in Sheffield. Brooke is convinced that there is a military connection between all these events, but in order to make any sense of them he needs to get straight answers from the top brass at regional army HQ out at Madingley Hall. The Inspector is, literally, an ‘old soldier’ and he knows precisely how the military mind works, so attempts by officers such as Colonel George Swift-Lane to ‘baffle him with bullshit’ are doomed to failure.

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The relationship between the deaths, the digging and the dirty dealing are eventually laid bare by Brooke’s intelligence and persistence. Kelly’s writing has never been more atmospheric and haunting; he gives us one spectacular and horrific set-piece when a demonstration by the Auxiliary Fire Service goes terribly wrong, and he makes sure that the killer of Chris Childe dies a death more terrible than that of his victim. Above all, though, we have a brilliant and memorable new character in Eden Brooke. There is a little something of Christopher Foyle about him, although his wife Claire is very much alive, but Brooke’s son is also away doing his bit, with the BEF in Belgium, waiting for the push that would eventually. just seven months later, drive them into the sea.

 

Brooke’s portrait is subtle, nuanced and, while revealing up to a point, leaves us with the impression that this a man who we may never completely understand, and that he is someone whose actions, thoughts and decisions will always have the capacity to surprise us. I can only say to Jim Kelly, “Thank you, Mr K – this is as brilliant and evocative a piece of crime fiction as I will expect to read all year. You’ve gone and done it again!”

The Great Darkness is published by Allison & Busby and will be generally available on 15th February.

For a background to Jim Kelly’s work and his use of landscape, place and history in his novels, click the link below.

LANDSCAPE, MEMORY – and MURDER

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JIM KELLY . . . Landscape, memory – and murder

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Phil RickmanWhen it comes to creating a sense of place in their novels, there are two living British writers who tower above their contemporaries. Phil Rickman, (left) in his Merrily Watkins books, has recreated an English – Welsh borderland which is, by turn, magical, mysterious – and menacing. The past – usually the darker aspects of recent history – seeps like a pervasive damp from every beam of the region’s black and white cottages, and from every weathered stone of its derelict Methodist chapels. Jim Kelly’s world is different altogether. Kelly was born in what we used to call The Home Counties, north of London, and after studying in Sheffield and spending his working life between London and York, he settled in the Cambridgeshire cathedral city of Ely.

jim kelly Small_0It is there that we became acquainted with Philip Dryden, a newspaperman like his creator but someone who frequently finds murder on his doorstep (except he lives on a houseboat, which may not have doorsteps). While modern Ely has made the most of its wonderful architecture (and relative proximity to London) and is now a very chic place to live, visit, or work in, very little of the Dryden novels takes place in Ely itself. Instead, Kelly, has shone his torch on the bleak and vast former fens surrounding the city. Visitors will be well aware that much of Ely sits on a rare hill overlooking fenland in every direction. Those who like a metaphor might well say that, as well as in terms of height and space, Ely looks down on the fens in a haughty fashion, probably accompanying its haughty glance with a disdainful sniff. Kelly (above)  is much more interested in the hard-scrabble fenland settlements, sometimes – literally – dust blown, and its reclusive, suspicious criminal types with hearts as black as the soil they used to work on. Dryden usually finds that the murder cases he becomes involved with are usually the result of old grievances gone bad, but as a resident in the area I can reassure you that in the fens, grudges and family feuds very rarely last more than ninety years

deat1In the Peter Shaw novels, Kelly moved north. Very often in non-literal speech, going north can mean a move to darker, colder and less forgiving climates of both the spiritual and geographical kind, but the reverse is true here. Shaw is a police officer in King’s Lynn, but he lives up the coast near the resort town of Hunstanton. Either by accident or design, Kelly turns the Philip Dryden template on its head. King’s Lynn is a hard town, full of tough men, some of whom are descendants of the old fishing families. There is a smattering of gentility in the town centre, but the rough-as-boots housing estates that surround the town to the west and the south provide plenty of work for Shaw and his gruff sergeant George Valentine. By contrast, it is in the rural areas to the north-east of Lynn where Shaw’s patch includes expensive retirement homes, holiday-rental flint cottages, bird reserves for the twitchers to twitch in, and second homes bought by Londoners which have earned places like Brancaster the epithet “Chelsea-on-Sea.”

With these two best-selling series under his belt, Jim Kelly would have been forgiven if he had played safe and simply ping-ponged Dryden and Shaw in his future novels. But, like Ulysses of old, he has given us a new character.

“’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset …….”

I am not suggesting for one second that Jim Kelly is anywhere near his metaphorical sunset but, just as Ulysses pushed his boat off into unknown waters, so Kelly begins a voyage that takes us to Cambridge in the golden autumn of 1939. Britain is officially at war with Germany, and Detective Inspector Eden Brooke has mysterious deaths to solve. Set in the glorious university town – yes, ‘town’, as Cambridge did not become a city until 1951 – The Great Darkness will enthral Kelly fans and new readers who like the landscape to be a significant character in their fiction.

The Fully Booked review of The Great Darkness will be available in the next couple of days, but here are several links to features on Jim Kelly and Phil Rickman.

All of a Winter’s Night by Phil Rickman

Jim Kelly – A Landscape of Secrets

The Seaweed That Started A War

Books Of The Year 2016

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Three keepers!

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MOST BOOK REVIEWERS do not have the space to keep all the books they read and review. I’m no exception, despite living in a five bedroom property bought to house a missus and four sons. The four sons have now grown up and gone, but Mrs P is, happily, still in residence. Friends, giveaways and charity shops are the usual beneficiaries of the unwanted books, but there are some writers whose novels I will only be parted from after a brutal battle where I have, like John Cleese’s Black Knight, been dismembered. These books are usually dotted about throughout the year, and some only exist as a digital file on my Kindle, but to get three ‘keepers’ in one delivery is something special. Two of these writers could be called Elder Statesmen of the crime fiction world, but the third has established himself, in my eyes at least, after just one superb novel.

THE SMILING MAN by JOSEPH KNOX

KnoxI met Joseph Knox (left) at a publisher’s showcase event in London, where he presented his debut novel, Sirens. I was hooked after hearing him read the opening paragraphs, and my initial impression was confirmed when I read the novel, featuring a conflicted young Manchester police officer, Aidan Waits. Knox talked about his work and influences in this interview, but now Aidan Waits makes a very welcome return. Once again, the city of Manchester looms as a malign and dystopian presence in The Smiling Man. In the crumbling and echoing emptiness of a former hotel, Waits finds a corpse whose killers have been so determined to render him anonymous that his teeth and fingertips have been replaced. In death, his face has assumed the rictus of a fatal smile. You can find out if – and how –  Waits solves this crime on 8th March. The Smiling Man is published by Doubleday.

GREEKS BEARING GIFTS by PHILIP KERR

Philip KerrJust as George MacDonald Fraser had his magnificent bounder Harry Flashman working his way through all the major political and military events of the the second half of the 19th century, so Philip Kerr (right) has positioned his wearily honest – but cynical –  German cop Bernie Gunther in the 20th. We know Gunther fought in The Great War, but his service there is only, thus far, alluded to. We have seen him interact with most of the significant players in the decades spanning the rise of the Nazis through to their defeat and escape into post-war boltholes such as Argentina and Cuba. In the 13th book of this brilliant series, Gunther, joints creaking with advancing old age, is now working for an insurance company who want him to investigate a possible scam involving a sunken ship. His work takes him to Athens, where he discovers an unpleasantly familiar link to evil deeds committed under the baleful gaze of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. Some of Bernie Gunther’s earlier exploits are covered here, while you can get hold of his latest case on 3rd April, courtesy of Quercus.

THE GREAT DARKNESS by JIM KELLY

Crime fiction readers are addicted to character series, and who can blame writers for feeding the fire. It is a matter of record that some very successful novelists have come to hate their creations, and have killed them off and started anew. Not all are successful – witness a certain Edinburgh physician – but Jim Kelly (below) has done the deed once, and now he is brave enough to do it again. His Peter Shaw books have matched his Philip Dryden novels for ingenuity, sense of place and history, and beautiful writing, but now he begins a third series, stepping back in time to the early days of World War Two. He has kept faith with his East Anglian setting, but we have moved sixteen miles down the road from Dryden’s cathedral city of Ely, to Cambridge where, in The Great DarknessDetective Inspector Eden Brooke, struggling with the titular ban on night-time lights, discovers a gruesome killing o the banks of the gently flowing River Cam. The Great Darkness is published by Allison & Busby, and is out on 15th February. You can read more about Jim Kelly and his books here.

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NO JANUARY BLUES FOR SPAIN!

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DUBLIN AUTHOR JO SPAIN AND HER AGENT NICOLA BARR had very reason to be cheerful last Thursday evening, in the atmospheric surroundings of The Harrow, just off London’s Fleet Street. Spain’s breakaway psychological thriller, The Confession, has hit the ground running and is already heading the best-seller charts in Ireland.

The Confession moves away from the police procedural world inhabited by Spain’s Dublin copper Tom Reynolds, and into a different territory altogether. The Confession is a daring and bravura performance by one of our finest writers. We know within the first few pages who did it (the bludgeoning to death of a disgraced investment manager) but Spain spins a dazzling and complex web over the next 380 pages or so, as we try to work out why?

Follow the links below to read the Fully Booked take on The Confession, and also two cases for DI Tom Reynolds.

The Confession

Sleeping Beauties

Beneath The Surface

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SEPULTURA . . . Between the covers

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Is there anyone out there who is an admirer of Charles Pooter? For the uninitiated, Mr Pooter was the fictional author of the The Diary of A Nobody. It is set in 1890s London, and was actually written by George Grossmith and illustrated by his brother Weedon. Mr Pooter is totally ‘above himself’, full of his own self-importance, but regarded with ill-concealed mirth by those he believes to be beneath him. Mr Pooter is a character upon whom many later comedy characters – for example Anthony Aloysius Hancock and Basil Fawlty – are based.

SepulturaI must explain the apparent digression before you lose interest. Use your imagination. Conjure up a dreadful genetic experiment which breeds a being who, especially in his diarist’s style of first person narrative, shows very Pooteresque tendencies. But – and it is a ‘but’ the size of a third world country – the mad scientist has added Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter into the mixing bowl, and then seasoned it with an eye-watering pinch of Patrick Bateman. What do you get? You get Dyson Devereux, Head of Cemeteries and Burials with Paleham Council.

Dyson first burst into view in Portman’s novel Necropolis, rather like the nasty homunculus which disturbed John Hurt’s dinner in Alien. Like that creature, Dyson Devereux was implacable, cunning – and utterly malevolent. In Necropolis he went about his day job with an almost autistic attention to detail – while managing to commit several violent murders. He was smart enough to outwit the police, but has, wisely, decided to move from one council district to another.

Now in Paleham, he has sired a child, Horatio. He has fallen out, however, with Horatio’s mother Rakesha who, in turn, has taken up with a fairly revolting specimen (by Dyson’s very high standards) called Jeremiah. Most of the people in Dyson’s life who he dislikes – and like the biblical unclean spirit they are legion – are given disparaging nicknames, and Rakesha’s new love is called Free Lunch. Dyson’s colleagues within the bureaucratic hub of Paleham Borough Council include Inappropriate Short Skirt, Sullen Goth and, most despised of all,Ludicrous Tie (aka Bryan).

Improbably, Paleham is twinned with the Italian town of Rovito, and after their funzionari del consiglio comunale have paid a visit to their English counterparts, it is the turn of the Paleham officers to travel to Italy. Dyson, by the way, speaks fluent Italian. His linguistic talents are considerable. He is very concerned that Horatio’s nursery school doesn’t offer Latin, and so he is determined to teach the little chap himself. Before the Italian trip departs, however, Dyson has finally lost patience with Free Lunch and murdered him. He methodically dismembers the offending individual and disposes of the bits. Unfortunately for him, Free Lunch’s head breaks free from the stones which were meant to keep it at the bottom of the local canal, and after its discovery, Dyson becomes a person of interest to the local constabulary.

guyThe trip to Italy temporarily removes Dyson from the cross-hairs of the local police, and also the relatives of the late lamented Jeremiah, who are out for vengeance. What follows is brilliantly inventive, murderous and breathtakingly funny. Guy Portman doesn’t reveal too much about himself, even on his website, but he must, at some point, have worked in some kind of public services environment. All the devils are here – the pomposity, the endless Powerpoint presentations (complete with printout), the daily genuflection at the the altar of Health and Safety, the woeful political correctness, the corruption of the English language, the cheap suits and – for ever and ever amen – the second-rate minds doing second-rate jobs.

I don’t often issue health warnings, but if you are easily offended and believe that some things should never be satirised, then don’t go near Sepultra. If on the other hand, you think, “what the hell, one dance with the Devil won’t hurt..” or if you love brilliant writing and vengeful black humour that up-ends modern society and kicks it in the head – then Sepultura should be the next book on your bedside table. It is out now, and published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . And how!

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Robert_Goddard_author_photographI became a firm fan of Robert Goddard (left) after reading and reviewing his excellent Maxted trilogy, set in the turbulent days after The Great War. The best novelists are, in a way, both gamblers and alchemists. They are never afraid to try something different, to alter the formula, to ‘go for it’ with a fresh set of characters or, in extreme cases like Graham Hurley’s Joe Faraday, kill off the golden goose and incubate a new brood. Due out on 22 March, Goddard’s Panic Room draws us away from the post-Versailles world of James Maxted, and positions us firmly in the modern era. Part political thriller, part psychological drama and part social nightmare, Panic Room deals with the trauma of a young woman escaping those who would do her harm. She takes refuge in a huge empty villa, perched on a wind-buffeted Cornish cliff top. It is vast, and its array of unexplored rooms contains that most modern of social constructs – a panic room. Can Blake find it, and will it be secure enough to save her life?

ParkerRobert Parker is one of CriFi’s ‘bright young things’. His debut novel, A Wanted Man was published in 2017, but hard on the heels of that tale of a released prisoner seeking revenge on his enemies in the violent criminal hinterland of Manchester, he returns with Crook’s Hollow. Who knew that there was a CriFi genre called Country Noir? Not me, but the ‘Country’ in this case is not pedal steel guitars, yee-haw, banjos and frilled shirts, but the rough and ready hardscrabble rural landscape of north west England. The isolated village of Crook’s Hollow is not Ambridge, and readers hoping for an everyday tale of country folk should look away now. The Loxley family, with their extensive farms, have exerted an almost feudal influence over the valley for generations. But now their hegemony is being challenged by rapacious property developers, hired muscle and – above all – another local family whose grudges go back a century or more, and will only be expiated in blood. Crook’s Hollow is out at the end of March.

McDermid-Val-author-photo_credit-Alan-McCredie-crop-318x318Some modern writers are so popular, so much read and so far down the road to becoming national treasures, that it almost seems like an affront to their status for (adopting Uriah Heep-like crouch and wringing hands) ‘umble reviewers to voice an opinion. Kirkcaldy’s First lady, Val McDermid, (left) is one such daunting figure. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Ms M, but she comes over on social media as being good- natured, endlessly patient and courteous to a fault. It goes without saying that she is a bloody fine writer and there can be few modern CriFi partnerships to match that of DCI Carol Jordan and Tony Hill. Now, heaven be praised, they return in paperback. Insidious Intent came out in Kindle and hardcover in summer 2017, but if you can hang on until the last week in February, you can get your paws on a paperback edition. Carol and Tony have to solve a macabre mystery; what is the true story behind the burned body found in a torched car on a remote country road?

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THE INNOCENT WIFE . . . between the covers

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Samantha is a schoolteacher, and to say that she is unhappy in her work would be an understatement. As she presides over a violent and potentially criminal separation from her wimpish boyfriend, she is hooked into a social media storm centred on the imminent execution of Dennis Danson, a Florida man who has been accused, tried and convicted of the murder of a teenage girl. Danson has a fervent and vocal set of social-media followers. There is only circumstantial evidence to connect him to the killing, yet the court has pronounced him guilty, and so he resides in that most gruesome of thoroughfares, Death Row

Samantha kicks into touch her recent romantic travails, and begins an online relationship with the condemned man. Dennis writes back to her, and senses that Sam is not just another execution groupie with a bizarre fascination for a notorious criminal. Sam decides that her future is inextricably entwined with that of Dennis, and she uses a recent bequest to finance a trip to the USA. Breathless and uncertain, she finally meets the man of her dreams, albeit on the wrong side of a protective screen at Altoona Prison. Sam and Dennis officially become man and wife, in a cruel parody of the normal wedding ceremony

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AmyAmy Lloyd (right) makes sure that fans of Southern Noir who enjoy a tumbledown and gothicky old house in the Florida badlands are not disappointed. If you enjoy the odd sinister Sheriff, townsfolk who don’t hold grudges for much more than eighty years, and mentally disturbed teenagers in the body of a forty year-old man, you will not come away empty handed. But The Innocent Wife is much more subtle. As we follow the tortuous marriage of Sam and Dennis, we are reminded of the shocking consequences of ill-advised relationships forged on the flimsy anvil of whichever social media platform is currently in vogue. A chilling wind of truth blows through the narrative as we realise that the inch-thick perspex that separates prisoners from their visitors is a compelling metaphor for the separation which exists between people who only communicate via Facebook or Instagram.

One of the most obvious paradoxes about reading psychological crime thrillers is that we come to expect the unexpected. It becomes less a matter of a surprise twist being a possibility, but more trying to work out who or what is going to provide the statutory jolt, and when it will occur. In The Innocent Wife it is a given that Sam will come to regret falling for Dennis Danson. Or will she? The final pages are exquisitely subtle and – even if this sounds like one of the more bizarre utterances of George W Bush – Amy Lloyd doesn’t give us quite the surprise that we were expecting.

The Innocent Wife is out now in Kindle and hardback. The paperback edition will be available in summer.

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