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COMPETITION … Win STRANGE TIDE by Christopher Fowler

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I COUNT MYSELF GENUINELY LUCKY to be sent novels by publishers and authors who are looking for coverage of their books. Any reviewer will tell you the same thing. Inevitably, it is impractical to keep all the books once they have been read and reviewed. I pass on books to like-minded friends, or take a batch to the charity shops in town. But some contemporary books I guard with my life, and they will leave my house over my dead body.

7061d-chrisfowlerThe Urban Dictionary tells me that a “keeper” is is a colloquial phrase derived from “for keeps,” which means worth keeping forever. I have an eclectic list of CriFi keepers which include such diverse talents as Walter Mosley, Phil Rickman, Harry Bingham, Eva Dolan and Jim Kelly. But top of my list is the wonderful Bryant and May series by Christopher Fowler (left). So, rest assured, I would not be putting this lovely new paperback up as a prize if I did not already have my hardback copy in pride of place on my bookshelf.

ST back033STRANGE TIDE is set, as you may expect, in London, but it’s a London few of us will ever see. It’s a world of forgotten alleyways, strange histories, abandoned amusement arcades, inexplicable legends and murder – always murder. Strange Tide was my book of the year for 2016, and you can read my review of it by following this link.

If you would like to win the paperback version of Strange Tide, then answer a simple question. Fans of the series will know the christian names of the two aged detectives. So, if you think their names are Reg Bryant and Michael May, then send me an email with Reg, Michael in the subject box. The email address is below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Wednesday 31st May 2017.
• One entry per competitor.• Entries accepted from Europe, America, Asia and Australasia (basically anywhere!)
• The winner will be drawn out of the (digital) hat.

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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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“and OVER HERE!” … Wartime executions of American servicemen at Shepton Mallet

AND OVER HERE

“OVER-PAID, OVER-FED, OVER-SEXED, and OVER HERE!” The phrase is attributed to the comedian and entertainer Tommy Trinder, but for many British people his barbed catchphrase rang all too true. American servicemen had left a country unaffected by German bombing, rationing and austerity, and brought with them an abundance of delights in the way of cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate and nylon stockings. For some women, young and not so young, the brash appeal of these loud and confident young men was irresistible. But things did not always turn out for the best for either the hosts or the visitors. The American men sometimes strayed from the straight and narrow path, and in the most severe cases, justice was swift and terrible. In all, eighteen American servicemen were executed within the forbidding grey walls of Shepton Mallet Prison in Somerset. Two met their death by firing squad, but sixteen were hanged. This is the story of some of them.

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NOOSE1THE MOST HORRIFIC  of the crimes occurred not on the British mainland, but in the sleepy countryside of County Tyrone, one of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, in September 1944. The victim, Patricia Wylie was just seven years old. There is something about a child killing that curdles the blood of even the most hardened observer of criminal misdeeds. Private William Harrison was known to the Wylie family, who lived in a cottage near the remote village of Killclopy, and when he called at the house on 25th September, he found Patricia there on her own. She said she had to go into the village to do some shopping for her mother, and Harrison went with her. Patricia never reached the village, however, and after an extensive search her bloodied body – sexually assaulted – was found in a field, casually covered up with hay.

Harrison was quickly arrested and at his subsequent court martial in Cookstown his defence was that of diminished responsibility due to being drunk, and having had a traumatic childhood in Ohio. It was stated that when he was born, his mother was a mere 14 years old, and that he had his first sexual experience at the age of 15, partly due to being drunk. Prior to his arrest he had been court martialled no fewer than 5 times for being drunk or absent without leave. The submission by his lawyer that he had insufficient moral awareness to realise that the assault on Patricia  (which he admitted) was wrong fell on deaf ears, and he was sentenced to death on Saturday 18th November 1944.

He was removed to Shepton Mallet, and was hanged on 7th April 1945, by Thomas Pierrepont and Herbert Morris.

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NOOSE1Death is no respecter of persons, but the most high profile victim of American violence during WW2 in Britain was certainly Sir Eric Teichman. He was a distinguished career diplomat, and had written books about his experiences in the far flung corners of what remained of the British Empire. He was no dour and over-cautious emissary, however, and was described as “a flamboyantly enigmatic explorer-cum-special agent.”

Sir-Eric-Teichman-2-780x1024On 3rd December 1944, whilst at home at Honingham Hall, his estate in Norfolk,  Teichman (left) heard the sound of gunfire nearby. He went out to confront two poachers (Private George E. Smith of Pittsburgh and Private Leonard S. Wijpacha of Detroit) who were trespassing in the grounds of his estate. Both intruders were American soldiers based at a nearby USAAF airfield and each was armed with an M1 carbine. Sir Eric was killed during the confrontation, receiving a fatal gunshot wound to the head.

Private Smith (army serial number: 33288266) was subsequently court-martialled at RAF Attlebridge, convicted of murder and executed by hanging  at Shepton Mallet on 8th May 1945 (i.e. VE day), despite appeals for clemency, including one from Lady Ellen Teichman. His companion, Private Wijpacha was charged with being an accessory to murder, but was not sentenced to death. The hangman on this occasion was, again, Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris.

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Doris StaplesNOOSE1Perhaps the most dramatic of the  murders occurred on a peaceful  street in the well-to-do Oxfordshire town of Henley on Thames. Doris Staples was 35 years old, and had been ‘courting’ an American soldier who was currently on active service in North Africa. It seems, however, that Private John H. Waters, a 38-year-old soldier from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and the old adage “while the cat’s away..” on his mind. Doris worked in a dress shop at 11A Greys Road. The building is still there, but is now a solicitors’ office. On the afternoon of 14th July 1943, locals were disturbed to hear gunshots coming from the premises. The police tried to force an entry to the shop, but it wasn’t until a tear gas grenade was lobbed in through the window, and the local fire brigade called to direct powerful jets of water into the building, that the authorities felt safe enough to enter. Once inside, they found a very dead Doris Staples, and a seriously wounded John Waters. It seems that Waters was driven to madness by his unrequited passion for Doris Staples, and after mortally wounding her, he turned the gun on himself.

Either by accident or design, Waters survived, but his appointment to meet his maker was only postponed, not cancelled. At a court martial in Watford he was found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was removed to Shepton Mallet and on 10th February 1944 he was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint and his assistant Alex Riley.

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NOOSE1Along with other great forested areas in ancient England such as Sherwood, Arden, Epping, and Charnwood, Savernake Forest in Wiltshire owed its development to the love the English royalty and aristocracy had for hunting. In late September 1943, however, the historic woodland was the scene of a different kind of hunting – and the prey was human. It needs to be remembered, not in any sense of expiation for these terrible crimes, but by way of establishing what life was like in wartime Britain, that hundreds of thousands of husbands, boyfriends and other eligible young men were all away at the war, leaving women very much on their own. Someone once unkindly likened the situation to a careless farmer leaving the chicken run unlatched with a hungry fox in the vicinity.

Lee A. Davis was another young G.I. who could not resist the temptation of the hen coop door swinging open. near Marlborough Wilts., as On the night of 28th September, two young women walked back from the cinema near Marlborough Wiltshire. Davis asked the girls what they were doing and one, Muriel Fawden, said she was returning to the hospital where she worked as a nurse. They tried to get away from Davis who shouted after them “Stand still, or I’ll shoot”. He instructed the terrified girls to go into some bushes beside the footpath. Muriel’s companion  June Lay decided to make a run for it and Davis shot her dead.

Lee A Davis2He now forced Muriel into some bushes and raped her but surprisingly did not kill her. When she recovered from her ordeal she was able to give a full statement to the police and as a result all the rifles of the American soldiers stationed nearby were examined. Davis’ was found to have been fired and forensic tests matched it to the shell cases found near June’s body. Davis admitted he had been at the scene of the crime but said he had only meant to fire over the heads of the girls. He was court-martialled at Marlborough on the 6th of October for the murder and the rape, both crimes carrying the death penalty under US Military law. He was hanged on the 14th of December, 1943 by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Alex Riley.

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The full list of military executions of American servicemen at Shepton Mallet is as follows:

Pte. David Cobb, a 22 year old G.I. was the first to be hanged. He had shot and killed another soldier and was executed on 12th March, 1943.

Pte. Harold Smith a a 20 year old from LaGrange, Georgia shot and killed Pte. Harry Jenkins  He made a full statement admitting his guilt and was duly hanged on the 25th of June, 1943 by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint.

20 year old Lee A. Davis (see main article) was executed for rape and murder in 1943.

John Waters from Perth Amboy in New Jersey was, at 39, rather older than the rest of these soldiers. He was hanged on the 10th of February 1944 by Tom Pierrepoint, assisted by Alex Riley. (see main article)

J.C. Leatherberry, a 22 year old from Hazelhurst, Mississippi, was executed for the murder of Colchester taxi driver Henry Hailstone on the evening of 5th of December 1943.  Leatherberry was sent to Shepton Mallet to be hanged by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint on the 16th of March 1944.

25 year old Pte. Wiley Harris Jr. from Greenville, Georgia, was another soldier who was stationed in Belfast in Northern Ireland. After a fight broke out in a bar, Harris stabbed a local pimp called Coogan 17 times. The court martial were not prepared to accept self defence in view of the number of stab wounds and so Harris was convicted. He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Alex Riley, on the 26th of May 1944.

20 year old Alex F. Miranda from Santa Ana, California, became the first American serviceman to suffer death by musketry as the US Army called shooting by firing squad, at Shepton Mallet. He was executed on Tuesday the 30th of May 1944 for the murder of his sergeant, Sgt. Thomas Evison at Broomhill Camp in Devon.

25 year old Eliga Brinson from Tallahassee Florida and 22 year old Willie Smith from Birmingham Alabama, were hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint on the 11th of August 1944 for the rape of 16 year old Dorothy Holmes after a dance at Bishop’s Cleeve in Gloucestershire.

Madison Thomas, a 23 year old from Arnaudville, Louisiana, was another soldier convicted of rape. His victim was Beatrice Reynolds.  He was court martialled at Plymouth on the 21st of August and hanged by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint on the 12th of October 1944.

35 year old Benjamin Pyegate from Dillon, South Carolina, was the second and last US soldier to face a firing squad at Shepton Mallet. The crime – stabbing a fellow soldier –  took place at Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire on the 15th of July 1944.

24 year old Ernest Lee Clark from Clifton Forge, Virginia and Augustine M. Guerra aged 20 from Cibolo, Texas were jointly convicted of the rape and murder of 15 year old Elizabeth Green at Ashford Kent on 22nd of August 1944. They were hanged side by side on the 8th of January 1945, by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint.

Robert L. Pearson, a 21 year old from Mayflower, Arkansas and 24 year old Parson (also given as Cubia) Jones from Thompson, Georgia, were convicted by court martial of the rape of Joyce Brown at Chard in Somerset on the 3rd of December 1944. They were tried at Chard on the 16th of December 1944 and hanged side by side on the 17th of March 1945 by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris.

22 year old William Harrison Jr. from Ironton, Ohio sexually assaulted and strangled seven year old Patricia Wylie in Killycolpy Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. (see main article)

George E. Smith Jr. aged 28 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, (see main article) was hanged on 8th May, 1945  by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris.

Aniceto Martinez, a 23 year old Mexican American soldier from Vallecitos New Mexico was the last person to be hanged for rape – that of an elderly woman –  in the UK,  when he went to the gallows on the 15th of June 1945. Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert, carried out the execution.

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There is a macabre postscript to this story. Initially, the bodies of the executed soldiers were interred in the huge cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey. Later, though, the remains were transferred to Plot E, Oise-Aisne American cemetery near Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne, Picardy, France.

Plot E is approximately 100 metres away from the main cemetery and is a separate, hidden section which currently contains the remains of 94 American military prisoners, all of whom were executed by hanging or firing squad under military authority for crimes committed during or shortly after World War II. Their victims were 26 fellow American soldiers (all murdered) and 71 British, French, German, Italian, Polish and Algerian civilians (both male and female) who were raped or murdered. No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road.

THE KILLING CONNECTION… Between the covers

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Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilchrist struggles to keep his balance – and his dignity – as he slips and scrabbles over the slimy rocks that separate the ruins of St Andrews castle from the North Sea. The object of his attention is the corpse of a woman. The sea – and things that scuttle and nibble in its depths – have destroyed her face, but she is eventually identified. After what is left of her has been probed, sliced and weighed on the pathologist’s table, the verdict is that she has been strangled.

TKC CoverThe woman is eventually identified as Alice Hickson, a journalist, and the woman who provided the ID, a literary editor called Manikandan Lal, is flying home from holiday to give further background to her friend’s disappearance and death. ‘Kandi’ Lal fails to make her appointment with Gilchrist, however, and soon the police team realise that they may be hunting for a second victim of whoever killed Alice Hickson. Gilchrist’s partner, DS Jessie Janes has problems of own, which are become nagging distractions from her professional duties. As if it were not bad enough to learn that her junkie mother has been murdered by a family member, Jessie is faced with the heartbreaking task of explaining to her son that an operation to correct his deafness has been cancelled permanently.

Battling the Arctic conditions which have descended upon Fife like a deathly blanket, Gilchrist and Janes identify the killer, but are outsmarted at every turn by a man who they discover is not only responsible for the deaths of Hickson and Lal, but is linked to a series of murders where women have been dazzled by promises of love, but then skillfully separated from their money before being brutally killed.

One of the stars of the novel is Fife and its neighbouring districts. John Rebus has occasionally battled criminals there and, in the real world, Val McDermid is Kirkcaldy born and bred, but no-one can have described the sheer barbarity of its winter climate with quite such glee as Muir. We are a few weeks away from midwinter, but we have horizontal rain, bitter east winds, windscreen wipers failing to cope with blizzards, and ice-shrivelled bracken crackling underfoot.

“It was half-past nine already and the temperature had plunged. Ahead, in the cold mist, Alloa stood like a fortified mound. Beyond, the Ochil Hills seemed to overlap in darkening greys and rounded peaks capped in white.”

Frank-MuirDetective Inspector characters have become a staple in British crime fiction, mainly because their position gives them a complete overview of what is usually a murder case, while also allowing them to “get their hands dirty” and provide us readers with action and excitement. So, the concept has become a genre within a genre, and there must be enough fictional DCIs and DIs to fill a conference hall. This said, the stories still need to be written well, and Frank Muir (right) has real pedigree. This latest book will disappoint neither Andy Gilchrist’s growing army of fans nor someone for whom reading The Killing Connection is by way of an introduction.

Andy Gilchrist is, in some ways, familiar. He struggles to preserve what is left of his family life with the blood-sucking demands of his job. Home is a place he sleeps, alone and usually exhausted. He has a reputation as a man who battles the police heirarchy rather than seeking to join it. The account of his latest case is a thoroughly good police procedural, an expertly plotted ‘page-turner’, and a welcome addition to the shelves carrying other excellent Scottish crime novels. The Killing Connection is published by Constable, and is available here.

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COMPETITION … Win a collection of Jack Reacher short stories

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CHILD019Jack Reacher. Deadly. Calculating. Fearless. Invincible. Lee Child has probably created the nearest possible thing to James Bond, but has tailored his hero to a modern world and its expectations. Not for Jack Reacher is the lurid appeal of a Monaco casino, or the precision of a beautifully shaken (but not stirred) vodka Martini. Fast cars are not his thing, and his sexual needs seem, for the most part, to be sublimated beneath a rugged desire to mind his own business. As for tailored dinner jackets and Jermyn Street shirts, Jack normally replaces his wardrobe every hundred miles or so for a handful of dollars in a main street store. His only concession to style is a pair of beautifully made English leather brogues – which come in very handy when kicking the bejasus out of bad guys.


If you would like a lovely crisp hardback collection
of Jack Reacher short stories, then try this: simply type the words No Middle Name into the subject box of your email, and send it to:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Your entry will be put unto the proverbial hat, and a winner will be drawn from the entries.

Due to postage costs, participation limited to people living in the UK or the Irish Republic.
Competition closes at 10.00pm GMT, Monday 22nd May.
One entry per household only.

 

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Neary, Muir and Child

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Annemarie Neary_Annemarie Neary (left) is an Irish-born novelist and short story writer. She studied literature at Trinity College Dublin before qualifying as a lawyer and moving to London. Her two previous full length novels are A Parachute In The Lime Tree (2012) and Siren (2016). The Orphans tells the tale of two children, Jess and Ro, brother and sister, whose parents mysteriously disappear while the family are staying on the island of Goa. Years later, the two children have gone in different directions. Jess has become a successful lawyer, and is married with NEARY020children of her own. Her brother Ro (short for his nickname Sparrow) has spent his adult life searching for his missing mother, and this obsession has taken him all over Europe, including their old home town in Ireland. The last thing Jess needs is for Ro to reappear in her life, armed with a renewed conviction that their mother is still alive out there somewhere. But this is precisely what he does, and it triggers a dramatic and dangerous downturn in their lives – and the lives and well being of those around them. The Orphans is published by Hutchinson, and will be out in July.

 

 

Scottish police procedurals are many and varied these days, and they tend to be fiercely local affairs. John Rebus patrols Edinburgh and Fife, as do James Oswald’s Tony McLean and Quintin Jardine’s Bob Skinner. The Granite City of Aberdeen is home to Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae, Frank-Muirwhile Alex Gray’s Bill Lorimer has the Glasgow beat. Not to be outdone, TF Muir (left) has put the university town of St Andrews firmly on the crime fiction map with his series featuring DCI Andy Gilchrist. The Killing Connection is the seventh of these, and Gilchrist is investigating the death of an unknown woman washed up on the rocks near the castle ruins. When another woman comes forward with information about the death, Gilchrist breathes a sigh of relief. His sense of well-being is short lived, however. His would be informant disappears, and then she, too, turns up dead. The Killing Connection is published by Constable and will be available early in June.

Fans of the invincible former military policeman will want to get their mitts on this new piece of Reacherabilia, which is the complete collection of short stories featuring the big guy. The stories range in length and location, but two in particular stood out for me. High Heat is set in a steamy New York City on the night Wednesday July 13th, 1977. Why so precise? That night in the real world, a lightning induced power outage affected over 9 CHILD019million New Yorkers, and was the backdrop – or maybe blackdrop – to over 26 hours of looting. Returning to the story, we have an extremely young Jack Reacher, just a few weeks short of his seventeenth birthday, out on the town. In addition to helping a suspended FBI agent take out a top mafioso, the young man also manages to point the authorities in the direction of David Berkowitz, the infamous Son of Sam killer.

In Maybe They Have A Tradition our man, now much older, dates a KLM air stewardess and blags a free flight to Amsterdam, but instead gets diverted to England because of snow. It is Christmas Eve, and in the closest Reacher will ever come to a Golden Age mystery, he invites himself to an isolated country mansion, helps deliver a baby, and solves an apparent jewel heist.

The full provenance of the twelve stories is as follows. Everyone Talks appeared in Esquire magazine in 2012, Maybe They Have A Tradition was published in Country Life in 2016. No Room At The Motel appeared in Stylist in 2014, while The Picture Of The Lonely Diner was part of a 2016 collection called Manhattan Mayhem. Second Son (2011), High Heat (2013), Deep Down (2012, Small Wars (2015) and Not A Drill (2014) were all exclusive eBooks. Too Much Time is published here for the first time. No Middle Name is published by Bantam on 18th May. Full details available here.

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CHOKE … Between the covers

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LisaLisa Towles is over-cautious. Said no-one, ever. In this beguiling and occasionally confusing novel she has assembled the ingredients thus: a small cup of altered reality, two large helpings of global conspiracy, three spoonfuls of domestic noir, just a drizzle of romance, two apparently unconnected plot lines, some roughly chopped historical legend and, most importantly, a generous dash of finely ground medical thriller.

We find ourselves darting between two apparently disconnected stories. In the dark morphine silence of a San Francisco hospital ward, Certified Nursing Assistant Kerry Stine has a blistering migraine. One of the ward’s residents, Rosemary Castiglia, has terminal lung cancer and is only hours away from that fine and private place – the grave. But where is her medical chart? And, even more pressing, where is she?

So begins a nightmare for Kerry Stine. She flees the hospital, pursued by the administrators who believe that she is responsible for Rosemary’s disappearance. Her apartment is no refuge, as she emerges from the shower to find a stranger who, carrying bags of groceries, has let himself in and demands to know what she is doing in his apartment.

On the other side of the country a bio-scientist, Adrian Calhoun, has squared the circle, turned base metal into gold, captured a unicorn and solved Hilbert’s 16th problem in algebra. In short, he has found a cure for cancer. To be precise, he has found a cure for lung cancer. A treatment that will shrink tumours even faster than they have grown. It seems that not only has the God of Lost Causes been smiling on Calhoun’s research, but he has also received the nod from the God of Irony. Who else could have determined that the treatment consists of intensive cigarette smoking? Of course, these cigarettes are not stuffed with fine Virginia tobacco, but with a secret blend of herbs and medicaments that not only attack the invasive cancer cells, but leave the smoker with a heightened sense of well-being.

ChokeMultinational pharmaceutical companies and the giants of the tobacco industry have not achieved their wealth and success through philanthropy, however, and when they learn about Calhoun’s discovery there is only one solution that will prevent them from taking a huge commercial hit, and that is to eliminate Calhoun and destroy all evidence of his research. While he and his colleague Grace Matson are pursued by hitmen, Kerry Stine’s nightmare becomes ever more vivid and violent. She is kidnapped and drugged. In her more lucid moments, myriad questions spin and whirl around her brain. Who is the woman chained next to her in the darkness of her prison cell? What happened in her childhood that was so traumatic that it shut down all subsequent recall?

The two story lines burn away like separate fires in the narrative, but it is only in the final few pages that Towles provides the accelerant that makes them burst into one fierce blaze. She leaves it late, but such is her confidence as a writer that she knows it will work. She opens the curtains to reveal a dystopian world which reminded me very much of the dreamscape of David Lynch’s masterpiece, Twin Peaks, where someone walks into a scene, says something which is obviously deeply significant but too enigmatic to be immediately obvious to us. Menacing characters appear, disappear and then reappear. Towles never allows us to settle. She has written her chapters short so that we are constantly put on our guard, forced to re-evaluate, and constantly question what we think we know about the characters in the story.

Choke is many a mile away from being your standard crime novel and it is almost impossible to tag it as being safely in any particular genre. If your crime fiction taste buds are dulled with the repetition of ‘same old, same old,’ then get hold of a copy of Choke. It will make you think. Buying choices can be found here.

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THRILL KILL … Between the covers

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Thrill KillThrill Kill is a brisk, no-nonsense police procedural thriller set amidst the hurley burley of Carnival season in New Orleans. Homicide cop Quentin ‘Q’ Archer sets out to bring to justice a serial killer whose calling card is a can of aerosol coolant – tradename ‘Chill’ – beside the bodies of his victims. Archer burns the midnight oil to solve the crime, but it is not the only thing on his mind. He is not a native of The Big Easy, but a displaced person from Detroit, where his police career became violently complex when his wife was mown down by a car, and Archer was forced to turn against his own family in a personal war against police corruption, drugs and racketeering.


Don Bruns
gives us a vivid and totally unsentimental account of the brand known as NOLA – New Orleans, Louisiana. We see a Mardi Gras which is joyous, celebratory, but also perverse and venal in the extreme. Central to the story is Archer’s relationship with a young woman Solange Cordray. Cordray is described in the publicist’s gush as a “voodoo queen”, which does neither her nor the book justice. Cordray certainly makes a living out of selling charms, herbal remedies and artifacts associated with the supernatural, but she also has a gift which can prove unwelcome and a burden to her – she has second sight.

Archer is, initially, completely sceptical about what Solange Cordray senses and feels, but he is conflicted by his growing physical attraction to her. Meanwhile, the killings continue, and it slowly dawns on Archer that they are not the work of a single murderer, but the result of a looming turf war between rival gangs. As ever, drugs are the main commodity, and their transit from South America to the streets of New Orleans is as clear as day, but the police simply do not have the resources to tackle the flow.

Even more worrying is the trade in human beings. The tragic irony is that much of America’s prosperity, particularly in the Deep South, was historically based on such a trade, but the new merchandise does not consist of strapping men brought in to pick cotton, but young – sometimes terribly young – women who are swept up from poverty in places like Mexico and Ecuador with the promise that they will soon be earning enough money to send home to their struggling families. In reality, the jobs consist of – at best – stripping but, more usually, outright prostitution. The money they earn is taken from them, and not one nickel, not one dime goes anywhere but into the pockets of the pimps.

DBDon Bruns himself (right) is an interesting character. As well as the first book in the Quentin Archer series Casting Bones, he has written two other series, Caribbean and Stuff. He describes himself as “a musician, song writer, advertising guru, painter, cook, stand-up comic and novelist who has no idea what he wants to be when he grows up.” His music is mainstream country, but with a little twist of this and that to spice things up. You can hear samples of his music here and I was amused to see the wonderfully titled Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth I’m Kissin’ You Goodbye as part of his repertoire. I always thought it was a spoof title, rather like If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too? and You Were Only A Splinter As I Slid Down The Bannister Of Life, but I am clearly wrong!

With a help from the insights of Solange Cordray, and a good-hearted stripper, Archer sets up a sting to bring down the main characters in the turf war between the rival gangs, and in doing so rips away the drapes that have been concealing the fact that the whole dreadful enterprise of importing Colombian Marching Powder and young flesh is controlled by those who are right at the top of the political tree. Thrill Kill is published by Severn House and is available here.

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A DANGEROUS CROSSING … Between the covers

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ADC014It is the summer of 1939. In Germany, the bitter ashes which have been smouldering for two decades since the punitive reparations after Versailles have been fanned into flames, and the fire is set to spread across Europe. As Hitler prepares to march into Poland, in Britain the world carries on as normal, although few would know that this would be the last summer of peace for more than six years.

In the dock of the Essex port of Tilbury stands the ocean liner Orontes. The crowds on the quayside watch and wave as their loved ones board the ship, which is bound for Australia. One of the passengers is Lily Shepherd, a quiet but pretty young woman who has had enough of waitressing at a Lyons Corner House in London, and has signed up with a scheme which will take her to Australia to work as a domestic servant.

Rachel Rhys begins the book with the closing scene. The Orontes has docked in Sydney, but before the passengers disembark, we see police escorting a woman from the ship. It is obvious she has committed some grievous crime, but her identity is not revealed and so the book becomes less of a whodunnit? than whowilldoit? Rhys carefully follows the conventions of mystery stories which take place in the enclosed spaces of ships and long distance trains, and she has assembled an excellent cast of characters. Again sticking to the tried and trusted formula, Rhys describes how most of the characters are running away from something – or someone.

Edward Fletcher and his sister Helena are travelling to Australia for the good of Edward’s health. He is suffering from tuberculosis. Months in a sanatorium have saved his life, but only the Australian climate will guarantee that it will be a long one. George Price is an embittered young man who has been sent by his father to work on a relative’s farm in New Zealand. He makes no bones about the fact that he sees Hitler’s rise to power as the best thing which could have happened to Germany in particular, and Continental Europe in general.

The typically staid and reserved social dynamic between this little group, who all share Lily’s dining table, is shattered by the arrival of Max and Eliza Campbell, an American couple who escape the stifling atmosphere of their First Class lounge hoping to find a little fun slumming it in Tourist Class. On the very fringe of things, but growing ever more dependent on Lily’s friendship, is Maria Katz, a Jewish girl who has managed to escape impending disaster in her native Austria. Her parents, however, have not been so fortunate.

Lily is ‘adopted’ by the Campbells but the couple have very different motives. As well as being dazzled by the louche and extrovert Americans, Lily begins to fall in love with the shy and hesitant Edward. As she does so we learn, little by little, about the tragic consequences of her only previous love affair.

RRRachel Rhys (right) is nothing if not a skilled storyteller, but we should not be surprised as Dangerous Crossing is no debut novel. Under her real name, Tamar Cohen, she has written a string of best selling psychological thrillers. So, as the Orontes proceeds on its stately voyage to Australia, we share Lily Shepherd’s mixture of discomfort and amazement as she goes onshore to visit such exotic places as Pompeii, Cairo and Colombo. Rather after the fashion of a modern day Patricia Highsmith, Rhys has the main players gradually revealing their secrets to one another. The rack turns, one ratchet at a time, but so elegantly and cleverly are things concealed that the crime, when it does happen, is completely shocking and unexpected.

A Dangerous Crossing is published by Doubleday and is available here.

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THE WELL OF THE DEAD … Between the covers

 

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TWOTD CoverIn the icy Scottish dawn of 16th April 1746, the last battle to be fought on British soil was just hours away. The soldiers of the Hanoverian army of William Duke of Cumberland were shaking off their brandy-befuddled sleep, caused by extra rations to celebrate the Duke’s birthday. Just a mile or two distant, the massed ranks of the Scottish clans loyal to Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, were shivering in their plaid cloaks, wet and exhausted after an abortive night march to attack the enemy.

One small group of Highlanders, however, had something else on their minds. Chancing upon a broken down wagon belonging to Cumberland’s paymaster, they discover a literal treasure chest of gold put aside for soldiers’ wages. They make off with the gold, and in doing so miss the ensuing carnage on Culloden Moor. McGillivray intends to use the riches to restore the fortunes of the Jacobite cause, but events take a contrary turn.

Modern Scotland. The Spring of 2010. Burglars break into Cullairn Castle, the ancestral home of the McGillivray clan. The present owners, and descendants of the McGillivrays, are brutally murdered in the course of the break-in. DCI Neil Strachan has to make sense of the violent deaths of Duncan Forbes and his wife, but is puzzled by the mutilations on the bodies. There is a crude copy of a clan emblem cut into the dead flesh, as well as an attempt to carve something even more obscure – a symbol which appears to be a character from the dead Pictic language, Ogham.

While simultaneously trying to discover who is stalking his girlfriend and sending her threatening text messages, Strachan works on the Cuillairn mystery and comes to the conclusion that someone has an insider’s knowledge of the McGillivray legend, and will stop at nothing until the treasure, now worth millions, is unearthed.

cliveThe Well Of The Dead is a winning combination of several different elements. It’s a brisk and authentic police procedural, written by someone who clearly knows how a major enquiry works. For those who enjoy a costume drama with a dash of buried treasure, there is interest a-plenty. Military history buffs will admire the broad sweep of how Allan (right) describes the glorious failure that was the Jacobite rebellion, as well as being gripped by the detailed knowledge of the men who fought and died on that sleet-swept April day in 1746, bitter both in the grim weather conditions and what would prove to be a disastrous legacy for the Scottish Highlanders and their proud culture.

If all that were not enough, Allan gives us a whole raft of characters, both engaging – and downright menacing , with a few in between. DCI Strachan sharp-elbows his way into the crowded room containing the swelling ranks of fictional British Detective Inspectors, but he certainly makes his voice heard above the clatter of conversation. Fans of the standard whodunnit are well catered for, as Allan misdirects readers with the skill of a long established master.

This is a huge chunk of a book of almost intimidating length. I confess that I started reading dutifully, rather than enthusiastically. It only took a few pages, however, and I was hooked. Chapter after chapter went by as Allan’s excellent skills as a story-teller worked their magic. He also has a spectacularly wide vocabulary and he is not afraid to use it. “Epicenism”? “Mordacious”? I had to reach for the dictionary on more than one occasion, but such a love of the more remote corners of our wonderful language made me smile, and I have set myself the task of recycling some of his re-discovered etymological gems in a future review. In conclusion, this is a crackerjack novel from an author who was previously unknown to me. Clive Allan is a writer whose future books I shall be anxiously looking out for. The Well Of The Dead is available now. Online buying options are here.

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