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COMPETITION … Win An Oxford Scandal

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OUR LATEST PRIZE DRAW COMPETITION is to win a copy of the latest in Norman Russell’s popular Inspector Antrobus mysteries, set in late Victorian Oxford.

Anthony Jardine is a successful and popular tutor at St. Gabriel’s College, and he finds his loyalties divided between his work, his wife Dora and his mistress Rachel. Unbeknown to Anthony, Dora is an advanced cocaine addict and he comes to resent her outrageous activities more and more, absorbing himself with the discovery of the remains of St Thomas a Becket in a hidden vault at the college. One rainy night Dora is found murdered in a tramcar out at Cowley and Jardine, who had been visiting Rachel in that area, becomes a suspect. The case is investigated by Inspector James Antrobus and his friend Sophia Jex-Blake, the pioneer woman doctor. A complex investigation follows and after Jardine’s mistress is murdered, the clues take Antrobus to London, when the mystery starts to unravel and the killer is revealed in a grand climax.

If you are a fan of the Golden Age style of mystery, and classic detective stories with an academic angle, then this is not one not to miss. And, even better, you could be getting your copy for free! There are two ways to enter: First, go to the Fully Booked Facebook page, and simply ‘like’ the competition post. Clicking on the image below will get you straight there.

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If you prefer email, then send an email to the address below, putting the word Oxford as the subject. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT, on Sunday August 20th.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

 

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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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ON MY SHELF … August 2017

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Brian MastersThe grisly exploits of the Muswell Hill murderer Denis Nilsen still defy belief over thirty years later. As you read the story you can rub your eyes and hope that you have woken up from a particularly sordid and violent dream, but you haven’t: everything on the page in front of you is the grim reality. We covered the case briefly in our True Crime section, but Brian Masters (left) has written the definitive account of one of London’s worst serial killings.

This is a brand new edition of the book, which first came out in 1985. Masters subsequently wrote The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer and She Must Have Known: The Trial of Rosemary West. Killing For Company is published by Arrow Books, and will be available on 24th August.

 

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Gus-Rose2From the ghastly to the ghostly – or at least, a world where fantasy and literary trickery take us away from the mundanity of murder. The Readymade Thief is the debut novel from the Chicago based teacher and screenwriter Augustus Rose, (right) and has just been published by William Heinemann. It is set in Philadelphia, and we follow the progress of a teenage delinquent girl, Lee Cuddy, as she casts herself adrift in a city full of shadows and shocks. Escaping a juvenile detention centre, Lee finds herself in The Crystal Castle, a sinister place where reality blurs with the imagination, and her world begins to develop echoes of the disturbing images created by the chess-playing surrealist painter Marcel Duchamp. (below)

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Samantha KingSamantha King (left) also serves up a nightmare, but unlike the shifting and illusory Philadelphia of Augustus Rose and Lee Cuddy, hers is very real and down-to-earth, but equally chilling. Madeleine and Dom have twins, Aidan and Annabel. Make that past tense. Had twins. For now Annabel is gone. Just a memory of red-gold curls in a photograph. “Choose one, bitch,” the killer said, and Madeleine chose. This terrifying psychological thriller is a startling debut from an author who is a former editor and is also a qualified psychotherapist. You can find out more on her Twitter account. The Choice is published by Piatkus, which is an imprint of Little, Brown Publishing.

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Mark PepperMark Pepper is an actor, and in his wryly self- deprecating potted biography he wonders why he never received the Oscar he deserved for his pivotal role in TitanicBest Floating Corpse in a Motion Picture. He was the one Leonardo pushes away from him in disgust. Pepper (right) has also appeared in many fine British TV shows, including Coronation Street, Heartbeat, Prime Suspect and Once Upon A Time In The North. His third novel Veteran Avenue was self published in 2015, but will be reissued by Urbane Publications in September. It tells the tale of John Frears who was the victim of a bizarre kidnapping when he was on holiday in America with his parents. Frears survives, returns to England, and goes on to serve in the army and fight in the Gulf War. Thirty five years after his abduction he returns to America to attend the funeral of a fellow veteran, who has been murdered. After paying his respects, Frears embarks on a sightseeing expedition, but things take a strange turn as the traumatic events of 1978 burst through into the present.

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AOSFrom the badlands of Oregon to the cloistered calm of Oxford, in the late nineteenth century. The opening lines set the tone:

“A bird of ill-omen, a rook or a raven, flapped its way through the bright November sky on its journey from Magdalen Deer Park to its lair in Christchurch Meadows.”

This is the Oxford of scholars, eccentric academics, ivy clinging to honey coloured Cotswold stone, lights twinkling through the darkness – the line of festal light in Christ Church hall – and, of course, murder. The unique atmosphere of Oxford, so memorably used as a backdrop to the investigations of Inspector Morse, is the setting for the third novel in Norman Russell’s Oxford series. The central character is not an opera-loving, crossword solving connoisseur of decent beer, but Inspector James Antrobus. A successful and popular tutor at St Gabriel’s College, Anthony Jardine, becomes the focus of a murder case when his wife, Dora, is found dead in a tram out in the suburb of Cowley. When Jardine’s mistress is also killed, Antrobus and his friend Dr. Sophia Jex-Blake are led to London in pursuit of the killer. An Oxford Scandal is published by Matador, and is out now.

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THE WALLS … Between the covers

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Lone mother. Single parent. Solo carer. Whatever the politically correct term currently favoured by The Taking-Offence Police, Kristy Tucker is it. Not only is she bringing up her teenage son Ryan, she is caring for her debilitated father. ‘Pops’ is paying the price for a lifetime of heavy smoking, and two things keep him alive. One is physical – the cannula connecting him to his oxygen tank – and the other is psychological – the faint hope that he can still be a father to his daughter and someone his grandson can look up to.

The WallsKristy puts food on the table and tries to make sure that Ryan isn’t disadvantaged. She has a job, and it is one that demands every ounce of her compassion and every droplet of her sang froid. Her official title? Public Information Officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. If that sounds like some bureaucratic walk-in-the-park, think again. Acting as mediator between inmates, the press and the prison system is one thing, but remember that The Lone Star State is one of the thirty one American states which retains the death penalty. Consequently, Kristy not only has to manage the fraught liaison between prisoners on death row and the media, but she is also required to be an official witness at executions.

Despite the stresses and strains of her professional and family life, Kristy is still young enough to hanker after a personal life, and when Ryan introduces his martial arts teacher, Lance Dobson, she is taken aback by his kindness and his humility. It doesn’t hurt that he is ruggedly handsome and totally charming. Dobson becomes more and more a part of the Tucker household and, despite Dobson’s “aw, shucks..” modesty, Kristy finds herself falling in love with him. She is dazzled by the man, and cannot believe her luck when her affection is returned, with interest, and he asks her to marry him.

Back at the prison, Kristy Tucker has become involved with a condemned prisoner, Clifton Harris. He has been sentenced to death for starting a fire which killed his two children. There have been frequent appeals and stays of execution, but Harris’s last ride on the gurney of death is imminent. Kristy becomes convinced that Harris is innocent, but her profession inhibits her from offering anything but sympathy and a kindly voice.

All too soon, Kristy becomes Mrs Dobson, and both Ryan and Pops think all their Christmases have come at once. For Ryan, Lance Dobson becomes the father he never had, and Pops takes on a new lease of life, knowing that at long last there is an alpha male in the house to take on the duty of care which his illness has prevented him from fulfilling. Gold at the end of the rainbow? Not quite. Within a matter of weeks a fatal chasm begins to open up between Dobson’s public persona and the man he has become when alone with Kristy. He is insanely jealous, sexually demanding, domineering – and brutal with his fists. Despite Ryan and Pops still worshipping the ground that Lance Dobson walks on, Kristy has finally had enough. Using her unique insight into the mistakes made both by criminals and police, she plans a route which will take her out of her misery.

hollieovertonIt will come as no surprise to learn that Hollie Overton (right) is an experienced writer for TV. In The Walls every set-piece, every scene is intensely visual and immediate. With consummate cleverness she sets up two story lines which at first run parallel, but then converge. Two men. One is definitely guilty. One possibly innocent. Both are condemned to death. One by the State of Texas. The other by his battered wife.

The Walls is a sheer joy to read. The pace of the narrative is breathtaking, the characters are beautifully drawn and utterly convincing. Of course Hollie Overton takes sides, and she expects us to do the same, but we can still hold our breath and chew our nails until the final pages. This is domestic drama at its very best. The Walls is out on 10th August in the UK, published by Century, and is available here.

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COMPETITION … Win The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère

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Emmanuel Carrère’s record of his correspondence with murderer Jean Claude Romand is a stunning tale of writerly obsession, charting a disturbing journey into the psyche of a killer. It questions the nature of human identity, delusion – and evil.

Sounds spellbinding, doesn’t it? So, how do you get hold of a crisp copy of this brand new paperback, worth £8.99? Simple – and we’ve even given you two ways to enter. Firstly, just email us at the following address:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

In the subject box, put ‘The Adversary’ – if you are successful, you will be asked to provide a postal address so the book can be sent to you.

Secondly, for Facebook fans, go to our FB page, find the post referring to this competition, and simply click ‘like’. Your name will go into the digital hat along with those who have entered by email.

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CLOSING DATE FOR ALL ENTRIES – 10.00pm GMT Friday 11th August 2017

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THE WORD IS MURDER … Between the covers

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Diana Cowper crosses the Fulham Road, and walks into a funeral parlour. We are told that she is:

“… a short, very business-like woman: there was a sense of determination in her eyes, her sharply cut hair, the very way she walked. She was in her sixties, with a pleasant, round face. There were plenty of women like her in the streets of Fulham and South Kensington. She might have been on her way to lunch or to an art gallery.”

TWIM058Many people in their sixties – particularly those who are comfortably off – plan ahead for their own funerals. Daytime television programmes are interspersed with advertisements featuring either be-cardiganed senior citizens smugly telling us that they have taken insurance with Coffins ‘R’ Us, or rueful widows plaintively wishing that they had been better prepared for the demise of poor Jack, Barry or Derek. However, it would be unusual to hear that the be-cardiganed senior citizen had died only hours after planning and paying for their own send-off from the world of the living.

But that is precisely what happens to Diana Cowper. She is found murdered in her smart Chelsea terraced house. It is at this point that we are introduced to the two main characters in the story. One is Daniel Hawthorne, a former police detective sacked for unprofessional conduct, but with such an uncanny ability to solve murders that he is retained as a consultant by his former employers. The other is also involved in murder, but of a fictitious kind. He is a successful author and screenwriter with a string of hit TV shows and book bestsellers to his credit. His name? None other than Anthony Horowitz.

Plot-wise, the semi-fictional Horowitz is approached by Hawthorne, who wants him to write a crime story detailing his skill as a solver of murder mysteries. Where better to start than with the mysterious death of Diana Cowper? The back-story to her murder includes her complicity in the death of a young boy in a road accident ten years earlier, her son – now one of the best known young actors between the West End and Hollywood – the shattered family of the dead boy, and the judge who let Diana Cowper walk away a free woman from her trial for causing the boy’s death.

AHDuring the story, Horowitz (right) drops plenty of names but, to be fair, the real AH has plenty of names to drop. His CV as a writer is, to say the least, impressive. But just when you might be thinking that he is banging his own drum or blowing his own trumpet – select your favourite musical metaphor – he plays a tremendous practical joke on himself. He is summoned to Soho for a vital pre-production meeting with Steven and Peter (that will be Mr Spielberg and Mr Jackson to you and me), but his star gazing is rudely interrupted by none other than the totally unembarrassable person of Daniel Hawthorne, who barges his way into the meeting to collect Horowitz so that the pair can attend the funeral of Diana Cowper.
To write a novel with yourself as one of the main characters takes a certain amount of chutzpah and a great deal of narrative skill. Does Horowitz get away with it? Yes, yes, yes – and yes again. This is a gloriously complex whodunnit and a sly dig at the bizarre intensity of the worlds of both film-making and publishing. It is one of those books where the pages are turned all too quickly. The best books draw you into their world, make you part of it, make you care about what happens to the characters and force a sigh of regret when you reach the end papers. The Word Is Murder is one such book. It is full of intrigue, enjoyment, dark humour and superb characterisation.

I genuinely hope that this is not the last of Daniel Hawthorn. Horowitz has created an intriguing anti-hero who is, at times, almost autistic, but also capable of a chameleon-like transformation into an empathetic and sensitive listener. Hawthorne can switch between figuratively holding someone’s hand but then, in the blink of an eye, stabbing them with a bodkin. We learn just enough about Hawthorne to answer a few basic questions, but Horwowitz leaves us so much more to discover. Let us hope that he delivers. The Word Is Murder will be published by Century on 24th August, and is available for pre-order here.

I AM MISSING … Between the covers.

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David Raker finds people. Mostly these people are lost in physical form: sometimes he finds them alive but sometimes dead, and in the seven Raker novels which preceded I Am Missing, author Tim Weaver has composed variations on this theme. Now, however, Raker’s latest client is very visible and tangible, if a little careworn. Richard Kite has a big problem. He has no idea who he is or who he was. Found lying on the shingle shore near Southampton Water, bruised, battered and barely conscious, he was briefly the hot property of the tabloid press, starring as a nine day wonder before the media and their public grew bored of the tale and moved on to fresh sensations.

IAM coverRaker agrees to take on the case on a more-or-less pro bono basis. Whatever and whoever Richard Kite once was, he has not brought wealth of any kind with him into his new life. Raker’s initial trip south to meet Kite is less than fruitful. Kite only recalls two shadowy images from his past; one is that he is looking out across a lonely beach to a grey expanse of water; is it the sea, perhaps, or a river? The other image is just as enigmatic; Kite sees a television screen, and on it is a graphic of a broadcasting pylon emitting what seems to be a children’s programme.

Raker is a different kind of investigator. His background is not security, law enforcement or military. His previous career was in journalism, and this means that his cases are rarely settled by force of arms or fisticuffs. Instead, he has a sharp eye for inconsistencies in statements and accounts from the people he deals with, and he can usually spot a lie or an evasion at a hundred paces. When he discovers that Kite has been receiving therapy from a distinguished psychotherapist, he makes an appointment to see her and, within just a few minutes of the interview starting, he senses that she is not telling him everything she knows.

Tim Weaver_webMeanwhile, Weaver (right) gives us what seems to be a parallel but unconnected narrative. Two girls, sister and step sister, apparently living in a remote moorland community, perhaps in the north of England, have taken to sneaking out of their house after dark, and climbing up the hill onto the moors, where they have constructed an imaginary and malevolent presence out there in the wind and rain-swept darkness. Malevolent it certainly seems to be, but is it just a figment of the girls’ lurid imaginings?

At this point, with Raker’s investigation about as productive as trying to extract blood from a stone, I will call a halt to the plot synopsis. This is because Weaver has made a beautifully designed surprise for us. It was a shift that I never saw coming, and it is one which makes the final third of the book totally compelling. Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that we get the almost de rigeur exploration of a part of underground London that has been hidden, neglected and forgotten but, having given us this, Weaver makes certain we are all safely seated expecting one thing, before using his smoke and mirrors to reveal something else altogether.

You can check buying choices by clicking the link below.

I AM MISSING

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THE NUTTING GIRL … Between the covers

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To say that Frank Raven has an unusual back-story is akin to saying that Muhammad Ali was a bit handy with his fists. Raven was once Brother Frank, until the monastery threw him out for thinking too much, and putting his thoughts down on paper. He was once Officer Raven, a policeman who lasted just one day in the job before gunshots took him not just close to Death’s Door, but across the deadly threshold. Miraculously, he recovered, only to find himself with no job, but a meagre police pension. And while we’re on the subject of miracles, we had better say that Frank Raven was once totally blind, but his sight – wherever it had been – returned. At least it returned in one eye, which is maybe just half a miracle.

Now, he lives a relatively quiet middle-aged life in the picturesque Massachusetts town of Shelburne Falls, alone except for his memories and a dog called Marlowe . Occasionally, just occasionally, he finds people who – by chance, design or accident – are reported as missing. His travails begin when he is hired by Nick Mooney, a wunderkind Hollywood producer, to watch over the mercurial star of Mooney’s latest film, which is to be shot in the streams, woods and folksy ambience of Shelburne Falls. The star in question is Juliana Velvet Norcross, aka ‘Velcro’, a gamine and winsome girl with hair of flame and the looks to make male – and female – jaws drop anywhere in the world where there is a movie screen.

indexRaven’s job seems like money for nothing until the fateful day when, after a spell of heavy rain, the normally placid stream running through Shelburne Falls is turned into a deadly torrent. ‘Velcro’ ends up in the water, and disappears. Did she fall? Was she pushed? Or is there another more disturbing and puzzling solution? Frank Raven, with the help of Sarah, the eighteen year-old daughter of Clara (Raven’s love interest), unlocks the door to a labyrinth of deception, false identities, dark motives and venal behaviour which they work their way through more in the spirit of hope than the expectation of ever finding the door marked ‘Exit’.

The book’s title drew me to it like a magnet even before I had read a single page. One of the quirky qualities of Frank Raven, is that he is a member of a local Morris Dance side. In Massachusetts? Well, yes, really. Raven dons the bells and ribbons, and dances away with the best of them. In these dark days in the real world, one of the most heinous modern sins is ‘Cultural Appropriation’. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to wear a Sombrero at a Mexican Food Night or, even worse, a white person having their hair in braids. Still, the Shelburne Falls Morris men have ‘culturally appropriated’ the English folk dance, and have become an essential part of the town’s folksy charm. They always end their performances by singing the old song, The Nutting Girl:

“It’s of this fair young damsel, she was nutting in the wood,
His voice was so melodious, it charmed her as she stood:
In that lonely wood, she could no longer stay,
And what few nuts she had, poor girl, she threw them all away.”

This fairly clumsy rural metaphor for lost innocence becomes more potent with every page we turn, as we realise that The Nutting Girl is none other than Juliana Velvet Norcross.

FredFinding a new path through the undergrowth of PI novels, overgrown as it is with violent, cynical, wisecracking and tough, amoral men (and women) must be a difficult task, but Fred De Vecca (right) makes his way with a minimum of fuss and bother. Frank Raven rarely raises his voice, let alone his fists, but his intelligence and empathy with decent people shines through like a beacon in a storm. It would be a forgivable mistake to place this novel in the pile marked ‘Cosy small-town domestic drama’, but it is a mistake, nonetheless. Of the people Raven is tasked with looking for, he finds some and loses some – because he is human, fallible and as susceptible to professional bullshitters as the next guy. What he does find, most importantly, is a kind of personal salvation, and a renewal of his belief in people, and their capacity to change.

The Nutting Girl is now available in Kindle and paperback.

THE MUSIC OF CRIME FICTION

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V: ADAGIO

alotfJohn Lawton is a master of historical fiction set in and around World War II. His central character is Fred Troy, a policeman of Russian descent. His emigré father is what used to be called a ‘Press Baron’. Fred’s brother Rod will go on to become a Labour Party MP in the 1960s, but is interned during the war. His sisters are bit players, but memorable for their sexual voracity. Neither man nor woman is safe from their advances.

Fred becomes one of London’s top coppers, but to categorise the novels as police procedurals is accurate only in as far as that there are policemen in the books, and they occasionally have procedures. All this being said, Troy is in the background during much of A Lily of the Field, where we follow the life of teenager Méret Voytek, a brilliant young Viennese cellist.

As a twelve-year-old, she begins lessons in cello and piano from an eminent musician, Viktor Rosen. He realises instantly that she is prodigiously talented, and he gives her a gift:

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After the Anschluss, through her own naivete and a tragic act of fate, she is caught holding a bundle of anti-Nazi leaflets while traveling on the tram. She is taken by the SS and ends up in Auschwitz. Meanwhile, her parents have been likewise detained, and their family home ransacked. Méret’s skill as a musician has already been noted but, ever naive, she questions her friend Magda about why she has been singled out.

Quote2In the bitterest of paradoxes, the Auschwitz commandant, has a musical ear, and so he puts together an orchestra made up of the many skilled inmates. One of their bizarre duties is to play beautiful music as their less talented companions trudge off to work in the morning. Méret plays for her life, literally. The physical privations she undergoes are heart-breaking, but still she plays, still she clings on to what is left of her humanity.

In January 1945, with the Russians approaching from the east, and the British and Americans from the west, the Germans realise that the game is up. Auschwitz inmates who are too infirm to walk are shot, and the remainder are sent out, under guard, to start the infamous Death March. In the freezing conditions few survive, but just as Meret is about to succumb, their column is overtaken by a Russian detachment. Salvation? Hardly. The first instinct of the Russian soldiers is to rape the women. Méret is saved by a no-nonsense officer. At this point, Fred Troy aficionados will recognise Major Larissa Tosca, Fred’s one-time lover. She has, in her time, spied for both America and for Russia, but here her cap bears the Red Star.

Long-time Lawton readers will know that he leaps about between the years with a sometimes bewildering agility. True to form, the climax of this book is played out in post war London and Paris. Méret’s rescue by the Russians has come at a price, and we find her tangled up in the spy ‘games’ which characterised much of the Cold War period. Lawton is much too clever a writer just to tell this one tale, however gripping it may be. Woven into the fabric is another thread which involves an interned Hungarian physicist, Dr. Karel Szabo, who ends up as a key figure in the American efforts to build and test the first atomic bomb.

One of the key figures from the spy ring of which Méret is a part is murdered in London, and it is then that Fred Troy becomes involved. For all his many qualities, Troy is an inveterate womaniser, but he is not a sexual beast, and the late scenes where he spends time with the fragile Méret, still beautiful but old before her time, are haunting in their compassion.

‘Troy had never heard her laugh. It was like that moment in Ninotchka when Garbo laughs on-screen for the first time. It is not merely that she laughs, but that she laughs so long and so loud.
As the laughter subsided she was grasping at words and not managing to get a sentence out.
“Oh, Troy ….oh, Troy..this is….this is a farce. Don’t you see? Viktor taught us the same part.”

“We’re two left-handed women trying to dance backward. Neither of us knows the man’s part.”
She reached up her sleeve for a handkerchief to dab her tears and found none. Troy gave her his, a huge square of Irish linen with an overfancy  ‘f’ in one corner.
Being drunk did not make her loquacious. In that, she was like Troy. At two in the morning Voytek was deeply asleep in front of the fire. Troy picked her up, astonished at how little she weighed, carried her upstairs and slid her into the spare bed. She did not wake. He went to his own bed.

A Lily of the Field is far from being a dry history novel where the factual details are more important than the plot and the dialogue. It is tense, funny, occasionally very violent, and written with a style and fluency which leaves lesser authors struggling in Lawton’s wake.  Above all, of course, it is about music. Méret’s brilliance as a musician is both her curse and her salvation.

A final little gem, which I only noticed recently. If you look closely at the book’s cover, you can see Méret Voytek, in her red coat, moving away from us. With her cello slung over her shoulder, she walks into history.

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Follow the links below to read the previous four parts in the series.

IV: SCHERZO

III: RONDO

II: MARCHE FUNEBRE

I: PRELUDE & FUGUE

UNLEASHED … Between the covers

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Matt Hunter was once a man of God. Now he is a man of gods. The beliefs that led him to ordination and the ministry of the church have, like Prospero’s insubstantial pageant,

“ .. melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

“Not a rack behind…”? Not strictly true. His former faith has left a bequest in the form of an encyclopaedic knowledge of religious symbols, liturgies both sacred and profane, and profound knowledge of different theologies across the world. The former Reverend Hunter is now Professor Hunter, and he lectures in the Sociology of Religion. He also acts as unpaid advisor to the police in cases where there seems to be a supernatural element.

UnleashedIf the South London suburb of Menham could be described as unremarkable, then we might call the down-at-heel terraced houses of Barley Street positively nondescript. Except, that is, for number 29. For a while, the home of Mary Wasson and her daughters became as notorious as 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville. But the British tabloid press being what it is, there are always new horrors, fresh outrages and riper scandals, and so the focus moved on. The facts, however, were this. After a spell of unexplained poltergeist phenomena turned the house (almost literally) upside down, the body of nine year-old Holly Wasson was found – by her older sister Rachel – hanging from a beam in her bedroom.

Now, years later, Menham hits the headlines again. At an otherwise uneventful open evening for future parents of a local primary school, events take a tragic and horrific turn. A much loved music teacher is found dead in her own store cupboard, the life ripped out of her, apparently by her own pet dog. The dog, crazed and covered in blood, is battered to death by panic-stricken dads who, expecting a recorder ensemble, are instead treated to a scene more suited to the hellish imagination of Hieronymus Bosch.

The local police are totally unable to make any sense of the carnage in the classroom and are puzzled by several pieces of evidence which seem to indicate a supernatural – or at least Satanic – element to the death of Steph Ellis. Investigating officer DS Larry Forbes enlists the help of Matt Hunter, who soon discovers a sinister collection of potential ‘persons of interest’, including a pair of self-styled demonologists and a troubled – and troubling – evangelical sect. For good measure we have a dark history of child abuse carried out in old air-raid shelters far beneath the local park, and a terrifying witch’s familiar straight from the pages of a seventeenth century grimoire.

LawsLaws (right) takes a leaf out of the book of the master of atmospheric and haunted landscapes, M R James. The drab suburban topography of Menham comes alive with all manner of dark interventions; we jump as a wayward tree branch scrapes like a dead hand across a gazebo roof; we recoil in fear as a white muslin curtain forms itself into something unspeakable; dead things scuttle and scrabble about in dark corners while, in our peripheral vision, shapes form themselves into dreadful spectres. When we turn our heads, however, there is nothing there but our own imagination.

Unleashed is terrific entertainment. Laws lays on the shocks thick and fast, but never loses sight of the fact that he is writing a well-plotted crime story. We certainly have victims but, in the end, we also have flesh and blood criminals. Unleashed is out now, and you can read a review of the first Matt Hunter novel, Purged, by clicking the blue link.

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