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COMPETITION … Win UNLEASHED by Peter Laws

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OUR LATEST COMPETITION PRIZE is an absolute rip-snorter. It’s the second novel in the Matt Hunter series by Peter Laws. Those who read the first tale, Purged (read our review) will have some idea what to expect, but for new readers, Matt Hunter is a former clergyman who, having had a Road To Damascus (but in reverse) now lectures in the sociology of religion and faith at a university.

UnleashedIn Unleashed, his scepticism is shaken by events at an otherwise unremarkable terraced house in South London where, several years ago, a troubled nine-year-old girl committed suicide in the midst of a troubling sequence of poltergeist phenomena.

Now, little Holly Wasson appears to lie uneasy – her mother and sister are convinced she is trying to reach them from beyond the grave. Matt Hunter is recruited by local police to make sense of the disturbing events, but even he is unsure if he is dealing with straightforward murder or something much darker.

YOU HAVE TWO WAYS TO ENTER THE PRIZE DRAW

(1) Simply email fullybooked2016@yahoo.com putting the word Unleashed in the subject box.

(2) Go to our Facebook page (click the blue link) and ‘like’ the post.

All entrants will have their names put in the proverbial hat, and a winner selected. The winner will be notified by email or Facebook personal message.

Competition closes 10.00pm GMT, Tuesday 25th July, 2017

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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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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 naiive, 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 life.

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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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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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Coffeetown Press

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It’s unusual to devote a news update to one publisher, but since I received a lovely parcel all the way from America, it would be rude to do anything otherwise. Coffeetown Press has been publishing the finest fiction and nonfiction since 2005. They are based in Seattle, Washington. They publish memoirs, literary fiction, academic nonfiction, nonfiction, and literary mysteries. Coffeetown is an approved publisher with both International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

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Let The Dead Bury The Dead by David Carlson
Our All-American feature begins in the city of Detroit, once a powerhouse of car making – and amazing music – but now little more than a rotting skeleton. Crime-solving partnerships are two-a-penny, but the combination of a Detroit cop and a Greek Orthodox priest certainly explores virgin territory. This is the second of the Christopher Worthy/Father Fortis mystery series, and the pair combine their unique skillsets to track down the killer of a priest found brutally strangled before the altar of Detroit’s St. Cosmas Greek Orthodox Church
Out on 1st September

FredThe Nutting Girl by Fred de Vecca
New profiles for CriFi heroes are increasingly difficult to create, but how about a man who is a blind monk, a cop, a private detective, and a hard drinker? Allow me to introduce Frank Raven who, if you add ‘former’ to those descriptions, ticks all the boxes. We are a mere 700 miles from Detroit, in Shelburne Falls, a historic village in Franklin County, Massachusetts. The village (population 1,731) becomes a film set, and Raven takes a break from dancing and singing with the local Morris Dance group to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the film’s star, Juliana Velvet Norcross, aka VelCro.
Out now as a Kindle, but on 1st August in paperback.

rich_zahradnik-214x300Lights Out Summer by Rich Zahradnik
This is the fourth in a very popular series featuring New York cop Coleridge Taylor. In his latest adventure he is hunting – with the help of his PI girlfriend Samantha – none other than the notorious serial killer Son Of Sam. Set in the spring and steamy summer of 1977, this is not the first novel this year to include the catastrophic NYC power failure in July 1977. In No Middle Name, the collection of Jack Reacher short stories, The Big Man actually locks horns with David Berkowitz on the night when the lights went out.
Available on 1st October

Maggie2013Dadgummit by Maggie Toussaint 
Amateur sleuth Baxley Powell has a distinctive talent. She calls it ‘Dreamwalking’. This enables her to go to sleep, and to transcend, in her dreams, the constraints, secrets and conventions of mere mortals. In the fourth book of the Dreamwalker series, Powell tackles the mysterious death of a young man beside a north Georgia lake, but her efforts to find a solution in the spectral world are hindered at every turn by native Cherokee folk, who know a bit about folklore. Out now as a Kindle, but available on 1st August in paperback.

 

Contact Information:

Coffeetown Press
PO Box 70515
Seattle, WA 98127
info@coffeetownpress.com

THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE …Between the covers

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Shelby Truman is a highly successful romantic novelist tapping out stories involving her heroine Patricia Harlow. After forty two novels, the public shows no sign of losing its appetite for the sultry Patricia and her ability to choose precisely the wrong kind of man for her peace of mind and blood pressure. It’s a grey Chicago morning, and Truman is taking a deep breath and trying type something – anything – which will trigger the latest episode of inflamed passions and yearning bodies, when she receives a piece of registered mail which her assistant, Billy, has just signed for. She is used to convincing her readers that Patricia’s heart has ‘missed a beat’, but now fiction becomes reality.

“The return address at the top of the envelope indicates that the sender is Robert Crane Esq. of Limite, Texas. I know the name. Eddie’s attorney. A twinge of anxiety starts deep in my chest. I’d been trying not to think about Eddie, but that’s impossible this week.

The thing is, I’ve always thought about Eddie. We go way, way back, to when we were children living in Limite.”

Chicory LaneEddie is Eddie Newcott, the boy who used to live across the street in Chicory Lane, Limite. The boy who was just a bit different from all the other kids at school. The kid whose dad was a rough and abusive oilfield mechanic. The kid whose mom turned to the bottle to escape her violent husband and the beatings he handed out to their only child. But that was then. Now sees Eddie fallen on hard times. Times so hard that he achieved brief notoriety in the tabloid press, and has now been sentenced to death by lethal injection for murdering his pregnant girlfriend, slashing her open, dragging the foetus out and then arranging the two corpses on his front lawn, posed in an obscene mockery of a Nativity tableau. And it was Christmas Eve.

“EVIL EDDIE…” …”SATANIST IN GRUESOME RITUAL..” … ‘SUSPECT CLAIMS TO BE THE DEVIL …”

With these headlines dancing before her eyes, Truman reads that all efforts to appeal for clemency on the grounds of insanity have failed, and that Eddie Newcott will die in four days time. As one of his last requests, the condemned man has asked for a visit from Shelby Truman.

What follows is a wonderfully written and heartbreaking account of the bond between Eddie and Shelby. It is as good a coming-of-age novel as I have read for many a year, but Benson’s skill as a storyteller doesn’t stop there. He delivers the poignancy and unbearable sensitivity of first love and sexual awakening. His account of how children escape from the shackles slapped on by their parents is masterly. Sometimes these shackles are forged from too much love, while with other children, the shackles are tempered in the fires of cruelty and hatred. There is also a very clever murder mystery, which isn’t resolved until the last few pages, and then the resolution brings only heartbreak.

I am never entirely sure what a ‘literary novel’ is, but if it consists of elegant writing, a fine ear for dialogue and a gimlet eye for the painful inconsistencies of human behaviour, then The Secrets On Chicory Lane ticks that box too.

RaymondBensonLike Shelby Truman, Raymond Benson (right) is a highly successful writer. He has written thrillers under his own name, most notably his Black Stiletto Saga, and has also written novels based on video games. He has taken up the baton from authors who are no longer with us, like Tom Clancy, and has written several James Bond stories which have either been based on established screenplays – like Die Another Day – or standalone original stories such as The Man With The Red Tattoo.

The Secrets On Chicory Lane is published by Skyhorse Publishing, and is available for pre-order.

SOHO DEAD … Between the covers

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Kenny Gabriel is a street-smart, wise-cracking and self-mocking PI. Given another accent, he could be cruising the neon-lit strip malls of 1950s Los Angeles. But his accent, his gags, his mixture of despair and optimism, all have ‘London’ stamped through them like a pink and sickly stick of seaside rock. Gabriel, had he been on the official side of law and order, would have been retired by now, with an enviable pension, a fond reputation down at the local ‘nick’, and plenty of potential back-handers for his advice on corporate security.

But Mr G is all but penniless. His fifty seven years on this fair planet have produced only a tenuous tenancy on a shabby flat in Soho, and a badly paid job chasing down people who have reneged on a hire car contract, or swindled their partner out of the mortgage on their dispiriting semi-detached house in some grim London suburb.

Soho DeadSo, when Gabriel answers the door bell one day only to behold the wedge-shaped and granite faced personage of Farrelly – chauffeur, enforcer and general gofer for Frank Parr – he is led, like a naughty boy tweaked by his ear, to Parr’s sumptious office building. To say that Parr – now a respectable media mogul – has something of a history, is rather like saying that Vlad The Impaler was someone of interest to Amnesty International. Parr made his money – loads of it, and of the distinctly dirty variety – by publishing magazines which were not so much Top Shelf as stacked in the stratosphere miles above the earth’s surface.

Parr has a job for Gabriel. Harriet ‘Harry’ Parr – daughter of the boss and senior executive of Griffin Media – has disappeared, and her father wants her found. Gabriel has that unfortunate knack, common with fictional PIs, of finding dead bodies. Not only that, he uncovers a veritable rats’ nest of corruption, violent cynicism and corporate greed.

There’s a definite seam of Raymond Chandler running through Soho Dead. Saying that is neither inappropriate flattery nor damnation by faint praise. The plot has the onion skin quality of the great man’s best books, as layer after layer gets peeled back as we get drawn closer to the heart of things. Gabriel’s wisecracks are not as good as Philip Marlowe’s, but then neither are those of any fictional PI since those glorious days. When Gabriel blags his way into a sex club and is then brought face to face with its lady proprietor, it had me thinking of Marlowe’s legendary encounter with General Sternwood in The Big Sleep.

“The woman in the armchair had too much bone structure and not enough skin. Her short hair was grey, but she had young eyes. Time, and whatever had ravaged her face, had spared them, a pair of emeralds pushed into a parchment skull.”

Gabriel is terminally weary, but he forces himself forward as he runs the gauntlet of blows from men and women who are more powerful and less honorable than he is. In the end, he survives, but ever diminished by the deeds of those who share his stage. All that remains are memories and phantoms.

Greg Keen“For a while, I wandered the streets of Soho, as I had on the day I’d first visited forty years ago. Doorways whispered to me and ghosts looked down from high windows.”

This is a brilliant start to what I anticipate will be a highly regarded series. Soho Ghosts is due out in 2018, but in the meantime, trust me when I say that Greg Keen (right) drags the tarpaulin off one of the oldest established crime fiction genres, dusts it down, gives it a thorough service, polish and tune-up – and delivers something that not only gleams, but purrs with power and authenticity. Greg Keen’s website is here.

DEADLY DANCE … Between the covers

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Detective Inspector David Vogel, of Avon and Somerset Police, cuts a rather different dash from many of his fellow fictional DIs. He is a tall, bespectacled and slightly shambling figure, teetotal and resolutely vegetarian. His only leisure pursuit is assembling crossword puzzles. Formerly with the Metropolitan Police in London, he, wife Mary and daughter Rosamund had moved from their Pimlico flat out to the suburbs of Bristol to an unassuming bungalow which had an unusual attraction – its own swimming pool. Rosamund has cerebral palsy, and we are told:

“She was a happy and intelligent girl, trapped within a body that consistently failed her, except when she was in water………the water gave her freedom. In water, her body was no longer an encumbrance.”

Deadly DanceWhen the battered body of teenager Melanie Cooke is found amid the garbage bins in a seedy Bristol alleyway, it is obvious that she has been murdered. Only fourteen, she is dressed in the kind of clothes which would be considered provocative on a woman twice her age. Vogel goes to make the dreaded ‘death call’, but he only has to appear on the doorstep of the girl’s home for her mother and father to sense the worst. Like many rebellious teenagers before her, Melanie has told her parents that she is going round to a mate’s house to do some homework. When she failed to come home, their first ‘phone call confirmed Melanie’s lie, and thereafter, the long dark hours of the night are spent in increasing anxiety and then terror, as they realise that something awful has happened.

Hilary BonnerThe book actually starts with a prologue which at first glance appears to be nothing to do with Melanie’s death. It is only later – much later – that we learn its true significance. Bonner (right) is determined not to give us a straightforward narrative. The progress of Vogel’s attempts to find Melanie’s killer are sandwiched between accounts from three different men, each of whom is living a life where all is not as it seems.

Saul is socially inept and has reached early middle age without achieving his ambition to become a caring husband and father. His first attempt at marriage had been a disaster, and subsequent efforts to find a life partner have been impeded by his inner sense that his mind harbours demons over which he has little or no control should they choose to wake within him. He settles for internet dating, and heads up his CV as follows:

“My name is Saul and I am a 33 year-old supply teacher. I live in a village near Swindon and I would like to meet a young woman of around my age whose intentions are as serious as mine….. my interests are simple and quiet. I like to read and go to the cinema. If you are out there, please get in touch. I need you.”

Leo is a very different kind of fellow. He spends his leisure time cruising gay bars and clubs in London. He clearly has some kind of day job where ‘coming out’ is not an option. He cultivates the blokeish image when at work, but when he goes to London he adopts a different persona, but one with which he is not entirely at ease.

“I didn’t have the slightest desire to be gay. I didn’t even like the word. I’ve never liked euphemisms and that’s surely what ‘gay’ is. When you called yourself a homosexual it didn’t sound quite so modern and attractive. And what about queer? Is that what I was, queer?

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Leo’s misgivings are put to one side, however, when he goes on the prowl. Just as he puts on the skinny Levis, gels his hair, squeezes into a black T shirt that reveals his six-pack and insouciantly slings his studded leather jacket over his shoulder, Leo adopts a different mental mindset from his ‘one of the lads’ image.

While Bonner might coax a sliver of sympathy from us as we read of the personal lives of Saul and Leo, when Al introduces himself it is abundantly clear from the start that he is a wrong ‘un.

“They get what they deserve, these young girls in their skimpy skirts and the little shorts they call hot pants. They’re hot all right. Everything about them is hot. Burning hot.”

Al cruises around the streets of Bristol, usually in a stolen van, ogling schoolgirls, and occasionally trying to bring his sordid fantasies to reality, but without success. Until he discovers a teen dating site on the internet, and he is amazed at the ease with which he can construct a fake profile and attract the attention of a teenage girl whose hormones are racing in the opposite direction to the concerns and limitations her parents seek to impose.

Deadly Dance works very effectively as a police procedural. Vogel is an interesting character, very much left field of his fictional contemporaries, and I anticipate that he will have a long and successful career between the covers of British crime novels. Bonner’s solution to the apparent dislocation between Vogel’s investigation and the lives of Saul, Leo and Al is audacious. To reveal any more would be to give the game away, and no-one will thank me for that. Does it work? I think it does, but you must be the judge. Deadly Dance will be published by Severn House next month, August 2017.

 

 

 

 

THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS . . . Between the covers

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Two women. Two lives. Two worlds. Two pregnancies. Two sets of very different secrets.

Meghan Shaughnessy is a former journalist but now something of a super-mum via her blog about family life. Her husband Jack is an ambitious and confident sports presenter for a television company. They live, comfortably and pleasantly, with their two existing children, in an affluent district beside the River Thames, a district so full of delis, bookshops, fine restaurants and boutiques that the residents, rightfully smug about their little enclave, have added the word ‘Village’ to the perfectly acceptable name by which it has been known since being recorded in The Domesday Book.

Meghan’s third pregnancy is something of an accident but nonetheless welcomed. She has been advised by her obstetrician to have a Caesarian section this time, to avoid the painful tearing she has suffered at the the previous births, but she is anxious to explain this to her thousands of blog readers, as she doesn’t want them to think that she is Too Posh to Push.

Secrets coverAgatha Fyfle works for peanuts in a ‘Village’ supermarket but Mr Patel, her boss, is not the kind of man to be offering generous maternity leave. He is so tight that he once docked her pay for putting the wrong price on a tin of peaches. The father of her baby is far, far away on a Royal Navy ship patrolling the Indian Ocean, chasing Somali pirates. Despite her nothing job and the desperate ordinariness of her life, Agatha has her imagination and her dreams:

“Shrugging on my winter coat, I slip out of the rear door, skirting the rubbish bins and discarded cardboard boxes. Pulling my hood over my head, I imagine I look like Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. She was a whore abandoned by a French ship’s officer, and she spent her life staring out to sea, waiting for him to return. My sailor is coming home to me and I’m giving him a baby.”

Agatha lives in a shabby flat, and her life would be as grey as a December dawn were it not for one simple blessing:

“I love being pregnant, feeling my baby inside me, stretching, yawning, kicking. It’s like I’m never alone any more. I have someone to keep me company and listen to my stories.”

Agatha ‘knows’ Meghan in the sense that she comes into the shop to buy essentials, but they have never spoken. Agatha also knows that frumpy women stacking shelves are rarely – if ever – noticed by customers, but sometimes, of a morning, she watches wistfully through the window as Meghan takes her children Lucy and Lachlan to their highly regarded schools. Some days Meghan goes off to her yoga group, other days she meets other Yummy Mummies for skinny cappucinos, chai lattes and pots of herbal teas.

Robotham tells his tale through alternate chapters spoken by Agatha and Meghan. The two women are due to give birth at around the same time, and as their due dates come nearer, we learn more and more about their families, their childhoods, their hopes and fears. And their secrets. Ah yes, those secrets. Those mistakes, those misfortunes, those cruelties of Fate, even those occasional acts of mad jealousy collison between which turn lives on their heads, and inseminate the body with an embryonic demon who grows daily stronger and more malevolent until it is time to burst out and cause devastation to both the host and their nearest and dearest.

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Robotham orchestrates a collision between the lives of Agatha and Meghan. The two ships are slowly and inexorably heading towards each other and by the time they realise what is happening, there is no time to turn.

It would be an act of criminal irresponsibility to reveal any more about the plot. Suffice it to say that Robotham boxes very cleverly for several chapters, but then unleashes a series of crunching blows which put our preconceptions on the canvas. To say the plot twists would be an understatement – it spins, but always in a stable way, a little like a gyroscope, dizzyingly fast but always under control.

This is a brilliant example of Domestic Noir. The tension is ratcheted up a notch at a time, and sometimes it becomes almost unbearable. We know what is about to happen but, like Meghan and Agatha, we are powerless to alter the course of events. Readers of Robotham’s Joseph O’Loughlin novels will not be surprised at the psychological intensity in The Secrets She Keeps. Readers new to the author need to be prepared for an uncomfortable few hours.

We reviewed Close Your Eyes, a novel featuring Robotham’s forensic psychologist O’Loughlin, a little earlier and you can check buying choices for The Secrets She Keeps by clicking this link.

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THE MUSIC OF CRIME FICTION

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IV. SCHERZO

I like to think I have a wide taste in music, and can get something out of almost every genre and style. I do draw the line at ‘modern’ jazz, however. My view is – and I show my age by borrowing a phrase from the 1957 Wolfenden Report – that it should be permissible only between consenting adults, and very definitely in private. So, no Crime Fiction set around an alto sax player who plays thirty-five minute solos (sadly, he’s not fictional, but he is certainly committing a crime.)

51G3AhWKo0L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_I do love Operas, though – at least those written up to the death of Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (who would be just as wonderful even if he didn’t have six christian names.) I would add the personal caveat that for me it is sometimes better heard than seen, as stage productions can sometimes demand too much suspension of disbelief. Our chosen book, then, is Spur Of The Moment by David Linzee, and it is set around the St Louis Opera company as they prepare a performance of Bizet’s wonderful, preposterous, exhilarating four-act classic, Carmen.

The central character in the book is Renata Radleigh, an English mezzo-soprano who is employed by the St Louis Opera to sing the relatively minor role of Mercédès. Her brother, fellow ex-pat David, is also employed by the SLO, but his task is to tout far and wide for commercial sponsorship.

When a key company patron Helen Stromberg-Brand is found brutally murdered, the police suspect David Radleigh and arrest him. His motive? It seems that Helen – nicknamed Sturm und Drang – and her husband were on the verge of cancelling a huge donation. Could they have argued? Did David lose his temper with the headstrong woman?

But there could be another motive. Helen Stromberg-Brand was a national celebrity, at least in the field of pharmaceutical research. She and her team were on the threshold of patenting a revolutionary drug to combat urinary tract infection in women. In partnership with the charismatic billionaire Keith Bryson – who has the casual dress sense, long hair and boyish charm of Richard Branson – Helen’s unit at the Adams University Medical Centre were about to find even greater fame and riches. Now she lies in the police mortuary, her head shattered by a heavy glass bowl.

Renata is not the world’s most loving sister, but she refuses to accept that David could have killed Sturm und Drang, if only because he is far too wet and wimpy for murder. Together with a former reporter, Peter Lombardo, she thinks the lady’s demise was less to do with the SLO, and more to do with the cut-throat world of drug patenting.

DLDavid Linzee has himself been a ‘supernumary’ – basically the opera equivalent of a spear carrier – and he enjoys several digs at the way an opera company in a mid-sized city is run. I particularly enjoyed his jibes at the ubiquitous need for sponsorship. Linzee (right) explains that the SLO has to make sure that literally every brick in the building has corporate support. Thus we have the Peter J Calvocoressi Administration Building, the Charles Macnamara III Auditorium and – best of all – the Endeavour Rent-a-Car Endowed Artist. In this case it’s Amy Song, the woman playing Carmen.

By the time Renata and Peter think they have unraveled the mystery of who killed the formidable Mrs Stromberg-Brand, the unorthodox stage set of the Carmen production experiences a malfunction. A giant playing card land on the heroine’s head. An all-points-bulletin is issued for the only actress who can replace the stricken Ms Song – none other than our very own Renata Radleigh. Renata takes the stage in triumph, but before the distraught Don José can plunge his stage dagger into Carmen’s heart, a real killer pre-empts the drama at the bull-fighting arena.

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If anything, the plot of Spur Of The Moment is even more unlikely than the full blooded passion and drama taking place on stage between the doomed gypsy girl and her battling lovers, but what the tabloid press might call THE SHENANIGANS IN SEVILLE make a wonderful backdrop for this beautifully written and sharply funny murder mystery. A tad cosy, perhaps? Maybe, but when something is as well written as this, you won’t hear me complaining. A final word, if I may. Try to get to a production of Bizet’s masterpiece as soon as you can. Why the hurry? Well, it stands to reason, surely? Not only was Bizet not Spanish, his opera may well come to be classified as ‘cultural appropriation’ as well as making harmful stereotypes of people from Seville, women who make cigars, gypsies, policemen and bullfighters. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Spur Of The Moment is published by Coffeetown Press and is available here.

You can catch up with the previous parts of this series by clicking the links.

I. PRELUDE and FUGUE
II. MARCHE FUNEBRE
III. RONDO

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