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fullybooked2017

COMPETITION … Win ‘Home’ by Harlan Coben

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HERE AT FULLY BOOKED TOWERS  we have a lovely crisp new paperback edition of Home, the mesmerising thriller by suspense-meister Harlan Coben, and it is crying out for a new owner. We reviewed the hardback edition a while ago, and were knocked out by the incredibly clever plot which twists and turns this way and that.

SO, HOW DO YOU ENTER? Dead simple. Fans of Coben’s investigator Myron Bolitar will already know the answer, but if you are new to the series, read our review, which is on the end of this link. You will see that Bolitar is a former professional sportsman. Simply use that sport as the email subject, eg “Cricket” and email Fully Booked at the address below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

ALL CORRECT ANSWERS will be put into the digital hat, and the winner will be notified in due course. To keep postage costs down, the competition on this occasion is only open to readers from the UK and the Irish Republic. We have a Bank Holiday next weekend, and so the competition closes at 10.00pm UK time on Monday 1st May.

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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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SKELETON GOD … Between the covers

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It is hard to believe that in the not-so-distant past western crime authors were prone to portraying Chinese detectives as little more than grotesques, acting out every preconception of what such a person must look and sound like, and how they should behave. The excellent Robert van Gulik, with his Judge Dee novels (1950 – 1968), was one of the earliest writers to move crime fiction set in China out of the Fu Manchu mode, and into a more credible world. Eliot Pattison introduced us to his modern day Chinese policeman, Shan Tao Yun, in Mandarin Gate (2012).

Shan is a former Beijing Police Inspector who has managed the not-so-difficult task of upsetting the monolithic party machine which controls The Motherland. After exile to the Chinese equivalent of the gulags, he has been paroled to an isolated town in Tibet, where he is officially The Constable. His main tasks seem to be rescuing yaks stranded in the winter mud or chasing goats away from municipal buildings. Above all, he must and uphold the law in a community largely stripped of its traditional identity by decades of Chinese Imperialism.

Skeleton GodThe book actually begins with Shan rescuing one of the aforementioned yaks, but events take a more sinister turn. An ancient grave is uncovered, but the inhabitants are unlikely bedfellows. The original occupant is a long dead priest, mummified and gilded. But his companions are the remains of a Chinese soldier, and the very recent corpse of an American visitor. There is cultural confusion when a mobile ‘phone, presumably not the property of either the priest of the soldier, chimes out Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus across the chill mountain air and into the ears of alarmed Yangkar locals.

Shan discovers that the American is an ex-US Navy rating called Jake Bartram. Unlikely though it may seem, Bartram’s mother is Tibetan, and came from Yangkar itself, before marrying an American citizen and settling in Pennsylvania. Rather like the relationship between Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther and his Nazi bosses, Shan is regarded with a mixture of caution and tolerance by those who sit in power within the Communist Party of China and, ipso facto by every single one of its eighty million members.

Shan walks a never-ending tight-rope. If he falls to one side he risks the wrath of The Party, and he is ever aware of their power. Should he fall to the other side, he knows that he will betray the Tibetan people with whom he lives. A young Chinese Public Security officer who is, effectively, moonlighting, alerts Shan to the misdeeds of a prominent retired military hero, General Lau, and the resultant investigation taxes to the limit both Shan’s integrity and his instinctive desire to keep his head in physiological contact with the rest of his body.

Pattison’s evocation of the fragile remnants of Tibetan culture is masterly. The rich and mystical Buddhist past is now little more than the rags on a scarecrow, buffeted and shredded by the savage winds of conformity which have howled from the east since the 1950s. The monasteries have gone, and their timbers and stone recycled to build barns. Gone, too, are the monks, but the ancient Tibetan ghosts remain, at least in the minds and imaginations of those who still scratch out a living in the valleys and high passes.

Readers are left in little doubt as to where Pattison’s sympathies lie, between the hard put-upon Tibetans and their Chinese masters. The sheer enormity of the chain of command between Sinophile officials in the windswept uplands of Tibet and their Pattison-2masters far away to the east is described with wit and a certain degree of compassion. I am never completely convinced by the regular use of italicised foreign language nouns in novels, particularly when the original words would have used an entirely different alphabet, but this is a tiny complaint dwarfed by what is a brilliant and evocative police procedural, albeit one set in a world as far away from our European certainties as it is possible to recreate. Pattison (right) has written a novel which  reminds us that China’s eminence as a world power has not been achieved painlessly.

Skeleton God is published by Minotaur Books and is out now.

THE KILLER ON THE WALL … Between the covers

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There are towns and villages the world over which in themselves are insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but whose names are indelibly imprinted on the public consciousness for the evil deeds committed there. My Lai, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Dunblane, Hungerford: the names resonate, and cause us to shudder. In the latest novel from Emma Kavanagh, Briganton is such a place. It is a village otherwise little worthy of note, with nothing to detain either the traveller or the tourist save, perhaps, for its proximity to the remains of the winding wall built to protect the northern limits of Roman Britain from so-called Celtic barbarians.

TKOTWThe name Briganton, to most British people, conjures up a series of murders, where the victims were dragged up the steep hillside and posed, in death, gazing with sightless eyes out over the windswept moorland. But all that was long ago. The killer, Heath McGowan, was brought to justice by the determination of Eric Bell, a local policeman who has since been promoted and has achieved national celebrity due to his solving the case. His triumph had added poignancy because it was his teenage daughter, Isla, who discovered the first bodies while out for an early morning run.

Twenty years have past, and now Isla Bell is Professor of Criminal Psychology at the University of Northumberland. Her husband, Ramsey Aiken was one of the original victims of The Killer On The Wall, but he survived his injuries, and is now a freelance journalist, while her father, Superintendent Eric Bell has become something of a police legend.

Isla is working on a project to identify physical differences between the brains of serial killers and normal people, and her work takes her to the prison where Heath McGowan is serving several life sentences for his murderous activities in and around Briganton. As she persuades him to undergo an MRI scan, she tries to persuade him to talk about the killings, but he treats it as a game, and refuses to divulge any useful information.

Then, the unthinkable – even the impossible – happens. In quick succession, two more local women are murdered and take the places of the long-dead bodies propped up against the limestone blocks of Hadrian’s Wall. Clearly, McGowan is not the killer, but does he have an imitator? An accomplice, maybe, who was never caught decades earlier? A young Detective Constable, Mina Arian, has made her home in Briganton and she becomes obsessed with finding – or disproving – links between the original killings and the new murders.

Emma Kavanagh has a doctorate in psychology, and her understanding both of what we know – and what we don’t know – about the workings of the human mind give this novel a very distinct and disturbing potency. Her academic credentials aside, she is a very gifted writer. As far as the plot is concerned she gives us a trawl net full of red herrings to sift through, and her vivid characterisations, particularly of Mina Arian, Eric Bell and Isla Aiken, give the narrative an electric charge.

This is a guided missile of a book: it explodes into life, and then keeps burning, inexorably homing in on a target which you will only foresee by cheating and flipping through to the last few pages. When it comes, the detonation is as devastating as it is unforeseen. Only the very best writers have the daring and dexterity to deliver such a plot twist and make it as credible as it is shocking, and Emma Kavanagh must be a founder member of that exclusive club.

You can read our review of The Missing Hours, an earlier novel by Emma Kavanagh, and she also wrote a very perceptive feature on Trauma. The Killer On The Wall is out now.

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THE MOTHER OF ALL COMPETITIONS …

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TKOTWTHIS IS A COMPETITION TO TEST SERIOUS CRI-FI BUFFS To win a copy of Emma Kavanagh’s brilliant new psychological thriller The Killer On The Wall you will need to exercise the grey matter. It may well be a distinct advantage if you are old enough to remember the 1960s! To be in the draw, you will need to identify the title of a 2009 novel which dramatised the Hammersmith Murders, and featured several real life personalities who feature in the montage below. We will post the prize worldwide, so followers in Europe, the Far east USA or Australasia are welcome to compete.
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A: David “Screaming Lord’ Sutch, a minor pop star, who contested many elections as the leader of The Monster Raving Loony Party.
B: Michael Holliday, a popular crooner who suffered from terrible stage fright, and committed suicide in 1963.
C: Pauline Boty, an outrageously talented painter and designer, who died of cancer in 1966
D: Freddie Mills, a brave light-heavyweight boxer who made a career as a TV personality after he retired from the ring. He died, allegedly at his own hand, in 1965.
E: The cover of the mystery novel, minus any text.

To enter the draw, write the title ( three words) of the novel as the subject, and email Fully Booked at the address below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

The competition closes at 10.00 GMT on Sunday 23rd April.
Competition is open worldwide – we will post the prize anywhere!

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DIE LAST … Between the covers …

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Tony Parsons has passionately held political views, and he takes no prisoners in this searing account of how human life has become a mere commodity in the biggest criminal racket ever to infect British society. Worse than drugs, more damaging than financial fraud and with a casualty list that makes the Kray twins and the Richardson brothers look like philanthropists, the trafficking of people into Britain is a growth industry which attracts the investment of evil men and women, and pays guaranteed dividends – in blood money.

DLHis London copper, DC Max Wolfe, becomes involved when a refrigerated lorry is abandoned on a street in London’s Chinatown. The emergency services breathe a huge sigh of relief when they discover that the truck is not carrying a bomb, but their relaxed mood is short-lived when they break open the doors to discover that the vehicle contains the frozen bodies of twelve young women. The bundle of passports – mostly fake – found in the lorry’s cab poses an instant conundrum. There are thirteen passports, but only twelve girls. Who – and where – is the missing person?

One of the young women shows a flicker of life, and she is rushed off to hospital, but hypothermia has shut down her vital organs beyond resuscitation, and she dies with Max Wolfe at her bedside. He discovers her true identity and vows to bring to justice the people responsible for her death, the people who brought her from poverty in Serbia, the people who promised her that she would find work as a nurse.

The search for the slavers – and the missing girl – takes Wolfe and his colleague Edie Wren to the hell on earth that is the makeshift migrant camp near Dunkerque. They discover a brutal racket run by a group of anarchists posing as voluntary workers, but police attempts to infiltrate the network – whimsically called Imagine – end in tragedy.

Wolfe feels that he has blood on his hands, but this makes him all the more determined, and the deeper he digs, the more convinced he is that someone more powerful and with a much bigger bank balance than the hippies of Imagine is at the heart of the operation. From the mud, despair and violent opportunism of the Dunkerque camp Wolfe follows the trail to millionaire properties in central London and the influential men and women whose lifestyles reek of privilege and wealth.

tony_400x400Max Wolfe certainly gets around for a humble Detective Constable, but he is an engaging character and his home background of the Smithfield flat, young daughter, motherly Irish childminder and adorable pooch make a welcome change from the usual domestic arrangements of fictional London coppers with their neglected wives, alcohol dependency and general misanthropy. Parsons (right)  is clearly angry about many aspects of modern life in Britain, but he is too good to allow his writing to descend into mere polemic. Instead, he uses his passion to drive the narrative and lend credibility to the way his characters behave.

The plot twists cleverly this way and that, and Parsons lays one or two false trails to entice the reader, but in the end, a kind of justice is done. This is compelling stuff from one of our best crime writers, and his anger at the utter disgrace of modern slavery drives the narrative forward. Die Last is a novel that will hook you in and keep you turning the pages right to the end. Your natural disappointment at finishing a terrific book will be tempered by the excellent news that Max Wolfe returns in 2018 with Tell Him He’s Dead. You can grab a copy of Die Last from all good booksellers, or by following this Amazon link.

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PRUSSIAN BLUE …Between the covers

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Philip Kerr’s long suffering and world weary policeman Bernie Gunther returns in this superb novel which straddles WW2. With astonishing skill, Kerr keeps two stories on the go, the earlier being set in Bavaria in April 1939, with the blue touch-paper for war already lit and Europe simply waiting for the bang: the second story takes us to October 1956, with a large part of Germany suffering under another tyranny – that of the Russian puppet government of the so-called German Democratic Republic. The two stories appear to be spinning happily along in their own unconnected orbits, but Kerr brings them ever closer together until they meet in a dazzling finale.

Philip_KerrBernie Gunther fans will already be aware of the company he is forced to keep in the years before and during Hitler’s war. Previous books have found him working uneasily alongside such monsters as Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe, but it is his relationship with SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich that Kerr (left) has explored in the greatest depth. Now, Heydrich, ever mindful of his place in Hitler’s hierarchy, sends Gunther to Hitler’s Bavarian retreat in Berchtesgaden, ostensibly to investigate the murder of a minor functionary, but hopeful that Gunther’s investigations will embarrass Martin Bormann, personal secretary to the Führer, and Heydrich’s political rival.

The parallel 1956 story finds Gunther struggling to keep his false identity as a hotel concierge in the French Riviera. In The Other Side of Silence, the previous book in the series, Gunther became tangled in a net of espionage and treachery involving the writer Somerset Maugham, a former Nazi war criminal, and the British Secret Service. A British woman he befriended – and bedded – now proves to have been a ‘person of interest’ to the GDR, and in particular Erich Mielke, the boss of the East German Ministry for State Security, better known as the Stasi. Mielke travels to the Cote d’Azur, and makes Gunther an offer he can’t refuse. He must either go to England and kill Anne French, preferably with the GDR’s poison of choice, Thallium. The alternative? To be disposed of by the gang of Stasi thugs Mielke has brought with him from East Berlin.

PBThe human link between these two episodes in Gunther’s life is a fellow policeman called Friedrich Korsch. In his former life, Korsch helped Gunther discover who actually put the bullet from a Mannlicher hunting rifle through the head of a corrupt bureaucrat called Karl Flex on that brisk April day seventeen years earlier. Korsch is nothing if not a survivor. Unlike Gunther, who is forced to sail the post-war seas like a latter day Flying Dutchman, Korsch has taken the King’s Shilling – or at least Erich Mielke’s Deutschmark – and is under strict orders to make sure his former boss gets to England to kill the fugitive Anne French.

Gunther escapes his Stasi minders and goes on the run in rural France. By hook or by crook, his aim is to get himself into West Germany where he stands a better chance of being protected from the East German thugs who want him dead. As he travels north and east, the two stories begin, slowly but inexorably, to converge. They used to say that all roads lead to Rome. In this novel, all roads lead to abandoned mines dug deep into a hillside in the Saar region – the Schlossberghöhlen. Here, Gunther tracks down the Berchtesgaden killer, and is violently reunited with the former policeman who helped track him down.

Kerr’s genius lies in the fact that he allows Gunther to drink Schnapps and share a cigarette with some of the most notorious killers of the twentieth century. He allows Gunther to make silent moral judgments on those with whom he is forced to rub shoulders, but when it comes to making big decisions, Gunther always takes the path which allows his head to remain connected to the rest of his body. The dialogue, as always, bristles with wisecracks. Kerr lets his hero come to within a cigarette paper’s thickness of signing his own death warrant, but grants Gunther the wit and wisdom to talk – or fight – his way out of potentially fatal confrontations.

Follow this link to read a review of an earlier Bernie Gunther story, A Man Without Breath. Prussian Blue is published by Quercus, and is out now.

The Postman Delivers … The Well of The Dead

WELL headerThis is the second outing for Clive Allan’s Detective Inspector Neil Strachan and, as in the first book in the series, The Drumbeater, past and present collide. Glenruthven, a tiny community in the Scottish Highlands, is dominated by its distillery. When the owner, Hugh Fraser is murdered alongside his wife, the village is shattered at the thought of there being a killer in their midst.

WELL BACK017As Strachan and his police partner DS Holly Anderson set about finding the killer, they discover that the man they suspect of the double murder is obsessed with his own ancestry, and believes that he is related to a Jacobite soldier who, like so many of his fellow rebels, was slain on the bloody battlefield of Culloden on 16th April 1746.

cliveClive Allan (right) is a former police officer of thirty years’ service, and is also a keen aficionado of his country’s military history. This mixture of experience and passion combines to create a novel which will blend the lure of momentous events of the past with the gritty reality of modern policing.

The Well of The Dead is published by Troubadore/Matador and will be available on 28th April 2017.

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THE PLOUGHBOYS MURDER

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--90000--81799_product_1230582107_thumb_largeJuly 1953
. Queen Elizabeth was scarcely a month crowned, children were drinking National Health Service orange juice from their Coronation mugs, and Lindsay Hassett’s Australian cricketers, including the legends Richie Benaud, Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, were preparing for the Third Test at Old Trafford. John Reginald Halliday Christie was sitting in the condemned cell at Pentonville, awaiting the hangman’s noose for multiple murders.

The new Elizabethan age was certainly experienced differently, depending on which part of society you lived in. Most large towns – and all cities – still had pockets of Victorian terraces, tenements and courtyards which would have been familiar to Charles Dickens. Diphtheria, tuberculosis and polio were only in retreat because of the energetic vaccination programme of the relatively new NHS.

Teddy BoyA social trend which had the middle-aged and elderly tut-tutting was the rise of the Teddy Boy. So called because their outfits – long coats with velvet collars, tight ‘drainpipe’ trousers and crepe-soled shoes – vaguely harked back to the Edwardian era. In truth, they were more influenced by the fledgling Rock ‘n’ Roll culture which was scandalising America. Every generation has a sub-culture which, at its most harmless is just clothes and hairstyles, but at its worst is just a cover for male violence. Teddy Boys, Mods, Rockers, Chavs, Gangstas – each generation reinvents itself, but each is depressingly the same – a cloak for male testosterone-fuelled rivalry and aggression.

On the evening of Thursday June 2nd, 1953, the green sward of South London’s Clapham Common was teeming with people – young and old – out to catch the last rays of midsummer sun. There were Teddy Boys from different gangs showing and strutting about in front of their female admirers, but the lads who were sitting on a park bench away from the ‘parade ground’ were not ‘Teds’, nor were they affiliated to any particular gang. The young men sitting on the benches included seventeen year old John Beckley, an apprentice electrical engineer, Frederick Chandler, an eighteen year old bank clerk and Brian Carter.

One of the Teddy Boy gangs was known as The Plough Boys, from their patronage of a local pub, The Plough. Spotting the young men on the benches, and interpreting their different clothing and behaviour as an explicit challenge, members of The Plough Boys decided to provoke Beckley and his friends. A fist fight broke out but Beckley and his mates, realising that they were outnumbered, ran off..

Beckley and Chandler managed to get aboard a number 137 bus, but such was the determination of the Plough Boys to right imagined wrongs that they ran after the bus, and when it stopped for a traffic light, they boarded the bus and dragged Beckley and Chandler out onto the road.

Chandler, despite bleeding from stab wounds to the groin and stomach managed to scramble back on to the open platform of the bus as it was pulling away. John Beckley was not so lucky and became surrounded by the attacking Plough Boys and he was struck repeatedly. He eventually broke away and managed only to run about a hundred yards up the road towards Clapham Old Town.

All of a sudden he stopped and fell against a wall outside an apartment block called Oakeover Manor. He eventually sagged down the wall ending up sitting in a half-sitting position on the pavement, his life literally ebbing away from him.

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Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 09.50.10The remaining Plough Boys, realising that the situation had become more serious than a simple punch-up, ran off. One of the bus passengers, made a call from the Oakeover Manor flatsand another passenger improvised a  pillow for the victim with a folded coat.  Eventually, at 9.42 pm a policeman arrived and just one hour later, John Beckley was found to have six stab wounds about his body and one to his face. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

There was no shortage of suspects among the South London gangs. Police swiftly narrowed the field down to six suspects.  All were arrested and charged with John Beckley’s murder.   Two of the gang denied having been on Clapham Common; two admitted being there, but denied involvement.  but all under persistent questioning, later confessed to having taken some part in the attack, though all denied using a knife.

 

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Five youths were initially charged by the Police, with one more charged a few days later, and they were remanded to Bow Street.  After a three-day hearing, the case was sent to the Old Bailey for trial. The charged were a 15 year-old shop assistant Ronald Coleman, Terrance Power aged 17 and unemployed, Allan Albert Lawson aged 18 and a carpenter, a labourer Michael John Davies aged 20, Terrence David Woodman, 16, a street-trader and John Fredrick Allan, aged 21, also a labourer.

Michael-John-DaviesMichael John Davies, (right) the 20 year old labourer from Clapham, never denied being in the fight. “We all set about two of them on the pavement” he said “I didn’t have a knife, I only used my fists.”

humphreysOn Monday 14th September 1953, at the Old Bailey, Ronald Coleman and Michael John Davies pleaded not guilty to murdering John Beckley. The four others were formally found not guilty after Christmas Humphreys, (left)  the prosecutor for the Crown, said he was not satisfied there was any evidence against them on this indictment. However they were charged with common assault and kept in custody.

A Daily Mirror headline during the trial simply said Flick Knives, Dance Music and Edwardian Suits.

The trial of Coleman and Davies lasted until the following week when the jury, after considering for three hours forty minutes, said they were unable to agree a verdict.
Mr Humphreys, for the prosecution, said that they did not propose to put Coleman on trial again for murder and a new jury, on the direction of the judge, returned a formal verdict of not guilty. Coleman was charged with common assault along with the four others for which they all received six or nine months in jail.

Michael John Davies’ trial for the murder of John Beckley began on 19th October 1953. Counsel for both the defence, Mr David Weitzman, QC  and Mr Christmas Humphreys for the prosecution were the same as for the former trial and the same witnesses appeared.

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Having seen the attack from the top deck of the 137 bus, Mary Frayling told the Police that she had seen a particular youth whom she described as the principal attacker put what appeared to be a green handled knife into his right breast pocket.  He was wearing a gaudy tie which he removed, putting it in another pocket.  She later identified him as John Davies.

How reliable a witness was Mary Frayling? It was late in the evening and her view of the fight on the moving bus with its internal lights on must have been obscured by both the relatively small windows of the bus and the large trees along side the road. In fact Mary Frayling had initially picked out John Davies as the main perpetrator while he was standing in the dock of a local south London court and not in an organised identity parade.

Despite the absence of the knidfe that killed John Beckley, the jury took just two hours to return with a guilty verdict, and Davies was sentenced to death.

Although the actual murder weapon was never found there was a knife that was almost treated as such by Christmas Humphreys and the prosecution during the trial. It was a knife bought by Detective Constable Kenneth Drury in a jewellers near the Plough Inn for three shillings ostensibly as an example of what could have been used by Davies. Incidentally, Drury, (right) Druryone of the investigating officers in the Beckley murder case, would later become Commander of the Flying Squad in the 1970s and in 1977 was convicted on five counts of corruption and jailed for eight years.

Almost immediately after the guilty verdict there were suspicions to many that there had been a gross miscarriage of justice. Michael John Davies’ case went to appeal and eventually to the House of Lords both to no avail. However after many petitions to the Home Secretary he granted a reprieve for Davies after 92 days in the Condemned Cell. In October 1960 Michael John Davies was released from Wandsworth Prison after seven years, although not officially pardoned, he was now a free man.

The killing of John Beckley had a chilling resonance many years later with another notorious stabbing, the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Once again, there would be attack by a gang of young men. Once again, a knife would be the weapon, but would never be found. Once again it would be very much open to doubt as ti who struck the fatal blow. Although Stephen’s death was due to a racist attack, the killing of John Beckley was equally tribal – a young life taken because he was different.

 

THE REDEMPTION OF CHARM … Between the covers

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This is the final part of Frank Westworth’s startling Killing Sisters trilogy, in which JJ Stoner – a black ops ex-SAS type – pits his wits against the physical wiles and mental agility of three violent sisters, known as Charm, Chastity and Charity. Readers new to the series are warned not to expect a hero they are likely to fall in love with any time soon. Stoner lives – unencumbered by the burden of empathy – in an existentialist world of which he is the deep dark blue centre.

“He simply appeared to lack both curiosity – which was famously fatal to felines – and appeared also to be wondrously capable of detaching himself from everything unimportant to him.”

charm frontHe has killed at the bidding of his masters, who are shadowy government types, but now things have changed. Stoner has been stitched up, people close to him have been badly hurt, and he has retreated from the his former world. He is shattered, mentally and physically.

Exactly what is Stoner’s world? In physical terms, it consists of a love for Harley Davidson motorcycles, a serious coffee addiction, and a passion for blues guitar. He still owns the Blue Cube, a jazz and blues nightspot, keeps many of the tools of his trade in a former workshop tucked away in an anonymous industrial estate, and has among his acquaintances many strange and shadowy people, including the enigmatic pair Menace and Mallis, who orchestrate violence in the smoky limbo which exists between the authorities and others who seek only subversion. Then, of course, we have the sisters.

Charity has died. She was not killed in the line of dubious professional duty, but from a particularly virulent cancer, although her actual death was at the hands of her sister, by way of a mercy killing. The two remaining sisters are polar opposites in looks and demeanour. Chastity is a blonde hardbody with a ripped physique and a penchant for violent – and sometimes bloody – sex. Charm, while equally amoral, sexually voracious and manipulative as her surviving sister, has the outward appearance and manner of an attractive middle class suburban housewife.

The plot is jarringly simple. It is a variation on the trope whereby a retired special operative comes back from his rural retreat to do one final job. This is by no means a criticism because the book is a long highway of intense dialogue and character, with rest areas offering wild violence and inventive eroticism. The final job in this case is the hunting down of an almost mythical Irish killer called Blesses, who served her apprenticeship in The Troubles.

“She has a way with her eyes – I can’t tell you how it works – because I don’t understand it – but it was brilliant as a way of getting information from reluctant Provos. She didn’t need to screw them, thus revealing to us how crap was the UK’s honey-trap technique, but somehow made them want to talk to her about … well … everything. I mean that. Everything. Anything.”

We learn that it is her manipulation of people’s minds and bodies which has led to Stoner’s retirement, before which he was forced to watch a video showing his girlfriend being first raped and then – literally – gutted.

 I have to declare an interest here. In terms of motorcycles, I never advanced beyond an inoffensive Honda back in the 1970s, but I do love JJ Stoner’s passion for guitars, and his creator’s lovely name-dropping of snatches of 1960s pop lyrics. There’s even a series of chapter headings all taken from one of the great songs – She’s Not There. You aren’t that old? That’s no crime, but take a listen, while you ignore the awful miming. Click on the image to watch the video.

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The novel is both stylish and stylised. The dialogue is mannered and full of whip smart responses and put-downs. Despite the immediate plot being simple, the backstory has more than just a drizzling of Twin Peaks about it. If we think we know what is going on, then we probably don’t, but we come to expect appearances by random enigmatic characters who must be significant, but we are never quite sure why.

Westworth realLike its two predecessors, The Redemption of Charm is immensely entertaining and another bravura performance from Frank Westworth (right), who shares his creation’s love of Harleys and fine guitars. We are led to believe that a love of killing and a knowledge of inventive ways to use an SAS dagger are skills that, to date, divide the two men.

Frank Westworth wrote an entertaining piece for Fully Booked, in which he outlined his favourite – theoretical – ways of killing people.  Follow the link to read Killing Me Softly.

A Last Act of Charity was published in September 2014, details here.

The Corruption of Chastity was published in September 2015, details here.

The Redemption of Charm is out now, details here.

All three books are published by Book Guild Publishing.

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