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December 2016

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2016 … The winner!

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THE FULLY BOOKED BEST BOOK OF 2016

We already have selections for Best Dialogue, Best Historical Novel, and Best Psychological Thriller. Next up came the awards for Best Non-UK Novel, Best Police Procedural and Best PI Novel. Now, though, it’s drum roll time, and this is the book which, for me, was the outstanding publication of 2016.

Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a kind of lost property facility for London’s Metropolitan Police. Orphan crimes, unsolved murders, unexplained disappearances – in short, investigations which would cost the cash-strapped Met Police valuable man hours are left on the doorstep of the PCU. Its two senior detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May are impossibly ancient but have an irreplaceable knowledge of London’s unique criminal history. The odd couple, particularly the apparently shambolic Bryant, have an almost visceral connection to the countless misdeeds committed on the capital’s ancient streets and lanes.

strange-tideBut all is not well. Arthur Bryant is physically sound enough, but his encyclopaedic mind is starting to betray him. He is suffering episodes of serious dislocation. He causes havoc in what he thinks is an academic library when he’s actually in the soft furnishings department of British Home Stores. While soaking up the ambiance of a Thames-side crime scene, all he can sense are the sights, sounds and smells of the early 20th century docks. John May and the more sprightly members of the PCU have to keep Arthur virtually under lock and key, for his own protection.

While trying to stop Arthur from wandering off and doing himself a mischief, the PCU team are investigating a bizarre death. A disturbed young woman has been found – drowned – chained to a concrete block on what had been an artificial Edwardian beach on a neglected section of the riverbank. She was several months pregnant, but her insouciant chancer of a boyfriend is innocent of both her demise and her impregnation. Why was there only one set of footprints leading towards the corpse?

As well as being among Britain’s best current crime writers, Fowler also carries the torch passed on by the great English humourists. With his gentle, quirky but needle sharp observations of the sheer daftness of the way we live now, he links hands with such writers as George and Weedon Grossmith, JB ‘Beachcomber’ Morton,  John Betjeman, Israel Zangwill and Colin Watson.

Behind the gags, the knowing cultural references, the ingenious plotting and the clever characterisations, we have Fowler’s unique take on London itself. No living writer save, perhaps, in their different ways, Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, knows London quite like Christopher Fowler. In other books in the series he has turned his expert eye on the theatres, the city’s lost rivers, and its medieval legends. The star of the show in Strange Tide is the River Thames itself. The crime is eventually solved, Arthur’s malaise is mostly cured, but the powerful river remains the city’s lifeblood. In a telling paragraph, Fowler reveals the deep, dark, blue centre of what he is about.

“…the metropolis is ultimately changeless. Its people remain the same because London is a state of mind. They do not make London. London makes them.”

Strange Tide is published by Doubleday.

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR … part two

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My first three selections were in the Best Dialogue, Best Historical Novel and best Psychological Thriller categories, and you can review those by clicking this link. Here are my next three ‘best of’ choices.

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BEST NON-UK NOVEL

Murder In Mt Martha by Janice Simpson
There was certainly some red hot competition in this category, particularly from such American superstars as Harlan Coben and Walter Mosley, but there was something about this book that struck a chord. I’ll own up to being a fan of most things Australian, having lived and worked in The Lucky Country, but this story had something rather special.

On the one hand we have the murder itself, based on a real-life crime in the 1950s which remains unsolved to this day. It is true mystery in the sense of both words, but in the book we pretty much know who the killer is quite early in the piece. Simpson treads the tightrope of telling a story through different eyes and times, and she performs like a seasoned veteran, never once coming close to losing her balance. The modern day narrative involves a young Melbourne post graduate student, Nick Szabo, transcribing the memories of the elderly Arthur Boyle.

mimmThe past times take us back to the 1950s, both in Melbourne and then further north in rural Queensland. We enter the home of the young Arthur Boyle, who is looked after by his adult sister. Also resident in the Melbourne home is Ern Kavanagh, a twenty-something young man who has ambitions to be something other than a car mechanic. He then leaves Victoria and travels north, in search of fortune, if not fame in Queensland.

One of the great qualities of this book is the way Simpson plays a game with us about the exact relationships between Arthur, Ern and ‘Sissy’. We think we know what’s what, but it becomes clear as the story unfolds that we most certainly do not. There is, if you will, a two part harmony here, because Simpson then introduces another ‘tune’ which involves the history of the Szabo family, refugees from the Hungarian uprising, and once again, as the two melodies complement each other, family secrets unfold like a timelapse video of a flower opening.

The ghost of the murdered girl, clubbed to death and brutalised in a seaside resort near Melbourne, never quite goes away, and the sheer pity and wasteful nature of her death winds like a deep purple thread of mourning through the fabric of the story. The details of ordinary life in the 1950s are compelling and are given with a sense of wistfulness which never descends into mawkish sentiment. The conclusion of the book is brilliant, and the story comes to an end in a way which I least expected, but is entirely fitting and in keeping with the tone of the narrative. Murder In Mt Martha is published by Hybrid Publishers.

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BEST POLICE PROCEDURAL

Death Ship by Jim Kelly
Odd couples are many and varied in the world of crime fiction, and many authors have explored the Yin & Yang possibilities that open up.  There are many critical appraisals of the device, such as this one from Early Bird Books. I have chosen a beautifully mis-matched duo who are perfect foils for each other. They are Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and Sergeant George Valentine of Norfolk Constabulary, based in King’s Lynn.

Shaw is the younger of the two. In fact, so much so that Valentine actually served on the force with Shaw’s late father. Shaw is a physical fitness enthusiast, a cerebral deep thinker, and is married to an exotic wife whose family is of Caribbean origin. George Valentine is a widower, a suicidally heavy smoker, curmudgeonly but with a razor sharp eye for detail. Together, they have appeared in Jim Kelly’s ‘Death’ series, the previous novels being Death Wore White, Death Watch, Death Toll, Death’s Door and At Death’s Window.

death-shipIn Death Ship, as with all the previous books, the sea is never far away. The seaside town of Hunstanton has been literally rocked by an explosion on its crowded beach. Something buried deep beneath the sand is triggered by some boys determined to dig a sink-hole sized pit before the tide sweeps in. There is a brief moment when something metallic and shiny appears in the wall of their excavation, but then hell is unleashed. Miraculously, no-one is seriously hurt, but the beach is closed to holidaymakers while forensic experts and a bomb disposal team from the army do their stuff.

But the sea holds other mysteries. In the terrible storm of January 31st 1953, a tempest that battered the East Anglian coast and claimed over 300 lives, a dilapidated Dutch coaster, the Coralia, went down, taking its captain and crew with her. With this in mind, Shaw’s investigations are further complicated by the discovery of a dead diver, tethered to the underwater remains of Hunstanton’s Victorian Pier, destroyed by storms in 1978. Eventually, he learns that the murdered diver is the son of one of the crew members of another wrecked ship, the ill-fated Lagan, whose remains are rotting on the seabed a couple of miles distant from the pleasure beach.

Shaw and Valentine eventually pull the different threads of the mysteries together, with a combination of good solid police work and a touch of vision – the classic combination of perspiration and inspiration. All fine novels offer something extra, however, and as in all Jim Kelly’s novels, there is a deep rooted awareness of the past and the long shadows it can cast over the present. In Death Ship the past is like a sunken ship that has lain undisturbed on the sea bed for decades. Then, with a freak tide, or maybe some seismic shift, the ship’s blackened timbers surface once again, breaking through the surface of the present. There can be few novels where the metaphor is more apt. Death Ship is published by Severn House.

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BEST PI NOVEL

A Time of Torment by John Connolly
It is safe to say that Irish author John Connolly has taken the PI genre out of its care home for elderly gentlefolk, given it a good scrub down, bought it a new suit of clothes, given it a good slap and generally breathed new life into it. The beneficiary of this rejuvenation? A haunted (literally) and violent investigator from Portland Maine by the name of Charlie Parker.

atotParker’s ghosts are those of his wife and daughter, brutally and shockingly murdered years ago by men whose physical presence was all too temporal, but men whose puppet strings were being pulled by evil forces not entirely of this world. In this novel, Parker is contacted by a former public hero who went from hero to zero when child pornography was found on his computer. Jerome Burnel was given a long jail sentence and suffered the usual fate at the hands of other prisoners for whom sex crimes against children are worse than murder.

Moved by the man’s brutal jail-time story, Parker tries to reassure him that he can rebuild his life. Bernel disappears, however, and his conviction that his days are numbered becomes sadly prescient. Parker and his two New York associates, Louis and Angel, track down Burnel’s chief prison tormentor, Harpur Griffin, also now a free man. Griffin is found in a bar with two companions who register off the scale on Parker’s danger meter. When Griffin is found burned alive in his car shortly after the meeting, Parker, Louis and Angel realise that they are dealing with men who are fueled with something more potent than simple criminality.

Eventually, Parker narrows down his search for Burnel’s tormentors, and his investigations lead him to an isolated – and incestuous – community in Plassey County, West Virginia. The people and their village are known as The Cut, and they have lived in Amish-like seclusion for as long as anyone can recall. The comparison with the Amish begins and ends with reclusiveness, as the god of The Cut isn’t the one found in The Bible. Their god is called The Dead King.

Parker and the people of The Cut circle each other relatively cautiously in the fashion of partners in a courtly dance, but when they do engage, the last 50 pages of the book are violent and remorseless. This is dry mouth time – superb entertainment, but very unsettling too. A Time of Torment is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2016 … part one

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Newspapers, television, radio, bloggers – they’re all at it in these dog days between Christmas and New Year. Alert followers will have noticed that Fully Booked has a rather Post-Brexit feel to it, with content dating only from late June 2016. That is, as they say, is another story, but I have been reading and enjoying CriFi all year. Here are my views on the books that made a big impact during 2016. Six categories, and then one final book which, for me, was simply The Best.

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BEST DIALOGUE

The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr
Kerr has cleverly positioned Bernie Gunther – former Berlin cop, soldier, lover and sometime anti-hero – squarely astride the most eventful years of the 20th century. This enables him to meet a stellar cast of fascinating historical characters, including Eva Peron, Adolf Eichmann, Reinhardt Heydrich, Paul von Hindenberg and now, in his latest saga, the celebrated writer W. Somerset Maugham. It is 1956 and Gunther is working under an assumed name as a concierge at a smart hotel in St Jean Cap Ferrat. As well as recognising that a hotel visitor is a former high ranking Nazi, Gunther discovers a plot to blackmail Somerset Maugham.His meetings with the great man are full of excellent verbal sparring.

“I dislike a man who’s not precise about what he wants to drink,” said Maugham. “You can’t rely on a man who’s vague about his favourite tipple. If he’s not precise about something he’s going to drink then it’s clear he’s not going to be precise about anything.”

the-other-side-of-silence-e1458288166948Gunther is something of a ladies’ man, and he usually manages to attract the attention of females, most of whom are either damaged, or damaging, and sometimes both. Here, he makes a night-time visit to an English woman who says that she is anxious to meet Somerset Maugham with a view to writing a biography.

“Oh, I’m glad it’s you, “ she said. “I thought it might be the gardener.”
“At this time of night?”
“Lately he’s been giving me a funny look.”
“Maybe you should let him water the flower beds.”
“I don’t think that’s what he has in mind.”
“The heat we’ve been having? He’s in the wrong job.”
“Did you come here to mow my lawn, or just to talk?”

Despite the smart talk and the wisecracks, there is always something deeply serious going on in the Gunther novels, and in this case it’s the fact that the former Nazi who Gunther recognises  at the hotel was responsible for the death of his lover, a young woman who, along with 9,400 others, perished when the troop ship Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in January 1945. Near the end of the book, Gunther confronts Harold Hennig.

“You’re not the type to kill me, remember?” He was starting to sound scared now. “You said so yourself, Gunther. You’re a decent man. I knew that the first time I saw you.”
“No, I said I wasn’t the type to leave a man to die chained to a radiator, like an abandoned dog. But this is different.” I pointed the gun at him.
“This is for those nine thousand people who died on the Wilhelm Gustloff in January nineteen forty-five. It’s been eleven years in coming, and for them this is an act of vengeance. But for Captain Achim von Frisch, Irmela Louise Schaper and her unborn child – my unborn child – it’s revenge, pure and simple.”

Gunther is a flawed hero, but a beguiling  one, and his interactions with the famous and infamous men and women of the century are fascinating on their own, but in this novel, as in all the previous stories, it is Gunther’s speaking voice that brings the man to life. The Other Side of Silence is published by Quercus.

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BEST HISTORICAL NOVEL

A Straits Settlement by Brian Stoddart
Superintendent Christian Le Fanu is an English policeman working in Madras. Despite considerable bravery during World War I, he has vowed never to set foot in the land of his birth again. His lover is a woman of mixed race, and he strives to do his job efficiently while treating law abiding Indian people with fairness and respect.

assHe is asked to investigate a disappearance and a death. The disappearance is of a minor functionary of the Raj from the country town he helped administer, and the death is that of the son of a powerful – and widely disliked – British entrepreneur and colonialist. Le Fanu’s search for the missing Southlake, and the all-too-dead Hargood takes him far from Madras, and to the exotic Malay island of Penang, where he finds a beguiling mixture of colonial and Chinese culture. He also finds himself in the equally beguiling arms of a beautiful Chinese woman. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of a wealthy merchant who appears to be right at the centre of Le Fanu’s investigations.

Brian Stoddart is a university professor who has studied South Asia extensively, and his knowledge of India and its history is immense. The beauty of his writing, however, is that he shares his learning with the lightest of touches, so that after a chapter or two you’ll feel you know all the steps in the elaborate dance between the British administration and the steadily growing but irresistible forces of Indian nationalism.

The title refers to three British colonies at the time called Straights Settlements – Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Not least of Stoddart’s skills is his ability to weave together different themes to make a beautiful whole. Thus, we have a police procedural, a political thriller, an historical drama, a romance, and an intense portrait of a gifted but very complex man. No-one currently writing manages this with as little fuss and fanfare as Stoddart. A Straits Settlement is published by Crime Wave Press.

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BEST PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh
One of the most secretive service industries in the modern world is that of K & R consultants. The initials stand for kidnap and ransom, and the operatives who pit their wits against kidnappers play their cards very close to their collective chests. Emma Kavanagh trained as a psychologist and, after leaving university, started her own business as a psychology consultant, specialising in human performance in extreme situations. For seven years she provided training and consultation for police forces and NATO and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. Here, in this tense and  nerve-tingling novel, she puts all her insights and experience to good use, telling the tale of a woman who disappears, but then mysteriously reappears, but with no recollection of the intervening hours.

Selena Cole is a widow, her husband having been killed while working for The Cole Group. Since his death she has pretty much handed over the running of the group to her sister-in-law, Orla Britten, and her husband Seth. Their centre of operations is the Cole’s elegant period house in a village not far from Hereford. Then, Selena goes missing. One minute she is watching her girls Heather and Tara play on the swings in the playground. The next, she is gone, and a neighbour has gathered up the distressed children, and the police are called.

tmhThe police investigation into Selena’s disappearance is handled by an unusual crime fiction pairing. Finn Hale and Leah Mackay are brother and sister. Finn has leap-frogged his sister in the promotion stakes, despite her evident superiority – evident, that is, to us readers, but not the local constabulary personnel department. Kavanagh plays the relationship between the siblings with the touch of a concert violinist. There are all manner of clever nuances and deft little touches which enhance the narrative.

Kavanagh reveals the inner workings of K & R consultants by letting us browse through the files of The Cole Group in between chapters focusing on one or other of the main characters. The police procedural aspect of the novel is sure-footed and convincing, while the touches of domestic noir work well, despite following a well-trodden path. After all, who has ever read a novel where a detective has a blissfully happy marriage with a fully supportive spouse?

The plot twists come, as they should, at regular intervals, but we see the big reveal with only a few pages to go. By then you will have been totally hooked by the excellent writing, Kavanagh’s well-tuned ear for dialogue and her handling of the intricate plot. The Missing Hours is published by Century.

 

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Fraser- Sampson & Knox

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Just days away from the big day, and my postie is still delivering the goods, in this case two handsome looking novels to go into my reading and reviewing schedule.

gfsMiss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson
Fraser-Sampson (left) clearly has an eye and an ear for all things Golden Age, and many of you will have read his recreations based on EF Benson’s characters Mapp and Lucia. His earlier crime novel, Death In Profile, successfully merged aspects of Golden Age fiction with a present day setting. The author calls the series The Hampstead Murders and, as before, a team of detectives led by Superintendent Collison finds that death is no respecter of prime London locations. It seems that we even have a guest “appearance” by a distinctly famouus former resident, and the back cover of the book tells us.

“Above the series hovers Hampstead, a magical village on a hill hauntingly evoked, the elegance of an earlier time, and the elegiac memory of the Queen of Crime herself”

Miss Christie Regrets is published by Urbane Publication, and will be available on 12th January.

Sirens by Joseph Knox
I already had a sneak preview – and a very atmospheric extract read by the author – at the Michael Joseph bash a few weeks ago, but the finished article is beautifully jknoxpresented. This is the debut novel from Joseph Knox (right) and by contrast with Miss Christie Regrets and its golden tinge, this is very much noir territory. The book opens in a bleak Manchester street and, as you might expect, it’s raining. DC Waits, a young Manchester detective is drawn into an investigation of the disappearance of Isabel Rossiter and he finds that her home life is complex. Meeting her rich and influential father, Waits has to mine down beneath the conventional surface of the Rossiter family until the truth begins to emerge – and it is far from pretty.

Sirens will be available on 12th January, and you can look out for full reviews of both of today’s featured novels nearer the publication date.

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MURDER IN MT MARTHA … Between the covers

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Some novels tread a well-worn path. The path is well-worn because it is safe, easy to follow, and will guarantee that the traveller arrives at his or her destination with the minimum of unnecessary effort. Crime fiction genres tend to operate like paths, with familiar landmarks and way points. Just occasionally a book comes along which jumps away from these genres and, in doing so, steps off the path and heads off into unknown territory.

jsMurder In Mt Martha is one such book. For those who have never visited Melbourne, Mount Martha is a town on the Mornington Peninsula, best known as what we Brits would call a seaside town. The ‘Mount’ is a shade over 500 ft, and is named after the wife of one of the early settlers. Author Janice Simpson (left)  has taken a real-life unsolved murder from the 1950s as one thread, and created another involving a present day post-grad student who is interviewing an old man about his early life in the post-war Victorian city. Simpson has woven the two threads together to create a fabric that shimmers, shocks and surprises.

Nick Szabo is a pleasantly feckless second-generation Australian, whose parents and grandparents were Hungarian. His source of anecdotes and atmosphere is the elderly Arthur Boyle. Arthur lives alone apart from his cat, and watches with a mixture of incomprehension and anger modern Melbourne streams past his window.

mimmSimpson keeps Szabo blissfully unaware that Arthur Boyle is a relative of Ern Kavanagh. Arthur only recalls him in fits and starts, believing that he was his uncle, but Simpson lets us into the secret as she describes Ern’s life over half a century earlier. The book opens with a graphic description of the brutal murder of an innocent teenager whose parents have reluctantly allowed her to travel alone to her first party. There is never any doubt in our minds that Ern Kavanagh killed the girl, but we are kept on a knife-edge of not knowing if he will get away with the murder.

I have to declare an interest and say that I lived and worked in Melbourne back in the day, and so the minutiae of suburban life, particularly the way people spoke, the obsession with horse-racing and, of course, the ‘footy’, struck a chord with me. I would like to think, however, that readers who have never been within a thousand miles of Australia will be convinced and drawn in by Simpson’s superb writing.

Aside from the murder mystery, there is a beguiling sub-plot involving Szabo, his determinedly Hungarian grandmother, and a visitor from Budapest who may be about to turn on its head their conception about their family tree. Again, history is embedded in the narrative. In 1956, when Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games, there was international turmoil when 48 Hungarian athletes chose not to return home. ‘Home’ was, of course, suffering under the brutal Soviet repression of a national uprising against communist rule.

The writing is beautifully nuanced throughout. The dialogue, whether it is contemporary or taking place in a suburban 1950s kitchen, zings with authenticity. This is not a long novel, being just short of 300 pages, but it is one that hooked me in very quickly, and I was genuinely sad to reach the end. That being said, there are few crime novels whose structure and substance allow them to be read through again at a later date, but I suspect that is one such novel.

Without, I hope, spoiling the conclusion to this remarkable book, it might be said that justice was eventually done, albeit in a roundabout sort of way. But then again, the last hanging in the state of Victoria was in 1967; depending on one’s views of capital punishment, a convincing argument could be therefore made that justice was not only blind, but bereft of its other senses too.

Murder in Mt Martha is already published and is available here.

ON MY SHELF … Redmond, Rickman and Tully

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redmondHighbridge, by Phil Redmond
To create one addictive TV soap might be considered just lucky. Creating two should evoke a few sharp intakes of breath. To be responsible for three…? Well. it ain’t gonna happen, is it? Yet it did, and with Grange Hill, Brookside and Hollyoaks under his creative belt, it was only a matter of time before write Phil Redmond (left) turned his hand to the crime fiction market. Set in the fictional town of Highbridge, Redmond spins a hypnotic yarn about two brothers who take different routes to avenge their sister’s death. Sean embeds himself in the cut-throat world of local politics where the law is ostensibly respected, but subverted in a hundred subtle ways. Joey goes Route One, and pursues his revenge within the criminal underworld where law and order are just random letters rearranged to make a word that no-one understands. Highbridge will be out in January, and you can pre-order here.

tulleyDown, But Not Out, by Gary Tulley
The first book in this series of crime novels set within the sweat and sawdust world of boxing was Seconds Out (March 2016) We were introduced to a gentleman – Paul Rossetti – who is described as “a plastic gangster”. The author (right) had a distinguished career as a coach and administrator in amateur boxing, but on retirement wrote two PI novels, Once Upon A Spook (2012) , and The Spook Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (2013). He now follows up Seconds Out with another saga involving Paul Rossetti and a boxer described as ‘his nemesis’ – Ronnie Callaghan. The story bobs and weaves its way through the murky and arcane world of men who try to beat the living daylights out of each other – and the criminal types who control them outside the ring. Down, But Not Out is available now, and is published by Matador.

phil-rickmanAll Of A Winter’s Night, by Phil Rickman
I make no apologies about naming this as my biggest up-and-coming release. I have been hooked by the Merrily Watkins novels since public library days, when I first discovered The Wine Of Angels in 1998. I believe Rickman to be one of our finest writers, with his unrivalled sense of landscape and history, and his ability to scare the pants of me without resorting to cheap shocks. Rickman is a modest man and may demur at my comparing him to Hardy in his awareness of the power of landscape, but he must put his hand up and acknowledge that he is very much the equal of the great M R James in the way he conjures up dread and menace using everyday objects and happenings. The Reverend Watkins, Rector of Ledwardine and Diocesan Deliverance Consultant returns in a wintry tale, where she must cope with the unwelcome convergence of a bleak funeral and a gangland shooting. Expect shivers up your spine, more peril for Merrily’s vulnerable daughter Jane, and a story that combines ancient menace, modern crime, and a totally believable cast of characters. All Of A Winter’s Night will be out on 5th January.

THE VOICE BEHIND THE WORDS … Paige Elizabeth Turner

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A writer, whether novice or experienced often reads or hears the words: ‘find your own voice.’ So, what does that mean to the uninitiated? Our ‘voice’ is our manner of forming our words into phrases and sentences, or ‘lexicology’ as it is more loosely described. We grow as readers grasping our list of favourite authors. Many say: ‘I want to write like Katie Fford, Ian Rankin, Lee Child’ – as the case may be. We might be influenced by idols, but never should we write like them. Why would we? Do we not want to personally stamp our own creations?

As a teenager, I penned small shots of poetry, or lines of words I believed was poetry. My definition of the time: if it rhymes, it’s a poem. I had no idea about meter and cadence and sonnets and haiku. I progressed through teen and adult novels, gradually acquiring comfort with structure and grammar – the key ingredients of our voice. Only when a literary agent advised against my particular style, did I become more concerned with voice.

Voice is the perspective by which we construct our material. Most writers will adopt either ‘first person’ (a direct ‘live’ account) or ‘third person’ (an overall view). Various novels lend themselves to one or the other. I prefer ‘first person’ because I offer, in the main, live activities of the novel’s lead protagonist. Narrative is constrained though, to ‘direct’ events only, because ‘Joe’ or whoever, cannot possibly detail events that occur beyond his sphere of vision or knowledge.

badMy crime / mystery novel, Beyond all Doubt, is written in third person, present tense. And it is adopting ‘present tense’ that saw me censored by the aforementioned literary agent. I was in a quandary: do I conform to a recommendation and lose the ‘voice’ of the work I had laboured over for many months, or do I back myself, take pride in my work and say: This is how I want to write. I believe in it.

Part of that ‘backing myself’ required selecting a publisher which would endorse my wish to publish my work in my own format. Sure, I am a debut author with no power to dictate how my work shall be produced, but Troubador Publishing has been magnificent in providing me a quality product with excellent support. Advance sales are rolling and reviews and feedback are most encouraging.

ad-townsville-300I do not write crime as one who has jumped on the current-trend bandwagon. I was raised in a home of The Sweeney and The Bill. On migrating to Australia as a child there was weekly doses of Homicide, Division Four, and Matlock Police. My enjoyment of the genre comes not from wanting to venture into life’s darker side, but from my penchant for solving problems and conundrums. I confess though, that youthful aspirations saw me as a leading criminal lawyer. It transpired that I had neither the aptitude nor attitude to devote seven years to the cause. Ironically, I later devoted just as many years to writing and literary studies!

My lead protagonist is Olivia Watts, a detective sergeant with Worcester CID, who later resigns in favour of commencing her own investigations agency. It is through Olivia I am able to role-play my legal dreams – but without the financial reward. I like to create killings and murders that are not quite so mainstream as a straight-out shooting. Without giving too much away, I have shrink-wrapped a head (while the victim is alive) and I have woven copper thread through a bath mat to electrocute a victim after removing herself from the shower. Where’s she going to step? Straight on to the bathmat!) I guess most authors seek a distinctive edge; we each want to develop a niche that we happily settle into. I have found mine and have woven three different murders into Beyond all Doubt.

I write to entertain the reader as I want to be entertained. I create lively characters with realistic lifestyles, idiosyncrasies and flaws. I often diverge to far-off tangents (although still plot-related) to afford the reader light relief, and perhaps make him/her wonder where the heck the story is going. Beyond all Doubt devotes six pages to an interesting sidetrack.

I believe in authenticity, so research heavily to ensure that even in a fictitious setting, I give the reader a factual account of events. These ideals have been carried through to Whisper of Death, due for release in June 2017. Production of the ‘Watts Happening? Investigations’ series is scheduled through to November 2018.

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THE DOMINO KILLER … Between the covers

 

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Manchester, more than any other English city, is a landscape of contrasts. These days, the architectural relics of the industry which made the city rich and powerful are either ruins, museums or tastefully converted executive apartments. The brash new buildings which replaced the huddled Victorian slums are themselves now urban hell-holes. Despite the relentless bustle of a big commercial city, the lie of the land means that you can still turn a corner or drive up a hill and glimpse the brooding moorland to the east.

Domino KillerIt is in Manchester that author Neil White introduces us to an unlikely crime fiction duo. Not Inspector and Sergeant, not toff and manservant. not analytical genius and bumbling foil, but brothers. With a difference. Sam Parker is a policeman, while his brother Joe has opted to on the other side of the tracks. Not a criminal himself, you understand, but a solicitor who earns his daily bread by being summoned to police stations across the city to try to advise felons on what they should and shouldn’t say in the interview room. The authenticity of Joe Parker as a character is boosted by the fact that Neil White, as well as writing CriFi bestsellers, is actually a criminal lawyer.

Joe and Sam share a terrible family history. Their teenage sister Ellie was murdered by a serial killer. Neither man escapes the torture of her memory brings, but Joe’s grief is special. He actually saw Ellie’s killer before her death but chose to ignore the threat, and has been too ashamed to admit his negligence. Now, a fresh killing re-opens old wounds and old cases, and the Parker brothers are sucked into the resulting vortex.

WhiteThe plot of The Domino Killer is full of scarcely plausible coincidences, but  Neil White (pictured right) is a good enough writer to plough through these potential blockages and delivers a novel full of drama, suspense and prose which hooks the reader in, and doesn’t let go.

 We learn the identity of the bad guy quite early on. As readers, our main challenge is to find out how the killer can be brought to justice with the minimum damage to the careers of Joe and Sam Parker.

Both the geographical setting and the sympathetic portrait of the conflicted brothers are totally plausible. Those of us who are a certain age will know full well the significance of the nearby Saddleworth Moor, and the awful secrets it still holds. The killer in this case does not quite sink to the depravity of Brady and Hindley, but he is bad enough. For him, the initial killing is but a means to an end. The book’s recurrent metaphor is that the murdered girls are simply large stones thrown into a pond, and it is the consequent ripples which provide the real stimulus for the killer’s twisted mind.

The gloomy warehouses of Ancoats, bisected by dark abandoned canals, are the backdrop for the exciting climax of this novel, which is the third in the series featuring Sam and Joe Parker. It is published by Sphere, and is available now.

Neil White’s website is here, and you can also follow him on Twitter by clicking the icon.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS …Beyond All Doubt

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“OK GUV’NOR – IT’S A FAIR COP …you got me bang to rights…” I don’t suppose fictional villains have uttered those words for many years, but I have to confess my personal guilt and push my wrists forward for the click of steel as the handcuffs snap to. My crime? (Takes a deep breath..) I am addicted to crime fiction set in England. Well, there it is. Out in the open. People are supposed to feel better after confession, aren’t they?

Many of you may have suspected this for some time. My enthusiasm for Jim Kelly, Christopher Fowler, Phil Rickman (well, OK, I know Merrily sometimes strays into Wales in the course of her priestly duty..) Dorothy L Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Graham Hurley, Mark Billingham, Chris Nickson, Nick Oldham, and many more is, I hope pretty obvious. I retain a healthy respect for dark deeds further to the north, and yield to no man in my adoration of Harry Bingham’s Welsh lass, Fiona Griffiths. A corner of my heart is forever Los Angeles when it comes to PI novels, and the humid passions of The Deep South as described by James Lee Burke and Greg Iles will always set my pulse racing.

But it is England, my England for me, when it comes to a crime read that will force its way to the top of my reading pile. Should someone have the temerity to conduct an autopsy on my mortal remains when I Cross The Bar, they may well find two words engraved on my heart. The Midlands. The land of my birth, the home of Shakespeare, Philip Larkin, Arnold Bennett, The Archers – and the Crossroads Motel.

bad1There are few places more English than the lovely town of Evesham, the setting for Beyond All Doubt, by local author Paige Elizabeth Turner. The River Avon adds majesty to the Worcestershire town, but can also yield unpleasant discoveries, as when the bloated corpse of Juanita Morales is finally released by the riverbed weeds, much to the horror of passers by, and to the vexation of local police officers DI Marchant and DS Watts.

Beyond All Doubt, which is on sale now, has all the elements of a police procedural combined with a tense legal drama, and the bonus of a wonderful geographical setting. If you are lucky enough have a decent local bookseller you can find the book there and it is, as ever, available on Amazon. If you want to find out more  about the author, you can go to her own website by clicking the image below.

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