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January 2017

THE VERY DICKENS OF A QUIZ!

life-of-dickensTo celebrate the birthday of Charles Dickens on 7th February, we have a tasty quiz involving six of the great man’s most memorable villains. To enter the draw for the prize – Claire Tomalin’s highly regarded Charles Dickens – A Life – you need to look at the six photographs, taken from screen versions of Dickens novels. To be in with a chance of winning, identify three things. First, the name of the book. Second the name of the character. Third, the name of the actor pictured. For those of you who love a touch of the cryptic crossword, there are six fairly helpful clues to go with each picture, and folk who are adept at pub trivia  questions should enjoy the references. Do the best you can – all entries will go into the hat, and the person most correct answers gets the prize!

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To help you, there are six mildly cryptic clues.

A This slimy character – who was very humble – might be seen trotting around South London, particularly in Peckham! He was eventually exposed by Mr Micawber, and after that, it was Goodnight Sweetheart !

B This actor’s name might suggest that he was emotionally very up and down, but he found fame running a kind of children’s home in 19th century London.

C This vile fellow had a crush on a poor girl who tried to make a living selling antiques. Before he drowned in the Thames, he had time to reprise Captain Mainwaring in the remake of a popular TV series.

D These days, you are more likely to see this gravelly-voiced actor advertising betting on TV (but he bets responsibly!) Here he played a frightening jailbird who had a habit of leaping out from behind tombstones in misty graveyards. In the book, however, he died a happy man.

E This dreadful schoolmaster says,” I’ll spare you. I’ll flog you to within an inch of your life, and I’ll spare you then!” is played by an English character actor who featured in such films as Moulin Rouge and a couple of Harry Potter epics.

F He always liked a drink or three, a touch of on-screen nude wrestling, and actually played Debussy in a Ken Russell TV film. Here, he is one of the vilest men Dickens created – violent to women and dogs in equal measure.

When you have your answers, write them in the body of an email, put Dickens in the subject box, and send it to:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Those who have answered the most questions correctly will have their names put in a hat, and a winner drawn out.

The prize will be sent to the winner direct from Amazon, so we can offer the competition to Fully Booked fans all over the world.

THE COMPETITION CLOSES at 10.00pm GMT on Tuesday 7th February – Charles Dickens’s birthday

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WATCH HER DISAPPEAR … Between the covers

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Corinne Sawyer leaves her lover fast asleep between the tangled sheets of their bed. She puts on her designer running gear and strides off into the early morning chill, music pounding in her head via her earphones, her feet pumping out a rhythm which triggers the endorphins which will ease her legs and lungs through this challenge. Corinne won’t see forty again, but she is proud of her body, and will not go down without a fight as middle age creeps ever nearer. But the expensive cosmetic surgery which has recently refined her face is shattered – along with life itself – when she is brutally attacked on a lonely path.

When Corinne’s body is discovered, Peterborough CID are called to the scene. The medical examiner gets to his feet rather quickly, and before he can answer the inevitable questions about the time and cause of death, he stuns the waiting detectives with the simplest of statements.They are not investigating the murder of a female jogger. The victim is, in the most obvious of ways, a biological man, and thus the murder becomes a case of extreme transphobia – and a job for the city’s Hate Crimes Unit.

whdNot the least of Eva Dolan’s achievements in this remarkable novel is to pinpoint with painful accuracy and honesty what happens to children and wives when a father – originally Colin Sawyer – decides to abandon the male role and become a woman. Even after the nightmare scene where Sawyer’s daughters come back to the house unexpectedly, and find their father en femme at the sink, doing the dishes, Jessica and Lily have come to think of their dad as ‘mum’. The pain that this must cause a biological mother in this situation can only be imagined, and it is interesting that Nina Sawyer is drawn as a fairly unpleasant piece of work.

Dolan doesn’t preach, but she sets out with stark clarity the yawning chasm between perfectly decent and honest people who have genuine difficulty in understanding the whole transgender issue, and those individuals whose psychology is at potentially destructive odds with their physiology. We peer in at a world where gender pronouns can be wielded with as deadly effect as fists, hammers and knives. Dolan also casts a wary eye over the role of professional anti-phobia activists, and suggests that, while their intentions may be good, their handiwork can have tragic consequences.

evaAside from the nuanced description of gender politics and psychological challenges faced by the characters in this novel, we have to ask the burning question. Does Watch Her Disappear work as a crime story? My answer is a resounding and emphatc ‘Yes”. The whodunnit aspect of the story is teasingly effective, with Dolan (right) scattering little hints, false leads and blind alleys in her wake as she races along ahead of us. Crime fiction is full almost to the brim with Detective Inspectors and their trusty Sergeants, but Dolan breathes on those particular embers and makes them fire up afresh in the shape of Detective Inspector Dushan Zigic and Detective Sergeant Mel Ferreira of the Hate Crimes Unit. The neat twist is, of course, that both Zigic and Ferreira are themselves children of immigrants, and the chemistry between the two is potent and complex.

Incidentally, speaking as a near-local to Peterborough, I can testify that the topographical setting of the novel is impeccable. Dolan captures beautifully the crunching of the gears between the different facets of the city. The old Victorian railway town, with its certainty of values and smoky industrial warmth does not always sit happily with the once-familiar terraced streets where mosques have replaced Methodist chapels, or the quick-build-garden suburbs where every street is either a Meadow, a Leys or an Orchard.

The killer is eventually unmasked by Zogic and Ferreira, but not before Dolan has woven a spectacular spiders’ web – delicate yet strong – of motive, jealousy, human frailty and guilt. Her triumph is the revelation that the broken body found on that Ferry Meadows footpath was not just one person, but both Colin and Corinne. If that is too enigmatic, then you will just have to read the book for yourself – you will not regret doing so. Watch Her Disappear is published by Harvill Secker and is out now.

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ON MY SHELF … January 2017

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With due apology to the wonderful Andrew Marvell and his timeless poem To His Coy Mistress, (surely the best collection of chat-up lines ever penned) I have this to say;

Had I but world enough and time,
This reading pile would be no crime.
I would sit down, and think which way
To read, and pass my idle day.

The fascinating books just keep on coming, and the latest batch are all too typical of the amazing quality and variety of crime fiction books which are out there, just waiting to be read.

quicksand025With a father, Leif Gustav Willy Persson a Swedish criminologist and novelist who was a professor in criminology at the Swedish National Police Board, it is hardly surprising that Malin Persson Giolito should be drawn to the world of crime. Not only is she a lawyer, but has a growing reputation as a writer of crime fiction. Her latest novel, Quicksand, will be released in March/April of this year. Published by Simon & Schuster and translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, Quicksand is the story of Maja Norberg, a teenage girl who has been caught up in one of the worst crimes in recent Swedish history. She has been, in turn, vilified and championed by the mainstream media, but now she is to have her hour – and more – in court. Is she a cold-blooded killer, or a demonised victim of an unspeakable evil?
Quicksand is available for pre-order in all formats.

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barbara_nadelBarbara Nadel (right) is best known for her long running and highly successful crime series set in Istanbul, featuring the established cast of Çetin İkmen, a chain-smoking and hard-drinking detective on the Istanbul police force, and his colleagues Mehmet Süleyman, Balthazar Cohen and Armenian pathologist Arto Sarkissian.

Her series of novels featuring private investigator and ex-soldier Lee Arnold and his assistant Mumtaz Hakim, of which this is the latest has, apart from being excellent thrillers, tackled head-on the sometimes thorny questions surrounding the role of Muslim professional women in the UK’s largely secular society.

Bright Shiny Things couldn’t be more topical. With suspicions of Islamic radicalisation sparking along East London’s Brick Lane like a gunpowder fuse, and Turkey’s border with Syria being one of the most dangerous places in the world, Hakim and Arnold undertake a mission to trace the son of an old military contact of Arnold’s. Has Fayyad al’Barri renounced his family values and thrown in his lot with ISIS, or is the boy a victim of something evan more sinister? Bright Shiny Things will be out in April, and you can pre-order here.

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katherinestansfield_km013Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield will appeal to those who like a good period drama, a dead body or two, an atmospheric setting and a sense of Gothic looming over everything. 1844? Tick. Beautiful girl found with throat cut? Tick. Bodmin Moor, beloved of Arthur Conan Doyle and Daphne du Maurier? Tick. Mists, marshes and malevolent men? Tick. The author grew up on Bodmin Moor, and her debut novel The Visitor, won the Holyer an Gof Fiction Prize in 2014. You can find out more about the author (pictured left) by visiting her website katherinestansfield.blogspot.co.uk.  Due to be published in March by Alison and Busby,  Falling Creatures can be pre-ordered here .

 

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MISS CHRISTIE REGRETS … Between the covers

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This is the second in a series by Guy Fraser-Sampson, set in the exclusive London borough of Hampstead.  As the police try to solve a not-quite-locked-room murder mystery in an elegant Queen Anne house, their task becomes doubly difficult when another body is found in a nearby block of flats, the Isokon Building. There is one crucial difference, however. The body in the upper room of Burgh House is that of Peter Howse a widely disliked researcher. The structure of his skull has been violently rearranged with a museum piece – an ancient police truncheon. The other deceased person? It’s fair to say that the first 48 hours of this particular investigation will not be so crucial, as the police pathologist states with some conviction that the bones have been in their bricked up cavity for at least half a century.

A quick word about Hampstead for those unfamiliar with London. Wikipedia tells us that Hampstead is:

“ …known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. It has some of the most expensive housing in the London area. The village of Hampstead has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom.”

mcr-coverBeing as this book is, in one sense, a police procedural, an introduction to the investigating officers is essential. Detective Sergeant Karen Willis is an elegant and well educated woman, whose personal life is complex. She is courted by two suitors; the first, Dr Peter Collins, is a consultant psychologist who, although undeniably clever, may not be entirely of sound mind himself, as he is prone to nervous attacks. When with Karen, he also tends to drop into a Lord Peter Wimsey persona and, yes, he does insist on calling Karen “Harriet”. The other claimant to the hand of Willis is Detective Inspector Bob Metcalfe, a much more grounded fellow who certainly does not mimic characters from Golden Age fiction. In fact, he could be said to be very worthy, but rather dull. Overseeing the investigations is Detective Superintendent Simon Collison, an urbane and civilised man who is regarded with a certain suspicion by more belt-and-braces officers such as Chief Inspector Tom Allen. One stock police character who is very much noticeable by his absence is a badly dressed, misanthropic and foul mouthed Detective Inspector type, much loved of many crime authors. If any such person did operate out of Hampstead nick, he must long ago have been transferred elsewhere.

As the police try to discover if there could conceivably be any connection between the suspicious deaths, decades apart, they discover that a fellow tenant of the apartment building to our skeletal friend was none other than Lady Mallowan – better known as Agatha Christie. Instead of the threads of the investigation becoming separated and more discernible one from the other, the tangle tightens when Collison and Metcalfe are informed by Special Branch that several of the Isokon Building residents during and immediately after WW2 were suspected of spying for Russia.

The author’s stated intent is to take the modes, manners and milieu of the Golden Age crime novel, and blend them into a modern setting. He succeeds, due in no small way to his sense of style and his lightness of touch. If the characters are not always totally plausible, then it matters not one jot. This book, like its predecessor Death In Profile, is an entertainment, pure and simple. There are 360 pages of sheer enjoyment, with the bonus of one or two rather good jokes along the way.

“Does anyone have a different view?” Collison asked quietly, looking around the room. “If so, please don’t hesitate to express it just because the DI and I are ad idem.”
Unsurprisingly, there was no answer. Firstly, because nobody was about to disagree with two senior officers. Second, because nobody wanted to participate in a renewed bout of house to house enquiries. Third, because nobody else, apart from Karen Willis, knew what ad idem meant.

It should be said that both Burgh House and the Isokon Building are real places, as are the pubs where Metcalfe and colleagues grab their lunch. This detailed local knowledge is used with subtlety and discretion throughout the narrative. There are other crime writers who, over the years have claimed particular areas of London as their own. We must allow Christopher Fowler to have his run of the lurid joys of King’s Cross and countless quirky abandoned theatres and lost railway stations. While the bleak and bloody suburban streets of places like Willesden and Kilburn, as well as the neon pallor of Soho clubs belong to the great Derek Raymond, we must grant Guy Fraser-Sampson ownership of the health-giving literary high ground of Hampstead.

Miss Christie Regrets is a beautifully written and cleverly plotted book which should be enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of The Golden Age, but also likes fare with a touch of spice added. It is available now, and published by Urbane Publications in paperback and Kindle.

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COMPETITION …Win ‘Purged’ by Peter Laws

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Recently, Purged, the debut crime fiction thriller from Peter Laws was reviewed here on Fully Booked. Now you have a chance to win a crisp new copy for yourself. Simply send us an email as outlined below, and your name will go into the draw.

With ‘Purged‘ as the subject, just email:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Your name will go into the hat, and a winner will be drawn in the usual way. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 29th January. Due to postage costs, entry is restricted to people who live in Great Britain and the Irish Republic.

THE DRY …Between the covers

janeharperauthor2The town of Kiewarra is a dusty five hour drive from Melbourne. Five hours. Six, maybe, if you weren’t that anxious to get there. Five hours, under the same relentless sun, but it might as well be fifty, for all the similarity there is. Melbourne, with its prosperity, its glass and steel central business district, its internationally renowned restaurants and its louche air as a cosmopolitan city. Kiewarra. A pub, a couple of bottle shops and a milk bar; a run-down school, starved of funds; a farming economy choked and parched by two years without rain; families turned bitter and taciturn by the shared misery of failed crops and burgeoning overdrafts. Author Jane Harper (left) takes us right into the deep dark blue centre of this community.

It is to Kiewarra that Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns. It is his home town, but he expects no palm leaves to be strewn in his path, no hymns of rejoicing. The only hymn he hears is the obligatory and badly sung offering at the funeral of an old friend, Luke Hadler. Falk and Hadler grew up together. Hadler stayed to work the family farm, while Falk and his father left for Melbourne under a very dark cloud.

thedrySeeing the coffin of a contemporary being carried through the church is bad enough for Falk, but when it is followed by two smaller ones, one being very much smaller, that is a different thing altogether. For the other two coffins are occupied by Hadler’s wife Karen, and his young son Billy. The story has played out across the mainstream media as a suicide-killing. Luke Hadler, driven mad by debt, failure, jealousy, despair – who knows? – has shot dead his wife and son, and then turned the gun on himself, albeit leaving his thirteen month old daughter Charlotte in her cot, screaming, terrified, but very much alive.

Falk’s ambivalence about returning to his home town is because of the death of a teenage girl, decades earlier. Ellie Deacon was found drowned in the local river, heavy stones crammed into her pockets. She, Falk and Hadler were inseparable companions at junior school, but as their teenage years triggered the inevitable hormones, their relationship became more complicated. The scribbled name “Falk” on a note found among Ellie’s possessions led local people to suspect that Aaron – or his father – had been involved in the death. Aaron and Luke had given each other unshakable alibis for the day of Ellie’s death, but local gossip and suspicion had forced the Falks out of town, never to return. Until now.

In the face of considerable aggression from local people, for whom the distant tragedy might have happened only yesterday, Falk is drawn into a re-investigation of the Hadler killings. Alongside a supportive local copper, Falk uncovers inconsistencies in the various stories people have told about the fatal day, even down to the hours and minutes before the carnage at the Hadler farmhouse was uncovered. As he goes about his work, however, the truth about what really happened on the day Ellie Deacon died hangs over our heads, as readers, like a miasma, malign and reeking of corruption.

This novel is a triumph on so many levels. It is a very clever and subtle whodunnit, and unless you cheated and skipped to last few pages, I doubt you will pick up the clues as to who killed the Hadlers. It is also a poignant elegy for youth, memory and the golden past which, when examined closely, loses some of its apparent lustre. It is an acutely accurate portrait of Australian rural life and how, at the margins, people with European urban lifestyles and ambitions are at the total mercy of the elements. The physical landscape could not be more real. We shield our eyes from the relentless glare of the sun, we feel the crackle of dead and desiccated vegetation under our feet, we hear the relentless drone of the blowflies who seem to be the only flourishing life form in town.

Sometimes, novels which emerge to the echoes of a great media fanfare don’t live up to the glory and resonance of the musical accompaniment. The Dry, I am happy to say, is not one of those. It is a brilliant and haunting masterpiece.

The Dry is published by Little, Brown, and is available here.

THE DARBY FAMILY MURDERS

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There are trusting and optimistic souls who will tell you that no man is born evil, and no man is incapable of redemption. Unfortunately, the history of crime is riddled with examples of people who have simply been devoid of any sense of decency and have no moral compass whatsoever. Such a person was Edgar Edwards. Despite having only just been released from prison for earlier misdeeds in the autumn of 1902, he still believed he was smarter than the law – and his potential victims.

Seeing a newspaper advertisement for the sale of a Camberwell grocer shop, Edwards presented himself to John William Darby, at his shop, 22 Wyndham Road, in the south London borough of Camberwell. On visiting the shop in early December 1902, he explained to Darby and his wife Beatrice that the shop was just what he was looking for, and that he would take it on, and put a manager in place immediately. Before describing what happened next, we should take a moment to explain the murder weapon. Older readers will be familiar with sash windows. The concept seems alarmingly complex now, but basically, a heavy window frame could be raised and lowered with the help of a heavy iron counter-weight, hidden from view within the frame, and connected to the frame with a stout cord. Edwards arrived for his meeting with Darby armed with both sash weight and cord. It is believed that he bludgeoned to death Darby and his wife, and then used the cord to strangle their 10 month old daughter Ethel.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-19-30-07Having done the deed, Edwards concealed the bodies in a room above the shop, and installed his shop manager, a man named Goodwin. Goodwin and his wife ran the business for a few days, presumably oblivious of the dead bodies lying above the shop. In the meantime, Edwards had taken Darby’s gold watch and chain, and pawned it for cash. He had also rented a separate premises in the east London borough of Leyton, and on 10th December he explained to Goodwin that he was going to sell the Camberwell shop.

In a sequence that would probably be dismissed as preposterous if pitched as a movie screenplay, Edwards then dismembered the remains of the Darby family, and transported them in hessian sacks to Church Road, Leyton, where he buried them in the back yard. Thinking he had become a criminal genius, Edwards decided to reprise his masterstroke. Unfortunately for him, his assault on another shopkeeper, this time a man named Garland, misfired. Garland was able to escape and fetch the police. When Edwards was arrested, the police found John Darby’s business cards among Edwards’ possessions, and after excavating the back yard at Leyton and finding the remains of the Darby family, the police had more than enough evidence to charge Edwards with murder.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-19-31-44His trial at The Old Bailey was something of a foregone conclusion, brightened only by speculation as to whether Edwards would plead insanity. It was revealed that there was a strong streak of mental illness in his family. His mother and an aunt had died insane; one of his cousins was in an asylum and two others were what contemporary newspapers called “mental defectives”. Edwards was found guilty and apparently burst into manaical laughter when he was sentenced to death. As he stood on the scaffold on 3rd March 1903, it is alleged that he turned to the prison chaplain, giggled, and said, “I’ve been looking forward to this lot!”

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The Little Shop of Horrors at 22 Wyndham Rd, Camberwell, where the entire Darby family was murdered for greed and gain by Edgar Edwards in 1902 remained one of London’s most notorious murder houses for many years. In 1906, George R Simms noted that the shop had changed hands twice since the murders. Country folks, ignorant of its history, have taken on the business, but found out about the dreadful deeds enacted unders its roof – and left again. Another writer noted that the shop had stood empty for many months after the murders, since no-one wanted to live or do business in a building with such terrible memories, even at a reduced rent. He went on to say,

“It had a very desolate look when I walked past it some months after the killings, but on walking there a few years later I saw that a saddler and harness maker had set up business there.”

It seems that the shop stood until the 1940s or 50s, after which it disappeared, perhaps as a result of wartime bombing or peacetime redevelopment.

INTERVIEW . . . Joseph Knox

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Sirens, the debut novel from Joseph Knox, has hit the crime fiction world like a cruise missile in these first days of 2017. On one level a police procedural, Sirens takes off in several different directions, and is full of wickedly sharp prose and a kind of grim poetry that shines an unforgiving light on modern Manchester and its criminal underworld. You can read our review of the book here, but it is a pure pleasure to have the author answering a few questions.

Tell us something about your background, and how you came to be a writer.

I began writing from a very young age. I was an insomniac as a kid and my parents quickly realised that giving me books and notebooks would stop me wandering round the house at night making trouble. I was sketching out short stories, comedy routines and characters as soon as I could hold a pen. Every word of it was shit – but it was a great early lesson in what writing really is: sitting alone for many hours, trying to reach that perfect moment where you forget you’re a person, forget you’re a boy in his bedroom writing, and begin to inhabit whatever world you’re writing about.

For readers who have yet to meet Aidan Waits, run through his CV.

Aidan is already on his very last chance as a detective when he’s caught stealing drugs from evidence. Although he uses substances, the reasons for his theft aren’t so cut and dry. He’s already an outsider. An unnatural fit for the job, he has a keen eye for detail and human frailty but is disconnected from those around him and filled with anger. The source of this anger, and Aidan’s self-destructive tendencies, is a key plot point of the book. There are flashes that he might be a keen detective, even a good man, but due to several things, might be too compromised to do the right thing.

sirensIt seems from Sirens that you have a love-hate relationship with Manchester. Give us some idea of your impressions of the city. Was it a wrench to move to London, or a relief?

A perceptive question! I’d say my relationship with Manchester leans more towards love. I grew up in Stoke on Trent and, to me, Manchester was the big city. It was where I dreamt of running away to, where I did run away to when the time came. It was the first place I ever really had my heart broken. The first place I had my nose broken. I failed in every way possible when I lived there – financially, romantically and personally. But I always appreciated it; to be surrounded by beautiful buildings, many of which clashed with garish modern things; to be surrounded by more art, artists, love and imagination than I could understand; to walk from one side of the city to another over the course of several hours, watching all kinds of strange, new people. The more I write and think about it, the more I love it. But I know my life would be very different if I’d stayed. Perhaps I never would have made it out of those basement bars Aidan’s stuck in?

Staying with Greater Manchester, it seems to me that it has always ‘punched above its weight’ in terms of awful criminal deeds. Given the history of villainy which includes Brady and Hindley, Trevor Hardy, Harold Shipman and Dale Cregan, do you think that is a fair assessment?

Punching above its weight is a pretty good line for Manchester in general. Like all truly great cities, it offers possibilities. Annihilation and salvation. The atmosphere of Manchester is both breathtakingly beautiful and bluntly cruel. Why wouldn’t that broadcast out to the population?

Sirens is almost blacker than Noir. Which authors from the darker end of the crime fiction street have influenced you?

James Ellroy is very important to me. As are the obvious hard noir guys like David Peace etc – and the weirder ones like James Sallis. The biggest influence on me as a writer, though, is Ross MacDonald. Archer is a man trying to understand people, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. As the world gets crueler, that’s more important. Certainly as Aidan finds himself surrounded by enemies and, at a certain point in the novel I think it’s fair to say, finds himself totally doomed, his sympathy – rather than his bravery – is what I admire most.

jnSirens is a great title. Are we talking blue flashing lights or voluptuous ladies luring sailors to their death?

Thank you. The first time I thought of Sirens as a title for this book (working title was: Women Who Love Men Who Love Drugs) was when listening to There There by Radiohead. Thom Yorke’s wonderful line; ‘There’s always a siren, singing you to shipwrecks’ seemed to sum up Aidan’s plight.

There’s so much to love about the word. Sex, danger, lights, noises, police, women, temptation. Could be a straight description of the almost-mythic women in the novel. A nod towards Aidan’s weakness for them. A nod towards what might happen to him if he succumbs to this weakness. But, yes, also a reference to the police. Their corruption is a major theme of Sirens. A combination of the two meanings, a police siren and a destructive siren, could even give the impression that the real danger in this novel is on the side of the law…

The craze for anything Scandinavian in crime fiction seems to have passed. With your experience of selling crime books to the public, what do you think will be ‘the next Big Thing’?

Ah! No one ever gets this shit right and why would they want to? The joy of books is surprise – a line, a title, a bestseller. I also read as much around the map as possible to avoid trend books. With that said, in general fiction I’ve recently been enjoying a lot of Faction. That is to say, novels which combine fact with fiction – perhaps even ones where the authors themselves can be characters. Perhaps not a future trend, but an idea of some crime books that’d turn my head.

What next for Aidan Waits?

Aidan Waits will return in 2018 in The Smiling Man. Based on a real-life unsolved murder. One of the most maddening and confounding I’ve ever encountered, mesmerising, kaleidoscopic evil, with surprisingly little written about it. I want each of the Waits novels to be a different kind of crime novel. The first is the undercover book. This is Aidan and his monstrous partner Sutty investigating a real case and driving each other mad.

The Waterstones Exclusive of Sirens contains a Waits short story which takes place after the events of Sirens, and lightly sets up the events of book two…

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SIRENS . . . Between the covers

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This debut novel from Joseph Knox
is a dark and existential policier set in a modern Manchester where the neon lights of drug fuelled night clubs cast their garish glow over abandoned nineteenth century warehouses flanking polluted rivers which once powered the cotton mills that made the city great. Out in the suburbs, in houses built for long dead mill-owners, girls barely past their GCSEs jostle each other to get the attention of the organised crime barons who control the flow of narcotics and young flesh.

Aidan Waits is a young policeman who has a liking for pharmaceutical products that anaesthetize him from life. All is well until he is snared in a sting. He is caught sampling marching powder from the police evidence locker, and he is, as they say, bang to rights. He is given a grim choice by his boss. Option one is that his corruption is made public, but he will then be suspended and disappear into the darkness of the Manchester night. Beneath this façade, however, he will actually be working to bring down one of the most dangerous and powerful of the gang bosses. Option two is similar, except that he will be hauled through the courts and given serious jail time. And we all know what happens to policemen when they are thrown into prison.

sirensSo, Waits plays a dangerous double game which involves being undercover yet in full view. This paradox is essential. Obviously drug lord Zain Carver will know that Waits is a suspended copper; the deception will only work if Waits can convince the gangster that he is prepared to damage his former employers with leaked information. It requires no acting ability whatsoever for Waits to appear dissolute, addicted and troubled – that is his normal persona. However, a big problem looms. A rich and influential Member of Parliament has “lost” his teenage daughter. Isabelle Rossitter is one of the satellites fizzing around the planet Carver. Daddy is desperate to get her back, and Waits is given the task.

To say that Waits is a complex character is an understatement to rival Laurence Oates’ gentle assertion that he was “just going outside, and may be some time.” Waits’ childhood is never far from his thoughts, and those thoughts are not positive. He and his little sister were effectively abandoned by a mother who simply didn’t want them. Footsteps echoing along the cold and love starved corridors of institutional homes still ring in his ears, and the distant rejection isn’t just a scar – it is an open wound.

When a grossly polluted brick of heroin cuts a fatal swathe through a teenage party, the result is every bit as deadly as an American High School shooting. In consequence, Waits is cut adrift by both his police handler and his underworld connections. Death stalks his every move, and he finds himself one of the few remaining pieces on the board in a deadly endgame. Waits lurches back and forth through a nightmare world of abusive sex, wasted lives, casual violence and police corruption. The novel scarcely ever emerges from the flickering strobe-lit decadence of the Manchester night. There are times when Knox writes with the kind of savage poetry that reminded me very much of the great Derek Raymond.

“ The daylight was awful. It floodlit the insane, the terminally ill, turned loose again for the day, laughing and crying and pissing their pants through the streets. It was like the lights going up at last orders, turning the women from beautiful to plain, exposing the men for what they all are at their worst. Ugly, identical.”

This is a brutal, clever and beautifully written book. Knox hands Waits a guttering candle of compassion, and he manages to keep it alight despite gusts of wind that carry the reek of decay, hatred, perversion and lust. It is scarcely credible that this is a debut novel. Knox has penned a black tale which is certainly not a comfort read. There are passages which made me physically wince, but the author has the confidence to give us an ending, once the mayhem has died down, which is both bitter-sweet and poignant. As Milton wrote, at the conclusion of Samson Agonistes:

“His servants he with new acquist
Of true experience from this great event:
With peace and consolation hath dismist,
And calm of mind all passion spent.”

Sirens is published by Doubleday, and will be available on 12th January

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