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UNLEASHED … Between the covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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COMPETITION … Win UNLEASHED by Peter Laws

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

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

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

YOU HAVE TWO WAYS TO ENTER THE PRIZE DRAW

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

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

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

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

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THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE …Between the covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEADLY DANCE … Between the covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

THE MUSIC OF CRIME FICTION

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IV. SCHERZO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LOVE LIKE BLOOD … Between the covers

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For those customers who boarded the Tom Thorne Express (driven by Mark Billingham) at the last station, here is the story so far. Tom Thorne is a middle-aged policeman currently – and probably permanently – of Detective Inspector rank. His home turf is predominantly North London, but he has survived being busted down to uniform, and banished to that godless region south of the Thames. He is a maverick’s maverick. Grumpy, impulsive, reckless, no respecter of seniority, but grudgingly admired by fellow officers who know a good copper when they see one. He lives with a child protection officer and her young son. His long time best mate is pathologist Phil Hendricks who is totally conventional apart from his addiction to body piercings, tattoos, and the Gay lifestyle. Of Thorne’s many vices, the one which exasperates his friends more than anything is his passion for country music, where his drug of choice is Hank Williams. Thorne tries not to give the many ghosts in his past free reign, but the spectre that haunts him the most is that of his late father, who suffered a long and ultimately fatal slide down into the hell of dementia.

LLB coverNow, Thorne becomes involved in another kind of hell on earth, and one where all absent devils have been called home, all leave cancelled, and any recently retired fallen angels pressed back into duty. The fires stoked in this particular hellish pit illuminate the ghastly world inhabited by some British Asian communities who sanction murder in the name of their warped concept of family honour. Among the ghosts which inhabit the darker parts of Thorne’s memory is that of Meena Athwal. She was killed, he is certain, at the behest of her family, but her death remains unavenged in a court of justice.

Thorne is approached by a fellow officer, Nicola Tanner. Her partner, schoolteacher Susan Best, has been murdered in their shared home, and Tanner is convinced that it is a case of mistaken identity. She believes that the killers are a pair of professional murderers she is tracking for their role in so-called ‘Honour Killings’. Tanner wants Thorne’s help because she thinks his sheer bloody-mindedness and contempt for procedure will cut through the layers of police timidity caused by misplaced sensitivity to multicultural issues.

Thorne, reluctantly, agrees to help, but then two youngsters – Amaya and boyfriend Kamal – are abducted. They were planning to run away together to escape the stifling expectations of their families, but the CCTV shows them being abused by a drunken Irish lout on a train, but then rescued by a smartly dressed Asian man. When Amaya’s body turns up in a shallow grave, apparently raped and strangled, Thorne abandons any reluctance he may have felt, and begins to put pressure on those he feels may be responsible.

Billingham dedicates the book to two real-life victims of religious murder, Banaz Mahmod and Rahmat Sulemani. He barely keeps his anger in check, but is too good a writer to allow the novel to be just a diatribe against disgusting and inhuman beliefs. Still, his controlled fury burns white hot on every page. Here, he discusses motives for the killings with his boss:

“It’s hard to accept these are motives.”
“Because they’re not, “ Thorne said. “Not to you or me or to anyone else with an ounce of sodding humanity. The people we’re dealing with have different … standards. A different code. If you can kill your own flesh and blood because something they’ve done means you don’t think you can hold your head up in a temple or in some poxy neighbourhood café….”

We watch with anguish as another possible victim becomes a target for the deadly pair who Tanner has correctly identified. A teenage girl keeps a diary and, having realised that her brother Jad has taken to reading it, writes this entry:

“What makes me angriest is that Jad doesn’t believe a lot of this stuff any more than I do. It’s perfect for him, because of what he’s got between his legs. He gets to do what he likes while I’m bringing dishonour into the house because I’m not ashamed to use what’s BETWEEN MY EARS!”

The plot twists are little short of masterly. Billingham encourages us to make a series of assumptions, but then delights in confounding us as he reveals that the reality is something different altogether. Love Like Blood is the sixteenth Tom Thorne novel and I am certain that the series, which started in 2001 with Sleepyhead, will come to be seen as a classic of its kind. I have read every one of them, but can say with complete conviction that Love Like Blood is the most powerful and impressive yet.

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COMPETITION … Win STRANGE TIDE by Christopher Fowler

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I COUNT MYSELF GENUINELY LUCKY to be sent novels by publishers and authors who are looking for coverage of their books. Any reviewer will tell you the same thing. Inevitably, it is impractical to keep all the books once they have been read and reviewed. I pass on books to like-minded friends, or take a batch to the charity shops in town. But some contemporary books I guard with my life, and they will leave my house over my dead body.

7061d-chrisfowlerThe Urban Dictionary tells me that a “keeper” is is a colloquial phrase derived from “for keeps,” which means worth keeping forever. I have an eclectic list of CriFi keepers which include such diverse talents as Walter Mosley, Phil Rickman, Harry Bingham, Eva Dolan and Jim Kelly. But top of my list is the wonderful Bryant and May series by Christopher Fowler (left). So, rest assured, I would not be putting this lovely new paperback up as a prize if I did not already have my hardback copy in pride of place on my bookshelf.

ST back033STRANGE TIDE is set, as you may expect, in London, but it’s a London few of us will ever see. It’s a world of forgotten alleyways, strange histories, abandoned amusement arcades, inexplicable legends and murder – always murder. Strange Tide was my book of the year for 2016, and you can read my review of it by following this link.

If you would like to win the paperback version of Strange Tide, then answer a simple question. Fans of the series will know the christian names of the two aged detectives. So, if you think their names are Reg Bryant and Michael May, then send me an email with Reg, Michael in the subject box. The email address is below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Wednesday 31st May 2017.
• One entry per competitor.• Entries accepted from Europe, America, Asia and Australasia (basically anywhere!)
• The winner will be drawn out of the (digital) hat.

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“and OVER HERE!” … Wartime executions of American servicemen at Shepton Mallet

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“OVER-PAID, OVER-FED, OVER-SEXED, and OVER HERE!” The phrase is attributed to the comedian and entertainer Tommy Trinder, but for many British people his barbed catchphrase rang all too true. American servicemen had left a country unaffected by German bombing, rationing and austerity, and brought with them an abundance of delights in the way of cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate and nylon stockings. For some women, young and not so young, the brash appeal of these loud and confident young men was irresistible. But things did not always turn out for the best for either the hosts or the visitors. The American men sometimes strayed from the straight and narrow path, and in the most severe cases, justice was swift and terrible. In all, eighteen American servicemen were executed within the forbidding grey walls of Shepton Mallet Prison in Somerset. Two met their death by firing squad, but sixteen were hanged. This is the story of some of them.

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NOOSE1THE MOST HORRIFIC  of the crimes occurred not on the British mainland, but in the sleepy countryside of County Tyrone, one of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, in September 1944. The victim, Patricia Wylie was just seven years old. There is something about a child killing that curdles the blood of even the most hardened observer of criminal misdeeds. Private William Harrison was known to the Wylie family, who lived in a cottage near the remote village of Killclopy, and when he called at the house on 25th September, he found Patricia there on her own. She said she had to go into the village to do some shopping for her mother, and Harrison went with her. Patricia never reached the village, however, and after an extensive search her bloodied body – sexually assaulted – was found in a field, casually covered up with hay.

Harrison was quickly arrested and at his subsequent court martial in Cookstown his defence was that of diminished responsibility due to being drunk, and having had a traumatic childhood in Ohio. It was stated that when he was born, his mother was a mere 14 years old, and that he had his first sexual experience at the age of 15, partly due to being drunk. Prior to his arrest he had been court martialled no fewer than 5 times for being drunk or absent without leave. The submission by his lawyer that he had insufficient moral awareness to realise that the assault on Patricia  (which he admitted) was wrong fell on deaf ears, and he was sentenced to death on Saturday 18th November 1944.

He was removed to Shepton Mallet, and was hanged on 7th April 1945, by Thomas Pierrepont and Herbert Morris.

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NOOSE1Death is no respecter of persons, but the most high profile victim of American violence during WW2 in Britain was certainly Sir Eric Teichman. He was a distinguished career diplomat, and had written books about his experiences in the far flung corners of what remained of the British Empire. He was no dour and over-cautious emissary, however, and was described as “a flamboyantly enigmatic explorer-cum-special agent.”

Sir-Eric-Teichman-2-780x1024On 3rd December 1944, whilst at home at Honingham Hall, his estate in Norfolk,  Teichman (left) heard the sound of gunfire nearby. He went out to confront two poachers (Private George E. Smith of Pittsburgh and Private Leonard S. Wijpacha of Detroit) who were trespassing in the grounds of his estate. Both intruders were American soldiers based at a nearby USAAF airfield and each was armed with an M1 carbine. Sir Eric was killed during the confrontation, receiving a fatal gunshot wound to the head.

Private Smith (army serial number: 33288266) was subsequently court-martialled at RAF Attlebridge, convicted of murder and executed by hanging  at Shepton Mallet on 8th May 1945 (i.e. VE day), despite appeals for clemency, including one from Lady Ellen Teichman. His companion, Private Wijpacha was charged with being an accessory to murder, but was not sentenced to death. The hangman on this occasion was, again, Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris.

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Doris StaplesNOOSE1Perhaps the most dramatic of the  murders occurred on a peaceful  street in the well-to-do Oxfordshire town of Henley on Thames. Doris Staples was 35 years old, and had been ‘courting’ an American soldier who was currently on active service in North Africa. It seems, however, that Private John H. Waters, a 38-year-old soldier from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and the old adage “while the cat’s away..” on his mind. Doris worked in a dress shop at 11A Greys Road. The building is still there, but is now a solicitors’ office. On the afternoon of 14th July 1943, locals were disturbed to hear gunshots coming from the premises. The police tried to force an entry to the shop, but it wasn’t until a tear gas grenade was lobbed in through the window, and the local fire brigade called to direct powerful jets of water into the building, that the authorities felt safe enough to enter. Once inside, they found a very dead Doris Staples, and a seriously wounded John Waters. It seems that Waters was driven to madness by his unrequited passion for Doris Staples, and after mortally wounding her, he turned the gun on himself.

Either by accident or design, Waters survived, but his appointment to meet his maker was only postponed, not cancelled. At a court martial in Watford he was found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was removed to Shepton Mallet and on 10th February 1944 he was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint and his assistant Alex Riley.

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NOOSE1Along with other great forested areas in ancient England such as Sherwood, Arden, Epping, and Charnwood, Savernake Forest in Wiltshire owed its development to the love the English royalty and aristocracy had for hunting. In late September 1943, however, the historic woodland was the scene of a different kind of hunting – and the prey was human. It needs to be remembered, not in any sense of expiation for these terrible crimes, but by way of establishing what life was like in wartime Britain, that hundreds of thousands of husbands, boyfriends and other eligible young men were all away at the war, leaving women very much on their own. Someone once unkindly likened the situation to a careless farmer leaving the chicken run unlatched with a hungry fox in the vicinity.

Lee A. Davis was another young G.I. who could not resist the temptation of the hen coop door swinging open. near Marlborough Wilts., as On the night of 28th September, two young women walked back from the cinema near Marlborough Wiltshire. Davis asked the girls what they were doing and one, Muriel Fawden, said she was returning to the hospital where she worked as a nurse. They tried to get away from Davis who shouted after them “Stand still, or I’ll shoot”. He instructed the terrified girls to go into some bushes beside the footpath. Muriel’s companion  June Lay decided to make a run for it and Davis shot her dead.

Lee A Davis2He now forced Muriel into some bushes and raped her but surprisingly did not kill her. When she recovered from her ordeal she was able to give a full statement to the police and as a result all the rifles of the American soldiers stationed nearby were examined. Davis’ was found to have been fired and forensic tests matched it to the shell cases found near June’s body. Davis admitted he had been at the scene of the crime but said he had only meant to fire over the heads of the girls. He was court-martialled at Marlborough on the 6th of October for the murder and the rape, both crimes carrying the death penalty under US Military law. He was hanged on the 14th of December, 1943 by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Alex Riley.

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The full list of military executions of American servicemen at Shepton Mallet is as follows:

Pte. David Cobb, a 22 year old G.I. was the first to be hanged. He had shot and killed another soldier and was executed on 12th March, 1943.

Pte. Harold Smith a a 20 year old from LaGrange, Georgia shot and killed Pte. Harry Jenkins  He made a full statement admitting his guilt and was duly hanged on the 25th of June, 1943 by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint.

20 year old Lee A. Davis (see main article) was executed for rape and murder in 1943.

John Waters from Perth Amboy in New Jersey was, at 39, rather older than the rest of these soldiers. He was hanged on the 10th of February 1944 by Tom Pierrepoint, assisted by Alex Riley. (see main article)

J.C. Leatherberry, a 22 year old from Hazelhurst, Mississippi, was executed for the murder of Colchester taxi driver Henry Hailstone on the evening of 5th of December 1943.  Leatherberry was sent to Shepton Mallet to be hanged by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint on the 16th of March 1944.

25 year old Pte. Wiley Harris Jr. from Greenville, Georgia, was another soldier who was stationed in Belfast in Northern Ireland. After a fight broke out in a bar, Harris stabbed a local pimp called Coogan 17 times. The court martial were not prepared to accept self defence in view of the number of stab wounds and so Harris was convicted. He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Alex Riley, on the 26th of May 1944.

20 year old Alex F. Miranda from Santa Ana, California, became the first American serviceman to suffer death by musketry as the US Army called shooting by firing squad, at Shepton Mallet. He was executed on Tuesday the 30th of May 1944 for the murder of his sergeant, Sgt. Thomas Evison at Broomhill Camp in Devon.

25 year old Eliga Brinson from Tallahassee Florida and 22 year old Willie Smith from Birmingham Alabama, were hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint on the 11th of August 1944 for the rape of 16 year old Dorothy Holmes after a dance at Bishop’s Cleeve in Gloucestershire.

Madison Thomas, a 23 year old from Arnaudville, Louisiana, was another soldier convicted of rape. His victim was Beatrice Reynolds.  He was court martialled at Plymouth on the 21st of August and hanged by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint on the 12th of October 1944.

35 year old Benjamin Pyegate from Dillon, South Carolina, was the second and last US soldier to face a firing squad at Shepton Mallet. The crime – stabbing a fellow soldier –  took place at Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire on the 15th of July 1944.

24 year old Ernest Lee Clark from Clifton Forge, Virginia and Augustine M. Guerra aged 20 from Cibolo, Texas were jointly convicted of the rape and murder of 15 year old Elizabeth Green at Ashford Kent on 22nd of August 1944. They were hanged side by side on the 8th of January 1945, by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint.

Robert L. Pearson, a 21 year old from Mayflower, Arkansas and 24 year old Parson (also given as Cubia) Jones from Thompson, Georgia, were convicted by court martial of the rape of Joyce Brown at Chard in Somerset on the 3rd of December 1944. They were tried at Chard on the 16th of December 1944 and hanged side by side on the 17th of March 1945 by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris.

22 year old William Harrison Jr. from Ironton, Ohio sexually assaulted and strangled seven year old Patricia Wylie in Killycolpy Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. (see main article)

George E. Smith Jr. aged 28 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, (see main article) was hanged on 8th May, 1945  by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris.

Aniceto Martinez, a 23 year old Mexican American soldier from Vallecitos New Mexico was the last person to be hanged for rape – that of an elderly woman –  in the UK,  when he went to the gallows on the 15th of June 1945. Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert, carried out the execution.

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There is a macabre postscript to this story. Initially, the bodies of the executed soldiers were interred in the huge cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey. Later, though, the remains were transferred to Plot E, Oise-Aisne American cemetery near Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne, Picardy, France.

Plot E is approximately 100 metres away from the main cemetery and is a separate, hidden section which currently contains the remains of 94 American military prisoners, all of whom were executed by hanging or firing squad under military authority for crimes committed during or shortly after World War II. Their victims were 26 fellow American soldiers (all murdered) and 71 British, French, German, Italian, Polish and Algerian civilians (both male and female) who were raped or murdered. No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road.

THE KILLING CONNECTION… Between the covers

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Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilchrist struggles to keep his balance – and his dignity – as he slips and scrabbles over the slimy rocks that separate the ruins of St Andrews castle from the North Sea. The object of his attention is the corpse of a woman. The sea – and things that scuttle and nibble in its depths – have destroyed her face, but she is eventually identified. After what is left of her has been probed, sliced and weighed on the pathologist’s table, the verdict is that she has been strangled.

TKC CoverThe woman is eventually identified as Alice Hickson, a journalist, and the woman who provided the ID, a literary editor called Manikandan Lal, is flying home from holiday to give further background to her friend’s disappearance and death. ‘Kandi’ Lal fails to make her appointment with Gilchrist, however, and soon the police team realise that they may be hunting for a second victim of whoever killed Alice Hickson. Gilchrist’s partner, DS Jessie Janes has problems of own, which are become nagging distractions from her professional duties. As if it were not bad enough to learn that her junkie mother has been murdered by a family member, Jessie is faced with the heartbreaking task of explaining to her son that an operation to correct his deafness has been cancelled permanently.

Battling the Arctic conditions which have descended upon Fife like a deathly blanket, Gilchrist and Janes identify the killer, but are outsmarted at every turn by a man who they discover is not only responsible for the deaths of Hickson and Lal, but is linked to a series of murders where women have been dazzled by promises of love, but then skillfully separated from their money before being brutally killed.

One of the stars of the novel is Fife and its neighbouring districts. John Rebus has occasionally battled criminals there and, in the real world, Val McDermid is Kirkcaldy born and bred, but no-one can have described the sheer barbarity of its winter climate with quite such glee as Muir. We are a few weeks away from midwinter, but we have horizontal rain, bitter east winds, windscreen wipers failing to cope with blizzards, and ice-shrivelled bracken crackling underfoot.

“It was half-past nine already and the temperature had plunged. Ahead, in the cold mist, Alloa stood like a fortified mound. Beyond, the Ochil Hills seemed to overlap in darkening greys and rounded peaks capped in white.”

Frank-MuirDetective Inspector characters have become a staple in British crime fiction, mainly because their position gives them a complete overview of what is usually a murder case, while also allowing them to “get their hands dirty” and provide us readers with action and excitement. So, the concept has become a genre within a genre, and there must be enough fictional DCIs and DIs to fill a conference hall. This said, the stories still need to be written well, and Frank Muir (right) has real pedigree. This latest book will disappoint neither Andy Gilchrist’s growing army of fans nor someone for whom reading The Killing Connection is by way of an introduction.

Andy Gilchrist is, in some ways, familiar. He struggles to preserve what is left of his family life with the blood-sucking demands of his job. Home is a place he sleeps, alone and usually exhausted. He has a reputation as a man who battles the police heirarchy rather than seeking to join it. The account of his latest case is a thoroughly good police procedural, an expertly plotted ‘page-turner’, and a welcome addition to the shelves carrying other excellent Scottish crime novels. The Killing Connection is published by Constable, and is available here.

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