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DON’T LET GO … Between the covers

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Napoleon. Dumas. Two names resonant of nineteenth century France. A warrior and a writer. Put them together, and you have an unusual combination. Unusual, certainly, for a New Jersey cop. He has been known as ‘Nap’ for as long as he can remember, and he takes centre stage in the latest thriller from Harlan Coben. Dumas was born in Marseilles but since his family moved to Westbridge, NJ, he hasn’t strayed far from his home town. Nap Dumas is not, however, all he seems to be. On the one hand:

DLG cover“Mr Nice Neighbour. See, I am that rarest of creatures in suburban towns – a straight, single, childless male is about as common out here as a cigarette in a health club – so I work hard to come across as normal, boring, reliable.”

That’s the Nap Dumas who waves to his neighbours Ned and Tammy and never forgets to inquire how their son’s team is doing in the little league. There is another Nap Dumas, too. He’s the man who tracks down Trey, a lowlife bully who has been beating up his girlfriend and abusing her daughter. He’s the man who explains the problem to Trey. With a baseball bat.

There’s a third Nap Dumas, who never lets a day go by without talking to his twin brother Leo. That’s the Leo who, fifteen years ago was found by the railway tracks with his girlfriend Diane. Both of them turned into little more than roadkill by the impact of 3000 tons of freight train. The sequence of events of that terrible night play on loop inside Nap’s head, along with a nightmare tangle of unanswered questions. Why did the pair commit suicide? Why did Nap’s girlfriend Maura Wells disappear that night and simply drop off the radar?

When ex-Westbridge boy Rex Canton – now a traffic cop in neighbouring Pennsylvania – takes two bullets in the back of the head while conducting a routine traffic stop, the investigators come looking for Nap Dumas. At first he is puzzled. He hasn’t seen Rex Canton in years, and they were never particularly close. But when they tell him whose fingerprints they found in the car realisation dawns:

“I have always heard the expression,’the hairs on my neck stood up,’ but I don’t think I ever quite got it until now.”

One of the investigating officers spells it out, just in case the penny hasn’t dropped:

“The prints got a hit …. because ten years ago, you, Detective Dumas, put them in the database, describing her as a person of interest. Ten years ago, when you first joined the force, you asked to be notified if there was ever a hit.”

The discovery of Maura’s prints triggers a journey into a nightmare that some people in Westbridge had tried to forget. A nightmare made up of lies, lives shattered, deception and cold blooded murder. Nap Dumas, however, is determined to prise up the stone from the ground, even though he knows that dark and deadly things will be scuttling about underneath.

Harlan Coben 2014 bis (c) Claudio Marinesco (3).jpgCoben is never anything but readable and he is great form here. This was one of those books which pose a delicious dilemma – do I carry on reading as the hook of the action bites deeper and deeper, or do I put it down for a couple of hours to make it last longer? As a regular reader of Coben’s books I knew that the big reveal – in this case the truth about the deaths of Leo and Diane – would be a definite “Oh, my God!” moment, but try as I might, I didn’t get close to guessing the actual shocking detail.

Coben doesn’t usually spend too much energy on giving us anything remotely romantic but, as a bonus, he allows himself to tug a few heartstrings at the end of this gripping – and affecting – thriller. Fans of Coben’s sporting investigator Myron Bolitar (read our review of Home here) will also be pleased to know that he puts in an appearance – albeit a brief one – in Don’t Let Go, which is published by Century and will be available in all formats from September 26th.

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THE WORD IS MURDER … Between the covers

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Diana Cowper crosses the Fulham Road, and walks into a funeral parlour. We are told that she is:

“… a short, very business-like woman: there was a sense of determination in her eyes, her sharply cut hair, the very way she walked. She was in her sixties, with a pleasant, round face. There were plenty of women like her in the streets of Fulham and South Kensington. She might have been on her way to lunch or to an art gallery.”

TWIM058Many people in their sixties – particularly those who are comfortably off – plan ahead for their own funerals. Daytime television programmes are interspersed with advertisements featuring either be-cardiganed senior citizens smugly telling us that they have taken insurance with Coffins ‘R’ Us, or rueful widows plaintively wishing that they had been better prepared for the demise of poor Jack, Barry or Derek. However, it would be unusual to hear that the be-cardiganed senior citizen had died only hours after planning and paying for their own send-off from the world of the living.

But that is precisely what happens to Diana Cowper. She is found murdered in her smart Chelsea terraced house. It is at this point that we are introduced to the two main characters in the story. One is Daniel Hawthorne, a former police detective sacked for unprofessional conduct, but with such an uncanny ability to solve murders that he is retained as a consultant by his former employers. The other is also involved in murder, but of a fictitious kind. He is a successful author and screenwriter with a string of hit TV shows and book bestsellers to his credit. His name? None other than Anthony Horowitz.

Plot-wise, the semi-fictional Horowitz is approached by Hawthorne, who wants him to write a crime story detailing his skill as a solver of murder mysteries. Where better to start than with the mysterious death of Diana Cowper? The back-story to her murder includes her complicity in the death of a young boy in a road accident ten years earlier, her son – now one of the best known young actors between the West End and Hollywood – the shattered family of the dead boy, and the judge who let Diana Cowper walk away a free woman from her trial for causing the boy’s death.

AHDuring the story, Horowitz (right) drops plenty of names but, to be fair, the real AH has plenty of names to drop. His CV as a writer is, to say the least, impressive. But just when you might be thinking that he is banging his own drum or blowing his own trumpet – select your favourite musical metaphor – he plays a tremendous practical joke on himself. He is summoned to Soho for a vital pre-production meeting with Steven and Peter (that will be Mr Spielberg and Mr Jackson to you and me), but his star gazing is rudely interrupted by none other than the totally unembarrassable person of Daniel Hawthorne, who barges his way into the meeting to collect Horowitz so that the pair can attend the funeral of Diana Cowper.
To write a novel with yourself as one of the main characters takes a certain amount of chutzpah and a great deal of narrative skill. Does Horowitz get away with it? Yes, yes, yes – and yes again. This is a gloriously complex whodunnit and a sly dig at the bizarre intensity of the worlds of both film-making and publishing. It is one of those books where the pages are turned all too quickly. The best books draw you into their world, make you part of it, make you care about what happens to the characters and force a sigh of regret when you reach the end papers. The Word Is Murder is one such book. It is full of intrigue, enjoyment, dark humour and superb characterisation.

I genuinely hope that this is not the last of Daniel Hawthorn. Horowitz has created an intriguing anti-hero who is, at times, almost autistic, but also capable of a chameleon-like transformation into an empathetic and sensitive listener. Hawthorne can switch between figuratively holding someone’s hand but then, in the blink of an eye, stabbing them with a bodkin. We learn just enough about Hawthorne to answer a few basic questions, but Horwowitz leaves us so much more to discover. Let us hope that he delivers. The Word Is Murder will be published by Century on 24th August, and is available for pre-order here.

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.

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Wood and Beck

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It was huge relief and a welcome distraction from the spin-speak, false sincerity and empty promises of a dire General Election campaign when two beautifully designed new hardback novels came this week. If they read as impressively as they appear at first glance, then I have some much needed hours of distraction ahead.

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Tom Wood041The first is The Final Hour by Tom Wood. It is apparently the seventh in a series of thrillers centred on an international assassin called Victor. I confess that I am new to the books, but it seems that Victor, after a string of successful ice-cold hits has developed a painful affliction for any paid killer – he has started to show remorse. CIA man Antonio Alvarez is as remorseless a hunter – but in the cause of good – as Victor, but now circumstances dictate that their orbits will collide, with devastating effect. The Final Hour is published by Sphere, and is out on 29th June.

Here and Gone040As I flicked through the pages of Here and Gone I saw the author photo on the back inside cover, and I thought, “hang on, I know that bloke..” I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting Stuart Neville in person, but I have become a great admirer of his crime thrillers set in Ireland, both north and south of the border. But now, here he is, under the name of Haylen Beck, with a novel which he says is inspired by his love of American crime fiction.

The plot? A young mother sets off on a perilous journey across the badlands of Arizona. In the back of her car, her two kids. Sean and Louise are strapped in safely, but they are dimly aware that their mum, Audra, is escaping the verbal and physical assaults of their father. As Audra drives on through the night, she is pulled over by the cops. Enter that most reliable trope of American crime novels, the sinister and crooked Sheriff. Audra is about to learn that her troubles are only just beginning.

Depending on which Amazon page you click on, Here and Gone is out in hardback on either 20th June or 13th July. The ubiquitous internet retailer also tells us that it is published by Harvill Secker and the Crown Publishing Group, but since both are in the Penguin Random House stable, I suspect that we are looking at the same thing.

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TWO NIGHTS … Between the covers

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For-author-Kathy-Reichs-its-all-about-bones-PRA9K1L-x-largeThe muster room of hard-nosed female cops and investigators is not exactly a crowded place on Planet CriFi. Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, Fiona Griffiths, Kate Brannigan, Cordelia Gray, Kay Scarpetta and Jane Marple have already taken their seats, but Temperance Brennan has, temporarily, given up hers for another child of her creator, Kathy Reichs (left). Sunday ‘Sunnie’ Night is a damaged, bitter, edgy and downright misanthropic American cop who has been suspended by her bosses for being trigger happy. She sits brooding, remote – and dangerous – on a barely accessible island off the South Carolina coast.

A former buddy, Beau Beaumonde, comes to visit and he has a job offer. A terrorist attack on a Jewish school in Chicago has left victims dead and maimed, but one girl, Stella Bright, was not among the dead, and appears to have been kidnapped. The impossibly wealthy Opaline Drucker, Stella’s grandmother, has decided to spend serious money on an investigation to find the school attackers and discover the whereabouts – or the remains – of Stella.

Sunnie decides to accept the job and heads north to The Windy City in an effort to pick up the trail of the bad guys. To say that Sunnie is ‘street smart’ is an understatement. She hardly trusts her own shadow, and checks into several different hotels, using a different alias each time. She has created several social media profiles stating that she is searching for Stella, but her bait is accepted not online, but in the corridor of a hotel. She answers the threat with extreme violence, but is determined that she will remain the hunter while those who took Stella will easily not shrug off their status as her prey.

Two Nights CoverHalf way through the novel we realise the significance of the title. Sunnie Night is not waging this war alone: her twin brother Augustus ‘Gus’ Night is also on the case and, to use the cliche, he ‘has her back’. Together they are certainly a deadly combination. By this point, though, Reichs has bowled us an unreadable googly – or, for American readers, thrown us a curveball – and it isn’t until the closing pages that we realise that we have been making incorrect assumptions. Which is, of course, exactly what the author planned! Those last few pages make for a terrific finale, as the twins desperately try to prevent an atrocity being carried out at one of America’s most celebrated sporting occasions.

Sunnie and Gus, with a mixture of intelligence and gunfire, close in on the terrorist cell, and it is interesting that Reichs moves away from the obvious contemporary template for a group whose ideology drives their murderous activities. Instead, for better or for worse, we are presented us with the absolute opposite. Sunnie herself is not the kind of character that we readily warm to. In fact, she has trouble warming to herself. She says:

Sure, I’m damaged. I live alone with no permanent phone or Internet account. I have a scar I refuse to fix. I dislike being touched and have a temper that’s my own worst enemy. I use icy showers and grueling workouts to escape stress and trick my brain into making me feel strong.”

Kathy Reichs certainly doesn’t let the grass grow under anyone’s feet in this 110 mph novel. The dialogue – usually between the eponymous Two Nights – is whip-smart and sassy. It is certainly stylised and seems tailor made for a film or TV screenplay, but that is no bad thing in itself. There are guns and bodies galore and the action criss-crosses America with the Night twins homing in on the villains. Maybe it’s not the book for fans of leisurely narrative exposition and detailed reflection by the characters – the pace of the book doesn’t allow anyone much time for introspection – but it’s a cracking and ingeniously plotted thriller. The Kindle version of Two Nights will be available on 29th June from Cornerstone Digital, as will the hardback edition, but from William Heinemann. Follow this link to read more.

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BRIGHT SHINY THINGS … Between the covers

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barbara-nadel-c-teri-varholBarbara Nadel (left) has created one of the more adventurous pairings in recent private eye fiction. The pair return for another episode set in the modern East End of London. Lee Arnold is a former soldier and policeman but now he is the proprietor of an investigation agency, partnered by a young Anglo Bengali widow, Mumtaz Hakim. Abbas al’Barri was an interpreter back in the first Gulf War, where he became close friends with Arnold. He escaped from Iraq with his family, and settled in London, but now he has a huge problem for which he requires the services of Arnold and Hakim. Fayyad – Abbas’s son – has become radicalised and gone to wage jihad in Syria. After receiving a mysterious package containing a significant religious artifact, Abbas and his wife are convinced that it represents a cry for help from Fayyad who, they believe, is desperate to return home.

Like all his fellow crusaders for The Caliphate, Fayyad has cast off his familial name and now has an identity more fitting, in his eyes, for someone wielding the sword of Islamic justice against the kaffir. Abu Imad also knows his way about the internet and he has established a very distinctive social media profile. On the basis of this, Arnold and Hakim hatch a scheme to lure the young jihadi to Amsterdam where they can discover if his parents’ belief in his change of heart is justified, or simply wishful thinking.

BSTTheir plan, it must be said, is fraught with danger and is almost bound to go pear-shaped, but within the confines of crime fiction thrillers, makes for a nail-biting narrative. What could possibly go wrong with Hakim befriending Abu Imad on Facebook and pretending to be a starstruck Muslim lass called Mishal who would like nothing better than to travel out to Syria to be at her hero’s side? Facebook leads to Skype, and with the help of make-up and a head covering, ‘Mishal’ arranges to travel to Amsterdam, complete with Abu Imad’s shopping list from Harrods. As you might expect, everything then goes wrong, in bloody and spectacular fashion.

Nadel, cleverly, has two plotlines operating in tandem, quite different but subtly linked. We have a standard police procedural centred on the murder of a flamboyant Hindu shopkeeper, Rajiv Banergee, who has been openly gay for a long time. This exposes the flaws and fault lines within Islamic society in regard to its attitude towards homosexuality but also keeps us grounded on familiar territory, fiction-wise. The second plot, of course, is the attempt to ‘rescue’ Fayyad al’Barri. This narrative is laden with tension. We soon realise that Arnold and Hakim are in way over their heads, and we can only hope that the pair escape with their lives from a maelstrom of terrorism, counter terrorism and industrial-strength deception

Nadel gives us an unflinching portrait of the social stresses and strains of the Bengali community in and around its Brick Lane heartland. She pulls no punches when describing how the position and treatment of women by many Bengali men is so often at odds with what could be called modern British and, indeed, Western European values.

The novel never becomes mere polemic, but Nadel does address one of the apparent conundrums of Islam, and that is how a so called religion of peace can allow the atrocities carried out by ISIS and other jihadis. Her answer is not the complete solution, but she neatly points out that most of the carnage is carried out by relatively young people, much to the shock and shame of their parents and, in turn, she poses the question, “Since when, in any society, have young people ever listened to their elders?”

Mumtaz Hakim has a considerable back-story which will be familiar to those who have read previous books in the series. For newcomers, the grim events are described with a deft touch which tells the reader everything they need to know, while enabling that part of the plot to simmer away nicely in the background. This is a gripping read which will entertain and cause nails to bitten to the quick. It also raises some significant questions about British society. Bright Shiny Things is available now in all formats.

 

COMPETITION … Win ‘Home’ by Harlan Coben

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

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

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

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

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DEATH MESSAGE …Kate London

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“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way… well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”

Poor old Michael Fish. To have spent a worthy professional life reassuring the British public about what weather was coming their way, only to have your career summed up in twenty eight words. Twenty eight words which couldn’t have been more inaccurate. However, the aftermath of The Great Storm of 15th October 1987 is where Kate London’s new novel begins.

Death Message005A 15 year-old girl, Tania Mills, walks out of her front door and out of the lives of her parents, her family and her friends. She becomes just another statistic. Just another missing person for the police to make a dutiful attempt to appear involved. Just another file, first of all gathering dust on a shelf, and then occupying a tiny space on someone’s hard drive.

Almost three decades later, after the meteorological catastrophe which laid waste to large areas of south-east England, and the emotional storm which devastated the life of Claire Mills following her daughter’s disappearance, a determined Met Police officer, DS Sarah Collins is haunted by the cold case, and is determined to find answers.

Her search for the facts of what really became of Tania Mills is hindered when she is inexorably drawn into a pressing new case of domestic violence. She and a vulnerable young police constable, Lizzie Griffiths, have something of a history, but as Sarah Collins attempts to safeguard a mother and daughter from a very real and present danger, she discovers that the past is not so much another country, but an adjacent room in the same house. Death Message is out on 6th April as a paperback and a Kindle, and is published by Corvus.

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SINS OF THE FATHER … Sheryl Browne

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What if you’d been accused of one of the worst crimes imaginable?

SOTFDetective Inspector Matthew Adams is slowly picking up the pieces from a case that nearly cost him the lives of his entire family and his own sanity too. On the surface, he seems to be moving on, but he drinks to forget – and when he closes his eyes, the nightmares still come.

But the past is the past – or is it? Because the evil Patrick Sullivan might be out of the picture, but there’s somebody who is just as intent on making Matthew’s life hell, and they’re doing it in the cruelest way possible.

When Matthew finds himself accused of a horrific and violent crime, will his family stand by him? And will he even be around to help when his new enemy goes after them as well?

Sins Of The Father is published by the endearingly named Death By Choc Lit, and is out now in Kindle, with a print version due soon. You can click on the image bar below to see a snappy trailer for the first book in the series, After She’s Gone.

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Sheryl Browne
writes edgy, sexy contemporary fiction and psychological thrillers. This is the second in Matthew Adams series. Sheryl is a
member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Romantic Novelists’ Association and awarded a Red Ribbon by The Wishing Shelf Book Awards, Sheryl has several books published and two short stories in Birmingham City University anthologies, where she completed her MA in Creative Writing.If you click on the image below, it will take you to Sheryl’s website where you can learn more about her.

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