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Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Deadly Dames at Portsmouth BookFest

From left to right  Charlie Cochrane, Carol Westron, Nicola Slade, Eileen Robertson, Len Tyler and Joan Moules.  
(Photograph courtesy of  Jack Halsall)

The Deadly Dames appeared at Portsmouth BookFest at Portsmouth Central Library on
Saturday 18th February.
The Dames: Charlie Cochrane, Joan Moules, Eileen Robertson, Nicola Slade and Carol Westron were delighted to welcome
L.C. Tyler as their Guest Chevalier.
Departing slightly from their usual style, the panel discussed

‘Nemesis With Knitting Needles’

- women sleuths from Victorian times until the present day.
The debate ranged from the problems of following a suspect whilst wearing a crinoline to 21st Century television adaptations of classic detective stories, but no decision was reached about whether modern detectives should take up knitting.

Friday, 17 February 2017

‘The Harbour Master’ by Daniel Pembrey

Published by No Exit Press,
10 November 2016.
ISBN: 078-1-84344-877-8 (PBO)

Amsterdam, at 6am on a misty March morning, and almost-retired detective Henk van der Pol is just sitting on his favourite seat by the harbour, contemplating breakfast with his journalist wife, Petra, when a woman’s body is found. It’s not his jurisdiction, and his boss is determined to keep him out of the case ... which makes him all the more determined to find out just how high the cover-up goes ...

This cracking PP is split into three parts: The Harbour Master, The Maze, and Ransom. The overarching storyline is continuous, but each part also features a separate investigation – it’s all cleverly, satisfyingly plotted. The first focuses on people-trafficking, the second on the death of a diplomat and a stolen painting, and the third involves the kidnap of a Brussels bureaucrat. Henk van der Pol is the narrator throughout: shrewd, cynical, a man who knows his patch of Amsterdam inside out, who’s not afraid of taking risks, yet who also knows when it’s time to draw his neck in, instead of sticking it out – one of the extra dimensions of this novel is the sense of realpolitik throughout. To continue in office, Van der Pol is forced to come to terms with the politics of cronyism, and his subordinates, geeky Stefan and newly-engaged Liesbeth, later have to choose between helping him solve a crime and protecting their jobs. Van der Pol is a maverick policeman, but in this real world the maverick doesn’t come out triumphant. The Amsterdam setting is a presence throughout, and we also get the sense of the European world, with van der Pol shuttling to and from Brussels, and his daughter going to Paris and Russia with her new, suspicious boyfriend.

A cleverly-crafted and unusual PP dealing with real issues in a vividly-evoked setting. Recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Daniel Pembrey grew up in Nottinghamshire beside Sherwood Forest. He studied history at Edinburgh University and received an MBA from INSEAD business school. Daniel then spent over a decade working in America and more recently Luxembourg, coming to rest in Amsterdam and London — dividing his time now between these two great maritime cities.  He is the author of the Henk van der Pol detective series and several short thriller stories, and he occasionally contributes non-fiction articles to publications including The Financial Times and The Times. In order to write The Harbour Master, he spent several months living in the docklands area of East Amsterdam, counting De Druif bar as his local.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

‘The Stroke of Death’ by Jessica Mann

Published by Robert Hale,
30 Aug 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-71981-996-4

In Oregan, Dr Euan Hope is watching anti-abortion protestors outside his clinic, when he gets a call from England to say his father is dying. Tamara Hoyland Hope finds it hard to like her brother-in-law, but with her husband away, she has to work with him over funeral arrangements. Then a detective comes to the after-funeral gathering to ask for a post-mortem

Although there are many plot strands giving different views on treatment of the terminally ill, the main plot concerns the unexpected death of Dr Hope senior, and Tamara’s gradually awakening suspicions, especially when there’s another death; however the plot unfolds without much official investigation, and it’s only by chance that Tamara finds those responsible. Tamara’s mother is now in the final stages of dementia, unable to recognise her family. A second strand is the story of Davy, a rugby player who’s been injured, and suffers from ‘locked-in’ syndrome. Another plot-line follows elegant, authoritative Professor Dame Thea Caldwell , Tamara’s archaeological inspiration, who has just learned of her terminal cancer diagnosis. Finally, there’s a first-person narrator who, we learn, is an agency nurse who enjoys mercy killing. Moving from strand to strand, the reader is shown different views of the questions about how we all feel about ageing badly, and instead of the conventional ending, there are questions. The novel is perhaps biased towards the hardest cases – the paraplegic boy, the raped special needs girl looking for an abortion – but also shows the intelligent Thea considering her decision.

An interesting novel centring around the issues to do with euthanasia.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Jessica Mann was born in London in 1937. She went to school in London, and then took degrees in Archaeology at Cambridge, and in Law at Leicester University. She is novelist, journalist, broadcaster and author of non-fiction. Jessica has been a Planning Inspector, chaired public committees, been involved with the NHS and been responsible for protecting water customers. But she always wanted to be a writer, ever since she learnt to read. After living in Edinburgh for ten years and for three in Leicester she moved with her husband, the archaeologist Professor Charles Thomas, to Cornwall, where she still lives. Jessica has written 21 books so far. She has two sons, two daughters and 11 grandchildren.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

'The Iron Water' by Chris Nickson

Published by Severn House,
16 November 2016.  
ISBN 978-0-7278-8643-9

The atmosphere of Leeds in the late 19th century really comes through in this book.  The evocation of the sights and sounds of the city and , in particular,  the smells  gives us a superb evocation of the grime of a Northern industrial city then.   The harsh smells permeate the clothes of the workers in a chemical factory and the hopeless odour of poverty surrounds the woman who has been forced by the death of her husband to take her family into the workhouse.  On the brighter side the park with its outdoor concert provides a pleasant experience.

We are following the work of Detective Inspector Tom Harper as he investigates the discoveries of 2 bodies in water.  These are 2 separate incidents - one body is found in the lake at Roundhay Park after a demonstration of a new naval weapon - a torpedo; in the other case, only part of a body is found in the River Aire.  

A cast of characters is well presented and the mysteries gradually get unravelled by Inspector Harper.  The depth of background material and the variety of well described characters lifts this book from the mere detective story level.
Reviewer: Jennifer Palmer 
Chris writes a series set in 1730s Featuring Richard Nottingham on Leeds; The Iron Water is the third book about Harper in the 1890s.

Chris Nickson was born and raised in Leeds. He is the author of the Richard Nottingham books, historical mysteries set in Leeds in the 1730s and featuring Richard Nottingham, the Constable of the city, and his deputy, John Sedgwick. The books are about more than murder. They're about the people of Leeds and the way life was - which mean full of grinding poverty for all but the wealthy. They're also about families, Nottingham and his and Sedgwick, and the way relationships grow and change, as well as the politics, when there was one law for the rich, and another, much more brutal, for everyone else. In addition to this Chris is also a music journalist, reviewing for magazines and online outlets
Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

‘The Gun’ By Fuminori Nakamura

Translated by Allison Markin Powell
Published by Soho Crime,
5 January 2016.
ISBN 978-1-6169-5590-8 (HB)
24 January 2017.
ISBN 978-1-6169-5768-1 (PB)

This author does not write simple stories.  They are complex, convoluted, psychologically intense tales requiring the reader’s undivided attention.  Nishikawa is a young man, a student at the university, drifting along with little insight into his own personality and emotions.  One night, while walking at night in a rainstorm with nothing better to do, he encounters a dead man with a gun near the body.

He picks up the revolver, and thus begins an obsessive possession of the weapon.  The gun takes over Nishikawa’s life as he continuously holds it, polishes it and thinks about it.  He merges his mental and physical senses with what he perceives to be the pistol’s purpose.  The book slowly develops, looking into his mind as he acts with what he thinks the weapon wants.   As he ignores any sense of right or wrong, it is a far gone conclusion that fate will be tempted.

The Gun is the third novel by the author translated into English.  Each is a dark thriller pushing the boundaries between good and evil.  It is a forceful examination of a troubled personality reacting to a fixation on an inanimate object, and is a memorable analysis. Recommended.
Reviewer: Theodore Feit

Fuminori Nakamura was born in in Aichi on 2 September 1977 and graduated from Fukushima University in 2000. He has won numerous prizes for his writing, including the Oe Prize, Japan's largest literary award; the David L. Goodis Award; and the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. The Thief (Corsair, 2013), his first novel to be translated into English, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His other novels include Evil and the Mask (Soho Press, 2014) and Last Winter, We Parted (Soho Press, 2014)


Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.