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Friday 31 July 2015

‘The Puppeteer’ by Timothy Williams

Published by Soho Crime,
11 December 2014.
ISBN :978-1-61695-462-8 (PB)

Northern Italy 1982. Commissario Piero, a senior investigative police officer, is on a brief holiday in Gardesana on idyllic Lake Garda from his home town on the River Po while his wife is on an extended business trip to the United States. While he is taking a breakfast coffee in a lakeside café, a car drives up, stops, a man gets out and shoots the man sitting next to Trotti. The victim, according to his identity papers, was Giovanni Maltese, a journalist. At first the local police think Trotti himself may have been the intended victim but then it is learned that the victim's name was actually Giovanni Ramoverde. There is indeed a link between Trotti and the victim: the link is that in 1960 Trotti was one of the police team investigating the murder of Ismaele Belluno by his son-in-law Douglas Ramoverde, father of Giovanni. In fact there are numerous links between Trotti and the death of Giovanni Ramoverde and the trial all those years ago of Douglas Ramoverde which form a labyrinth of connections with the hidden vested interests which had formed the true government of Italy for many years. It is all that Trotti can do to unveil some of those interests which led to the death of Giovanni but whether his investigations will ever lead to those truly responsible being held liable is another matter.

I thought this was an excellent book although it is difficult to follow - not surprising given the labyrinthine nature of Italian society. I shall look out for the author's other titles: Converging Parallels, Persona Non Grata, Black August, Big Italy.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Timothy Williams was born 1946, in Walthamstoe, Essex. He attended Woodford Green Preparatory School, Chigwell School and St Andrews University. He has previously lived in France, Italy, and in Romania, where he worked for the British Council. He  is a bilingual British author who has written five novels in English featuring Commissario Piero Trotti, a character critics have referred to as a personification of modern Italy.

Radmila May was born in the US but has lived in the UK ever since apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and has been working for them off and on ever since. For the last few years she has been one of three editors working on a new edition of a practitioners' text book on Criminal Evidence by her late husband, publication of which has been held up for a variety of reasons but hopefully will be published by the end of 2015. She also has an interest in archaeology in which subject she has a Diploma.

Thursday 30 July 2015

'The Mystery of Tunnel 51' by Alexander Wilson

Published by Allison & Busby,
2 May 2015.
ISBN 978-0-7490-1805-4
First published in 1928

This is a full blooded 1920s thriller of the Bulldog Drummond ilk.  It begins quietly with an officer arriving at the foot of the Simla Hills carrying an important map which is greatly desired by the enemies of British India.  After he is stabbed and killed the authorities in India send for Sir Leonard Wallace, chief of the Intelligence Department.  Wallace and his assistant Major Brien fly out from England in a specially chartered plane to investigate.  The journey takes four days using two pilots.

The enemy is assumed to be a group of Russian Bolsheviks and villainous enemies they certainly prove to be.  It is a rollicking tale as the battle of wits goes to and fro and each side gains superiority only to be quickly defeated again.  It is a violent struggle as it is phrased at one point - they  ..." placed their two opponents hors de combat in a groaning, gasping heap of mixed humanity."  On our side are brave men though we have the occasional bad egg who spies for the Russians.  On their side are wily leaders showing fiendish cruelty.  The heroes withstand unbelievable punishment but maintain their sangfroid - unless their beautiful wives are threatened!

Stereotypes abound but they do contribute to the period atmosphere!
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
This is the first of a series of reprints about Wallace of the Secret Service.

Alexander Wilson was born in Dover in 24 October 1893. He was educated at St. Joseph's College, Hong Kong a prestigious public school St Boniface's Catholic College in Plymouth where he played amateur soccer. He served in the Royal Navy at the start of World War I. He was then commissioned in 1915 in the Royal Army Service Corps escorting motor transports and supplies to France. He received disabling injuries to his knee and shrapnel wounds to the left side of his body before being invalided, and received the Silver War Badge. He was in the merchant navy in 1919 serving as a purser on a requisitioned German liner SS Prinzessin, sailing from London to Vancouver via South Africa, China and Japan. In the early 1920s he was actor-manager of a touring repertory company, which was world renowned. In 1925, he went to British India to become Professor of English Literature at Islamia College, the University of Punjab in Lahore (now part of Pakistan). He began writing spy novels while in India and received his first contract for The Mystery of Tunnel 51 from Longmans and Green Co. in 1927. His fictional chief of the British Intelligence Service, Sir Leonard Wallace, first appears in Chapter IX. There is no documentary evidence that Wilson himself had any connections with MI6 (The Secret Intelligence Service), MI5 (The Security Service) IPI (Indian Political Intelligence in London) or the Indian Intelligence Bureau in Delhi at this time. In total, Wilson wrote and published three academic books and 24 novels; he also wrote 4 unpublished manuscripts. The Sir Leonard Wallace character appears closely based on the first 'C' of MI6 Mansfield Smith-Cumming.
He died 4 April 1963, after four wives, and a most colourful life.

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.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

‘The Quiet War’ by Peter Widdows

Published by Matador,
28 June 2015.
ISBN 978 1784622 749

This is the second book featuring award-winning free-lance investigative journalist Sean McManus.  He is now living with his partner Liz and Praew, the young old girl they rescued from appalling circumstances in Thailand.  Sean is looking for his next story and decides to interview a high profile Member of the European Parliament, who turns out to be very different from the media depictions.  The interview leads to much more than a story for the tabloids, when the MEP is found dead.  As Sean and Liz (assisted by a much-needed team of body-guards) try to unravel what is going on, they come up against the arcane workings of the EU, uncover a network of Nazi sympathisers, and encounter some very dangerous people.

The story is fast paced and the characters interesting.  The subjects dealt with in the novel are right on trend, though the plot details may not always be convincing. The book appears at a time when the EU is under close scrutiny and the regular insertion of pieces of factual information about the EU adds a certain edge to the events on the page.
Reviewer:  Jo Hesslewood
Other books by the author:  featuring Sean McManus:  Incorporated Evil

Peter Widdows was born in Manchester, United Kingdom, but moved away from the North of England in the early 1980's. Since then he has lived in London, USA, Germany, Australia and New Zealand and worked in China, Japan, Thailand, and Korea. His first book - Incorporated Evil - delves into the world of corporate and government corruption and he uses his experience as a CEO for a Fortune 500 company to make the narrative believable and technically accurate. He is now working on a follow up book, which he hopes to launch in the spring of 2015.

Jo Hesslewood.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.

‘The President’s Shadow’ by Brad Meltzer

Published by Hodder & Stoughton. 
18 June 2015
ISBN 978 1 444 76456 7

Beecher White returns in the third of the Culpeper Ring series.  He is an archivist at the National Archives in Washington DC and a recent recruit to the Culpeper Ring, a secret group originally founded by George Washington to protect the Presidency.  Summoned to a strange meeting at the White House, Beecher is surprised to be asked by President Wallace (not a fan of the Ring) for assistance in solving a disturbing mystery:  the First Lady, in a desperate bid for some privacy, has taken to dawn gardening by torchlight, and has found something very nasty while doing a bit of weeding.  Beecher doggedly tries to sort out what is going on.  Who knows what? Who can be trusted? Who is the man with the white eyebrows?  As he dips deeper into a quagmire of conspiracies, he also uncovers some more personal information about his father’s death some 29 years ago. 

The complex story moves along swiftly, despite tacking backwards and forwards in time.  The characters are well-described, not a few with a whiff of gothic darkness about them.  The duplicity and complicity of government bodies at they pursue the best interests of the USA is revealed, and the references to actual events add a thought-provoking twist to the story.  Readers who enjoyed the earlier books will want to read this but it isn’t necessary to have any existing knowledge of the series to start here.
Reviewer:  Jo Hesslewood
Other books by the author:  the other books in the Culpepper Ring series are The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin

Brad Meltzer was raised in Brooklyn and Miami. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School. His books have spent nearly a year on the bestseller lists, and have been translated into over 25 languages. Brad has played himself as an extra in Woody Allen's Celebrity and earned credit from Columbia Law School for writing his first book, which became The Tenth Justice. He also co-wrote the oath that the President of the United States gives to all AmeriCorps members.
Brad currently lives in Florida with his wife, who's also an attorney.

Jo Hesslewood
.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.