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Monday 31 October 2016

‘A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone

Published by Orenda Books,
6 October 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-910633-49-6 (PB)

Abuse within marriage has been very much in the news lately, largely because of the radio story which has been hitting the headlines; but Michael J Malone’s chilling psychological drama puts a different twist on it.

Having been tragically widowed before he was thirty, Andy Boyd never thought he’d find love again. But then he meets Anna. Unfortunately she is not all she seems; her own past has left her damaged, as Andy begins to discover when they have been married only a few hours.

Over the next few years, Andy’s entire life takes a downward spiral as Anna not only corrodes his confidence and ability to concentrate  but also drives a wedge between him and his family. Like many people, I have often wondered why abused spouses don’t simply walk away, but this novel makes it very plain that sometimes it just isn’t that easy.

Domestic drama of this kind could become a little repetitive, and to avoid this pitfall Malone weaves another strand through the heartrending accounts of violence and denigration. Money has been going missing at the bank where Andy is a manager, and as the powers-that-be launch their investigation, in addition to the treatment meted out to him at home, he also has to deal with his immediate boss, who is not only inefficient but thoroughly disagreeable as well.

The resulting tale makes for a gripping read based around well-drawn characters it’s easy to care about, though it’s not without a few flaws. Malone is an award-winning poet, so the quality of the writing is impeccable – occasionally, perhaps, a little too much so; stopping to admire a beautiful phrase or image can hold up the narrative as effectively as wincing at an unfortunate one. And if Malone believes a two-year-old remains unaffected by tensions at home, he can’t know many two-year-olds.

But these are minor points; taken overall, Michael J Malone has done a grand job of raising consciousness about a very human issue without resorting to preachiness. It just goes to show that fiction is an excellent medium for illustrating big truths.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Michael J Malone was born and brought up in the heart of Burns' country, just a stone's throw from the great man's cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult, maybe. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge:Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers and when it was published he added a "J" to his name to differentiate it from the work of his talented U.S. namesake. He can be found on twitter - @michaelJmalone1

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘Charcoal Joe’ By Walter Moseley

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
16 June 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-474-60451-2

Walter Moseley’s first novel Devil in a Blue Dress was published in 1990. Ezekial (Easy) Porterhouse Rawlins returns to Los Angeles after World War II, to find his home town a place as full of tension as the Europe he has just risked life and limb liberating. Easy is a black war veteran, out of work and up against the world.

Five years later the film of the book was released, starring two of the current greats of American cinema – Denzel Washington as Easy and Don Cheadle as the forever menacing Raymond Alexander (Mouse). Since then Easy Rawlins has moved into legend. And earlier this year, Moseley received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.  It is no surprise that Moseley, himself a black native of LA, is so tuned into the flow and the dangerous vibe of the world Easy Rawlins inhabits. 
It’s a long way from West LA to Watts. It’s the same city but a darkness closes as you progress eastwards. You pass from white dreams into black and brown realities. There were miles to cover but distance was the least of it. It was another world where I was going.

Fourteen stories since Devil in a Blue Dress, Easy Rawlins is back in Charcoal Joe.  It is 1968, just after the Watts riots, and Easy has come a long way in twenty years. He has opened a detective agency with two partners, he has money in the bank and he is about to propose to Bonnie. Then he gets a visit from Mouse and everything goes to hell.

Charcoal Joe, the man who pulls most of the strings in the LA underworld – currently spending a few months in the Avett Detainment Facility – wants Easy to clear the name of a young friend arrested for the murder of a white man from Redondo Beach. Seymour Braithwaite is a Doctor of Physics, smart and going places if only he can get the breaks.

Easy owes Mouse his life and Joe is not a man to be crossed, but this is no small favour they are asking. And as the story progresses, the shorter become the odds on Easy’s survival. He finds a host of violent people on his trail. With his hands full and his life in danger, he is menaced, beaten up, double crossed and gets his heart broken. The life which seemed so potentially glorious a few days earlier, disintegrates into a shambles. Being black and on everybody’s wrong side doesn’t help. At one point he mutters ruefully…
Where we came from ‘he’s dead’ was as common as ‘he’s sick’ or ‘he’s saved’.

Charcoal Joe is a tough, no punches pulled story which motors along. Lean, sharply observed and witty, with sequences of diamond hard dialogue. Peopled by memorable characters, unflinchingly well drawn. And full of moments of Walter Moseley ironic wisdom…
He stood there alone and assured, as American as redwoods and Manifest Destiny.
This novel is exciting, mysterious and as always with Moseley, contains huge chunks of profound reality.
Reviewer: Jeff Dowson

Walter Mosley is one of America's most celebrated and beloved writers. His books have won numerous awards and have been translated into more than twenty languages. Mosley is the author of the acclaimed Easy Rawlins series of mysteries, including national bestsellers Cinnamon Kiss, Little Scarlet, and Bad Boy Brawly Brown; the Fearless Jones series, including Fearless Jones, Fear Itself, and Fear of the Dark; the novels Blue Light and RL's Dream; and two collections of stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, for which he received the Anisfield-Wolf Award, and Walkin' the Dog. He lives in New York City.

Jeff Dowson has worked in arts and entertainment business since the mid 70s. Beginning as a theatre writer and director – specialising in work by Alan Plater, Howard Brenton, Joe Orton, Harold Pinter; and European writers Samuel Beckett, Max Frisch and Bertolt Brecht.  He took this experience into television and joined ITV company, Granada, as a writer and producer; which in the mid 80s, launched a second career as an independent screenwriter/producer/director.Recently, after a decade as a script producer, edit producer and executive producer, he sat down at his desk and decided to go back to writing full time.

‘An Empty Coast’ by Tony Park

Published by Pan,
8 September 2016.  
ISBN 978-1-5098-1541-8

The illegal trade in rhino horn is the eco-crime at the heart of this new novel by Tony Park who writes books set in Africa. For decades the trade in elephant tusks has been in the media but Tony Park focuses on the equally lucrative trade in rhino horn, a currency worth millions in Asia and Russia. The setting of Namibia with its tantalising wildlife and barren coastlands provides a backdrop with a difference for this crime thriller.

The main character, Sonja Kurtz, is of Germanic decent and grew up in Namibia. Sonja trained as a soldier and now works as a mercenary. The story unfolds with Sonja on a revenge mission in Vietnam where she is out to assassinate one of the ringleaders in the trade in rhino horn, a man who is responsible for the death of her husband Sam.

When Sonja receives a text from her daughter, Emma, asking for help, she rushes to Namibia to rescue her. Emma is working as a trainee on an archaeological site in Namibia's Etosha National Park where she discovers the body of an airman dating from the war in the 1980s. In fact, Emma's incomplete text was prematurely sent and she isn't in danger at all until word gets out about the discovery, then she and her colleagues are soon dragged into a struggle for survival.

Michael Allchurch is still looking for his pilot son, Gareth, whose plane went missing during the war. Allchurch is desperate to find out what happened and why his son was on an unauthorised flight. The discovery of the airman at the dig provides the missing piece of the puzzle as to where the plane might be and leads him and others on a chase to find it and a cargo people are willing to kill for.

With large-scale shoot-outs, helicopters and action-packed chases across the wild Namibian countryside, the multi-viewpoint narrative allows the reader to know the danger the main characters are going to be in and creates great tension. A good read if you want something a bit different.
Reviewer Christine Hammacott

Tony Park was born in 1964 and grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. He has worked as a newspaper reporter in Australia and England, a government press secretary, a public relations consultant, and a freelance writer. He is also a major in the Australian Army Reserve and served six months in Afghanistan in 2002 as the public affairs officer for the Australian ground forces. He and his wife, Nicola, divide their time between their home in Sydney, and southern Africa, where they own a tent and a Series III Land Rover

Christine Hammacott lives near Southampton and runs her own design consultancy. She started her career working in publishing as a book designer and now creates covers for indie-authors. She writes page-turning fiction that deals with the psychological effects of crime. Her debut novel The Taste of Ash was published in 2015.

‘Faith and Beauty’ by Jane Thynne

Published by Simon and Schuster,
10 March 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-4711-3191-3(PB)

Berlin 1938. The city is jubilantly celebrating Hitler's birthday. But at the same time there are those in Berlin who lead double lives. One of those is the film actress Clara Vine, half-English and half-German. Because she is a film star she has been taken up by some of the wives of the Nazi elite who gossip interminably, particularly Magda, wife of Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister in the Hitler government and one of the dictator's most fanatical supporters. (Being befriended by Magda Goebbels is not dissimilar to being befriended by a poisonous black tarantula!) What no-one suspects is that Clara has also been recruited by British Intelligence to report back on all the gossip she picks up. British Intelligence is especially interested in anything confirming the rumours that Germany and Russia are about to enter into a non-aggression pact. And Clara has a secret even more dangerous to herself; her German mother was actually Jewish and Clara's identification papers are forgeries.

Meanwhile the body of Lotte Franke from the Faith and Beauty Society which trains suitably Aryan young women to be wives of the Nazi elite has been found in a shallow grave in woods outside Berlin. (The Society really existed; I thought it sounded too absurd to be true but online research showed that that was not the case.) The murder is dismissed as the act of a maniac but Lotte's friend and fellow student Hedwig Holz knows that there was something more: Lotte had a secret lover. And she had hinted at a major secret. Clara had known Lotte and felt that the intelligent, independent-minded girl was not committed to life as a Nazi bride. But Clara has her own troubles: Magda Goebbels has murmured that there are people within the Nazi ranks who are suspicious of Clara. Is Magda's warning genuine or is she activated by malice? And what is the role of the handsome SS officer Konrad Adler? Is he just an Aryan automaton? Or is he something else? What was Lotte Franke's secret and did it lead to her death? And, for Clara above all, what has happened to Clara's lover, the British Intelligence officer Leo Quinn who had recruited her into undercover work? Is he, as she has been told, dead? Or is that yet another lie?

I heard Jane Thynne speaking at an event in Chiswick Library on September 19th. She was one of four writers who had set books in Germany before, during and after World War II. And I discovered she is the wife of the writer Philip Kerr whose Bernie Gunther novels, some of which have been reviewed in Mystery People, cover that period although I can't pretend to have read them all. Jane Thynne has used extensively the diaries of various Nazi wives particularly that of Magda Goebbels. It seems that the marriages of the various Nazi leaders were tumultuous to a degree and the leaders themselves loathed each other almost as much as their wives loathed their husbands, their husbands' mistresses and each other. For me this was a real eye-opener as was just how delusional was the myth of Aryan racial superiority and the extraordinarily ridiculous lengths to which the so-called scholars of the time were prepared to go to support it. The myth was ludicrous, leading to the proposition that Tibetans and Mongols were really Aryan and that the builders of the Inca and Mayan temples were descended from Aryan tribes who settled in South and Central America a million years ago! One might laugh except that the consequences for Jews, gypsies and other groups deemed sub-human were so terrible. Today, of course, thanks to scientific research, we know that human evolution is a far longer, far more complex and infinitely more interesting story.

I was also struck by a fundamental difference between the two writers albeit that they share a home and family. Far be it from me to suggest that all male writers write in one way, and women writers write in another way. They don't; nor should they. But in the Bernie Gunther novels Bernie has a number of relationships none of which ultimately work out and I suspect he doesn't really try. He is essentially a cynical, wisecracking loner. However, although Clara is also the protagonist who features in Jane Thynne's novels, her attitude to her lover Leo and his to her are quite different; her love for him is intense and profound and one senses that his love for her is the same, whatever the truth about his apparent disappearance.  As for what happens to them both that will have to wait for more novels in the series. The same is true of Hedwig, Lotte's friend, and her Polish-origin beloved Jochen, active in the Rote Kapelle anti-Nazi movement: will they survive the horrors of World War II? I rather liked Hedwig: essentially innocent and lacking in self-confidence and, although supporting the Nazi ideology - after all in the totalitarian state it was all she knew – yet aware that something was very wrong and prepared in the end to follow her conscience and do what was right.

I was deeply impressed with this book, both the gripping story and the research which went into it. I shall look for the previous Clara Vine novels – Black Roses, The Winter Garden, A War of Flowers – and await eagerly the next in the series, Solitaire.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Jane Thynne was born in Venezuela and educated in London. She graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English and joined the BBC as a journalist. She has also worked at The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, as well as for numerous British magazines. She appears as a broadcaster on Radio 4. Jane is married to the writer Philip Kerr. They have three children and live in London. Find out more at connect with her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @janethynne

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven 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 still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.