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Tuesday 28 February 2017

‘The Black Sheep’ by Sophie Mackenzie

Published by Simon & Schuster,
9 February 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4711-3322-0 (PB)

In this psychological suspense novel, Fran Hoffman, widowed with two children, Rufus and Ruby, attends a memorial service for her husband Caspian, a doctor who had died fourteen months earlier in a knife attack. The perpetrator had never been identified and the police had categorized the attack as random, possibly a mugging which had gone wrong. Fran had been devastated by her husband’s death but now feels it is time to move on and to start rebuilding her life but not with a colleague of her husband’s, the unattractive Simon Pinner who makes his sexual interest in Fran all too clear at the post-service reception. However, there is someone else at the reception who introduces himself as Harry Dunbar, a business acquaintance of her husband’s. He tells her that Caspian had told him he was being threatened, he thought by someone called Paul at the behest of Jayson Carr. This horrifies Fran because Jayson Carr is in fact Fran’s father. Jayson and Caspian had had their differences because Caspian, a non-believer, had performed occasional abortions while Jayson like most of the family was a devout Catholic and a vehement pro-life supporter. Apart from this, Jayson and Caspian had got on pretty well and after Caspian’s death Jayson and the other members of the close-knit family had supported Fran even though she had left the Church when young and rather wild and had never returned. At first Fran finds Harry’s warning farfetched but when she hears that Simon Pinner, who had also performed abortions has been murdered she thinks there maybe something in Harry’s warning especially when she discovers that Paul is actually PAAUL, the acronym of a Catholic pro-life secret organisation of which her father had been chairman. He insists that when PAAUL had become more extremist and advocated the assassination of abortion practitioners, he and his brother Perry, also involved with PAAUL, had left the organisation. But the more Fran investigates, the more her suspicions swing backwards and forwards. And were others involved? Is there a connection between the abortion which Fran had persuaded her much younger sister Lucy to have years before? Lucy is now obsessively devout but does she know about their father’s involvement with PAAUL? And if not their father, their uncle Perry’s role? And that of their father’s other brother Graham who also has broken away from the Church and is now a feckless alcoholic, divorced from his wife Sheila and estranged from his son, the handsome, charming Dex? And what about Harry himself? Fran is highly attracted to him and he to her but she discovers that he had never actually known Caspian, let alone received any confidences. But in that case who is he? Why is he interested in Caspian’s death and in PAAUL? Fran and Harry’s search for the truth leads to great danger for them both and for Ruby.

This is an intricate and cleverly plotted novel with an expertly planned narrative structure told from the point of view of Fran, Harry and Lucy in a way which ratchets up the mystery and the tension, while the dire effects of obsessive religiosity, particularly in such a close-knit family, are described in a way that is totally convincing.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Sophie McKenzie is the award-winning author of a range of teen thrillers, including the Missing series (Girl, Missing, Sister, Missing and Missing Me), Blood Ties and Blood Ransom and the Medusa Project series. She has also written two romance series: the Luke and Eve books and the Flynn series, which starts with the novel Falling Fast. Split Second is her first teen stand-alone novel in seven years. Sophie's first novel for adults is the psychological thriller Close My Eyes.
And here:
Twitter: @sophiemckenzie_

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.

Monday 27 February 2017

‘Chameleon People’ by Hans Olav Lahlum

Published by Mantel,
22 September 2016.
ISBN: 978-5098-948-6 (HB)
978-5098-949-3 (TPB)
Published by Pan,
9 March 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-5098-0950-9

March 1972. A boy arrives at the door of Oslo detective Kolbjorn Kristiansen (K2), with a blood-stained knife in his pocket. The police are hot on his trail, but he insists he’s innocent of the stabbing of politician Per Johan Frederiksen. Soon we find out there are plenty of other people who wanted the politician dead: a business rival, his family, his mistress, and the party and country he was about to betray ...

Hans Olav Lahlum writes in the ‘puzzle’ tradition of Agatha Christie, and the novels are narrated by K2 himself, the Hastings to Patricia, the Poirot of the series, a rich young woman who has been confined to a wheelchair since the accident in which she lost her parents. The novel’s narrated in a naive style which reflects K2’s plodding and sometimes simplistic thought processes – an adult Adrian Mole without the humour – and I did find this got tedious in a novel of this length, almost twice as long as a genuine Agatha Christie. In part this was because there was a double puzzle to solve – as well as the present-day murder, Frederiksen was also involved in murder in 1932, the unexplained death of his sister-in-law. The suspects are numerous, and there are numerous twists and surprises as the body-count mounts. K2’s relationship with Patricia is complicated by his engagement to Miriam, and he has difficulty in juggling the two women in his life, especially as Miriam wants to take Patricia’s place in helping him with the investigation.

A classic-style puzzle set against the backdrop of Norway’s EU vote in 1972.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Hans Olav Lahlum born 12 September 1973, is a Norwegian historian, crime author, chess player and organizer, and politician. He has written biographies on Oscar Torp and Haakon Lie, and a history book about all the Presidents of the United States.

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.

Saturday 25 February 2017

‘The Riviera Express’ by T P Fielden

Published by HarperCollins,
23 February 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-00-819368-3(HB).
978-0-00819-371-3 (TPB)

Picture the scene: an idyllic Devon seaside town in the 1950s. The most unpleasant thing that ever happens there is a bit of a rumpus on the front between rival Teddy Boys. A train brings visitors from Exeter every summer morning, and the front page headline in the local weekly paper is usually something like QUARREL OVER TEA-TIME CAKES AT MOTHERS’ UNION.

Until, one fateful morning, the paper’s faithful chief reporter, Miss Judy Dimont, meets the train, (both paper and train are called the Riviera Express, by the way), and – shock! horror! there’s a body on board, and it belongs to one of the country’s most famous and adored film stars.  

As is often the case in idyllic Devon towns, at least the fictional ones, the local plods are more interested in a quiet life than solving crime. However, Miss Dimont (affectionately known by her colleagues as Miss Dim but in fact nothing could be further from the truth) has a past – more accurately, a Past – which equips and encourages her to go ferreting around. She unearths a murder which, at first, no one else believes in. There’s a second body too: a thoroughly disliked freelance writer, found at the bottom of a crumbling cliff. So that’s two potential murders – and Miss Dim’s little grey cells are suddenly in overdrive.

The result is a delicious pastiche of a Golden Age crime novel, peopled with glamorous members of the film world, small-town sophisticates, a motley crew of newspaper staff, wooden policemen and the occasional Bad Lot. As Detective Inspector Topham lurches from one misjudgement to the next, Miss Dim wends her way through a trail of red herrings and misplaced clues with an unerring nose for the truth, which, of course she eventually reveals with a flourish just in time for the front-page splash. All despite the best efforts of her editor, whose usual form of communication is a grunt, and her younger, flightier colleague Betty, who regards the front page as her personal territory.

The Riviera Express is a gentle and wittily devised parody with larger than life characters, an  impossibly pretty backdrop and a jaunty writing style which all come together to reflect the author’s affection for the Golden Age as well as a close acquaintance with its foibles and clich├ęs. True Golden Age devotees may feel it goes a little too far, but even they may have to admit it’s very well done.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

TP Fielden is a leading author, broadcaster and journalist. This is the first novel in the Miss Dimont Mystery series.

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.

Friday 24 February 2017

‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Les Wood

Published by Freight Books,
3 October 2016.

Boddice, a Glasgow crime lord, is feeling the pinch – his local pond is now full of much bigger fish and, though he is still sufficiently feared and loathed to command respect, he is no longer one of the local movers and shakers.  So he comes up with a Plan, something that would put him into an altogether different league, one which the newcomers on the block wouldn’t dream of touching.  This will be his final act and will fund his retirement.

He selects his gang from the professional hard men who work for him, offering them the promise of great wealth if they join him or serious grief if they don’t.  The ill-assorted and ill-equipped men are in no position to refuse:  Prentice and Kyle are really hard men, willing to kill on Boddice’s order, though Prentice is starting to want to get out.  Boag, an ex-serviceman gets work from Boddice because of his father’s long and loyal service.  The Twins, a particularly important part of the Plan, run a tattoo parlour, but their main source of income is letting their business be used for laundering Boddice’s illegal profits.  Leggett is not popular with any of his colleagues, and falls from favour when Boddice realises he is taking an unauthorised cut from profits.  Each of this ill-matched group has a part to play in the Big Plan, the theft of the famous diamond known as the Dark Side of the Moon, which is to be displayed in a Glasgow department store. 

This is a fast-moving, high-pitched novel.  The characters are well-written and, despite being largely unlikeable, there are moments when the reader’s sympathy is engaged.  The humour is black, the dialogue sharp and the finale spectacular.  This debut novel will gain the author many fans.
Reviewer:  Jo Hesslewood

Les Wood's writing has been widely anthologised. He has a Masters in creative writing from the University of Glasgow and a doctorate in Physiotherapy. Les teaches as Glasgow Caledonian University.

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.