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Friday 31 March 2017

‘Safe from Harm’ by R J Bailey

Published by Simon & Schuster,
12 January 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4711-5716-5 (PB)

If the author of this pacy, high-octane thriller is to be believed, there's been an upsurge in the number of women engaged in close personal protection recently – so perhaps Sam Wylde, the feisty protagonist, is in the vanguard of a new wave of fictional heroines too.

If they're all as entertaining as Sam, I hope so. Safe From Harm is a book to read in one sitting; from the scene-setting first chapters right through to the explosive cliffhanger ending, the story raced along holding my attention in an iron grip, and threatened to keep me up way past bedtime.

Sam Wylde's past as an army medic has endowed her with skills which bodyguarding puts to good use: evasive driving, acute observation, a talent for combat both armed and unarmed, and most important of all a sixth sense for danger which amounts to eyes in the back of her head. She also has a weakness: her spirited teenage daughter Jess, for whom she would lay down her life in a heartbeat.

When she takes on the job of protecting another teenager, Nuzha, and her mother, she knows there are threats lurking on the sidelines, and not only from violent extremists. She has also made enemies of her own, notably Bojan, and Eastern European thug who she bested against the odds in an unfair fight. And when MI5 get involved, her life takes on a whole new dimension. Fortunately she has good friends she can rely on in a pinch – and there are plenty of pinches.

The result is an action-packed plotline, full of thrills, spills and corkscrew turns, peopled by larger-than-life characters who drive cars the price of a small house and live in an obscenely wealthy part of London we lesser mortals can only imagine – and imagine it on our behalf is what R J Bailey does, in enough detail to bring it to vivid life. The lines between good and bad guys aren't always clear, and that cliffhanger ending is a real shocker.

A second Sam Wylde thriller is promised next year – definitely something to look forward to.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

RJ Bailey. Safe From Harm is the first novel in a new series by this debut author

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.

‘Tokyo Nights’ by Jim Douglas

Published by Fledgling Press,
21 November 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-90591-619-1

I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first. By the end, I was completely hooked – although I still wasn’t sure exactly what it was I was reading. Crime thriller, detective story, exploration of Japanese culture and of philosophy – it all melded together in what turned out to be a thoroughly good read.

It begins with Charlie Davis, a man without ties it seems, newly arrived and feeling free in Tokyo, before switching to the viewpoint of Colin McCann, a private detective, also in Tokyo and hard on Charlie’s heels. Why is McCann trying to find the younger man? In a series of flashbacks we’re taken to a Cheshire setting and introduced to the family and friends of Natasha Philips, a young rich girl found dead at an open air festival. In the flashbacks, McCann is interviewing them: he has been engaged by the dead girl’s father to find out the truth behind her death, ruled as misadventure. Charlie Davis had been seeing Natasha and her father had hated him on sight; McCann was asked to track him down. At this stage, I found the Tokyo sections alien and hard to like and, I have to say, imperfect copy-editing and occasional erroneous line breaks didn’t help. It was the North West interviews, more familiar both in traditional detective-novel content and in locale, that kept me involved. However, by the time the flashbacks stopped and the novel became rooted in Tokyo as McCann caught up with Charlie, I was enjoying the read.

The story for some time becomes a cat-and-mouse chase of the mind. McCann makes Charlie’s acquaintance and because of the cover the detective uses, they start spending time together even while McCann starts asking questions. Experiences in Tokyo flirt with the surreal and the novel’s writing style, melding philosophy with the story’s narrative, exerted a power that carried me along even as the action moves out of Tokyo to the Japanese wilderness after two truly shocking scenes that give the narrative fresh impetus, with McCann and Charlie both in serious trouble with the yakuza, organised crime gangs.

The language in many places was quite delicious, if sometimes overdone, and the descriptions brought places, a culture and a people vividly into focus. The two main characters were well drawn and while McCann’s adoption by a poorly treated dog back in England puts this reader, at least, firmly on his side, he wasn’t entirely sympathetic, which intrigued further. Occasional switches of viewpoint were largely handled well and I was rooting strongly not only for McCann but also for the more ambiguous character of Charlie. The two climaxes – nightmarish with regard to the Japanese story – were very satisfying.

After finishing the book I discovered it had been co-written by two authors and this explained a lot; I never lost the feeling that it was trying to be two quite different things and that the cultural and philosophy aspect had to work hard to function as an effective vehicle for the thriller aspect of the story. Yet I concluded that it did work, and it made Tokyo Nights an unusual and thought-provoking read.
Reviewer: Dea Parkin

Jim Douglas is the pen name of two writers - Jim Hickey and Douglas Forrester.
Jim Hickey (see far left in photo) was raised around Dublin and bruised and blessed into a reluctant maturity by boxing trainers and Christian brothers. Back in England, he attempted gentler pursuits such as studying the visual arts, writing poetry in a cottage that bordered the Humber river and going academic by getting a degree in English literature in Worcester. He took a job as a manager of a nature reserve in Easington. He then took a teaching opportunity in the former Czechoslovakia. Before long he was in Australia, deep in the bush and living with an Aboriginal tribe called the Noongars, officially employed as their teacher. Things came to a halt when he docked in Tokyo. Something ran out and another thing came in. Tokyo Nights is a novel spun from his eventual captivity, minor enlightenment and spots of contentment in Japan.. He lives near enough and far enough from the metropolis and remains at pen on the second instalment of this book.

Douglas Forrester was born and raised in Glasgow. He studied law in both Scotland and Amsterdam and spent the mid-summer months working as a grouse beater in the Highlands. After completing university, he worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland as a financial advisor before setting off for an expected short-lived sojourn in Japan. He never returned to the bank nor to law and began to forge out a career of kinds at the now defunct NOVA, where he was Jim's boss, and then at an international school and several universities. During this time he became a fluent Japanese speaker. He was also an accomplished Shodo-Jaoanese calligraphy- practitioner and showed his work in a number of exhibitions as the only foreigner with work on display. He always had a keen interest in books and shared a passion for the work of Gavin Maxwell and R.L. Stevenson with his co-author. Their collaboration led to Tokyo Nights and is a cornucopia of their often very different experiences and impressions of Japan's capital city. Doug returned to Glasgow early in 2016 for medical treatment and to be with his family. He died in September 2016 shortly before the publication of this, his first novel.

DeaParkin  is an editor with her consultancy Fiction Feedback and is also Secretary of the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes poetry and occasionally re-engages with The Novel. When she isn't editing, managing or writing she is usually to be found on the tennis court – or following the international tour at home on TV. Usually with several books on the go, she entertains a penchant for crime fiction, history, and novels with a mystical edge. She is engaged in a continual struggle to find space for bookshelves and time for her friends and her cat.

Thursday 30 March 2017

‘A Twist of the Knife’ by Becky Masterman

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
23 March 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-474-60578-6 (HB)

A new case for retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn is a treat to be anticipated with enthusiasm and impatience, especially if you're a woman of certain age who enjoys books in which feisty contemporaries grow old with a determined lack of grace.

Brigid Quinn has a superabundance of that hard-to-define quality called attitude, which got her into trouble in her days in the field, and is still getting her into situations most retirees are happy to sidestep. Not for her the dog-walking and cookery classes; she adores Carlo, the gentle, academically-minded husband of her autumn years, but can't seem to settle to domesticity, even if her past life would leave her alone, which it refuses to do.

In this, her third adventure, Brigid travels a couple of thousand miles from the home she shares with Carlo in Arizona, all the way to Florida where she grew up. Her father is in hospital, her mother is behaving very strangely, and her much younger friend Laura has left the FBI and has just five days to get a stay of execution for a man on Death Row, whose innocence she plans ultimately to prove.

And in Brigid's life, nothing is ever straightforward. Hospital visiting makes her jumpy and itchy, and helping out with Laura's investigation comes as a welcome relief. 

Brigid's sparky first-person narration reveals a sharp, flawed, insecurities-and-all character whose intelligence and perception haven't dulled a jot with the passing years. We see the other characters and Florida's unique climate and terrain through her vision, a tad biased by her sardonic eye but no less acutely drawn for that. The unfolding plot throws up a few jolts and surprises, not least the final twist; and we learn a lot more about Brigid herself and the background and childhood that shaped her than the previous books in the series divulge.

We also learn a few uncomfortable things about the process of law in parts of the USA. Hanging the threat of lethal injection over a man's head for sixteen years may seem like a form of torture – but is signing his death warrant for execution just five days hence any less so?

Becky Masterman is on of those skilled writers who makes the reader laugh, cry and think, all in the space of a few pages; and Brigid Quinn is as real as a character in a book can be. I'm already looking forward to the next in the series.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Becky Masterman, who was an acquisitions editor for a press specializing in medical textbooks for forensic examiners and law enforcement, received her M.A. in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. Her debut thriller, Rage Against the Dying, was a finalist for the Edgar Award  for Best First Novel, the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of 2013, as well as the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony awards. Becky lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband.

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.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

‘Wrath of the Furies’ by Steven Saylor

Published by Constable,
9 March 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-0199-0

It is 88B.C. And in a fragment from the secret diary of the poet Antipater of Sidon details are given of the intended extinction of all Romans living under the control of King Mithridates.

Antipater fears for the life of his pupil and friend the Roman, Gordianus who he hopes is living far away. We then meet Gordianus himself living near Alexandria with his slave Bethesda. He receives a scroll written by Antipater saying how he fears for his life in Ephesus.

Believing it has been sent by Antipater himself Gordianus devises a plan in which he intends going to Ephesus to rescue his friend. He will go as a mute to seek a cure from the goddess Artemis and Bethesda will go with him to act as his voice. Although he speaks Greek he has a strong Roman accent which would give him away. He buys a passage for them on a ship sailing for Ephesus via Rhodes. Gordianus has a friend Posidonus living on Rhodes and they stay the night with him. Whilst there he reluctantly agrees to act as a spy in the court of King Mithridates where he believes Antipater is living.

So begins a dangerous assignment in Ephesus and it becomes increasingly difficult for Gordianus to keep up his act of a mute. There are enemies at every turn, not least of which is the nasty vindictive little wife of Mithridates.

It is made clear that Gordianus is wanted to act as a mute witness to a ritual which involves a human sacrifice. It is worse still when it is revealed that the sacrifice is to be someone he knows. Can he save them? Who can he trust at the palace to help him and where is Antipater?

The ritual is to be followed by the massacre of the Romans as described in Antipater's scroll. Will Gordianus be able to prevent such a horror?

A really good tale which brings the ancient world to life.

On reading the Author's Notes I understand that many of the incidents described in the book actually took place making it even more interesting. Recommended for those who enjoy an exciting thriller set in ancient times.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Steven Saylor was born in Texas in 1956 and graduated with high honors from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied history and Classics. He divides his time between homes in Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas. "If I could have another home," he says, "it would definitely be in London, my favourite big city in the world." When not using his brain, he likes to keep in shape running, swimming, and lifting weights.
Steven's books have been published in 21 languages, and book tours have taken him across the United States, England, and Europe. He has appeared as an expert on Roman life on The History Channel, and has spoken at numerous college campuses, The Getty Villa, and the International Conference on the Ancient Novel.

Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf  (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.