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Thursday 31 August 2017

‘Woman of State’ by Simon Berthon

Published by HarperCollins,
13 July 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-00821436-4 (HB).
ISBN: 978-0-00821437-1 (TPB).
ISBN: 978-0-00821438—8 (EB).

1991 Belfast and the IRA wants to deal with an undercover British police officer. Joseph Kennedy, a rising star of the movement, recruits his teenage girlfriend Maire Anne McCartney as a honey trap. She is told it is a simple job to entrap him and there would be no violence. She is lied to. To save herself she has to flee across the border and change her identity.

Present Day London and human rights lawyer Anne-Marie Gallagher is elected as an MP and is given the job of Minister of State for Security and Immigration.

As Anne-Marie takes up the post, police in Belfast receive an anonymous call with a password from the Troubles that is soon verified. The call leads DCI Jon Carne to a field in Northern Ireland and a body.

When the new minister gets a message from her old boyfriend Joseph Kennedy, she realises that all she has worked for could come crashing down around her. And when Carne’s investigation brings Anne-Marie to his attention, she must decide where her allegiances lie.

Simon Berthon is an award-winning investigative film-maker who spent many years in Northern Ireland, and this gives Woman of State authenticity and originality. We know we are in safe hands with this intelligent and layered thriller. Corruption and deception run all the way through its twists and turns as we follow Maire Anne McCartney’s journey from 1990s Belfast and Dublin to London in the present.

The plot is multi-faceted and unfolds at a breathless pace, but it is the character of Maire that holds the novel together. She is intriguing - both in her naïve teenage years and in adulthood. It is through her eyes that we see and feel the themes of love and betrayal. We are there at the death of her idealism, and we feel her pain when she is betrayed time and again. I thought the path she chose at the end of the book was perfect for the story.

If you enjoy a really well-written, well-plotted political thriller, then look no further than Woman of State.
Reviewer: Mary-Jane Riley

Simon Berthon has spent much of his working life delving into the secrets of state. He is an award winning and highly acclaimed investigative film-maker whose scoops include a number of stories set in Ireland.

Mary-Jane Riley wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Then, in true journalistic style, she decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and got creative. She wrote for women's magazines and small presses. She formed WriteOutLoud with two writer friends to help charities get their message across using their life stories. Now she is writing psychological suspense, drawing on her experiences in journalism. The Bad Things by Mary-Jane Riley was published by Harper Collins/Killer Reads. Her second book, After She Fell, also published by Killer Reads in April 2016.  To read the review of Killer reads click here

Wednesday 30 August 2017

‘The One’ by John Marrs

Published by Penguin Random House.
4 May 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-78-503562-3

What a great premise for a world set in the very near future: it’s recently been discovered that everyone has a gene that’s shared with only one other in the world, and that person is their true love Match. This has the effect of changing the developed world, as more and more men and women take the simple DNA test to discover their Match, and don’t consider a serious relationship with anyone else. It leads to the prospect of a happy-ever-after scenario for the majority and the prospect of a divorce-free world in the future. But in the meantime it also leads to a lot of divorces and broken relationships, as people break up to go and be with their Match, so not everyone is happy.

Throughout the novel we follow five characters, two men and three women. As with any multiple viewpoint novel where viewpoints swop over with every (short) chapter, at first this is disorienting and the opposite of involving. However, all the very individual stories soon catch hold, and after that it becomes a race to see what happens. It’s not a book I’d like to only be able to give 5 minutes a day to – I needed to speed through.

Unashamedly commercial with those short chapters, the book’s plotting was clever as the storylines constantly threw up surprises and unexpected developments; the situations were each original and evolved in what felt like very credible ways, at least for most of the way through. To be honest, my only reservation was how two of the storylines played out at the very end, which I didn’t quite buy, but that’s possibly more a matter of personal taste than indicative of any flaw in the novel. Intriguingly, the storylines for the two characters whose situations I had felt least empathy for at the beginning, Mandy and Nick, were the most original and had the most satisfying denouements.

So where does the crime come in? The most obvious is with one of the characters, Christopher, who’s a serial killer. We discover this very early on, so that’s not a spoiler. And intriguingly, he is Matched with Amy, a police detective. Juicy stuff, and if there’s one thing that can be said of this author, he maximises the inventive opportunities he gives himself. Given the confines of the style of this novel, the characters are well drawn and defined – for the book to work effectively we have to be interested in each of the five personalities, and I certainly was, even if I didn’t inhabit them fully. The varied settings are competent too. But it’s the story that carries this intriguing novel, and the way it is told. I enjoyed the ride.
Reviewer: Dea Parkin

John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in London, England, who has spent the last 20 years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines. He has written for publications including The Guardian's Guide and Guardian Online; OK! Magazine; Total Film; Empire; Q; GT; The Independent; Star; Reveal; Company; Daily Star and News of the World's Sunday Magazine. His debut novel The Wronged Sons, was released in 2013 and in May 2015, he released his second book, Welcome To Wherever You Are.
In May 2017 came his third book, The One. It was chosen as the book of the month for BBC Radio 2's Book Club. The Wronged Sons was re-edited and re-released in July 2017 under a new title, When You Disappeared.And his fourth book, The Good Samaritan, is set for release in November 2017.

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.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

‘Herring in the Smoke’ by L C Tyler

Published by Allison & Busby,
22 June 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-2186-3

As the twentieth anniversary of the disappearance of moderately successful Crime Writer Roger Norton Vane approached, it was proposed that a memorial service should be held. Crime writer Ethelred Tressider, also a moderately successful writer, was commissioned to write his biography, presumably in what Vane’s publishers hoped would be renewed interest in his books. 

Roger Norton Vane’s disappearance twenty years ago, when he went for a walk in the Thai jungle and never returned had at the time sparked much interest and speculation. However, the years passed and when various sightings’ of him all over the world proved fruitless, it was finally decided to make his death official, not least for the person or people who would inherit his accumulated wealth.

And so, it was that a slightly late Ethelred Tressider, found himself wedged into a pew in the back row for Vane’s memorial service.  He initially paid scant attention to the old gentleman sat next to him, except to notice he was somewhat oddly attired in a heavy overcoat and open sandals. After surveying the congregation, some things meeting with his approval and some clearly not, he finally turned to Ethelread and announced in a loud voice that he had just that morning flown in. After the old man had passed several less than complimentary comments on his journey from the airport, and matters in general, Ethelred, in an attempt to quiet things down, introduced himself.  The old gentleman returned the compliment and so it was that Ethelred met Roger Norton Vane at his own memorial service.

The fall-out of the re-emergence of the dead man has considerable ramifications for Tim, Vane’s partner, his niece Cynthia, Vane’s agent, and as Ethelred finds out, himself.  All was not quite as it should be with his commission to write the biography.  As readers of this marvellous series will know Elsie Thitkettle, Ethelred’s agent, is not above stitching Ethelred up if it’s in her interest to do so. 

Of course, it’s not long before the waters get well and truly muddied.  Elsie, amazingly, is still employing her assistant Tuesday, whose mission is to try and cut down Elsie’s chocolate intake.  Might as well push water up a hill, Tuesday.

When murder raises its head the plot well and truly thickens. 

Terrific prose, fascinating characters and a complex plot, what more could you want. But can you unravel it?  Most highly recommended. 
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

L. C. Tyler was born in Southend, Essex, and educated at Southend High School for Boys, Jesus College Oxford and City University London. After university he joined the Civil Service and worked at the Department of the Environment in London and Hong Kong. He then moved to the British Council, where his postings included Malaysia, Thailand, Sudan and Denmark.

Since returning to the UK he has lived in Sussex and London, and was Chief Executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health for eleven years. He is now a full-time writer. His first novel, The Herring Seller's Apprentice, was published by Macmillan in 2007, followed by A Very Persistent Illusion, Ten Little Herrings, The Herring in the Library and Herring on the Nile. The first book in a new historical series, A Cruel Necessity, was published by Constable and Robinson in November 2014. Since then he has published two further books in this series, A Masterpiece of Corruption (2016) and The Plague Road (2017)