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Friday 31 August 2018

‘Blood Flows South’ by Judith Cranswick

Published by Amazon Media,
29 July 2018.

Fiona Mason works for Super Sun Travel Agency and enjoys her job as a tour manager for luxury coach tours to interesting places in Europe. However, she is well aware of the constant threat of terrorist attacks and does not appreciate being reminded of it by her son, Adam. He disregards her love of her job and her determination to be independent and wishes her to move to Canada to be with him and his family. Fiona is determined not to succumb to Adam’s persuasion. She knows that she needs to reclaim her own identity after many years of nursing her late husband and also there is the potential of a new man in her life. Peter Montgomery-Jones is a senior operative in MI6 and Fiona met him when an early coach tour she was in charge of was involved in a violent crime that had implications for National Security. Peter has made it clear that he wishes to become more closely involved with Fiona, but she has held back, concerned by their different lifestyles and that often they disagree when the welfare of her passengers clashes with the demands of his job.

A tour of Provence, based in Avignon, should not be a taxing assignment but, on the second day, terrorists bungle an attempt to kidnap the Adele Deveaux, wife of a French government minister. They take over a small restaurant, holding captive Mme Deveaux and her male companion and several innocent bystanders. They demand that a Muslim preacher, who is accused of inciting terrorist atrocities, should be released from custody. After several hours of tension, it is established that the captives include seven of Fiona’s passengers, three married couples, Ken and Kathleen Burke, Sunil and Samina Colaco, Harvey and Celia Ericson, and a single traveller, Daniel Price. Fiona is worried about all her passengers, but she is especially concerned about Harvey and Celia because Harvey is elderly and Celia, although much younger than her husband, has been showing symptoms of dementia.

Ken and Kathleen are released quite quickly and, some time later, Daniel helps Celia to escape through a back window with the assistance of French security officers. The other passengers on the tour are aware that they cannot help the three passengers who are still in the restaurant and, determined not to give in to terrorism, vote to continue the tour. Fiona has the difficult task of keeping up the passenger’s morale, while liaising with the police and her boss at Super Sun, dealing with phone calls from Harvey’s anxious and obstreperous son and making sure that Celia is safe and does not wander away.

Back in England, Peter Montgomery-Jones is requested by the Home Secretary to undertake a very delicate and discreet mission to Avignon. The Home Secretary is afraid that the unknown man accompanying Mme Deveaux is his son Christopher. If it becomes widely known that is son is having an affair with the wife of a member of the French Government, Anglo-French relations could plummet even lower. Peter agrees to go to Avignon to hold a watching brief. Fiona is glad to see Peter and his support, along with that of Winston Taylor, her wonderful driver, helps her to cope with her stressful job. However, it is when the French security forces storm the building and release the surviving hostages that matters become much more complicated and it is clear that all is not as it seems.

Blood Flows South is the sixth book in the Fiona Mason Mysteries. In it the author took the bold step of addressing the prevalent fear of terrorist atrocities and has handled this difficult task very skilfully. The plot is interesting, and the characters are well drawn, and Fiona, Winston and Peter are likeable and engaging. From the first book the reader admired Fiona for her determination to regain her life after the tragedy of her husband’s long illness and death and it is pleasant to see her grow in self-belief and to watch her relationship with Peter develop. One of the high spots of these books is the glorious descriptions of places to visit and these, as always, are superb. Blood Flows South is an excellent read, which I would recommend.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Judith Cranswick was born and brought up in Norwich. She wrote her first novel (now languishing in the back of a drawer somewhere) when her two children were toddlers, but there was little time for writing when she returned to work teaching Geography in a large comprehensive. It was only after leaving her headship that she was able to take up writing again in earnest. Judith teaches Tai Chi, and line dancing, yoga, Pilates and Zumba. Her other hobbies include reading, and travelling. She is lucky enough to be a cruise lecturer. You can read some of her adventures – the Ups and Downs of Being a Cruise Lecturer on her September 2014 blog on her home page.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel,
The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

‘The Woman in the Woods’ by John Connolly

Published (US) by Emily Bestler Books/Atria,
June 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-5011-7189-5 (HB)
Published (UK) by Hodder & Stoughton,
5 April 2018.
978-1473641921 (HB)

The Charlie Parker series blends a traditional-thriller-mystery with elements of otherworldliness.  This, the 16th novel in the series, as usual, does both.  When a tree falls in the Maine woods exposing the remains of a woman, and her afterbirth, the Jewish lawyer Moxie Castin notes that a Star of David was carved on a nearby tree, leading him to retain private detective Charlie Parker to shadow the police investigation and discover what happened to the infant, since no baby was found buried near or with the mother.

So much for the traditional mystery.  At the heart of the novel are the occult features, especially the baddie Quales, who does not hesitate to murder anyone with whom he comes into contact in his quest for a rare book of fairy tales supposedly with inserts needed to complete an atlas which would change the world by replacing the existing God with non-gods.

There probably is no other author like John Connolly.  His novels offer complicated plots, well-drawn characters and make-believe to keep readers turning pages. His works, in addition to the Charlie Parker series, includes standalone novels, non-fiction and science fiction, as well as literature for children.  Obviously, The Woman in the Woods is highly recommended.
Reviewed by Theodore Feit

John Connolly was born in Dublin in 1968. His debut -Every Dead Thing - swiftly launched him right into the front rank of thriller writers, and all his subsequent novels have been Sunday Times bestsellers. He is the first non-American writer to win the US Shamus award. (For Every Dead Thing). In 2007 he was awarded the Irish Post Award for Literature.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

E.C.R. Lorac

The  Golden Age
E.C.R. Lorac
by Carol Westron

E.C.R. Lorac was the main pseudonym of Edith Caroline Rivett, who was known to her family and friends as Carol Rivett. When she was writing a large number of books every year (possibly too many to publish them all under one name) she also wrote under the pseudonym Carol Carnac. It is clear that she created her two pseudonyms from components of her real name.

Lorac was born in Hendon, Middlesex (London.) Her father was Harry Rivett, a commercial traveller in silver goods, and her mother Beatrice (née Foot) was the daughter of Edward Smith Foot who first worked as a railway cashier on the Great Western Railway and later as rate collector in the district of Marylebone. Lorac was the youngest child and had two older sisters. When she was four, the whole family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, in the hope that the warm climate might be beneficial to Harry Rivett, who suffered from tuberculosis. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be the case and, two years later, in March 1900, the family decided to return to England. Harry Rivett did not survive the five-month voyage. He died and was buried at sea.

Over sixty years later, Lorac’s sister, Maud Rivett Howson, wrote a short memoir of this voyage, An Account of a Sea Journey (republished in Contrebis, the journal of the Lancaster Archaeological and Historical Society.) In this account she describes how her adventurous six-year-old sister "took the opportunity of climbing on the taffrail" when the crew were signalling another ship. Fortunately, “Mother, happening to look around, just saved her from going overboard, when the ship began to move again. We elder ones all climbed on the taffrail at times, though we were forbidden to: it must have been about 3 ft or 3 ft 6 ins from the deck and a most insecure perch.”

When the family reached London, they were literally penniless but were received into the welcoming, if crowded, household of Beatrice Rivett’s father, Edward Foot, and Beatrice received employment as an assistant rate collector. Lorac attended the South Hampstead High School and then the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. This Art School was established in 1896 as a part of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and Lorac continued as a craft practitioner throughout her life; her work included embroidery and calligraphy that has been on display at Westminster Abbey.
Lorac was an author that avoided publicity, and little is known about her life until 1931, when at the age of thirty-seven she published her first crime novel, The Murder on the Burrows. This book was published under her main pseudonym of E.C.R. Lorac and featured a Scotland Yard detective, Chief Inspector Macdonald. Once started, Lorac became a prolific writer and, in the twenty-seven years before her death, wrote forty-nine books with Macdonald as the Senior Investigating Officer. In twenty-eight of these novels he was assisted by Detective inspector Reeves. Macdonald is a Scot and, although he lives in London, he is fond of the countryside and country walks, preferring the starker scenery of the North of England to the lusher vegetation of Devon. Macdonald’s first name is very rarely used, so much so that it seems even his author forgot what it was; in his debut in The Murder on the Burrows it is given as James, but in later books he becomes Robert. Macdonald is a bachelor with very little personal life. He is an officer of absolute  integrity, who follows his instincts about people and sticks to the rules.

After 1931, Lorac published two books a year until 1936, when she published four books, three under her Lorac pseudonym and one under her new pseudonym, Carol Carnac. From that time on she published at least two books a year and usually more than that. As Carnac she has three series detectives, all police officers: Inspector Ryvet, Chief Inspector Julian Rivers and Inspector Lansing. In all she wrote and published seventy-two detective books. She also wrote two mainstream novels that were published under her own name.

In 1937 Lorac became a member of the Detection Club and later she served as its Secretary. From the age of six, Lorac had been a Londoner and this was her favourite setting for her earlier books, although she also set some of her novels in Devon, where she and her mother enjoyed seaside holidays. In later years, she visited her sister and brother-in-law in Lancashire and fell in love with the county and used the North of England as the setting for many of her later novels. By the 1950s she had moved to a stone cottage named Newbanks in Aughton, Lancashire, and this house served as the setting for her novel Crook O'Lune (1953.)

Lorac died in 1958 at the age of sixty-four. She had never married and left her estate to her sister, Gladys, with whom she had lived for the last few years of her life.

Lorac’s books were published in Britain and several were also published in the U.S. They were very popular with the public and received excellent reviews. Dorothy L. Sayers was particularly fond of church music and wrote an enthusiastic review of Lorac’s 1935 book
The Organ Speaks, possibly seeing in it similarities to her own novel The Nine Tailors, which had been published a year before, in 1934. ‘The personality of the music pavilion does... permeate the book, and this gives a continuity and aesthetic value to the work... Mr Lorac knows his musical ‘stuff’ inside and out and uses that technical knowledge very skilfully to produce affects of mystery and beauty.’

The composer of cryptic crosswords and reviewer for
The Observer, Edward Powys Mathers, who wrote under the pseudonym Torquemada, concluded his review of A Pall for a Painter (1936) by observing that, ‘it is safe to bet that this author will soon find himself an accepted member of that very small band which writes first-rate detective stories that are also literature.’

Sixty years after her death, Lorac’s work is out of print, apart from the two novels that have been recently
republished by the British Library,
Fire in the Thatch (1946) and Bats in the Belfry (1937) and a third that will be republished in November 2018, Murder by Matchlight (1945.) Second-hand volumes of her work are eagerly sought after by collectors but, until the British Library republications, most of the general public had never heard of Lorac.

So why would such a prolific and popular author have fallen into obscurity? Part of the reason must surely lie in her desire for personal privacy. Although a few other women crime writers of that time used a male pseudonym, as a practise it was becoming less popular, and writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers were increasingly aware of the need for publicity to promote their books. It is not clear whether Sayers knew of Lorac’s gender when she wrote the review in which she referred to ‘Mr Lorac’, although she would have discovered the truth two years later when Lorac joined the Detection Club. It is possible that Sayers was aware of it and respected a fellow author’s desire for privacy. Certainly Lorac’s readers were unaware of her identity. H.R.F. Keating described the shock he felt when he discovered that ‘this trenchantly logical, pipe smoke-wreathed hero of my boyhood was Miss Edith Caroline Rivett.’ (Murder Must Appetize, 1975).

However, in my opinion, the main factor that has caused Lorac’s books to have been forgotten was Macdonald’s basic dullness. He is a very worthy, clever officer who successfully solves his cases and often shows intuition as well as intelligence, but he lacks the power to engage the imagination and interest that other, more lively and eccentric Golden Age Detectives possess. Indeed, Macdonald’s air of professional detachment is even greater than that of Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French. Certainly, his private life and interests never intrude into the investigation. When it comes to the series protagonists of Police Procedurals, there are many senior police officers, such as Bellairs’ Littlejohn and Punshon’s Bobby Owen, who are warmer and more fully rounded characters than Lorac’s Macdonald.

Nevertheless, Macdonald is a clever and honourable detective and Lorac’s books are well worth reading. Her prose is elegant, her settings are exquisitely portrayed, and her plots are ingenious enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

Bats in the Belfry
Published by The British Library. ISBN: 978-0-71235255-0

Fire in the Thatch
Published by The British Library. ISBN: 978-0-71235260-4

Murder by Matchlight (to be published Nov. 2018)
Published by The British Library. ISBN: 978-0-71235222-2

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames. 
Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times. 
The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.