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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

‘Acts and Monuments’ by Alan Kane Fraser

Published by Matador,
28 February 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-789016 08-6 (PB)

Barry Todd is a pretty ordinary bloke – late forties, overweight, balding. He lives in a medium-sized Midlands town not far from Birmingham and works for a local housing association where he tries to do some good for other people – the homeless, the unemployed, and those in financial difficulties due to cuts in social security benefits. Financially life isn’t that good for him, he would like to be able to pay off his mortgage and to help provide for his daughter just starting at university and if he could that would help to improve the state of his relationship with his wife which has been deteriorating since the death of their son. And he expects his finances to improve with promotion to the post of Head of Department – no less than he deserves, he feels, with all his experience and his years of service to the association. But Barry is, frankly, rather a plodder so the bosses of the association give the post to Barry’s colleague, the younger, thrusting, harder-nosed Langley Burrell. Barry has never got on with Langley particularly since he sacked Barry’s wife who has been unable since then to find a job, a fact which Barry and his wife have kept from the mortgage company. Not unnaturally, Barry’s resentment starts to build, not just towards Langley who has deprived Barry of his company car, but towards his bosses.

And then an opportunity comes Barry’s way. A young man for whom he had found accommodation with a housing project who was supposed to be getting over his drug addiction is found dead of an overdose. The police do not suspect foul play so there is no real reason why when Barry goes to the young man’s home, he should not take away with him a cardboard box with the few papers that the young man has. And among the papers is the young man’s cheque book. And that is when Barry begins to hatch a plan to create an elaborate plan to divert to himself some of the money that his housing association is due. And he really does intend to pay it back before too long. But meanwhile he can top up his daughter’s living allowance and pay the rent for one of the housing association’s clients, the young and attractive Rumanian, Iulia Nicolescu, whose benefits have been cut and who has been forced to turn to prostitution. Even better, when his colleague Saleema Bhatti takes voluntary redundancy and she and her husband return to Pakistan to look after her father who has to have a serious operation, he can lend her the substantial sum required for the operation. But things are becoming difficult for Barry; even though police enquiries into the fraud are half-hearted at best and their investigation into the young man’s death not much better, Barry is by now living on his nerves. And although Saleema and her husband do repay the money Iulia uses her relationship with Barry, who is now paying her for sex, to blackmail him. In return, Barry could inform the so-called Rumanian Migrants Welfare Association of Iulia’s new address, but they have threatened her with death. And Barry’s relationship with his wife is deteriorating yet further although he is too preoccupied with his own concerns to understand her despair. More and more he visits the Birmingham Art Gallery studying a particular painting – only at the end does he realise that it depicts not Peace but Death.

When I started reading this book, I was uncertain how it would rank as a crime novel. There is no violence in these pages, no grand shootouts, no international spy rings. But fraud is one of the most prevalent of crimes today and does untold damage to innumerable people. There is far too much for the police to investigate and the evidence is unbelievably voluminous, so it is only the really massive frauds which are investigated. The research on this story is extensive and feels highly authentic. And the examination of the moral framework on which we all base our lives – well, most of us – certainly provides food for thought. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Alan Kane Fraser was raised and still lives in Birmingham with his wife and family. He has worked for many years in the fields of social housing and homelessness and knows the world that his debut novel inhabits intimately. He has previously written pieces for The Guardian, Inside Housing and The Local Government Chronicle, amongst others, and his stage play, Random Acts of Malice, won the inaugural Derek Lomas Award for Best New Play at the Wellington Literary Festival.

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.

‘The Killer You know’ by S.R. Masters

Published by Sphere,
2 May 2019.
: 978-0-75157037-3 (PB)

It is 1997 and friends Adeline, Rupesh, Steve, Jen and Will are gathered around and discussing what they intend to be doing in sixteen years’ time when they will be in their thirties. Most come up with the usual ambitions, doctor, actress etc. until it comes to Will's turn. He announces that he intends to kill three people making him a serial killer. They will all be unrelated and none of them will be traceable back to him, but his gathered friends will know he carried out the murders. At first, they have a good laugh but when he seems serious the atmosphere changes. But surely, he is having them on, isn't he? 

We then go to 2015 and the same friends have arranged to meet up after all this time. Everyone turns up except Will. They wait well into the evening and give up on him. While they are waiting though, Jen happens to check on her phone and discovers there has been a death at a festival, exactly how Will described he would kill the first person. A coincidence? Very disturbing. They decide they must try to trace him, even if it’s just to put their minds at rest.

Throughout the book alternate chapters are set in 1997-8 and 2015 and we learn more about the characters of the “gang” as they think of themselves. It appears Steve and Adeline and Rupesh and Jen were items which left Will rather out on a limb. He always seemed a bit strange and withdrawn.  Back in 1997 the gang also had issues with a Bill Strachan a neighbour, but Will seemed to connect with him. This didn't go down too well with the rest of them, they felt Strachan's behaviour was having an influence on Will.

When a game is devised, where they take it in turns to leave clues for the rest to follow, it leads to more bad feelings especially between Steve and Will. Eventually though they all leave to go back to college still pretty good friends.

Back to 2015 and Will seems to have disappeared, there are tales of him being on drugs and in trouble with the police, but the rest of the gang are determined to find him. But will they regret it?

Once I got used to switching from 1997 to the relative present day, I really enjoyed the increasingly creepy, uneasy undercurrents as the characters of the gang were slowly revealed. A rather clever piece of writing showing how our younger lives can influence us years later. Recommended for lovers of a slowly building mystery with disturbing atmospheric undertones. 
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

S R Masters grew up around Birmingham, and spent his teen years reading, playing in bands and wandering through fields with friends. After studying Philosophy at Cambridge, he worked in public health for the NHS, specialising in health behaviour. His short fiction has featured internationally. He regularly contributes to UK short fiction anthology series The Fiction Desk, having won their Writer's Award for his short story 'Just Kids'. His story 'Desert Walk' was included in Penguin Random House USA's 'Press Start to Play' collection. The Killer You Know is his debut novel. He currently lives in Oxford with his wife and son.

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.

‘The Big House’ by Larche Davies

Published by Matador,
28 July 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-789018 24-0 (PB).

Four children – Lucy (15), Paul (6), David (15) and Dorothy (16) – are crammed into the back of a car, driven by Pete and social worker Bev. They are being driven to Wales, to a safe house, prior to their giving evidence in the trial of two men charged with two or perhaps three murders connected with a cult which worships a being called The Magnifico. The priests of the cult, the Holy Leaders, are intent on establishing world-wide control by impregnating women whom they have abducted; once the women have served their purpose, they are eliminated by lethal injection.

Any records of the children born as a result of this procedure are destroyed so that their true parentage cannot be traced. These four children are not the only ones who have been conditioned to carry out this fell purpose; there is a countrywide network of such people who are hiding in plain sight so the children in this story have to observe utmost precautions lest a rash word or action betray them. But at the same time, they will be going to school where they will make friends. Can those friends be trusted? And even the two kindly elderly ladies who will care for the children in the safe house – are they entirely trustworthy?

This is a sequel to The Father’s House and given the age range of the main characters in the narrative, I think is aimed at older children and young adults.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Larche Davies studied law at the universities of Aberystwyth and London. She worked in London as a barrister and legal journalist, and then in Cardiff as a judge in employment tribunals. She has five children and seven grandchildren. The Father's House was her first novel. She started writing it after she fell over the dog and broke her leg.

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.

‘The Artemis File’ by Adam Loxley

Published by Troubador Publishing Ltd,
7 May 2019.
SBN: 978-1-78901873-8 (PB).

George Ambrose Wiggins, compiles crossword puzzles for the London Chronicle newspaper and lives in Tenterden with his wife Margaret.  Complete with hanging baskets and pubs galore, the Kentish village has doggedly refused to succumb to the retail chains that have decimated most British high streets and is the perfect home for George, a man of temperate and predictable habit.  In the opening paragraphs of Chapter One he follows his usual Thursday night routine, popping into The Red Lion for a few pints with the locals on his way home from work.  By the end of the chapter, however, his world has been turned upside down as he is plunged into the thrilling tale of espionage concealed within The Artemis File. 

The first few chapters of the book introduce a giddy array of spies attached to MI5, the CIA and their Russian equivalent, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB).  The plot lines are intriguing, and there is little time to consider how they might relate to each other given the G-force of the accelerating narrative.  Some respite is offered in the book’s descriptions of Kent and London.  These are meticulously, often beautifully, portrayed and contain fascinating and well researched historical information. 

Characterisation is excellent throughout.  With the possible exception of Wiggins, one would not wish to socialise with any of the personalities who are still standing at the end of the breathless narrative.  This includes the central protagonist and anti-hero, Craven, whose character attracts and repels in equal measure.  The ex-special operations investigator, apparently loyal to crown and country, evinces machismo and employs extreme brutality when dealing with, admittedly similarly vicious, adversaries.  Craven’s nihilism, casual misogyny and racism make him an unpredictable and complex character.  For all his lack of political correctness, however, he’s definitely the guy to choose when confronted by the other deplorable undercover operatives depicted in the novel.

The Artemis File, is a sequel to Adam Loxley’s 2011 debut novel, The Teleios Ring.  It is a fascinating and well-constructed novel that captured my imagination from beginning to end.  The book pulls no punches and is perfect for those who enjoy the literary equivalent of a rollercoaster’s dive drop, it provides non-stop action and an edge of your seat ride.  I enjoyed every shocking twist, had no idea who to trust, and was completely outmanoeuvred by the final chapters.  A cracking good read!
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Adam Loxley lives in the Weald of Kent. Other than creative writing his passions are making music, world cinema and contemporary art.  The Artemis File is a sequel to his debut novel, The Teleios Ring. The third and final novel in the Vector trilogy, The Oedipus Gate, is currently in manuscript.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

Monday, 16 September 2019

‘A Spot of Vengeance’ by C.J. Anthony

Published by Troubador Publishing,
28 July 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78901838-7 (PB)

The Prologue introduces us to a Danny Swift, ex-army intelligence and an aspiring artist. He is the main character in the story that unfolds.

Danny is determined to get known in the art world and befriends a well-known art dealer and critic Hafiz de Mercurio. He agrees to help him further his talent as he has contacts in all the right places.

One day Hafiz takes him to the Serpentine Gallery where he is introduced to Bernadette, she runs the gallery, Danny is instantly in awe of her. 

He meets her again when he is at an art exhibition and they get on really well. However on the way home he is abducted by British Intelligence, it seems they want his help once again. To his amazement he is told his friend Hafiz is an Islamic extremist sleeper and is believed to be plotting some sort of terrorist attack. They want Danny's help in discovering what he has planned, he reluctantly agrees.

They tell him they believe Hafiz is behind two recent horrific killings. Both incidents involved a painting of Joseph Legend being destroyed along with a print of each painting. Although Danny finds it hard to believe his friend is involved, he starts to spy on him. He surreptitiously photographs some papers he discovers in a “locked” draw. It gives details of people with different chemical names by each of them. Danny realises they all have connections to Legend paintings.

As he researches Legend's work further it becomes apparent that Hafiz has devised a code involving the spots, circles and numbers depicted in all of the works of art. But what is he planning and where?

Thom his contact in British Intelligence is convinced that whatever Hafiz is plotting is going to happen soon and urges Danny to discover what.

Can he solve the codes connected to the paintings in time? He is sure the answer lies in a work by Joseph Legend entitled “Chemical Warfare” being displayed in the Tate Modern Gallery. But what is it and can he find out in time to prevent the horrific attack Hafiz has planned? Time is running out.

A very clever and intricate plot set in the world of modern art. It tells of how someone slighted in the past plots to exact terrible vengeance on the people involved. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

C J Anthony was born in Birmingham. His debut draws on his experiences as a former British Soldier, technical advisor and security specialist in the Middle East. He is passionate about anything creative, an avid art collector and a keen painter who has exhibited in London.

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.

‘More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes’ edited and introduced by Nick Rennison

No Exit Press,
23 May 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-85730260-1

When Sherlock Holmes stories were first published between 1887 and 1927, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation encouraged other writers of the period to pen tales of their own super sleuths.  More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes is a carefully chosen selection of fifteen detective stories published between 1890 and 1914.  Here is a whistle-stop tour through the anthology.

The Missing Heir (1896) by Herbert Keen, begins the compilation.  An unassuming clerk, Mr Perkins, receives an intimation of good fortune from the mysterious Mr Farquhar Barrington.  Perkins sensibly consults his friend, retired detective Mr Booth, before signing a financial agreement with Barrington.  But will Booth’s skepticism cause Perkins to lose his inheritance altogether?

In Ernest Bramah’s The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage (1914), the brilliant, blind detective Max Carrados is engaged by Lieutenant Hollyer who has a hunch that his sister, Millicent Hollyer, is about to be murdered by her unfaithful husband.  Another matrimonial mismatch follows in The Arrest of Captain Vandaleur (1899) by LT Meade and Robert Eustace.  Walter Farrell, a successful businessman, has become addicted to gambling, a habit which is squandering his fortune and ruining his wife’s health.  Can the investigative expertise of Florence Cusack save the situation?

One Possessed (1913), by EW Hornung, describes how Dr John Dollar uses psychology to investigate the erratic behaviour of a wife who appears to “be losing her reason.”  In the next story, JE Preston Muddock’s Glaswegian Detective, Dick Donovan, seeks to retrieve The Jewelled Skull (1892).  Muddock’s detective predated Holmes and was, according to some critics, even more popular with readers than the Baker Street detective.

Horace Dorrington, the detective created by Arthur Morrison, has been described as a sociopath.  In The Case of the Mirror of Portugal (1897), Dorrington tries to get his own hands on a diamond that has been stolen from a would-be client.  In 1971 the story appeared on BBC television as the 6th episode in Season 1 of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.  Morrison also authored the next tale, The Ivy Cottage Mystery (1895), which features another unusual detective, Martin Hewitt.  The author’s note describes Hewitt as the “antithesis” of Sherlock Holmes who attributes his successes not to genius but tenacity: “…my ‘well known powers’ are nothing but common sense assiduously applied and made quick by habit.”

Next, Judith Lee heralds three more female detectives in the compilation. Conscience (1911), by Richard Marsh, describes how Judith, a “lazy-looking girl,” employs her “inconvenient” gift of being able to lip-read, to solve the mysterious deaths of three women.  The next contribution comes from Baroness Orczy’s 1910 collection, Lady Molly of Scotland Yard. In The Man in the Inverness Cape we find Lady Molly disguised as “the landlady of a disreputable gambling-house” in order to discover the whereabouts of Mr Leonard Marvel.  Our next sleuth is the American detective Madelyn Mack.  In The Missing Bridegroom (1914), by Hugh Cosgro Weir, Mack exudes confidence and intelligence as she, along with her journalist-friend Nora Noraker and dog Peter the Great, cracks a case that has the police baffled. 

A further disappearance provides the subject for The Vanished Millionaire, one of The Chronicles Of Addington Peace (1905) by B Fletcher Robinson.  This time a man has walked out into the snow leaving only his footprints behind.  Next up is The Divination of the Kodak Films (1895) by Headon Hill.  When Lady Hertlet’s diamonds are stolen from her room in Okeover Castle, the quick actions of Sir Frederick Cranstoun bring about the arrest of the perpetrators.  The jewels, however, are nowhere to be found and will remain hidden unless Detective Mark Poignand can unravel the meaning of Kala Persad’s mystical insights.

In David Christie Murray’s (1895) The Case of Muelvos Y Sagra, Detective John Pym, is more a clone than a rival of Holmes.  Keen-eyed readers will recognise the narrative as remarkably similar to a more famous tale published in February 1892 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Next, The Search for the Missing Fortune (1914) by Percy James Brebner, involves a convoluted will, strange funeral arrangements and a silver pin! 

Finally, in R. Austin Freeman’s The Mandarin’s Pearl (1909), Fred Calverley regrets purchasing a pendant pearl when he subsequently finds out it is stolen property.  Convinced that the pendant is cursed he consults John Thorndyke and then the real trouble begins…

Following the success of his earlier collection, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, this book by Nick Rennison will appeal to readers who simply enjoy Victorian and Edwardian detective fiction for its own sake as well as academics and historians of the genre.  The editor’s succinct notes are informative, interesting and entertaining.  The influence of Conan Doyle’s writing is evident in most of the tales, but this does not diminish their value both as narratives in their own right and as artefacts of this important period in the development of detective literature.  More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes is highly enjoyable and illuminating throughout.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Nick Rennison is a writer, editor and bookseller with a particular interest in the Victorian era and in crime fiction. He has written several Pocket Essential guides published by Oldcastle Books including Short History of the Polar Exploration, Roget, Freud and Robin Hood. He is also the author of The Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to Crime Fiction, 100 Must-Read Crime Novels and Sherlock Holmes: An Unauthorised Biography. His debut crime novel, Carver's Quest, set in nineteenth century London, was published by Atlantic Books. He is a regular reviewer for both The Sunday Times and BBC History Magazine.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction. 

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‘An Act of Detection’ by Charlie Cochrane

Published by Williams and Whiting,
22 July 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-91258231-0

Although the Second World War has been over for five years, post-War London in 1950 is still a grey, dismal place that is in need of popular, attractive actors such as Toby Bowe and Alasdair Hamilton to lighten the public’s mood. Along with their co-star, Fiona Marsden, Toby and Alasdair are adored cinema stars. Their private lives provide entertainment in the gossip columns of newspapers and magazines, just as their acting, in many adventurous and heroic roles, delights cinema goers. Fortunately, the press and public are occupied with linking Toby and Alasdair with Fiona or the other attractive young women they are seen around with, and have no inkling that they are romantically involved with each other. The two actors take care to camouflage their love for each other, aware that homosexuality is illegal and their star status will not protect them. Indeed if their fans knew everything about them most of them would turn on their former idols.

An Act of Detection is divided into two adventures. The first, The Case of the Overprotective Ass, chronicles Toby and Alasdair’s first foray into detection when Actor Manager Johnny Fisher asks them to track down his secretary, Robin Pierce, who has disappeared. As Toby and Alasdair delve into the secrets of Pierce’s life, they discover how much fun detection can be, but when their recent on screen depiction of Holmes and Watson provokes threatening anonymous letters, they find themselves with two cases to investigate, and the chilling prospect that their own lives may be in danger.

At the conclusion of their first case, Toby and Alasdair had protested that their detective days were behind them, but then they are presented with The Case of the Undesirable Actor, in which a new co-star, George Howells, is murdered. The two friends had not known Howells particularly well, and had not liked what they did know, for Howells had been an unpleasant, violent man, but when the owner of their film studios asks them to help, they agree to investigate. Soon the actor sleuths find themselves with a remarkable array of suspects and their investigation leads to a final scene that is as melodramatic as any of their films.

Charlie Cochrane already has two series featuring male lovers investigating crimes, but in her contemporary series the couple can live together openly and one of the pair is a police detective. This new series featuring Toby and Alasdair has a lot in common with the author’s Cambridge Fellows series, but the Edwardian series has a darker more serious tone, partly because it is shadowed by the prospect of the Great War and also because the early academic world is, by its nature, less frivolous than the world of cinema. An Act of Detection does reference the Second World War, in which both Toby, Alasdair and their co-star, Fiona, served, and this is used skilfully to illustrate a stronger, more serious side to their characters. Toby and Alasdair still have to keep their relationship a secret, and discovery would result in public censure, loss of their careers and imprisonment. It is not easy to keep their private lives hidden when they lead such high-profile lives. They are often seen with beautiful young starlets at social events, but, despite Media speculation, none of these young ladies make it into their bedrooms. An Act of Detection is an amusing, delightful novel, with a fascinating setting and two appealing protagonists. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys their crime fiction light, lively and nostalgic, with a good spice of humour.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team— so she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries.  A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and International Thriller Writers Inc, Charlie's Cambridge Fellows Series, set in Edwardian England, was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name.  

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.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

‘Safe Houses’ by Dan Fesperman

Published by Head of Zeus Ltd,
11 July 2019.
ISBN 978-1-78854788-8 (PB)

In Safe Houses the narrative alternates between two sets of characters, two main locations and two time zones. Towards the end of the cold war in 1979 Helen Abell is a lowly employee who manages four safe houses for the West Berlin station of the CIA.  Helen is only twenty-three and longs for the excitement of a field officer’s job though there is little chance of this given the prevailing sexist attitudes of that era. Thirty-five years later, in the rural village of Poston on the eastern shore of Maryland USA, we meet Helen’s daughter Anna Shoat.  She is nearly thirty, has no connections with espionage of any sort, and had no idea that her mother had ever been a spy.

Anna hasn’t lived in Maryland since she went to college and has only returned because her brother, Willard, who is in his twenties but has the mental age of a young child, has shot his mother Helen and his father in cold blood.  Anna needs to understand why her brother would have done such a thing. He loved his parents and was loved by them.  She engages the help of Henry Mattick, a newcomer to Poston whose job was to keep a watch on visitors to the Shoat’s house.  But why was he there and whom was he reporting back to?

The answers to Anna’s and Henry’s questions appear to be rooted in Helen’s former work in Berlin. On an unscheduled visit to one of her safe houses Helen had inadvertently witnessed two events of which she shouldn’t have had any knowledge.  She overheard and recorded an incomprehensible, coded meeting between a field officer and a potential agent, and then she witnessed another officer, “Robert” trying to rape a local German agent.  Helen seeks help from her fifty-five years old lover, Clark Baucom, who is an experienced CIA field officer.  He advises her to destroy the tapes and to forget about reporting “Robert” for attempting to rape the young German agent.

Helen is having none of it.  Incensed by the cavalier attitude of male officers towards females, Helen goes to Paris to gather evidence against the rapist in their midst and, with the help of two other girls, she collects the evidence she needs. But “Robert” is more useful to the CIA and other powerful security lobbies than is Helen, so senior management side with him. The net result of Helen’s efforts was that she was fired from the CIA and sent home.

Henry and Anna make good headway unraveling the significance of what Helen had discovered in 1979 though they are still hampered by “Robert” AKA Kevin Gilley, who now occupies a powerful position in American Politics.  As in all spy books, one’s friends are not necessarily whom they appear to be. This includes Henry Mattick. The developing relationship between Anna and Henry comes rapidly unstuck when he confides that he has another paymaster beside herself.

Fesperman has done his research thoroughly for the background to Safe Houses. The locations are meticulously described, as are the difficulties and attitudes experienced by female operatives at the hands of their bosses – one aspiring young lady only gets to become a field agent after disingenuously confiding to her boss that she has been “fixed” like a cat or a dog, so there is no danger of her becoming pregnant on the job!  Despite its length – 613 pages - I found it a very enjoyable read with plenty to worry and hope about and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good spy story with a hint of romance thrown in.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

Dan Fesperman

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

‘The Madness Locker’ by E. J. Russell

Published by Troubador Publishing Ltd,
28 May 2019.
ISBN 978-1789018-509

This is historical crime novel of high quality.  The story is told from multiple points of view which illuminate the 1940s in Germany for Jews and ordinary Germans.   The lives of several young people are particularly featured.  This historical background is interwoven with events in Australia in 2006.  It can take a while to pick up on the names as references to them alternate, but it all comes together as you progress.

The author tells us that he had been inspired by a true crime in Sydney, Australia in 2006 when the body of a seventy-year-old widow was discovered in wheelie bin and police were unable to identify a motive or a suspect.  He is attempting, therefore, to offer a fictional explanation of this by assuming that such a crime was probably rooted in the past.  He sees the likelihood of actions of the past leading to revenge.

The bulk of the book concerns events in Germany as Hitler’s Nazis have taken full control.  The fate of ten-year-old Ruth who is Jewish is somehow subverted as a non-Jewish girl is put on the transport in her place.   The experiences of being a German officer, of training as a doctor in the Netherlands, of living in hiding and of attempting to survive in the concentration camps are vividly portrayed.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
This is a first book.
E.J. Russell holds a Masters of Creative Writing degree from the University of Sydney and is currently undertaking a PhD in the same discipline. His debut The Madness Locker is based on a true crime story which was never solved.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries. 

Friday, 13 September 2019

‘Simply Dead’ by Eleanor Kuhns

Published by Severn House,
30 April 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-727 -8884-6 (HB)

Researching a historical novel is a straightforward matter of looking at books, documents and the internet. Making it feel right is a whole different skill, and it's a skill Eleanor Kuhns has in bucketloads. 

North-eastern America in the late 18th century is almost an alien world: one-roomed houses with dirt floors, three-mile walks to school for the children, values and customs far removed from the more relaxed approach we now adopt. Life was hard for ordinary people trying to scrape a living off the land. All this and more comes richly to life as background for Kuhns's Will Rees series.

Rees and his family live close to a Shaker community which is possibly the most dangerous of its kind in the country. Not only does the murder at the centre of the narrative take place there; mention is also made of murders in previous volumes in the series, which Rees has been involved in solving.

Not that he is a lawman; that role falls to Constable Rouge, who also runs the local bar and restaurant. But Rouge is something of a bull in a china shop; Rees usually thinks before he jumps. He is called in to help search for Hortense, a young midwife who has apparently been abducted en route home from delivering a baby; he finds her, hurt and distressed, and it soon becomes apparent that she isn't telling the whole truth about what happened to her.

Hortense takes refuge in the Shaker community, and shortly afterwards another young woman is found strangled, possibly in mistake for Hortense. Rees now has two mysteries to solve, and as if that wasn't enough, his eldest adopted daughter is attacked. 

That rich background really comes into its own as Rees travels up the nearby mountain and into the forest in bitter winter weather in search of answers. There are wolves, a wise woman, and several families made aggressive by isolation and the conditions they live in, and Kuhns has the knack of drawing the reader in to feel part of the story.

The sharply drawn, well-rounded characters add to the sense of involvement: Rees himself, sometimes sensitive, sometimes clumsy, always well meaning; Lydia, his intelligent, self-possessed wife; Jerusha, his headstrong daughter; clumsy Rouge; emotional Bernadette, Hortense's mother, Pearl the feisty teenage Shaker: they all come to life, as do the gentler members of the community who conceal iron strength under a calm exterior.

I was left feeling I'd visited late 18th century Maine, not just read about it. More than that – I wanted to go back for more, to get to know these people better, and explore their world further. It all felt right.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Eleanor Khuns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition. She lives in New York, and received her master’s in Library Science from Columbia University. She is currently the Assistant Director at the Goshen Public Library in Orange Country, New York.

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.