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Monday 30 November 2020

‘Play The Red Queen’ by Juris Jurjevics

Published by No Exit Press,
12 November 2020.
ISBN: 978-0-85730-409-4 (PB)

This is the second of the author’s novels that are set in Vietnam.  It’s 1963 and sweltering Saigon is vividly brought to life with all its volatility, corruption, noise, intrigues, and political tension. The country is on the brink of the Vietnam War and several thousand US servicemen are deployed there in a so-called ‘advisory capacity’ propping up the brutal, dictatorial Diem regime and its ruthless military henchmen.

The two protagonists who take centre stage are Staff Serjeant Ellsworth Miser and Serjeant Clovis Robeson, two contrasting American army investigators who are on a mission to track down and take out an audacious, highly skilled, cunning young female Viet Cong assassin.  Her modus operandi involves prowling the boulevards of Saigon in search of unsuspecting members of the American army community who she finishes off with a single shot, a veritable pistol-packing mama, before escaping on the pillion of a moped. She’s nicknamed the Red Queen because she scatters playing cards as she flees the scene of her crime.

Miser and Clovis are as different as chalk is from cheese. One’s white and the other is African American. One’s from a dirt-poor family while the other is monies and privileged. However, together they constitute a formidable duo but they are running out of time as intelligence has reached them that the Red Queen’s next target is likely to be high profile - either Henry Cabot Loge Lodge, the American Ambassador, or Diem himself.

This novel is a posthumous publication and it’s sad that the voice of such a talented writer has been silenced. The author was a Vietnam veteran and a note from his widow  at the end of the book states that Vietnam had marked Juris for life. “In the end it marked him for death as well, through the toll Agent Orange took on his heart.”  He died in 2018. His experiences in Vietnam during those tumultuous fourteen years informed his writing. The book is as much a socio-political history as it is a fast paced thriller with vivid characterisation buttressed by a wealth of detail that flings the reader into the thick of things. All in all a cracking good read

Reviewer: Serena Fairfax. 

Juris Jurjevics is the author of The Trudeau Vector, which was translated into 9 languages, published in a dozen countries, and optioned for film by National Geographic. His second novel, Red Flags, set in Viet Nam, will be published in September 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  He served in Viet Nam for 14 months, 9 days, 2 hours, his original departure date delayed by the Tet Offensive.  He was born in Latvia, grew up in Displaced Persons camps in Germany.

Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practiced in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals   then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. Her tenth novel has been published. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things.

‘A Game of Minds’ by Priscilla Masters

Published by Severn House,
30 October 2020.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-9082-54 (HB)

When forensic psychiatrist Dr Claire Roget receives a call from DS Zed Willard it comes as something as a surprise as they haven’t always seen eye to eye in the times they have met over previous cases. Hesitantly he explains that the killer Jonah Kobi who is currently serving four life sentences for the killing of four schoolgirls has always denied killing a fifth schoolgirl, and that he, Zed, is sure that he did it.  Zed is equally certain that Kobi is keeping back that information as his last card. Could Claire, as a psychiatrist find the right approach to get the truth out of him. He tells her she is his last hope.

It's been six years since fourteen-year-old Marvel Trustrom went missing, and her body never found. Now Marvel's father Tom Trustom, is terminally ill and is desperate to know what happened to his daughter before he dies.

Before speaking with Kobi Claire researches his background, giving her a long list of people, she feels that should speak with before attempting to tackle the huge job that DS Zed Willard has asked her to do.  Marvel’s family are all reluctant to talk with Claire.  Most are hostile – saying they have put it behind them and are getting on with their lives. 

Claire’s first meeting with Kobi is non-productive he is arrogant, and narcissistic. He denies killing Marvel saying she wasn’t his type. Claire is aware that he will continue to see her as he is enjoying the attention. Can she by her questions lure him into giving himself away. But as the meetings continue Kobi begins to make hints deflecting the attention away from himself, but by doing so ensuring that Claire continues to visit him. Soon Claire is drawn into a battle of minds with a dangerous psychopath. 

But Kobi isn’t Claire only problem.  She works at Greatbach Secure Psychiatric Unit with several unpredictable patients one in particular is causing her a great deal of concern. Her registrar Australian Simon Bracknell is also her lodger. Which as been working well for them both, but then a complication arises which also becomes problematic.

Grant, her ex-partner, who one day without warning left the house they shared and never contacted her, is now back in touch. Six months passed before she learned of the reason why he left, and now that reason is no longer a problem, he wants to share her life again.  Although Claire can see a possible further problem on the horizon, she is clearly still in love with him. However, despite the feelings that he rekindles in her, I found it difficult to warm to him.   Will she, won't she?

This is the third book in the Claire Roget series and although it works perfectly as a standalone, I urge you to read the two earlier ones.  To this end I have been circumspect in not giving to much away, regarding Claire’s personal life.

As with all previous books by Masters, it is cleverly and intricately plotted. There are clues and red herrings, and the characters are well-drawn. This book is most highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Priscilla Masters was born in Halifax, and brought up in South Wales, one of seven multi-racial children adopted by an orthopaedic surgeon and his Classics graduate wife. Priscilla trained as a registered nurse in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. She moved to Staffordshire in the 1970s, had an antiques business for a while and two sons. She started writing in the 1980s in response to an aunt asking her what she was going to do with her life! Winding up the Serpent was her first Joanna Piercy story, published in 1995.  Although that series is still continuing, she has also written several medical standalones and a new series featuring coroner Martha Gunn, set in Shrewsbury. Her latest series features forensic psychiatrist Dr Claire Roget. A Game of Minds is the third book in the series.

Sunday 29 November 2020

‘In the Shadow of an Old’ Master by P J Blake

 Published by Matador,
28 October 2014. 
ISBN 978-783065-08-0 (PB)

Eric Hargrave, the ‘King of art forgers’ is found wounded and unconscious with a head wound on a street in Rome.  He is taken to hospital, where he dies, and Alberto Conti, an inspector for the Commissariato of Trastevere takes charge of the investigation into what may or may not have been an accident.

Hargrave’s brother, Bernard, inherits his estate and discovers that a number of people are interested in what Eric has left behind and in trying to find work that he was supposed to be doing for them.  The disappearance of a manuscript the forger was writing seems to be a matter of particular concern.  However, neither these concerns nor those of his superior officers deflect Conti from his inquiries, during which he meets Guilia Vasari, a friend of Eric’s.  He is happy to involve her in the investigation because of her knowledge and interest and, as time passes, because of their developing friendship.

Set in the world of fine art, with its attendant criminal possibilities, this story gives a nod to real life (the mystery surrounding the death of Eric Hebborn, a talented forger, and its aftermath).  The plot moves along at a good pace; Guilia’s frequent trips between London and Rome and her (perhaps unlikely) relationship with Conti provide the opportunity for descriptions of Italian life which add local colour.  The characters who frequent the galleries, museums and auction houses - academics, dealers, publishers, collectors and curators (as well as the actual artists and forgers) - all have their parts to play in the unfolding story.

Ultimately the ending may not be quite as strong as the rest of the story, but altogether it is a book that holds the readers interest.

Reviewer: Jo Hesslewood

P.J. Blake was born in Paris but spent most of his life outside France. He has spent the last 35 years with his wife and two children in Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, England, Greece and Germany and draws inspiration from the colourful characters he has met and the different cultures he has experienced. In the Shadow of an Old Master is his first published novel.

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.

Friday 27 November 2020

‘Lockdown’ by Peter May

Published by Riverrun,
30 April 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-52941-169-0 (PB)

There aren’t many novelists, even among the most successful, who don’t have a book in the back of a cupboard which failed to attract the attention of a publisher. But how often does it happen that global events suddenly make that book so topical that no publisher with any marketing sense would turn it down?

Every cloud, as they say, and for Peter May the cloud hanging over us all at the moment had a lining of pure gold. Lockdown, his novel in the back of the cupboard, is set in a London overwhelmed by an epidemic not unlike the dreaded coronavirus which has ensured that 2020 will live in most people’s memories for all the wrong reasons – but for May it has proved timely. 

One thing that struck me as I immersed myself in the nightmare world he creates all too realistically is that we may have actually escaped quite lightly. May’s flu – he doesn’t dignify it with a fancy name – takes no prisoners. It kills eighty per cent of people who contract it, the only attempt at a vaccine has failed catastrophically, and anything resembling a treatment is in short supply. London is under strict curfew and martial law, looting is rife, the O2 has become a makeshift hospital and funerals are mass affairs.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a serial killer on the loose, picking off anyone with a connection to the skeletal but recent remains of a child found on a building site. DI Jack MacNeil’s last task before retirement is to identify the child and find her killer, and it all gets a lot more complicated than he expects.

The result will not disappoint Peter May’s legion of fans, and if there’s any justice it will gain him a whole lot more. Lockdown is a high-octane, fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists and turns and an edge-of-the-seat (almost literally!) ending. It’s peopled with the kind of living, breathing characters those existing fans have come to expect and all mystery readers’ relish. I especially enjoyed Amy, the forensic anthropologist disabled by a horrendous accident and determined not to let it hamper her progress; and Dr Castelli the pandemics expert, fit and feisty way beyond her advanced years. MacNeil himself is a gentle giant of a man who isn’t coping well with personal tragedy. And the background just might make you reconsider whether 2020 has been so bad after all.

The biggest mystery is why the book wasn’t published years ago when it was first written. It’s up there with Peter May’s best.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Peter May was born and raised in Scotland. He was an award-winning journalist at the age of twenty-one and a published novelist at twenty-six. When his first book was adapted as a major drama series for the BCC, he quit journalism and during the high-octane fifteen years that followed, became one of Scotland's most successful television dramatists. He created three prime-time drama series, presided over two of the highest-rated serials in his homeland as script editor and producer, and worked on more than 1,000 episodes of ratings-topping drama before deciding to leave television to return to his first love, writing novels. He has won several literature awards in France, received the USA's Barry Award for The Blackhouse, the first in his internationally bestselling Lewis Trilogy; and in 2014 was awarded the ITV Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year award for Entry Island. Peter now lives in South-West France with his wife, writer Janice Hally. 

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.