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Saturday 29 May 2021

‘Never Came Home’ by Gretta Mulrooney

Published by Joffe Books,
7 October 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-78931-526-4 (PB)

This is the second in the series featuring Detective Inspector Siv Drummond, English father, Finnish mother, set in the Sussex town of Berminster where Siv had spent her childhood and to which, after her husband’s death in a cycling accident, she has returned, still grieving but determined to get on with her life.

When, in the process of the demolition of a sprawling derelict building, the part-mummified remains of a woman are found, tied to the back grill of an abandoned fridge, Siv, along with Detective Sergeant Ali Carlin and Detective Constable Patrick Hill, investigate. The woman is identified as Lyn Dimas, aged in her forties, a podiatrist, who, six years previously had slipped out just for a little while to do some shopping, leaving her nine-year old son Adam on his own watching TV while her teenage daughter, Lily and her friends were spending the evening at a school prom. But when Lyn does not come home, her son in great distress, goes to a neighbour, Jeff Downey, who calls Lyn’s ex-husband Theo who comes round immediately with his new lover, Monty Barnwell. From that day to this there has been no news of Lyn; now she has been found it appears she had been strangled.

Now Siv and her colleagues must find Lyn’s killer and to do so they must unpick the tangled web of the relationships, not only of Lyn’s immediate family, but of anyone who might have had a motive for killing her. Lyn had reacted with fury to Theo’s coming out as gay, as had his father, a strict Greek Orthodox Christian. Lily, shallow, uncaring, and self-centred, feels that Theo’s coming out has made her look stupid; after her mother’s disappearance she abandons any idea of going to university and marries her boyfriend Pearce Aston. After her mother’s death she stops seeing her father, but not her grandfather who approves of her decision to marry young and be ‘a good wife’. Adam, on the other hand, is seriously psychologically affected by his mother’s disappearance; and becomes very withdrawn, overeats and falls behind in his education.

Although it is six years since Lyn’s murder, there is forensic evidence which indicates that Lyn might have been involved in sexual activity in the abandoned building where she had died. And although some of those who had reasons for wishing harm to Lyn have alibis, how reliable are those alibis? And as the network of relationships around Lyn grows ever more complicated, so the problems of untangling it grow ever more difficult.

What particularly impressed me about this story was the variety and depth of the characterisation of the participants, not just Lyn’s family and those connected to it, but also the investigators. Siv is not only impacted with grief by her husband’s death, but she has a difficult relationship with her selfish, demanding mother. Patrick Hill is the sole carer for his brother Noah who is seriously disabled by a stroke when still young. Now someone is siphoning money out of Patrick’s account but, with Noah too disabled to get to a bank, who can it be? Siv’s boss, DCI Mortimer, is surly; he hadn’t wanted her in the first place and makes his lack of enthusiasm very clear. Only Ali Carlin, from Northern Ireland, with his mixed Protestant/Catholic heritage with a dash of Mauritian, is always cheerful and supportive even though he smokes and eats far more than is good for him. I really enjoyed this story with its mix of convincing and lively characters. Recommended.

Reviewer: Radmila May

Gretta Mulrooney was born in London, of Irish parents. She studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Ulster and subsequently worked in education and social care.  Gretta has written seven books in her series featuring Private investigator Tyrone Swift. Her most recent boom is These Little Lies, the first in a new police-based crime series, featuring DI Siv Drummond.

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.

Tuesday 25 May 2021

‘The First Day of Spring’ by Nancy Tucker

Published by Hutchinson,
24 June 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-78633238-7 (HB)

It isn’t often that the crime in a crime novel is committed in the first line. But then Nancy Tucker’s accomplished debut is no ordinary crime novel. It tells the story of eight-year-old Chrissie, who kills a toddler to see what it feels like, or so she tells herself. She doesn’t tell anyone she did it, of course; that would spoil the fizzing excitement of having such a big secret. She can’t understand why people react as they do; after all, he won’t stay dead for long, will he? Her da doesn’t; he keeps dying then coming back, or so he tells her.

Interleaved with Chrissie’s story is Julia’s: a young single mother desperate to take good care of her small daughter Molly, to avoid the social workers taking her away – so desperate that she runs away when Molly falls and breaks her wrist, in case she is accused of hurting or neglecting her.

 For the reader, viewing both situations from the outside, a very different picture emerges from the ones inside Chrissie’s and Julia’s heads. I saw a little girl damaged and distorted by her background, deprived of the most basic of of care, either physical or emotional, by a mother who has no idea how to mother. Everything Chrissie does is a scream for attention; she just wants to be loved, or even liked, but tragically her behaviour has the opposite effect. Julia, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to be left alone to bring up her daughter. She makes sure Molly is clean and well fed and does everything to a strict routine that is more for her own benefit than the child’s. But she lives in fear, convinced that she is getting it wrong and will be found out.

Both story threads are deeply disturbing, Chrissie’s especially so. It isn’t much of a spoiler to point out that Julia is in fact the grown-up Chrissie, released from secure care when she was eighteen and given a new identity. It’s inevitable that social workers want to keep a careful eye on her, given her past – but in her case the secure care facility has done what it set out to: repaired much of the damage, largely by giving her the kind of attention a small child needs. 

It’s a story about a crime and its causes and consequences, but ultimately about redemption and love. I have rarely read a novel of any kind, crime or not, in which the author makes a better fist of getting under the protagonist’s skin. At eight years old, Chrissie has no idea why people shun and judge her. Through her incisive but skewed perception a whole community, children, adults and their environments, comes to life. At twenty-five, Julia is more introspective, but still unable to see the people around her as they really are.

The novel is an eye-opener, and a heartbreaking one. As well as the drastic effects of neglect and deprivation on a child, it charts the emotional crimes people perpetrate on anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of normal. It made me think, and it made me cry. Occasionally it even made me smile. Who can ask for more of a novel?

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Nancy Tucker was born and raised in West London. She spent most of her adolescence in and out of hospital suffering from anorexia nervosa. On leaving school, she wrote her first book, The Time In Between (Icon, 2015) which explored her experience of eating disorders and recovery. Her second book, That Was When People Started To Worry (Icon, 2018), looked more broadly at mental illness in young women.  Nancy recently graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Experimental Psychology. Since then, she has worked in an inpatient psychiatric unit for children and adolescents and in adult mental health services. She now works as an assistant psychologist in an adult eating disorders service. The First Day of Spring is her first work of fiction.

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. 

Robert B Parker’s ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ by Ace Atkins

 Published by No Exit Press,
15 April 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-85730428-5 (PBO)         

Robert B Parker’s first novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, introducing Boston private eye Spenser was published in 1973.  I bought a copy, and I was hooked from the first sentence.

The office of the University President looked like the front parlour of a Victorian whorehouse.

Parker was the best-selling author of over 60 books. 38 Spenser thrillers, 9 mysteries featuring small town Police Chief Jesse Stone, 6 led by female private eye Sunny Randall, and half a dozen westerns. He was a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America.

He wrote tough, stripped to the bone, smart, intelligent prose. Packed more into a half-whispered phrase than most writers manage to squeeze into a page. He got straight to the point, dumped elaborate descriptions of people and character and never wasted a word, describing one enforcer thus – He looked like he flossed with a tyre iron.

Crime is a very flexible genre. It’s not just about good guys and bad. It’s so much more than the workings of a ‘whodunnit’. Crime writers have the whole of the human condition to explore, and the best of them never disappoint.

Parker wrote with wit and grace and all the assurance of one of the greatest in the trade. He died in 2010. So where has that left us?

Well… Jesse Stone lives on in print in the capable hands Reed Farrel Coleman and on the TV screen with producer Michael Brandman and series star Tom Sellick. Sunny Randall with Mike Lupica. Spenser himself with Ace Atkins.

And in the new thriller, Atkins continues to do the late author proud. As the story opens… Spenser has shifted direction a bit and gained more responsibilities. He has new puppy. And he’s taken on an assistant, a young protege Mattie Sullivan who brings a problem to his door.

She re-filled the mug from the Mr Coffee atop my file cabinet and took a seat in one of my client chairs.
“So there’s this girl.”
“Lost her backpack and her laptop at some club off the Common,” she said. “And she wants it back.”

The answer to the problem would seem sensible enough. Go back to the club and pick the things up. Both the girl and Mattie try that, only to be threatened and thrown out. Subsequently followed and threatened again. Mattie can’t persuade her friend to go to the police. She asks Spenser for help.

And the most dangerous case he has ever encountered breaks open in front of him.

The Blackstone Club in a back street on the edge of Boston’s Chinatown, is the stopper in a very large cask of evil run by corrupt, vicious, billionaire money manager Peter Steiner and his associate Poppy Palmer. They share an island in the Bahamas, a private jet, and extremely powerful friends in high and low places. They run a high-end organisation – an equal opportunity exploiter of the law, power, money and of young girls supplied for rich, socially and morally deviant clients only too keen to pay top dollar to be entertained.

Run by fear and terror, the network seems unbreakable. Witnesses made to disappear, loved ones who try to intervene threatened and blackmailed, police files stolen and deleted, cases dropped by the courts, justice suborned.

Spenser collects all the allies he has. His partner Susan Silverman, a psychiatrist with some experience of the territory he is about to enter. His great friend Hawk, the toughest clued up black man on the block. Rita Fiore one of the best attorneys in town. And two top homicide detectives from Boston PD. Maybe, this experienced collective can bring down the Steiner Palmer organisation.

The journey takes them from Boston to Miami, to Boca Raton and the Bahamas. Spenser and Hawk come up against expensive hard men, a highly organised international security company and, in an epic showdown, the man Spenser fears most of all – an assassin who once shot him in the back and consigned him to months of painful rehabilitation.

Ace Atkins has written a lean, tough, fast paced thriller with the complete balance of action, humour and pathos for which Robert B Parker is so justly celebrated.

Reviewer: Jeff Dowson

Ace Atkins is an experienced crime writer with several stand alones, a series about Nick Travers and his Quinn Coulson series which he continues to write. He has already published the Spenser Lullaby and is writing more Spensers. In an interview in 2013 he explained that he couldn't write the Coulson and Spenser books at the same time - he writes the two series separately allowing half a year for each! 

Jeff Dowson began his career working in the theatre as an actor and a director. From there he moved into television as an independent writer/producer/director. Screen credits include arts series, entertainment features, drama documentaries, drama series and TV films. Turning crime novelist in 2014, he introduced Bristol private eye Jack Shepherd in Closing the Distance.  The series developed with Changing the Odds, Cloning the Hate and Bending the Rules. The Ed Grover series, featuring an American GI in Bristol during the years following World War 2, began with One Fight At A Time.  The second book New Friends Old Enemies has just been published. Jeff is a member of BAFTA and the Crime Writers Association.