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Saturday 22 January 2022

‘The Man On Hackpen Hill’ by JS Monroe

Published by Head of Zeus Ltd,
2 September 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-78954172-4 (HB)

Bella, a recent Oxford graduate, is desperate to become a journalist. On work experience with a national paper, she receives a letter suggesting there is ‘seriously interesting stuff’ to be overheard in a village pub in Wiltshire. In the pub she meets Jim, a brilliant young scientist who works at Porton Down - the high security government research lab for chemical warfare agents.

Near the pub, a crop circle has appeared. It is the first of three. Each of the circles has a body placed in the centre of a highly complicated, geometric pattern that appears to be coding for something.  In the first two circles the bodies are dead. The victim in the third circle is killed in hospital. Each of the bodies seems to be sending a signal: the first has been lobotomized; the second is in a straitjacket; and the third was in a zombie state, pumped full of deadly toxin.

DI Silas Hart from Swindon police is put in charge of the investigation. He is assisted by DC Strover, a switched-on young woman who more than makes up for DI Hart’s lack of scientific and technical knowledge. Unfortunately, their investigations are slowed because their boss is not keen on them annoying the authorities at Porton Down by asking awkward questions. Despite being distracted when his son is admitted to a secure facility for the mentally ill and whilst he’s also trying to keep his marriage from floundering, Hart, helped by Strover and various experts in chemistry and mathematics, make good progress with the investigation.

Jim and Bella are attracted to each other. But, no sooner has Jim revealed he has a story for Bella that links the bodies in the crop circles to noxious chemicals stored at Porton, than the two of them become tracked by menacing minders in powerful black range rovers. In Oxfordshire, London, Wiltshire, and in Swanage and Studland Bay in Dorset the creepy cars keep looming out of nowhere with occupants who don’t hesitate to threaten Jim and Bella.

The Man on Hackpen Hill is a highly original, well-researched, thought-provoking, sometimes frightening, but very poignant story. The characters, particularly Bella and Jim, who are sensitively and charmingly portrayed, draw you into a book that is full of surprises from beginning to end.

Reviewer Angela Crowther.

J.S. Monroe After reading English at Cambridge University, he worked as a freelance journalist in London, writing features for most of Britain's national newspapers, as well as contributing regularly to BBC Radio 4. He was also chosen for Carlton TV's acclaimed screenwriters course. Between 1998 and 2000, he was Delhi correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and he also wrote the Last Word column in The Week Magazine (India) from 1995, when he lived in Cochin, South India, to 2012. His first novel, The Riot Act ,was  published by Serpent's Tail. Dead Spy Runnin', his third novel and the first in the Daniel Marchant (or 'Legoland') trilogy, was published by HarperCollins and has been translated into five languages. Jon lives in Wiltshire with his wife and three children.

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.

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