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Tuesday, 26 September 2023

‘Those People Next Door’ by Kia Abdullah

Published by HarperCollins,
3 August 2023.
978-0-00-843372-7 (PB)

When Salma Khatun and her husband Bilal decide to move to a quiet, suburban development, they hope to escape from the effects of stereotyping they have already encountered, and to protect their teenage son Zain from being sucked into destructive behaviour. At first, they receive the kind of cautious welcome newcomers always get – but before long their neighbours, Tom, Willa and their son Jamie, prove disappointing.

First Zain’s anti-racist banner is knocked over. Then their front window is smeared with paint – and that’s when the real trouble begins.

Kia Abdullah has created two very real families, both with problems and preconceptions. Salma is the crusader on her side of the fence; Bilal is the peacemaker, and Zain just wants to get on with the life he has chosen. Zain and Jamie find they have a lot in common and get on well, but their friendship is threatened when Salma and Willa get off on the wrong foot, and Tom reveals issues of his own.

She also creates a visual backdrop. The neat, well-regulated housing development counterpoints the slightly downmarket area where Bilal’s restaurant is located. The restaurant is vandalised, and squatters move in after they have painstakingly redecorated, and the contrast is heartbreaking.

On the face of it, this tense, sometimes chilling novel is about the way casual racism can escalate into all-out war between families – but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that it’s a lot more complicated than that. Money becomes an issue for both families, though in different ways. There’s violence, but it’s unclear where it starts. Everyone’s motives and feelings are far from simple.  Misconceptions develop and get out of hand. And it’s plain long before the final dramatic twist that laying blame at one door or another is not a solution.

At first glance this may look like a novel about racism, but first and foremost it’s a novel about people. Kia Abdullah has taken a sensitive subject, created characters with both admirable and ignoble traits, and told an absorbing story with objectivity alongside keen observation. She is clearly a talent to watch.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. She has contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC and Lonely Planet, and is the founding editor of outdoor travel blog Atlas & Boots, read by 250,000 people a month.

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.

Monday, 25 September 2023

‘The Kingdoms of Savannah’ by George Dawes Green

Published by Headline,
11 May 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-03540187-1 (PBO)

If you’re looking for a seriously fascinating novel that takes you on a journey into an unfamiliar society – well, unfamiliar to most – and into the heads of unusual and brilliantly depicted characters, this 2023 CWA Gold
Dagger-winning novel is it.

It’s not an easy read to begin with, partly because of that unfamiliarity, to which the author makes no concession, and partly because of the writing style which is individual and very much in the voices of the characters. I was dubious at first and rapt by the ending. I hope it’s the start of a series and there will be more.

The story begins with two characters making their way to a Savannah bar. Their backgrounds are hazy, but they don’t have money or regular jobs. After we see them, we’re told that Luke, young, white, is killed; Stony, black, forties, an archaeologist of some kind, disappears. Then there is a white family – wealthy and with huge status – but one of the adult sons, Ransom, no longer lives in the family mansion. He lives on the streets. A decision made more impactful when we’re told in the very early goings that his mother, the formidable, widowed matriarch Morgana Musgrove, once screamed at him as a child in front of friends that he would end up a hobo. So, another pivotal character is introduced to us. Another is Jaq. She’s black, eighteen, granddaughter of Morgana and has two mothers, who live together. Jaq connects all the characters who play a key role in  the novel: she works at Bo Peep’s, the bar where we saw Luke and Stony at the beginning whom she often treats to free drinks, she’s a good friend of her uncle Ransom’s and she works for her grandmother waitressing at fundraisers. We’re shown all this very soon, giving an indication of the elements that populate the novel and bring the world to life.

The overarching theme of the novel is corruption and greed, epitomised by the man in the clink who wants Morgana as proprietor of a more or less moribund detective agency to help get him off a charge of arson; Archie Guzman, a heartily despised businessman who is accused of setting fire to his building where a young homeless man – Luke – was taking refuge. The Gooze, as he is known, has no friends and Morgana isn’t popular in Savannah’s posh circles for taking on the case. Not that she worries, and the fee he’s willing to pay is outrageous as the state is also talking about a murder charge. She picks up Ransom from a homeless camp, one of many that ring the city, to help her.

The other, much more unusual theme is the mysterious Kingdom that Stony seems to know about. It carries more than a hint of the supernatural and this is enhanced by the itinerant character known as the Musician who is often heard whistling in a haunting, beautiful way but never seen. The contrasts between this Kingdom, which might contain treasure, and the Savannah kingdoms, of the homeless and of the rich and influential, are at the heart of the novel.

I’ve rarely read such a fine novel in terms of layers and detail. The crime element was satisfying with growing tension, culminating in an exciting life-or-death race against time and ruthless enemies, where Jaq, Ransom and Stony in particular play strong parts. It’s a deserved winner of the highest UK accolade in crime writing, and well worth seeking out for a transporting read.
Reviewer: Dea Parkin

George Dawes Green was born in 1954. He is the author of the highly acclaimed novel The Caveman's Valentine, as well as a poet whose work has appeared in The Ontario Review, Carolina Quarterly, and other literary publications. He lives in Key West, Florida.

Dea Parkin
is an editor with her consultancy Fiction Feedback and is also Coordinator of the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes poetry and occasionally re-engages with The Novel. When she isn't engaged in literary pursuits, she is usually to be found on the tennis court – or following the international tour on TV. Usually with several books on the go, she entertains a penchant for crime fiction, history, and novels with a mystical edge. She is engaged in a continual struggle to find more space for bookshelves and more time to have fun with her friends.

‘The Chase’ by Ava Glass

Published by Century,
4 August 2023.
ISBN: 978
-1-52913588-6 (PBO)

One of the most breathtaking thrillers I’ve ever had the pleasure of finishing in a day, The Chase is pure escapism.

Emma Makepeace is a spy. She works for the Agency, an MI5 or MI6 offshoot, and she’s not been doing it very long. Assassins are at their deadly work in London and Russian scientists seem to be their target. Ripley, the Agency’s charismatic boss, believes their ultimate target is Michael Primalov, the son of one-time defector Elena. He’s already refused help once. Emma is charged with persuading him to accept it before he is killed.

This proves difficult as Michael is a paediatric oncologist and devoted to his work. He doesn’t want to leave it and doesn’t accept that he’s in danger, and his mother through him. Then things begin to happen, over just a few pages, and he allows Emma to try to bring him in, in spy parlance. And that’s when things really start to go wrong, resulting in the eponymous chase over just one night through London. It’s breathtaking and very exciting and, in thriller parlance, I couldn’t put it down.

The story is told in a direct and engaging style that adds to the pace and lightens the novel with humour. The story is also broadened by the insight we get into Emma’s motivations and skills through a series of flashbacks, revealing her family’s own past as a victim of Russian malevolence and some exciting events in her days of training that have a bearing on her resourcefulness as she helps Michael evade very determined Russian assassins. There’s an extra layer to the story too that I can’t reveal but it supercharges the story. ‘Against the odds’ hardly does it credit.

The novel, shortlisted in 2023 for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, also raises questions about the morality of spies, the difficulties of giving protected people a whole new life, and about the real differences between goodies and baddies. Questions I’d have liked to see explored in more depth, but this wasn’t the book for that. It was unremittingly black and white, and as such fulfilled its purpose admirably: to make your heart race as the likeable protagonists we’re rooting for struggle in ever more death-defying ways not to get caught and killed by evil villains. Great fun and a super beach read.
Reviewer: Dea Parkin

Ava Glass is the author of the espionage series Alias Emma. A former civil servant and journalist, she once worked closely with spies, and that experience fuels her writing. Ava is the pseudonym for an international bestselling author who has written more than ten crime novels under another name. Her books have been bestsellers in multiple countries and have been published in more than twenty languages. Alias Emma is currently being developed for television by The Ink Factory. Join Ava’s bookclub and win free books on her website:

Dea Parkin is an editor with her consultancy Fiction Feedback and is also Coordinator of the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes poetry and occasionally re-engages with The Novel. When she isn't engaged in literary pursuits, she is usually to be found on the tennis court – or following the international tour on TV. Usually with several books on the go, she entertains a penchant for crime fiction, history, and novels with a mystical edge. She is engaged in a continual struggle to find more space for bookshelves and more time to have fun with her friends.

Sunday, 24 September 2023

‘Murder in the Autumn’ by Lesley Cookman

Published by Headline Accent,
7 September 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-03540566-4 (PB)

The 25th book in this highly acclaimed series finds Libby Sarjeant reluctantly collecting former stage director Constant Matthews to attend a performance of Much Ado About Nothing. The play is being performed as close as possible to how Shakespeare’s company  performed it, and which Libby is hosting at the Oast Theatre in the village of Steeple Martin in Kent,  which along with the Manor House that is owned by her partner Ben.  Constance is her usual snappish self and Libby is relieved when she deposits Constance at the local pub, the Coach and Horses, having disabused Constance of the idea that she could stay with Libby.

The evening was a total success, as the audience gave rapturous applause. All except for Constance, who clearly didn’t like it, announcing that she wanted to make a complaint. Peter Parker, journalist and part owner of the Pink Geranium restaurant, said. ‘At least she didn’t manage to upset the cast’. 

However, the following day they read that Constance has been slating the performance all over twitter. Taking a pragmatic view, Libby recalls Peter saying ‘No publicity is bad publicity.

As the weather began to turn colder Libby’s thoughts turned to her newest preoccupation that of the increasing plight of the homeless, not only in big cities but also in small places like their own. She became aware of the rise in holiday rental properties in her area, when she read of a family who had been told to leave their rented house because it was to be made into a holiday let. Her enquires led her to Lady Prudence Howe who was currently converting all her outbuildings into properties suitable for renting out.

Libby had just  decided to go and have lunch at the Pink Geranium when she gets a panic call from Prue that a body has been found on her land and the police are coming to questions her, and can Libby come and help. Believe me, I would probably only make things worse said Libby. Nevertheless, she heads for her car only to be interrupted by a call from DS Rachel Trent asking, ‘Can you confirm you know a Constance Matthews?’

Then Libby learns that Constance was trying to buy all the Howe Estate properties to turn them into holiday lets. As Lady Howe is the leading light in the local homeless charity, she was dead set against holiday flats. Gradually it comes to light that Constance had been badgering and threatening several people in her thirst to buy up large properties, evict the tenants and convert them into holiday lets. The more Libby digs the more secrets are exposed.  So, is it a dispossessed tenant, and there are a lot of them, or a defamed actor who did the murder?  She is of course as with the earlier books caught up in the police investigation.  DCI Ian Connell is now desk bound, and the SIO, is Acting Inspector Rachel Trent, a friend of Libby’s who finds herself rather out of her depth, in her new role.

Rich in interesting characters that leap off the page, I loved this clever and ingeniously plotted book that has a delicious twist at the end that I certainly didn’t see coming. Highly Recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Lesley Cookman started writing almost as soon as she could read. She’s had a varied career as a model, air stewardess, occasional actor and disc jockey. She has also written short fiction and features for a variety of magazines and achieved an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales. She taught writing for both Kent Adult Education and the WEA and edited the first Sexy Shorts collection of short stories from Accent Press in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign.  She is the author of the  Libby Sarjeant series published by Headline, of which there are now 24 books and a compilation, and The Alexandrians  mysteries, set in the Edwardian period with a  theatrical background.

‘Just Between Us’ by Adele Parks

Published by Harper Collins,
17 August 2023.

978-0-00839567-4 (HB)

Forty-three-year-old Kylie Gillingham has been missing for nearly two weeks. There is no body, but there are two husbands. DC Clements thinks she possibly is dead. Her bank accounts, phone and email accounts have not been touched. With a missing wife the police first look at the spouse, in this instance slightly complicated there being two of them.

Daan Janssen back in Holland where he and his influential family are well known is striving to appear unruffled by the situation in which he now finds himself. Trying to come to terms with the fact that his wife to whom he has been married to for four years is a bigamist.  The photos the police show him where it appears that she was kept chained to a radiator like a maltreated dog turns his stomach. The stomach punch is that the room they are showing him is in his apartment block, just six floors below his penthouse. To where were you Saturday night? He confesses that he had a friend stay over, Fiona Phillipson.

In the two weeks that Kylie has been missing, the lockdown measures that were just a possibility have now become law. DC Clements along with constable Tanner head off to interview Fiona Phillipson. With no answer at her home, they call on Mark, husband 1, and Fiona opens the door. Mark is not handling the situation well, remembering the death of his first wife, Frances, and with his sons Oil and Seb asking where their mum is. The youngest Seb won’t accept that Kylie is dead. Fiona, Kylie’s best friend says she has moved in with Mark to take care of Kylie’s two step- children.

DC Clements is above all things thorough, and something doesn’t feel right. What she needs is evidence, what she has are questions.

Stacie Jones has no memory since her brain surgery. She lives a quiet life in a coastal area, cared for by her father. Taking walks along the beach with him and Ronnie the dog, as she recovers from her cancer. Whilst her father shields her from the outside world, she begins to experience unsettling flashbacks. Then she begins to ask questions about her illness and the doctors who cared for her.

This was one of the most amazing books I have read this year. A gripping thriller, which I could not put down. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Adele Parks MBE was born in North Yorkshire and has lived in Botswana, Italy and London and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey. She is the author of twenty-two bestselling novels including the recent Sunday Times hit and audible Number One sensation One Last Secret. She is translated into 31 different languages.

She is an ambassador of the National Literacy Trust and the Reading Agency: two charities that promote literacy in the UK. She is a judge for the Costa Awards. In 2022 she was awarded an MBE for services to literature.

Connect with Adele Parks on Twitter @adeleparks, Instagram @adele_parks and Facebook @OfficialAdeleParks or visit