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Sunday, 4 October 2015

‘The Murder Road’ By Stephen Booth

Published (UK0 by Sphere,
15 July  2015,
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5994-1(HB)
Published (CA) by Sphere,
8 September 2015.
ISBN 978-0-7515-5995-8 (PB)
Published (US) by Witness Impulse,
8 September, 2015
ASIN:* B00XHRVXKE (Kindle)

The newest novel in the Ben Cooper series opens in the tiny, isolated Peak District hamlet of Shawhead, where, one is told, there is only one way in and one way out.  When a lorry delivering animal feed is found jammed into a narrow lane blocking the only ingress/egress, with no driver inside [although there are a lot of bloodstains, indicating something seriously amiss], the case is assigned to newly promoted DI Ben Cooper, of the Derbyshire E Division CID.

Ben, in his 30’s and still recovering from the death of his fiancĂ©e, Liz Petty, a civilian Scenes of Crime officer, in an earlier series book.  In addition, Ben must adjust to the new DS assigned to him, and is adjusting to no longer having DS Diane Fry with whom to discuss his cases, Diane (who has a reputation for toughness and a lack of emotion”) having been transferred to the Major Crime Unit of East Midlands Special Operations
Unit, although he manages to get together with her for brief personal/professional visits.  Other familiar members of Ben’s staff are present, including DCs Luke Irvin, Carol Villiers and Becky Hurst, although
Gavin Murfin is, as the book opens, about to celebrate his retirement.  His presence will be missed, by his colleagues as well as the reader, despite him being “an idle, sexist, politically incorrect anachronism who should have been kicked out years ago.”

The novel starts off slowly, less action-filled than the reader might want or expect, although the descriptions of Edendale and Ben’s beloved Peak District, as well as the more rural countryside is, as usual, wonderfully
descriptive and evocative.  The detailed descriptions, as well as the cover, certainly enable the reader, even those from “across the pond,” such as myself, to visualize the scene.  Ben finds himself thinking “This was
what he’d been missing, the sense of the wide, open spaces of the Peak District, the acres and acres of wild, majestic country that he’d always loved.”

The case proves especially difficult, primarily because of the insular nature of the inhabitants of the area, as Cooper finds:  “The word ‘community’ seemed alien to the residents here.  They seemed to live in a state of mutual unhelpfulness and suspicion.”  Things only get more complicated when another body is found later that same day, hanging from a tree less than three miles away, apparently a suicide.  It’s difficult to believe it’s a coincidence, especially when it is discovered that both men were connected to a fatal accident that had occurred on a major nearby highway 8 years ago.  The action picks up, as does the suspense, as the book nears its end.  As always with a Stephen Booth novel, it was very enjoyable, and is recommended.
Reviewer: by Gloria Feit

Stephen Booth was born in the English Pennine mill town of Burnley. He was brought up on the Lancashire coast at Blackpool, where he attended Arnold School. He began his career in journalism by editing his school magazine, and wrote his first novel at the age of 12. After graduating from City of Birmingham Polytechnic (now  Birmingham University), Stephen moved to Manchester to train as a teacher, but escaped from the profession after a terrifying spell as a trainee teacher in a big city comprehensive school.  Starting work on his first newspaper in Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 1974, Stephen was a specialist rugby union reporter, as well as working night shifts as a sub-editor on the Daily Express and The Guardian. This was followed by periods with local newspapers in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. He was at various times Production Editor of the Farming Guardian magazine, Regional Secretary of the British Guild of Editors, and one of the UK's first qualified assessors for the NVQ in Production Journalism.  Freelance work began with rugby reports for national newspapers and local radio stations. Stephen has also had articles and photographs published in a wide range of specialist magazines, from Scottish Memories to Countrylovers Magazine, from Cat World to Canal and Riverboat, and one short story broadcast on BBC radio. In 1999, his writing career changed direction when, in rapid succession, he was shortlisted for the Dundee Bool Prize and the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger competition for new writers, then won the £5,000 Lichfield Prize for his unpublished novel The Only Dead Thing, and signed a two-book contract with HarperCollins for a series of crime novels.  In 2000, Stephen's first published novel, Black Dog, marked the arrival in print of his best known creations - two young Derbyshire police detectives, DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry. Black Dog was the named by the London Evening Standard as one of the six best crime novels of the year - the only book on their list written by a British author. In the USA, it won the Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel and was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery. The second Cooper & Fry novel, Dancing with the Virgins, was shortlisted for the UK's top crime writing award, the Gold Dagger, and went on to win Stephen a Barry Award for the second year running.  In 2003, Detective Constable Ben Cooper was a finalist for the Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British author, thanks to his exploits in the third book of the series, Blood on the Tongue. The publication of Blind to the Bones that year resulted in Stephen winning the Crime Writers' Association's 'Dagger in the Library' Award, presented to the author whose books have given readers most pleasure. The same book was nominated for the Theakston's UK Crime Novel of the Year award in 2005. Subsequent titles have been One Last Breath, The Dead Place (both finalists for the UK Crime Novel of the Year in 2006 and 2007), Scared to Live, Dying to Sin, The Kill Call, Lost River and The Devil's Edge. The 12th Cooper & Fry novel, Dead and Buried, will be published in the UK in June 2012. A special Ben Cooper story, Claws, was released in 2007 to launch the new 'Crime Express' imprint, and was re-issued in April 2011. All the books are set in England's beautiful and atmospheric Peak District. At the end of 2006, the Peak District National Park Authority featured locations from the Cooper & Fry series in their , new  Peak Experience visitors’ guides recognising the interest in the area inspired by the books.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

‘Rise of the Enemy’ by Rob Sinclair

Published by Clink Street, 
7 May 2015  
ISBN 978-1-909477-89-6

Carl Logan is a British agent who works for a secretive intelligence agency, the JIA that is controlled jointly by the USA and the UK. Their brief includes policing, espionage, and the armed forces all rolled into one!

Logan has never had a normal life. Recruited as an unruly teenager from a series of foster homes, he was no stranger to criminal activities. Indeed it would be difficult to find a more conflicted or vulnerable character, especially as the only two people he has ever loved or trusted, his boss Mackie and an American agent, Angela Grainger, have both betrayed him.

The action begins with Logan and a colleague trying to steal information from a high security complex in Russia.  Logan is captured. Did somebody know they were coming? For a considerable while the narrative then alternates between the next three months when he was held captive, which becomes the past, and the time after he escapes, which is the present.

When captured Logan was extensively tortured, and both cleverly interrogated, and mentally undermined by Lena, a Russian woman who pops in and out of the rest of the story.  Once Logan escapes it seems that everybody, the British, the Americans and the Russians all want him dead.  What accommodations have the spy bosses made with each other and why?  Can Logan trust the two minders sent to bring him back to England?  And what do the Russians have that the Americans are so desperately looking for? 

This is a cleverly written book that maintained my interest during the long period that Logan was held captive even though I knew from the parallel writing that he eventually escapes.  The body count is high and the torture is graphic.  Rise of the Enemy is not for the fainthearted, but is undoubtedly a good read for thriller fans. 
Reviewer: Angela Crowther

Rob Sinclair began writing in 2009 following a promise to his wife, an avid reader, that he could pen a 'can't put down' thriller. Rob's first novel, Dance with the Enemy, was published in June 2014 and is the first in the Enemy Series following embattled intelligence agent Carl Logan. Rise of the Enemy, the second book in the series, was released in April 2015. The Enemy series has received widespread critical acclaim with many reviewers and readers having likened Rob's work to authors at the very top of the genre, including Lee Child and Vince Flynn.  Rob worked for nearly 13 years for a global accounting firm after graduating from The University of Nottingham in 2002, specialising in forensic fraud investigations at both national and international levels. He now writes full time.
Originally from the North East of England, Rob has lived and worked in a number of fast paced cities, including New York, and is now settled in the West Midlands with his wife and young sons.

Louise Welsh


Lynne Patrick talks with Louise Welsh

Louise Welsh is one of those names that lingers in the background of crime writing, but a name we can expect to hear a lot more as her work grows in popularity and critical acclaim. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the John Creasey Memorial Dagger for her first novel, The Cutting Room.
Before her latest and most ambitious project, the Plague Times trilogy, set in an
uncertain near-future in the wake of a devastating global pandemic which has wiped out nine-tenths of the population she was already the author of a handful of the kind of books that can’t quite be classified but invariably contain a strong element of crime and mystery. She is also regarded with great respect by the Scottish literary establishment, to the extent that she recently became a professor at a leading
Intrigued? So was I...

Lynne:  Your books have been described as ‘straddling the line between literary and crime fiction’, and you’ve won awards on both sides of the line. Is that how you see your work?
Louise:  My books tend to have strong narratives, a fast pace and involve quests – characteristics typical of the crime genre. I engage with other genres too, notably gothic, horror and as the Plague Times series progresses, the realm of speculative fiction. I don’t think too much about where my work lies in terms of classification when I am writing – I do not want to be inhibited by ideas of what ‘fits’.

Lynne:  Do you think that line really exists in any meaningful way, outside the perception of booksellers who feel a need to categorize a particular author’s work?
Louise:  Booksellers are often influenced by publishers when deciding where to place particular novels on the shelf. Publishers and booksellers obviously need to sell books and it can be helpful for readers to know what kind of book they are buying. Does the line exist? I see it more as a Venn diagram with fuzzy edges. 

Lynne:  Assuming it does exist, which side of it would you prefer to be on?
At the risk of sounding like a copout, I don’t feel a need to take sides – but if anyone denigrates crime fiction I will fight them to the death!

Lynne:  Clearly a woman after my own heart! You were recently appointed professor of creative writing at Glasgow University. But still assuming the line exists, which side of it would you advise your students to aim for?
Louise:  It doesn’t work like that. A writing mentor’s role is not to tell other writers what to do, but to help enable them to find their voice. Someone may set out wanting to write solid, commercial fiction and discover they are a completely different type of writer. Conversely there have been some very unlikely top sellers. I would advise students to write the books that they want to write and not to try and second-guess the market. If your book does not do well commercially you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing you were true to your vision.

Lynne:  As a teacher of creative writing at a relatively high level, what will you look for in a student to render him or her qualified to pursue a degree level (or higher) course?
Louise:  Talent, energy and the potential and ambition to improve their writing.

Lynne:  Do you think it’s possible to teach someone to write, or is it the kind of innate talent which can’t be taught or acquired?
Louise:  No one can teach talent, but it is possible to support and mentor writers, in the same way that it is possible to work with artists in other disciplines. It is also useful for emerging (and established) writers to be part of an artistic community.   

Lynne:  Teaching must absorb a lot of both time and energy; and writers have to work hard these days to promote each book as it comes out. Do you find you have to set time aside for writing, consciously and deliberately?
Louise:  I am very lucky to have been appointed to a 0.2 professorship (one day a week). I treat writing as a job and have always set writing hours. Inspiration is very much a part of the process, but if I waited to be inspired I might never finish a book.

Lynne:  What brought you to fiction? Have you always been a writer of stories?
Louise:  Like most writers I have always been a reader. Stories are part of the way in which I understand the world.

Lynne:  If you had to choose, which would you prefer – big sales figures, or a prestigious award for your work?
Louise:  The two can be intimately connected – prizes can result in bigger sales figures. I’m lucky enough to have earned my living from writing for over a decade, but there are no guarantees and for most writers no safety net. I’ve been poor enough to know that poverty is not glamorous and I would prefer not to end my days in penury, but if my books stopped selling tomorrow I would keep on writing. It’s a compulsion.

Lynne:  Moving on to your recent and current work, the Plague Times trilogy: you started on the project long before the Ebola crisis made headlines, but the real-life scenario made your fictional one even scarier. What triggered the concept? A devastated world in the aftermath of a pandemic of holocaust proportions isn’t the stuff of everyday fiction.
Louise:  I was brought up during the cold war; it was a period when Armageddon seemed a distinct possibility. I also studied medieval history at university and became fascinated by the devastation wrought by the Black Death. The plague wiped out much of the population of Europe. It changed politics, art and the structure of society. I wondered how it might be were a similar event to happen in the twenty-first century.

Lynne:  Your scenario is a great deal darker and more horrific than, say, Terry Nation’s 1970s drama Survivors and its reworking a few years ago. Do you think it would be possible to turn your books into TV or film, or would they have to be so watered-down that the impact would be lost?
Louise:  Plague Times is partly inspired by television (including Survivors, and Barry Hines’s Threads). It would be pleasing to have the series re-infect TV or movie screens. I would only option the books to people I thought would do a good job – after that it would be up to them!  

Lynne:  How much of the trilogy is coming out of your imagination, and how much from research? How do you go about researching something so far outside most people’s experience?
Louise:  I spent time walking the places that I feature in the Plague Times series, looking at the buildings and landscapes, trying to imagine how they might be post-pandemic. I also read a great deal and interviewed historians and virologists. As the book progresses it becomes increasingly difficult to know where imagination and research intersect.

Lynne:  Who do you feel you are writing for? Is there a reader in your mind when you begin to write any new novel?
Louise:  I don’t have a specific reader in mind. I guess I write for the book and the characters that inhabit it.

Lynne:  The first two books in the Plague Times trilogy, A Lovely Way to Burn and Death is a Welcome Guest, contain ‘language which may offend some readers’, and a lot of graphic violence and descriptions of the appalling consequences of the Sweats, the disease which ravages the world. Is there anything you wouldn’t write, any line you wouldn’t cross?
Louise:  People sometimes get hot under the collar about swearing, but there is a sense of realism within my books which requires characters to use language that people use in real life. There are also scenes of sex and violence in my novels, but I am careful not to use gratuitous violence simply to turn the page. Like everyone else there are lines that I will not cross – but of course we all put our line in different places.

Lynne:  And finally – is there a project in your mind, waiting its turn after the Plague Times trilogy?
Louise:  I’ve always got lots of ideas – but knowing which one will stick is difficult!

A Lovely Way to Burn, the first volume of the Plague Times trilogy, was published last year.
The second,
Death Is a Welcome Guest,  is out now. The third and final volume is scheduled for 2016.
Louise Welsh’s earlier books are :The Cutting Room, Tamburlaine Must Die, The Bullet Trick, Naming the Bones and The Girl on the Stairs.

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.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

‘The Savage Hour’ by Elaine Proctor

Published by Quercus,
7 May 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-78206-652-1(HB)

This novel is set in the remote and arid North-West Province of South Africa. It begins with the discovery by a young girl Delilah of her grandmother’s body floating in a dammed-up lake. For Delilah this is devastating: the grandmother, always called Ouma (Afrikaans for grandmother) had provided the love that her own rather chaotic parents had not even in her old age when increasing confusion made it impossible for her to work as a doctor. In fact Ouma’s death, apparently by drowning, is devastating for many people: she had worked as a doctor in the locality for many years and had provided tireless and dedicated support for many of the local people.  It is devastating for her son, Groot (Big) Samuel who farms the land and for his African manager, Klein (Little) Samuel. For the young Afrikaans policeman Jannie Claassens: when he was a child Ouma had intervened to protect him and his mother from his violent father and now that he is a grown man she supports him in coming to terms with his homosexuality. For the young and beautiful African woman Cheetah who had fled violent parents only to be drawn into the world of city prostitution where she fell prey to HIV: Ouma had fought with determination to ensure that Cheetah obtained the retroviral drugs she needed to survive. Above all, for old Gogo (Zulu for grandmother), Ouma’s cook and lifelong friend.

But it is Delilah who insists that Ouma had not slipped and fallen to her death, that she had not been in a confused state of mind on that day, that her death had perhaps not been accidental. And she convinces Jannie that she is perhaps not mistaken. But Jannie is warned off further investigation by his boss Mokheti Mokoena who feels that there is no realistic evidence that Ouma’s death was anything other than an accident. Mokoena is beset by the problems that violence and corruption have brought to South Africa extending even to his own force. But his superiors have told him to leave that particular hornet’s nest alone, and Mokoena feels there is no alternative.

This is a very fine novel; although there is a mystery as to Ouma’s death which is eventually resolved, it is as much a novel of human relationships. It is, however, for those who are not familiar with South Africa, not an easy novel to grasp. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Elaine Proctor was born in South Africa. She grew up in Johannesburg and in the African bush which she loves. Along with a small number of politicized white teenagers, Elaine became active in the anti apartheid movement. She began to document Black resistance to Apartheid in overtly political documentary films like Forward to a People’s Republic and The Sun Will Rise.  The latter was a series of interviews with mothers whose sons were on death row for political offenses.  
Punctuated by bouts of film training in London, Elaine continued to make documentaries in South Africa until 1986, when the political situation made it impossible for her to continue to do so. Her final documentary, Sharpeville Spirit, followed the lives of a group of young activists organizing resistance in that infamous township.  Concurrent with her arrival at this political cul-de-sac, Elaine entered the masters program in writing and directing feature films at the NATIONAL FILM AND TELEVISION SCHOOL in England. Her feature-length graduation film called On The Wire, won the British Film Institute’s Sutherland Trophy (most original and imaginative first film) for 1990.  On The Wire, is the story of tragic marriage between a South African Defense Force reconnaissance battalion commander and his rural Afrikaner wife.  We learn through their relationship, and particularly his sexuality, what terrible damage the war exacted on both perpetrators and victims.
Elaine’s first film after graduation, Friends, continued to explore the personal stories inside the political epic that is Apartheid/post-Apartheid South Africa. It was selected by the Cannes Film Festival to be part of its coveted Official Competition and won Mention Speciale - Prix de Camera D’Or in that year.  
Elaine then wrote LOADED, a series for the BBC looking at the creation of ‘new philanthropy’ and its consequences for world peace and development over the past two decades. Paradise and the Dog of Plenty followed. It tells the story of five American women who go on a plastic surgery safari in South Africa with most unexpected results. 
In 2009 Elaine wrote the novel RHUMBA.
She now lives in North London and is married with two teenage children.

Radmila May was born in the US but has lived in the UK ever since 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 has been working for them off and on ever since. For the last few years she has been one of three editors working on a new edition of a practitioners' text book on Criminal Evidence by her late husband, publication of which has been held up for a variety of reasons but hopefully will be published by the end of 2015. She also has an interest in archaeology in which subject she has a Diploma.