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Saturday, 14 October 2017

‘The Pinocchio Brief’ by Abi Silver

Published by Lightning Books,
20 July 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-78563-044-6 (PB)

Raymond Maynard, a fifteen-year-old schoolboy, is charged with the murder of one of his schoolteachers at the private boys’ school which he attends. His mother, distressed at the lack of interest expressed by the appointed state solicitor, seeks the help of young solicitor Constance Lamb. Constance, having interviewed Raymond, believes he is innocent although the boy refused to speak: strange, yes, but not violent. Because the charge is so serious he must be represented in court by an experienced and highly effective barrister, so Constance chooses Judith Burton although Judith had retired from practice some years ago. Judith agrees to take the case on. The first thing that Judith does is to go to the school and look at the murder scene herself and talk to the staff, particularly the school secretary who tells Judith that she had seen Raymond with the body, and that the boy’s hands and shirt had been stained with blood. Raymond denied responsibility but nonetheless he had been arrested and taken into custody. Judith has also inspected the murder scene and found one or two pieces of evidence, apparently not spotted by the police, that might or might not be relevant. She and Constance have to act quickly because the case is expedited because of Raymond’s youth. But Raymond continues to be unhelpful to those who want to help him: ‘You’re the experts,’ he says contemptuously. One particularly troubling factor is that the Crown Prosecution Service, under pressure to cut costs, wants Raymond’s evidence to be given subject to a new truth verification software procedure (known as Pinocchio after the Italian story in which, whenever the boy in the story tells a lie, his nose gets longer) which will automatically assess a witness’s evidence by evaluating the thousands of tiny muscles in the face, invisible to the naked eye, which show whether or not the witness is telling the truth. Judith knows a great deal more about Pinocchio, and about its inventor, than she is willing to let on but the judge is insistent.

I was very impressed by this book, the first by this author, herself a practising barrister, not least by her portrait of Raymond who is cold, arrogant, unresponsive to people (later diagnosed as autistic), is one of the most unlikeable characters I can imagine in real life or fiction. Nonetheless, however unpleasant he is, if he is in fact innocent, he should not be convicted of a crime he did not commit. So far as I can ascertain, Pinocchio does not exist and the nearest I can find is voice stress analysis software designed to ascertain whether or not a witness is lying by analysing changes in a witness’s voice. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Abi Silver grew up with a house full of books and was inspired from an early age to believe she could join the ranks of her heroes.  Abi accepts that she probably could not have produced The Pinocchio Brief without her experience as a lawyer to guide her along the way.  She says being a lawyer is just like being a detective, often required to construct the whole jigsaw puzzle of a client’s case from its constituent pieces.  Also, being a good judge of character too; the motivation behind people’s actions (which must be gleaned from their words and conduct) is key to understanding what really happened and why. Abi read Law at Girton College Cambridge before wanderlust sent her off travelling through Asia, Australia and South America as a student.  She also lived overseas in Israel for 5 years. Abi now lives in Radlett, Hertfordshire with her husband and three sons. 

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.

‘King Solomon's Curse’ by Andy McDermott

Published by Headline,
21 September 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-3685-2

The Prologue opens with Eddie Chase going to the Canary Islands to help identify a Phillipe Mukobo from the Congo, who has a reputation as a fanatic and is responsible for numerous killings. Once he has successfully identified the despot a manic car chase ensues and Mukobo is captured.

Two years later the African is being flown to New York for the murder of a group of American aid workers six years previously. The plane mysteriously crashes into the Atlantic and Mukobo is believed to have been killed, but he makes a miraculous escape mid-flight!

We then come another year forward and Eddie's wife Nina an archaeologist, who with her own television documentary series, heads a team opening the First Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.  They find a diorama of a city with Old Hebrew inscriptions describing it as Zhakana, City of the Damned in the jungle of Sheba and built on Solomon's instructions. It also describes a great yet dangerous power contained within known as ‘The Mother of Shamir’.
Nina gets a group together to go to Sheba in the Congo and Eddie joins her. They leave their daughter Macy with Eddie's father. The television crew accompany her to record the hunt for the artefact.

After working their way through many booby traps they find a small ‘Shamir’ which is lethal in spite of its size and contained in a lead lined box. However, Mukobo and Brice an old adversary of Eddie's together with a group of Militia have accompanied them and are determined to have it for themselves. There follows a terrifying battle for the destructive stone resulting in many deaths on both sides and Eddie and Nina lose the Shamir.

On returning to England they are horrified to learn what terrible use the Shamir is going to be put to. They must do everything they can to prevent it, but can they? Brice has lead them to believe that the British Government is behind the destruction plot, but can this really be possible? To cap it all their daughter is kidnapped and her life is threatened. They must find where she is and rescue her, it becomes a mad race against time. Can they make it?

One thing we can rely on with Andy McDermott's books is nonstop action, excitement, tension and mayhem, sorry that's four for a start!

I thoroughly enjoy his stories, real escapist fantasy with a touch of humour. Recommended for those who enjoy a book that has everything and moves along at one hundred miles an hour.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Andy McDermott was born in Halifax.  He is the bestselling author of the Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase series of adventure thrillers, which have been sold in over 30 countries and 20 languages. His debut novel, The Hunt For Atlantis, was published in the UK in 2008; on its US publication the following year it became his first of several New York Times bestsellers. He is also the author of the explosive spy thriller The Persona Protocol, and the first in a planned series of short stories about celebrity sleuth Leviticus Gold. A former journalist and movie critic, Andy was the editor of respected UK magazines like DVD Review and the iconoclastic film publication Hotdog. He is now a full-time author. He now lives in Bournemouth.

Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf  (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.

‘The Dark Room’ by Jonathan Moore

Published by Orion,
23 February 2017.

978-140916502-6 (HB)

The Dark Room opens in El Carmelo Cemetery, California.  Inspector Gavin Cain and his new partner, Buddy Grassley, are overseeing the exhumation of Christopher Hanley, a young boy who was buried thirty years previously.  It is the middle of the night, the grave has been excavated and the medical examiner has arrived, but, as the lifting straps are being fastened to the coffin, Grassley’s phone rings and Cain is informed by his boss, Lieutenant Nagata, that he is being reassigned to another enquiry.  Cain is furious at the interruption and perplexed by the lieutenant’s call - what could be so urgent that a helicopter has been requisitioned to fly him to back to San Francisco?  Of course, he must comply.

Back in the city, Cain is escorted to the office of Mayor Harry Castelli.  The mayor has a problem, and Cain’s expertise and seniority are required to deal with the issue sensitively, but when it transpires that the FBI has also been called in, the inspector’s anger gives way to disquiet.  Thus begins a fast moving and increasingly complex investigation that will lead Cain and FBI agent, Karen Fischer, to places they would rather not go.

Jonathan Moore’s novel employs the gritty, economical style of hard-boiled detective fiction.  The third person narrative voice recounts Cain’s movements and, occasionally, his thoughts.  Characters are presented from Cain’s perspective with the sharp, cynicism of a work-weary but dedicated cop; officers and agents on the ground are generally uncompromising and honest, pen pushers and establishment figures are often revealed to be incompetent or corrupt.  Relationships, professional and personal, increase tension within the narrative as Cain tries to work out who he can rely on.  Agent Fischer appears to be every bit as professional as Cain, but she is not a member of his team and he wonders whether he can trust her?  Similarly, Cain doubts the integrity of Lieutenant Nagata - she owes her appointment to Castelli and her judgement in a case that involves him might be flawed.

The Dark Room explores uncomfortable themes of abuse and exploitation and includes accounts of horrific and morbid crimes. The novel, moreover, contains gothic tropes that conjure macabre and chilling imagery and speak to our deepest fears.  When Cain’s team find that they are being hunted by the very criminals they have been pursuing, terror takes centre stage and the thriller accelerates towards a startling conclusion.  For those who enjoy fright-night fiction this book is a winner, I could not put it down.

Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent

Jonathan Moore is an attorney with the Honolulu firm of Kobayashi, Sugita & Goda. Before completing law school in New Orleans, he was an English teacher, the owner of Taiwan’s first Mexican restaurant, and an investigator for a criminal defense attorney in Washington D.C. He is the author of two previous novels. He lives with his wife in Hawaii

Dorothy Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.