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Thursday, 21 September 2017

‘Lessons in Loving thy Murderous Neighbour’ by Charlie Cochrane

Published by The Right Chair Press,
14 August 2017.

It is 1922 and Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith have settled back into their academic lives at St Bride’s College, Cambridge. Scarred both physically and emotionally by the Great War, Jonty and Orlando have reached the security of middle-age and a stable relationship, although they are still passionate about their love for each other and about investigating any intriguing crimes that come their way.

However, they do have their doubts about taking on the latest investigation offered to them. There has always been a bitter dislike and rivalry between St Bride’s and the despised ‘college next door.’ This loathing is particularly intense when it comes to the college’s master, Dr Owens, a man who once tried to blackmail Orlando and Jonty by threatening to reveal their relationship to the world. Owens had also attempted to molest the deeply respected Ariadne Sheridan, before she became the wife of St Bride’s master. Now Owens has been arrested for the murder of one of his students and, to Orlando and Jonty’s surprise, it is Ariadne Sheridan who is advocating that they investigate the crime to establish whether Owens is guilty or not.

Jonty and Orlando agree to look into the case, partly to oblige Ariadne and her husband, partly to defend the honour of the university, but mainly because they cannot resist a mystery. With the help of Dr Sheridan and the delightful inventor, Dr Panesar, the basic facts are soon uncovered.

The victim, Olivier Seymour, was an unlikeable young man, whose family had bad back-history with Owens’ family. Because of this, Owens had gone out of his way to avoid accusations of victimisation and had given Seymour more warnings than he deserved before sending him down from the university. On the day of Seymour’s death he had gone too far and Owens had resolved to dismiss him. A noisy quarrel had ensued. A short while afterwards, Seymour was found dead, his head staved in by a knobkerrie, a heavy weapon that Seymour kept on his wall for display. Owens’ fingerprints were found on the weapon.

The sleuths soon discover that Seymour enjoyed upsetting people and had given many people in his college good reason to wish him harm. Faced with ‘a locked college mystery’ they have a race against time to establish whether their old enemy is innocent and to prove it before his career is destroyed and the reputation of the university is tarnished.

This novella follows ten full-length novels featuring Jonty and Orlando and, as a fan, I read their return story with great pleasure. It is a neat story, cleverly plotted, with a remarkable number of red herrings. Jonty and Orlando are delightful protagonists, as are their allies in investigation. I especially like the eccentric but brilliant Dr Panesar. There are many deft touches of humour, as when Orlando and Jonty individually experience the salutary realisation that the members of ‘the college next door’ are, in the main, pleasant and intelligent people, and that many of them regard St Bride’s with the same degree of disdain as the St Brides’ Fellows have always felt for them.

Lessons in Loving thy Murderous Neighbour is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team— so she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries.  A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and International Thriller Writers Inc, Charlie's Cambridge Fellows Series, set in Edwardian England, was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book The Fragility of Poppies was published 10 June 2016.

Read a review of Carol’s latest book
The Fragility of Poppies

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina

Published in US by Little, Brown, 23 May 2017.
HB. ISBN 978-0-316-38057-7
Published by Harper Perennial,
1 May 2018. PB.
Published in UK by Harvill Secker, 2 March 2017
HB. ISBN 978-1-9112-1523-3
Published by Vintage,
22 February 2018. PB. ISBN 978-1-7847-0485-8
Published in CA by Harper Ave
23 May 2017. HB. ISBN 978-1-4434-5251-9
Published by Harper Perennial, 1 May 2018. PB. ISBN 978-1-4434-5253-3

From the publisher: William Watt’s wife, daughter, and sister-in-law are dead, slaughtered in their own home in a brutal crime that scandalized Glasgow.  Despite an ironclad alibi, police zero in on Watt as the primary suspect, but he maintains his innocence.  Distraught and desperate to clear his name, Watts puts out a bounty for information that will lead him to the real killer.  Peter Manuel claims he knows the truth that will absolve Watt and has information that only the killer would know.  It won’t come cheap.  Manuel is an infamous career criminal, a degenerate liar who can’t be trusted and will say or do anything to make a buck.  But Manuel has something that Watts wants, which makes him the perfect target for Manuel’s consummate con.  Watts agrees to sit down with Manuel, and before they know it, one drink has turned into an epic, forgotten night of carousing across the city’s bars and clubs that exposes the thin line between a yarn and the truth.  The next time the unlikely pair meet is across the witness stand in court - - where Manuel is on trial for the murder of Watt’s family. Manuel calls Watt to the stand to testify about the long, shady night they shared.  And the shocking testimony that Manuel coaxes out of Watt threatens to expose the dark hearts of the guilty and the innocent.  Based on true events, The Long Drop is an explosive, unsettling novel about guilt, innocence, and the power of a good story to hide the difference.

It won’t be a spoiler to state that the eponymous “long drop” is a reference to the method of the hanging process which was still the sentence of choice in murder cases when this case occurred, although capital punishment has since been abolished.  I am probably among the majority, at least in the U.S., when I confess ignorance of this crime, trial and the outcome thereof, so this True Crime novel was my first awareness of the apparent scandal that surrounded the case in the country where it took place.  Manuel, 31 years old at the time, and his trial, become a sensation.  The killer sought here “attacks women in the dark, hides in dusty attics, waiting for people to leave their homes so he can steal their mother’s engagement ring, lies on pristine linen bedclothes with dirty boots on or drops food on precious rugs and grinds it in with the heel of his shoe, spoiling a modest home for spite; he drags women down embankments, scattering their shopping in puddles, telling their three-year-old son to shut the f*** up or he’ll kill their mum.”  A rape charge against Manuel ends in a unanimous decision of Not Proven.  But there are still 8 murder charges against him, including that of two 17-year-old girls.  The trial is recounted in very convincing form by the author, whose previous books I have found extraordinarily good.  The chapters alternate between early December of 1957, and January of 1958, when the crimes occurred and May of 1958, when the trial takes place.  The characters are very well-drawn, especially that of Manuel and his parents, as well is Laurence Dowdall, “Glasgow’s foremost criminal lawyer.   Another terrific novel from this author, and it is recommended.
Reviewer: Gloria Feit

Denise Mina was born in Glasgow in 1966. Because of her father's job as an engineer, the family followed the North Sea oil boom of the seventies around Europe, moving twenty one times in eighteen years from Paris to the Hague, London, Scotland and Bergen. She left school at sixteen and did a number of poorly paid jobs: working in a meat factory, bar maid, kitchen porter and cook. Eventually she settled in auxiliary nursing for geriatric and terminal care patients. At twenty-one she passed exams, got into study Law at Glasgow University and went on to research a PhD thesis at Strathclyde University on the ascription of mental illness to female offenders, teaching criminology and criminal law in the mean time. Misusing her grant, she stayed at home and wrote a novel, Garnethill when she was supposed to be researching and writing her thesis.  Garnethill won the Crime Writers' Association John Creasy Dagger for the best first crime novel and was the start of a trilogy completed by Exile and Resolution. A fourth novel followed, a stand alone, named Sanctum in the UK and Deception in the US. In 2005 The Field of Blood was published, the first of a series of books following the career and life of journalist Paddy Meehan from the newsrooms of the early 1980s, through the momentous events of the nineteen nineties. Still Midnight, published in 2009 introduced DS Alex Morrow. There are five books in the series. 

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.