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Saturday, 25 February 2017

‘The Riviera Express’ by T P Fielden

Published by HarperCollins,
23 February 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-00-819368-3(HB).
978-0-00819-371-3 (TPB)

Picture the scene: an idyllic Devon seaside town in the 1950s. The most unpleasant thing that ever happens there is a bit of a rumpus on the front between rival Teddy Boys. A train brings visitors from Exeter every summer morning, and the front page headline in the local weekly paper is usually something like QUARREL OVER TEA-TIME CAKES AT MOTHERS’ UNION.

Until, one fateful morning, the paper’s faithful chief reporter, Miss Judy Dimont, meets the train, (both paper and train are called the Riviera Express, by the way), and – shock! horror! there’s a body on board, and it belongs to one of the country’s most famous and adored film stars.  

As is often the case in idyllic Devon towns, at least the fictional ones, the local plods are more interested in a quiet life than solving crime. However, Miss Dimont (affectionately known by her colleagues as Miss Dim but in fact nothing could be further from the truth) has a past – more accurately, a Past – which equips and encourages her to go ferreting around. She unearths a murder which, at first, no one else believes in. There’s a second body too: a thoroughly disliked freelance writer, found at the bottom of a crumbling cliff. So that’s two potential murders – and Miss Dim’s little grey cells are suddenly in overdrive.

The result is a delicious pastiche of a Golden Age crime novel, peopled with glamorous members of the film world, small-town sophisticates, a motley crew of newspaper staff, wooden policemen and the occasional Bad Lot. As Detective Inspector Topham lurches from one misjudgement to the next, Miss Dim wends her way through a trail of red herrings and misplaced clues with an unerring nose for the truth, which, of course she eventually reveals with a flourish just in time for the front-page splash. All despite the best efforts of her editor, whose usual form of communication is a grunt, and her younger, flightier colleague Betty, who regards the front page as her personal territory.

The Riviera Express is a gentle and wittily devised parody with larger than life characters, an  impossibly pretty backdrop and a jaunty writing style which all come together to reflect the author’s affection for the Golden Age as well as a close acquaintance with its foibles and clich├ęs. True Golden Age devotees may feel it goes a little too far, but even they may have to admit it’s very well done.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

TP Fielden is a leading author, broadcaster and journalist. This is the first novel in the Miss Dimont Mystery series.

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.

Friday, 24 February 2017

‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Les Wood

Published by Freight Books,
3 October 2016.

Boddice, a Glasgow crime lord, is feeling the pinch – his local pond is now full of much bigger fish and, though he is still sufficiently feared and loathed to command respect, he is no longer one of the local movers and shakers.  So he comes up with a Plan, something that would put him into an altogether different league, one which the newcomers on the block wouldn’t dream of touching.  This will be his final act and will fund his retirement.

He selects his gang from the professional hard men who work for him, offering them the promise of great wealth if they join him or serious grief if they don’t.  The ill-assorted and ill-equipped men are in no position to refuse:  Prentice and Kyle are really hard men, willing to kill on Boddice’s order, though Prentice is starting to want to get out.  Boag, an ex-serviceman gets work from Boddice because of his father’s long and loyal service.  The Twins, a particularly important part of the Plan, run a tattoo parlour, but their main source of income is letting their business be used for laundering Boddice’s illegal profits.  Leggett is not popular with any of his colleagues, and falls from favour when Boddice realises he is taking an unauthorised cut from profits.  Each of this ill-matched group has a part to play in the Big Plan, the theft of the famous diamond known as the Dark Side of the Moon, which is to be displayed in a Glasgow department store. 

This is a fast-moving, high-pitched novel.  The characters are well-written and, despite being largely unlikeable, there are moments when the reader’s sympathy is engaged.  The humour is black, the dialogue sharp and the finale spectacular.  This debut novel will gain the author many fans.
Reviewer:  Jo Hesslewood

Les Wood's writing has been widely anthologised. He has a Masters in creative writing from the University of Glasgow and a doctorate in Physiotherapy. Les teaches as Glasgow Caledonian University.

Jo Hesslewood.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

‘Enough Rope’ by Barbara Nadel

Published by Quercus,
7 July2016.
ISBN: 978 1 84866 426 5(PB)

This is the 4th in the Hakim and Arnold series, featuring private investigator Lee Arnold, ex-soldier, ex-policeman, and his partner, the widow Mumtaz Hakim. Like all the stories in this series, the narrative has several strands, some of which come together, others not. One strand which began in the first Hakim and Arnold title, A Private Business, before the action in that story began, is the murder of Mumtaz’s estranged no-good husband Ahmet Hakim. Ahmet had borrowed a great deal of money from the local crime family, the Sheikhs, and had not repaid it so, seeing the debt as a matter of honour, Naz, a member of the Sheikh family, had killed him. Mumtaz had been present at the killing and, not sorry to see her husband die after his repeated sexual and physical abuse of herself and Shazia, his daughter by his first marriage, had not called for help. The Sheikh family are now extracting payment several times over from Mumtaz and threatening that non-payment will lead to Shazia being informed of her stepmother’s role in her father’s death. They also want Mumtaz to let them know of any police investigation which might involve their criminal activities. Naz is now stalking Shazia and abusing her for not covering her hair although he himself has sex with women. At the same time Mumtaz has her own casework in particular that involving Alison Darrah-Duncan who has just learnt that she has the inheritable disease Huntington’s Chorea. Although it has not been passed on to her son Charlie, Alison wants to know from whom in her own family it came. But she was abandoned when a tiny baby and her own ancestry is unknown. Would the nuns at the Chiswick convent who first took her in know? But they are all dead except for one and she is now dying.

Meanwhile Lee has been employed by his former boss Superintendent Paul Venus whose son Harry has been kidnapped with threats that if Venus calls in the police Harry will die. Venus has borrowed money from elderly East End gangster Brian Green, but the kidnappers are demanding yet more and there’s still no sign of Harry. Paul and his ex-wife Tina Wilton become ever more desperate and Lee insists that his old friend and occasional sex partner Detective Inspector Vi Collins and Detective Tony Bracci be unofficially involved. Then it transpires that Harry Venus and Charlie Darrah-Duncan were at the same public school near Henley-on-Thames and along with two other boys formed a sort of Gang of Four, all now based somewhere in Lee’s neck of the woods. So there is a connection . .  .

I really enjoyed this story as I have all the author’s Hakim and Arnold stories (all of which are so far reviewed by Mystery People). There is an absolute whirligig of characters, many of them, but not all, malefactors . . . Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Hindu, old-fashioned East End gangsters, posh boys playing at being hipsters, Polish, even Russians (behind the scenes but currently the go-to bad guys). And although some of the story lines are satisfactorily concluded, not all are and it is clear that those are ‘to be concluded.’ And something which particularly recommended itself to me in this story is that some scenes are set in Chiswick where I now live, and others in Henley where I lived when a child and a teenager. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Barbara Nadel was born in the East End of London. She rained as an actress, and used to work in mental health services. She now writes full time and has been a visitor to Turkey for over twenty years. She received the Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger for her novel Deadly Web.

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.

‘The Fourteenth Letter’ by Claire Evans

Published by Sphere,
6 April 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-6638-3(HB)

Some debut authors tread carefully, and don’t step too far outside their comfort zone. Others go for broke, and produce chunky volumes which explore complex themes.

Claire Evans is one of the second kind. The Fourteenth Letter takes an eventful period of Victorian   history when science moved forward quickly and new ideas were rife, and weaves an intricate web of secrets, deceits and high-concept beliefs into a story which grows more and more gripping as it progresses.

It opens with dramatic promise: a young woman is murdered at her engagement party by a naked man who appears from nowhere and disappears the moment the deed is done. Then several apparently unconnected storylines are set in motion. A young man looks for ways to further his career. A young American woman who could give Calamity Jane a run for her money is spying on a London townhouse. Another young woman is applying for a post as a governess. Then finally, a Link: a detective is tasked to look into the murder. 

Suicide, kidnapping, more murder and gangland shenanagins follow in short order, and soon the game’s afoot and the reader has his or her work cut out to keep track of all the threads. There are dark doings at an exclusive London club, and darker ones at a thieves’ den in Whitechapel; even Scotland Yard isn’t immune, and the darkness casts its shadows over science, politics, even the law.

For a rookie novelist, Claire Evans has a deft hand with characters. Some are larger than life: Pincott the East End crime-boss; Vicomtesse Adeline, as wicked as she is beautiful; Savannah Shelton, gun-totin’ chancer with a heart of gold, all the way from Arizona with a price on her head. Others are more down-to-earth, but have history that makes them interesting: plodding but effective detective Harry Treadway; callow youth William Lamb, who turns from green lad into capable man in the course of the adventure. Discovering how each of these diverse personalities fits into the convoluted narrative was what kept me reading long past my bedtime.

Evans also paints a convincing picture of late Victorian England, complete with pickpockets, Darwinian science, hints of the Wild West (Buffalo Bill’s famous show did actually visit London in 1887) and the huge gulf between rich and poor. She even takes the reader into Bethlem Hospital, better known as Bedlam, residence and prison of people diagnosed as insane.

I did have a small problem with Evans’s tendency to mix real history with her invented version, but that was a minor point. The Fourteenth Letter is well researched, well plotted, well written and a jolly good read.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Claire Evans is an established business specialist in the UK television industry. After finishing her law degree, she qualified as an accountant, but realising her mistake quickly ran away to work at the National Theatre before finally landing a job at the BBC. Once there, she rose through the ranks to head up operations and business affairs across the TV commissioning teams. In drama, she led the BBC's commercial relationships with the Independent production sector and a wide range of international co-producers and distributors.
She left the BBC in 2013 to pursue her writing career. Since then she has advised a number of drama and film production companies, most recently working on The Honourable Woman and Doctor Foster. She is also now the Chief Operating Officer at Two Brothers Pictures Ltd, the company set up by Harry and Jack Williams, the creators of The Missing.

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.