Ever since The Burglar on the Prowl climbed the bestseller lists in 2004, fans have been clamouring for a new book featuring the lighthearted and light-fingered Bernie Rhodenbarr. Now everybody’s favourite burglar returns in an eleventh adventure that finds him and his lesbian sidekick Carolyn Kaiser breaking into houses, apartments, and even a museum, in a madcap adventure replete with American Colonial silver, an F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscript, a priceless portrait, and a remarkable array of buttons. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s a dead body, all stretched out on a Trent Barling carpet

The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons

The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons

I have one admission before I begin this review, not only have I not read Bernie’s previous exploits as a burglar but I’ve not read any of Lawrence Block’s books and with this in mind, Bernie and Carolyn were a completely unexpected and dare I say colourful package. Given that this title represents Bernie’s eleventh adventure I have some serious catchup to do!

On more than one occasion during The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons I was reminded of LC Tyler’s Elsie and Ethelred partnership, a series I’ve taken so much enjoyment from in the past.

Although a crime book, for me, The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons is more of a humorous read, an adventure interspersed with criminal activity, a death and a climactic scene where we discover who the culprit – or culprits – are. I can’t tell you how often I laughed at the dialogue, this book is the epitome of a fun read where you leave all your troubles at the door and simply enjoy the ride.

Bernie is a terrific character and his relationship with Carolyn as solid as they come. Both enjoy each others company and the way Block has written their friendship, you never feel as a reader that you are eavesdropping on something you shouldn’t. You are always, or at least I did, made to feel part of the story and partnership.

As I have already mentioned, given that this is the eleventh time Bernie has funkily strutted his way to solving crimes and enjoyed numerous amorous dalliances, I never once felt as if I had been alienated from past novels. Sure, like all things, I would have gained a knowledge and understanding of what makes our intrepid burglar tick but such is the way the author has crafted this book I found it worked as a standalone rather well.

So there we have it, a crisp and assured read, sumptuously funny but the overriding feeling I’m left with after turning over the final page – gratification. It made me smile throughout and from a book, you can’t ask any more than that. A wonderful and warm read, a great introduction, albeit a late one, to a series that I now have no option other than to begin at the beginning!

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (15 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140915355X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409153559
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 3.2 cm
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The Bones Beneath - Tom Thorne Novels 12

The Bones Beneath – Tom Thorne Novels 12

The Deal

Tom Thorne is back in charge – but there’s a terrifying price to pay. Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous psychopath he has ever put behind bars, promises to reveal the whereabouts of a body he buried twenty-five years before. But only if Thorne agrees to escort him.

The Danger

Unable to refuse, Thorne gathers a team and travels to a remote Welsh island, at the mercy of the weather and cut off from the mainland. Thorne is determined to get the job done and return home before Nicklin can outwit them.

The Deaths

But Nicklin knows this island well and has had time to plan ahead. Soon, new bodies are added to the old, and Thorne finds himself facing the toughest decision he has ever had to make…

You know an author’s done his or her job when they set a book on a remote island and the overriding feeling you have when you put the book down for the final time is that you want to visit said island. That’s how I felt about Ynys Enlli – to us Welshmen – or Bardsey Island for the uninitiated! Despite the murderous theme and a serial killer haunting the local inhabitants the peaceful terrain and the blackest of night skies wins in the end. Who wouldn’t want to visit Bardsey after this?!

Mark Billingham is a master of crime fiction and given my bias regarding anything Welsh I was delighted that the majority of the book was set on an island which – according to ancient folklore – is the home to 20,000 saints and the remains of the legendary King Arthur. Whatever one believes setting a crime novel on an island with limited mobile phone signals, few residents and a lack of electricity is pure genius! But the thing is, it’s the kind of thinking you’d expect from Billingham. Thinking outside the box and a couple of miles off the mainland this latest Thorne novel simply delivers on multiple levels.

With notoriously dangerous currents and unpredictable weather, the crossing from Aberdaron is a challenge in itself. In the book you get a real sense of the short trip and the landing on the island and how a day trip can turn into an extended stay should the weather rear its ugly head. Atmospheric and punchy the narrative is typical Billingham. Easy to read and with a story that captures the imagination your journey is over before you know it.

Stuart Nicklin is back and you know that only means one thing to Thorne – bad news and sleepless nights. Ok for the pedantic among us that’s two things but I’m writing this article! Add to the mix a remote island with limited communications and a criminal who isn’t along just for the ride you know something’s about to happen and someone’s going to pay dearly for his temporary freedom from prison.

Following on from The Dying Hours, The Bones Beneath feels like a natural progression in Thorne’s life. Settled in a relationship and the responsibilities it carries, Thorne is determined to recover a body from the island, giving closure to the victim’s mother in the process and return home to enjoy an Indian takeaway. Things don’t quite work out that way and Thorne and his colleagues are forced to extend their stay on Bardsey. The author brings the island to life with a wonderfully evocative and enticing narrative that moves along at a fair rate of knots. Along with the odd twist the story is entertaining and completely satisfying with an ending that leaves the reader wanting more!

Breath-taking in parts, Bardsey Island comes alive thanks to an author at the top of his game.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (22 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140870479X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408704790
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Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix

Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix

My name is Raphael Ignatius Phoenix and I am a hundred years old – or will be in ten days’ time, in the early hours of January 1st, 2000, when I kill myself.’

Raphael Ignatius Phoenix has had enough. Born at the beginning of the 20th century, he is determined to take his own life as the old millennium ends and the new one begins. But before he ends it all, he wants to get his affairs in order and put the record straight, and that includes making sense of his own long life – a life that spanned the century. He decides to write it all down and, eschewing the more usual method of pen and paper, begins to record his story on the walls of the isolated castle that is his final home. Beginning with a fateful first adventure with Emily, the childhood friend who would become his constant companion, Raphael remembers the multitude of experiences, the myriad encounters and, of course, the ten murders he committed along the way . . .

And so begins one man’s wholly unorthodox account of the twentieth century – or certainly his own riotous, often outrageous, somewhat unreliable and undoubtedly singular interpretation of it.

As soon as I saw the title of this book – The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix – I knew I wanted to read it, it’s as simple as that really. I can’t tell you why, I just did. Maybe the title reminded me of one of my favourite films – The Princess Bride – and its main character Inigo Montoya who proclaimed that you killed his father, prepare to die. Maybe Raphael reminded me of Johnny Depp’s character in Don Juan de Marco – I have no idea. Whatever the reason, and granted neither of the two aforementioned characters have anything to do with the book, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have experienced such a magical and distinct voice in Raphael Ignatius Phoenix.

Quite clearly – if you haven’t guessed by now – this is one of my favourite books and main protagonists I’ve had the pleasure in reading for a number of years, this book – and Raphael – will stay with me for some time to come. What made the experience all the more poignant is that I discovered the author, Paul Sussman, died in 2012 aged just 45 of a ruptured aneurysm, a great loss to publishing. I’ve not had the opportunity to read his other books but given that this, his first novel, shows so much strength and character I have no option other than to experience his later work. One thing is certain that with this debut title he leaves an indelible mark on the literary world.

Raphael has decided to kill himself on his 100th birthday. Determined to leave a suicide note he begins to tell his story and slowly works his way back through the decades to his very first murder. It’s a slow but imaginative process, there’s a lot to tell. It’s never rushed, the narrative is both poignant and breath-taking. Sussman clearly knew how to write and what makes this title more fascinating is that it was never published during his lifetime.

Along the way we meet numerous colourful characters and personalities but no one comes close to the power and hold Raphael has over the reader. This is one guy who clearly has his head screwed on – or does he – and from a very early age he is on the move, covering his tracks as best he can. One scrape determines his journey, each murder morphing seamlessly into the next adventure.

I really enjoyed how he told the story, not from beginning to end as I expected, but from Raphael’s final days to his very first breath. Imaginative and well told, this is one story that deserves to be read again and again.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (22 May 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0857522183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857522184
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The Target by David Baldacci

The Target by David Baldacci

The mission is to enter one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

The target is one of the toughest to reach.

The result could be momentous – or it could be Armageddon.

There is no margin for error. US government operatives Will Robie and Jessica Reel have to prove they are still the best team there is. But are they invincible when pitted against an agent whose training has been under conditions where most would perish?

An old man is dying in an Alabama prison hospital, it seems there is one more evil game he has still to play.

And it’s a game which comes close to home for Reel and Robie. But this time the stakes might be way too high.

Although my first David Baldacci novel I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the outset, it is a thriller after all, and after reading it one thing I can guarantee is that it certainly won’t be my last. A seasoned veteran of the thriller genre, Baldacci knows how to put together an exciting and entertaining story all the while keeping the reader involved from start to finish. The Target represents Will Robie’s third adventure, accompanied by Jessica Reel, but for me this book is more about the development of Chung-Cha, her journey and the ruthless North Korean government and brutal labour camps.

There were a few instances where the story stretched credibility but this is what you get with adventure and thriller stories but what Baldacci does do well is morph the three main story arcs together seamlessly. Like most thrillers you find yourself scratching your head at times wondering what the author has in mind and where he’s going with it all but a third of the way through things start to become a little clearer.

Robie is a great character, as is Reel, and he certainly carries a fair chunk of this book but as I’ve alluded to earlier I couldn’t get Chung-Cha out of my head. A young girl held prisoner in one of North Korea’s labour camps, alongside her family, she is offered a way out by the ruling government. She has to make a devastating – and destructive – decision that will affect the way she lives her life.

From that moment on her life changes rapidly. Although a free woman and living in her own apartment far away from the confines of the labour camp she remains a prisoner of a brutal and tyrannical regime. There is no escaping the hold the Government has over its citizens and although a favourite weapon of the ruler she lives in fear hour by hour. Slowly but surely, with the aid of a young girl companionship, we see a softness creeping in, a softness that struggles against a harsh history of depravation and torture. She becomes a little more engaging and colourful and despite her job you can’t help but feel something for her plight.

It’s all about the journey. I really don’t like using that word, but you can’t escape the fact that this is what it is. The Target is so much more than a little action, a few flying bullets and a couple of protagonists trying to make it through to the end of a book. There is depth here and although I hadn’t expected to, I really enjoyed the North Korean angle more than anything else. That said I definitely wouldn’t want to live there!

An entertaining read this won’t be my last Will Robie adventure.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan (24 April 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1447225295
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447225294
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Character development – the early years… 

Sign of the Cross: A Spike Sanguinetti Mystery

Sign of the Cross: A Spike Sanguinetti Mystery

I blame Kingsley Amis. In my early twenties, my favourite novel was ‘Lucky Jim’. Drunken escapades, silent fury towards the fools who fail to appreciate your worth – the classic book for the wannabe writer trapped in a career he doesn’t enjoy. People tell you to write what you know, but I decided to write what I liked. What would happen, I wondered blithely, if I blended the comic style of ‘Lucky Jim’ with the most exciting of genres, the crime-thriller?

Enormous success, I quickly concluded – probable membership of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, cult status in America, pallet-piles of books in Waterstones. Time to get cracking.

As a trained lawyer, I gave my protagonist the same profession; to give him access to exotic colonial skulduggery, I stuck him in Gibraltar. Balding, down on his luck, cursed by a propensity to drink to the point of oblivion, then lose a vital legal document, Spike Sanguinetti came into being. The novel started promisingly – lots of laughs, veiled hints that the plot was about to kick into thrilling action. But then things began to go awry. I needed excitement, danger, but the character I had created was too useless to handle it. Either he had to blunder accidentally towards victory (a la Big Lebowski), or transform himself suddenly into a savvy and courageous hero. The first route needed a deftness of touch I lacked; the second involved a level of implausibility fatal to the reader’s attention. I worried about it a bit, before deciding to press on and hope for the best.

So I sent the book out to agents; miraculously, one liked it enough to take it on. We had a stab at rewriting, but never quite got there. I asked the agent to send it out anyway (the confidence of youth); he did so, resulting in a cascade of rejection letters.

A little older, but not much wiser, I spotted a competition on the internet: the ‘Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award’. I entered the book, entitled ‘The Hollow Mountain’. The rules required entrants to post the first 5000 words online, then progress via public voting and professional judgments towards victory and a US publishing deal. The book moved through the early stages of the competition, then made it to the semi-final. My bruised ego received a temporary boost. Then came the rub – the need to submit the rest of the manuscript. History repeated itself and once again Spike’s adventures hit the dust.

An intense, late-night discussion with my wife (the years were rolling by) ensued. I needed to make a choice. Either keep the character and change the genre, or change the character and keep the genre. I went for the latter. Spike Sanguinetti needed to have the tools to survive in a world of murder, conspiracy and injustice. Rather than incompetent, he needed to be capable. Rather than bald and hungover, attractive and able to hold his drink. Aspects of his character remained – his career, his homeland, his aged and cantankerous father – but to bring him fully to life, I had to move him away from myself and employ a hitherto underused faculty: imagination.

The first Spike Sanguinetti book, ‘Shadow of the Rock’, was finally published some fifteen years after I’d first started to write about him. People stress the importance of character development on the page, but a character can be born, live and learn from his mistakes years before a book is even plotted, let alone written. The follow-up, ‘Sign of the Cross’, came out last year. And the title of the third novel? ‘Hollow Mountain’. Same name (minus the definite article), completely different book, but one that couldn’t exist without its curious comic predecessor.

 

© Thomas Mogford, 2014

If you’d like to learn more about the author then why not read more wise words on twitter @thomasmogford or visit his website thomasmogford.com.

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A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

Former detective Lacey Flint quit the force for a safer, quieter life. Or that’s what she thought.

Now living alone on her houseboat, she is trying to get over the man she loves, undercover detective Mark Joesbury. But Mark is missing in action and impossible to forget. And danger won’t leave Lacey alone.

When she finds a body floating in the river near her home, wrapped in burial cloths, she can’t resist asking questions. Who is this woman, and why was she hidden in the fast-flowing depths? And who has been delivering unwanted gifts to Lacey?

Someone is watching Lacey Flint closely.

Someone who knows exactly what makes her tick . . .

Lacey Flint is back for another rip roaring adventure, an adventure on the high seas if you will – well, a small section of The Thames River at least. SJ Bolton has departed and she has re-energized as Sharon Bolton – it’s a little like the Doctor Who moment when one doctor morphs into another, one talent replaces another but in this case, fear not my dear friends, only the name has changed. The writing and storytelling is as good and on point as it ever was.

This book for me has a different feel about it, a subtle difference in energy perhaps; a more mature approach, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Like all her previous novels Sharon Bolton has a knack of taking you down one road and just as you find yourself at the end of a journey she changes direction and totally surprises you and for no other reason than to shock you for a final time surprises with another twist. The Queen of misdirection strikes again – Bolton reigns supreme!

For me there’s more humour this time around, more one liners and the rest of the cast are given not only a voice but a sumptuous personality. We don’t see that much Joesbury, but that’s to be expected – after all he has gone missing – but Lacey more than makes up for his absence. With Joesbury’s silence we are given the opportunity to learn more about Dana and Helen’s relationship along with colleagues – new and old. It’s a great mix and a balance well delivered and effortlessly achieved.

There’s a point fairly early on in the story that totally had me captivated. Lacey is in her canoe exploring the river and the current takes her down a small inlet during high tide. In the distance she spots a woman in a wheelchair, Thessa, and the moment these two meet I don’t think I’ll forget in a hurry. Thessa is a sensational character, magical, she certainly had a powerful and a somewhat captivating effect on me as I read her story. From the herbal concoctions she forced on Lacey to her charm and personality, for me, apart from the protagonist, she was clearly my favourite character of the book. Strong, assured and wise.

Another strength of Sharon’s is her ability to tell a story and this is no exception. As the book develops you find yourself second guessing the author as you try to figure out  who is responsible but as with all her past novels it’s never easy! The river comes alive as does Lacey’s new home – so much so that I now want to visit!

Another terrific adventure and despite her fears and misgivings, Lacey literally jumps in with both feet  and with a determination and foolhardiness that we come to expect. She definitely does not disappoint! So when’s the next one?!!

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press (8 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0593069188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593069189
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Mark Billingham - Boat to Bardsey

Mark Billingham – Boat to Bardsey

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

This is how THE DYING HOURS ends and pretty much where Tom Thorne’s latest outing, THE BONES BENEATH begins. Those who have already read the new book will know that the bad news is not so much a ‘what’ as a ‘who’ and is just about the worst news Thorne could receive. Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous killer he has ever put away is ready to reveal the whereabouts of one of his earliest victims. The price Thorne must pay for rejoining the Murder Squad is that he must escort Nicklin to a remote location and bring back the body.

If the body is there to be found, of course.

The location in question was always going to be hugely important. I needed somewhere isolated, that would be hard to reach; somewhere a long way outside Thorne’s comfort zone that would perfectly suit some of the unpleasant things I had planned for him when he got there. After racking my brains for weeks, my wife suggested an island she had heard about growing up in North Wales. An island with a lighthouse which she had seen winking at her across Cardigan Bay as she stared out of her bedroom window. Using my wife’s Welsh connections (The Taffia, if you will) and her ability to speak the language, we secured a crossing in the depths of Winter, 2013. Within a few minutes of setting foot on Bardsey Island (Ennis Ynlli), I knew I had found the perfect place to set the book.

Mark Billingham on Bardsey Island

Mark Billingham on Bardsey Island

The island is a mile and a half long and a mile wide and I spent the day walking every inch of it. I explored the damp cottages, the uninviting stretches of beach, the rocks crowded with seals. I climbed the lighthouse and clambered into the caves. I took photos and I scribbled in a notebook…

For most of the year, Bardsey is all but uninhabited and remote in many senses, with its own micro-climate. The mountain renders the mainland invisible, the waters around it are treacherous and if you’re lucky, on a clear night, you might just glimpse the lights of Dublin. Its amazing marine and birdlife make it a place of Special Scientific Interest. It once had its own King. The absence of light pollution have given it Dark Sky Status. It is also a place of pilgrimage and said to be home to the bones of 20,000 saints, though Thorne of course is looking for remains that are rather more recent.

Bardsey is a tricky place on which to conduct a high-security police operation and is not exactly conducive to complex forensic investigations. There is no mains electricity or running water. Accommodation is basic at the best of times. It is a place where Thorne feels uncomfortable in every sense, well aware that the man he is escorting knows it very well; that a dangerous opponent has the advantage.

Mark Billingham - Lighthouse on Bardsey

Mark Billingham – Lighthouse on Bardsey

An isolated island that rings to the screams of seals when darkness falls. A killer who knows the territory and a copper out of his depth.

Bones beneath their feet…

Oh, and one another thing that make Bardsey Island the perfect place to set a mystery. The nearest CCTV camera is a long way away and there is mobile phone signal.

For a crime-writer, that is seriously good news.

The Bones Beneath is published in the UK on the 22nd May.

To find out more on Tom Thorne and Mark Billingham, please take the time to visit Mark’s website.

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The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly

Prosperous, and the secret that it hides beneath its ruins . . .

The community of Prosperous, Maine has always thrived when others have suffered. Its inhabitants are wealthy, its children’s future secure. It shuns outsiders. It guards its own. And at the heart of the Prosperous lie the ruins of an ancient church, transported stone by stone from England centuries earlier by the founders of the town . . .

But the death of a homeless man and the disappearance of his daughter draw the haunted, lethal private investigator Charlie Parker to Prosperous. Parker is a dangerous man, driven by compassion, by rage, and by the desire for vengeance. In him the town and its protectors sense a threat graver than any they have faced in their long history, and in the comfortable, sheltered inhabitants of a small Maine town, Parker will encounter his most vicious opponents yet.

Charlie Parker has been marked to die so that Prosperous may survive.

There are a number of guarantees in life and you’ve no doubt heard most of them, I know I have – death, taxes, stamp duty and One Direction the most popular of all – but you can also add author John Connolly to the mix. Mr Dependable, you can be assured that when you pick up one of his books you are going to be entertained with a gripping story. There’s very little point in me harping on about the story in The Wolf in Winter, but as Senator Vernon Trent (played by William Sadler in the film Hard to Kill) profoundly said You can take that to the bank. And take it you shall because this is another wonderful Charlie Parker adventure you’ll struggle to put down.

But for me The Wolf in Winter is so much more than an entertaining story, it’s about two homeless men – Jude and Shaky. Don’t get me wrong, Charlie Parker, the main protagonist plays his role superbly as you would expect and he’s always there or thereabouts from the very beginning, but even though Jude and Shaky play a small role in the grand scheme of things they touched me. I don’t know what it was about the pair, but when a character or characters unexpectedly have a profound effect on you then you know the author has done his job. These two will remain with me for some time to come.

The story begins with Jude’s death and it comes as no surprise to anyone but the manner in which the homeless man dies and his backstory is incredibly moving, the compassion I felt for this man is immeasurable. It really did surprise me.

The Wolf in Winter is definitely character driven (magnificently done I may add), there are a number of goodies and baddies – more than enough for everyone – and they all play their part to round off an accomplished and balanced story. There’s humour too, it’s not all gloom and doom, supplied mostly by Charlie Parker’s friends and allies Angel and Louis. I lost count at the number of times I laughed out loud with their dialogue!

So there we have it, a very short review but one I hope conveys just how good this book is. A terrific addition to the Charlie Parker stable, Dublin’s own John Connolly goes from strength to strength and I for one cannot wait to read the next instalment. Dark, moody and gripping The Wolf in Winter is not to be missed. One more thing – that ending – Wow!

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (10 April 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1444755323
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444755329
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Prologue

If I don’t hang on I will die. My fingers are curled into claws. So cold and numb they feel like they’re frozen to the ledge. The blackness comes … recedes again, but leaves only panic and confusion. Is this high, freezing place a mountaintop? I don’t remember climbing it. But then I can’t even recall my name right now above the wind’s howl.

Memories flicker out of the darkness like fragments caught on celluloid, briefly illuminated. A door made of plastic. A man in orange overalls. The insolent swish of something heavy through the air. Ducking – too late.

I try to brace my legs, to keep from falling. But the tremors are so bad, they’re useless. In a blinding surge of rage I vow: Somebody’s going to die for this. Then a great wind screams in my face and tears my fingers from their grip.

And I realise the somebody is me.

One

Detective Constable Natalie Kershaw sat on the outdoor terrace of Starbucks in the lee of the Canary Wharf tower, treating herself to an overpriced and underpowered cappuccino. In her chalk stripe trousers and black wool jacket she could have passed for another of the City workers getting their early morning fix of caffeine.

Kershaw was celebrating the last day of her secondment to Docklands nick: the stint in financial crime would look good on her CV, but after three months navigating the murky channels of international money laundering, she was gagging to get back to some proper police work. And not just the routine stuff – the credit card frauds, street robberies and domestic violence that had dominated her career so far. No. In two days’ time she’d finally become what she’d first set her sights on at the age of fourteen – a detective on Murder Squad.

Drinking the last of her coffee, she shivered. Despite the morning sun a chill hung in the air, and a light icing on her car windscreen that morning had signalled the first frost of autumn.

As she stood to go, something drew her gaze towards the glittering bulk of the tower less than twenty metres away.

Suddenly, she ducked: an instinctive reflex. The impression of something dark, flapping, the chequerboard windows of the tower flickering behind it like a reel of film. Then a colossal whump, followed by the sound of imploding glass and plastic. There was a split second of absolute silence before a woman at the next table started screaming, a thin high keening that bounced off the impassive facades of the high-rise office blocks surrounding the café.

Fuck! Kershaw took off running towards the site of the impact – a long dark limo parked nearby that had probably been waiting to pick someone up. There was a metre-wide crater in its roof and the windscreen lay shattered across the bonnet like imitation diamonds. She could hear an inanely cheery jingle still playing on the radio. The car was empty, the guy she presumed to be the driver standing just a few metres away, still holding the fag he’d left the car to smoke. His stricken gaze was fixed on the man-sized dent in the car roof – the spot where his head would have been moments earlier. Kershaw filed it away as a rare case of a cigarette extending someone’s life.

Three or four metres beyond the limo, the falling man lay where he had come to rest, in a slowly spreading lake of his own blood. He’d fallen face down, his overcoat spread either side of him like the unfurled wings of an angel. By some quirk of physics or anatomy, the fall had twisted his head around by almost 180 degrees, so that his half-closed eyes appeared to be gazing up at the wall of glass and concrete, as if calculating how many floors he had fallen.

Anya Lipska is the author of Death Can’t Take a Joke and Where the Devil Can’t Go. For more information on the author please visit anyalipska.com

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Stalin's Gold by Mark Ellis

Stalin’s Gold by Mark Ellis

December 1938. Moscow. Josef Stalin has lost some gold. He is not a happy man. He asks his henchman Beria to track it down.

September 1940 London. Above the city the Battle of Britain rages and the bombs rain down. On the streets below, DCI Frank Merlin and his officers investigate the sudden disappearance of Polish RAF pilot Ziggy Kilinski while also battling an epidemic of looting unleashed by the chaos and destruction of the Blitz.

Kilinski’s fellow pilots, a disgraced Cambridge don, Stalin’s spies in London, members of the Polish government in exile and a ruthless Russian gangster are amongst those caught up in Merlin’s enquiries. Sweeping from Stalin’s Russia to Civil War Spain, from Aztec Mexico to pre-war Poland, and from Hitler’s Berlin to Churchill’s London a compelling story of treasure, grand larceny, treachery, torture and murder unfolds. Eventually as Hitler reluctantly accepts that the defiance of the RAF has destroyed his chances of invasion for the moment, a violent shoot-out in Hampstead leads Merlin to the final truth….and Stalin to his gold.

It has been well over two years since Mark Ellis released his debut novel Princes Gate, an introduction to Frank Merlin set in February 1940; however in Stalin’s Gold we re-join Merlin and his colleagues seven months later in September 1940. London is under attack, not only from the air but on land by a gang of looters determined to make the most of the opportunity to steal luxury items from bombed out buildings. It’s up to Frank Merlin to solve the crimes and keep his boss – AC Gatehouse – happy. Not an easy task!

The great thing about this book, and it’s no different to the author’s first offering, is that you are immediately transferred to London at the height of bombing, close your eyes and you are there. You get a real sense of what it was like to live in those troubled times where good quality food was scarce – for the working class at least – and walking the streets of London a lottery, not only from the bombs but the falling debris left in its wake.

Atmospheric and wonderfully written the narrative really does everything it should to give the reader a feel for that period and along with a plethora of terrifically compelling characters it works really well. A complex story, it takes a while for all the pieces to unravel but unravel it does. It never felt rushed and the pace is for the most part spot on. There were a couple of parts where I found it a little laboured but that was more a point of getting to grips with the foreign names in the Polish community!

The winner for me this time around is not Merlin but the aforementioned Polish community in exile and the atmospheric accounts of a war torn London. Don’t get me wrong, there’s more than enough of Merlin to satisfy – I would have liked more between Frank and AC Gatehouse as experiences in Princes Gate – but for me it was all about Battle of Britain, the Poles and the bombing!

Another gripping tale from a talented author, let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next book, who knows it won’t be long before Pearl Harbour is attacked by the Japanese and Frank will have something else to occupy his time! Highly recommended and thoroughly entertaining.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Matador (1 Feb 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783062479
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783062478
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The Accident by Chris Pavone

The Accident by Chris Pavone

In New York City, Isabel Reed, one of the most respected and powerful literary agents in the city, frantically turns the pages of a manuscript into the early dawn hours. This manuscript – printed out, hand-delivered, totally anonymous – is full of shocking revelations and disturbing truths, things which could compromise national security. Is this what she’s been waiting for her entire career: a book that will help her move on from a painful past, a book that could save her beloved industry …a book that will change the world?

In Copenhagen, Hayden Gray, a veteran station chief, wary of the CIA’s obsession with the Middle East, has been steadfastly monitoring the dangers that abound in Europe. Even if his bosses aren’t paying attention, he’s determined to stay vigilant. And he’s also on the trail of this manuscript – and the secrets that lie at its heart. For him, quite simply, it must never see the light of day. As Isabel and Hayden try to outwit each other, the nameless author watches on from afar. With no-one quite sure who holds all the cards, the stakes couldn’t be higher: in just twenty-four hours careers could be ruined, devastating secrets could be unearthed, and innocent people could die.

The Accident by Chris Pavone, to use a well known football analogy, is a game of two halves. That said, given that the book is predominately set in the United States maybe a game of quarters – American Football – would be more apt! In truth it’s in three parts, Morning, Afternoon and Night but please allow me some latitude! The first quarter, when standards are set and both teams battle for supremacy is an important part of any book, The Accident is no exception. This is where we buy into the story and the characters, deciding if we want to continue reading or not. I have to admit I found this Morning section the hardest and slowest of all to read. With short chapters and numerous characters I struggled to get a feel for the book and the personalities. There was far too much going on for me.

Having said that, and to continue with my American Football references – because I can! – the quarterback had a poor start to the game with a few fumbles but with three quarters left he always has time to turn it around and turn it around he did. A stern talking to from the coach on the side-lines and the book moves up a few gears. Something just clicked. I fell into a rhythm reading, understood what the author was trying to achieve and bam, the book came alive.

Once it hits this sweet spot, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t stop. I wanted to find out what happens and felt as if I had a vested interest in its outcome and considering how I felt about the beginning this is certainly no mean feat! The book comes alive, as do the characters, locations and nonstop action. You’ll never see book publishing in the same light again!

There’s so much to take in with this book and there’s no question that the narrative is well thought out and delivered to an exceptional standard. A complex plot with numerous sub plots intricately woven into the main body all help to make the climax exciting and unexpected. The revelations are revelatory!

I really enjoyed this book, the murders when they began never end, the action was intense and the characters colourful and varied. I’d definitely read the next novel to see where the author goes from here, especially now – as this was my first novel by Chris Pavone – I have a better understanding of the author’s style.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (13 Mar 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0571298923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571298921
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.1 x 3.2 cm
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When the elderly Madame Préau returns to her own house after several years spent in a convalescent home, she immediately notices that the neighbourhood has changed. A new family has moved in next door and, from her window, she watches their three children playing in the garden after school.

Two of the children seem perfectly healthy, but Madame Préau is struck by the third child, who seems listless and stands apart from the others. When she reports this to social services, they refuse to believe her. Cut off some years ago from her own grandson, she begins a mission to help this boy, even when those around her start to fear for her sanity.

The Stone Boy by Sophie Loubiere

The Stone Boy by Sophie Loubiere

Upon leaving a cinema theatre, judging a film can be pretty immediate and not at all a private experience. Last night I spent the night with a bunch of gregarious Navy Seals – Lone Survivor – and as soon as the film ended you felt spent. A terrific movie, the audience let out a collective sigh and everyone had an opinion.

Reading is the polar opposite.

The journey is yours and yours alone. There’s no one you can say, did you read that? Sure you can talk to people if they’ve read the same book but as you progress through a book, for that journey it’s an entirely private experience and that’s what I love about it. It allows your imagination to run riot. As I closed The Stone Boy – written by French author Sophie Loubiere – for the last time late last night I let out a sigh, placed the book down on the side and wow, just wow!

It has been a long time since I read a French language book, the last time was at school when I was learning the language. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten far too much and couldn’t even attempt to read it in its native language but the great thing about this book is the translation, by Nora Mahony, still retains a wonderful French flavour throughout.

Despite its dark overture this is a beautifully written book and incredibly easy to read. The narrative begs you to turn the page and you want to know what happens next. The story itself begins slowly, you don’t have a clue what’s going on, slowly but surely things start to make sense but just as you settle down into a rhythm Loubiere twists the knife and turns things on its head.

Complex and brutal at times the book is character driven with Madame Préau taking the lead. I really didn’t know what to make of Préau and still don’t, although having finished the book I have a greater understanding to her personality, the reasons for her actions and what made her tick. For the majority of the book you think one way, but then with the introduction of new information, clever plotting and numerous twists and turns you begin to see her in a totally different light.

There’s so much I want to say about this book but I can’t. It’s impossible to delve too deeply in this review without giving something away but one thing I can promise is that it will take you through a range of emotions. It examines the strained relationship between mother and son, a son who has every right to hate his ageing mother. There are sections of the book that will inevitably shock, it will take your breath away and I can guarantee you won’t see cats in the same light again!

Wonderfully emotive and atmospheric, The Stone Boy is a dark psychological tale of love, courage, empathy and discovery. I can guarantee you’ll remember Madame Préau long after you turn the final page. Highly recommended. C’est Magnifique!!

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Trapdoor (27 Feb 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1847445837
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847445834
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The Einstein Pursuit by Chris Kuzneski

The Einstein Pursuit by Chris Kuzneski

A lab destroyed.

An explosion in Stockholm claims the lives of an elite collection of scientists. Evidence suggests the blast was designed to eliminate all traces of their research. It’s up to Interpol director Nick Dial to uncover the truth about the lab and the attack.

A scientist on the run.

When Dr Mattias Sahlberg learns of the incident, he knows his life is at risk. He turns to the only men he can trust: ex-Special Forces operatives Jonathon Payne and David Jones. Together, they must save Sahlberg from the unknown forces that want him dead.

A miraculous discovery.

As Dial’s case intertwines with Sahlberg’s past, Payne and Jones uncover hidden truths and secret agendas involving the world’s greatest minds. But there are some who are desperate to keep such radical advances in the dark and will stop at nothing to have their way.

One of the things I really enjoy with Kuzneski is his ability to draw the reader in to a world of fiction and make believe and keep them entertained from start to finish. The Einstein Pursuit is another example of a thriller that entertains. It’s a great fluid read. Just suspend belief to a certain point and go with the flow. With bullets flying all around, explosions, hand to hand combat and the obligatory puzzle to solve, it’s a simple foundation but works well and is incredibly effective.

I’ve read Kuzneski before but this is the first Payne and Jones book I’ve had the opportunity to read and I was enthralled with their partnership. Infectious would be the first descriptive word I’d use, whenever they are in a scene the book comes alive and their eclectic humour and no nonsense attitude is addictive. They made me laugh and when a book does that you know the author is on the right track – especially when the book isn’t a comedy, merely a by-product of very good writing.

The bromance is there for all to see and read. Payne and Jones work, simple as that really. They both bring different things to the table, all that was missing in this book for me was the Jerry Maguire’s “You complete me” quote. Thinking about it a little more, their partnership reminded me of Tom Selleck’s Magnum and his relationship with helicopter pilot TC. I’m really going to town with comparisons in this short review today, best stop!

The narrative is clean and sharp and together with a few interesting sub plots working alongside the main storyline the book is over before you know it.

A high octane read, this may have been my first Payne and Jones book but it most certainly won’t be my last. Believable and well written.

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Headline (2 Jan 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0755386531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755386536
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The Watchman by Adrian Magson

The Watchman by Adrian Magson

He’s a professional shadow. A watcher who provides protection in potentially hostile situations. He works in the background, stays off the record. Often the people he’s guarding have no idea he’s there. Some people know him as Portman.

When two British intelligence agents are despatched to negotiate the release of a group of western hostages in Somalia, veteran MI6 operator Tom Vane realizes that something about this operation doesn’t stack up. Unwilling to see two promising officers sacrificed in what he believes to be a suicide mission, he covertly hires deep cover specialist Marc Portman to protect them.

Heading for the wild, lawless land on the Kenyan/Somali border, Portman soon realizes that the British Intelligence Services have been double-crossed. Can he survive long enough to keep his charges alive and prevent a catastrophe?

Distant, magnetic, determined and deadly – words I’d use to describe Adrian Magson’s new lead Marc Portman, a watcher supreme, a dark shadow. There’s nothing like reading a brand new action series, embarking on an unexpected adventure, anticipation at fever pitch hoping it’ll take you somewhere magical. Perhaps a slightly melodramatic description but that’s how I felt when I began reading this book, a book I had no trouble in reading in just one day. For me this is, and was, the kind of book you just can’t put down and finally end up finishing at 3am!

Portman – or Mr Marc – is a character who is a secret, no one knows who he is, he’s reserved, knows what he needs to do but is someone who’s ability is such that he can adapt to almost every situation. I really enjoyed how Magson teases us with his backstory, offering snippets of information every now and then and as the book continues his personality slowly unravels. The pace is just right. Little by little we begin to understand what makes him tick, but I never once felt we discovered everything about the watchman. I’m positive there’s a lot more to come, one of the reasons I’m so excited about this series.

For the most part the story is quite insular as we follow Portman’s exploits entrenched on the Somali/Kenyan border. With our protagonist digging in for the duration, hoping to avoid the deadly snakes, wildlife and equally dangerous pirates, you’d be excused in thinking that there’s very little room for growth. Insanely atmospheric I felt as if I was in the hole with Portman, watching, waiting and learning. I really did lose myself in this story and can’t wait for his next adventure!

Both plot and characterisation are impressive, this is after all all about building a solid foundation for future exploits. Like any story there are characters you aren’t supposed to like and characters you have a certain affinity. The Watchman is no exception.

A well thought out and well written novel, a fluid narrative that just begs to be read. I for one can’t wait to see where the author takes his new hero. Bravo Mr Magson, you’ve found a gem in Mr Marc.

  • Publisher: Severn House Publishers Ltd; First World Publication edition (30 Jan 2014)
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0727883704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0727883704
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