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Saturday, 4 December 2021

THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE - Book review


Richard Osman’s second cosy crime novel (2021) is as enjoyable as his first.

The members of the Coopers Chase Thursday Murder Club are meeting again. But it seems that Elizabeth is somewhat distracted. She’s had a letter, an invitation from a man who was in her past and should have stayed there. Despite herself, she is intrigued and meets him…

And so begins a new mystery, with the prime issue being a horde of diamonds stolen from the mafia. Also involved is MI5.

We meet again Joyce, as amusing as ever as she pens her diary, psychiatrist Ibrahim, who suffers a crisis, and old trade unionist Ron. They’re keen to help – or is it hinder? – Elizabeth. Bogdan is also called upon to provide muscle and any heavy lifting.

The life of DCI Chris Hudson has taken a dramatic upturn. He’s romancing an attractive woman and it could turn out to be serious – much to the surprise of his colleague PC Donna De Freitas. These two are trying to find evidence to be used against the local drug dealer Connie Johnson.

The story is bookended neatly with a new sympathetic character, Sylvia Finch.

From the outset and all the way through Osman’s style and humour enhance the telling and characterisation. It isn’t laugh-out-loud but there’s a smile raised on virtually every page. And, as with the first novel, Osman exhibits his affection for these old folk and humanity in general.

There’s a twist or two, terrible but not graphic murders, and even some suspense. Several threads are cleverly and neatly combined satisfactorily.

The title is apt, and can be construed literally or, sadly, medically when relating to a particular devastating illness.

Friday, 3 December 2021

THE HEART OF DANGER - Book review

 

Gerald Seymour’s 1995 novel is another one of his authentic thrillers touching upon a gut-wrenching contemporary issue – this time, the Bosnian conflict.

Seymour uses a framing device – an SIS official is reviewing a particular file of events that occurred a couple of years earlier, in 1993. Bill Penn, an MI5 agent who was dismissed, now works as a private investigator – mainly chasing debts and errant husbands and wives. Then he is hired by Mary Braddock. Her daughter Dorrie went missing in 1991 and her body has just been exhumed from a field’s mass grave in former Yugoslovia. Mrs Braddock wants to know how and why Dorrie died.

What begins as a lucrative easy task develops into something darker and more meaningful and moving. Gradually, Penn gets to know the late Dorrie through witness statements. Dorrie’s mother had despaired of her daughter; they’d constantly been at loggerheads. Yet this wasn’t the young woman Penn learned about.

‘It’s always the people who are smug and complacent who send young men across rivers, through minefields, into the heart of danger, and in their arrogance they never pause to consider the consequences.’ (p322)

Despite official censure, Penn goes behind enemy lines in a bid to not only to seek the truth about Dorrie’s brutal death but also to bring to justice the person responsible.

This is a grim tale, with the raw background of a dirty little war that featured genocide and ethnic cleansing. Towards the end it gets extremely tense and harrowing.

Heart-breaking in many instances.

Editorial comment:

Penn uses a mercenary called Ham as a helper. What’s interesting is that Seymour uses an ex-special forces character called Ham in his 2003 thriller Traitor’s Kiss; and not the same guy!

 

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

XPD - Book review

 


In my 1987 copy of Len Deighton’s 1981 novel it reveals it had been reprinted seven times, so it was certainly popular in the 1980s. Along with other Deighton novels, it is being re-issued as a Penguin modern classic. As you can gather from the dates above, I’ve come to it very late indeed.

XPD refers to ‘expedient demise’ – the fate of anyone who knows too much and is a verifiable security risk.

Set in 1979, ostensibly it’s about a projected movie being made concerning the plunder of German gold in the final phases of the Second World War: that’s the McGuffin. However, it is not so much the gold as certain documents that were also sequestered at the time. It’s most odd that these potentially embarrassing items have not surfaced in the intervening thirty-nine years.

The Director General of MI6, Sir Sydney Ryden, is introduced on the first page. But virtually every occasion thereafter he is referred to as ‘the DG’.

Boyd Stuart, a field agent and son-in-law to the DG is tasked with recovering certain secret documents from the stolen items – items that were rumoured to be source material for the film. The documents concern the secret whereabouts of Winston Churchill on June 11, 1940; did he have a meeting with Hitler in an attempt at making peace? Unlikely though it seems.

Stein is an American, ex-Army, one of a group who purloined the gold and vital documents, and all lived well off the proceeds. Somebody, doubtless for political reasons, wants those documents released to create a wedge between the US and Great Britain. It has to be the Russians… There are now a string of deaths connected with the documents…

The best bits were the flashbacks to the war itself, with Stein. Deighton’s extensive knowledge of the German forces was evident also.

There is a twist at the end concerning ‘the DG’, which is sort of left hanging.

The storyline is unnecessarily complex, but can be followed, even with several protagonists involved. The chase amidst the Hollywood stage setting was probably overdone even in the 1980s and seems contrived here. Sadly, for me, it didn’t hang together, despite my enjoyment of Deighton’s style and amusing asides.

Editorial comments:

On p210 a man with a half-grown beard introduces himself as Jimmy on p211.  Next page, we have ‘Here’s your Mr Stein,’ said the bearded man.

(Why revert to ‘the bearded man when we now know him as Jimmy?)

On p212, there is another man. ‘The man at the stove… offered his hand.’ Four lines further down, we have ‘Jimmy is a communications engineer,’ explained Paul Bock, the man at the stove.’

(Why use ‘the man at the stove again when he could have been introduced as Bock earlier?

Blame the editor.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express - Book review

 


This is a first: a Cash Laramie novel written by a collaboration of two authors – in this case, Edward A Grainger (the character’s originator) and Scott D Parker. Previous novels in the series have been penned separately by Grainger or another author. One reason for this combination is that the adventure also features Calvin Carter, ex-actor and detective, created by Parker.

It begins with a mystery: a train is approaching the rail station from the wrong direction. There’s a special delivery thrown onto the platform – a dead body with a message attached. The new train, the Sundown Express, the fastest in the West, has been hijacked by a group of desperadoes. And they want a ransom paid by sunset or they’ll start killing passengers every hour!

To compound matters, the senator’s daughter is one of the passengers, as well as the famous Lillie Langtry. Railroad detective Carter is on board also, but he’s clearly out-gunned.

Chief Penn sends Marshals Laramie and Miles on Mission Impossible – board the speeding train and take down the criminals without any innocent lives being lost. They’re helped by an army colonel and an eccentric professor and a revolutionary invention. Welcome to steampunk Wild West!

The scene is set for a fast-paced no-holds barred adventure, pitting the guile, wits and bravery of our three heroes against the considerable fire-power of at least ten cold-hearted gunmen. And all the while the deadline approaches.

There are some cunning twists in the story and a fair number of darkly humorous one-liners, too. The authors manage to visualise all the main players succinctly, conveying realistic interaction between them, while keeping the narrative heading on track towards the explosive denouement.

A fast, satisfying read. It’s a while since we’ve seen Cash Laramie; it’s Great to be able to welcome him back.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Vampires and black magic are not just for Halloween!

 CHILL OF THE SHADOW

Zondadari never ceased to be filled with dread anticipation before the transformation.

            In the privacy of his secluded Maltese villa he stood on the stone balcony, dressed in black leather, his shoulders draped with a cloak of the same colour and material. Very theatrical, but appropriate. As the pains filled his chest and raked across his back, he hunched forward, his fingers grasping the stone hand-rail for support. Mediterranean fir-pine trees cast their deep velvet shadows onto the balcony, concealing most of the pale yellow moon. Shadows were his friend.

            Slowly the organic material of his clothing pressed against him, even into him, taking on the contours of his large muscular body. A straying wild bird flew over and shrilled and then darted away quickly, discouraged by the unholy smell that emanated from him during his change.

            One day, he feared, his heart wouldn’t hold out against the battering it took.

            Coherent thought shimmered. He started seeing double; then multiples of everything. Disoriented, he lowered himself down on one knee. It would be a few minutes more before he would be able to control the numerous images.

            Small gaping flesh-red mouths, with razor-sharp teeth, appeared on the surface of his body. Disproportionately large furry ears flicked out at all angles and black beady eyes glistened all over him, like a constellation of the devil.

            Five minutes of harrowing pain passed and already he was separating, literally coming apart. With an unpleasant sucking sound, dark shapes peeled off from the form that had been a man. But he was a man no longer.

            With a flick of thin yet deceptively strong leathery wings, the freed bats broke away from each other and landed on the balustrade.

            The shape-shifting was complete. His mind was the sum of these forty-six creatures. He could see through the eyes of a single animal or perceive separate images through all of them. They did his bidding – because they were him in every sense. Every sense.

            The hunger was upon him again.

            As one, the bats flew up into the night sky
***


This cross-genre thriller is set in present-day Malta and has echoes from pre-history and also the eighteenth century Knights of Malta.

Malta may be an island of sun and sand, but there’s a dark side to it too. It all started when some fishermen pulled a corpse out of the sea... Or maybe it was five years ago, in the cave of Ghar Dalam…

Spellman, an American black magician, has designs on a handpicked bunch of Maltese politicians, bending their will to his master’s. A few sacrifices, that’s all it takes. And he’s helped by Zondadari, a rather nasty vampire.

Maltese-American investigative journalist Maria Caruana’s in denial. She can’t believe Count Zondadari is a vampire. She won’t admit it. Such creatures don’t exist, surely? She won’t admit she’s in love with him, either...

Detective Sergeant Attard doesn’t like caves or anything remotely supernatural. Now he teams up with Maria to unravel the mysterious disappearance of young pregnant women. They’re also helped by the priest, Father Joseph.

And there are caves, supernatural deaths and a haunting exorcism. Just what every holiday island needs, really.

Where there is light, there is shadow…

Some reviews extracts:

Kay Lesley Reeves (Spain)
I'll never look at bats in quite the same way again. An original twist on vampire legend with a hint of tongue-in-the-cheek humour.

Mr M. C. Iles (UK)
I visited Malta many years ago and Morton’s description is spot on. In fact his research is so exact that half-forgotten memories soon came flooding back and I found myself walking those ancient streets once again. A dark and classical tale with excellent twists that will keep readers enthralled.

Angela M.
… has a strong structure and is full of rich writing and action. The plot has page turning twists and the main characters are likeable, especially the female lead. I hadn't read a vampire book in a while and was reminded of how intensely gruesome they can be. While this one has its squeamish moments it's not atypical for the genre, and I can't help liking a well written book! The Malta setting was perfect, making this a great escape read.

E. B. Sullivan (California, US)
Set in picturesque Malta (the book) offers the reader a refreshing twist on the popular vampire genre. Mr. Morton weaves a story with multiple surprises. From the beginning, his plausible and complex characters lure the reader deeper into his yarn. In particular, Maria and Michael are hypnotic, compelling, and seductive. The desire to learn more about these romantic and dashing figures makes this book a true page-turner.

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