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Monday 31 October 2022


Here’s a page-turning vampire thriller for those dark nights. Set in modern-day Malta. Don't believe the hype - believe the reviewers.


Amazon UK Paperback: 

Amazon UK Kindle:

Review Extracts:

1)     1. The story carefully unfolds into a complex, and chilling tail not exactly for the light-hearted. Maria Caruana, an investigative journalist and police Sergeant Francis, investigate the disappearance of young pregnant women. They put their lives on the line to learn whether or not black magic is alive on the Maltese islands. A startling find as Maria watches her father Dr Nicholas Caruana, a police pathologist, do an autopsy pulls her into the forces of good versus evil. Some people make good out of bad, but Bryson Spellman takes his bitterness to the dark side. Zondadari, a vampire, and Bonello a politician, and his right hand man, Grech are just a few he sucks into his evil plan. Maria’s search for answers takes her to Zondadari. He has a hold over her from the moment she sets eyes on him, and even as she wonders if she loves him, she fears that he is a vampire. The dark forces gather, and then the story breaks wide open and reveals the depth of evil that has befallen the beautiful tourist island of Malta. This is a rather deep story with some X-rated parts that I feel should be placed as a warning...

2)     2. I'll never look at bats in quite the same way again… 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.

3)      3. 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.

4)     4.  ...a fast paced, intelligent read that kept my pulse pounding until the last page. Vampires are certainly enjoying a revival, but Morton’s take is entirely fresh…. 

5)      5. 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.

Wednesday 19 October 2022


Richard Osman’s third Thursday Murder Club mystery lives up to the promise of the previous two books. Although each novel can be read as a self-contained mystery, much is lost if you haven’t read the earlier books.

Yet again we we’re back with the gang from Coopers Chase – Ex-MI6 agent Elizabeth Best, Joyce, Ron, Ibrahim, and Bogdan. Aided and abetted as usual by detectives Chris and Donna. The cold case they’re interested in is the murder of investigative TV journalist Bethany Waites who was pushed off a cliff in her car; her body was never found.

To help with their enquiries, they enlist TV personality Mike Waghorn who worked with Bethany at the time and was probably in love with her. ‘Mike finds it hard to cry, because he started having Botox treatments before they’d really got the hang of them, and his tear ducts are blocked.’ (p77)

However Elizabeth has other concerns. It appears someone is threatening to kill her friend Joyce unless Elizabeth kills Victor Illyich, previously known as the Viking. He used to be her foe behind the Iron Curtain but eventually they seemed to accommodate a kind of détente, possibly along physical lines. Victor was a successful KGB interrogator, surprisingly averse to violence. ‘Victor does have a persuasive tone… He makes everything feel like was your idea in the first place.’ (p271)

This time around we do get a hint of Elizabeth’s background – she had a violent father. This is a particularly poignant scene, especially as she reflects on her good fortune to be married and loved by her husband Stephen, who is gradually succumbing to dementia. ‘And she will cry the lifetime of tears she has denied herself.’ (p240) Beautifully evoked. In other scenes Stephen's situation is handled sensitively and understated depth.

An additional complication is Connie Johnson, presently in prison (as a result of book two’s investigations). She knows a fellow inmate who was accused of Bethany’s murder. Another associate of Bethany’s is Fiona Clemence (did she do away with Bethany to get her job and then went on to great success?):’That auburn hair, so famous from the shampoo adverts, the full smile, so famous from the toothpaste adverts, and the cheekbones honed by genetics and Harley Street.’ (p261)

As before, the interaction between the characters provides the amusement and the story’s impetus. Despite introducing new characters, Osman manages to imbue each with their own voice.

If there is a criticism, perhaps it is that nobody seems unduly nasty, even the alleged murderers! Cosy is as cosy does, I guess.

Minor irritations.

The editor should have vetoed some things. Whenever anyone is introduced, we have: ‘I’m Connie Johnson,’ says Connie. When ‘she says’ would suffice or in fact nothing at all.

When there are only two people in the scene, Osman persists in telling us who says what: most of the time it is not necessary. He has given the characters distinctive voices. For example on p166 we have ‘says Connie’ five times when there is only her and Ibrahim in the scene. ‘She says’ would suffice and is more invisible; most of the time it’s obvious she is talking anyway. This occurs a great deal – it’s not as if he was being paid by the word, is it?

Monday 17 October 2022



THE CONAN CHRONICLES Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle

This edition published in 2000 is edited with an afterword by Stephen Jones. The collection is in chronological order ‘exactly as Robert E Howard wrote them, as fresh, atmospheric and vibrant today as when they were first published in the pulp magazines more than sixty years ago.’

Fourteen stories are contained in the collection, plus a 2-page synopsis, a 3-page fragment and two draft texts, ‘The Snout in the Dark’ and ‘Drums of Tombalku’.

The book begins with a 24-page history, ‘The Hyborian Age’.

Virtually every tale still grips the reader with Howard’s colourful and dynamic descriptions of mystical characters, awful creatures and exotic places culled from his imagination. Conan stories published as early as 1933 figure in this volume.

Conan encounters ghouls, enormous snakes, wizards, and despots aplenty, and manages to rescue a fair number of women who are invariably scantily clad. His scimitar has tasted more blood than can fill a small lake. Although a barbarian, he is a staunch ally and protector.

Howard displays powerful description. ‘It was as if a black titan stood straddle-legged in the bright pits of hell, his lifted hands full of stars.’ From ‘The Queen of the Black Coast’ (p131)

Here’s a snippet from ‘The Black Colossus’: ‘It was a clot of darkness, a blur in the sight, a monstrous night-born incubus that might have been deemed a figment of a sleep-drugged brain, but for the points of blazing yellow fire that glimmered like two eyes from the blackness. Moreover, a voice issued from it – a low subtle inhuman sibilance that was more like the soft abominable hissing of a serpent than anything else, and apparently could not emanate from anything with human lips.’ (p180)

‘Conan, I have seen kings who wore their harness less regally than you!’ Conan was silent. A vague shadow crossed his mind like a prophecy. In years to come he was to remember Amalric’s words, when the dream became the reality. (p192)

‘But no sleep came to Olivia, and she lay watching the distant ruins and the wooded rim until the stars paled, the east whitened, and dawn in rose and gold struck fire from the dew on the grass-blades. (p231)

They rustled in a faint wind, and their noise was like the whispering of witches, causing the hair to stir next his scalp. (p492)

Editor Jones provides a brief but very interesting overview of Howard’s early life and his association with the pulp magazine editors.

Most fans of fantasy books should be acquainted with these tales of Conan the Cimmerian. Howard’s creation, as well as others, have inspired many writers, screen-writers and comic writers and artists over the years.

In 1966 I first encountered his adventures in a new paperback Conan the Adventurer with a splendid Frank Frazetta cover when boarding a coach in Rosyth, Scotland. This was an ideal read for the two-hour journey to Newcastle upon Tyne – and I was hooked.


Unfortunately, this edition is rife with typographical errors, none of which spoiled the enjoyment of the tales. Without recourse to the original, it’s not possible to determine if the errors were made in old typographical days in the actual pulps or crept in during many transitions from page to book.

I certainly haven’t marked all, but here are a few:

At Murilo’s shoulder Nabonidus was laughing like a friend (p95) – for ‘friend’ read ‘fiend’.

… with the blood that cushed from his half-severed neck. (p109) – for ‘cushed’ read ‘gushed’.

A description of Conan: his features, set off by his smoldering blue eyes. A low broad forehead was topped by a square-cut tousled man as black as a raven’s wing. (p188) – for ‘man’ read ‘mane’.

… the mercenaries are restless to now why we dally.’ (p190) – for ‘now’ read ‘know’.

With a flast of white tusks. (p240) – for ‘flast’ read ‘flash’.

… was a duplicate of the quen’s night-garment (p247) – for ‘quen’s’ read ‘queen’s’.

… he clamped is jaws against the desire to retch. (p263) – for ‘is’ read ‘his’. There were far too many instances of ‘is’ instead of ‘his’ and yet plenty of correct versions of ‘his’ as well!




Sunday 16 October 2022

THE DEVIL'S ACRE - Book review

Matthew Plampin’s second novel, The Devil’s Acre (previously titled The Gun-maker’s Gift) was published in 2010 and concerns the establishment of a weapons factory in Pimlico on the banks of London’s River Thames in 1853; it was set up by the American gun-maker 'Colonel' Samuel Colt. At that time the building of the Palace of Westminster was not yet completed.

Londoner Edward Lowry is hired as Colt’s secretary and works alongside the firm’s English press agent Richards. Colt has brought in a handful of Americans to oversee the factory: they’re hiring locals, mainly from the slum section of the city, the Devil’s Acre and training them to work the machinery.

Lowry accompanies Colt around London, specifically the government offices, where the gun-maker hopes to obtain huge orders for his revolvers. It is not so simple, however, as Colt has competition in the form of a British gun-maker, Adams. Inevitably, politics and British preferment are involved. Yet Colt seems to have the private blessing of Lord Palmerston, who is plotting the downfall of the government. Spies and saboteurs from the Adams business add tension and violence to the mix of intrigue.

Complications arise for Lowry when he is attracted to Caroline, one of the women on the factory floor. The relationship does not begin smoothly, but gradually they embark on an affair – much to the disgust of her brother-in-law, Martin.

It transpires that Martin and several other men working in the factory are members of the Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society who are hell-bent on not only stealing a number of revolvers but also using them to assassinate a minister of the Crown.

Allegiances become strained, particularly as conflict in the Crimea looms large and Lowry begins to question the morality of weapons manufacture and sales.

The book is well-written, thrusting the reader into Victorian London – both its places of grandeur and squalor. ‘There was not much dust here as there was precious little of the lively movement required to provoke it. In its place, though, were flies, many thousands of them, plump as brandy-soaked raisins, that settled upon you if you paused for even a second, crawling for your tear ducts, your nostrils, the corners of your mouth. The smells were enough to stop the breath in your lungs, thick as fish-glue and repulsively over-ripe. Edward imagined that a multitude of deadly diseases were thronging into his body, gaining stronger purchase on his blood with every step he took.’ (p159)   

All of the characters – a mixture of real historical figures and fictional – are convincing and keep the story moving to its powerful epilogue.


Friday 14 October 2022

THE LUTE AND THE PEN - Book review

 This is Jennifer Morton’s second book and both are romantic adventures set in Spain. Her first, The Wells Are Dry was a contemporary novel; The Lute and the Pen is a historical story primarily set in Al-Andalus in 960AD.

Orphaned nineteen-year-old Qamira is accompanying Talha, her grandfather on his journey to Cordoba, where they plan to start a new life away from Baghdad. The Spanish city promises much, as it is a centre of learning and religious tolerance where Qamira hopes to pursue her twin passions of music and writing. She has also learned a great deal about herbal medicines and ointments from her learned grandfather.

Talha is the guest of his old friend Solomon, a Hebrew. Here, Qamira meets his wife Rebekah, Yuhana, Mirza and Tabitha, his daughters. Their neighbour is Urvan, a Muslim, who is widowed. Urvan has two sons, Izmael and Tariq, and two daughters, Shira and Dafna. Izmael’s best friend is Zayd, a swordsman, teacher and poet from El-Maghreb.

Into the mix is another household which is run by Vevian, a Christian, a trader and friend of Solomon.

Qamira settles down and takes in the delectable sights, smells and sounds of the place and her writing and lute-playing flourish. However, she is soon aware that Urvan begins to make unwelcome advances upon her during her grandfather’s absence on medical business. Fortunately, Qamira befriends Yuhana and Dafna, and gradually falls under the thrall of the handsome Zayd. Yet the relationships are not smooth as Shira is wilfully jealous of Qamira and, plotting with Nadim, Urvan’s personal bodyguard, they intend to have Qamira spirited away.

Qamira’s abrupt absence cannot be explained. Zayd is crestfallen and, after a fruitless search, he volunteers to sail off to contend with several raiding corsairs that threaten Urvan’s trading ships. After a while, word returns that he is missing, presumed dead.

Unaware of Zayd’s fate, Qamira wakes up in an Emir’s harem!

Throughout the narrative we are treated to exotic scents and images, capturing the period and its people. There is poetry both poignant and amusing, and personal conflict between several characters. Suspense, misunderstandings, betrayal and swordplay figure in the tale as well.

The author brings alive her characters and their emotional turmoil, and I was sorry to come to the end of her heartfelt tale.


Wednesday 12 October 2022

ORGAN SYMPHONY - Insights and excerpts

ORGAN SYMPHONY published by Rough Edges Press

Some subjects don’t go away. Organ harvesting is one of them. It crops up in the news from time to time. It’s also the inciting incident that starts this Leon Cazador novel.

Occasionally, I like to book-end a tale – with a quote or image at the beginning and echoing it at the end of the book; for this one, I chose the word ‘heartless’:

August, 2016. Lazzaretto Piccolo, Laguna Veneto, Italy

Gho Jun chuckled beneath his surgical mask and in his high-pitched voice joked, “Soon our rich client will be heartless, no?”

It doesn’t give anything away to reveal the book’s last line, here:

Carlota nodded. “Truly, Leon, those who ban people from listening to music are heartless.”

By no means exclusively, but in my books (and even some short stories) I attempt to feature places I’ve visited. Here, we go to Venice, Charleston, South Carolina, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Stockbridge, Córdoba and Torrevieja in Spain, and Tokyo. The story ranges from 2016 to 2022.

Book blurb

Leon Cazador is on FBI liaison duty in Charleston, South Carolina when a dead child is found with a kidney missing. Suspecting an old foe, he jumps into action when a convoy of trucks with kidnapped children hits a snag, and a boy escapes. What starts out as a simple cat and mouse chase turns into a convoluted web of deceit involving an underground organ transplant ring that surpasses Leon’s wildest imaginings. He is faced with resourceful nuns and a treacherous snow blizzard, and heartless killers.

‘That scene on the frozen lake at the end of Part One was terrific! Sister Christina is another fine character’ – reader’s comments.)

There is a resolution of sorts, but also death and denial. And the evil supremo eludes discovery.

Five years later—and carrying around the weight of unresolved burdens and having acquired personal assistant Carlota (‘Leon and Carlota make a great team. I thoroughly enjoyed the book!’ – reader’s comments)—Leon runs into suspicious activity in Córdoba, Spain that makes his heart stop cold. Organ traffickers are running rampant, and an investigating team has gone missing and are liable to become unwitting donors. Eager to put an end to this corrupt organization’s misdeeds once and for all, Leon makes finding its leader his top priority. But will he and his delectable personal assistant Carlota have what it takes to bring a modern evil like no other to its knees?

Nik Morton is really good at creating characters and describing action scenes.’ – a reader’s comment.

Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Organ Symphony - excerpts:

The gunmen were amateurs, standing in plain view, too cocky with their Uzi machine-guns. Leon rested on his elbows and through narrowed eyes took careful unhurried aim as the Uzi bullets spat sparks from rockery inches from his face. The Magnum slugs lifted them both off the ground and they jumped like ungainly puppets and slammed into the fender of the Chevy.


By chance all three stayed together, and were trucked to South Carolina. Here, Rafael was taken away – it must have been about two weeks ago – and returned with a bandage wrapped round his body. One of the older kids showed his own operation scar, proudly displaying it as a badge of honor, and said, “They start on the bits we’ve got two of – like kidneys, eyes, lungs...” The rest was left unsaid.


Normally on weekdays they would exercise after waking. With Carlota sitting enticingly on his ankles, he would perform seventy sit-up crunches, alternate elbow to alternate knee, followed by seventy press-ups. Carlota did the same, though she was faster than him – but then again she was younger. After breaking a sweat, they would shower. At the weekend they would refrain and instead perform tai chi in a convenient park for a complete change.

But he’d vowed that on this mini-holiday they would give that form of physical exercise a miss. “Only that form of exercise?” she queried mischievously.

“Quite,” he answered straight-faced.


A mountainous landscape populated by dragons strode out of the swathes of hammam’s steam and approached Leon Cazador and Carlota. Leon wasn’t surprised when Carlota stifled a gasp.

Hiroki Kuroda was tattooed over his entire torso and down to his wrists and calves. At a glance, he gave the impression that he was wearing long johns; instead, he was a walking exhibition of body art. Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man always sprang to mind when Leon saw him, but this was no fantasy. As a member of the Yakuza—a Japanese criminal organization similar to the Mafia, but much older—Hiroki as a much younger man had endured hundreds of hours of pain from a bamboo sliver simply to show that he could. He waved a greeting with his left hand. The little finger should have been missing at the first knuckle, but a shining substitute appeared grafted in place.

Sitting on the wooden slats of the bench, Leon wore light blue swimming shorts and Carlota, on his left, was skimpily covered by a dark green bikini she’d brought for use in the hotel pool but had yet had the opportunity to christen.

Hiroki adjusted the towel about his waist, acknowledged Carlota, and lowered his huge bulk on Leon’s right.


Her heart was hammering away.

She felt alone. A rookie investigator.

At least she could rely on her Spanish. Ask a policeman? Ha!

Then, roughly three paces ahead of her a man strode out from a doorway. He was dressed in loose-fitting black pants and an open-necked shirt.

She stopped at once, sensing a threat.

Her mouth was dry.


In the blink of an eye Leon raised the pistol and  harshly whipped Okudara’s face with the silenced barrel.

The man backed against the shelving and rubbed his chin.

“Carlota,” Leon called over his shoulder, “shoot the other guy’s knees from under him if he so much as blinks!”

Leon aimed his automatic at Okudara’s left knee. “I can even things up,” he said. “You can limp with both legs.”


“We haven’t packed enough clothing to go gallivanting,” Carlota said. “We were only supposed to spend a couple of days in Córdoba.”

“We’re not gallivanting,” Leon corrected. “This isn’t recreation, my dear, it’s hunting.”

She kissed him. “I like it when you put on your serious face. Sends shivers down my spine.”

He hugged her and traced his fingers down her spine. “This isn’t getting the packing done, is it?”

“There’s time for that, don’t fret, my hunter.” And there was; time for everything.


Once they were back in their hotel room, Leon unwrapped the brown-paper parcel. Rose had managed to meet his specifications as to size, stopping power and weight. The Beretta Model 84 weighed a mere twenty-three ounces and was only six and a half inches long, suitable for concealing on Carlota’s person. Its magazine held thirteen rounds.

To fill his shoulder holster he’d opted for a Bernardelli P-018, its magazine holding fifteen 9mm parabellum cartridges. The slightly smaller and lighter Tanfoglio TA90 snugly fitted his ankle-holster; it too held fifteen 9mm parabellum cartridges. Rose had also supplied a spare clip of cartridges for each weapon. Between them they should have enough fire-power to deal with a crop of organ harvesters, he reckoned. And they each had a silencer that would fit.


“You’re wet,” he observed. She wasn’t wearing a bra under her clinging white bandeau.

“I can see why you’re a private eye.” She grinned. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to catch my death. The sun and the warm breeze will soon dry me.”

“Hope not – catch death, I mean.” He revved the boat forward.

She stood and moved to his side. “We all die, eventually, darling.”

He hugged her with one arm while steering. “Let us not hasten the inevitable, eh?”


That will do, enough to provide a flavour, I hope.