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Sunday 26 March 2023

THE BLACK ECHO - Book review

I’ve read a good number of debut novels in my time, and Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo is one of the best. Here can be found assured writing, believable characters, vivid description, good pacing, and a likeable and tough protagonist. Harry is short for Hieronymus; apparently his mother ‘had a thing about fourteenth century painters’ (p97). 

LAPD Detective Harry Bosch is called out to the body of a vagrant suspected of succumbing to a drug overdose; stuffed in a concrete pipe near Mullholland Dam. But he reckons it doesn’t look like a suicide. And he recognises the corpse – a fellow soldier from Vietnam twenty years ago, Billy Meadows. Bosch immediately thinks something is very wrong here: ‘There are no coincidences’ (p25).

On checking out the dead man’s apartment, Bosch discovers that the place had been searched already, though an attempt had been made to hide the fact. The search had not discovered a pawn ticket, which Bosch decides to check out at the named shop.

But the shop has been broken into, jewellery and other items stolen…

His leads takes him to the Westland Bank break-in of the previous year. The felons had tunnelled in and raided the safety deposit boxes, the haul estimated at $2m. This robbery was investigated by the FBI but no arrests were made.

Bosch is told to work with the FBI on his latest murder case, and his partner is FBI agent Eleanor Wish.

The tunnelling caper brings back Bosch’s memories of being one of the tunnel rats rooting out Vietcong insurgents. Meadows had been in his team. Some memories never go away. He pulls out a scrapbook: ‘The pages were yellowed and had gone brown at the edges. They were brittle, much like the memories the photos evoked’ (p71).

‘The photos were of the smiling faces of young men who had dropped down into hell and had come back to smile into the camera. Out of the blue and into the black is what they called going into a tunnel. Each one was a black echo. Nothing but death is there. But, still, they went’ (p72).

His flashbacks are powerfully done; Bosch was only twenty and witnessed the mutilation of a comrade. And he was afraid, very afraid. ‘It was like going to hell. You’re down there and you could smell your own fear. It was like you were dead when you were down there’ (p192).

After being demobbed, not surprisingly Bosch suffered from a sleep disorder. ‘There was no going back to repair what had happened. You can’t patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid’ (p77).

The relationship between Wish and Bosch becomes close and is handled well. Inevitably, Bosch is not a great lover of authority and has his issues with the police and FBI hierarchy, and even has blistering encounters with a couple of Internal Affairs goons.

There are plenty of tense moments, a second tunnel robbery seems probable, and it seems that not everyone is what they seem…

An excellent crime novel with a satisfying ending. The first of twenty-four Bosch books. I’d previously read the fifth Bosch book, Trunk Music in 1998, out of sequence but that was not a problem. I’ll be reading the next three in order: The Black Ice, The Concrete Blonde, and The Last Coyote.

Bosch was also a TV series (2014-2021) on Amazon and was well received.

Friday 24 March 2023

London's Old Bailey trial on organ harvesting

This week's trial at London's Old Bailey regarding the planned illegal harvesting of a man's kidney highlights aspects of this dark trade. Inspired by similar cases over the last few years, here is: 


Published by Rough Edges Press, Las Vegas, USA


Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private eye, 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. But 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 darkest expectations.

Years later—and carrying around the weight of unresolved burdens—Leon runs into suspicious activity in Córdoba, Spain that makes his heart stop cold. Organ traffickers are running rampant, and a three-man investigating team has gone missing. 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 be able to take down an evil like no other?

Nik Morton lives in Blyth, Northumberland. His two earlier Leon Cazador thrillers are Rogue Prey and No Prisoners. He can be contacted at His latest release from Rough Edges Press is Catalyst – Cat’s Crusade #1. 

Amazon UK: 

Amazon US:

Wednesday 22 March 2023

THE LITTLE WALLS - Book review

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Winston Graham had a number of suspense novels published. The Little Walls was published in 1955; my copy is the fourth impression, 1972. (Those were the days when you could see how often a book was reprinted!)

It’s written in the first person and I found it comparable to Hammond Innes in style and tone, though perhaps less technical. Philip Turner’s older brother Grevil’s body was discovered in a canal in Amsterdam. Suspected suicide. Philip can’t believe it and sets out to determine that it was murder. Apparently, on Grevil’s body was a letter from a woman called Leonie, breaking off their relationship. Philip still did not believe his brother would take his own life. Grevil had been on an archaeological dig with a mysterious adventurer called Buckingham.

Philip takes leave from his business in America and enlists the help of Martin Coxon, someone who knew Buckingham some years ago.

Grevil’s death occurred in the insalubrious district of De Walletjes – which translates as ‘the Little Walls’. ‘At one place, in a cellar decorated with modern murals which would have left Freud practically nothing  to interpret…’ (p50).

Dutch Inspector Tholen fears Grevil was involved in some shady dealings and ran foul of local villains. Philip’s investigations take him to Naples and Capri, where he links up with a group of rich individuals with intriguing back-stories and a liking of cocktail parties, which normally were anathema to Philip: ‘The buzz of voices, introductions forgotten as soon as made, remarks which meant nothing drowned by others which meant less…’ (p129).  

Reading the story, one could almost believe it had happened – always the sign of a good narrator. The descriptions of the scenery and characters are well done, and there is a burgeoning romance, a betrayal, a fight to the death, and a twist towards the end.

The cover is one of several that feature a character’s facial close-up, all of which are eye-catching. (Though in this case the female protagonist is fair-haired in the book!). These other covers of books I still have to read are: Greek Fire (1957), The Tumbled House (1959), and After the Act (1965).

Tuesday 21 March 2023

THE HUMAN FACTOR - Book review

Graham Greene’s 1978 novel The Human Factor is a gripping and believable story about spies without gunfire and hectic action, but plenty of suspense, tension, intrigue and perfect characterisation. 

Maurice Castle is an aging agent in MI6, working in the African section with a younger man, Davis. His new boss is Daintry who has been brought in to review various sections as a leak is suspected. Castle was previously deployed in apartheid South Africa where he fell in love with one of his black agents, Sarah. When his relationship was about to become an embarrassment he fled with her, aided by local Communist Carson. Now working in London, Castle is married to Sarah and has adopted her young boy fathered by another.

Gradually, as the investigation into the supposed leak ensues, suspicions fall upon young Davis… It would be unreasonable to reveal more.

The sleight-of-hand of the people involved, such as C himself, Sir John Hargreaves, and the firm’s creepy doctor Percival provide suspense and tension. The arrival of Cornelius Muller, a powerful man in South Africa’s BOSS, assigned to liaise with Castle on the secret operation Uncle Remus adds drama, since Muller had known Castle in South Africa. Loyalties are questioned; everything is not what it seems; and the morality of Castle’s seniors are decidedly dubious. All the characters are rounded, and seemingly flawed – that is, very human.

Intriguingly, Davis, a tippler, tends to mix his whiskies, notably White Horse and Johnnie Walker: ‘You know, this blend of mine tastes quite good. I shall call it a White Walker. There might be a fortune in the idea – you could advertise it with the picture of a beautiful ghost…’(p66) I wonder if George R. R. Martin stumbled on that moniker when creating his Game of Thrones (1996)?

Greene wanted to get away from the violence and action depicted in popular espionage fiction; in his experience the real thing was more down-to-earth, though doubtless treacherous, and slightly sleazy. After attending a funeral, Daintry has a drink or two with a few people he’d met at Sir John’s house party. Daintry is quizzed about his work: ‘one of those hush-hush boys. James Bond and all that.’ Another states ‘I never could read those books by Ian.’ Another reckons the books were ‘too sexy for me. Exaggerated’ (p165).

This is a book about sacrifice, disillusionment, and love. Greene’s eye for detail, the telling mannerisms, and the secret world’s manipulation of people are laid bare, uncomfortably so. This is as good as any John Le Carré novel.

Editorial note

We writers are advised not to use character names that begin with the same letter or seem or sound similar. I can’t see why Greene was fixated on similarities of names: Castle and Carson. Then there was another ‘c’ – Cynthia, the secretary Davis pines for. Not that it affected the story at all. So much for advice to writers, hm?

Thursday 16 March 2023

PRESS RELEASE - Cat's Crusade #1 - Catalyst



Published on 21 March 2023 by Rough Edges Press, Las Vegas, USA



UK kindle:

US kindle:

A fast-paced thriller with never-ending threats and sexy suspense…

A catalyst is a person who precipitates events. That’s Catherine Vibrissae. Orphan, chemist, model, and crusading cat.

Seeking revenge against Loup Dante, the Head of Ananke—and the man responsible for the takeover of her father’s company—Cat will stop at nothing to uncover his wicked agenda. A trained chemist and an accomplished climber, she is not averse to breaking and entering. So, when she crosses paths with an attorney for the bloodless organization and uncovers a mysterious product called Catananche, Cat risks injury and death to learn more.

Ranging from South England to the northeast, from Wales to Barcelona, Cat’s quest for vengeance is implacable. But will she be able to escape the clutches of an unexpected and whip-wielding enemy?

The first in the Cat’s Crusade series, Catalyst follows a strong female character who has a thirst for action.


Nik Morton has been a book and magazine editor for many years and is also the author of over 30 books. His latest thrillers, recently published by Rough Edges Press are: Rogue Prey, No Prisoners and Organ Symphony, featuring the half-Spanish, half-English private investigator Leon Cazador.

He and his family returned to UK after spending 15 years in Spain, and now reside in Northumberland.

Nik can be contacted on

Tuesday 7 March 2023

BLACK OUT - Book review

John Lawton’s highly accomplished debut novel was published in 1995, the first of eight detective Troy books. It's a mix of crime in the main plus espionage elements. Sergeant Frederick Troy doesn't like any form of his given name, preferring to be addressed by his surname. He is the younger son of a Russian immigrant father who has become a wealthy newspaper publisher and baronet. Defying class and family expectations, the independently wealthy Troy joins Scotland Yard, becoming an investigator on the ‘murder squad’. 

The book begins at the height of the London Blitz, February 1944, when a dog is spotted carrying the severed arm of a man. Before long, Troy is assigned to find out who's murdering German scientists who've been secretly smuggled out of Germany and into Britain. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence regarding the murders and the upper echelons of the American forces. The newly formed OSS is involved, it appears. The convoluted investigation has its compensations for Troy, however, in the erotic form of not one but two femmes fatales – socialite Diana Brock and US Army sergeant Tosca.

The story skips to 1948, when Troy tracks a suspect to Berlin during the Blockade, which provides a fine twist.

Throughout, the characters are well defined and interesting, from the Inspector Onions, to the Polish pathologist Kolakiewicz, the dissolute MI5 man, Pym, the voluptuous Diana and the amusingly voluble and voracious Tosca, to Troy himself. The sense of time and place are expertly evoked.

There is wit and sly humour as well as a little graphic sex. For example, an amusing scene where Troy’s Uncle Nikolai, who works at Imperial College, has a dud bomb stowed in his lab. ‘It fell in Islington churchyard last night. Believe me, it’s as safe as houses.’ That particular metaphor did nothing to reassure Troy. So many houses in Islingon these days were nothing more than rubble and dust’ (p78).

‘Pym was running rapidly to seed and looked as though he meant to enjoy every moment and ounce of it. Somewhere in his attic was a portrait that was forever young’ (p93).

And we have suspense, also: ‘She smiled and took the page from him, and he knew as certain as eggs were powdered that there was someone hiding in the next room’ (p113).

A pleasure to read.

The second Troy book, Old Flames, takes place in 1956 during Khrushchev’s visit to UK. Subsequent books skip about in time, some before the events in Black Out.

Monday 6 March 2023


Elizabeth Nell Debus’ historical romance was published in 1989; but I’ve just got round to reading it!

It begins in May 1860, eleven months before the Civil War started. The story is from the viewpoint of eighteen-year-old Gabriele Cannon. The Cannons own a vast Louisiana plantation and a couple hundred slaves. She has an older brother Tom. Gabriele’s widowed father Oliver would like to free his slaves but state laws forbid it. Both Tom and Gabriele have been brought up with their aunt Mat’s slave girl Veronique; the latter is an accomplished dressmaker and earns money with her skill, though her earnings go to the aunt!

The novel is well written, with often lyrical descriptions, and captures the hopes and fears of the young Gabriele. Debus exhibits an understanding of the environment and all the people, the free and the enslaved.

‘And then she felt herself lifted as her mount left the earth, and for one moment in time, as the mare ran through air, the rider’s whole-body became light, buoyant, filled with a sense of union with the day, with the animal beneath her, with the world that bounded the life of Gabriele Cannon’ (p9).

While catching crayfish in the creek she observes a passenger on the deck of an approaching steam packet boat. This scene is artfully evoked by the cover painting by the artist David Bergen. Shortly afterwards, she is introduced to the passenger she had spotted: Alex St Cyr, an old friend of Tom’s, and Alex’s northern cousin, Jordan Scott.

Inevitably, both Alex and Jordan are attracted to Gabriele. Jordan’s family owns a lucrative shipping business. There is discussion concerning the lack of freedom of slaves to which Tom is sympathetic, while those who work on Scott ships are free men. Tom argues: ‘Legally (your seamen) are free. No one can actually sell them – but they are bought over and over again. Bought for low wages and given scandalous living quarters – not only in ships, but in factories all over the north’ (p93). It’s all very amicable, they agree to differ. Jordan intends to improve the lot of his workforce, but history interferes with his intentions.

Throughout, Gabriele is sympathetic to the plight of the slaves, even though compared to many plantations they are ‘treated well’.

Gabriele’s father is away a lot, involved in the politics, hoping to find compromise, but to no avail. His unexpected death means Gabriele must go into mourning dress.

Come April 1861, the die is cast – and very many will die as a result. Tom was drilling the home guard, as the military had moved north to combat the Yankees: ‘Spring sunshine, still pale and soft in late April, bathed the marchers with an almost veiled light, delicately gilding the long barrels of their rifles, staining their faces with the faint wash of gold’ (p223).

The fighting is virtually all reported: by newspapers or by witnesses who are usually fleeing. Terrible though the battles were, it is mainly only the results Gabriele sees: the wounded by the score.

Alex does not don the Confederate uniform, but becomes a blockade runner, his ship eluding the northerners. Jordan is fighting on the northern side. Tom too was away, fighting for the Confederacy. Gabriele and Aunt Mat coped, running the plantation.

When she finally relinquishes her mourning clothes, Gabriele appraises herself. She is older, and possibly wiser. The colour of her face ‘seemed fresher now, as though the heavy black of her mourning clothes had laid a film of grey over her skin that had now been removed’ (p235). She had ‘grown up’.

She had begun to realise that ‘The hardest battles are not with things outside ourselves, but with those within that work to make us lesser beings than we truly are’ (p247).

At 433 pages, this surprisingly was not a slow read. Interest was maintained throughout, with the reader wanting to know the fate of all of the finely drawn characters. In the mix: the disappearance of Veronique; a secret that Aunt Mat harboured; and the bonds of friendship that even war could not break, despite the friends being on different warring sides.

This historical saga is a fair and readable rendering of a young woman’s situation in a period fraught with complex issues, distress, privation and danger.

In these febrile times it is unlikely that Debus would find a publisher for this heartfelt honest book. I note that it doesn’t have any reviews on Amazon; and it doesn’t fare too well on Goodreads – averaging 3.5 stars. I’d give it four stars for the quality of the writing and the author’s sympathetic immersion in a past time.

The title is taken from HG Wells’ The Discovery of the Future: ‘The past is but the beginning of the beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.’