Stoking the Fires

‘Fallout’ by Edie Baylis

Secrets. Lies. Revenge.

With the odds stacked against her, Samantha Reynold is determined to prove she’s tough enough to be the boss. But when a secret from the past threatens to ruin Sam’s reputation, she suddenly feels very alone in this dark new world. There’s only one man she can turn to – rival club owner, Sebastian Stoker.

Seb knows first-hand how secrets and lies can tear a family apart. He wants to protect Sam at all costs, but siding with her could threaten his own position as head of the Stoker family and risk accusations of betrayal.

With loyalties divided and two families at war – the fallout could be deadly.

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3pYMsrB

I have made the point, several times now, that Boldwood Books are a company doing interesting work. They certainly seem to have a found a formula which works for them. Crime, often written by talented women such as Heather Atkinson, https://pajnewman.com/2022/05/08/they-aint-heavies-theyre-brothers/ Gillian Godden https://pajnewman.com/2022/02/02/whats-harder-than-nails/ and Caro Savage https://pajnewman.com/2021/03/01/jumping-for-jailbirds/ and often involving crime families and the internecine rivalries of the underworld.

Here, Edie Baylis presents the second in her Allegiance series, Fallout, which opens in 1995.

This is an interesting milleau – a world of stolen Spar sandwiches, Safeways’ own brand cider and bad dentistry. Basically, the Major-era Tories as a cost of living crisis bit the working poor.

So, no echoes of the present day at all then.

This is the type of fiction which Boldwood does so well. Interesting characters, hard-edged settings, sweary characters capturing the patois of the street.

If you want a read which flows and offers menacing characters embroiled in swirling tugs of loyalty and explosive conclusions, readers should fall in to Fallout.

Author Bio –

Edie Baylis is a successful self-published author of dark gritty thrillers with violent background settings. She lives in Worcestershire, has a history of owning daft cars and several motorbikes and is licensed to run a pub. She has signed a five-book deal with Boldwood.

Social Media Links –  

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Dark Hearts and Right Wrongs

Outcast‘ by Chris Ryan

After single-handedly intervening in a deadly terrorist attack in Mali, SAS Warrant Officer Jamie ‘Geordie’ Carter is denounced as a lone wolf by jealous superiors.

Now a Regiment outcast, Carter is given a second chance with a deniable mission: locate SAS hero-gone-rogue, David Vann.

Vann had been sent into Afghanistan to train local rebels to fight the Taliban. But he’s since gone silent and expected attacks on key targets have not happened.

Tracking Vann through Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Carter not only discovers the rogue soldier’s involvement in a conspiracy that stretches far beyond the Middle East – but an imminent attack that will have deadly consequences the world over . . .

As with most things in books, there are people who are sniffy about writers originating from ranks of the military. There is a snobbery around books which are designed to sell and to entertain people and this is doubled down upon if the writers have done something in a previous incarnation.

Chris Ryan, of course, had quite the life before he turned to writing thrillers. Any man who holds a Military Medal and can walk from Iraq to Syria whilst under fire deserves some form of attention.

It is this background, as part of the fabled Bravo Two Zero platoon which gives Ryan the authority to write the novels which he does. His experience in the ranks of the SAS which lend all of his thrillers the verisimilitude which so many other writers of “men of action” tales lack.

Here, however, protagonist Jamie ‘Geordie’ Carter finds himself caught up in a plot which might have come straight from the pen of Joseph Conrad – disgraced hero left to search for an outcast SA legend-gone-rogue.

That might, of course, be true only if Conrad had ever written a sentence like “the stiff afternoon breeze scraping through his dark hair, and wished to fuck he was somewhere else.” But, to be fair, this would have livened up the snoozeathon which is ‘Heart of Darkness’ no end.

There’s a healthy disrespect for authority and politician both officially and those in the rank and file which adds a layer of sympathy to the poor put upon hero.

Ryan has a control of the punchy sentence. Tension is built, backstory filled in. The point of these novels is to vicariously experience the snapping of bone and the crunch of boots on gravel and for all to be right with the world in the end.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outcast-Chris-Ryan-ebook/dp/B09SM14MPC

US – https://www.amazon.com/Outcast-Chris-Ryan-ebook/dp/B09SM14MPC

https://www.brownsbfs.co.uk/Product/RYAN-CHRIS/OUTCAST/9781838777616

Author Bio

Chris Ryan was born in Newcastle.

In 1984 he joined 22 SAS. After completing the year-long Alpine Guides Course, he was the troop guide for B Squadron Mountain Troop. He completed three tours with the anti-terrorist team, serving as an assaulter, sniper and finally Sniper Team Commander.

Chris was part of the SAS eight-man team chosen for the famous Bravo Two Zero mission during the 1991 Gulf War. He was the only member of the unit to escape from Iraq, where three of his colleagues were killed and four captured, for which he was awarded the Military Medal. Chris wrote about his experiences in his book ‘The One That Got Away’, which became an immediate bestseller. Since then he has written over fifty books and presented a number of very successful TV programmes.

Social Media Links  

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Chris Ryan and Zaffre Books

Bad Actors? Great Script

‘Bad Actors’ by Mick Herron

POLITICS IS A DANGEROUS GAME


In MI5 a scandal is brewing and there are bad actors everywhere.

A key member of a Downing Street think-tank has disappeared without a trace. Claude Whelan, one-time First Desk of MI5’s Regent’s Park, is tasked with tracking her down. But the trail leads straight back to Regent’s Park HQ itself, with its chief, Diana Taverner, as prime suspect. Meanwhile her Russian counterpart has unexpectedly shown up in London but has slipped under MI5’s radar.

Over at Slough House, the home for demoted and embittered spies, the slow horses are doing what they do best: adding a little bit of chaos to an already unstable situation.

In a world where lying, cheating and backstabbing is the norm, bad actors are bending the rules for their own gain. If the slow horses want to change the script, they’ll need to get their own act together before the final curtain. (Synopsis courtesy of Hachette)

Let’s be clear: Mick Herron is not the first writer to notice the similarities between actors and politicians. Indeed, the peerless Yes Prime Minister included this little interchange:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: You know what happens when politicians get into Number 10; they want to take their place on the world stage.

Sir Richard Wharton: People on stages are called actors. All they are required to do is look plausible, stay sober, and say the lines they’re given in the right order.

Appleby: Some of them try to make up their own lines.

Wharton: They don’t last long.

Now, regular readers of Herron would shudder if a phrase like “they don’t last long,” because few if any characters in his work do last long and the more beloved, the more in danger they are. You have been warned.

I suspect that the literati are coming for Herron. He’s just too good to be allowed to continue without snark and insults from lesser writers. Having a high budget adaptation of your work, one so faithful as to appear slavish, starring two of the best actors in the UK today (Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott-Thomas) as well as supporting characters played by top quality talent like Saskia Reeves and Samuel West?

No danger. The critics are sharpening their knives in the cheap seats.

For me, though, let them come. He can take it in the same way Lamb breaks limbs for sport. Herron is the best prose stylist working today, bar none. In fact, for me he’s funniest writer since the one and only master: PG Wodehouse. That’s the highest praise I can give and there’s no hyperbole in it. His greatest secret, of course, is that he is not a comic novelist. He’s a thriller writer with plots to enthral who just happens to have a sense of humour drier than badly made couscous and a pen as fluid as an oil slick.

Here, Herron is on sparkling form as ever. Tackling politicians in his oeuvre would, one might have expected legendary pantomime villain Peter Judd to the fore. Not so: here as the curtain rises it is the Dominic Cummings replacement, Anthony Sparrow, thrust into the spotlight.

This allows Herron to really break out the champagne lines:

“Sparrow wasn’t as high profile as his predecessor had been – it would have been challenging to maintain that level of unpopularity without barbecuing an infant on live television – but those in the know recognised him as a home-grown Napoleon: nasty, British and short.”

Also present is a cast of familiar household favourites. Claude Whelan returns to active duty, Diana Taverner, Roderick Ho, Lech Wicinski Catherine Standish, Louisa Guy are also all on the bill. And… is that… is that Shirley Dander in rehab like some form of Amy Winehouse record?

There’s even a cameo from a familiar face – but not one we’ve seen in the novels before. A perennial understudy forced onto the stage, if you will.

Then, of course, there is Jackson Lamb, the grotty gravitational force around which the entire Slough House orbits.

The devil may get all the best music, but the star turn gets all the best lines and boy-oh-boy does Lamb have yet another headline grabber here.

Covid exists in this world but I think it’s safe to say, Lamb is in fine form. Oh and terrorising Standish as ever like the one man culture war wrecking ball he is.

“She put the stool by the door; placed the sanitiser on top of it.

Lamb opened one eye. ‘Lubricant? Pretty optimistic for a staff meeting.’ He closed it again. ‘But I suppose it’ll give be a chance to swap these gender fluids I keep hearing about.’…

Lamb adopted a wounded pout. ‘What did I ever do to her?’

‘Broke her arm?’

‘She still on about that? Bloody snowflake.’”

Like all good playwrights, Herron likes structure to great effect; in fact aficionados of his work expect it. Here, the master uses structure even more than normal and the novel is no worse for that.

As the curtain closes, the reader is left with only some certain knowledge: Firstly, that Herron is the best in the business and long may his run continue when the quality is this high.

Secondly, that Apple TV+ really picked the right property to develop when they chose to let the Slow Horses out of the stable.

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search/ref=sr_adv_b/?field-isbn=9781529378702&tag=hachetteuk-21

Blackwell’s: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781529378702

Book Depository (Free shipping to the US): https://www.bookdepository.com/Bad-Actors-Mick-Herron/9781529378719

Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10403/9781529378702

Foyle’s: https://www.foyles.co.uk/all?advsearch=1&isbn=9781529378702&aCode=AFW&awc=1414_1652294215_49841d552e93c65d33eb53ee0852e906

Author Bio

Mick Herron is a bestselling and award-winning novelist and short story writer, best known for his Slough House thrillers. The series has been adapted into a TV series starring Oscar-winning actor Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb.

Raised in Newcastle upon Tyne, Herron studied English Literature at Oxford, where he continues to live. After some years writing poetry, he turned to fiction, and – despite a daily commute into London, where he worked as a sub editor – found time to write about 350 words a day. His first novel, Down Cemetery Road, was published in 2003. This was the start of Herron’s Zoë Boehm series, set in Oxford and featuring detective Zoë Boehm and civilian Sarah Tucker. The other books in the series are The Last Voice You Hear, Why We Die, and Smoke and Whispers, set in his native Newcastle. During the same period he wrote a number of short stories, many of which appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

In 2008, inspired by world events, Mick began writing the Slough House series, featuring MI5 agents who have been exiled from the mainstream for various offences. The first novel, Slow Horses, was published in 2010. Some years later, it was hailed by the Daily Telegraph as one of “the twenty greatest spy novels of all time”.

The Slough House novels have been published in 20 languages; have won both the CWA Steel and Gold daggers; have been shortlisted for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year four times; and have won Denmark’s Palle Rosenkrantz prize. Mick is also the author of the highly acclaimed novels Reconstruction, This is What Happened and Nobody Walks. (Biography courtesy of https://www.mickherron.com/landing-page/mick-herron-about)

You can read my previous reviews of some of Herron’s earlier novels, Slough House here and Joe Country here

For all things Mick Herron, there is no finer place on the internet than Jeff Quest’s Barbican Station. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spywrite  

They Ain’t Heavies – They’re Brothers

‘Blood Pact’ by Heather Atkinson

To survive, they’ll need to stick together…

After the defeat of the rival Gordon and Thompson families, the Blood Brothers’ reputations as feared lieutenants of the McVay clan are firmly established. The Gallowburn has become an untouchable stronghold in their capable hands.

However, danger rears its head in another form – Jamie’s deadliest foe, Cameron Abernethy. Still fighting to be released from prison, Cameron decides to use the Lawson family, the Blood Brothers’ biggest rivals, to discover his daughter’s whereabouts.

With his enemies getting closer, and the police on his tail too, Jamie has some impossible choices to make. This is his last chance to live the life he’s dreamed of with the woman he loves, but first he’s got to make sure he’s not caught or killed…

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3KhTlf2

The opening instalment of Heather Atkinson’s Gallowburn series of crime novels, ‘Blood Brothers’, came out in December 2020. When I reviewed it, I noted that her publisher – Boldwood Books – were an interesting independent publisher making some interesting moves and that Atkinson was definitely one to watch.

I think by now, she must be a jewel in the crown.

Atkinson writes fast: usually people see this as a negative but in her case this is the fourth instalment in the series in just two years. Producing novels at a rate of one every six months is some going.

And clearly, you would expect a diminution in quality – but Atkinson is not declining. The dialogue is still punchy, the punches are still punchy as well and she lays the pipe of plot with aplomb.

Characters from previous novels, events which took place in seemingly insignificant moments in earlier books, are all threaded through the story.

It is, in the best sense of the word, like a soap opera. By now, we know the Blood Brothers, we know their families – we also know their enemies and the danger they are in as the Gallowburn estate remains as treacherous as ever to navigate.

For authentic Glasgow gangsters, crunching action and a sense of stepping back into a comfortable set of characters it’s a pleasure to revisit, readers will be very satisfied.

You can read a review of the third novel in the series here:

Author Bio –

Heather Atkinson is the author of over fifty books – predominantly in the crime fiction genre. Although Lancashire born and bred she now lives with her family, including twin teenage daughters, on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. Her new gangland series for Boldwood, set on the fictional Gallowburn estate in Glasgow begins with the title Blood Brothers and was published in December 2020.

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