‘The Lie She Told’ – Exclusive Extract for PAJNewman

Courtesy of Catherine Yaffe, PAJNewman is delighted to be able to bring you an exclusive extract of The Lie She Told – You can read a review of the novel here

All Kate wanted was a peaceful life.

All Ryan wanted to do was destroy it.

Kate and her son Joe have created a new life for themselves in the Highlands of Scotland and she couldn’t be happier. That is until she picks a stranger up from the side of the road that turns out to be a figure from her past. Will all her secrets be revealed?

“Ryan?” She asked, risking a glance sideways

“Haha, I wondered when it would dawn on you”

“What the hell..how..” Kate was speechless. She’d last seen Ryan on the final day of the court hearing, hanging around outside on the court steps. As memories slowly clicked into place she went through a series of emotions. Her hands started to shake, heart pounding she moved from recognition to anger in a split second.

She swerved violently and pulled haphazardly onto the side of the road.

“What the actual? What are you doing here?” she removed her seatbelt and despite the lashing rain opened the car door and got out.

“Get out of my car now!” she yelled above the cacophony noise that swirled around the hills of the Highlands.

Ryan leaned over into the driver seat and shouted something, but Kate could only see red as rage, shock and fear took over.  

“I want you out of my car now!” she screamed again, shaking with anger.

Reluctantly Ryan did as she demanded and stepped into the monsoon,

“Kate, come on, don’t be like that”, he headed around the front of the car towards her.

She backed away,

“Oh no you don’t, stay away from me Ryan”

Ryan carried on forward, relentless, “Kate, what’s wrong with you?”

“Stop it Ryan, I don’t have to listen to anyone, anymore. I am not the same naive victim that you knew back then, and I will not listen to your bullshit”

Purchase Links 

UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

US – https://www.amazon.com/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

Author Bio – 

Catherine Yaffe is a former freelance journalist, magazine editor and digital marketing agency owner. Catherine has previously written non-fiction books on Digital Marketing before following her passion for writing crime novels full time.

The Lie She Told is the first in a series of books that challenge the status quo of relationships and makes the reader question how well you know those around you.

Catherine lives in West Yorkshire with her husband Mark and their 2 cats Jenson & Button (she’s also a F1 fan!)

Social Media Links – 

@catherineyaffe (Twitter)

https://www.facebook.com/CatherineYaffeAuthor

Instagram cat_yaffe_author

www.catherineyaffe.co.uk

Missing For Good by Alex Coombs

Is she alive, or is she missing for good…?

When the estranged daughter of Scotland’s premier art dealer goes missing, Private Investigator Hanlon is hired to find out where Aurora is.

But what she thinks will be a relatively straightforward job, soon turns dangerous. The missing girl has a troubled past but what made Aurora suddenly pack her bags and disappear?

Hanlon has her work cut out for her. The stakes are rising and she needs to get to the bottom of the case before someone else is attacked.

And is Aurora still alive, or is she missing for good?

A former detective in the Met, Hanlon now finds herself living in splendid isolation in the wilds of Argyll with just her knackered Vauxhall Corsa and her trusty hound Weymss to keep her company. 

I wasn’t familiar with the work of Alex Coombs but the setting of Scotland was the thing which tickled my fancy. I live locally to the setting, I like a good Tartan Noir: colour me intrigued.

And Coombs did intrigue. Hanlon is a smashing character: damaged and haunted; loving her dog, her only emotional attachment; adjusting to her new rural life.

The University of Edinburgh alumni renders some parts of Scotland well – he’s good on the capital and its various sub-districts, as well as describing those single track roads which wind their way down towards the hamlets and villages on the road to Campbelltown.

There are some odd lapses – Loch Lomand in the Highlands? – but actually that’s the sort of mistake which seems to fit with the characters’ perspectives which is nice.

Coombs also has a mind for engaging characters – coke-addicted, psychotic Glaswegian hard men aren’t exactly original, but his is a memorable specimen of the species.

His gay hitmen are refreshingly rendered also and he has a lovely turn of descriptive phrase. “‘One person, they get in the van with the girl. Two people…’ He shook his head irritably. He was tired of this. There could be endless permutations – what if she arrived riding a camel? ‘Fuck it, if there’s two or more with her, we dinnae do anything.’”

He is no less comfortable skewering the pretentions of the Edinburgh students Hanlon encounters. “Morag was studying Creative Writing; if anyone was likely to make a mountain out of a molehill it was probably an aspiring writer with an overactive imagination.” 

And this equally applies to the lecturers, “‘Look, I am an Artist!’ his dress proclaimed. Hanlon thought it also proclaimed, ‘Look, I’m an arsehole’ but for now she would keep that to herself.”

There are some false notes in the dialogue, occasionally it sounds a little generic and not specific to individual characters and there can be that flaw of the crime novel – a lot of recapping of plot while the detective muses to herself. Hanlon is a loner – having only a dog does limit her opportunity for natural sounding exposition.

However, ‘Missing for Good’ is a rattling good read, sprinting along with enjoyable gusto and building to a satisfying crescendo. All in all, thoroughly recommended – I’ll have to go back and read Mr Coomb’s other stuff now.

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3hbLh1x

Author Bio – 
Alex Coombs studied Arabic at Oxford and Edinburgh Universities and went on to work in adult education before retraining to be a chef. He has written four well-reviewed crime novels as Alex Howard.

Social Media Links – 
Newsletter sign up: http://bit.ly/AlexCoombsNewsletter
Website – http://www.alexhowardcrime.com/
Twitter – @AlexHowardCrime
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AlexCoombsCrime/  

Rude Awakenings…

The Awakening Of Claudia Faraday by Patsy Trench

‘It got better, in time, though to be truthful it always felt more of a duty than a pleasure: a little like homework, satisfying when over, and done well, but never exactly enjoyable. But then nobody had ever suggested it could be otherwise.’

This was the view of Claudia Faraday, 1920s respectable wife and mother of three, on the subject of sex. That is until an unexpected turn of events shakes her out of her torpor and propels her back into the world revitalised and reawakened, where she discovers, as Marie Stopes might have said: Approached in the right way, even homework can be fun.

The cover of The Awakening of Claudia Faraday by Patsy Trench

The Awakening of Claudia Faraday is a delightful little novel which consistently confounds expectations. The cover, with its silhouetted protagonist could be for a new spy series, the pink writing could signal traditional “chick lit” (urgh – what a bind of a brand that is), the “Roaring Twenties” strap line makes it sound like a PG Wodehouse romp and the blurb description could be anything from a Jilly Cooper bonkbuster to a serious and measured study of the sexual awakening of upper middle class women in the early part of last century.

And, in the end, this rather sad, rather charming novel is a little of all of these things, (although spy thriller is a stretch. The only revelations here are of the human heart and mind, it is a little lacking in unmasked super villains to be fair.

Penetrating Pathos

It is sad. This is a quite and understated sadness of withering dreams and slipping youth. Claudia is a lovely protagonist. A gentle and well intentioned woman who, in her sixth decade, is only beginning to question her wants and desires.

Trench writes with such a penetrating pathos of the boredom of a newly empty nest that the reader’s heart aches for our heroine, so used is she to being of service to others that she is not even the lead character in her own story.

“And so the weeks passed, September into October, and no omnipotent author stepped in to liven up the shapeless plot that was Claudia’s life. She was back to counting the creaks as she ascended the stairs on her way to her bedroom.”

I spent a huge amount of time in the novel feeling desperately sad for Claudia. The Twenties were in distinct danger of not only failing to roar for her but also to go out with barely so much as a whimper.

It was clear that not only sex, but also any agency had been ground out of the character: by society; by men; by her friends; by her mother. This fundamentally sweet woman hadn’t noticed the hypocrisy of everyone else and so was facing the outgoing sands of time in baffled and barely articulated sorrow.

Charming Oddities

This gentle gloom is alleviated by the light touch, page turning writing skill and the assortment of charming oddities which surround her.

The loyal housemaid Lily – fairly consistently having to let her hand fly to her mouth after yet another misplaced observation of her mistress – is a cutie, old friend and occasional sparring partner Prue, seems to be made up of equal parts scandalous affairs in hot climates and terrible driving.

The absentee husband Gerald sounds what used to be called a perfect pill. Having ruined sex for her, then impregnated her three times scooting off overseas for archaeological digs, he could only make it to one of their children’s weddings.

The children themselves add colour and charm to the rather drab world of their mother. Jessica has a horsey laugh, a disordered house and is a flapper with a jolly husband with an alliterative name; Harriet is a Bohemian with a penchant for interior design and a wayward husband while the youngest daughter, Flora is all horse breeding and country air.

It is not a difficulty to spend time in the world of these delightful characters. It is especially easy when Claudia is making her slightly waspish observations such as:

“It was invariably the revolutionaries who managed to consume most of other people’s wine, and their food, while looking down on them from some lofty moral plinth upon which they had placed themselves.”

In conclusion, The Awakening of Claudia Faraday is a nice little novel filled with excellent characters, charming locations and the quiet desperation of some of our fellow citizens. I can’t wait to meet up with them again.

Purchase Link – https://mybook.to/ClaudiaF

Author Bio –

Author Patsy Trench

Patsy Trench lives a quiet and largely respectable life in north London. Claudia’s story shows a side of her normally shy and reserved nature that is little known, even to her friends and acquaintances. Her previous books, about her family’s history in Australia, are entertaining and informative accounts of that country’s early colonial beginnings. She began writing late, and in a previous life she was an actress, scriptwriter, playscout, founder of The Children’s Musical Theatre of London and lyricist. When not writing books she emerges from her shell to teach theatre and organise theatre trips for overseas students. She is the grateful mother of two clever and grown-up children, and she is addicted to rag rugging and, when current circumstances permit, fossicking on the Thames foreshore for ancient treasure.

Social Media Links –

Website: www.patsytrench.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PatsyTrenchWriting/

Twitter:  @PatsyTrench

Instagram: claudiafaraday1920

Just Like You. And, probably, me…

I have always loved Nick Hornby. I fell in love with his prose when Fever Pitch came out and was suitably skewered by his analysis of insecure, introspective young men with High Fidelity. I was, of course, charmed by About a Boy.

And, although I feel like these are going to the three books on his tombstone, even his less well known/popular books are, at worst, always readable.

The cover of ‘Just Like You’ by Nick Hornby

Love Across the Brexit Barricades

I can’t quite decide if this book is going to get him in trouble or not. It certainly tap dances into some pretty heated areas: this is a novel of love across Brexit barricades, splintering society, race. Not too many hot button issues for a white, middle class writer of a certain age to try and tackle.

Except it isn’t really. Because it’s Hornby and he’s just so good at what he does. In Joseph and Lucy he seems to have the only two people in the world prepared to admit that they don’t understand issues and don’t have all, or indeed any, of the answers.

Plot Summary

Lucy is a divorcee in her early 40s with two kids. Head of English at a not particularly good north London comprehensive, she juggles a trying-to-reform alcoholic ex, a good group of friends and some fairly shambolic blind dates with good humour and a resignation that this might be what life has left in store for her.

Into this fairly acceptable world comes Joseph. A 22-year-old man who dreams of a making music while paying for himself through football coaching, a part time job in a leisure centre, a bit of babysitting and tutoring and a Saturday job in the butchers of Lucy’s gentrified area.

With the Brexit referendum looming in the background, these two magnetically attracted people must decide where they stand and whether their race, their income, their education and their very different worlds can be surmounted by love.

Fragmentation

What the novel definitely does do is a fantastic job of demonstrating the divisions within which our society works now.

Joseph and Lucy inhabit different worlds, by dint of race, age and income but – crucially – the flow of information is literally different. 

Joseph gets his information from Instagram, chasing rabbit holes of information inaccessible to Lucy.

However, her white, middle class privilege means that both characters are ensconced in their own unintentionally echo chambers. If not comfortably then at least unquestioningly for a big chunk of the novel.

Hornby’s description of Lucy’s awareness of the difference between her generation is very well done and, frankly, scalpel sharp:

“Lucy was beginning to suspect that he might be what the girls at her school would refer to as a ‘fuckboy’, a word she discouraged them from using because of its first four letters but which in all other ways seemed an entirely welcome neologism. There had always been tarts and slags and sluts, and now there were fuckboys, and the contempt with which the girls spat the word out gladdened her heart.”

Astonishing Achievements

And yet, possibly its most astonishing achievements as a piece of work devoted to the present is that this is a novel from which anger is absent for the most part.

In fact, possibly the weakest aspect for the reader is that Hornby chooses not to show the arguments even when they do happen. They are reported but we don’t hear the words, we are merely told the fall out and left to decide for ourselves.

For a novel in which race is an enormous factor and at this moment in history, that’s a phenomenal achievement.

Hornby is still the best and most accessible of modern observers. He is razor sharp on the gentrified areas of north London where one normally encounters his characters. 

There’s a definite lineage between High Fidelity’s Rob and his DJ ambitions and 22-year-old Jospeh and his tracks. Of course, whereas Rob ran a slightly dilapidated record shop which his partner was a corporate lawyer, here we have a partner who is Head of English at a bog standard comprehensive and a young man with a portfolio career, scratching a living working multiple jobs.

The fact that this makes him better off than his peers at university is one of the quieter and depressing twists of Hornby’s knife.


Witness Joseph’s musical mentor and school friend. Zech.

“Americans used the dollar sign to look flash, but PoundMan sounded cheap, like Poundland. Zech meant it to sound cheap, too. It was, he said, a celebration of Haringey consumer culture.”

A Tale of Simple Things

Yet, at heart this is a novel of simple things. In a complicated world in which both characters come with baggage, make mistakes, there is a simple message.

“If you’d asked him…what made him happy, he wouldn’t really have understood the relevance of the question. Now he knew the answer: sleeping with Lucy, eating with Lucy, watching T.V. with Lucy. And maybe there was no future in it, but there was a present, and that’s what life consists of.”

Maybe that is something we can all, in this most heated and divided of times, get behind.

ISBN9780241338551
PRICE£16.99 (GBP)

Charming Crime and Supernatural Guinea Pigs

Who Killed Patrick? By Syl Waters

Confession

The cover of Syl Waters' book Who Killed Patrick? is shown.

Okay, full disclosure – I thought this book was going to give me a dilemma. I like to keep things positive (there’s enough bad stuff in the real world, without moaning online.) 

And I wasn’t absolutely certain I was going to like Who Killed Patrick by Syl Waters.

So, why review it?

Well, it was marketed to me as being about Tarah, a young woman with a life is going nowhere. Not disinteresting.

At the drop of a hat, she decides to junk the UK and head to Fuerteventura to start a new adventure. 

She soon starts a job managing a hotel complex. However, a dead guest threatens to pull apart her hoped-for dream life.

So: I like a bit of a crime, I like of bit of sun and it sounded OK. 

There was some bit about Tarah’s pet guinea pig, Mr Bob, who apparently has a knack for sniffing out trouble and suspects foul play. 

Not really keen on supernatural talking animals but I thought, what’s to lose?

Rapture!

I am pleased to say my misgivings were dispelled on the second page. 

Any book where the frustrated protagonist can respond to a patronising boss asking her how to open an email attachment with, ‘I can open it as well if you want?’ I asked in my most pleasant would-you-like-me-to-suck-your-cock-while-doing-the-splits personal assistant voice,’ is  a winner in my book.

Any book where the frustrated protagonist can respond to a patronising boss asking her how to open an email attachment with, ‘I can open it as well if you want?’ I asked in my most pleasant would-you-like-me-to-suck-your-cock-while-doing-the-splits personal assistant voice,’ is  a winner in my book

Who Killed Patrick? continues in the same vein. It is a charming read with a delightful, well-intentioned central character wholly and realistically out of her depth.

Who among us can’t relate to a lead character who feels like there is, ‘Always too much month and not enough money’? 

I also like the dashes of crudity which make Tarah a realistic heroine. When she meets one character she says, ‘‘Coochi cooo, who are yoooooo?’ He says in a I’m-talking-to-a-little-baby-in-a-very-silly-but-very-cute-voice-which-makes-women’s-hearts-melt-and-them-feel-slightly-moist-between-their-legs,’ which is just splendid. 

Unconventional Detective

Likewise, one tires of amateur detectives wandering thorugh murder mysteries blithely immune to the stress and strains it would take on you. Not our Tarah.

I struggle to imagine Hercule Poirot in his climactic final get together of the suspects saying, ‘If I wasn’t going to have to go out and be the ring leader, I’d be laughing at this crazy scene. But as I have to be a part of this, I’m not. I’m shitting it. My stomach curls and I feel like my insides are about to explode into my pants. My intestines are twisting and cramping like they’re trying to perform a Trucker’s Hitch knot.’

I also appreciate Waters’ description of Fuerteventura, a place she makes sound like a sun soaked volcanic paradise – dead holiday maker and permanently sozzled ex-pat “locals” aside.

Mr Bob

I was prepared to dislike a talking guinea pig with a nose for trouble. But, again, I had misjudged the quality of the writing and the story telling.

For those who are concerned – worry not. 

Mr Bob is a charmer and I look forward to encountering him again in future adventures. Or so I hope!

Pleasingly, you can see Mr Bob here: @mrbob.guineapig

Conclusion

Rarely have I been more pleased to be wrong about a book. Who Killed Patrick? by Syl Waters is a delightful read which zips by with charm and highly skilled writing. I can not wait for a sequel (please, please, please) and to read more of Waters’ work.

Highly recommended!

Purchase Links 
UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08BJ4RPTS/
US –  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08BJ4RPTS/

Sign up to Syl Waters newsletter receive a free copy of The Little Book Of Curiously Fascinating Facts about Guinea Pigs – http://www.sylwaters.com/

Author Bio – Most people know crazy cat ladies are a ‘thing’, but I’m a proud crazy guinea pig lady! I love fun in the sun and plenty of cocktails. My happy place is flip flops. I write stories to keep me company – my characters ensure I’m never lonely and always smiling (when I’m not tearing my hair out!)

Social Media Links – 

www.sylwaters.com

Twitter: @waters_syl

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/syl.waters.54

Author Simon Conway set to triumph with ‘The Stranger’

Scottish author Simon Conway’s fifth novel looks poised to position him as one of the best authors working in the thriller genre today c

Full confession: I’d heard of Simon Conway but this is the first novel of his that I have read. Frankly, after this, my ignorance shames me and, I mean this sincerely, this piece should propel Conway into the very first rank of thriller writer’s working today. 

A world of smoke and mirrors

The Stranger centres on Jude Lyon, an SIS officer, dispatched by his duplicitous Head of Service, Queen Bee, to track down a legendary terrorist who was taken to Syria back when we didn’t do that sort of thing. Honest. 

But this terrorist is not all that he seems. And neither is anyone else in this novel.

As well as Lyon, a lead character with a love life complicated enough to make George Smiley blush, and Queen Bee, the smoke and mirrors head of the security services, the novel is populated with a fascinating cacophony of characters, including a squirming semi-alcoholic former Foreign Secretary, a Scottish journalist with a professional and personal interest in Lyon and a Russian diplomat and his wife who may or may not be luring Jude towards the rocks of disaster. 

Conway’s plots are onion layered: peeling back one skin at a time. He manages that neat trick so often missing in this type of novel which makes plot reveals seem inevitable and surprising rather outlandish or tediously predictable. 

His storytelling remind me of the best of Charles Cumming or Jeremy Duns – engaging, jigsaw tight, satisfying at the end but with potential for expansion in a future work. 

Descriptive passages Martin Amis would be proud of

He writes well too. “Jude’s immigrant provenance is equally exotic and fragmentary, shot through with competing veins of conformity and criminality, from a cigar-chomping bank robber for a grandfather to a general given to eccentricity and dark moods for a father,” is the sort of descriptive passage that Martin Amis at his most interesting would have been proud of. 

And, while it is true, Conway’s novel doesn’t – of necessity – have the same laugh out loud quality of some of Mick Herron’s novels, “Jonno Butcher, one of Cathy’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of meat-faced nephews,” is a description of which even the Slough House author would be proud.

I will be surprised if it emerges that Conway is not a fan of Le Carré. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s an affectionate nod to Le Carré, or merely to do with the abundance of such names in the region, but all the characters from the Caucuses we encounter in the book have names from Le Carré’s novels, especially ‘Our Game’.

Perhaps the most impressive area is that of the terrorists. He makes them well-rounded, whole characters who you don’t mind spending time with. Terrifying, yes, but nuanced and engaging too.

A crash, bang, wallop conclusion done with joie de vivre 

The ending of The Stranger may be slightly crash, bang, wallop for some people’s tastes but even this is done with enjoyable joie de vivre and edge of the seat inducing tension as well as some final plot twists which make me hope that this is not a standalone novel but the first in a series.

Overall, a triumph of a novel that makes me long for the opportunity to encounter Jude Lyon and his world again. 

Just need to go back and read Simon Conway’s back catalogue now. Whole-heartedly recommended.

Agent Running Through Fields of Wheat?

“You know what Trump is?’

‘Tell me.’

‘He’s Putin’s shithouse cleaner.’

Which is as good a place as any to begin with John Le Carrè’s latest work, Agent Running in the Field. Rumoured to have angered his former employers, (according to one very put out spook at the Cliveden Literary Festival at least)

Mr Le Carrè’s somewhat classy retort in The Times was enough to generate some publicity for what is certainly a lower key release than 2018’s Legacy of Spies (which even got a session at the London’s Royal Festival Hall beamed to cinemas over the UK).

This was supposed to be his Brexit rant – his anti-Trump, reactionary wail of despair at UK national suicide, the world gone mad, manipulated by the kleptocratic, Tsarist spook-in-chief in Moscow. This was supposed to be his deconstruction of the British state and it’s Cambridge Analytica-altered, Putin fiddled with, Big Red Bus of Deceitful Propaganda opus. Hell, even the title sounds like a riff on our former Prime Minister’s childhood agricultural misdemeanours. And, at least in the character of Ed, the novel does reflect those emotions.

“It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the Us is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”

This, in fairness, is hardly an equivocal position. But, nor is it a radical stance so far out with the opinions of many of the people watching Brexit unfold and, in comparison to – say 2003’s Absolute Friends – this is a quiet and measured response.

And, really, that is my take away from the novel. It is a small story in a way that the absolute first rate Le Carrè pieces aren’t. The character of Ed is a graceless and, as a narrator in one of his novels might say, seems to have elevated gracelessness to an art form. Nat is an unreliable narrator, the seemingly happy marriage undermined by what everyone else sees in him apparently, although the influence of this on the plot seems slim.

Overall, it’s always better to read Le Carrè than others. There are the usual damning characterisations, the usual pithy descriptions and he does physical nuance just about better than anyone but, here, the plotting lacks surprises and the ending fails to pack the sort of punch that even a relatively minor novel of his latter period, Our Kind of Traitor or A Most Wanted Man for example, manage to produceAgent Running.

‘Nobody Move’ by Philip Elliott

If you like… (takes deep breath) Heat, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Baby DriverNo Country for Old Men, Get Shorty, Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2, The Getaway, Silence of the Lambs, Out of Sight and Point Break, then this may just be the book for you.

Nobody Move by Toronto-based debutant Philip Elliott is a love letter to the crime thriller movies of the 90s and is packed with enough sleazy motels, 80s punk rock and characters making questionable life choices to make you want to ask, “Whose chopper iz dis?’

Philip Elliott author photo

Philip Elliott, debutant author of crime thriller, Nobody Move, out in September 2019

Clearly, the man knows his Tarantino, his Elmore Leonard and his Jim Thomson.

However, although this may sound like pastiche, it is so cleverly done, the novel ripping along in 315 pages, and Elliott managing to make you enjoy spending time with these monstrous characters, that you don’t feel oppressed by the references. The fact that the characters are self referentially referring to them acting like they’re in a movie, only adds to the fun.

Nobody Move opens with the character of Eddie, a small time hoodlum beginning to tire of the life, making a catastrophic mistake which only escalates as variously his pretentious, restaurant owning mobster boss, Saul Benedict, and his men (and Eddie’s ex-partners), Floyd and Sawyer, all enter the fray hunting the want-away Eddie. Fate twists further as the beautiful Dakota, a Native American woman fresh in the City of Angels searching for her missing friend and psychotic, Texan assassin Rufus, seeking vengeance for his murdered brother, takes up his beloved daggers one final time and begins the long drive to L.A. Meanwhile, put-upon vegetarian LAPD detective Alison Lockley’s hunts for the killers becomes increasingly urgent as the bodies pile up.

The novel, published by small press Into the Void, has rather too many uses of “the N word” for my liking and appears to have an unfortunate relationship to violence against women – but persevere for all is not what it seems.

This is to be the first of a series of novels, known as the Angel City series. I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

Nobody Move (Angel City #1) is out from Into the Void press on September 10th.

ISBN: 978-1-7753813-5-8

Slow Horses Still Glued Up

Slough House’ is dirty; ‘Spook Street’: deadly. Now we have the duplicity of ‘Joe Country’ – perhaps the next stop for Mick Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ will be a devious ‘Intelligence Continent’?

As it is, ‘Joe Country’ is a fine addition to the series. Few writers can weave such deft description and pacy plotting – garnished with lashings of humour and even dashes of pathos – as Herron and each novel builds to a crescendo in which the reader is left feeling both traumatised and hungry for the next instalment.

There’s little doubt that Herron is a confident writer at the top of his game. This series has become famous for its openings: Dickensian wanders through locations in an omniscient voice quite unlike other writers working today. Here, he sheds this trope, instead opting for a reveal different to the structure of the other texts.

His confidence has also been apparent for a while in his wanton profligacy with his characters. It must take iron nerves for a writer to dispose of such well-rounded, independent characters brimming with such vim and spark as these Slow Horses. And yet, here again, Herron is prepared to dispose of them with abandon. As in the old TV series Spooks (MI:5 in the US), no one is safe and this means no reader can ever truly relax that their favourite character won’t end up at the knackers yard in the next ten pages.

Finally, there is Jackson Lamb. A Rabelaisian grotesque, becoming progressively more grotesque by the novel. And, in truth, Lamb is actually my biggest quibble of this first rate book. He dominates the proceedings so completely that you pine for his nastiness when he is off stage. This is Banquo as central character, relegating Macbeth to bit part player by sheer force of personality (or blackened toe wiggling through undarned sock, if you will).

There are a few minor worries deriving from Lamb which I hope are me being hyper critical. He keeps “appearing” and “vanishing” like an obese Paul Daniels – or a less creepy David Blaine – and I hope this doesn’t signal either Lamb as supernatural entity or that Herron is now so successful that he has entered the realm of the uneditable: too grand for repetitions to be noted and corrected. I think not on the whole.

Joe Country’ is proof, if any were needed, that Herron stands at the pinnacle of the espionage genre, (possibly snug on the heights with Jeremy Duns and Charles Cumming). Others have already noted it is not a book which would reward readers unfamiliar with the series but for all that, I hope the Slow Horses have many more races left to run.

In short: Horses far from in need of the knacker’s yard: 4/5*

  • Other details:
  • ISBN: 9781473660359
  • Publication date: 20 Jun 2019
  • Imprint: John Murray

Thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy

A Dance to the Music of Crime

I have an aunt who once told me in confidence that the greatest relief of her life was when she read an article explaining that she did not have to read Proust in order to be considered well read. She is, by any normal, sane standards, an exceedingly well read lady but no amount of madeleines and tea or epiphanies can persuade her that she wants to wade through the full text of A La Recherche du Temps PerduIn a House of Lies

As someone who is still struggling to chart the full course of ‘Swann’s Way’, I understand those readers who share her aversion when it comes to the writer regarded as the English Proust, Anthony Powell and his masterwork, ‘A Dance to the Music of Time. Interestingly, Ian Rankin does not appear to be one of them. In fact, he’s quite the fan.

I was a member of the Anthony Powell Society (I lapsed, I’m sorry! I’m coming back – promise!) but every year, I re-read the full 12 novel sequence (or, perhaps, re-listen is a more apt description as I listen to the mighty Simon Vance’s audiobook recording?)

This time, I had to bench this particular pleasure as I I was impatient to listen to the latest John Rebus outing – ‘Taggart’ actor James MacPherson having recorded all of the Rebus novels to date and done a superb job.

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Nicholas Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time

I’ve long believed that Rankin is foremost chronicler of contemporary Scottish life. From as far back as ‘Set in Darkness‘ which hinged upon – and poked fun at – the furore around the opening of the Scottish Parliament, it has long been obligatory to say that ‘Edinburgh is as much a character as the people’ (a compliment used so often it sets my teeth on edge, what it does to Rankin’s dentistry I can only imagine.)

But, for me, it always felt that it was ‘Naming of the Dead’ where Rankin really began to embrace parachuting Rebus and his Watson – boy she’d hate that – Siobhan Clarke like action hero Rosencrantz and Guildensterns charging through the 2005 G8 summit.

And then Rebus reached retirement age and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. Rankin managed the seemingly impossible. He brought our misanthrope hero back, he got to have the joy of seeing Clarke outrank her mentor and then he got to play fantasy comic book team up by including anti-Rebus goody two shoes, Malcolm Fox.

Rebus’ Moriarty, “Big Ger” Cafferty also lurched towards retirement although –spoiler alert – maybe not of the lasting variety. The Naming of the Dead

Last year, 30 years after he first beat the streets of our capital, a character now as unrecognisable as the city he is associated with, Rebus took a year off.

It was void in my reading life, for sure.

Hence my impatience to get hold of the big man’s 22ndouting. And then: somewhat unexpectedly, it was Powell that ‘In a House of Lies‘ reminded me of.

You could detail the plot: body in car in woods, old case reignited, Rebus on original investigation, the veteran doing a favour for Clarke who has been receiving threatening calls, but you know what? It’s not important (sorry Ian, I can only imagine how annoying it is after all your hard work) but I just like seeing the team back together.

I love Rebus bristling with Fox, walking his new sidekick Brillo, see him still driving his knackered Saab (“It’s not vintage, it’s old,” he testily informs another character at one point.) It’s comforting to spend time with Clarke.

For a reader, it’s like a warm bath – albeit one with murder, low budget Scottish film making and a distinctly tongue in cheek hat tip to the more cosmetic societal changes of the MeToo movement. Perhaps the greatest trick Rankin pulls off is introducing new characters like

The way characters move in and out of each other’s lives is Powell-esque, as are the coincidences. I wonder how the books play down south where I imagine having a detective who worked the original case and all the spiralling connections seems far-fetched. For those readers I say: come to the Highlands, it seems positively weird if you don’t run into colleagues all the time.

Nick Jenkins

James Purefoy as Nick Jenkins

So, can you directly compare Rebus world to the comic novels of upper middle class manners of ‘Dance’?

Course you can.

John Rebus as Nick Jenkins? I think not. Our hero is far too down to earth and interesting to play the arrogant first person protagonist of Powell’s world. But he (used to) drink enough to be classic soak Charles Stringham and is charming enough when he wants to be to get his own way with a passion for danger so, perhaps, he is the Peter
Templar of the sequence.

Siobhan Clarke is, I think, Emily Brightman. An esoteric pull, I admit, but this seemingly minor character has Clarke’s desire to cut through the flowery prose which obfuscates and frustrates clarity (see her demolition of the French gutter press in book 11 ‘Temporary Kings) which powers Siobhan.

Malcolm Fox is more tricky. He has elements of the Widmerpool about him in his difficult family life, his desire to be “good” (whatever that means in his world) but he also wants to be loyal and, across his immersion in the word of Rebus has become a far more interesting character than in his more staid standalone world. His seemingly magnetic romantic attraction brings to mind Ralph Barnby, although a Byronic Lothario painter is about as far from Malcolm as could be imagined, so a hybrid Widmerpool, Barnby and civil servant Sir Leonard Short is possibly convincing, even if the mind boggles. Widmerpool

And so what of Big Ger Widmerpool then? He has waltzed in and out of the dance of Rebus’ life for nigh on 30 years and, even though pretenders to the throne like Daryl Christie are strong characters, even the best of these never quite move past Pepsi to the big man’s full fat Coke.

That’s why this is where the comparison breaks down. Powell never wrote anyone like the Gothic Cafferty. He’s more like John Le Carre’s Karla, locked in intellectual combat with his nemesis, as Rebus’ dance card fills and people come and go.

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Patrick Stewart as the reticent espionage genius Karla.

Powell’s 12 novel sequence is, arguably, the finest long form work in English. Certainly, as roman fleuve go, it is accessible, amusing and poigniant.

But what Rankin has achieved is truly remarkable. If it was “literary fiction”, whatever that is, it might get treated with less snobbery but for a razor sharp analysis of the monumental changes which have taken place in the last 30 years in Scotland, this is as fine writing as you could ask for. Funny, sharply observed, moving, pacey and rooted in a world recognisable to ordinary folk. And he’s done that over 22 novels (in this sequence alone).

61wMZQZ69PL._SX496_BO1,204,203,200_In a 2015 piece about ‘Even Dogs in the Wild‘, I suggested that Rankin was getting better and better. On this evidence, and unlike the unholy trinity of Rebus, Clarke and Fox, I may have understated the case.

‘In A House of Lies’ Ian Rankin, Orion, 4thOctober, 2018, ISBN-10 9781409176886