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Sunday, 22 April 2018

‘End Game’ by Matt Johnson

Published by Orenda Books,
31 March 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-912374-09-0

End Game is the final book in the Robert Finlay trilogy. As in Wicked Game, the first book in the trilogy, Matt Johnson weaves his way with consummate ease around the dastardly and complicated intrigues that flourish within and between the security and police forces.

Needless to say, these in-house machinations do nothing to make the lives our hero, Inspector Robert Finlay, and his old friend from their army days, PC Kevin Jones, any easier. Being persecuted by Superintendent Mellor from CIB - the Met’s internal anti-corruption squad - who is determine to crucify Finlay and Jones for virtually any crime that pops up whether or not they have committed it, and hounded by rogue officers in MI6 who are on a mission to eliminate them regardless of explicit orders to the contrary, are only a part of the two men’s everyday struggle to survive. Thankfully there are others within the police force, MI5, and old army friends who do their best to help by untangling the truth.

At the heart of this book is a manuscript called The Al Anfal document. We are told that this incredibly valuable document contains descriptions of the methods and philosophy of an organization that seeks to co-ordinate the activities of extremist groups in the Middle East.  Copies of Al Anfal are few and far between and, for a variety of very different reasons, everybody wants to get their hands on a copy.  Up until now everybody - bar Finlay and Jones -who has either seen it, has knowledge of it, or wished to publish anything about it, has been ruthlessly hunted down and killed.

 The quest to obtain a copy of Al Anfal becomes quite literally a race to the death, or the End Game, for Finlay and Jones.  Will they survive?  The odds are certainly against them.

Once again Matt Johnson has produced a stunning story that makes an absolutely compelling read. You just can’t put it down.  Words and phrases like fast-paced, authentic, gripping, tense, comradely loyalty and action-packed all spring to mind, and deservedly so.  But to my mind what makes this book stand head and shoulders above many others in the genre is the genuine humanity of the characters who people it. Finlay and his comrades are real people with real families, not Teflon coated improbable heroes whom you know are going to survive no matter what happens to them.  Simply excellent.
 Reviewer Angela Crowther
Matt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for twenty-five years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1993,  he was one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent’s Park bombing. Matt was also at the Libyan People’s Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whilst undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition. He has used his detailed knowledge and memory to create a fast paced, exciting and authentic tale of modern day policing. Matt Johnson is living proof that PTSD is a condition that can be controlled and overcome with the right help and support. He has been described by many fans as an inspiration to fellow sufferers.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

‘A Hole in One’ by Judy Penz Sheluk

Published by Barking Rain Press,
6 March 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-94129573-1

Antiques dealer Arabella Carpenter has been persuaded to sponsor a “hole in one” prize at a charitable golf tournament. When a corpse turns up at the third hole, she fears her ex-husband, Levon, may be involved...

This cosy novel follows the adventures of Arabella and her partner, Emily, a former journalist, as they become involved in the murder, and set out to track down the killer. The police are involved, but the focus is on Arabella and the people she meets: fellow antique-dealers, the shopkeepers and cafe owners of her small town, and the people involved with the tournament. It turns out that the dead man has been renting a boat under another name – that of Emily’s ex-fiance, giving another lead in the investigation. Arabella’s also finding herself drawn to her ex-husband again. The characters all felt like real people, and I really enjoyed the evocation of the small towns near Toronto, and the antiques background. This is the second novel in the Glass Dolphin series, and though it reads well as a stand-alone, you might like to start with the first in the series, The Hanged Man’s Noose.

A cheerful cosy with a good mix of real-feeling characters and suspense in a small-town setting.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Judy Penz Sheluk's debut amateur sleuth mystery novel, The Hanged Man's Noose, was published in July 2015 by Barking Rain Press ( Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville series, was released in August 2016 by Imajin Books. Judy's short crime fiction can be found in World Enough and Crime (Carrick Publishing), The Whole She-Bang 2 (Toronto Sisters in Crime), Flash and Bang (Untreed Reads) and Live Free or Tri: a collection of three short mystery stories. In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy works as a freelance writer, specializing in art, antiques and the residential housing industry; her articles have appeared regularly in dozens of U.S. and Canadian consumer and trade publications. She is currently the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine, and the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal.  Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime International/Guppies/Toronto, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

Click on the title to read a review of her recent book Death in Shetland Waters

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

‘Dead in the Dark by Stephen Booth

Published by Sphere,
17 May 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-6757-1 (PB)

Reading one of Stephen Booth's Cooper and Fry novels is like enjoying a walk through the glorious Peak District landscape, then – shock! horror! – coming across a dead body.

In Dead in the Dark, the seventeenth in this highly readable series, the body, or one of them, appears in the opening pages, though at that stage it's not quite dead. There's another, later, and possibly a third, so no harm is done to Booth's reputation for exposing the Peak District's dark heart as well as its bleak splendour.

For anyone who has grown familiar with the characters, there's plenty to enjoy aside from descriptions of those brooding moors and sheep-strewn hillsides. Ben Cooper is settling into his role as detective inspector in the fictional town of Edendale and is even casting an eye over the opposite sex again after the tragedy which felled him a few books ago. Diane Fry, still a detective sergeant but tackling bigger issues than Ben at the East Midlands' major crime unit in Nottingham, is faced with a murder alongside a wider ongoing enquiry. Old-style copper Gavin Murfin is now semi-retired, and a civilian support worker. DC Carol Villiers is getting twitchy as promotion seems to elude her. And Fry's sister Angie still hovers around her despite the dubious welcome she receives.

Booth clearly keeps his research up to date. The way policing works is constantly changing, and Edendale has moved with the times. Detective Superintendent Hazel Branagh, Ben Cooper's boss and a key figure in this book, has moved to Chesterfield, and Ben's team is little more than a skeleton. Which makes things tricky when DS Branagh asks him to prioritize a missing person over a series of armed robberies, for reasons which are clearly personal. And when it turns out that there's some crossover between the Edendale caseload and Fry's murder over in Shirebrook, Ben seems to be working flat out despite overtime restrictions.

As ever, Stephen Booth weaves all these elements into a seamless storyline set against that wonderful landscape – and even that has a powerful role to play in the investigation. What's more, newcomers to the series needn't be concerned about picking up the threads, despite the ongoing characters' strong backstory; although knowing what's gone before enriches the story, it doesn't get in the way of a taut, cohesive plot, and the characters still come across as rounded people.

I've been a fan of this series from the beginning, and it seems to grow richer and more complex with each volume – though in the highly readable, page turning way than comes from the pen of an author with both experience and a huge talent with words.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Stephen Booth was born in the English Pennine mill town of Burnley. He was brought up on the Lancashire coast at Blackpool, where he attended Arnold School. He began his career in journalism by editing his school magazine and wrote his first novel at the age of 12. After graduating from City of Birmingham Polytechnic (now Birmingham University), Stephen moved to Manchester to train as a teacher, but escaped from the profession after a terrifying spell as a trainee teacher in a big city comprehensive school.  Starting work on his first newspaper in Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 1974, Stephen was a specialist rugby union reporter, as well as working night shifts as a sub-editor on the Daily Express and The Guardian. This was followed by periods with local newspapers in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. He was at various times Production Editor of the Farming Guardian magazine, Regional Secretary of the British Guild of Editors, and one of the UK's first qualified assessors for the NVQ in Production Journalism.  Freelance work began with rugby reports for national newspapers and local radio stations. Stephen has also had articles and photographs published in a wide range of specialist magazines, from Scottish Memories to Countrylovers Magazine, from Cat World to Canal and Riverboat, and one short story broadcast on BBC radio. In 1999, his writing career changed direction when, in rapid succession, he was shortlisted for the Dundee Bool Prize and the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger competition for new writers, then won the £5,000 Lichfield Prize for his unpublished novel The Only Dead Thing and signed a two-book contract with HarperCollins for a series of crime novels.  In 2000, Stephen's first published novel, Black Dog, marked the arrival in print of his best known creations - two young Derbyshire police detectives, DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry. Black Dog was the named by the London Evening Standard as one of the six best crime novels of the year - the only book on their list written by a British author. In the USA, it won the Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel and was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery. The second Cooper & Fry novel, Dancing with the Virgins, was shortlisted for the UK's top crime writing award, the Gold Dagger, and went on to win Stephen a Barry Award for the second year running.  The publication of Blind to the Bones that year resulted in Stephen winning the Crime Writers' Association's 'Dagger in the Library' Award, presented to the author whose books have given readers most pleasure. All the books are set in England's beautiful and atmospheric Peak District.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.