Seven Shoes by Mark Davis.
Mark Davis is a former White House speech writer so he should be well versed in writing fiction . . . just kidding! Actually, this novel does have a political thread running through it so that Capitol Hill experience came in handy. Seven Shoes also mines the dark recesses of the Cold War for the contemporary ramifications of a secret CIA programme but that is only part of the plot. This novel has a couple of welcome ingredients for a debut crime story – namely, a touch of originality and an intriguingly twisty plot. Seven Shoes is a bit of a hybrid novel, blending sub-genres skilfully to weave a modern nightmare/psychological thriller that borders on the sci-fi but doesn’t cross the line. It’s a little whacky, or perhaps more accurately, a bit left field, but it is engaging.
The opening really grabs the reader’s attention, it really hooks you into the story. It’s the contrast between an apparently normal day in the city and a sudden strange event that is irresistible. This also proves to be a clever way of introducing the main protagonist, Elizabeth Browne, so that the reader gets where she’s coming from and how that will impact on the story that follows.
Washington, Vermont Avenue: Elizabeth exits her office building on to the sidewalk, she’s on the way to lunch with a friend, then time seems momentarily suspended. As she’s standing there an SUV pulls up in the middle of the road right in front of her; the brakes screech, she flinches, almost expecting to get hit. The driver ignores the angry tooting of horns and gets out to the vehicle, he’s bare chested, strike that, as he comes around the car Elizabeth realises he’s stark naked and now he walking straight towards her. (Me – what the hell is going on?) Passers-by with their heads down do their best to ignore him, pretending there is nothing to see here. Elizabeth looks at his face, there’s a vague smile present and a kind of vacant look in his eyes, she knows that look, knows exactly what it means. As he reaches her he says excuse me and steps around her into the building through the revolving doors as if everything was as it should be. Elizabeth follows him back inside, the security guard looks up; ‘Sir. Sir? Sir!’ He heads for the lift, Elizabeth follows, the guard is left in their wake. She talks to him, his name is Jeremy, he presses for the ninth floor and she the third in the hope of getting him to her office. What ever is wrong they can fix it, Elizabeth offers; ‘I’m what’s wrong’, he replies, and then:
‘“Really I am fine,” he says. “I’m cool with this.”’
It all brings back memories of Mike, her brother who committed suicide and her father before that. Can she talk Jeremy down?
Three months later in London, Dr. Elizabeth B. Browne of Georgetown University and School of Medicine is giving a speech at the Savoy to the Royal Council for the Prevention of Suicide; psychiatrists, academics, activists and surviving relatives. She talks about Jeremy and Mike and about her own experience as a patient/therapist.
A few days after that, while in the throes of a nightmare, Elizabeth’s phone rings, it’s 3.33a.m. It’s Townsend Grey of the US embassy in London, they want her help with a delicate matter. There’s been a mass suicide in Norway but the victims, four American and three British, are high profile. The ambassador has suggested to the British that Elizabeth help with the investigation. A couple of hours later she’s on her way to Stavanger, Norway, in the company of Metropolitan Police officer D.I. Nasrin Jones. Among the dead are pharma-CEO Sandra Armstrong, mystery writer Anne Shrewsbury, playwright Lionel Jacobsen and an oil executive. Elizabeth and Nasrin are met by chief inspector Stenstrom and inspector Dahl and taken to Preikestolen, Pulpit Rock, the scene to the incident.
Representatives of the FBI and the US embassy, (CIA?), are present and there’s some discord over the Norwegian decision to place the park service director in charge, he has seniority over the local police. Pulpit Rock is an outcrop about two thousand feet above Lysefjord. On the rock they find seven shoes; a pump, man’s exec shoe, woman’s boot, a slipper, an open toe shoe, a loafer and a trainer, each with an ID inside. The group death leap happened somewhere between 7.40 and 7.50 the previous morning and only three bodies have been recovered so far. Local witness, old Magnus, brings folk lore into the story muddying the waters but there are very few real leads to go on. What could have brought them together? It can’t just be a suicide website or their personal depressions, there has to be some deeper connection, there’s something more sinister at work here. If this is orchestrated how could someone get seven people to commit suicide in an apparent pact?
Seven Shoes is a complex story revolving around biker gangs, the dark web, and mind control experiments, (think MKUltra and hallucinogenic drugs). It won’t come as a shock to readers to know that a dangerous killer is on the loose, hell bent on chaos. As a side line Elizabeth is caught up in a game between competing intelligence services with their own agenda as she tries to figure out the killer’s MO and identity. As Elizabeth seeks answers she doesn’t realise how much her past and family history make her vulnerable as the killer goes on the hunt again.
A psychological thriller/murder mystery that poses an intriguing ‘what if?’ around the manipulation of individuals by someone who has the knowledge and means to manipulate minds. A fast, slightly off kilter, read if you’re looking for something a bit different.

What others say:

“[I]f SEVEN SHOES is any indication, we can welcome Davis into the growing ranks of contemporary thriller authors to discover and follow.” – Alan Cranis Bookgasm.


Southern Cross Crime Craig Sisterson.
The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film, and TV of Australia and New Zealand.

They’re coming for us, it’s an antipodean assault. It’s “Yeah Noir/Outback Noir”* carpet bombing the bookshops of the northern hemisphere: Vanda Symon, Emma Viskic, Chris Hammer, Jane Harper, Liane Moriarty, the list goes on. It’s an invasion that comes out of nowhere!
Well actually it didn’t, antipodean crime writing is as old as…well, crime writing. This is a secret Southern Cross Crime let’s readers in on. Mary Fortune, from a remote Australian goldfield, wrote the world’s first police procedural in the early 1870s and the best selling crime novel of the nineteenth century was Melbourne based The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) by Fergus Hume, (not Sherlock or Dupin). John Sutherland described it as: ‘The most sensationally popular crime and detective novel of the century.” I was curious about when aboriginal characters came into antipodean crime fiction and how they were portrayed. I learned that Arthur Upfield’s Aboriginal detective Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte first appeared in 1932. Even if you just stick with the modern invasion Sisterson would date that earlier than you might think. The names I mentioned at the top of the paragraph are just the latest crop. What this book demonstrates is we are not looking at a phase or a fad, Southern Cross Crime is here to stay. As early as 1980 Peter Carris melded hardboiled crime fiction with an Australian setting to create a distinct and authentic slice of Yeah Noir in his Cliff Hardy novels.
Southern Cross Crime is a fitting companion to the excellent Pocket Essentials series created by Barry Forshaw. In fact Sisterson describes this collection as the ‘Pavlova’ to Forshaw’s ‘Buffet’. It came about while Forshaw was writing the latest in the series, Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide. It was Barry Forshaw who introduced Sisterson to his publisher Ion Mills of No Exit Press and this book subsequently took wings. It’s ‘a comprehensive introduction’ written ‘magazine’ style, easy and clear. A little bit of biography, a synopsis, and a review for each inclusion. This book includes historical crime fiction, (Eleanor Catton, Dame Fiona Kidman), and has a significant section on Young Adult and juvenile fiction, (Ken Benn, Ella West, Sheryl Clark):
“Anyone encourages kids to develop a love of reading, who opens those early doors to a whole world of learning and stories and imagination and possibility, is a rock star in my books.”
The book, which focused specifically on the last twenty-five years, is broken down into broad categories with over 300 individual entries. Mean Streets deals with big city crime, (PM Newton, Marele Day, Paul Thomas, Fiona Sussman, Freda Bream, Leah Giarratano). In the Wop-Wops is about small town and rural crime, (JP Pomare, Chris Hammer, Jane Harper, Garry Disher). Home and Away (see what he did there?) is about international settings, (Stella Duffy, Neil Cross, Paul E Hardisty, Hannah Kent, Maxine Alterio). Then there’s the section on Film and TV, (personal favourites include Underbelly, Jindabyne, Top to the Lake, Lantana, Mystery Road and Jack Irish but the must watch according to Sisterson is Animal Kingdom, alive with menace, it raised the bar). The book rounds off with some very interesting interviews with big hitters, all very enlightening and entertaining. We learn that Peter Corris got the idea for his novels from the Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer series and the city of San Francisco, he realised a PI story could work in Sydney. Paul Thomas took Shane as an inspiration for his detective and Emma Viskic took inspiration from the Grand Canyon.
The index is easy to use and the introduction by mass murderer Michael Robotham is entertaining, it also shows the respect writers have for Sisterson and his power as a critic. Curiously a distant relative of Michael, George Robotham, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1827. I thought I knew antipodean crime fiction, I mean not just the popular guys also; Charlotte Grimshaw, Zane Lovitt, Marshall Browne, Barry Maitland, Paul Thomas, Emily Maguire. It turns out my knowledge, my reading only scratches the surface. There’s so much here, so many writers I didn’t know until now, until reading Sisterson’s guide. I didn’t know that Charlotte Jay was the first Australian winner of an Edgar for Beat Not the Bones in 1954. The list of authors new to me is very long indeed and who knew Adrian McKinty, Neil Cross, and Marshall Browne are antipodeans?
Sisterson has a keen sense of quality in crime fiction, his comments are concise, well pitched, incisive and not repetitive. Peter Temple is the gold standard, Jane Harper is a ‘special’ writer, Garry Disher should be wider read, Chris Hammer writes with sociological insight. Readers will get a sense of the themes that preoccupy antipodean crime fiction: history and colonialism, like Britain, unlike Britain, race, Australia versus New Zealand, rural issues, city issues, poverty and corruption, bad politics, climate, and drought. This book is entertaining, informative and very readable for a guide. I get the sense there is much more to come from down under. Morris West, Tom Keneally, Clive James, Ngaio Marsh and Peter Carey got me into antipodean writing now I’ve got a whole load of new authors to chase down thanks to Craig Sisterson and Southern Cross Crime.
* Michael Robotham introduced me to the term ‘Yeah Noir’ in his foreword to this book but I picked it up wrong, so just to clarify: it’s a New Zealand term, Outback Noir is Australian. Southern Cross Crime is both together.

NO EXIT PRESS PAPERBACK 9780857304001 SEPTEMBER, EBOOK available now.


When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby.

A convincing and gripping tale of a wartime love triangle entangled in intrigue and the tragedy of war. When We Fall maintains a balance between thrills, adventure and romance creating a rounded and emotional engaged tale, a rich reading experience. This is a reminder that wars are about individual actions, individual courage, it’s the little contributions that make up the bigger picture. This story explores the, sadly and predictably, neglected role of women during the Second World War and the Katyn massacre.
Kirby’s first novel The Conviction of Cora Burns was an impressive debut, an historical novel that really chimed with readers. A fusion of gripping personal stories and an exploration of the nature versus nurture debate set in nineteenth century Birmingham. When We Fall is also an historical novel but this time set in Poland and England during WWII. The idea for this novel came to Kirby, before she wrote Cora Burns, when she saw the 2008 obituary of Diana Barnato Walker, one of the women air auxiliary pilots who flew planes across Britain to fighting squadrons during the conflict. That said, this book was clearly written after Cora Burns, and has the feel of a second novel, more comfortable in style, exactly what you would expect from a really good writer. When We Fall is more confident, the writing flows naturally and the narrative is more direct and a little freer. Kirby combines momentous events and personal drama beautifully, the setting is spot on and clearly a lot of research went into this book which flavours but doesn’t encumber the story.
2010: Ninety six Polish dignitaries and relatives of the victims of Katyn were killed in the Smolensk air disaster on route to the seventieth anniversary commemoration of the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals by Stalin’s army in 1940. It was a bitter blow to Poland. Almost immediately the crash attracted conspiracy theories. The original massacre was an act of genocide, of ethnic cleansing. The story here hinges on the presence of one woman among all the murdered male victims buried in the Katyn forest.
Spring 1943. Vee is forced to land the Tiger at RAF Bradwell when the weather closes in. The pilot who greets her landing is taken aback by her presence but flight sergeant Stefan Bergel, of 302 squadron, has seen female pilots before in the Polish air force. Valerie ‘Vee’ Katchatourian of the air transport auxiliary is ready for the usual sexist stuff and the conversation is a little awkward to begin with but they develop a rapport. When the weather clears, he reluctantly sets her on her way to her destination RAF Birch. The relationship with Stefan begins to bloom just as he suddenly disappears. Vee rings the airfield to be told Stefan is unavailable, no one will give her any information, his best friend says he’s well but she should forget about him. It’s not over for Vee and Stefan.
Spring, 1943: Posen, (the name in wartime Greater Germany), now Poznan. Ewa Hartman and her father run a guesthouse for German soldiers. The Hartmans are on the Volksliste, classified as German, they avoid the fate of Poles sent east to work details. Today they have a new guest Obersturmführer Heinrich Beck. He is in charge of the regional renaming project; towns, villages, and streets all have to have German names. Ewa speaks German but she is Polish at heart, unlike her father. Ewa has a Polish fiancée Stefan Bergel, last seen boarding a train for Warsaw in 1939. He became a pilot and was soon captured by the Russians. His letters from the Gorki Rest home in Moscow reassured her he was being well treated, then nothing since the spring 1940. Stefan promised to come back. He will.
There’s a plausibility in the story set England but the novel really comes to life in Poland. Ewa, Stefan and Vee are thrown into the maelstrom of war; they face moral dilemmas, spies, fellow agents, betrayal and the threat of death. An engaging thought provoking read that may appeal more to a female readership because of its romantic theme but then male readers would be missing out.

Published by No Exit Press, paperback, 7th May, £12.99, ISBN: 9780857303950.


The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway.

Brian McGilloway’s much anticipated new novel, The Last Crossing, is a stand alone story set in Northern Ireland and Glasgow. The story unfolds over over two time frames three decades apart; the depths of The Troubles and the present day. A murder at the height of the conflict comes back to haunt three former IRA comrades as they return to the scene of their crime in Scotland, (a literal journey reflecting on the march of time and the things that have happened in their lives in the intervening years). Tony, Karen and Hugh are forced to confront their role in the callous murder of their comrade Martin Kelly thirty years before. Kelly was stripped, shot and buried in a forest outside Glasgow. IRA chief Sean Mullen has brought the trio together again for the first time since they left the scene of the killing so that they can retrieve Kelly’s body for the family as part of the peace process. The Troubles are long over, the peace is holding, The Good Friday Agreement was signed over two decades ago but, still, this is a delicate matter. This is an attempt to heal the wounds of the past and give the family some ‘closure’. These wider world implications and concerns are always in the background but this is very much about the three comrades. The people they were at the time of the murder and how they have carried that with them over the long years. Rather than heal the scars the trip lays bare old wounds and agendas. Time and the desire to forget may have distorted memory but the full truth about the murder was never known to them all anyway – that truth is about to fracture the present.
The Last Crossing focuses on an issue that blighted the republican community during The Troubles, “the disappeared”. Catholics kidnapped, murdered and buried in unmarked graves as traitors, spies, informers, or for simply falling foul of the Provisionals. As three of the bodies of the sixteen were never recovered this issue continues to scar the peace process and remains a thorny subject. McGilloway always centres his novels around a weighty issue and faces his characters with an ethical dilemma. This elevates his novels, The Last Crossing is a really good thriller but it has a deeper meaning, it has gravitas and real world credibility and is all the more chilling for that. This novel is deeply rooted in place and time.
The Last Crossing is a step away from the familiar police procedural oeuvre cultivated by McGilloway in his two series; Benedict Devlin (2007-2012) and Lucy Black (2011-2017). That said, there’s the same depth of character portrayal even though the protagonists are killers. The psychological insight enables the reader to get a sense of what drives ordinary people to kill, to explain not condone. To see how they change/stay the same, (the character arcs), as time and events move on, is fascinating.
The Last Crossing is an engaging read, totally gripping, morally complex, nuanced and compassionate. The novel is steeped in the violent history of Northern Ireland but also says something of the post conflict world, the new attitudes to peace and life. Nonetheless it has a haunting atmosphere that reflects the real issue of the disappeared of The Troubles. Craftily plotted, elegantly structured and well written, this novel is infused with a sense of melancholy as it explores grievances, injustice, loss and the possibility of atonement. The Last Crossing is a journey worth making.

Dome Press, paperback, ISBN 9781912534340, April, 2020.


Undercover Gerard Brennan
A Cormac Kelly Thriller
This is crime fiction as an adrenaline injection to the heart. Gerard Brennan is a no nonsense writer, not one wasted words, no added fluff. Undercover is hard and fast – an exhilarating read. It’s got plenty of gritty action and the Belfast setting is pitch perfect. This is the post Troubles world, well into the peace process but nothing in Northern Ireland is free from its history, from its scars. Brennan draws believable characters and Cormac Kelly is a decent creation. Brennan knows how to tell a simple story with style, this tale is boiling over with subversive twists, humour, irony and social commentary. When a kidnapping goes wrong mayhem breaks out:
Kelly is pissed off with the ski mask they gave him, he got the one with no mouth hole, it’s irritating as hell. His pistol, a Ruger Six, hasn’t even been cleaned and they left him with the two hostages – this his first job with these guys, the new boy always has to prove himself. The father, John, is slumped on a mattress, he looks crestfallen, the son, Mattie, is a different kettle of fish, he looks at his father with contempt and disappointment. The attitude is there even though Big Frank, a ‘Silverback on steroids’, slapped the kid to scare him. That was also a little threat for the video, so his mother gets the point – focuses. Cormac comes recommended but he’s really an undercover cop. He tricks paddy into giving him the phone so he can send a copy of the video to his handler.
Lydia Gallagher opened the cottage door to a shotgun in the face. The thugs slap her around a bit before showing her the footage of her husband and son. They have a job for her, do it right and the boys will be released. Lydia is an agent, her client Rory Cullen just signed for Man City, a club with deep pockets, on the way up. The general consensus is that Rory is worth every penny of the transfer fee; ‘the new George Best’. Next morning Lydia will collect Rory from the airport for a book tour of Northern Ireland, the gang have other plans.
‘Rory’s Smirk stretched into his signature toothy grin. He’d a mouthful of Belfast teeth. . . For all his careful metrosexual preening, tailored suits and fifty quid haircuts, the teeth were a welcome reminder of Rory’s working class background.’
The boss, Ambrose O’Neill, wants a word with Cormac, he’s glad to finally get a break from guard duty, a chance for something to eat. Fat Paddy gets to watch the hostages. O’Neill doesn’t like Cormac, the new guy has a little too much attitude about him, thinks he’s superior. O’Neill and Cormac are in the middle of feeling each other out when all hell breaks loose upstairs. Cormac and O’Neill dash upstairs, in the hostage room John’s nose has been broken and Paddy is kicking the bejesus out of young Mattie. Cormac can’t help himself he whacks Paddy’s skull with his pistol. That’s when O’Neill hits him, everything goes dark. There’s a price to pay for this kind of insubordination.
Readers will think they know where this is going, and sure Cormac and the gang are about to fall out, but things don’t go down by the numbers. Anyway, while Lydia contemplates screwing over her client Rory, Cormac is on he run with a thirteen year old boy and a wounded man. He’s a cop gone rogue with few friends and plenty of enemies out there.
This is a gritty read but there are still light moments. Rory Cullen’s autobiography is quoted at the opening of every chapter, that book and his character are a nice send up of the football world and our modern obsession with the game. Feck sake, why does anyone under fifty need an autobiography anyway? So you can have lines like this:

“On the pitch, I’m sublime. Beyond human. I’ll give you your fairy tale ending.”

Of course, there’s no fairy tale ending to Undercover, there is a nicely judged denouement, that really satisfies and sits well with the story.
Gerard Brennan, ‘as Irish as feck’, has written a handful of novels and co-edited a collection of Irish stories Requiem for the Departed, he also writes short stories and contributed to Belfast Noir. His latest novel Disorder was published by No Alibis Press in 2018.
Undercover, Blasted Heath, 2014, paperback, ISBN 9781500295127.


Bent by Joe Thomas
This turbo charged crime novel set in early 60s Soho is contemporary in style but the narrative is firmly rooted in period. This is a landscape of clubs, gangsters, girls, punters and cops; there’s an air of menace, a stench of corruption and decay. The protagonist is infamous real life copper Harold ‘Tanky’ Challenor; London legend, war hero, corrupt policeman and possibly certifiable ‘lunatic’. A man with a lousy sense of humour and a brutal sense of justice. Tanky is a loner, he means to clean up his patch, the how is not so important, any criminal in his sights is fair game. Tanky’s got a plan – set the thugs against each other, get them fired up enough to make mistakes and then pounce on them. A fit-up is fine, after all they’re all guilty of something anyway. If it comes to a battle of wills, or fists for that matter, Tanky only knows how to win, he’s always on the attack. He’s non-stop – a man on a mission, booze fuelled, sleep deprived, driven. It won’t end well for the villains but it won’t end well for Tanky either; career peak ’62 – career end ’64. At his own trial he contemplates letting down Doris, his wife, while the court decides if he’s fit to plead or not.
July-December, 1962. Tanky is strutting around Soho calling the shots, causing havoc, inspiring young cops, lauded for bringing some nasty villains to heal. He’s at Brilliant Chang’s crab shack in Chinatown supping a Brown Ale. Sergeant Tanky Challenor operates out of the ‘Mad House’, West End Central Police Station, the busiest nick in London. Mayfair and Soho, a jungle, his jungle, a cesspit since the Street Offences Act 1959 drove the girls off the streets. Italian Albert Dimes did for Jewish Jack Spot, then there’s Ronnie Knight at the A&R on Charing Cross Road, the Krays out of the Stragglers off Cambridge Circus. Wide boys, nothing to a war hero, but getting this type is not so easy, nobody talks. Tanky will catch them in the act, pull them in, sweat them, sort them.
He leaves Brilliant Chang’s to see Wilf Gardner at the Geisha Club on Moor Street. Old Wilf has a problem, a chancer Johnny Ford muscling him – no respect, protection, threats, slaps. If Challenor helps Wilf it’s because he’s after bigger fish – racketeer Joseph Francis Oliva, self styled ‘King’ Oliva. Daily Sketch in 1959:
“I command about 400 people.” And “I am going to be boss of the nightclubs.”
Tanky has other ideas. Old Wilf’s trouble with Ford escalates, Tanky is pulling the strings. Tanky’s a war hero. 1942 an orderly in Algeria, by 1943 he’s 2SAS – North Africa, Sardinia, mainland Italy; action, killing, capture, POW, an audacious escape.
Bent is taut, vivid and fragmentary, loaded with the frenetic energy of the man himself, the pace is relentless. Bent is set mostly in the early sixties but a substantial part of the narrative is set during the war. Is Tanky sane? How can the same man be a courageous soldier and a Bent cop? Thomas gives us a credible portrait of a man who is both hero and villain. Thomas shows us the way he works, thinks and feels, a closed book to the people around him. The courts made up their minds about Tanky’s ability to plead in June 1964, now its the reader’s turn.
This is a quick read and yet it’s rich in detail and story, it’s not just the narrative drive it’s the style that is exciting. This is one hell of a story, an indelible part of London history, folklore, made real, earthy and bitter sweet. You may know the glamour, the pop, the style of the sixties, this is the other side of the coin – darker, grittier, real. Tanky went to battle twice, once during the war, then again in 60s Soho.
This is the first novel in a loosely connected trilogy of London books that will deal with the cities recent history. Thomas is a fine writer, getting better with each book. Many readers will know his work through the Mario Leme quartet set in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which will be completed later in the year when the fourth volume, Brazilian Psycho, is published.
Arcadia Books, April 30, paperback, £9.99.


Fall Out by M N Grenside.

And, action!

Plenty of it and super nasty bad guys and stories so outrageously crazy they can only be true. We got McGuffin plotlines, the real deal (buried treasure), assassins, WWII, war criminals, dodgy coincidence, plot twisting surprises, Apocalypse Now, the fall of Saigon, a Buddha, the Cannes film festival and locations galore: Switzerland, France, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, and California. There’s film people and nice people – actually, scratch the last one, there are no nice people. With all that in mind – you ain’t seen nothing yet.
I just had a lot of fun letting this book carry me away. The story sounds kind of complex with plots inside the plot but it’s so well done by Grenside that it’s easy to follow. Firmly tongue in cheek and yet with enough excitement that it doesn’t just become farce. There’s parody and pastiche and boundless energy but also the exploitation of a clever idea.
Fall Out is inventive and, at times intentionally filmic, it’s about a script that could be a gold mine and a deadly secret connected to a unexplained unfinished film project that wrecked a number of careers. This novel has that insider humour that lampoons the preposterous over blown, skewed nature of Hollywood while still feeling the love we all share for the film capital of the world. From the opening where Sam Wood, writer, takes a bullet in an unnecessarily complicated assassination The fun doesn’t stop for 440 pages. The hit is made to look like a robbery/stabbing which it just as easily could have been in the first place – but hell! That’s not Hollywood: think big, outlandish, strange.
It all begins in:
Pagsanjan, Philippines, November, 1944. Finally the work is complete, Major Ito Okobudo of the Imperial Japanese Army addresses the assembled workers, (allied prisoners slave labour), congratulating them on their work and his officers on Japanese ingenuity. Ceremony over the orders are clear, no witnesses, General Yamashita has arrived to see to that personally, bad news for Okobudo too. The Cave and it’s contents are to remain a secret, even when he is executed for war crimes Yamashita take the secret to his grave.
Venice Beach, LA, 2020. Sam Wood types ‘The End’, and it’s done, the script for Fall Out is finished. A story of ‘greed, a secret fortune, a broken friendship, betrayal and murder.’ The script is sent to a select audience, people who’ve been harbouring a secret for more than twenty years:
‘Who would realise that FALL OUT was a road map to their past.’
Sam thinks back to the first script he wrote for Hollywood and how years later that led to him working with Marcus Riley again on The Last Company in the Philippines, a doomed project. He wondered what the reaction will be to Fall Out.
The buzzer goes, there’s a delivery man at the door, pretending to need a telephone. Like an innocent, not smelling a rat, Sam let the killer into his home. The delivery/assassin had met Sam before but he was counting on him not remembering. Sam had just enough time to register shock before the cunningly disguised weapon fired the fatal shot into his heart. Covering his tracks the killer ransacked the safe and stole Sam possessions.
By then Marcus Riley has the script and thinks it’s solid gold, his career is down the toilet, this is the lifeline, he has to have it. He goes to see Sam, luckily for him he has an alibi for the time of the murder as he gets arrested by LAPD. Other jackals begin circling the script, some appreciate the message, there’s a lot at stake. Meanwhile released from jail, Marcus is in the trail of the widow for the option rights, it’s what Sam would have wanted.
Fall Out is about the founding and fall of two criminal empires, about a heist at the US embassy on the fall of Saigon in 1975, but it really about…
You should know about Tan, he joined the Japanese when they came the Philippines, he has a talent for brutal murder, only he and the general returned to Manila after the incident at the cave, and since Tan has done well for himself. And, lastly, although there are plenty more characters in the book, there’s Jonathan but I don’t think I’ll tell you about him, just don’t turn your back!
Some films are murder – literally!
Grenside is working on the follow up novel Bastion which will be released in 2021. I’ll be looking out for that.

URBANE Publications, available as eBook now, paperback 21/5/20, ISBN 9781912666751


Wild Dog by Serge Joncour.

‘People tend to forget past catastrophes just as they fail to see new ones developing.’

Ain’t that the truth! Everything is so dominated by Covid-19 at the moment that I can’t help reading a sentence like this without it slapping me in the face, it seems so relevant. Chien-Loup was published in France two years ago, and, of course, this has nothing to do with the current crisis. On the other hand, as this book is taking a long hard look at what it is that speaks to our humanity that little observation is spot on.
Wild Dog reflects on our capacity to forget, to be taken by surprise over and over again, learning little from history, constantly seeking to reinvent the wheel and in doing so losing our sense of what it is that distinguishes us from the animals. This is an immensely powerful read examining our place in the world. If reasoning distinguishes us why is it so easily diverted by primal instincts? How come we are capable of greater transgressions against our own and other kind than other species exhibit? This is nothing less than a rumination on our coexistence with nature.
Having just finished Marion Brunet’s brilliant novel Summer of Reckoning I was expecting a bit of a come down with my next read. Something less intellectually challenging, not a bit of it, Wild Dog is a magnificent philosophical thriller and an equally stunning read. Every word matters, each thought runs into the next with purpose and clarity. This is a perfect example of the power, energy and insight of French crime fiction. Brunet examines the psychology of a family and a small town, Joncour tackles even grander themes around the psychological impetuses of mankind in the context of a riveting mystery. On the back of this one novel I would say Joncour ranks with Vargas and Lemaitre in his exploration of morally complex issues. Set over two time frames over a century apart Wild Dog tells a unique story with style and wit. This is a novel pregnant with suspense and unpredictability, wickedly tense and portentous, doom laden. The parallels and connection between the two stories are far more apparent than the paths the stories will take, the themes are clear, the mystery is something Joncour manages to maintain to the end.
July 1914. The village is woken from its slumber around midnight by wild sounds emanating from the deeply forested hills, desperate unidentifiable shrieks, could it be wolves on the attack? Are the animals reclaiming the darkness? The villagers bang spoons, making as much noise as they can to scare away the threat, the noise gets louder, the supposed danger nearer, primal fears are aroused. With everyone watching the trees a stranger emerges, his donkey in tow, the noise dies down, the people return to their beds, as mysteriously as he arrived the stranger is gone again the next day. It’s potent imagery because:
‘Seeing the wandering stranger should have helped them realise that tomorrow they would wake up to the dawn of a new age which would be rung in with madness, gunfire, fear in above all, blood.’
Allegorical beasts in the night are nothing compared to what is coming, a waking nightmare that will take the father’s and sons of Orcièrs. The internecine conflict occasioned by a row between members of the same royal family will cast a pall over Europe. No one in Orcièrs asked for a war, this is a village hidden in the Causse many miles from the border. Joncour is conjuring an image of the village as prey to the outside world:
‘In a few days’ time, the war would start to devour their men by the trainload, and by its end, four terrible years later, it would have destroyed four empires and fifteen million lives.’
The animals, food and equipment of Orcièrs are soon requisitioned. They expected people to die but not the animals as ‘humanity embraced barbarity, rage, and death’. The mayor hides a flock of sheep, the women take over the harvest. Then the German lion tamer arrives, Wolfgang Hollzenmaier, no one has need of a circus now, he can’t stay in the village but he takes his animals into the hills:
‘There were no bomb to be heard in Orcièrs, only lions and storms.’
They don’t denounce him but they are afraid of him. They are curious about how he feeds his animals. Josephine, the first widow, is despatched to find out but becomes attached to the German and his animals. The German and the widow become the focus of attention for the village, a distraction from the front and the war…
April 2017. Lise and Franck need a holiday. Lise is drawn to the advert for the isolated gîte in the hills, the idea of tranquillity, a return to nature, sun and peacefulness. The nearest neighbour ten kilometres away, twenty-five kilometres to the nearest town:
‘For years she had longed to cut yourself off from the world by spending three weeks with no internet or mobile phone and here was the perfect opportunity to go completely offline.’
No noise, pollution, or electromagnetic fields. Franck was more sceptical and insisted he needed the internet for his work, gradually he came round. When they arrive the cabin offers an ‘awesome panorama’, abandonment is mixed with a feeling of infinite contentment. Franck thinks:
‘They could be happy here . . . Or it could be hell.’
The idea of the idyll is subtly undermined at every turn. That’s when Franck encounters the Wild Dog a large untamed beast that seems to be looking for a master. Franck, Lise and the dog form an uneasy alliance. Again the portends hang heavy…
The novel is a juxtaposition of past and present, of nature versus modern living, peace and quiet versus a wall of noise, of primal instincts versus intellectual reasoning, of where the real escape lies. Franck is in films, he is desperately trying to get a project off the ground:
‘In the film world more than any other, your survival depends on the scent you give off.’
Where are the carnivores in this story, the wild animals or the human, (wolves), predators? Joncour’s tale is redolent with fear, guilt, jealousy, pain and the fluid relationship between thought and instinct.
Serge Joncour is a French novelist and screenwriter with a substantial body of work behind him but Wild Dog is his first novel translated into English, something accomplished beautifully by Jane Aitken and Polly Mackintosh. Winner of the Prix Landerneau Des Lecteurs 2018. I can only hope that more will follow.

GALLIC BOOKS, paperback, March ISBN 9781910977793


Victim 2117 by Jussi Adler Olsen
Department Q volume VIII
This is a series I love for its darkly gripping stories and anarchic, slightly off the wall humour. I’m pretty sure policing isn’t supposed to be quite like this but then Department Q of the Copenhagen police force is a law unto itself. Victim 2117 is a really enjoyable and very satisfying read. Eight novels in this series is just as vibrant, energetic and surprising as it was in the beginning. The story involving terrorism, Iraq and the refugee crisis couldn’t be more zeitgeisty. This is a stylishly written novel, a slice of Euro-noir with an original twist. Once again the melding of crime and comedy is masterly, relieving and ramping up the tension as appropriate. Victim 2117 is a long novel but it’s a pleasure to savour every page.
When I read the first Department Q novel, Mercy (2011), the originality and breadth of imagination hooked me. The combination of laugh out loud humour and a terrifyingly dark story was so well-done it was thrilling. I hadn’t come across characters like Mørck and Assad before and the relationship between them was almost enough on its own to sustain the books. Carl Mørck is a fine creation, an irascible misfit. When we first meet him they’ve given him a department just to get rid of him, they’ve even found a deep cellar for it. Department Q deals with cold cases, Mørck is happy to while away the days until he teams up with the cleaner to work a case. Assad, the janitor may be the best sidekick creation in crime fiction. He has a presence that dominates the page, he’s enigmatic, resourceful, and possibly very deadly. He knows things you don’t learn at janitor school and he’s got a nose for detective work, (where did he acquire these skills? We don’t know). Mørck is always a little in the dark, the last to know, Assad is usually the one to tell him what is going on. Together with Rose, (a whole other story in her own right), they manage to solve one of the most important and baffling cases in Danish history. Department Q gets a big budget, legendary status and autonomy, since then Gordon has joined them. The personal stories are all really intriguing but none so much as Assad’s and in Victim 2117 readers find it much more about his past, this story is very personal.
Victim 2117 opens by reminding us that Assad is a refugee although he’s been in Denmark for decades now. But things really kick off in Barcelona. Joan Aiguader is not a religious man but he’s taken to praying that something might arrive in the post and save him. He’s a 33 year old journalist who’s father committed suicide eight years ago. Although he tried he wasn’t able to look after his mother and younger sister after that and his family fell apart. Joan’s life has been on a downward trajectory ever since. He’s broke, his landlord can’t evict him under Catalan law but the gas has long been cut off, he can’t even afford the coffee he’s drinking in the cafe. He’s about to drown himself when the drowning of another person inadvertently saves his life. Joan sees a report on a refugee washed up off the coast of Cyprus. He hops a plane to Cyprus, stealing/borrowing the money from his old girlfriend. This will be the story to make his name. The next victim to wash up on the beach is an old woman, well dressed, but nonetheless a refugee, she is Victim 2117. He photographs her and writes a moving piece for his paper, they pay him but when he returns to Barcelona he find the editor is angry. What he failed to spot and all the papers who weren’t on the scene got was that the woman was murdered, stabbed in the back of the neck. The editor gives him one last chance, follow the victim’s story, find out what really happened, who killed her or don’t come back. It isn’t long before Joan finds a witness, the it turns out the perpetrator doesn’t seem to mind that Joan is on his trail, it’s as if he wanted the world to know that he killed the woman.
In Copenhagen Alexander is putting his own plan into action from the barricaded fortress that is his bedroom. Soon the world will know who he is and he will avenge Victim 2117. First he will notify the police they can expect him to make his move soon. When the chief of homicide detectives dies of a heart attack and his brother commits suicide on the same day the past comes back to haunt Assad. He’s now in real danger. What this has to do with Victim 2117 is not initially clear but then Assad discovers the old lady was Lely a family friend from his time in Syria. The death of Lely Kabibi is the first action in a deadly plot to attack Europe. . .
The strands of the plot are cleverly woven into unified piece in this engaging thriller with a strong denouement and a poetic footnote. Long live Department Q.
Quercus, hardback, March, ISBN 9781786486172

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