Category Archives: Books

Best Friends For Life, And For Death…

“A killer that the police are calling ‘Billy Dead Mates’ is murdering pairs of best friends, one by one.

Before they die, each victim is given a small white book…

For months, detectives have failed to catch Billy, or work out what the white books mean. And then a woman, scared by what she’s seen on the news, comes forward.

Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck has one of Billy’s peculiar little books. A stranger gave it to her at a gig she did a year ago. Was he Billy, and does he want to kill her? Kim has no friends and trusts no one, so how – and why – could she possibly be Billy Dead Mates’ next target?…”

OK, where to start with this one? This is the tenth full novel in Sophie Hannah‘s “Culver Valley” series featuring police detectives Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse and follows on from 2014’s ninth entry to the series, the excellent “The Telling Error”.

In the meantime, Zailer and Waterhouse appeared in Hannah’s Quick Reads novella “Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen” during 2015.

Published back in 2016, “The Narrow Bed” finds us back in full novel-length territory as we catch up with the two police officers, their colleagues and their caseload.

Sophie Hannah

This particular tale is told from a variety of angles. There are those of both Zailer and Waterhouse and they make their investigations – in Charlie’s case it’s largely to do with finding out what’s going on with her sister Liv and her supposed ex Gibbs, whilst Simon is involved with the “Billy Dead Mates” case. In addition, there are chapters told from the perspective of Kim Tribbeck who may be a target for the killer, extracts from Kim’s to-be-published autobiography which looks back at the case, and various blog posts, emails and letters from other characters. Whilst this may seem, on the surface, to be confusing the author has done a very good job of making the tale easy to keep up with, without giving away any more clues than she wants to.

There is a quote from one of the book’s characters where they say “books are everywhere in this investigation” and that is very true. Whether it be the small white books given to the murder victims, Waterhouse’s dog-eared but beloved copy of “Moby Dick” or Tribbeck’s own book there are indeed plenty of books littered throughout the story, and they play a part in the motivation of the mysterious killer too. And that latter point is perhaps where I felt this book fell down slightly, as the rationale for the baddie to be killing the pairs of friends etc. just didn’t come across as convincing or likely – even allowing for some mental instability. That said, however, there is certainly some food for thought in terms of the advantages / disadvantages that come with the never-ending march of technological progress.

Not her strongest novel, then, but as always Hannah’s writing is clever, witty and insightful and her characters get plenty of room to develop. Whilst Waterhouse is always one step – at least – ahead of his wife and colleagues in determining what’s going on, most readers don’t have his unnatural abilities and so the secrets are kept back until the author wants us to uncover them, making this a jolly good read…

Everything That’s Yours Was Once Hers

“Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

EMMA
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

JANE
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before…”

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Finished reading the psychological thriller “The Girl Before” this week. The book was written by JP Delaney, which seems to be a pseudonym for Ugandan-born author and advertising man Tony Strong. Whether more books will see the light under this nom de plume remains to be seen, but this one has reportedly been picked up for filming with Ron Howard in the director’s chair…

Tony Strong

The story is told from two separate perspectives – from that of Emma Matthews in chapters subtitled “Then” and from the point of view of Jane Cavendish, whose chapters are subtitled “Now”. Thus we have a story that unfolds through a mixture of past and present narrative from the two women.

What ties them together is that, at the time of each’s testimony, they are tenants of architect Edward Monkford’s austere and hi-tech property at One Folgate Street in London. Despite being in an expensive part of the capital city the rent is more affordable than many properties nearby due to the highly restrictive nature of the tenancy agreement. Not simply a case of you can’t put nails in the wall or similar, there are over two hundred specific restrictions for the home!

Despite this for their individual reasons both women chose to live in the house and abide my all the rules that come with it. As details of each come to light it becomes clear to the reader, and to Jane, that the two women have lots of similarities in their experience with both the house and Edward Monkford. In addition to these three main players there are a number of other significant characters including Emma’s ex-boyfriend Simon, police officers, a psychologist and various work colleagues of both women.

It’s not clear what happened to Emma, the girl before, however and Jane becomes determined to find out. Will she regret that taking that route?…

One of the main themes, for me, in this book was about control. Whether that be the tenants of the house being controlled by their contract and environment, characters controlling each other by overt or subtle means, or simply characters seeking to control their own lives and destinies. This is where I think the novel really works as it makes the reader think about things and perhaps even question their own behaviours in relation to others.

The plot itself is not overly complicated but has enough smoke and mirrors to keep you engrossed. Whether or not the actions of some of the characters at any given time are necessarily plausible is open to debate and the final chapters did feel like a slight let down to me. These seem to be common points for some reviewers, whilst others found the book to be uniformly excellent.

All that said, some of the detail was clearly inspired by the author’s own experiences and overall the book makes for a really good read, despite the above remarks, so I would say it’s definitely worth picking up…maxresdefault

Trespasser

“Being on the murder squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point.

Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blonde, pretty, groomed to a shine, and dead in her catalogue-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her—except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.

And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinette’s road. Aislinn’s friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.

Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?…”

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“The Trespasser” was my first exposure to the writing of Irish author Tana French. It is the sixth in a series based on the work of the detectives in a police murder squad in Dublin, and was very impressive..

Tana French

Unusually, from what I gather, French has written each novel from the point of view of a different investigating officer rather than having the same main character each time. Although I haven’t read any of the others – which doesn’t detract from the standalone tale told here – I would imagine that this gives the series a distinctive freshness and difference in perspective whilst still retaining enough of the familiarity you normally encounter in, for example, Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne novels.

So this story is told through the eyes of detective Antionette Conway. Working with her partner Stephen Moran (star of the previous novel “The Secret Place”), Conway is put onto a murder investigation to try to track down the person responsible for the death of Aislinn Murray.

At first this seems like an easy case when an obvious suspect comes almost immediately to their attention. It all seems a bit too easy though and Conway – convinced that the rest of the murder squad are out to get her off the team – begins to see connections and have suspicions everywhere, whilst constantly doubting her own thought processes. Who is telling the truth? Who can she trust?

Meanwhile, Moran is coming up with gangster theories and other officers seem very eager for her to put the case to bed as quickly as possible. The truth of both Aislinn and her killer takes some digging for and when the detective duo eventually get there it’s very far from what they anticipated…

I really enjoyed this book. The dialogue was written such that I felt the Irishness coming through(!) and there was some fabulous wit on display too throughout. The characters are all brilliantly described as well, so that we can really imagine them in lifelike terms.

Ultimately this was a cracking tale with enough twists and turns to keep the reader involved without giving too much away so that we (or at least I) definitely aren’t expecting the guilty party that is eventually unmasked. Great stuff – I shall certainly be looking out for future entries to the series…9781444755626

You Have One Chance. Run

“You wake. Confused. Disorientated. A noose is round your neck. You are bound, standing on a chair. All you can focus on is the man in the mask tightening the rope. You are about to die.

John Wallace has no idea why he has been targeted. No idea who his attacker is. No idea how he will prevent the inevitable.

Then the pendulum of fate swings in his favour. He has one chance to escape, find the truth and halt his destruction. The momentum is in his favour for now. But with a killer on his tail, everything can change with one swing of this deadly pendulum…

You have one chance. Run…”

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It’s been a while since I posted last. Life’s been busy. Not least because we’ve been involved in our second house move inside a year (we’re now in our fifth home since moving to the Forest of Dean in 2011!). The ability to move more regularly is one of the benefits of renting rather than buying, but of the course the uncertainty is equally one of the negatives and that was born out by our last house move last summer when our then-landlords decided to sell the house that we were living in. Hopefully, all being well, this latest move will turn out to be a long-term home – it certainly suits us more as a family, with plenty of space for all concerned (including the horses, chickens, etc.) and is in a fabulous countryside location so fingers crossed!…

Anyway, during the past few weeks I have been making my way through British author Adam Hamdy‘s latest crime thriller novel “Pendulum”, and what a great read it turned out to be.

Some reviewers have said that they felt that the book was too long and rather unrealistic. I must admit that the book did seem to take a long time to read, but given that I’ve not managed to find much time to sit and read for very long I assumed that was the reason that it seemed so. As for unrealistic – well, yes, Wallace’s knack of evading death at the hands of his killer numerous times, whilst the killer ruthlessly and expertly dispatches dozens of other characters, does stretch credibility somewhat.

Despite that, I thought this was a strong story with an intriguing and inventive plotline. Wallace thought that he was perhaps being targeted as a consequence of his time photographing British soldiers – and their crimes – in conflicts in the Middle East, but what then linked him to other potential victims? I certainly didn’t figure it out, or have any idea of the killer’s identity, until the writer wanted me to.

Adam Hamdy
Adam Hamdy

There were plenty of strands to the story to gradually bring together and, again, Hamdy achieves that really well.

Now, I don’t usually get too much into the plot of novels, especially the latter stages of them, when writing about them here. However, I’m going to make a rare exception here, so…

Spoiler alert!…

The root cause of the crimes depicted in “Pendulum” is connected with the internet, and specifically the social media side of things. A couple of passages from when the killer reveals their motivation really stood out for me as being so true with regard to the negative side of the world wide web that I’m quoting them, as follows… “…pornography in every bedroom. Gambling in every home. Children watching people being decapitated. Watching other kids being abused or killed. Murdering friends to please a Slender Man. Secret markets for drugs, weapons, body parts…” and then a little further on “…human existence has changed beyond all recognition. The internet exposes every single one of us to the entire world. All the good. All the evil. None of us were prepared for it… we can’t cope. A young teenage girl alone in her bedroom, vulnerable, searching for a place in the world… bombarded by a Twitter feed full of vacuous nonsense, by narcissistic Facebook friends timelining the illusion of their perfect lives… There’s a mental health epidemic devouring people, making them vulnerable. And when… desperate to fit in, that young girl exposes herself to the world looking for approval, she’s hit by a barrage of hateful abuse…” Sadly, we see the results of such thoughtless and nasty abuse all the time in the news these days, and witness kids struggle with cyber bullying etc. all too often. I don’t know what the answer is, and I think it’s made all the more difficult for parents today as we didn’t have all these pressures when we ourselves were growing up.

Back to the review…

As I said, with a little leeway for the less believable moments this was a jolly good read, with plenty of research evident in the detail. There was one character left unresolved at the end of the book, so perhaps Mr. Hamdy is planning a sequel or two? For now, though, I’ll finish by saying that despite the aforementioned slight misgivings “Pendulum” is a well recommended read…btm

She Has The Touch Of Death…

“An ugly duckling as a child, Jodie Bentley had two dreams in life – to be beautiful and rich. She’s achieved the first, with a little help from a plastic surgeon, and now she’s working hard on the second. Her philosophy on money is simple: you can either earn it or marry it. Marrying is easy, it’s getting rid of the husband afterwards that’s harder, that takes real skill. But hey, practice makes perfect …

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is feeling the pressure from his superiors, his previous case is still giving him sleepless nights, there have been major developments with his missing wife Sandy, and an old adversary is back. But worse than all of this, he now believes a Black Widow is operating in his city. One with a venomous mind… and venomous skills. Soon Grace comes to the frightening realisation that he may have underestimated just how dangerous this lady is…”

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Incredibly we’re now up to book twelve in the Roy Grace detective series from Brighton author Peter James. It certainly doesn’t seem like eleven years since I read “Dead Simple” – the first in the series.

This latest instalment finds Grace investigating a black widow character as well as dealing with some ghosts from past investigations – as well as from his own personal past (in the form of his first wife Sandy). Thankfully the last of these has now come to a conclusion, though typically enough there is still some baggage from that situation that will likely impact quite significantly on his life going forward. Much as I like to see how a detective’s personal situation impacts on his day job I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have preferred that particular story arc to have come to a full stop.

Peter James
Peter James

Nonetheless, James has yet again managed to craft a captivating storyline. Perhaps one might argue that some of the crimes committed might have been more easily detectable given certain similarities and coincidences, but given the budget and staffing constraints that our police force has come under in recent years it is perfectly conceivable that the events depicted here could go on undetected.

I did have a couple of reservations – Spoiler Alert! – when the killer is arrested she seems to give up just a little too easily and the method for killing via a single snake tooth that she carried seemed a bit unlikely. To balance that, however, there are a couple of very pertinent thoughts on the strengths of relationships and of course the rest of the tale is excellently told and James has clearly done a lot of research on his subject matter.

All in all, then, another excellent entry into the Roy Grace series. Looking forward to book number thirteen already…btm

Behind Every Perfect Life Is A Perfect Lie

“Everyone keeps telling me I have to move on. And so here I am, walking down the road where he died, trying to remember him the right way.

A year after her husband Zach’s death, Lizzie goes to lay flowers where his fatal accident took place.

As she makes her way along the motorway, she thinks about their life together. She wonders whether she has changed since Zach died. She wonders if she will ever feel whole again.

At last she reaches the spot. And there, tied to a tree, is a bunch of lilies. The flowers are addressed to her husband. Someone has been there before her.

Lizzie loved Zach. She really did.

But she’s starting to realise she didn’t really know him.

Or what he was capable of…”

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A few months ago I read “Under Your Skin”, the debut crime thriller novel by Sabine Durrant. I’ve just finished reading her second offering – the psychological thriller “Remember Me This Way”.

The story is laid out from two differing points of view. You have Lizzie’s narrative as she tries to come to terms with her husband’s death – made all the more difficult when she discovers flowers from a mysterious Xenia attached to the tree that his car crashed into a year previously – and her growing conviction that he isn’t dead after all.

Sabine Durrant
Sabine Durrant

In between this there are extracts from Zach’s diary during the time before he met Lizzie and their subsequent relationship and marriage.

Along the way we meet a number of other characters, including Lizzie’s police liaison Hannah Morrow, rising MP Alan Murphy and his wife Victoria (a friend of Zach’s from way back) and their daughter Onnie, who worms herself into Lizzie’s current life for reasons that take time to become clear.

There are lots of skeletons in various closets here. What was Zach really like? Who keeps playing his favourite Elvis Costello songs outside Lizzie’s house in the small hours? What is Onnie’s role? Will Lizzie ever be free of her feelings of guilt?… The whole thing is very cleverly put together to keep the reader guessing whilst remaining very realistic and all the more disturbing for that fact.

Towards the end of the book one of the characters says “…You can live in the same house, share the same bed, but how much do you ever really know anyone?” which I thought really gets to the heart of the tale in a simple sentence. This novel really takes that idea and runs with it, with the result being a very gripping and dark story. Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers…remembermethisway-1

How Do You Stop A Killer, When No-One Believes They Exist?

“This was meant to be the perfect trip.

The Northern Lights. A luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship.

A chance for travel journalist Lo Blacklock to recover from a traumatic break-in that has left her on the verge of collapse, and to work out what she wants from her relationship.

Except things don’t go as planned.

Woken in the night by screams, Lo rushes to her window to see a body thrown overboard from the next door cabin. But the records show that no-one ever checked into that cabin, and no passengers are missing from the boat.

Exhausted, emotional and increasingly desperate, Lo has to face the fact that she may have made a terrible mistake. Or she is trapped on a boat with a murderer – and she is the sole witness…”

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Earlier this year I read and enjoyed the debut novel from London-based author Ruth Ware, the psychological crime thriller “In A Dark, Dark Wood”. “The Woman In Cabin 10” is Ware’s second book.

The book, told from the perspective of Lo (short for Laura) Blacklock, a travel journalist, and begins with her flat being burgled while she is trapped in her bedroom after a heavy night out.

A few days later, following an unresolved argument with her boyfriend Judah, Lo is off on the maiden trip of an exclusive cruise ship leaving England and then travelling off the coast of Norway while Judah himself is off to Moscow on business.

Ruth Ware
Ruth Ware

On the first night, having again drunk too much, Lo hears a scream and a huge splash and is convinced that someone has thrown the passenger staying in the adjoining cabin overboard. The problem is that Lo seems to be the only person to have even seen the woman in cabin 10 which, when entered by staff minutes after she raises the alarm, is spotlessly clean and empty and the man due to have been that cabin’s passenger didn’t make the trip!

Unable to prove the woman was ever there, Lo becomes increasingly suspicious of everyone around her. With elements of a locked room mystery – after all it’s tricky to get on and off a moving ship at sea unnoticed – every character Lo comes into contact with is a potential killer, or did she just imagine the whole thing?

There’s plenty to keep the reader intrigued here, and a few red herrings too that meant that even when I thought I’d figured something out there was often a twist to prove me wrong!

A solid second outing and a definite page-turner, I would certainly recommend this book to lovers of crime mysteries…9781846558900

People Are Capable Of Almost Anything

“You never know what’s happening on the other side of the wall.

Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying.

Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’d have the baby monitor and you’d take it in turns to go back every half-hour.

Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone.

You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there…

What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?…”

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“The Couple Next Door” is the debut novel from former lawyer / English teacher and now writer Shari Lapena. A book that has certainly divided critical opinion in terms of whether or not the plot is predictable etc., I suppose it might best be described as a psychological crime thriller.

Shari Lapena
Shari Lapena

Young married couple Anne and Marco Conti go to their next door neighbours’ one evening for dinner but leave their baby Cora at home asleep in her crib – taking a baby monitor next door in order to hear if she wakes and taking it in turns to pop back home and check on her every half hour.

Anne’s been suffering from postnatal depression and feels dowdy in comparison to her neighbour Cynthia – a situation made all the worse by Cynthia’s obvious flirting with Marco during the evening. When the couple finally head home they are distraught to find that Cora has vanished.

Naturally the police are soon involved and a ransom demand arrives. As the police investigation gathers pace we gradually find out more about Anne and Marco and their past and present secrets. Nothing is quite what it seems and it’s not until the final chapters of the story that all the pieces finally fall into place.

I mentioned the varied reviews earlier, and a number of reviewers seemed to find the story predictable and lightweight. Maybe I’m a bit thick but I didn’t see most of the twists coming. I’m not entirely convinced by the last few pages – it doesn’t leave you with a nice neat conclusion but, to be fair, does fit quite reasonably with the issues of the characters concerned and, after all, it’s not by book and the author can do whatever she chooses! Whilst on the subject of characters it’s worth noting that there isn’t really a single one that is particularly likeable which makes rooting for any of them less easy than it might have been.

Overall, though, I found this to be a very readable page-turner with a neat spin on the whodunit…facebook_image2

How Not To Make A Cult Classic

“Inside The Wicker Man is a treat for all cinemagoers, exhaustively researched and achieving a near-perfect balance between history, trivia and serious analysis. Allan Brown describes the filming and distribution of the cult masterpiece as a ‘textbook example of ‘How Things Should Never Be Done’. The omens were bad from the start, and proceeded to get much, much worse, with fake blossom on trees to simulate spring, actors chomping on ice-cubes to prevent their breath showing on film, and verbal and physical confrontations involving both cast and crew. The studio hated it and hardly bothered to distribute it, but today it finds favour with critics and fans alike, as a serious – if flawed – piece of cinema.

Brown expertly guides readers through the film’s convoluted history, attempting along the way to explain its enduring fascination, and providing interviews with the key figures – many of whom still have an axe to grind, and some of whom still harbour plans for a sequel…”

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I’ve written previously about the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” which without doubt belongs in my top five films of all time. Well, I have just finished reading “Inside The Wicker Man – How Not To Make A Cult Classic” – a book all about the problematic making of the movie, written by Scottish journalist Allan Brown.

Originally published in 2000, I read the revised 2010 edition. Since publication of this edition Sir Christopher Lee passed away last year and a sort-of “sequel” mentioned in the blurb above has appeared with the release of Robin Hardy’s 2011 film “The Wicker Tree”. Hardy himself died earlier this year.

I haven’t previously read a book like this one. That is to say a book about the making of a specific film. I’ve read plenty of biographies that cover a multitude of projects but not one concentrated solely on one. As a result I can’t really compare the book to any similar works, so any observations are purely reactions to having read this one.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown

The first thing that struck me were the somewhat daft chapter descriptions, for example “Chapter 9 – Burrowhead : In which a goat urinates on Edward Woodward, and Anthony Shaffer threatens to burn some pandas”! I guess this is a reflection of the author’s sense of humour but, as I say, seemed a bit daft to me.

There’s a fair bit of detail relayed in the course of the book and it soon becomes clear that practically everyone involved – Shaffer, Hardy, Lee, Woodward, Britt Ekland, etc. etc. – have vastly differing views and memories of the whole experience. The most pronounced differences occur between the deceased pair of Shaffer and Hardy – former business partners who became rather adversarial subsequent to the making of the film – who seem unable to agree on anything and intent on taking the majority of the credit for themselves.

On balance, despite the feeling that the author has an agenda and is most definitely in the Shaffer camp, I’d have to say that given other testimony contained it seems probable that Hardy’s claims are the less likely. That would certainly go some way to explaining how someone who claimed to be largely responsible for “The Wicker Man” could go on the produce the rather poor “The Wicker Tree”.

The story of the genesis and making of the film, editing, marketing and distribution issues and problems that took place between 1972 and 2010 (plus a chapter on the near-comedy that is Nicolas Cage’s 2006 remake) takes up the first two-thirds of the book.

The Wicker Man Poster
The Wicker Man Poster

Following that are a number of appendices, of varying interest to this reader. The technical information on filming locations, scene by scene, and full cast and crew lists, for example, are all well and good but only really for reference purposes. An extract from Lee’s autobiography concerning the film is more interesting, but for me the most interesting appendix was the screenplay for Shaffer’s proposed sequel “The Wicker Man II”.

The premise is certainly interesting, and in its favour you’d have to say at least it’s not a simple retread like the aforementioned “The Wicker Tree”. There is an attempt to follow on the story from where the original film ended but I, and I suspect many fans of that film, find the addition of overtly supernatural elements and various folklore details from a variety of cultures alter the balance of the proposed sequel too much.

There is a tendency to repeat events and quotes – perhaps a result of the update? – and the timeline flits back and forwards rather confusingly sometimes, particularly with the very convoluted events once the film had actually been made. The author attempts to portray the film as something of a glimpse into the (in 1973) future, which I feel is far more coincidental than Brown seems to, but overall a decent read on an interesting subject matter…

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One Down… Twelve To Go

“Stretching along the shelf, standing upright, were twelve wooden coffins. Nine were closed, and three open… with little dolls standing inside them…

It was supposed to be the most special day of her life – until the unthinkable happened. Leslie Petersen is shot dead on her wedding day. With the bride’s killer vanished without a trace, the investigation into the murder grinds to a halt before it’s even begun.

But then, the decomposing body of an unidentified homeless man is found in an old Cold War bunker, and DCI Mark Lapslie makes a bizarre discovery. Hidden near the body is a shrine full of miniature wooden coffins. Each coffin contains a little doll, all dressed differently. One of the dolls is dressed as a bride – could this be a link to Leslie’s murder? And if so, who do the other dolls represent? Can Lapslie and his team stop the countdown of the ‘dying dolls’ before it’s too late?”

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I’ve just finished reading “The Thirteenth Coffin”, the fourth novel in a series featuring police detective DCI Mark Lapsie from British author, and former policeman himself, Nigel McCrery – who also created the TV series “Silent Witness”.

Nigel McCrery
Nigel McCrery

I had previously enjoyed “Tooth And Claw” and “Scream”, books 2 and 3 in the series, so was fairly confident that I would enjoy this one too. As with so many fictional detectives (is it the same for real life ones, I wonder?) Lapsie has baggage. In this case it’s not substance abuse, problems with ex-wives or having strayed onto the wrong side of the thin blue line on occasion. No, Lapsie suffers as a result of having a condition called synaesthesia, which is a condition where a sensation in one of the senses, such as hearing, triggers a sensation in another, such as taste. That is the case for Lapsie, with voices and other sounds leading his mouth to be filled with all kinds of unexpected tastes – most off-putting and distracting for a detective you would think.

On occasion with past cases this condition has aided Lapsie with his investigations. That is less of a factor this time around though as it is his dreams, however unlikely it may seem, providing more inspiration on a rather tricky case trying to track down an especially efficient and calculating serial killer.

As usual Lapsie has his supportive DS Emma Bradbury to help him both with the case and minimising the effects of his condition as much as possible by acting as a conduit between him and the rest of the team. Thus it is these two, plus the elusive killer, that provide the focus for the vast majority of the narrative.

Despite one or two leaps that I’m not sure a genuine police detective would necessarily make – for example knowing immediately that the dolls and coffins are significant and making a connection with the shooting of the bride so quickly and decisively – and the inference of religious motivation that isn’t ultimately followed through on, the story flows really well and is cleverly plotted. I certainly had no idea who the bad guy could be until he was finally unmasked!

Inspired by the intriguing true life case of seventeen miniature dolls and coffins that were found on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh back in 1836, McCrery has come up with a super story in present day Essex. A very good read, warmly recommended. Roll on book five!…top