THE BODY ON THE SIDEWALK & THE RELUCTANT MURDERER

The Body on the Sidewalk and The Reluctant Murderer by Bernice Carey
I’m going to start with something I said in my review of Stark House Press’ 2019 Bernice Carey double header The Man Who Got Away With It and Three Widows* which still seems apt. Reading these two novels I get the same vibe I did with last year’s brace, Carey is a top notch psychological crime writer who holds her own with the best, such as Dorothy B. Hughes:
‘The two novels here illustrate that Bernice Carey was an original writer, her career in crime writing was woefully short and her output limited, but there’s real quality here, fantastic storytelling. These psychological hard-boiled novels plough their own path… Bernice Carey is well deserving of a new audience and to be restored to the pantheon of crime writing history.’

The Body on the Sidewalk (1950) and The Reluctant Murderer (1949) are subversions of the country house mystery that was so popular in the ‘golden age’ era of British crime writing before WWII, epitomised and immortalised by the work of Agatha Christie. There’s even a hint of JB Priestley’s collective guilt:


‘they were all simple fundamentally innocent people meaning no harm only trying to find a way to live comfortably with themselves and with other people so where they all wound up beaten and bruised on that one moment when xxxxx’s feelings, which they all helped to create, went out of control?’


When Carey adds her own twists the tropes and scenarios have a new frisson. In The Body on the Sidewalk the country house becomes a city tenement, in The Reluctant Murderer it’s a family gathering in the mountains. It’s about family, about class and race and social status, as well as mystery.
In the Body on the Sidewalk a cast of suspects is assembled, their actions and attitudes examined; the complex family relationships seethe with tensions and motives for killing the man on the sidewalk surface. It’s fun, specifically urban, working class, it’s an acute analysis of societal norms and physical and emotional boundaries.
The Reluctant Murderer is an altogether different beast. The would be murderer, Vivian, identifies herself as such immediately so the question becomes; who does she want to kill? That’s not at all clear, even after her first tentative failure to commit murder. Soon a new element is introduced to the story, Viv believes someone is also trying to kill her. Even later in the novel when the name of the potential victim is revealed the reader is still not fully aware of what is really going on. Over the weekend tables are turned, misunderstanding proliferate, relationships are exposed, characters laid bare. For a debut this is remarkably accomplished, sharp, complex and emotionally engaging novel. Anyone thinking the psychological novel with the devious twist was invented in the twenty-first century would soon see it’s origins here. The Reluctant Murderer would make a great film even now. A little about the scenario of the books:
The Body on the Sidewalk, 1950.
A body is discovered on some house steps in a city street, a passer-by fetches the police. San Francisco PD sergeant Ferris takes charge. The guy has been shot in the back, the body’s been there hours, how did nobody hear the shot? Ferris rouses the households, matriarch Mamie Grady opens the door, she realises the dead man is Hank Grueber. Ferris assembles the family – Mamie, her three daughters, Maureen, Peggy and Pauline, their step father Frank, and her son, Don and his wife, Lola and their children. As the story progresses there’s also the extended family to consider, Mamie’s ex-husbands, one, Ramon, is still in touch with the children. When a gun is found in a drawer, one round fired, everyone realises the murder is in the family.
Hank had been seeing recently divorced Peggy, they were out last night, got back about one, others in the house were still up at the time. Don worked with Hank, they hated each other. Don and his wife were entertaining Ernie and Nell, a black couple, yesterday evening, something they don’t want the cops to know, they are sure to be suspected. Pauline hates the thought that the scandal might reveal that her brother has black friends, it would harm her career, that bothers her more than the fact that one of them is a killer. The politics of the workplace, social climbing, race and family relationships are all under the microscope. The family question themselves:
“If you should prove to your satisfaction then that it was, say, one of the girls, or your mother, would you expose them to save yourself?” [Ramón asks Don]
This is a social drama in which motives emerge as relationships become strained, its claustrophobic:
“Oh, Don, I don’t like this, having to suspect your own people-almost hoping it’s one of them, to save yourself.” [Lola to Don]


The Reluctant Murderer, 1949.


“It came to me while I was reading Anne’s letter. That murder was the answer.”


Even seventy years on the tangled weave of family relationships in The Reluctant Murderer are electric. Viv has worried and brooded for weeks, never thought about murder before, it just flashed into her head, the only answer to a long vexing problem. Of course, it’s a repulsive idea, but she can’t be squeamish, Anne has poison in her garden, perhaps that’s the answer, it’s a relief for Viv to have made a decision.


‘I have never cared for detective stories, and for a moment I regretted it. If I had read more of them I might now be familiar with different means of doing away with people.’ [nice little in joke]


Anne’s letter said Aunt Maud is staying so she has organised a family get together for the weekend. Her new beau Johnny will be there, Maud might not approve as Anne is only three years divorced, and Culbert can come with Viv. An old family friend, Culbert and Viv reconnected when he came to San Francisco a year ago.
On the way to Anne’s house in the Santa Cruz mountains above Los Gatos Culbert proposes to Viv, she replies; ‘we-ll, if you insist’. They can announce it this weekend.
Aunt Maud has money, she thrived during the crash, Anne and Viv’s parents are dead, Anne husband also died during war, now she has Johnny. Maud has brought her assistant, Miss Pringle, and her chauffeur, Alphonse, with her. Who will be the target? Anne’s feckless boyfriend, the gold digging servants, the rich aunt Viv isn’t close to?


‘Any northern Californian knows that the southern part of the state is populated almost exclusively by screwballs, and I do believe Aunt Maud to be the epitome of southern California crackpotism.’


The novel explores class, the way people pass judgement on each other, how misunderstanding can come from honest intentions, how people jump to conclusions, how family secrets poison relationships, and where guilt exists but it shouldn’t. There’s plenty of sleight of hand and red herrings in The Reluctant Murderer.


Both novels are tightly plotted and tense, but often relieved with moments of humour, Carey expertly draws on the readers sense of anticipation and foreboding. The themes are still potent today. This is classy writing, The Body on the Sidewalk, eminently readable, a fun mystery with plenty of turns and a serious edge of social critique. The Reluctant Murderer is nothing short of a masterpiece.
There’s also a very useful and interesting introduction to both by Curtis Evans.
*That review can be found here: https://nbmagazine.co.uk/the-man-who-got-away-with-it-and-three-widows-by-bernice-carey/.
ISBN 9781944520946, Stark House Press, paperback, 25/5/20

WOMAN OF STATE

Woman of State by Simon Berthon
This is a novel I picked up on a hunch a couple of years ago not being familiar with the author. The setting for Woman of State was right up my alley because it’s a thriller about Ireland, the Troubles and British politics which always intrigue me. I put it aside and it didn’t make the top of my tbr pile until now but if I’d known how enjoyable it would be, how good it is, I’ve have got to Woman of State much sooner. This for me is a perfect beach read, plenty of excitement and a bit of depth – exercise for the grey matter. There are a lot of good thrillers based in and around the Troubles and this one is good enough to hold its own; it’s original and stylish. Woman of State is loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and real world grittiness. The story, although it’s in familiar territory, is unpredictable and layered, complex but very easy to follow. A few chapters in it becomes unputdownable.
July ’91, Belfast girl Maire Anne McCartney has just blitzed her ‘A’ levels and will soon be heading south to Trinity College in Dublin. She makes love to her boyfriend Joseph Kennedy, and in the tender moment that follow he says:
‘The movement needs your help.’
Maire is committed politically but she’s not sure about the bloody struggle. There’s a Brit Special Branch officer, Haliburton, drinks at the Europa, eyes up the girls, before heading back to Castlereagh. Joseph wants Maire to be a honey trap. Bring him to a flat where the IRA can talk to him. Just that, an interrogation and then they’ll let him go, the worse for wear but alive. In her heart Maire can’t believe that but let’s Joseph talk her into it. The clincher is when he tells her that her big brother Martin OK’ed it, he’s a big shot in the IRA. The following Saturday she bumps into Haliburton at the Europa, he invites himself back to her place, the flat Joseph arranged. As she sneaks out four masked men descend on the randy cop. Maire walks home, next day the news is all about a Brit Special Branch officer lured to his death. A couple of days later Maire is arrested, the Brits know she was involved but she won’t give up Joseph. Eventually the Brits let her go, perhaps there’s not enough evidence, perhaps they want to follow her. Martin didn’t know but he doesn’t have time for her regrets and her naivety. He arranged for Maire to go to Dublin immediately, never to see Joseph again.
That was supposed to be the end of it but Joseph and Martin and the IRA come back into Maire life a couple of years later. Her English boyfriend raised their hackles.
What happened in Dublin? Twenty-five years later Anne-Marie Gallagher, respected lawyer is elected MP for the seat of Lambeth West, her acceptance speech draws attention:


‘No human right has been more trampled,’ she resumed, ‘than the right to live our lawful lives unobserved in the privacy of our homes, our meeting places with our friends, with our families.
Under the cloak of fear, of exaggerated threats from terrorists and other convenient enemies, technology – and the lost the control – has created the surveillance state.’


The new PM offers her a junior minister’s job. Of course, Anne-Marie is worried the past might catch up with her but the peace process is well established so maybe she’s safe. She’s not long in office before someone is stirring the pot. The police have received an anonymous tip off about a body buried near the border, apparently sometime in the early nineties.
The past about to come back on Anne-Marie with a vengeance. As the investigation into the body in Northern Ireland focusses on Anne-Marie she is forced to choose sides.
Avoiding the obvious road to travel this novel keeps the reader guessing to the end. It’s a plausible dirty, deadly setting, from Belfast to Dublin to Whitehall.
This is an accomplished debut novel from journalist and history writer Berthon. It was published in paperback as A Secret Worth Killing For. A second spy thriller by Berthon, A Time to Lie, is scheduled to be published in December this year.
HQ, an imprint of Harper Collins, hardback, 2017, ISBN 9780008214364

THE SIRIUS CROSSING

The Sirius Crossing by John Creed
This is an intelligent spy thriller set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, with a bit of globe trotting thrown in for good measure. The Sirius Crossing is well writing and hugely entertaining. From the first page I was gripped by the dark mood and cynical edge to the storytelling; it’s hard, brutal and very real world. A story that has a satisfyingly complex plot and real depth of character but also plenty of page turning action.
Jack friend Liam says the living have a duty to the dead, for Valentine it’s a duty to the truth. A quarter of a century after it happened ex-air force lieutenant Harry Longworth gave Valentine a vital piece of the puzzle which helped him assemble the full story. Longworth didn’t know the significance of his information but he knew it what happened was ‘odd’:
Bishopsway Air Support Base, northern England, February, 1974. Longworth is ordered to collect two US servicemen from the clandestine night-time landing of a C-130, then babysit them for a few hours. The Hercules is back in the air as soon as the men are deposited with Longworth. His instructions are to keep the men isolated and hidden until they leave, neither man has any insignia or rank on their uniform. After two hours Longworth drives the men to another plane that has come for them. Without a word the men leave and Longworth’s part is over. Eighty minutes later the two men parachute near Dundalk Bay but the weather conditions are bad and the drop turns into a disaster. The first man is killed before he hits the ground, his partner is badly injured. The second man manages to bury the body of his colleague before heading to the border and into the north.

  1. The MRU tends to fly under the radar, it isn’t subject to the same scrutiny from politicians as MI5/6 as the Cold War comes to an end. Jack Valentine is tired, about ready to retire, but he’ll take one more job with the promise it’s the last. He works for Somerville:
    ‘The tag of old-fashioned to the point of being quaint would describe Somerville if you regarded Torquemada as old-fashioned and Vlad the Impaler as quaint.’
    Fair warning, the MRU is deep and dirty. Somerville’s deputy Curley is believed to be the man who perfected the CTT, (carcinogenic transmission technique). A grain of uranium in a cigar and max. three months later death by cancer – an untraceable assassination. Somerville has an unusual mission for Valentine, retrieve the documents and equipment with a long buried body in the Ravensdale forest just south of the border in the Republic of Ireland. Key instruction – bring back the package with the papers unread. Somerville says it was a failed op in the early 70s, there were two men, one survived lived long enough to give a rough location for the other’s body but then died. It should be one night’s work, just four ancient stone burial chambers to search. Valentine takes the job:
    ‘What I should really have done was reach into my shoulder holster, take out the Glock and empty it into his desiccated, evil old body. I know that now. And some part of me knew it then.’
    Valentine can’t help wondering why he’s being sent, British soldiers operate south of the border all the time, and why now, what is so urgent about this operation?
    Returning to his home in Kintyre Valentine finds his old friend Liam Mellows waiting for him. Theirs is an old friendship that has survived the two men being on different sides of the divide in Ireland. Mellows is in trouble, he’s been set up by Army Intelligence or C3 or MI5, who knows. His IRA colleagues have seen a photo of Mellows in the company of no less than the head of Special Branch border operations, Ronnie Whitcroft. Now old pals Canning and Marks are looking for Liam mellows the traitor. As Valentine and Mellows are discussing the situation a car approaches, in this remote location that can’t be good. Valentine and Mellows just about escape in his boat with shot fizzing around them…
    They sail for Ireland; Liam Mellows has his problems to sort while Jack Valentine has his mission, only there are other parties interested in the body he is searching for. This is a tense, murky thriller, never less than intriguing. The Sirius Crossing is a shady world of betrayal and violence where you can’t trust your own side and the good guys are scarce on the ground. A worthy addition to the canon of Troubles thrillers.
    There are two more Jack Valentine books which I’ve already ordered after reading this novel; The Day of the Dead and Black Cat Black Dog. John Creed is a pen name of Eoin McNamee author of several novels set in Northern Ireland with a basis in historical events and characters. The Vogue, The Resurrection Men, Orchid Blue, Blue is the Night, The Ultras (not a complete list). Eoin also writes for TV and writes children’s books.
    Faber and Faber, paperback, 2003.

MEMORIES

Memories Naim Attallah
Naim Attallah was born in Haifa, then part of the British mandate of Palestine, in 1931, the son of a Barclays bank clerk. After the second world war he came to Britain aged eighteen. Quartet Books was founded in 1972 and was fully taken over by Attallah in 1976. In the years since he has been a backer of The Oldie and The Literary Review and also the owner of the Women’s Press. He has interviewed celebrities, politicians, the wealthy and powerful for many publications over the years and written several books of memoir as well as a book of interviews entitled Women in 1988. Attallah was often seen by the established publishing world as an outsider, as a ‘cowboy’ (the word he uses himself), but I don’t get the impression that really bothered him much. Attallah has been mocked from time to time for his bon vivant lifestyle, the Guardian once described him as a; “legendary adorer of beautiful women”, and there has been some controversy over the ghost writing of his books but again I don’t think that matters much to Attallah. Now ninety and only too aware of his aching bones there’s still a vitality in the man that is admirable. Naim Attallah is a man who always went about things his own way, it’s what made his interviews interesting, he always came at his subject from his own angle and got the people and their stories in a way others wouldn’t have. His world is a world of wealth, of princes and princesses but also politicians, newspaper folk and the great and the good of publishing.
On a personal note, finding Lillian Hellman’s autobiography in a Bristol bookshop was a formative moment in my teenage reading. A three volume memoir; An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento and Scoundrel Times published by Quartet in 1983-4, (see page 276 for reference). This reading experience is something I shall always be grateful to Quartet, and therefore Naim Attallah, for. Other authors you may know from the Quartet list, (some reprints), include: George Mackay Brown, Brian Moore, Mordecai Richler, Giorgio Bassini, Ismael Kadare, Boris Vian, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Shusaku Endo, Ian Gilmore, Robert Kee, Jack Kerouac, Annie Ernaux, Per Olav Enquist, Tahar Ben Jalloun, and Thomas Bernhard.
This book is a sort of ‘best of’. Over the years the publisher Naim Attallah has produced fifteen books of memoir, he’s also written a blog for the past ten years, this book is a selection from that output it also includes pieces by people who worked with Attallah over the years. Attallah describes as a ‘potpourri of vignettes’ to amuse and interest readers. Often that’s true, simple short pieces that capture a moment or a thought. Others offer a deeper insight into the man and the publishing world. Why I Publish What I Publish delves into the motivation of a publisher from his desire to bring Middle Eastern literature to bigger audience to the other kind of books he likes personally and wanted to back. My favourite story here is An International Incident in which Attallah describes an encounter with the Observer editor Donald Trelford in 1993. Trelford was looking for insight into Edith Cresson, a woman who had been Mitterrand’s PM for a brief period, with a view to interviewing her. Attallah had interview Cresson in French a few years earlier, he sent the notes to Trelford who immediately saw its explosive potential. The Observer published the piece with an opening reference to continental people having sex while the English have hot water bottles. In the interview among other things Cresson states that:
“One-in-four Englishmen are gay”
A furore followed for publication.
There are heart felt pieces; A Tribute to the Hashemite Princess Who Had No Equal on the death of Dina Abdul-Hamid at the age of 91 in August, 2019. Attallah describes her as an ‘exceptional person with remarkable gifts’. A woman briefly marriage to King Hussein of Jordan and then to Salah To’amari, a spokesman for the PLO, who was captured during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Attallah recalls Dina’s role in negotiating the release of her husband and thousands of prisoners in exchange for six Israeli soldiers. There are pieces on Leni Riefenstahl, Anthony Blond (a man who supported him when he came into publishing), meeting Margot Fonteyn, and Marin Alsop.
The collection is eclectic and idiosyncratic and something of the man is revealed in the writing.
9780704374799 Quartet Books, paperback, 16/4/20

NEVER HAVE I EVER

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
Some games are deadly serious and even if you don’t want to play you’re in, of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t change the rules of engagement. This sharp psychological thriller is wickedly enjoyable and I say that as someone who is always a little wary about ‘new’ psychological novels because there’s often not much substance, just a twist too far. Not so Never Have I Ever which has an engaging plot and a clever, disguised reveal that is satisfying. Jackson’s characters come to life on the page and an atmosphere of domestic competitiveness, keeping up with the Jones’s, petty squabbles, cliques, family and genuine friendship soon gives way to something more sinister.
The narrator of this creepy thriller is Amy. She’s living a comfortable life in suburban Florida, (purposely this could be anywhere in America). Amy is a wife, step mum to Maddy, and mother to baby Oliver. She is close to Charlotte, and has a circle of friends – they have their book group. Her world is about to be turned upside down by the arrival of mysterious newcomer Roux. Amy has a dark secret, it’s been buried for years, no one could possibly know about it, so she’s safe. If it did come out her whole existence would be in jeopardy, everything she’s built.
From the moment Roux arrives the equilibrium in Amy’s life disappears. She suddenly appears one night at the neighbourhood book club. There are twenty or so members from the local community but they’ve never had someone from the Airbnb house across the road from Amy’s before, the guests are usually transient. This night as the group settles down to The House of Mirth there’s a knock on the door, Amy answers, it’s Angelica, ‘call me Roux’. She’s just moved into the Airbnb place with her son Luca, she’s here on business and plans on staying a while; what better place to make friends than the book club? As she introduces herself to the group Roux is already playing a game and she quickly manages to get one up on Charlotte and Amy. By the end of the night Roux has a few of the women eating out of her hand, they are playing a version of Never Have I Ever. Everybody has to describe the worst thing they’ve done that day, the winner (‘worst thing’) gets everyone else to down a drink. Charlotte has gone home, Amy doesn’t want to play. The next round is the worst thing you did in the last week, then it’s the last month. Amy knows there’s something going on here, she can’t help feeling this is aimed at her. Roux says Amy should come over for a chat.
When Amy was fifteen she was a loner, then she started hanging out with Tig. One night it went badly wrong, Tig took the blame but that wasn’t right it was Amy’s fault. The thing is no one knew that, it’s gone and in the past. Roux isn’t bluffing though she really knows what happened. The question is what does she want…
Entertaining and involving with a nice little moral dilemma at its heart, actions have consequences and the past always haunts the present.

Bloomsbury, paperback, 14/5/20, ISBN: 9781526611604

THE BUTCHER OF CASABLANCA

The Butcher of Casablanca by Abdelilah Hamdouchi.
And now for something a little different, from Morocco have we have Kasbah-noir. Crime fiction infused with the fragrant spices of the Casablanca souks, there’s plenty of local colour and culture in this new and exciting setting for the murder mystery. Hamdouchi was one of the first writers to address an Arabic speaking audience through crime fiction. This translation by Peter Daniel allows readers in the US and the UK to access a different take on the genre that comes from the particular socio-political background in Morocco and the culture of the Arab world. A lot of this novel is about the relationships between characters, and between the past and the present and even comparisons between mundane and more exotic murder, (most crimes practically solve themselves). This is a competent police procedural, the second to feature detective Hanash, after Bled Dry in 2017. I haven’t read Bled Dry but I have read Hamdouchi’s slightly earlier novel The Final Bet (2016) which was intriguing but this novel is more polished, better at achieving what it set out to do.
The Butcher of Casablanca is entertaining, at times very funny but it always has that thread of social critique about it that pulls the reader up, we are laughing at dark things sometimes. Personally I love this insight into a country I know very little about but if you’re a fan of the type of serial killer novel that reeks of blood and revels in the gruesome thus terrifying the reader this is not for you. This is a much more subtle novel, a more intelligent novel, closer to the literary thriller model. In The Butcher of Casablanca the dark is tempered by humour, the social setting and the investigation are not intended to foster a full on thrill fest. The terror is reserved for the characters in the book, the people of the city, the killer on the loose unsettles a society that is not used to such a crime occurring in its midst. The readers involvement is detached from that fear and the attitudes it engenders, focused more on what the novel says about crime, policing, class and society in Morocco. The mystery alone would not sustain this book told this way, the crime has significance in other ways. It’s a measure by which other tragedies are measured, other crimes, societal norms, even the past:
‘Repression in exchange for security: the ideal situation for reducing crime rates.’
‘New era’ policing is very different from the way it was done in the past, less brutal but also less lucrative for the police. In the ‘old era’, when the Interior Ministry were in charge, the experience of a suspect in police hands was bleak, guilty or not you were likely to confess. Guilty or not you might never return from the police station. It was a ‘nadir for human rights’; illegal detentions, torture and extra judicial murder, there were no come backs. Even to speak of this would have wound you up in jail.
Hamdouchi sets the scene with a recap of the country’s past, of Hanash’s past. Now Hanash is chief of detectives, responsible for the investigation of the most serious crimes in the city. While he might appear to be an ordinary policeman he is a product of that earlier time, came up in one system and now lives in the more liberal other, (although there are radical threats to the new democratic way). This dark past is in contrast with the first image of Hanash, when we meet him here he setting out on a normal family holiday. A workaholic hoping he can some how get out of the trip. It’s also a reminder that the real horror in this story is the scarring of the past, a brutal, repressive unaccountable regime and a rigid class structure not the apparition that is the serial killer who stalks the pages. This is crime fiction as social critique as much as it is a ‘who done it?’
‘To Hanash, the waste picker was barely a notch above a beggar. Despite this, he beckoned to the waste picker, who lurched toward him with his head bowed.’’
And,
‘No one from the sector of waste pickers, garbage grubbers and dumpster divers had been promoted to CI yet… Waste pickers and their ilk were foul and dirty.’
It’s just before 6am Hanash’s wife is busy rousing the family, Tarek and Manar moan but it’s not them she worries about. When they are on the road she may relax but if Hanash’s phone rings now they will not be able to get away to Marrakesh to visit their other daughter Atiqa who has just given birth to a son. Hanash is dressed and finally they are off but before they hit the highway his mobile goes. Hanash must return to police HQ they have a found a body, well half of a body, in a dumpster on Rue Juncor, the chief wants his top detective on the job.
The night before: A man hums to himself as puts the body parts into two plastic bags. Calmly he cleans the floor, takes a shower and dresses:
‘He had eliminated the thing that has been ruining his life and now all he had to do was to dispose of it.’
Worried about being seen with the evidence in his hands he sneaks through the alleys, the bags smell, he reaches the dumpsters, throws them in. It’s done, he is ‘intoxicated with his victory’.
Half of Hanash’s career occurred under the old regime, his real name is Mohamed Bineesa, but they call him: ‘Hanash – The Snake’. Working his way up from officer to inspector and the inspector to detective. The most lucrative time in his career was Tangiers dealing with the hashish smugglers and because of that the family now live in a big house in a good suburb of Casablanca. Under a democratic government prisoners have to be treated like VIPs and pecuniary opportunities are less lucrative. Crime has proliferated, criminals are craftier and fearless, the police rely on CIs. Hanash is not yet fully recovered, he was shot five months ago by an officer he had spying on his other men but the man who stole from a crime scene and could see no other way out. Hanash has changed, his weakness led to him giving up women, the constant in his life is the battle with his wife, as work always comes first, is an epic:
‘At times like this, he thought, marriage was a form of punishment for anyone who adopted a career with the police.’
Naeema reminds him:
‘You’ve never been there when it really counted.’
At the crime scene they have recovered the lower half of a young woman from the dumpster, in her twenties, her genitals have been mutilated. No leads, no witnesses and an investigation loaded with old habits that die hard. As more bodies turn up Hanash has no idea how to catch a serial killer. When an unconnected murder occurs it doesn’t take much to get the killers to confess to the dumpster murders but of course the problem has not gone away, things get very nasty.
The novel highlights the plight of the policeman out of his depth, under pressure for results, but wily and sharp. There’s a lot about the family in the novel and more ordinary crime, however, what the serial killer is up to is an interesting revelation.
The Butcher of Casablanca is intriguing and insightful, unless you’ve read Hamdouchi before I doubt you’ll have read a crime novel like this before.
Hoopoe Fiction, AUC Press, 9789774169687, On sale now.

SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN

Seventy Times Seven by John Gordon Sinclair.
I’m a bit late to the party on this one, Seventy Times Seven was published in 2012. I came across this recently researching a piece on the Troubles and crime writing and I’m glad I did. This is a really entertaining and very well written debut thriller, packed with page turning action and a healthy dose of grit. There’s plenty in the twisty plot to keep readers intrigued and there’s a decent laugh or two along the way. There’s also one brutal scene that really shocks and reminds us that actions have consequences, it’s not preachy just true to the real world and more poignant for that. The dialogue has the feel of the locale, whether it’s Newry or Alabama as the story moves across the Atlantic and back. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Those of a certain age will remember Sinclair as a comic actor particularly good at amiable roles, Gregory’s Girl practically made him a household name in 1981. The sleeve notes for this thriller don’t mention Sinclair’s acting, probably because his light hearted performances don’t quite chime with this hard edged thriller, the two seeming incongruous. I admit I was sceptical but now I’m a believer in JG Sinclair the writer.
Newry, 1984. The girl stares out into the street, she suddenly calls her Da over, there’s a young man dragging a coffin up the street oozing liquid, blood? The young man looks over at their window and Joe Fitzpatrick grabs his daughter’s arm and drags her away quickly.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1992, 90° in the shade, inside McHales Bar. Vincent and Cola are loading up on booze, waiting for the target to show, Cola is volatile, Vincent wary of him. Finn O’Hanlon walks in for a beer, one beer, he doesn’t stay anywhere for long. He picks a table by the rear entrance with a clear sight of the bar and the main entrance. Finn knows they will come for him one day. Turns out they sent Cole and Vincent, while Vincent goes for the car Cola decides to act. He rises, heading for Finn, pointing his magnum, he starts blasting…
Newry, a couple of days earlier. Danny McGuire can’t believe it when he gets a call from Lep McFarlane. Danny thought Lep was dead, wanted Lep to be dead, but it turns out he was hiding out in a dark hole in Donegal for the last eight years. Everyone assumed that Lep informed the Brits when Danny’s brother Sean was blown to pieces in an ambush. The IRA will kill him on sight, Danny would too, but Lep wants to meet, he has info on a man who knows what happened to Sean that night. Lep thinks the Commander in Chief of the IRA, EI O’Leary, has given Danny the the job of killing Finn O’Hanlon, hiding out in the US because of the information from the Special Branch break-in. He warns Danny that Finn is the only one who can tell him what happened to Sean but Danny has no idea who Finn O’Hanlon is.
O’Leary just pulled off a coup, breaking into Special Branch and stealing the list of informants and a bonus file on Thevshi, the ghost, the IRAs most wanted. Special branch want to turn the town upsidedown of get the list back but MI5 say they should relax and let things develop, why?
Danny is a killer, when he sees O’Leary a few days later he gets the kill job in the states, a couple of local screw ups already blew it once. Danny’s brief is to find Finn O’Hanlon and kill him, and to do a deal for weapons while he’s there…
There’s plenty going on in this complex but very readable thriller. This is not a deeply reflective novel but there’s enough depth for it to feel realistic and set it above the usual all action thriller. Since writing this novel Sinclair has published Blood Whispers in 2015 and Walk in Silence 2018.
Faber & Faber, 9780571290628, hardback, 2012.

MAXIMUM ROSSI

Maximum Rossi by Paul W Papa.
A Las Vegas Crime Noir
‘She was blessed with an abundance of legs; enough for two girls. It made me think things I had no business thinking.’
To find a modern pastiche of the noir/hardboiled novels of the 40s and 50s this good is quite rare. This is a really decent homage to the age of Chandler and Hammett, and it’s a pleasure to read. Entertaining for the story and the way it plays with tropes and subverts expectations. Max Rossi captures the lone wolf PI spirit perfectly, although he’s a reluctant shamus, his first case is very personal. Max has to prove himself innocent when a made guy gets his throat slit after they have a public fight. This isn’t just about avoiding the wrath of the law, there’s the Chicago mob on his tail too. To be honest Max Rossi isn’t a popular guy anyway, the people who run this town fear his connection to the Boston mob, he keeps getting told to leave. The feel for time and place is great, Papa knows this town and his historical setting is well pitched. Maximum Rossi is fast pace and taut, there’s a nod to the real gangsters of the time, Luciano, Lansky, Seigel (RIP) that add colour the background. The dialogue is snappy, there are plenty of quotable lines, ones that demonstrate the love of the original hardboiled novels and those that reflect a modern twist:
‘The man brought two goons with him. One was just shy of a mountain, the other a molehill.’
Breakfast, Max Rossi is minding his own business when Salvatore Manella spoils the morning. The former New York mobster was sent here to clean up after the syndicate had Bugsy Seigel killed for skimming. Lucky Luciano got his money back, Meyer Lansky got the Sands and the Flamingo. Sal stayed, he wants to know why Max hasn’t left town, out of respect for his father, a fixer for the mob, he’s asking nicely. Max doesn’t have the connections to Boston that New York and Chicago are afraid of. He came from Boston for a wedding and liked Law Vegas well enough to stay, Max likes to gamble:
‘The fat city enamoured me.’
Max has no intention of being scared off. He’s even getting himself a house of out here. Sal leaves the threat hanging there. Later Max gets himself into a poker game with Fingers Abbandanddo and Joe ‘the barber’ Bilotti, (handy with a cut throat). Bilotti is a bore, an oaf, he slaps his dancer girlfriend around until Max jumps to Jeanie’s defence. Bilotti isn’t used to taking a beating, he won’t get over it quickly so Max takes Jeanie to his new place to keep her out of the way for the night. In the morning she’s gone, really gone, no one can find her. That’s when Max gets acquainted with lieutenant Connor McQueenie. Bilotti got his throat slashed last night and Max’s alibi, Bilotti’s girl, is nowhere to be found. As Max looks for Jeanie but he runs into her friend Virginia and a world of troubles…
Max is a tough nut, he needs to be, he’s about to get beaten, battered and shot at. The answers are always just out of grasp, events spooning out of control. I can’t really say how the tropes are subverted because that would definitely be a spoiler but the ‘jump in front of a bullet’ scene is a cracker. There’s plenty of humour in Maximum Rossi, when detective McQueenie says:
“Don’t leave town,”
Max notes that finally someone wanted him to stay. This novel is fun, a clever quick read. A second novel Rossi’s Gamble will be published later in the summer, I’ll be there for that one after this opener to the Rossi series.
9781734405736 HPD Publishing, paperback out now

website: https//paulwpapa.com

SEVEN SHOES

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.
https://www.sevenshoesnovel.com/

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

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.