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Gone by Leona Deakin @LeonaDeakin1 @HJ_Barnes @TransworldBooks #Gone

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9th August 2019 in e-book; 12 December 2019 in paperback from Black Swan
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1784164089

Four strangers are missing. Left at their last-known locations are birthday cards that read:
YOUR GIFT IS THE GAME. DARE TO PLAY?

The police aren’t worried – it’s just a game. But the families are frantic. As psychologist and private detective Dr Augusta Bloom delves into the lives of the missing people, she finds something that binds them all.

And that something makes them very dangerous indeed.

As more disappearances are reported and new birthday cards uncovered, Dr Bloom races to unravel the mystery and find the missing people.

But what if, this time, they are the ones she should fear?

Gone is an interesting take on the psychopathic serial killer genre and as such it is a fascinating and enjoyable read. A dual strand runs through this book. The first is the story of Seraphine, a 12 year old child visiting a psychologist after stabbing a school caretaker with a sharpened pencil, which she justifies as self-defence because he was sexually preying on her school friend and she was in fear that he would harm her, too.

The second is a deadly game which has resulted in people going missing from their families and friends.

Dr. Augusta Bloom is a psychologist who often works with the police and her friend and business partner, Marcus Jameson, an ex -MI6 operative who has left the service with severe burn-out. They discover that each of the four missing people they are looking into has received a card in the post. Tese cards read ‘Happy first birthday’ and ‘Your gift is the game. Dare to play? ‘

Jameson is contacted by his sister, Claire, who has been looking after Jane, the daughter of Lana, an army officer who is one of the people who has gone missing.Claire has been looking after Jane while her mum is away on army manoeuvres, and who has now vanished.

Claire has done some investigating of her own and has discovered another three people who have also gone missing in similar circumstances.

As Bloom and Jameson start to look into Lana’s disappearance they find that these disappearances are more chilling than anyone first thought. This premise offers an intriguing start to a fast-paced and action fuelled psychological thriller which captured my imagination and held my attention well.

Well plotted and intriguing, Gone is a different approach to the psychological thriller genre and offers an interesting and novel take on an investigating duo.

Characterisation is fairly lightly drawn, but this is the start of a series, and character development may follow in future books.  As the plot develops, it becomes clear that Bloom and Jameson have inextricable links to this case and their past history will have a bearing on how the revelations unfold.

Psychological profiling plays a key role in enabling the analytical Bloom to get to the truth of what has been happening and I really enjoyed this aspect of the book, although as we got towards the conclusion the denouement became a little more obvious and the action somewhat more requiring a leap of faith.

Nevertheless, this is a strong start to a potentially exciting new investigative pairing and I would happily read another book with these two protagonists.

Verdict: A chilling and gripping psychological thriller with real potential for a future series.

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Leona Deakin started her career as a psychologist with the West Yorkshire Police. She is now an occupational psychologist and lives with her family in Leeds.

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver @will_carver @orendabooks @annecater #NothingImportantHappenedToday

Source: Review copy
Publication: 14 November 2019 from Orenda Books
PP: 287
ISBN-13: 978-1912374830

Nine suicides

One Cult

No leader

Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But at the same time, they run, and leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today.

That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of the People Of Choice: A mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another.

Thirty-two people on that train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People Of Choice are appearing around the globe; it becomes a movement. A social media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers. The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader that does not seem to exist.

How do you stop a cult when nobody knows they are a member?

I am completely buzzing to be on the blog tour for Will Carver’s original, stark and compelling novel. A beautifully written, coruscating book whose pages dazzle with acute observation and scathing wit, Nothing Important Happened today is a dazzling work of fiction that should be on everyone’s reading list.

You can read my review here.

Today I’m pleased to give readers the opportunity to read the Prologue and some of the opening chapter of this fabulous book, just to whet your appetite. So please, sit back and enjoy….

PROLOGUE

Nobody cares anymore.

By the time they get to him, nearly a year has passed. The public have lost interest, moved on to something new. Some old schizo takes himself to the woods to commit suicide. So what? How is that a loss? How is that news? Schedule it as an afterthought.

You put a gun to your head and squeeze the trigger, there’s no time for second-guessing. You jump off the roof of a multistorey car park, it’s difficult to back out when you’re twenty feet from hitting the concrete.

There’s a strip of duct tape on the ground that he ripped off his face when he changed his mind and tried to call for help. Nobody came. There are scratch marks on his wrists where he tried to escape and some abrasions on the tree from the handcuffs. The key that was thrown out of reach is somewhere beneath the leaves.

Who gives a fuck? Some stupid, old fool wanders into the forest, tapes his mouth shut and handcuffs himself to a tree. He throws the key away so he can’t get out. And he waits to die in a long, drawn-out and painful way. So what?

It was his choice, right?

His decision.

Here’s the kicker: the idiot strapped himself to the trunk with his hands above a branch. He couldn’t get the cuffs lower than three feet from the ground. So there was no way to lie down on the floor when he needed to sleep.

When he is found, his wrists are bearing the full weight of his body. His left shoulder against the tree trunk, his head lolling forwards, the fronts of his legs dragging across the floor, his back unnaturally arched. There are marks on his body from animals who only found him because he shit his pants repeatedly in those first four agonising days.

The silly fool with a note in his pocket saying that he is the last one. A person of choice. That it needed to be done in this way because he had to not want to die.

Otherwise it wouldn’t count.

But nobody cares.

It’s over.

Nobody will know who he was.

Nobody will remember his name.

The guy is a goddamned Nobody.

PART ONE

CULT

225–233

We don’t have to say go.

Or jump.

Or count down from three.

We just know.

For we are The People of Choice, the ones now with courage. And we choose not to fear.

You know us. We’ve stocked your supermarket shelves. We’ve poured you coffee. We water your plants and feed your cat while you are on holiday.

We couldn’t possibly be in that group. That crazy cult. No way. Our boys play football together. We are your neighbour. We are your nephew. We are your daughter. We recommended that film you liked so much.

We are everywhere.

And we leave our homes and workplaces from the various dots across the capital and congregate on Chelsea Bridge as arranged, none of us offering a formal introduction, nobody speaking at all. Our paths have crossed on numerous occasions – nothing worth noting; nothing to dwell on.

We are just nine lives.

Nine personalities.

Nine problems.

Nine decisions.

We each received our calling this morning, the verification of our membership. A letter that confirmed our importance, our place in history; the continuation of this legacy. We all read that it was our time and knew immediately where we should meet and when. We knew what to bring and how we should use it.

We are one solution.

This is not the beginning.

We are but nine more.

Four of us approach the self-anchored suspension bridge from the south, Battersea and beyond. Five from north of the river come via Chelsea and Pimlico. For some, this is not the closest bridge to their house, but this was the agreement.

It must be here.

We know what to do.

Those from the south arrive at intervals, each wearing the same expression, each with a choice, each passing a bearded man with a video camera aimed in the wrong direction, ready to capture nothing important to the west. Missing an opportunity.

One becomes two and two become four until all nine of us are sitting, motionless, gazing to the east, waiting for the moment. We don’t count down; we don’t speak.

We don’t have to.

We just know.

And we stay seated for a while, perched on the great steel box that runs the length of the bridge on both sides of the road, overlooking the path ahead and the river beyond. This is our time for final contemplation.

This is our moment of selection.

We sat behind you in class. We washed your car while you went shopping. We employed you. We are your father. We gave you that recipe for shortbread. We stitched your daughter back together when she came off her bike.

And we open our rucksacks at the same time, still seated on the cold metal, still looking out across the blackening water; the bulbs that illuminate the elongated M-shaped suspension create a matching W in the pool beneath. And we put on our black jumpers.

Each of us pulls our head through first, leaving the hood up.

The Lovers.

The Ungrateful.

The Poet.

We all slide our arms in.

Left, then right.

The Doctor.

The Nobodies.

And Young Levant.

Our decision has been made.

We don’t have to say go.

Or jump.

Or count down from three.

We just know.

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Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series. He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK at age eleven, when his sporting career took off. He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company. He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, and lives in Reading with his two children. Good Samaritans was book of the year in Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Express, and hit number one on the ebook charts.

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#UKGiveaway Safe House by Jo Jakeman @JoJakemanWrites @HarvillSecker #SafeHouse #Blogtour

Source: Review copy
Publication: 31 October 2019 from Harvill Secker
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1787300880

The morning after a terrible storm, a woman turns up in a remote Cornish village. She calls herself Charlie, but it’s a name she’s only had for a few days. She keeps herself to herself, reluctant to integrate with the locals. Because Charlie has a secret.

Charlie was in prison for providing a false alibi for a murderer. But Lee Fisher wasn’t a murderer to her; he was the man she loved. Convinced of his innocence, Charlie said she was with him the night a young woman was killed. This sacrifice cost her everything.

And now she has a chance to start again. But someone is watching her, waiting for her, wondering if she’s really paid the price for what she did.

I am delighted to be on the blog tour for Jo Jakeman’s highly enjoyable Safe House. You can read my review, published earlier this week, here. The theme is whether we can ever escape our past and the book follows Charlie Miller as she attempts to do just that.

To enter the UK giveaway to win a copy of Jo Jakeman’s latest book, Safe House, just click on this Rafflecopter link and follow the instructions.

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Jo Jakeman was the winner of the prestigious Friday Night Live competition at York Festival of Writing. Her debut Psychological Thriller was published in the UK as Sticks and Stones by Harvill Secker (Penguin Random House) and as The Exes’ Revenge in the USA and Canada. It was shortlisted for the Best Revenge thriller of the year at the Dead Good Reader Awards.

Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza (Kate Marshall #1) @RobertBryndza @LittleBrownUK @TheCrimeVault @Kirsteenastor #NineElms

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st November in e-book; 4 January 2020 in hardback from Sphere
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-0751572728

Kate Marshall was a promising young police detective when she caught the notorious Nine Elms serial killer. But her greatest victory suddenly became a nightmare.

Fifteen years after those catastrophic, career-ending events, a copycat killer has taken up the Nine Elms mantle, continuing the ghastly work of his idol.

Enlisting her brilliant research assistant, Tristan Harper, Kate draws on her prodigious and long-neglected skills as an investigator to catch a new monster. But there’s much more than her reputation on the line: Kate was the original killer’s intended fifth victim . . . and his successor means to finish the job.

A new Robert Bryndza book is always something to look forward to. A whole new series is a cause for celebration. Nine Elms is the first in a new series involving Kate Marshall, former Detective Constable now lecturer in Criminology in Ashdean, Devon.

Nine Elms opens with D.C. Kate Marshall discovering in the worst way possible the identity of a particularly vicious and depraved serial killer that the police have been hunting. Though she is credited with revealing the killer’s identity and bringing him to trial, Kate’s career suffered irretrievable damage in the process and she almost died. Since then she has been living a quiet, rural existence on her own.

We then fast forward to 2010, the present day.  Kate is now lecturing and including details of the Nine Elms killer in her course. Though she would love to forget all about him, his name is inextricably linked with hers and she is working hard to face that and to come to terms with it. The killer is serving a life sentence in maximum security, but Kate has other reasons to worry about his existence.

Kate receives a letter from a couple who believe their daughter was also a victim of the Nine Elms killer but whose body has never been found. Malcom Murray and his wife Elaine want to put their daughter Caitlyn to rest and finally be able to grieve for her – and they are asking Kate to help find her.

Though she really doesn’t want to do it, Kate still feels the responsibility of her last case on her shoulders and she agrees to help, though she can promise nothing. Soon afterwards she receives another call for help; this time from her friend, forensic pathologist Alan Hexham. It isn’t long before it becomes clear that there is a copycat Nine Elms killer and this one is signing himself ‘A Fan’.

Kate draws in her University teaching assistant, Tristan to help her investigate Caitlyn’s disappearance and soon the pair find that their enquiries are also crossing the police investigations into the copycat killer.

The action heats up and soon the pair are in a deadly race to catch a loathsome killer.

Nine Elms is a vivid, visceral read with lots of excitement, plenty of great plot manoeuvres and strong characterisation. Told from a number of perspectives, the reader is able to hear at first-hand what is going through the minds of the protagonists and the antagonists in a thrilling and propulsive plot which hooks you in from the beginning and never loses any of its drive.

It’s violent in a gory way but it is also tense and sharp, constantly keeping the reader on their toes as events tumble around Kate and Tristan.

Verdict: Sharp as razor wire and as taut as a steel tightrope, this is a cracking thriller. It’s fast, it’s furious and it’s unputdownable. Nine Elms is another excellent success from Robert Bryndza. I’m hooked. Sign me up for the whole series. When is the next one, please?

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Robert Bryndza is the author of the international #1 bestseller The Girl in the Ice. The Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller is the first book in the Detective Erika Foster series. The Night Stalker, Dark Water and Last Breath are the second, third, and fourth books in the series, and the fifth book is Cold Blood.
Robert’s books have sold over 2 million copies, and have been translated into 27 languages. In addition to writing crime fiction, Robert has published a bestselling series of romantic comedy novels. He is British and lives in Slovakia.

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis @Brontemysteries @mmdotcox @HodderBooks #TheVanishedBride

Source: Review copy
Publication: 7th November 2019 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1529388985

Yorkshire, 1845

A young woman has gone missing from her home, Chester Grange, leaving no trace, save a large pool of blood in her bedroom and a slew of dark rumours about her marriage. A few miles away across the moors, the daughters of a humble parson, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified, yet intrigued.

Desperate to find out more, the sisters visit Chester Grange, where they notice several unsettling details about the crime scene: not least the absence of an investigation. Together, the young women realise that their resourcefulness, energy and boundless imaginations could help solve the mystery – and that if they don’t attempt to find out what happened to Elizabeth Chester, no one else will.

The path to the truth is not an easy one, especially in a society which believes a woman’s place to be in the home, not wandering the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…

It is a brave writer who would take the Brontë sisters (and Bramwell) and base a detective, or as they would have it, detectorist, series around them. Fortunately for the reader, Bella Ellis has used her love for and knowledge of the Brontës to craft a mystery that while not as gothic as Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall or Jane Eyre, still has distinct echoes of the themes they contain and is peppered throughout with the author’s knowledge of the Brontë family.

In what is hopefully the first in a series, Ellis spends little time introducing us to her characters. What we learn of them we find out from the sisters conversations. This is the Brontës at the start of their writing journeys. Charlotte, heartbroken after a love affair abroad is the sisters natural leader; Emily is impulsive and carefree and Anne, quieter and more contemplative. All are concerned about their brother Bramwell, who believes himself to be in love with the wife of another and has taken to frequent drinking bouts to assuage his troubled soul.

The Brontë sisters had such short lives and yet penned so many treasures that have stood the test of time. The Vanished Bride begins with a prologue in which Charlotte, in 1851, is the sole surviving Brontë sister and is looking back on her life and her adventures with her sisters, contemplating their adventures and stories that she will never tell.

Ellis has cleverly woven small details of the Brontë’s lives and works into this novel so that many details ring bells in our minds as we are reading.

The mystery itself is satisfyingly Victorian – a mixture of the gothic and the penny dreadful with a good backbone of feminism. Elizabeth Chester, second wife to Robert Chester and mother to Archie as well as step mother to Francis, has gone missing from her home, Chester Grange, leaving no trace, except a large pool of blood in her bedroom and a slew of dark rumours about her marriage. She is the second wife to have gone in violent circumstances. Francis’ mother, Imogen leapt to her death from the ramparts of Chester Grange and her husband’s violent outbursts were widely rumoured to be the cause. Everyone fears the worst has happened to Elizabeth.

The sisters are acquainted with the Chester’s governess, Mattie and decide to take it upon themselves to investigate. They set about examining evidence, interviewing witnesses and trying to read in between the lines to deduce what could have happened.

Ellis lays a nice trail of clues, false leads and unreliable evidence to create a satisfying mystery that is resolved only in the final chapters.

What makes this a really enjoyable read is the way that Ellis has penned the sisters’ characters, giving each her own slant on the case and following the path that their writing suggests their character might have followed. Thus Anne is the careful one, taking her time to sift through the facts and laying everything out neatly before her. Emily is blunt, impulsive and prone to jump to conclusions where Charlotte is the natural leader; the one who can empathise with those she is talking to, win their confidence and thus gain more information.   

Bramwell is, in the main, more hindrance than help and their father’s short-sightedness extends beyond his vision as he fails to see what his daughters are truly capable of.

I loved the way that Ellis extends what we already know about the Brontë sisters – that they would challenge the conventional image of how Victorian women should behave – and takes it to the next level. For these three sisters, who grew up motherless, have already begun to realise they are capable of far more than the Victorian notion of womanhood allows, and their adventures see them pushing hard at the glass ceiling they were born under.

Verdict: I really enjoyed Bella Ellis’s Brontë sisters’ first mystery outing. A delicious concoction of the lightly gothic blended with a mysterious tale and a host of glorious literary references to keep the brain working as these intrepid women brook no obstacle in getting to the truth. Ellis has captured the essence of the Brontës here and that’s to be applauded.

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Bella Ellis is the Brontë-esque pseudonym of Rowan Coleman, an acclaimed author of numerous novels for adults and children. She first visited the former home of the Brontë sisters when she was ten years old. From the moment she stepped over the threshold she was hooked, and embarked on a lifelong love affair with Charlotte, Emily, and Anne; their life; their literature; and their remarkable legacy.

Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen trs David Hackston @Antti_Tuomainen @countertenorist @OrendaBooks @AnneCater #LittleSiberia #extract

Source: Review Copy
Publication : 17 October 2019 from Orenda Books
PP: 245
ISBN-13: 978-1912374519

Fargo meets Nietzsche in this atmospheric, darkly funny thriller by the critically acclaimed author of The Man Who Died and Palm Beach Finland. A huge Finnish bestseller, Little Siberia topped both literary and crime charts in 2018, and has gone on to sell rights in 24 countries.

A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland, when there is flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns about to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighbourhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.

But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his.

As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.

I adored Little Siberia and you can read my review here. So I am delighted to bring you an extract from this fabulous novel which I recommend highly. It is a brilliantly funny, darkly comic, philosophical and ultimately tender book about faith, belief and what’s truly important. I loved it. This is Tuomainen at his best.

So, without further ado, here’s a short extract to whet your appetite:

It’s come to this.

People often use this phrase, though I assume most are either joking or say it in situations in which things could still go in a variety of directions. I only know one direction I want to take. It’s the direction that’s been given me.

It’s another few hours until daybreak. I give the police a statement, tell them what happened at the museum, show them the broken window, the smashed display cabinets. The police pass the case on almost immediately, handing it over to the local army brigade in Kainuu. The missing hand grenade is a matter for the army, the police officer explains, especially since it wasn’t supposed to contain live ammunition. I look up at the officer and think how reality seems to escape our assumptions with increasing regularity, but I don’t say it out loud. I call the cleaner, who is doing the night shift at the paper factory. She promises to come and clean up when she’s finished work in three hours.

After this I call Turunmaa, tell him the news and ask him who can come and replace the window. Turunmaa says he knows a guy who fixes windows at a decent price and promises to call him. Then I get to the main reason I called. I tell him I’ll gladly take on all the remaining night shifts at the museum. He doesn’t make a fuss about it; it’s fine by him, they can all get on with other things and Himanka can carry on sleeping in his own bed.

After I hang up, another police officer reminds me that there was a break-in at the museum three or four years ago. Back then thieves took a map allegedly showing war-time attack strategies, and there was some minimal vandalism to the toilet facilities. From his tone of voice it’s clear he doesn’t consider either break-in the most exciting case of his career.

Nobody says anything about the meteorite.

And relatively quickly I’m alone again, waiting until the morning staff arrive.

By now a reddish glow taints the eastern horizon. The winter sun is low in the sky, its beams making bright slashes through a frozen world. I know perfectly well that the thieves were after the meteorite. Nobody breaks in to a museum in order to steal a thousand euros of loot when they could have a million. Something must have gone wrong. The grenade was about the same size and weight as the meteorite. Maybe the thieves were in a hurry, or they mistook the grenade for the meteorite for some other reason. It was dark in the room – I’d turned off all the lights at the timer switch. Maybe the person who smashed the display cabinet was different from the one who struck me with the torch. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that one of the robbers is still out there. Somewhere. The meteorite will be here for another four days.

Nobody is going to take it on my watch.

They can try, I think to myself.

But you have to draw a line in the sand.

And that line runs right here, right through me.

Krista is asleep. I take some ibuprofen to soothe my headache then have a hot shower. But the chill isn’t just on my skin; it’s somewhere deeper, complete with the usual faint tremors. They seem to come from deep inside me, from the places where the muscles are attached to the bones, and almost flinch away from one another. I’ll freely admit that I don’t see the meteorite as simply a meteorite. The stupid, inanimate rock could be worth many millions of euros, but that doesn’t interest me. It’s the integrity of that rock that interests me. And it’s an integrity upon which I can have a real effect.

I look at Krista’s bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel. Jealousy whispers to me about when and why they have been used.

I feel as if it’s inside me – like five litres of rancid, lumpy milk that I can’t seem to vomit up from my stomach.

Water drums against my head and neck. For a moment I close my eyes, then open them again. The reddened water swirls round my feet and disappears down the drain. The burglars were prepared to use violence. And they did.

I won’t be turning the other cheek.

And that’s the main reason why I didn’t tell the police about the cottage, the explosion or the missing accomplice. In the course of the last twenty-four hours I’ve already taken a battering without being able to respond. That’s what Krista’s news felt like. I’m not planning on waiting for more people to walk all over me. I plan to find and, if necessary, stop the burglar myself. Either when I’m on guard duty or not. It might not be the right thing to do, but it’s got to be done. Besides, if years of theology studies have taught me anything, it’s that the quest for perfection is futile; perfection simply doesn’t exist. Someone else can try to find it, but not me.

I brush my teeth. I’m out of my mind. I understand why. Hard times lie ahead.

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Finnish Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. In 2011, Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. Two years later, in 2013, the Finnish press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark and hilarious The Man Who Died (2017) became an international bestseller, shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards. Palm Beach Finland (2018) was an immense success, with The Times calling Tuomainen ‘the funniest writer in Europe’.

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England’s Finest by Christopher Fowler @Peculiar @DoubledayUK @damppebbles #EnglandsFinest #blogtour

Source: Review copy
Publication: 31 Oct. 2019 from Doubleday
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-0857525697

The Peculiar Crimes Unit has solved many extraordinary cases over the years, but some were hushed up and hidden away. Until now. Arthur Bryant remembers these lost cases as if they were yesterday. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember yesterday, so the newly revealed facts could come as a surprise to everyone, including his exasperated partner John May.

Here, then, is the truth about the Covent Garden opera diva and the seventh reindeer, the body that falls from the Tate Gallery, the ordinary London street corner where strange accidents keep occurring, the consul’s son discovered buried in the unit’s basement, the corpse pulled from a swamp of Chinese dinners, a Hallowe’en crime in the Post Office Tower, and the impossible death that’s the fault of a forgotten London legend. All of the unit’s oddest characters are here, plus the detectives’ long-suffering sergeant Janice Longbright gets to reveal her own forgotten mystery.

These twelve crimes must be solved without the help of modern technology, mainly because nobody knows how to use it. Expect misunderstood clues, lost evidence, arguments about Dickens, churches, pubs and disorderly conduct from the investigative officers they laughingly call ‘England’s Finest’!

I have wanted to read a Bryant and May book for ages, so snapped up this as soon as I was offered the chance to review. England’s Finest is a terrific introduction to the wonderful, idiosyncratic world of Arthur Bryant and John May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

A foreword, written by the straight-laced and somewhat out of his depth PCU Bureau Chief Raymond Land, introduces you to all the key characters and prepares you for a series of adventures that could only be English (and certainly not Scots, Irish or even Welsh).

These are stories in which the people and places of London have a starring role and where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. Our seriously old duo, curmudgeonly Bryant and somewhat more suave May, wend their way through the streets solving crimes with a combination of logic, insight and the aid of an assortment of weird and wonderful characters from white witches and clairvoyants to Turkish plumbers called Dave.

Here timelines are something of a fluid thing; it’s never easy to work out which decade we might be in, not least because our eponymous duo eschew the trappings of modern day technology (though May at least makes an effort) and are both so old that time is a concept rather than an actuality. Bryant is constantly underestimating and mansplaining at the fabulous and long-suffering Sergeant Janice Longbright and the verbal sparring of this pair is one of the real delights in this collection of short stories.

Fowler blends the classic police procedural with a tinge of golden age mystery, making for a series of fascination, unputdownable and somewhat bizarre crimes, told in stylish prose with wit and charm.

Among the treats in England’s Finest is a crime in the Post Office Tower in which the suspects are Michael Caine, Bruce Forsyth and Mary Quant; a mystery about an ordinary London street corner where strange accidents keep occurring and the body of the Consul’s son is discovered buried in the PCU basement with the answer seemingly lying in a biography of Marcel Duchamp. ‘Urban madness is our trade’, says Bryant as he sets out to solve yet another arcane mystery in which human nature is always the key.

These fabulous stories which show a certain disdain for some of today’s most rampant consumerist trends, are wrapped in glorious cover art to treasure.

Verdict: Black comedy, smart puzzles and fabulous eccentric and quirky characterisation all combine with a fantastic London backdrop to offer a brilliant smorgasbord of elegant, intelligent stories to savour.

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Christopher Fowler is the author of more than forty novels (sixteen of which feature the detectives
Bryant and May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit) and many short story collections. A multiple award-
winner, including the coveted CWA ‘Dagger in the Library’, Chris has also written screenplays, video
games, graphic novels, audio plays and two acclaimed memoirs, Paperboy and Film Freak. His most
recent non-fiction book is The Book of Forgotten Authors. Chris divides his time between London’s
King’s Cross and Barcelona. You can find out more by visiting his website and following him on
Twitter.
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