**REVIEW** Dead of Night (A Tom Mariner Mystery #7) by Chris Collett

After meeting local author, Chris Collett, from Birmingham (UK) and posting a full promo on her police procedural/crime drama set in Birmingham (UK), Dead of Night (A Tom Mariner Mystery #7), I have been waiting for an opportunity to review her work. The exclusive festive post, Cinderella Boy, of a Tom Mariner short story over Christmas gave us an insight into her writing style, which piqued my interest even more as it written so well. This is a true pleasure for fans of crime, police investigations, crime dramas and thrillers. We hope you get gripped and can enjoy the mysteries of Tom Mariner!

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Blurb: When a young woman disappears on her way home from work, Detective Inspector Tom Mariner tackles his most challenging investigation yet!
18-year-old Grace Clifton vanishes on her way home from work in the centre of Birmingham late at night, the case is remarkable in that not a single witness comes forward. The more he has to deal with Grace s wealthy and overbearing father, Council Leader Bob Clifton, the more Tom Mariner is inclined to believe that Grace left of her own accord.
Then the package arrives. It contains Grace s clothes, neatly pressed and laundered. A second woman disappears. And a disturbing pattern begins to emerge.
Still adapting to a new investigation team and struggling to pull its members together, Detective Inspector Mariner is about to tackle one of his strangest, most challenging cases to date.

REVIEW

Certainly a story I will not be forgetting in a hurry, Dead of Night (A Tom Mariner Mystery #7) has it all. From a brilliant, twisting plotline to likable and believable characters, as well as a powerful, emotive and intense atmosphere that will grip you and hold you until the very end.

I love that I threw myself into the series with book 7 and yet was able to warm to the characters immediately, at the same time as becoming aware of their personal situations and how they are connected to Detective Inspector Mariner. The story focuses on Mariner’s perspective as we follow his character through the investigation of a missing woman, leading us to more questions than answers when further women disappear.

Chris Collett remains true to the description of a police procedural as the reader is taken on a journey of the whole investigation, keeping track of what each officer is looking into and the results they achieve. There are times when they get results and times when they hit a brick wall – making the investigation gritty, realistic and believable.

The mystery of the plot is written well, and despite various leads to follow and different characters, it is a read that can be followed easily, yet still surprises. All information is run by him which helps keep everything together, and the reader is aware of his thoughts on the case from very early on and throughout. But one has to admire him for keeping his early instincts to himself. Instead, he asks his immediate officers what they believe could be the case.

As the author has created many likable characters, and allows the reader to become close to them, it also makes for an emotional read at times as you become absorbed in their circumstances and live through the events with them. One of the best examples of this is little Dominique. Dominique is a little girl, living in a tower block with only her mum. Usually going out to work of an evening, while Dominique is tucked up in bed, her mum is usually back home before Dominique gets up. But one morning Dominique awakens to find her mum gone. The hours turn into days and poor little Dominique must be terrified, but still manages to go to school and tries to carry on. This storyline is absolutely heart-breaking and the manner in which it is written – with great care and sensitivity – is so, so powerful.

With the first woman, Grace Clifton, going missing and little to go on initially, when a package of her laundered clothes arrives at the station it is quite eerie but so intensely gripping as it opens up more questions. The twists and turns that the investigation bring up are fantastic and some of it is so subtly written. I could quite easily imagine this to be a televised drama.

I enjoy the team that Mariner works with, as they adjust to working together, and I also like the way in which Mariner’s old team members are incorporated into the story. This makes a great read for new fans of the series, as well as holding fans of the previous books. This also keeps it real with having different characters and seeing how they move on or indeed turn up. And knowing the characters from Tom Mariner’s previous team certainly made me want to retrace their stories and read the previous books of the series – one of them being on maternity leave and another working with an armed squad investigating gun crime!

As events are centred in and around Birmingham (UK) it is very easy for those familiar with the area to follow the sites of the book. From Birmingham Centre’s Symphony Hall, Broad Street and New Street train station, along the Bristol Road and places outside of the centre, making the story more real.

Dead of Night is a story I would strongly recommend for fans of crime dramas and police procedurals. With a strong knowledge of the area, a great deal of research and a disturbing mystery, this story comes alive. And DI Tom Mariner is certainly a detective I want to read more about. I will certainly be going back to read the previous books of the series.

Dead of Night (A Tom Mariner Mystery #7) by Chris Collett is available at Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Reviewed by Caroline Barker

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AUTHOR POST ON ‘DEAD OF NIGHT’ (Chris Collett, Sept ’14, Severn House)

The inspiration for ‘Dead of Night’ came from a number of characters who ‘present themselves’, in the first instance, by air! The Queen Elizabeth, in south Birmingham, is one of the country’s leading military hospitals. For several years now this has meant the regular presence of Chinook helicopters, flying low over the city, bringing in wounded personnel from Afghanistan. Perhaps because of what the Chinooks represent, they seem somehow to be a much more imposing and sinister presence than the more familiar Police surveillance and Air Ambulances, and I quickly found myself very attuned to the distinctive engine sound, louder and deeper than the other aircraft and rather ominous. Each time a Chinook flew over, I couldn’t help imagining the people and drama surrounding its arrival; and from that curiosity emerged Private Craig Lomax and critical care nurse Dee Henderson. At around the same time another recurring scenario had taken up residence in my head; of a small girl waiting outside school at the end of the day for a mum who never appears. That child became Dominique. Finally, the confident and rebellious teenager, striding along Broad Street flicking a defiant cigarette, was Grace Clifton. As the characters emerged, the central narrative that would link them together also began to take shape. In Dead of Night I knew my perpetrator right from the start, but as always, had little idea about where the story would take me before the final revelation.

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EXCERPT FROM ‘DEAD OF NIGHT’

Milton Tower was one of three angular blocks that sprouted out of the dingy grey spread of social housing that was the Fen Bridge estate. Bordered by a fringe of scrubby green grass and a collection of undernourished saplings, it was rendered no more attractive at this time of night by the harsh glare of sodium lighting. Mariner had decided long ago that the council planner who’d come up with name had a sense of the ironic. Paradise had been irretrievably lost in this neighbourhood, somewhere down the back of life’s sofa. Parking his car in the only bay that didn’t seem to excessively sparkle with broken glass, he double checked that it was locked before entering the bare, concrete lobby. In the last couple of years efforts had been made to make the flats more appealing. A jacket of insulation and double glazing had been added around the outside, and the lobby in an overly bright salmon pink, smelled primarily of fresh paint. A couple to one side seemed to be surreptitiously waiting for the lift, but then Mariner noticed the considerable age difference between them and the man’s good quality wool overcoat that seemed to indicate that these were not locals. He went over, already anticipating the negotiations for how the situation should be handled. ‘Hello,’ he said. ‘You’re the teachers from St Martin’s?’

The man, as tall and lean as Mariner and with a fulsome head of grey hair, swept back from his forehead, stood straighter, bridling a little. ‘I’m the head teacher, Gordon Rhys,’ he corrected Mariner, keeping his hands firmly in his pockets. ‘And this is my Year Two teacher Sam McBride.’

‘DI Tom Mariner.’ Mariner held up his warrant card for them to see. He couldn’t help noticing the proprietorial ‘my’ and raised an eyebrow at McBride as they shook hands. Blonde and petite with a shapely figure under her parka, Mariner could imagine that the young teacher had to work hard to be taken seriously.

‘I feel terrible,’ she said. ‘I knew there was something not quite right with Dominique, but I just never guessed that this was what it could be.’

‘We don’t know what it is yet.’ Rhys was impatient. ‘The mother could be anywhere. Might be on the Costa del Sol for all we know.’ He was distracted, keeping an anxious eye on his surroundings, and Mariner realised he was nervous about being here.

‘With respect Gordon, I don’t think that’s very likely,’ Sam said. ‘Mrs Batista isn’t like that.’

‘How would we know, Sam? We know hardly anything about her.’

‘I know enough to understand that she’s a committed parent,’ Sam said, firmly.

‘Have you any idea where she works?’ Mariner asked, partly to diffuse what he sensed was a growing tension.

Sam frowned. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever really known, although for some reason I’ve had an impression that it’s somewhere in the city centre. On the odd occasions I’ve tried to talk to Dominique about her mum’s work, she’s completely clammed up. The contact number we have on file is a personal mobile number, but that’s nothing unusual.’

‘Have you tried calling it?’

‘Yes, about half a dozen times,’ said McBride. ‘It just goes straight to voice mail.’

‘It’s probably because the job is cash-in-hand and she’s claiming benefits as well,’ said Rhys. ‘It happens you know,’ he added, as if it were proof.

‘Actually, I don’t think that has anything to do with it.’ McBride said, flushing deeply. ‘When we’ve had school trips Mrs Batista has always paid her contribution, and she’s never asked for-’

Rhys effectively cut her off by ostentatiously checking his watch. ‘Now that you’re here Inspector, do you actually still need me? We’ve contacted social services, and Sam here is the one who knows Dominique. This has take me away from a meeting that’s been in the diary for some months-,‘

‘That’s fine,’ Mariner cut in, annoyed by the skewed priorities. ‘I’m sure we can take it from here.’ He sought confirmation from Sam McBride.

‘All right with me,’ she said.

‘Good, well, I’ll leave you to it. Best of luck,’ said Rhys, with obvious relief, and hurried towards the main door. As an afterthought he turned back from the doorway. ‘You’ll keep me informed Sam?’

‘Of course.’

‘He’s a charmer,’ said Mariner, when Rhys had gone.

‘Sorry about that,’ said Sam. ‘Gordon’s all right really, but he does seem to have a particular down on single parents, and it makes me a bit defensive. My mum raised me as a single parent and it hasn’t done me any harm.’

‘Nor me,’ said Mariner.

‘Oh.’ She looked at him anew.

‘Just because I look old enough to have grown up in black and white, it wasn’t all Kelloggs cornflake families back then.’ She waited for further elaboration. ‘You haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, have you?’

‘Not really,’ she smiled. It was a sweet smile and Mariner could imagine any child warming to her instantly.

Right,’ he said. ‘Let’s crack on, shall we? I don’t think social services are going to show up any time soon, so if we do find that Dominique’s at home alone we’ll need to take her to Granville Lane police station to wait for them there. How does that sound?’

‘Good,’ said Sam. ‘I only hope she doesn’t freak out when she sees me at this time of night.’

‘I can’t imagine she will,’ said Mariner. ‘Okay, let’s get this done. What’s the flat number?’

Neither of them was inclined to trust the lifts, so Sam led the way up the concrete stairwell, to a flat on the fourth floor, their footsteps echoing as they climbed.

‘I’ll be better if you make the first approach,’ Mariner said to Sam as they climbed the stairs, ‘are you okay to do that?’

Sam indicated that she was. They emerged half way along a narrow landing that had two, equally spaced doors on either side. The lighting was dim, and up here the smell of urine had not been entirely successfully glossed over. Flat forty-one was at the end. The small rectangular reinforced glass window in the top half of the door reminded Mariner of the observation panel in the custody cell doors. It had no light behind it. He knocked hard on the wood and they waited, but there was no response. Squatting down, Sam lifted the letterbox flap and peered in, before calling: ‘Dominique, are you in there? It’s Miss McBride. I’ve just come to see if you’re all right.’

‘Can you see anything?’ Mariner asked.

MacBride straightened up again. ‘No, it’s pitch dark. Maybe I’ve got this completely wrong and she isn’t there. Oh God, what if I’ve got you out here for nothing.’

‘It’s fine,’ said Mariner. ‘Better that than she really is in trouble and we do nothing. Why don’t you try again?’

McBride crouched by the letterbox, pushed up the flap and called again. This time, as she did so, her fingers brushed the rough string. ‘Oh, there’s something here.’ Bit by bit she pulled through the string with its key tied to the end.

‘Christ,’ said Mariner. ‘I hope no one else knows about this.’

‘Do we use it?’ said McBride.

‘It saves me having to demonstrate my manliness by breaking down the door,’ Mariner said. ‘You go first and I’ll follow, just in case she’s in there.’

Opening the door they entered the darkened flat, which felt no warmer on the inside than it had been on the outside landing. McBride flicked the light switch but nothing happened.

‘The meter’s run out,’ said Mariner. He took a torch from his inside coat pocket and switched it on, directing it down at the floor to light the way.

‘Dominique?’ Sam called, softly. They progressed carefully along a short hallway, and McBride pushed open the first door they came to on the left. The torch beam bounced around an empty bedroom. A second door, on the right, was a small bathroom, but as she pushed open the door at the head of the passageway, Mariner saw instantly from McBride’s body language that they had found the little girl.

‘Hi Dominique,’ Sam said brightly. ‘It’s Miss McBride. We were a bit worried about you, so I just came to see if you were all right. I’ve brought my friend Tom.’ As Mariner came into the room, his eyes adjusting to the darkness and keeping the torch beam directed away from Dominique, he was in time to see McBride slowly advancing on the little girl who seemed to be frozen to the spot sitting at the end of a sofa. But as McBride cautiously sat down beside her, Dominique flung herself into her teacher’s arms and McBride hugged her close. ‘It’s all right sweetie, you’re safe now,’ she soothed, a crack in her voice. After a moment she said, ‘We came to see mummy too. Is she here?’

And Mariner could just make out the little girl’s whispered reply. ‘I don’t know where she’s gone.’

AUTHOR BIO

Chris CollettChris Collett grew up in a Norfolk seaside town, before moving to the other side of the country, Liverpool, to train as a teacher for children with learning difficulties. The journey from east to west often involved a stop-off in Birmingham, a place she quickly decided she would never want to live. After graduating the first job she was offered was naturally, in Birmingham. Within a few months she met her husband-to-be, moved to the Bournville Village Trust, within inhaling distance of the Cadbury’s chocolate factory, and she has remained in the city ever since.

Alongside raising two children, Chris has worked for a number of years in schools and local authority services, supporting variously children, young people and adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues. Now a lecturer at a midlands university, Chris teaches undergraduate students on a range of subjects around disability and inclusion, and equality and human rights. The DI Tom Mariner series evolved from a single idea: what would happen if the sole witness to a serious crime had an autism spectrum disorder and was unable to communicate what he had seen? The idea became ‘Worm in the Bud’.

Alongside publishing seven crime novels featuring DI Tom Mariner and several short stories, Chris has taught short courses on crime fiction and is an manuscript assessor for the Crime Writers association.

When not teaching or writing, Chris enjoys walking, racket sports, photography, reading, cinema, theatre and comedy. When asked about her thoughts on her adopted city now, Chris has said: ‘Someone, somewhere, must have had a plan. What better location could there be for a crime detective?’

Website: www.chriscollettcrime

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CrimeCrow

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Collett/585943991417531

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=128351834&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

Previous posts on author, Chris Collett, have been a promo post for Dead of Night with an introduction to the whole Tom Mariner series and an exclusive short story (released Dec 2015 on A Reader’s Review Blog)!

*Promo Post* Crime thriller/police procedural ‘Dead of Night (DI Tom Mariner series #7)’ by local Birmingham author, Chris Collett

Exclusive short story: Cinderella Boy (A Tom Mariner festive short story) by Chris Collett

*Promo w/Q&A and Excerpt* Mask of the Verdoy (A George Harley Mystery #1) by Phil Lecomber

MaskOfTheVerdoy Cover - low resTitle: Mask of the Verdoy (A George Harley Mystery #1)

Author: Phil Lecomber

Genre: Period crime thriller, crime drama, mystery, historical

Date published: October 9th, 2014

Publisher: Diablo Books

Length: 460 pages

Amazon UK Link

Amazon US Link

Blurb: LONDON, 1932 … a city held tight in the grip of the Great Depression. George Harley’s London. The West End rotten with petty crime and prostitution; anarchists blowing up trams; fascists marching on the East End.

And then, one smoggy night …

The cruel stripe of a cutthroat razor … three boys dead in their beds … and a masked killer mysteriously vanishing across the smoky rooftops of Fitzrovia.

Before long the cockney detective is drawn into a dark world of murder and intrigue, as he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the very security of the British nation.

God save the King! eh, George?

In part an homage to Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock, and to the writings of Gerald Kersh, James Curtis, Patrick Hamilton, Norman Collins and the other chroniclers of London lowlife in the 1930s, Mask of the Verdoy also tips its hat to the heyday of the British crime thriller—but unlike the quaint sleepy villages and sprawling country estates of Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot, George Harley operates in the spielers, clip-joints and all-night cafés that pimple the seedy underbelly of a city struggling under the austerity of the Great Slump.

With Mussolini’s dictatorship already into its seventh year in Italy, and with a certain Herr Hitler standing for presidential elections in Germany, 1932 sees the rise in the UK of the British Brotherhood of Fascists, led by the charismatic Sir Pelham Saint Clair. This Blackshirt baronet is everything that Harley despises and the chippy cockney soon has the suave aristocrat on his blacklist.

But not at the very top. Pride of place is already taken by his arch enemy, Osbert Morkens—the serial killer responsible for the murder and decapitation of Harley’s fiancée, Cynthia … And, of course—they never did find her head.

Mask of the Verdoy is the first in the period crime thriller series, the George Harley Mysteries.

Plot outline

It is 1932 and London is living in the shadow of the Great Depression. A spate of terrorist bombings threatens the devastated residents, who begin to turn to desperate measures to make ends meet. This sense of desperation is reflected in the radical politics of the era; ominously the British Brotherhood of Fascists (BBF), led by Sir Pelham Saint Clair, is gaining popularity, and the Blackshirts’ attitude of prejudice and intolerance to immigrants is spreading fast.

George Harley, a kind-hearted, cockney private detective with a strong but liberal sense of morality, is walking through Piccadilly late one night when he comes across a young lavender boy (rent-boy) being roughed up in an alleyway. He scares off the attackers and brings the boy back to his house to recuperate. However, a few days later the house is targeted by a mysterious masked assailant and things take on a dark twist.

Before long Harley finds himself working as a special consultant to the CID (something he swore he’d never do again following the Osbert Morkens* case) and is partnered up with Albert Pearson – a young Detective Constable recently seconded to the Metropolitan Police from the West Country, and therefore as yet untainted by the rash of corruption currently infecting Scotland Yard.

At first the streetwise cockney finds Pearson a little too green for city life and has great fun ribbing this ‘farmer’s boy’ as he tries to get to grips with the perplexing attitudes and customs of the capital – especially its language*. On many occasions Harley has to act as interpreter, with the Yiddish of the East End, the Polari of the lavender boys, and the rhyming argot of the janes and the ponces leaving the young DC feeling like he’s wandered into a foreign country. But he slowly gains Harley’s respect and they start to make some headway in the case.

The investigation leads the new partners through a shadowy world populated with a cast of colourful and sometimes dangerous characters: in their search for clues they visit spielers run by Jewish mobsters, all-night Soho cafés frequented by jaded streetwalkers and their pimps, East End slums that have become the clandestine hideouts of political extremists, and the decadent and lavish freak parties of the young aristocracy (where Harley can indulge his love of the new Jazz music).

Meanwhile—with the help of jingoistic articles in the Daily Oracle—the political juggernaut of the BBF trundles on, with Sir Pelham Saint Clair gaining evermore public support for his vision of a fascist Britain. Harley witnesses at firsthand the charismatic effect the Blackshirt leader has on his followers at a BBF rally at the Albert Hall—an event that quickly descends into a pitched battle between the police and the anti-fascist factions demonstrating outside.

Surviving terrorist bombings, the machinations of the corrupt DI Quigg, and the stonewalling of the British nobility, Harley and Pearson follow the clues through the capital’s nefarious underworld eventually uncovering a plot that threatens to undermine the very security of the British nation.

* More about Harley’s back-story and the slang used in the book can be found on the website – www.georgeharley.com

diablo books

Author Q&A

Tell us a little about your new book MASK OF THE VERDOY

MASK OF THE VERDOY is the first book in the period crime thriller series “The George Harley Mysteries”, set in London in the 1930s. Of course, thanks to the writings of authors such as Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham, this era has come to be regarded as the ‘Golden Age’ of British Detective Fiction; but unlike the quaint sleepy villages and sprawling country estates of the Miss Marple, Hercules Poirot and Albert Campion stories, our hero—the cockney detective George Harley—operates in the London underworld.

Why have you chosen to set the series in the 1930s?

The inter-war period—the so-called ‘Morbid Age’—has fascinated me for a while now. It was a time when people became more politicised and more unlikely to blindly accept their fate. Of course, this also meant that people began to be seduced by dangerous political ideas, such as eugenics and fascism … and we all know where that ended up. Historically I think the period has great resonance for the modern reader – with the West struggling with a global economic crisis, haunted by past military conflicts and turning to extreme politics as doom-mongers foretell the decline of civilization and the death of capitalism. Sounding familiar? But, as well as the history, I’m also a great fan of British authors from the 1930s: Patrick Hamilton, Gerald Kersh, Grahame Greene, Norman Collins … I find the gritty realism that they manage to conjure truly alluring.

So, would you say that MASK OF THE VERDOY is a political book?

No, fundamentally it is a crime thriller, a ‘London noir’ novel; played out against a backdrop of smoggy alleyways, illegal gambling dens and lowlife clip-joints. Harley’s associates are the characters that populated Soho and Piccadilly in the 1930s—the Jewish gangsters, frowsy streetwalkers and streetwise conmen. But this first story sees him pitched against the sinister Sir Pelham Saint Clair and his British Brotherhood of Fascists, based loosely on the real-life Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the infamous British Blackshirts (the British Union of Fascists). Mosley was part of the nobility, a baronet and a distant relative to the Queen; he’d been an MP for both the Tory and Labour parties, and at one time was tipped as a future Prime Minister. I was keen to use this theme to drag into the light a dark period of British history that I feel has been conveniently pushed to the back of the closet in the collective memory.

What is the ‘VERDOY’ of the title?

I’m afraid I can’t reveal that – you’ll have to read the book!

There’s some great use of slang in the book, is it your own invention?

Absolutely not! I spent a great deal of time researching London in the 1930s in order to create Harley’s world, and an important part of that research was studying the authentic language of the street. I’ve pored through countless contemporary novels of the period as well as a collection of dictionaries of underworld slang (which I found fascinating) in order to employ the authentic vernacular and idioms of 1930s London. Thieves’ cant, Polari, Yiddish, rhyming slang, back slang and street argot—it’s all in there; there’s a glossary included at the back of the book, and on the website (www.georgeharley.com), for those who find this kind of thing as interesting as I do.

Have you begun planning the next George Harley Mystery?

Indeed! Harley will return in THE GRIMALDI VAULTS, which will be released in 2015.

Could you give us a brief outline of this second book in the series?

Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but THE GRIMALDI VAULTS sees Harley’s old nemesis, the serial killer Osbert Morkens, make a reappearance. There’s a child abduction … a dismembered body in a suitcase … Occultist rituals … Weimar cabaret artists … basically, it isn’t long before Harley is once again trawling the capital’s seedy nightspots searching for clues to another sinister mystery. A little more detail can be found on the website.

Before you go could you describe George Harley to us in one sentence?

Harley is a bolshie, auto-didactic, Gold Flake-smoking, Norton CS1-riding, jazz-loving, brass knuckle-wielding, cockney private detective with a heart of gold, a one-eyed tomcat, and a serious chip on his shoulder.

Excerpt (from Chapter 2):

‘Hold on Vi—what was that?’ asked Harley, carefully resting his fish and chips on the wall and vaulting over to push Vi’s front door open wide.

‘What was what?’

A long, wailing scream emanated from the hallway.

‘That!’ said Harley, sprinting up the stairs.

‘Sounds like Miss Perkins, in number six—on the top floor!’ Vi shouted up after him.

By the time the portly landlady—now flushed and out of breath—had caught up with Harley, he was already crouched in front of a near hysterical Miss Perkins, holding tightly to her wrists. The normally timid young woman was thrashing about, struggling to catch her breath between frantic sobs, with angry red scratches below her cheeks and a thin line of spittle hanging from her chin.

‘Oh my gawd, George! What’s going on?’

‘Don’t know, Vi—she’s not making any sense. But the window’s open, and when I got here she was sat on the bed, scratching at her face, shouting something about a mask.’

‘A mask? Tabitha! Look at me dear; stop thrashing about so! Tabitha … Tabitha! Oh, out the way George!’

Vi bent over her tenant to deliver a solid slap to the face with a heavy, beringed hand.

‘There, there … it’s alright now,’ she said, planting herself on the bed next to Miss Perkins, who had been shocked enough by the slap to at least make eye contact. ‘Now dear, tell us what happened.’

‘I was getting ready for my bath … getting … getting undressed … for my bath, you see. I always have my bath on a Friday, at eight thirty.’

‘Yes, dear—but what happened? Was it a man? Did a man get in somehow, Tabitha?’

‘No, no—he didn’t come in. He was out there … out there—on the fire escape. A foreigner … with a mask.’

‘Oh my gawd, George! It’s one of those anarchist buggers—it’s got to be!’

‘Hold on Vi, we don’t know anything yet. Tabitha, can you tell us what he looked like? What kind of a mask was it?’

‘I was smoking a cigarette … over there. I don’t like the stale smoke in the room, you see? I was smoking … then he was just there, out of nowhere … a mask a bit like, a bit like Tragedy … said something foreign … something I couldn’t … he blew me a kiss! He blew on my face, blew something on my face, on my face—’ She began to frantically scratch at herself again.

Vi grabbed at the flailing wrists and Miss Perkins promptly vomited down her nightshirt.

Harley walked over to the window and poked his head out to inspect the fire escape.

‘You’re not thinking of going out there, are you George? That old thing’s rotten.’

‘I know the bit leading down is missing, but it still looks pretty solid up here. If it took this bloke’s weight … I’d better take a look up on the roof Vi—he might still be around. Is there anyone else about who can give you a hand?’

‘Only Mrs. Cartwright in number four … oh, and little Johnny’s in the basement doing the boots—everyone else is out,’ said Vi, pouring water from the urn into the washbasin.

Miss Perkins now sprang bolt upright, her face contorted in a paroxysm of pain. She writhed silently on the bed for a moment, her arms twisting and jerking in a deranged dance, the hands contracted into jagged claws. Then, to Vi’s horror, she began to bark—short, high-pitched yelps at first which soon developed into a strange canine howl.

‘Oh my good gawd!’ exclaimed Vi, trying to calm her lodger with the vigorous application of a wet flannel.

‘Don’t bother with that now—she needs medical help. Looks like she’s been poisoned with something, or maybe it’s some kind of fit. Get Mrs. Cartwright to sit with her. Tell Johnny to run down to get Dr. Jaggers and then to look for a constable—Burnsey should be out on his beat somewhere nearby. You go and check on Aubrey—the fire escape joins up with the one outside of my spare room, so he may have seen something. If he’s up to it, get him to come and sit with you all— there’s strength in numbers. Here are my keys. Oh, and Uncle Blake’s swordstick is in the umbrella stand, just inside the front door—take it up with you. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve checked out the roof.’

‘Oh George, do be careful! No one’s been on that old escape for years. How on earth d’you think he got up there? My gawd, it’s just like Spring-Heeled Jack all over again.’

‘Now, don’t get your knickers in a twist. There’ll be a perfectly logical explanation to it all,’ said Harley, hauling himself out of the window. ‘Go and get help—I’ll be back as soon as I can.’

The wrought iron walkway gave an inch or so as it took Harley’s weight, then emitted a low groan with each subsequent cautious step he took, almost as if it were warning him against risking the three-storey plunge to the pavement below. But he pushed on regardless, conquering his natural instinct to return to the safety of the room. After a tense couple of minutes he’d reached the parapet of the flat roof and hurriedly stepped over with a great sense of relief.

He rested against the wall for a moment and looked around. The tightly packed rooftops of Fitzrovia spread out before him, their chimneys trickling smoke into a lowering blanket of cloud that covered the capital, still orange-tinged to the west, but already merging with the night in the east. He now took stock of his immediate surroundings: he was on the flat roof of Vi’s town house which was separated from the roof of his own building by a small dividing upstand. A two-foot-high parapet ran around the perimeter and in one corner was a small shed-like structure with a collection of old paint pots stacked up against it.

Harley now looked down at his feet and saw that he was standing in a shallow gutter that followed the edge of the roof. He crouched down and touched his hand to the thin layer of sludge that lined this gutter; it was wet, and in it—alongside his own oxblood brogue— was the distinct imprint of some smaller, rounder-toed shoe. Harley glanced up at the shed and felt in his jacket for his brass knuckles. All his aches and pains had disappeared now, the adrenalin kicking his heart rate up a notch or two as he slipped his hand into the heavy metal ring and made his way quickly and quietly towards the wooden shack.

He placed his ear to the weather-beaten door, held his breath and listened: the distant murmur of traffic drifted up from Tottenham Court Road … the gentle clopping of a horse’s hooves from a nearby lane … a mother calling in her brood for supper … the toot of an engine from Euston Station. But from the shed there was nothing.

Harley took a step back, carefully placed his fingers around the rusted handle and yanked open the door.

There was a loud crashing sound as his face was battered repeatedly by something white and grey. With an involuntary shout of surprise Harley closed his eyes and stumbled back into the pile of old paint pots, sending them clattering across the roof. He struck out blindly with his fists, but failed to make any contact. He opened his eyes, desperate to get a bearing on his assailant, just in time to see a shabby pigeon fluttering off above the rooftops.

‘You mug!’ he said, jumping up and dusting off his trousers. ‘Come on, Georgie boy—get a grip!’

There was no other hiding place in view; either the intruder had found a means of escape, or—more likely—he was a figment of Miss Perkins’ hysteria. Just to tie up any loose ends Harley began to make a slow patrol of the perimeter of the roofs. The light was fading fast now, but he was satisfied that there were no other footprints in the gutter; maybe the one he’d found was simply one of his own, distorted by the angle of his step as he cleared the parapet? At one end the roof abutted the side of an old Victorian blacking factory—now a dry goods warehouse—a sheer brick wall rising twenty feet or so above him; there was no way anyone could have escaped in that direction. And the decrepit fire escape that he’d climbed up was just a one-storey remnant, leaving a two-storey drop to the pavement below—again, impossible as a means of escape. That just left the edge of the roof adjacent to Tallow Street—the entrance to the old market place. Harley made his way to the edge and peered over. Approximately five feet below him was the thin edge of a brick wall that formed an arch across the street, from which hung the market sign. Well, it wasn’t impossible; someone with sufficient acrobatic skill could perhaps lower themselves down onto the wall, manoeuvre somehow onto the sign, and then swing themselves down onto the street. He thought back to the Piccadilly alleyway—the way the smaller assailant had vaulted cat-like over the brick wall to make his escape.

Harley now squatted down and leant further over to get a better look—yes, there was a gap in the top course and he could just make out what looked like broken fragments of house brick in the street below.

Just then he heard a shriek from the direction of the fire escape.

He dashed back across the roof and lowered himself carefully onto the ironwork, shuffling as quickly as he dared back to the open window.

‘George … George!’ It was Vi. But her shouting wasn’t coming from Miss Perkins’ room; it was coming from further along the fire escape—from his own house. He made the extra few yards and then yanked up the sash window and threw himself awkwardly into the room.

Harley took in the scene with a professional’s eye: the dark puddle congealing on the floorboards; the mother-of-pearl-handled razor gripped loosely in the grubby, nail-bitten fingers; the leaden pallor on the boyish cheek.

There was a call from the floor below.

‘Police! Anyone there?’

‘Up here, Burnsey! Top floor!’ shouted Harley, already at Aubrey’s throat, searching for a pulse.

A thump of heavy footsteps announced PC Burns’ arrival.

‘Oh, Jesus Christ!’ said the policeman, removing his helmet and rushing over to crouch down beside the bed. ‘Any luck?’

But as Harley drew back the only sign of life Burns could see in the boy’s face came from the two tiny facsimiles of the guttering gas mantle, dancing in the dull pupils.

Author Bio:

phil lecomber author bio text picPHIL LECOMBER was born in 1965 in Slade Green, on the outskirts of South East London—just a few hundred yards from the muddy swirl of the Thames.

Most of his working life has been spent in and around the capital in a variety of occupations. He has worked as a musician in the city’s clubs, pubs and dives; as a steel-fixer helping to build the towering edifices of the square mile (and also working on some of the city’s iconic landmarks, such as Tower Bridge); as a designer of stained-glass windows; and—for the last quarter of a century—as the director of a small company in Mayfair specializing in the electronic security of some of the world’s finest works of art.

All of which, of course, has provided wonderful material for a novelist’s inspiration.

Always an avid reader, a chance encounter as a teenager with a Gerald Kersh short story led to a fascination with the ‘Morbid Age’— the years between the wars. The world that Phil has created for the George Harley Mysteries is the result of the consumption and distillation of myriad contemporary novels, films, historical accounts, biographies and slang dictionaries of the 1930s—with a nod here and there to some of the real-life colourful characters that he’s had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with over the years.

So, the scene is now set … enter George Harley, stage left …

If you would like to ask a question of the author or provide a review please email to: enquiries@georgeharley.com

The George Harley Mysteries are published by:

diablo books

*PROMO POST with Author Bio & Excerpt* The Seventeen Commandments of Jimmy September by S. R. Wilsher

CRIME SUSPENSE THRILLER (Adult 18yrs+)

For those readers who love a contemporary crime suspense thriller adventure, we are excited to introduce you to THE SEVENTEEN COMMANDMENTS OF JIMMY SEPTEMBER by S.R. Wilsher. The reader’s discretion is advised and an 18yr+ reader is strongly recommended.

17 commandments Jimmy September JS Cover - CopyTitle: The Seventeen Commandments of Jimmy September

Author: S.R. Wilsher

Release Date: December 2013

Genre: Thriller suspense/crime, contemporary, adventure

Length: 264 pages

Blurb:

Warlord, ‘General’ Jimmy September believes he is a great soldier and teacher, destined to lead his people to a better future. In order to fund an upcoming war, he kidnaps five multi-national aid workers from a refugee camp in West Africa.

When the governments of the nationals involved refuse to pay a ransom, Mark Samuel, finance director and father to one of the hostages, misappropriates three million sterling of company funds to secure his son’s release.

As he battles his way through a hostile environment and unhelpful officialdom, struggling to hold on to the money long enough to save his son, Mark Samuel discovers a reason to succeed more important than securing his own future.

Excerpt:

He noticed them the moment they stepped into the carriage. It wasn’t the clothes they wore, nor their age or skin colour, or even that they were noisy that drew his eye and kept it on them. It was the way they moved and the places where their hungry, agitated eyes settled.

It was early in the morning for the commuters clinging to the roof rails pretending not to notice the young men pushing past, late in the night for the edgy and chemically restless lads. Their voices were raised, their language coarse and threatening as they barged and glared. The uneven switching between laughter and abuse, unpredictable and irrational, created a palpable fear in the carriage.

The lead one was lean and rangy, stood in a way that made his teenage frame appear bigger, and with it was the sardonic half grin of a boy who thought of himself as more hunter than prey.

The first one was tugged back on his sleeve by the second youth, then the slightest of nods. The other two youths hung back by the doors. They were unsettled and twitchy, brought mildly to heel by the knowledge that they were still vulnerable to the rule of law.

The first two regarded their victim for the smallest of moments before stopping and separating. They positioned themselves either side of someone out of sight of the watching man.

Across the aisle of the bucketing carriage was a free length of rail, so he stepped across to see more clearly.

She was a young girl, no more than twenty with long brown hair tied back in a ponytail. Her clothes were clean, smart and new and on her lap was a large soft leather bag. She wore earphones connected to a mobile phone that preoccupied her.

He recognised their intention because he had nearly been like them; could pinpoint the day it had changed for him. The grazed knuckles and the terror he had put into someone else’s eyes had hollowed out his stomach and dumped from him the anger he had been toting for years.

That had been twenty-eight years ago and Mark Samuel was now forty-five. The boy he had once been had faded in his memory. Ruth always liked to claim she had saved him, but he’d already changed paths by the time he met her. She wouldn’t even have looked at his old self.

He wondered when it might happen and what he could do about it if it did: whether he was prepared to do anything when it did.

He did not consider himself a brave man, not in the same way that he had felt indestructible when he was their age. Yet he would have choked on the label of coward. If he’d been forced to choose one word to describe himself, and through his life he had tried many for size, he had reluctantly come to realise that there was only one that fitted properly now. He had become a careful man.

He had a careful job in a careful part of the world and had enjoyed a careful marriage that he had always imagined would take him through to a careful old age. Or he had at least until nine months ago when he and Ruth had agreed, with very little heat from his side, that they had gone as far as they were likely to ever go in their marriage and they had arranged their own careful divorce. He hadn’t wanted it, but neither had he worked very hard to avoid it.

The girl had put her mobile back into her bag and was looking at the underground map pasted to the curved roof. Was she preparing to get off? She didn’t seem aware she was being watched. Or she was behaving like everyone else in the carriage and pretending the young men didn’t exist.

The next stop came and the iconic roundels flashed by the windows as the train slowed rapidly. She looked at the signs, the youths looked at her and he looked at all of them.

Mark considered what he could do. He regretted the loss of youth, the certainty and the recklessness with which he would have once intervened. Now they wore the shield of invincibility, while experience had given him the frayed cloak of self-doubt. His middle-aged self was unlikely to come off best in a fight with four fit young men.

Now, he feared, he would most likely only have been able to prevent something happening to the girl if it had required an explanation of managing change in large organisations, or accounting in multi-nationals.

Yet it wasn’t enough for him to stand there and pretend he hadn’t seen. Too much to perhaps challenge them, enough maybe to lodge misgiving. They would act not think, and he too needed to do the same, to behave without too much thought because he could easily persuade himself to do nothing.

The girl didn’t stir as the train stopped. The restless youths swung between disinterest in her and over acknowledgment of each other. The woman who had been sat next to the girl rose from her seat. Mark knew that if he was going to do anything, it had to be before the girl got off the train, before the youths could get hold of her.

He stepped along the aisle, feeling self-conscious as he pushed himself into the centre of an event he had only been a spectator to moments before. He sat beside the girl. She did not look at him.

He had no words in his head to use. Each sentence he thought of would only scare her. The moment he told her what was happening she would react. She would look at the men, she would flee the train, or she would not believe him. He had no way of knowing how that might change things. There were too many variables for him to control, too many ways in which the situation might deteriorate.

She sensed his gaze and glanced at him. He tried his best fatherly expression and smiled at her. The look she threw back at him was short and unforgiving. She didn’t want him to invade her bubble.

Mark smiled again and pointed at her bag. He leaned away unthreateningly. The gesture made her reluctantly reach up and pull out one of her earphones.

It’s my daughter’s birthday soon, I thought I might get her a bag, I wondered where you got yours.”

Covent Garden,” she said unhelpfully. She had taken him from one pigeonhole and put him into another equally as unflattering, and her reply was terse as she looked away quickly.

Thanks.”

He sat back in his seat and looked directly at the lead youth. He knew he had some advantages. As a careful man he was also unexcitable, rarely betraying his emotions. He knew how to convince someone he was more than he was. In more than one negotiation his ability to look someone in the eye and not cave in had worked in his favour.

He might be middle aged, and his joints might ache every morning and the man who could once run a hundred metres in well under eleven seconds may have perished but he knew that, despite his heightened awareness of his own vulnerability, on the outside he looked something else.

He thought of his daughter, the girl who had so valiantly claimed on his behalf that the running to fat was still muscle and had announced that the implacable version of his face that frightened her friends made her feel safe. She had only been half-joking and he had only been half-offended. He knew he looked stern even when he did not feel it.

So he stared back long enough to create uncertainty in the young men. He could see that they were wondering how this affected things. He looked at each in turn, for too long. In a bar it might have begun a fight, but he wanted them to know he had connected them, that he had recognised the reason for their sudden downturn in activity.

The first youth flexed his arms and shook his legs. It was a loosening, threatening gesture meant to convince Mark that he was in trouble.

Instead, Mark smiled and he saw the consternation on the opposing face. It was brinkmanship, no more no less. He hoped it was enough.

The train slowed for the next station. The girl stood and moved to the doors without looking anywhere but ahead, turned her back innocently on the scene. Mark stood with her. It was not his stop but he followed her anyway.

He passed within inches of the first youth. He was taller and wider than the youngster but he had dropped the smile, now was not the time for goading.

He saw the question on the face of one of the others waiting to be answered by the lead youth. They were unsure where this was going to go.

He watched for any sign of movement and, as he passed, he switched his gaze to their reflections in the blackened windows.

The youths watched him go and stayed on the train.

Mark sat on the platform and waited to resume his ride to work. He knew that what he had done was futile. He would not be there for the next victim they chose. Still, he felt he had been the best white knight a careful man could be.

Author bio:

wilsher 17 commandmentsThe Seventeen Commandments of Jimmy September is my third book and was intended as a departure from what had gone before as I still searched for my own style and voice. After years of struggling with my two earlier stories, with rewrite after rewrite as I tried to interest agents, self-publishing allowed me to get them out of my system and move on.

With that departure I found that I actually liked trying different genres. So much so that book four, finished and resting, is different again. Not necessarily a good idea as it makes marketing problematic and confusing for buyers. But then, the beauty of self-publishing is the first person you can please is yourself. Also, I’ve never been very good at working out who I’m writing for anyway, vaguely imagining a reader not unlike myself, which is probably a very small demographic.

Jimmy September was intended as a pure adventure story, very much like the kind of tales that started me writing in the first place, and written in a much shorter space of time than the first two. This has allowed me to be more productive and, apart from those mentioned above, I am also working on a series of books for teens.

On a personal note, I am married with two children and live a few minutes’ walk from the beach in Dorset, England. The bulk of my career was in Sales Management, but this was cut short by the recession and compounded by the need for a kidney transplant. I now work as a Data Manager in Clinical Research. I’ve been writing all my adult life with my career and my writing each suffering as a result of the other. It’s only recently that I’ve stopped pretending about a salaried career.

http://www.srwilsher.com/

https://twitter.com/SrWilsher

e.mail: info@srwilsher.com

Purchase Links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

 

*Recent Release* The Golden City of Doubloon by Richard Natale (with author bio and excerpt)

The Golden City of Doubloon-510 (2)We are excited to introduce a recently released (on 26th September 2014), a Young Adult, fantasy novel, The Golden City of Doubloon by Richard Natale. It is  published by Double Dragon Publishing and is available both as an e-book and paperback. (Please scroll down for author bio and exerpt.)

BLURB: The Golden City of Doubloon is an adventure novel with a strong moral and spiritual underpinning. Set in the Great Depression, the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery includes a massive flood, a tornado, a terrifying massacre at a tent revival meeting and a climactic battle aboard a zeppelin. Our hero, Japeth Finian, 20, the devout, orphaned son of missionary parents, embarks on a time-constrained journey to Doubloon, the “oasis of the Midwest,” to find a serum that will save the inhabitants of his small town from a blood disease that robs them of their immortal souls in return for the promise of eternal life. When they arrive in Doubloon they are confronted by all the wonders, and terrors, of modern life. Joining Japeth in his adventures are his friends, the brave and noble Crowell, the loyal but scatterbrained Lon, Crowell’s sister Lucinda, with whom Japeth is not so secretly in love, and Abra, Japeth’s mute younger sister who may possess secret powers.

Author Bio

Richard Natale is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles whose work has appeared in such publications as the The New York Times, the L.A. Times, The Washington Post, W and Time Magazine among others. He is also a past winner of the National Playwright’s Competition. The Golden City of Doubloon is his third published novel.

Excerpt

A few minutes later, they pulled up to the shelter and pounded their fists on the metal doors, shouting “Open up, Reverend, open up,” until they were hoarse. But the howling wind drowned out their efforts.
“We’re too late,” Lon screamed. “Now we’re gonna die.”
They looked up in horror as one of the twisters touched down on the far end of Main Street, wrapping itself around the new fire house and spitting loose bricks like they were bits of confetti. One by one, the swirling, dark eddy ripped its way down the street, dismantling the post office, the general store, and the schoolhouse.
Abra pulled on Japeth’s arm and drew him down the hill toward the church. One of the chapel doors was open, flapping aimlessly in the wind like an invitation.
“But there ain’t even so much as a basement in there,” Lon cried.
“Don’t matter. It’s our only hope,” Japeth said.
Crowell climbed into the truck and rolled it downhill. Japeth and Abra jumped onto the running board and held on. Lon brought up the rear, riding Becka up the steps and inside the church.
“I don’t care if it is the Lord’s house, I ain’t leaving her out there,” he said before anyone could protest.
“All creatures great and small,” Japeth reassured him.
After parking the truck behind the church, Crowell helped Japeth secure the doors and bolt them, while Lon rode Becka around to shut all the windows and attach the shutters. They scanned the dimly lit room for a suitable place to take cover and nearly jumped out of their skins when the wind blew through the organ pipes, producing a blaring, discordant tune.
“That’s it,” Japaeth shouted. “We get behind the organ. Thing weighs a ton. Not even a twister could lift it.” He crouched down and peered behind the organ. It was a tight fit, but it would have to do. “Get in,” Japeth commanded Abra, who got down on all fours and crept into the darkness.
Japeth was about to follow when there was a sudden roar. The twister, now just outside, was rattling the front door like an determined burglar.
Lon got down from his horse and tried to find someplace to tether her. Frightened, Becka bolted and ran straight toward Japeth. He jumped out of her path and spun around. One of the window shutters exploded and slammed against the back of his head, throwing him across the room.
The gyrating wind howled through the insides of the church picking up any loose object it could find. Crowell and Lon flattened against the floor and crawled over to Japeth, who was unconscious. They dragged him toward the narrow opening behind the organ. Lon went in first, grabbing Japeth’s wrists. Crowell clamped his hands tightly around Japeth’s ankles to keep from being swept away.
“I can’t do it. I can’t,” Lon said in a panic. But slowly, he inched Japeth in. The last thing Crowell saw as he folded his body under the organ was poor Ol’ Becka being lifted into the vortex.
The wind tapped out a deafening dirge on the organ as it devoured the chapel. Abra had to press an ear against her brother’s heart to be certain it was still beating.
A few minutes later, as impulsively as it had descended, the twister relinquished its hold on the church and raced away. But the group remained huddled behind the organ taking no chances. The two tornadoes flirted with each other on the outskirts of town for most of the day. They finally gave in to their attraction and, just after nightfall, returned to visit their combined wrath on the graveyard. The giant twister skipped lightly over the old cemetery and concentrated its fury on the annex, churning the dead from their eternal rest. Tombstones were overturned, coffins lifted out of the ground and corpses were carelessly tossed about.
Sated, the tornado then trailed off in search of fresh prey.

PURCHASE LINKS

The e-book is available from Double Dragon, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Ibook among others.

AMAZON US (e-book)

AMAZON UK (ebook)

LULU (paperback)