ANWAR’S PUNCHY DEBUT STEPS OUT OF THE FRINGES TO DELIVER A KNOCKOUT BLOW

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Western Fringes CvrIf Jimmy Van Heusen’s 1953 song lyrics are to be believed, supposedly love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But that rule doesn’t apply the world over. There are certain religions and societies where you don’t need love to have a marriage, just the decision of a group of third parties that a man and woman should marry, more for money and social standing than any other reason.

In the west arranged marriages are frowned upon and go against all the social norms, this is why it is usually leads to fatalities in the form of “Honour Killings” committed by family members against other family members. In most cases the victim is the girl when she follows her heart and falls for a man naturally and often outside her social and religious circle.  According to www.HBV-awareness.com there are 5,000 of these murders perpetrated around the world each year, 1000 in Pakistan and 1000 in India annually while in the UK there are 12 reported annually. That’s the basis and setting this month’s second book, its Western Fringes by Amer Anwar, published by Edurus Books (www.edurusbooks.com) in June of this year.

In Southall, West London, Rita Brar the daughter of a Hindu builder’s yard owner has gone missing, so her father summons Zak Khan, a lowly but tough looking, delivery driver to his office. There he blackmails Zak, who’s just out of prison for killing a man in self-defence.  He asks Zak to find his daughter or he’ll go back to prison on trumped up robbery charges. With no experience and a few leads, in the form of a list of phone numbers, Zak ,with the help of his best mate Jagdev (Jags), a savvy and successful salesperson, set out to track down Rita. Thinking this could be a walk in the park, Zak soon finds himself, slightly out of his depth and the target for everyone with a right hook including those from his past, with a taste for revenge. However, Zak has spent his time wisely inside and can look out for himself. What was supposed to be a simple missing person location turns out to be a girl escaping an arranged marriage and the prospect of an honour killing. Before long the body count is starting to add up, along with discovery of more sinister and high stakes reasons for the family fallout. Can Zak stay out of trouble long enough to find Rita? If he does find her can he convince her to trust someone who works for her dad?

To say this book comes out of its corner fighting is an understatement, it arrived in the post with a tea bag and a plaster in the envelope with it. From the first page, Anwar sets a staggering pace and within the first thirty pages, I thought I was going to need to have a first aid kit next to me.

Then there’s the taut drama and rapier wit which is mixed skilfully into this punchy debut, to help drive the story forward. The descriptions of Southall are expertly described and immediately you are immersed into the close-knit community so much so you can smell the spices and easily get a hankering for the food.

This is a very gritty and full on novel that always makes you feel as if you are actively involved in the hunt.  One example is a very graphic torture and subsequent murder witnessed by Zaq, that will leave even the most stoic readers uncomfortable.  Although, this is all par for the course in one of the most engrossing books I’ve read in a while.

Minder

Arthur Daley and Terry McCann in Minder

Zak is a very believable character – expertly crafted with just enough flaws to bring him to life on the page. He comes across as a regular Terry McCann, the whole story has the feel of “Minder” with an Asian twist. It’s a pity it’ll probably a once off, although who knows if Anwar has plans for another adventure featuring Zaq and Jags.

If there is anything that takes marginally away from the book, it’s the Punjabi language which is used very liberally (on almost every page) throughout the story when the characters are talking to each other. Whilst this may add authenticity and really does bring the story to life, without any sort of hint as to what they are saying  (maybe the addition of a one or two-page list of popular phrases translated at the front or back of the book) it detracts from the experience and at times I felt as if I was being deliberately left out of the conversation.

Amer Anwar

Amer Anwar

This is London born Anwar’s (www.ameranwar.com) first book and it has already won the CWA Debut dagger award for its first chapter. His own back story is almost as colourful as his lead character, he’s been a driver for emergency doctors, a chalet rep in the Alps and graphic designer.

So, if you’re looking for a hard hitting and edgy book, with refreshingly original characters. Download a copy or pop into a local bookshop and on your way home pick up a curry, a naan and some poppadum’s, then settle in for a great British-Asian thriller.

DON’T GIVE UP ON CLIFFORD’S THIRD IN THE SERIES: BUT DRESS FOR THE CLIMATE

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Give Up The dead cvrRag and Bone men have been around since the early 1800’s, originally they were known as “Bone Grubbers” who collected old carcasses and rags. Primarily an English phenomenon, they may have been known by other names in Europe.

During the 19 and 20 centuries, most rag and bone men went around on foot collecting scrap metal but the wealthier ones who operated around the big English towns and cities used horse and carts before eventually moving on to vans or lorries. The squalid and hand to mouth existence of the Rag and Bone men was highlighted in the late sixties early seventies, when the BBC ran the comedy series Steptoe & Son.

Nowadays the rag and bone man has been all but replaced by the house clearance people and antiques dealers who will collect scrap but more lucratively unwanted furniture, ornaments or junk and sell them on. While all the time, hoping to stumble on an antique, even these modern day rag and bone men have been portrayed in a British TV drama, yes before Ian MacShane crossed the pond to make himself a household name in American dramas like Deadwood, he played the title role in the TV series, Lovejoy as an  antiques dealer. A wide-boy, who along with his hired help, solved murders and mysteries around England. Never has the rag and bone man or even the house clearance guy had a major role in the literary crime fiction world, that is until this month’s book. It’s ‘Give Up The Dead’ by Joe Clifford and published in June this year by Oceanview Publishing (www.oceanviewpub.com) .

 

Jay Porter is a former insurance investigator, whose life is now in tatters, three years after he broke up a Paedophile ring in his local town in New Hampshire run by a Judge with connections. The result was a severe beating by a local gang of hoodlums and near death experience on a frozen lake which have left him with a permanent limp.  It also cost him  his marriage, family and job and his junkie brothers life.  Now he works as a house clearance operative for a local firm. He’s in line to become partner and possibly owner when his boss retires but there is stiff competition in his hometown of Ashton as another house clearance firm is trying to squeeze Jay and his boss out. One snowy night around Thanksgiving, Jay is visited by a mysterious stranger who offers him a life changing amount of money to find a missing teenager, who it appears, is the centre of a custody battle between two wealthy parents in Boston. Jay treats the offer with skepticism and passes on it, only for his boss to be found beaten to within an inch of his life the next day, with all the evidence pointing to Jay. Under suspicion from his boss’s family (while he’s in an induced coma), the law and the locals, Jay must prove his innocence, stay one step ahead of the local house clearance competition and try to find the missing boy…

With the summer now well and truly upon us – it’s peak reading season for those escaping for two weeks to hotter climbs with nothing better planned then lounging by the pool or on the beach with book in hand. In Cliffords Give Up The Dead – you have a perfect read, if nothing else takes your fancy.

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Steptoe & Son

Although the story isn’t original, it does keep you intrigued and you get a real feel for the character and his woes in relation to the current hand life has dealt him. I could really get into the other books in the series and also with any future stories Clifford has planned for Jay Porter.

The setting in deep mid-winter in North America might give do more than take the edge off the hot balmy holiday, even I felt a deep shiver go through my body regularly when I read it in early May. Along with a bit of SAD setting in with every page seemingly describing grey dull days or horrendous whiteouts and driving snow.

This is the third book in the jay porter series the previous two being Lamentation in 2014

Joe Clifford

Joe Clifford

and December Boys in 2016. Although these aren’t the only books written by Joe Clifford (www.joeclifford.com)  a former drug addict who now lives with his family in San Francisco. The others are Junkie Love in 2013, Wake The Undertaker in 2013, Choice Cuts in 2012 and a collection of crime stories inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen which he edited called Trouble In The Heartland which was published in 2014.

So get your Parka jacket on or if you are reading this on holiday,  slip on a jumper and see if you can’t get into the world of Jay Porter in the icy, snow blanketed countryside of New Hampshire. Then go peruse the other books in the series whilst you await the next installment from an up and coming American writer.

GOING OFF SCRIPT PROVES THE BIGGEST FLAW IN WESOLOWSKI’S STORIES

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Sixstry CvrThe British Isles and Ireland are pockmarked with moorland and bogs, from as far south as Dartmoor to the Yorkshire Dales, Rannoch Moor in Scotland and The Burren in the West of Ireland. All through history, as well as in literature, these vast tracts of desolate land have fascinated us. Whether it’s as the roaming area of the fabled Hound of the Baskervilles in Sherlock Holmes, the setting for a doomed love affair between Cathy and Heathcliff on the Yorkshire moors, the hunting grounds of the reputed beasts of Bodmin Moor or as burial grounds for the Saddleworth Moors victims,the moorlands of Britain and Ireland are notorious for their role in the darker side of life and literature. So they are a great setting for this month’s book. Its “Six Stories” by Matt Wesolowski, published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.com) at the end of March.

The book follows a collection of interviews between Scott King, a mysterious investigative journalist, who regularly posts examinations of complicated cases online via Podcasts. This series is called “Six Stories” – in it Scott is looking back over the events surrounding the discovery of a body on Scarclaw Fell in 1997. The body is that of Tom Jeffers, who disappeared from an outdoor adventure centre on the Fell while on a weekend away with an inner-city youth group. No one was ever found guilty of his murder in a court of law but the media had a good go at pinning the blame on various people. The interviews are with members of the youth group and locals who he’s managed to track down ten years later and, who are willing to talk. As the tagline on the cover states, one death six stories, which one is true…

From the front cover to the blurb on the back, everything about this book shouts, Read Me!!! Along with promising a great thriller inside but then you open the book and basically you realise you are reading the transcript of a radio documentary / podcast.

Being a confident public speaker and actor who has trodden the boards in amateur drama, I was able to get over this obstacle by reading aloud and putting my own accents and inflections into the characters, although – this limited me to places I could read the book, thus reading while I was commuting was a no-no.

Alistair Cooke speaks at taping of his 2000th program 'Letter From America' at the British Broadcasting Company's Manhattan studio

Alastair Cooke

I love radio documentaries, In Ireland there is the “Doc on One” which is broadcast weekly on RTE radio – Ireland’s national broadcaster – and has won numerous awards, both in Ireland and abroad. The idea for the Six Stories was inspired by the real-life podcast phenomena “Serial”.  But could I see myself reading the transcripts of either of these shows… No, why?!

Now I grew up listening to Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America” which was broadcast on BBC Radio Four from 1946 up until his death in 2004. Cooke wasn’t just a radio journalist but also a print journalist and author of over twenty books. Eleven were his “Letter from America” ,which were the transcripts of said broadcast. The difference between Six Stories and Alistair Cooke’s The Americans’, was that they weren’t broadcast like a radio show, but like a letter or a newspaper column, hence the ease with which I took to Cooke’s books.

This doesn’t take away from Six Stories, despite the style of writing which may put some people off… The mystery at the heart of the story intrigues the reader and keeps you turning the pages until the very end when the killer punch surrounding the mystery is delivered.

This is Newcastle – Upon – Tyne native Matt Wesolowski’s first novel, but not his first

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Alex Wesolowski

book. His first novella The Black Land, a murder mystery set on the Northumberland coast was published in 2013 and his second novella set in Sweden will be published shortly. He started writing horror stories for various publications and anthologies, then in 2015 he won the Pitch Perfect Bloody Scotland competition. He is currently working on his second novel Ashes.

 

This book has been hailed in some quarters as a new departure in thriller writing, but it didn’t really work for me because it’s biggest flaw, was this new departure, which placed it in the wrong media. It will make a better Audio book than it has a printed one. Even then it may struggle to hold its audience.

If this was made into a radio drama it would be one of the best and darkest programmes out there and ripe for a TV adaptation.

So, if you are looking for a new thriller writer and can overcome the unusual writing style of this book, then download it or hike down to your local bookshop and pick up a copy.

YOU’LL WANT TO BE EXILED FOR A DAY TO ENJOY HIEKKAPELTO’S THIRD BOOK

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TheexiledcbrOne of the main rivers in central Europe is the Tisza at one stage called “The Most Hungarian River“ for despite now also flowing through Hungary,  Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and Serbia  at one stage it flowed entirely though the kingdom on Hungary. Along it banks you will find numerous forms of wild life among them is the Mayfly. It was the Swedish – Finnish journalist Heidi Avellan who coined the phrase ‘The Mayfly Effect’, to describe a movement or an event which harnesses the right social current at the right time.

Avellan’s comment sprang to mind while I read this month’s book as it is set during the Mayfly Flowering on the Tisza.  The book is The Exiled, the latest offering from Kati Hiekkapelto’s’ and published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk)  in November 2016.

This is the third novel featuring Hiekkapelto’s Finnish Police detective heroine, Anna Fekete. Here, she travels from Finland to her home village in the Balkans to have a holiday and catch up with family and friends. Her visit is set to coincide with the much anticipated ‘Flowering of the Tizsa’ when the mayflies hatch and take to flight in great clouds over the river. A cause for celebration in the locale each June. Her break gets off to a poor beginning however, when her bag is stolen. Later the thief is found dead by the riverbank.  Anna cannot help but take an interest in the investigation, which she feels is being poorly carried out. The victim is identified as a refugee and local in tolerances and prejudices come to light.  As she delves deeper Anna finds links to her own father’s death. Untangling a web of deception and corruption, her own life and that of a refugee child are put in danger.

Kati Hiekkapelto

Kati Hiekkapelto

This is the first of Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto’s (www.katihiekkapelto.com)  three books I have read and I will certainly be reading the others. The Hummingbird was published in the UK in 2014 and her second , The Defenceless was published in the UK in 2015.  Hiekkapelto started writing when she was two recording her stories on to a tape cassette, her first job was as a special needs teacher to immigrant children. Nowadays she devotes her time to writing from her base in a 200 year old farm house in northern Finland, while in her spare time she performs with her band, runs, ski’s hunts and tens her garden.

Anna Fekete is a strong female lead. I was particularly impressed by the sensitive portrayal of the strained relationship between herself and her mother and how, as secrets are revealed, Anna and her mother learn to understand each other better.

The movement of populations and the rezoning of country boundaries loomed large in the book and made it very relevant in the current refugee crisis. Whilst we were given descriptions of the refugee camps and the problems they faced we were also aware that Anna’s family were themselves had been refugees. I was also given the impression that the Hungarian inhabitants of the area where being sidelined by the Serbian population. Anna is herself, living as an immigrant in Finland and much was made of the differences in the two cultures. My knowledge of the geography and history of the area are poor and I was prompted to do a small amount of background reading. However, my own lack of ‘sense of place’ did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.

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Mayfly “Flowering” On The Tisza

I found the book to be well written and tightly plotted with a good level of suspense. It had a certain depth and I would not consider it a light read, whether that is due to the setting or the content I’m not sure. Anna is a multidimensional character. Driven and feminist, she can also show a more vulnerable side, which we see in her relationship with Peter. The supporting cast of characters were also well drawn and I was fascinated by  the descriptions of the riverside village, the camps  and the library club.

Whilst the mayfly only lives for the briefest of times , I hope Anna Fekete makes many more appearances. So flit down to your local bookshop for a copy or download it.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

MARTELL DELIVERS THREE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL TALES FROM UP IN THE MOUNTAINS

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High Mntns of Portugal cvrI’m no stranger to the Iberian Peninsula, having been there numerous times with my family on holidays when I was growing up. Then with a good mate in my early twenties. After that a girlfriend dumped me midway through another holiday there in my early thirties, by a poolside in front of fellow sun worshipers stretched out on sun loungers – classy. Then, last year I went there on my honeymoon.

I’ve never been any further north than the Algarve not even to its beautiful capital city of Lisbon, often referred to as the San Francisco of Europe because of its Golden Gate styled bridge and cable cars. Neither am I acquainted with any of Portugal’s mountains. To be honest there aren’t really any. The highest Portuguese mountain isn’t even on the Portuguese mainland but in the middle of the Atlantic, on the Azores. The highest point on continental Portugal is Torre “Tower” at 1,993m and that’s the highest point in a mountain range, not an individual mountain so you can see why there was some smiles when we discussed this month’s second book at our recent book group. It’s the High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel – published by Canongate (www.canongate.tv)  in 2016.

The book is basically a compilation three novellas the first one entitled “Homeless” follows the exploits of Tomas a grief-stricken archaeologist as he goes in search of a religious icon, over his short Christmas holidays. The artifact in question is a crucifix with monkey on it brought from Africa by a long dead Portuguese missionary. To help him in his search, his wealthy uncle entrusts him with one of his prized new-fangled automobiles, something he has never encountered before, let alone driven. The second story tells of a Pathologist who is asked to perform an autopsy on a man by his widow, when  she turns up at his offices late at night with the deceased in a large trunk. Finally, a Canadian politician, retires to Portugal after the death of his wife with a monkey he bought from sanctuary, to start a new life in his ancestral home in the last tale.

If you’ve never read anything by Yann Martell, then this book is going to feel a bit weird. But if like me you you’ve had the experience of reading his work before, then it’s going feel a bit like par for the course. However, this book is straight out of left field even by Yann’s standards.

Yann Martell

Yann Martell

One thing you should be made aware of from the outset is that Martell has a fascination with Animals – especially monkeys. The Life of PI features a Tiger, Orangutan, Hyena, Zebra and boy in a life raft… Beatrice and Virgil, explores the relationship of a writer and a taxidermist and two of his prized works; a donkey and monkey. Then again, in the High Mountains of Portugal he places monkeys in all three stories.

Regarding the three stories, the first one is humorous  in the main – especially when we observe Tomas trying to get to grips with the art of driving after a very brief 5 minute lessen from his uncle and his manservant. His run ins with the locals who are both scared, bewildered and in awe of this new contraception. Then his exploits in making sure he can get fuel for the car is the wilderness that is the uplands of north eastern Portugal, the ending has a tragic event which had the book group divide as to whether it was deliberate or an accident.

After the brevity of the first story, the second one entitled “Homeward” is a real head scratcher and had me thinking I was reading the script to an episode of the British TV series “Tales of The Unexpected” or similarly, “The Twilight Zone”. But the twist at the end is fantastic and considering the first half of the story centres on a discussion between the central character and his wife on the parallels between Agatha Christie and the miracles of our lord, near the witching hour on new years eve. I was almost falling a sleep but the autopsy it self had me sitting bolt upright again and not knowing whether to laugh or cry after it.

As for the third and final story called “Home”,  which follows the ups and downs and the Every which way but loosewacky events of the previous two stories, this is straight out of the Disney school of how to write a heart wrenching and emotional feel good animal story. It’s ‘Lassie-esque’, with the theme of the film “Every Which Way But Lose” driven straight through it. Images of Clint Eastwood and Clyde were stuck in my head while reading it.

This is Canadian writer Yann Martell’s (www.yannmartel.ca ) 8th book, the others being The Facts Behind The Helsinki Racamatios(1993), Self(1996), Life Of PI(2001), What Is Stephen Harper Reading(2009), Beatrice & Virgil(2010) and 101 Letters To a Prime Minister(2012).

Just to add to the Twilight Zone feel of this book is the discovery gradually that all the stories are linked in a roundabout way, this in turn adds to the appeal of the book.

The thoughts of the book group, where divided. None of them bar one person, myself, recognised a  theme running  throughout, grief,  The whole book is an examination of how different people deal with it. Everyone at some stage in their life experiences loss, and no two people go through it the same way. Myself included. It was quite by coincidence that the 18th anniversary of my father’s passing occurred while reading the book.

It’s strange that this book had me feeling quite apprehensive at the start, going on the experiences left over from Beatrice and Virgil. It took me to heights and places I’d never felt Martel’s work could do. As a result, I now see his work in a new light, making me want to give his other unread works a go. So if you fancy tripping the light fantastic and finally getting into the mind of this author, download a copy or get down to your local bookshop and begin a fantastic journey.

JOHNSON CONTINUES TO OVERCOME HIS DEMONS IN A DEADLY GAME WITH THE AID OF A GREAT BRITISH BOBBY

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Deadly game CvrBattle Stress, Shell Shock, War Neurosis, Post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s been around for centuries but only recently, the 1980’s actually, has it been officially recognized and become more widely known thanks to its buzzy new moniker PTSD. For years battle weary soldiers and those in the front-line of emergency response who’d witnessed truly awful sights, things you wouldn’t have shown a five-year-old, let alone a thirty-five-year-old. They have suffered in silence trying to deal with the images seared onto their temporal lobe, usually dealing with the repercussions through substance abuse and self-harm, leading ultimately to taking their own life in some cases. The author of this month’s book is a former policeman, who was advised to take up writing to overcome his PTSD, brought about by having been at the centre of some of the worst atrocities caused by the IRA and other terrorist groups on the British mainland. He was one of the first officers on the scene of the Regents Park bombing in 1982, was injured in the Baltic Exchange bombing in 1993, and traveled with his mortally wounded colleague WPC Yvonne Fletcher after she was shot by Libyan terrorists in 1984. The book is Deadly Game by Matt Johnson published by Orenda books (www.orendabooks.co.uk)  at the end of March.

For Inspector Robert Finlay, things are hopefully starting to return to normal following the attempt on his own, his family’s life and the lives of a few of his former SAS colleagues. On returning to work with London’s Metropolitan Police force, he finds himself the centre of internal and inter agency politics and the fear by other officers that he is a “Bullet Magnet”.  Assigned to the Department dealing with the Eastern European Sex Slave industry, whilst Robert and some of his superiors thought  it might be a way of keeping out of trouble, they are in for a rude awakening.

For no sooner has he started his new job and while on a Mediterranean holiday, he saves a young woman from drowning and is invited to her wedding as a sign of her gratitude, only to realize that his past and present lives are about to collide again.  Her families publishing company are a well-known front for the sex trafficking industry and their latest book is a rehashed memoir of an operation Finlay’s SAS team were on in Afghanistan. During the wedding, he defuses a situation by disarming a security guard. Then a couple of weeks later, while investigating the murder of an escaped sex slave worker turned informant, he and his new partner come face to face with the same man in an armed standoff in a London street. Add to that, the kidnapping of a female Firearms officer and Robert is hurled into a race against time to disrupt the Sex Trafficking gang’s activities and save the life of the kidnapped police officer. This, all while trying to decipher the mysterious documents that were found in the papers of an ex-army buddy , which are costing people who come into contact with them their lives.

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The aftermath of WPC Yvonne Fletcher’s fatal shooting

I didn’t get a chance to read Johnson’s first book “Wicked Game”.  If I had and it had been written as well as this one was, and all the reviews seem to point to that conclusion, then I’d have camped out overnight in-front of my local book store book on this one’s publication date or at least politely harangued my friends at Orenda for a copy. What starts out slowly, soon explodes into a vibrant and Le Carre-esque read that had me on the edge of my seat from the first page.

Most books have one main story running through it, but here Johnson has so many threads running at once that, I almost needed a towel to mop the sweat from my brow and a masseur to work on my neck which was almost constantly sore from looking over my shoulder, so enveloped by this book and Johnson’s writing was I. The last fictional police hero to leave me with this excitement and enthusiasm for his next book was Frank Pagan, the hero of the books Jig, Mazurka, Mambo, Jigsaw and Heat by the late Scottish author Campbell Armstrong.

This is English author Matt Johnson’s second book(www.mattjohnsonauthor.com), his

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Matt Johnson

first one Wicked Game was originally self-published in 2012, then following the acquiring
the rights to it. Orenda published in 2016, where it went on to be long-listed for the 2016 John Creasey New Blood Dagger award, as well being listed on Amazon as the highest rated debut novel of the year.

Like Pagan, Finlay, is an old-school policeman whose graduated from the University of hard knocks and developed his skills on “The Beat”, but unlike Pagan he’s also got a military background which gives him additional talents in the firearms and hand to hand combat departments. Thus, enabling him to swim against the tide when in deeper waters than most coppers would find themselves in.

The main story line centering on the modern sex Slave trade is still very current and hasn’t been over worked by numerous authors before him.  Although I was worried that he was going to fall back on a hoary old chestnut in the form of IRA involvement – because in the past authors who’ve written about ex-SAS operatives, think the only foes they’ve ever faced were in Northern Ireland, but this ends up as just a bit of a red herring in Johnson’s case.

There are a few loose ends in this book, which look intriguing going forth, I’ll therefore look forward to seeing what future perils Johnson pits his very believable creation against in in future books.  While doing so, I suggest you buy or down load a copy of Johnson’s first two books and get in at the start of what could be another crime series featuring a great British bobby.

TREMAIN’S SONATA IS MORE ROCK AND ROLL THAN WALTZ, BUT WORTH THE DROPPED NOTES

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gustav-sonata-cvrOn the day that I finished reading this month’s second book, back at the start of February, it’s ironic  that Rolf Harris was cleared of three further historical sex abuse charges. One of his greatest hits was a firm favorite at Christmas and  I’ve  found myself humming regularly, especially while reading this book.  Since his conviction it and all his other work, both artistically and musically has been scrubbed from playlists and removed from public view, which is a shame.

I’m referring of course to Two Little Boys. A song which tells the story of two friends who grow up then get separated in battle only to have one ride out of the smoke and rescue his mate with the chorus line “Did you think I would leave you dying, when there’s room on my horse for two….” and this is the main theme of this book, The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain published by Vintage publishing www.Penguin.c.uk/Vintage  in January this year.

Gustav Perle grows up in the sheltered existence of neutral Switzerland just after the second world war. Raised by his widowed mother Emilie, they live a hand to mouth existence as she works two jobs, at the Cheese factory and cleaning the local church early on Saturdays, doing her level best to try and keep their heads above water and provide some sort of respectable normality to his childhood, although her own depression and borderline alcoholism is a hindrance. One day Gustav’s solitary existence is shattered when a new boy Anton Zweibel (which translates as onion) arrives at his school. They hit it off instantly and from there on a lifelong friendship begins which goes deeper than just friends and the boys discover different things about each other’s past.

The book deals with a lot of topics which are current even today, such as immigration, the Humanitarian Crisis, as well as what is right or wrong and it asks the question, what would we do if in a certain situation. Through Gustav’s journey of discovery, we uncover the truth about what happened to his father during the war and why his mother will not talk about it. What unfolds via a revelation is his old man’s infidelity, his work related stress, but also the beautiful and passionate courtship of his parents, before Gustav’s birth and early life.

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The main part of the book centres on the relationship between the two boys . There is a  ‘will they won’t they ‘unrequited gay scenario. While also showing how two friends lives can change over time due to their different aims or more importantly upbringing.

Gustav’s life is pure struggle to survive until he meets Anton. Anton is the son of a Jewish banker who has everything he needs and is being groomed to be a concert pianist, only for his nerves to get in the way. What comes across in the book is that Gustav is a virtual doormat to all of humanity and is all but used by everyone he meets, even Anton, who comes across as a spineless self-centred human being is used to having things done for him and who can’t really deal with any harsh challenges (bit like the youth of today in the blogger’s opinion). Thus he needs Gustav to be his emotional crutch, who must break various bits of bad news to Anton’s parents’, employers etc, etc… Gustav it appears, is the son the Zweibel’s never had and wished they did instead of Anton. Through his friendship he is exposed to the good things in life, things his poor washed up mother can’t provide. Expensive holidays in Geneva and Davos and skating at the local ice rink.

This English Author Rose Tremain’s www.rosetremain.co.uk thirteenth novel, the others include The Sadler’s Birthday(1976), The Cupboard(1981), Restoration(1989), which was shortlisted for The Booker and made into a film with a stellar cast, including Robert Downey Jnr., Meg Ryan, Hugh Grant, Sam Neil and David Thewlis. The Road Home(2008) was the Whitbread Novel of the year and Trespass(2010) was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick.  She has written five collections of short stories and a children’s book called Journey To The Volcano(1985). Rose was made a CBE in 2007 and currently lives in Norfolk with her partner the biographer Richard Holmes.

rose-tremain

Rose Tremain

This isn’t the first time she has used immigration and sexual discovery as a subject for her books, Her 1992 book Sacred Country tells the story a young English girl who is gender challenged. While The Road Home, follows the exploits of a young Eastern European man as he leaves his homeland to start a new life in London.

The general reaction to this book at the book group, including myself was that the book was a nice read. But could have been a bit longer, and was a victim of over editing, which is usually lacking in other similar novels. Thus, the story in the Gustav Sonata is not given more time to develop, so what you get is short jumpy bits which feels a bit like a hashed-up time travelling piece.

The ending also feels a bit twee and just thrown in to finish a book the author had lost interest in or was under pressure to finish. The topics covered in the book allowed for a frank and in-depth discussion on current problems facing Europe and the world, what with immigration through Europe and Trump’s botched travel ban. So, take yourself off and download or pick up a copy of this book.