Friday, 11 August 2017

Unveiling the next Lucy Clayburn enquiry

Okay, I know I’ve been promising his for a little while, but today I’m at last able to unveil the jacket for the next Lucy Clayburn novel, SHADOWS

So, here it is … enjoy (and feel free to tell me what you think).

We’ll be talking a bit more about the next Lucy book shortly (I’ll even let you in on seven things about her that you previously didn’t know). But as we’re focussing exclusively on girl-power this week, I’ll also be reviewing and discussing Tess Gerritsen’s remarkable occult/crime thriller, THE MEPHISTO CLUB, which pits two female sleuths against a group who are literally dedicated to doing evil. It’s a real hair-curler, but as always, you’ll find that review at the lower end of today’s post.

Meanwhile, as promised, Lucy is back on the crime-solving trail this autumn, so here’s that little bit extra I promised about the next adventure ... 

In SHADOWS, PC Lucy Clayburn has finally earned herself a permanent position in the CID office of Greater Manchester Police’s notorious November Division (where just about every kind of social deprivation is still an issue, and where criminal activity is rampant).

Lucy, or DC Clayburn as she is now officially known, is already an 11-year veteran on the force, and she thinks she’s seen and done it all … until the arrival in town of a gang of armed robbers who hit their targets with maximum force and extreme savagery, always leaving trails of dead or horrifically wounded victims in their wake.

It’s a real shock to the police system, even in a rough neighbourhood like ‘the N’ - almost a throwback to the days of John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. But Lucy isn’t the only person on the case. As this new gang mainly seems to be preying on the interests of the underworld, in particular the Northwest’s premier crime syndicate, the Crew, infamous gangland trouble-shooter Frank McCracken is also charged with bringing them down. And you can be sure that his methods are going to be a lot rougher and readier than Lucy’s (even if the vying twosome do know each other better than either of them would like to admit).

Random violence

I first introduced Lucy Clayburn in the 2016 novel, STRANGERS, in which she went undercover as a Manchester prostitute in order to catch a deranged working girl who appeared to be butchering her male clients. 

As well as sending her after a relentless serial killer, it brought her into closer contact with organised crime in the city than any person would be comfortable with.

But in SHADOWS, she goes a whole lot deeper, pursuing a bunch of blaggers to whom human life means nothing, and plunging into a world of drugs, guns and random, testosterone-fuelled violence, where no-one – but no-one – is beyond the reach of a knife, a bullet, or even a sword!

But alas, I can’t say too much more about it. If you want to know what actually happens in SHADOWS, you’ve got to acquire the book – which will be published on October 19 this year.

However, also as promised earlier, here is one further item of interest for Lucy Clayburn fans ...    


SEVEN THINGS ABOUT LUCY THAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW:

(These were all plotted before the first book was written, but didn’t make it into the final text. However, in due course, all will come to play their own part in the Lucy Clayburn canon).

1) At the start of STRANGERS, all Lucy thought she knew about her absent father was that he’d worked as a bus driver, and that he had departed the family before Lucy was even born because he found the idea of parental responsibility onerous. As a young child, Lucy was particularly affected by this, and at the age of seven she ran away from home and used her Christmas money to travel the bus routes of Greater Manchester for two days, looking for any driver whose facial features she might vaguely recognise. Lucy’s mother, Cora, was beside herself with worry, but the child was later recovered safe and well when, early one morning, a nurse coming off duty found her sleeping in a bus shelter in Rochdale on the other side of the city from her home-patch of Crowley. Afterwards, when Lucy saw how upset her mother had been, she solemnly promised herself that she would never go looking for her father again.

2) Those who’ve read STRANGERS will be aware that Lucy comes from an economically poor background but that her single mother’s brave and determined efforts ensured that she’d eventually become a model citizen. However, in her late teens, Lucy went through a typical ‘wild child’ phase, and for a brief time was girlfriend to Kyle Armstrong, a member of the Low Riders, Crowley’s resident Hell’s Angels chapter.

Armstrong later rose to be president of the chapter, but when Lucy joined the police – perhaps inevitably – they went their separate ways, and not very amicably. However, Armstrong made an impression on Lucy; she still recalls how lean, mean and fanciable he was, and of course, though she may not admit this to herself, she owes Armstrong big-time for instilling in her a long-lasting street wisdom, not to mention her abiding love of motorbikes (for those not in the know, Lucy still rides a Ducti Monster M900 ‘muscle-bike’).

3) As a child and then as a teenager, Lucy had an extreme phobia of dogs. It all began when, as a toddler, she was playing in the backstreet behind her house when she was attacked and badly bitten by an out-of-control Doberman. For years afterwards, she had an unreasoning fear of canines. However, this was cured one Saturday night in the police, when she was required to arrest two hooligans who were fighting outside a kebab shop.

Lucy was alone at the time, and the moment she grabbed the guy doing most of the beating, the watching crowd turned on her, as did the other combatant. Lucy was about to get a severe kicking herself, when Shuck, a fearsome police dog was let loose further down the road. It tore into the mob and drove them every which way, basically saving her life. Later, she made friends with Shuck by throwing a tennis ball for him for two hours on the car park at the back of the police station, throwing off her phobia in the process.

4) Lucy first came to the notice of senior police officers when, early in her career, shortly after leaving the watchful eye of her tutor constable, she engaged in a car chase with a late-night driver who wouldn’t stop for her. Suspecting because of his erratic driving that he was drunk, she stayed on his tail until he abandoned his vehicle on wasteland close to the River Irwell. It was a December night, very cold and the river was half frozen. The fleeing driver attempted to swim across, got into trouble and screamed for help as he started to drown.

Despite the pitch darkness and the icy cold, Lucy jumped into the river and managed to pull him ashore alive (he transpired to have been under the influence of drugs). Later on, she was severely reprimanded by her supervisors for taking an absurdly dangerous risk. However, when the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester heard about the escapade, she was awarded her first (of several) commendations. 

5) Lucy suffered her first serious injury on duty when she was hit with a baseball bat by one of her own police colleagues. She was involved in public order training at the time, and participating in an exercise called ‘Violent Man’. A burly police PTI had donned body armour and a motorcycle helmet and, armed with a hickory slugger, was stationed inside a derelict house. Lucy and three other PCs had to enter and affect an arrest; the PTI, in the guise of a deranged suspect, had to do everything he could to resist them. Though Lucy and her crew were in full riot gear and armed with heavy Perspex shields, the house was filled with rubble. Lucy stumbled on entry, dropped her shield, and the PTI, who’d already taken a full swing at her with the bat, was unable to pull back. Lucy was hit in the throat, the impact of which broke her collar bone and caused her to swallow her tongue. Revived at the scene, she nevertheless had to spend two days in hospital and was off work for three weeks.

6) Lucy once nearly arrested a famous rock star. In her mid-twenties, she was off-duty in a central Manchester nightclub when a rather dishy but very drunken guy began pestering her for a dance.

The guy wouldn’t take no for an answer; in fact he seemed startled that she would resist him. At length, Lucy lost her patience and gave him a flea in his ear. His response was to turn aggressive and, when he tried to force a kiss on her, she put him in an arm-lock and marched him to the nightclub door, where she intended to get the bouncers to summon police officers to take him into custody. Someone then quietly advised her that she was roughing up Tug Davis, founder member of The Mannequins, a big name Manchester band of the 1990s and one of the Britpop ‘big five’. Lucy still wasn’t inclined to let him go, even less so when a bossy woman identified herself as Tug’s PA and threatened legal action.

However, when a colleague pointed out to Lucy that she’d had a bit to drink herself and that she might be on shaky ground, she finally relented and all parties agreed to forget it so long as Tug “behaved himself in future”, which he sulkily promised to do. 

7) Lucy once made the Crowley newspapers after taking an eccentric local woman seriously rather than dismissing her as a fruitcake. Annie Leary was regarded by the police as a batty old dear, whom no-one should pay any attention to, especially when she made repeated complaints that her terraced house was haunted by a goblin, who constantly stole her money and food. When Lucy was assigned to that beat, she took note of the fact that the house next door to Annie’s was empty, and launched a one-woman investigation, which led her to a hole in the connecting wall between the two attics. It turned out that a homeless child – a feral boy – was living up there, who regularly came down into Annie’s house at night to try and feed himself.


THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller and horror novels) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

THE MEPHISTO CLUB 
by Tess Gerritsen (2006)

As usual, on/off partners in crime-fighting, Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner, Doctor Maura Isles, are having difficulties in their personal lives. 

At the start of The Mephisto Club, Isles’s yearning for handsome Catholic priest, Father Daniel Brophy, remains unrequited, but as he is equally attracted to her, how long that status will last is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile Jane Rizzoli, an experienced homicide investigator with the Boston PD, has a happily-married life, but a car-wreck of a family, her brothers useless and her mom and dad increasingly quarrelsome with each other.

With all this going on, and in the depths of a bitterly cold Boston winter, it’s hardly the right time for the twosome to find themselves confronted by a particularly ghoulish ritual murder, the body horribly dismembered and the Latin word PECCAVI scrawled at the scene.

An apparent explanation suggests itself soon enough, the slaying seemingly linked to one of Isles’s former sparring partners, criminal psychologist, Dr Joyce O’Donnell, a woman with whom she has never seen eye-to-eye. It seems possible that the perp is one of O’Donnell’s more disturbed patients, either trying to spook her or leave her some kind of message. But O’Donnell can’t (or won’t) help examine this particular theory, and then more murders follow, with similar mutilations and similar cryptic characters inscribed on and around the corpses. 

It seems that it isn’t just Joyce O’Donnell who’s the object of interest, but the whole of the mysterious Mephisto Club, of which she is only one member.

A group of scholarly individuals headed up by the wealthy ex-college professor, Anthony Sansone, and the bullish Englishwoman, Edwina Felway, the Mephisto Club – or ‘Mephisto Foundation’, to use their preferred title – dedicate themselves to a profound and scientific analysis of evil; not just in its obvious form, as in the violent psychosis displayed by damaged individuals, but also the religious and metaphysical elements of it, i.e. its devilish origins, as described in the earliest archaeological records.

To the ever-cynical Rizzoli, all of this feels like hokum, but she’s frustrated to find that, owing to their fantastical wealth, the Mephisto Club exert huge influence over the authorities, even the FBI, and when they insist on helping with the investigation, tacit permission is given.

They don’t exactly interfere, but Rizzoli soon feels that she’s lost her leadership role, and is particularly frustrated by Isles, who is gradually won over by them, especially by Sansone, a descendent of cruel Italian nobility, and yet a man whose good looks are striking, and whose urbane style and intellectual depths make him a real force to be reckoned with.

In a parallel thread, meanwhile, we follow the fortunes of one Lily Saul, a girl whose family, many years ago, had the misfortune to take into their care her abandoned cousin, Dominic. Dominic was a curious boy with peculiar interests, an unnerving manner and a strange knowledge of ‘forbidden’ things.

We don’t dwell too much on that first summer of young Dominic’s residence at the Saul home in rural New England, but instead flit forward in time to find Lily, now an adult (with no family left to call her own!), on the run in Rome, leading a hippie-like existence, moving from one temporary accommodation to the next, doing things she would never normally have dreamt of in order to make money, and constantly looking over her shoulder for fear that he – or should that be ‘it
’ – won’t be far behind …

Tess Gerritsen’s blood-spattered crime thrillers have often been said to skate along the edge of the horror genre, and while that may not always be true, I don’t think it can be denied on this occasion. But that’s not because The Mephisto Club is a gore-fest. To start with, it’s not. Oh, there are gruesome murders a-plenty, and the author/doctor, as always, demonstrates her medical knowledge with some unstintingly detailed autopsy sequences, but the real horror in this novel – and the title itself is a bit of a give-away – actually comes to us from a more much traditional direction: its aura of Satanic evil.

The surprising implication in The Mephisto Club, namely that a truly malevolent force walks the Earth, an ancient power traceable right back to the Fall of Man, is not the kind of twist we’d expect in a routine crime thriller, but in this novel we get it full-on.

Lily’s flight to Rome serves to underline this almost in itself; Italy, the land of esoteric antiquity, Rome the capital of the Catholic Church.

And then there is the Mephisto Club itself.

For the uninitiated, Mephisto (better known as Mephistopheles) was an arch-demon, a close servant of Satan, who most famously claimed the soul of 15th century occultist, Faust. So once again in this novel we’re working on the basis that evil is not some intangible aspect of corrupted human nature, but a personalised entity, something with a form and a face, which actively seeks the destruction of our world.

The Club, itself, is equally reminiscent of the classic age of horror. 

It’s an amusingly old-fashioned concept, consisting entirely of enigmatic scholars and wealthy intellectuals, who spend their time tracing the movements of the world’s most malign beings, attempting to track their ancestry back to mythological days when fallen angels known as the Watchers spawned monstrous offspring, the so-called Nephilim, who dedicated their existence to the death and misery of mankind. Their tireless research has uncovered all manner of eldritch information: references not just to the Watchers and the Nephilim, but to the Book of Enoch (which is real and in which many of these disturbing legends were first written down) and to Lillith – Adam’s first wife, a wanton temptress who walked the Earth long before Eve (and who modern-day feminists regard as the quintessential demonization of women by a patriarchal church).

With all this in mind, it’s very easy to picture the Mephisto Club in a Hammer Horror movie, perhaps with Peter Cushing chairing the meetings.

The big question is … does it work in the context of a crime thriller?

My view – and I’m aware that it’s not shared by all crime fans – is that it does.

Okay, I will admit to having one or two minor problems with it. I didn’t buy totally into the idea that the Mephisto Club, even through the combined expertise of its members, could wield such influence over government organisations like the FBI. I’m sure these secret societies exist, but I’d imagine more as hobbies for the rich and the bored, whom the police would simply treat as well-meaning amateurs. I also thought that one or two moments were a little bit rushed; for example, after effectively and atmospherically building up the circumstances of Lily’s flight to Rome, not to mention the fear she feels at every turn, and the desperate (ugly-desperate at one point!) measures she takes to protect herself there, this whole part of the book seems to end rather mundanely and abruptly, within a page or so in fact. Compare and contrast that to the protracted and ultimately irrelevant break-up of Rizzoli’s parents’ marriage, and you have a quite noticeable imbalance.

But hell, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this novel.

Whether I’m reading crime or horror, I’m a sucker for ancient puzzles, and The Mephisto Club is riddled with them. From eerie Latin inscriptions to ritually mutilated corpses, from chalk symbols to assailants who move like shadows, this narrative is chocka with arcane symbolism and olde worlde weirdness. It’s also pretty damn thrilling: Rizzoli and Isles, two independent, modern-minded women, talented practitioners of their respective crafts and domineering forces in their personal lives, find themselves eyebrow-deep in a gory and distressing murder case for which no contemporary textbook could have prepared them.

For all these reasons, The Mephisto Club is a fast, riveting read. But then you have Tess Gerritsen’s skilled penmanship, as well – a great sense of time and place (Boston in mid-winter, brrr), fizzling dialogue, rapid-fire action, a range of extreme and even grotesque characters for us to get our teeth into, though none of them are OTT – and you’ve got everything you really need for an enjoyable thriller.

I can understand why certain crime fiction traditionalists found this one hard to take. The concept of evil as a sentient force, embodied by a single devilish being, or even a group of such beings, may on one hand seem naïve of the author, but on the other hand you’ve got to remember that this is fiction, and fun fiction at that. And it’s not as if the supernatural elements hit us on the nose. Like most good authors in this field, Gerritsen basically leaves it open at the end, leaves certain questions unanswered, and leaves her readers – this one at least – wanting more.

An intriguing thriller with an unusual, challenging and never less than uber-dark premise, The Mephisto Club ticked all of my boxes.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – when I cast this beast. Of course, in the case of Rizzoli and Isles, if their adventures were to be adapted in the correct order, The Mephisto Club would be the fourth in the series, but just suspend belief for a minute or two (which you’ll need to do anyway, if you want to get your head round the idea that someone like me will be picking the actors):

Det. Jane Rizzoli – Jaimie Alexander
Dr. Maura Isles – Julia Stiles
Lily Saul – Emma Stone
Anthony Sansone – Mads Mikkelson
Dr. Joyce O’Donnell – Glenne Headly
Edwina Felway – Emma Thompson

4 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed Strangers, Paul. Looking forward to Shadows.

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  2. Many thanks, Luke. Not long to wait now.

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  3. I can't wait for this book�� I'm already throug the first half of "ashes to ashes" (German version) and it's so amazing! Hope U know that you have very good translators which keep your style. Go on like that!

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    1. I'm very aware of that. Thanks for the kind comments, Vanessa. I'll pass them on to the guys at Piper.

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