Book review: Terms of Restitution by Denzil Meyrick

Ferocious gang wars in Paisley and Glasgow are the subject of Denzil Metrick’s Terms of Restitution.

Sometimes it’s better to go, to leave things behind. Often that is the only way to find yourself, to find salvation.

Gangland boss Zander Finn has been laying low in London on the advice of his priest after his son I brutally murdered. When his friend asks him to return to help deal with the threat of Albanian mobsters trying to take over the Scottish underworld, he returns.

It was a warm, gin-clear July day.

What unfolds is a fast paced, brutal tale of survival and misplaced loyalties. Despite the body count and violence, Metrick threads a human story about relationships and friendship with fully formed characters and humour through the novel. From Father Giordano, Zanders lifetime friend and confidant, to Zander’s mother Maggie, the family matriarch who likes to offer the family comfort food of egg, chips and beans – and now she uses vegetable oil, not lard.

Well, its a bastard when you get old. They lifts stink of piss, and there’s all sorts cloaking about. Some shite tried to steal your Auntie Gwen’s purse the last time she came to visit me.

Dames of Crime: Ursula Torday

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Dames of Crime blog, so I thought it was time I shone a light on another great woman of mystery – Ursula Torday.

You’d be forgiven for never having heard of writer of mysteries, gothic and historical romance fiction Ursula Torday (1912-1997) because she only wrote three novels under that name. She did write many under pseudonyms, including Paula Allardyce (29 novels), Charity Blackstock (27 novels), Lee Blackstock (2 novels) and Charlotte Keppel (6 novels).

The only child born to a Scottish mother, and a father who was a Hungarian anthropologist, Torday had polio as a child which afflicted her gait throughout her life. She was educated in London at Oxford University and published her first three romance novels in the 1930s under her true name then stopped writing aged 26. She did not publish again until 1954. Over the next three years she published six books and continued to be prolific until the ’80s.

Torday’s dual interests of romance and mysteries meant that emotions and passion were important in her novels and often given precedence over death and motive in her mysteries. Sardonic humour, passion, hate, fear and loathing reverberate through her loathsome mystery characters to create tension and brooding romance.

Torday was said to be her own woman – cultured, sophisticated, opinionated, with wide interests and a zest for life. During World War II she worked as a probation officer for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau then ran a refugee scheme for Jewish children following the war. Her war time work inspired two novels written under the pseudonym Charity Blackstock (The Briar Patch, 1960 and The Children, 1966). Later she worked as a typist at the National Central Library in London which inspired body in the library mystery Dewey Death written under the same name. Dewey Death was set in the Inter-Libraries Despatch Association and includes themes of adultery, drug trafficking, romance and murder. Torday also worked for Naim Attallah’s publishing house (Quartet Books, The Women’s Press) for a period and sat at a desk opposite Quentin Crisp exchanging tips on the latest nail varnishes.

The Woman in the Woods, a mystery-suspense written as Charity Blackstock, in which two schoolboys stumble across a skeleton in the woods and soon the whole village is caught up in the death was nominated to win the 1959 Edgar Award for best novel.

Mystery novels

  • After the Lady (1954) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Doctor’s Daughter (1955) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • A Game of Hazard (1955) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Adam and Evelina (1956) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Man of Wrath (1956) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Lady and the Pirate (1957) aka Vixen’s Revenge (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Southarn Folly (1957) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Beloved Enemy (1958) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • My Dear Miss Emma (1958) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Death My Lover (1959) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • A Marriage Has Been Arranged (1959) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Johnny Danger (1960) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Gentle Highwayman (1961) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Adam’s Rib (1963) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Respectable Miss Tarkington-Smith (1964) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Dewey Death (1956) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Miss Fenny (1957) aka The Woman in the Woods (as Charity Blackstock) 
  • All Men Are Murderers (1958)  aka The Shadow of Murder (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Foggy, Foggy Dew (1958) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Bitter Conquest (1959) (as by Charity Blackstock)
  • The Briar Patch (1960) aka Young Lucifer (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Exorcism (1961) aka A House Possessed (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Gallant (1962) (as by Charity Blackstock)
  • Mr. Christopoulos (1963) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Factor’s Wife (1964)  aka The English Wife (as Charity Blackstock)
  • When the Sun Goes Down (1965)  aka Monkey On a Chain (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Children (1966) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Knock at Midnight (1966) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Party in Dolly Creek (1967)  aka The Widow (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Wednesday’s Children (1967) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Melon in the Cornfield (1969)   aka The Lemmings (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Encounter (1971) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • I Met Murder on the Way (1977) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Shadow of Murder (1964) (as Charity Blackstock/Lee Blackstock)
  • Madam, You Must Die (1974) aka Loving Sands, Deadly Sands (as Charlotte Keppel)
  • When I Say Goodbye, I’m Clary Brown (1976) aka My Name Is Clary Brown (as Charlotte Keppel)

Other novels – gothic, historical, romance

  • The Ballad-Maker of Paris (1935) (as Ursula Torday)
  • No Peace for the Wicked (1937) (as Ursula Torday)
  • The Mirror of the Sun (1938) (as Ursula Torday)
  • The Rogue’s Lady (1961) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Witches’ Sabbath (1961) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Paradise Row (1964) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Octavia (1965) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Emily (1966) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Moonlighters (1966) aka Gentleman Rouge (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Six Passengers for the Sweet Bird (1967) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Waiting At the Church (1968) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Ghost of Archie Gilroy (1970) aka Shadowed Love (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Miss Jonas’s Boy (1972) aka Eilza as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Gentle Sex (1974) as Paula Allardyce)
  • Legacy of Pride (1975) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Carradine Affair (1976) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Miss Philadelphia Smith (1977) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Daughter (1970) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Jungle (1972) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Haunting Me (1978) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Miss Charley (1979) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • With Fondest Thoughts (1980) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Lonely Strangers (1972) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • People in Glass Houses (1975) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Ghost Town (1976) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Dream Towers (1981) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Woman in the Woods (1959) (as Charity Blackstock/Lee Blackstock)
  • The Villains (1980) (as Charlotte Keppel)
  • I Could Be Good to You (1980) (as Charlotte Keppel)
  • The Ghosts Of Fontenoy (1981) (as Charlotte Keppel)
  • The Flag Captain (1982) (as Charlotte Keppel)

Book review: The Beresford by Will Carver

Leave your comfort zone. Will Carver has a dark imagination in which creepy thrills and body counts are dialled to the max. The Beresford is a standalone thriller published in 2021. Bizarre, gripping and grotesque but drawn in smooth prose that will keep both the pages and your stomach turning.

The Beresford was old. It was grand. It evolved with the people who inhabited its rooms and apartments. It was dark and elephantine and it breathed with its people. Paint peeled and there were cracks in places. It was bricks and mortar and plaster and wood. And it was alive.

The ageless Mrs May runs a boarding house in a grand old building. She rarely leaves the premises. The rooms are large and the rent cheap and there are a steady stream of inhabitants. Mrs May passes her days drinking cold black coffee and wine, tending her garden and doing her prayers.

What is that one thing you would give up your soul for?

Tenants come with dreams of a new life, then go, sometimes at an alarming rate, and usually in pieces. Sixty seconds after one dies, a new tenant arrives, and so the cycle continues, a bit like Groundhog Day with gore.

The Beresford was a halfway house for the disenchanted and disenfranchised, whose focus was to become. To be. To discover and make their impact. The inhabitants were not necessarily the outsiders, but were certainly the ones found on the periphery. The wallflowers at society’s ball. They were outside. They floated on the periphery.

Dark and twisted with black humour and skilled plotting drawn in short snappy chapters. The story is intermingled with Carver’s existential ruminations about life, death, humanity, religion, and more that send the reader off on introspective reflections on 21st century life.

We all go a little mad sometimes.

As with Carver’s other novels I have reviewed on this blog – Good Samaritans, Nothing Important Happened Here Today and Hinton Hollow Death Trip, The Beresford will enthralled and disgust you, it will also make you think.

Book Review: The Hideout by Camilla Grebe

The Hideout by Swedish noir and crime fiction writer Camilla Grebe is an intense, twisted and gripping story about crime, religion, parenting and death.

Manfred Olson young daughter is in a coma after a fall. When he is called in to investigate the death of a young man whose body washes up on a beach, his attention is divided between his job and wanting to be at his daughters bedside. When a second body is found wrapped in sheets and chains, his search intensifies.

It’s only afterwards that all the trivialities of a life grow, develop teeth and chase you through the night.

Eighteen year old Samual has to leave town in a hurry after getting caught up with a brutal drug ring when a deal goes wrong. He runs to a sleepy coastal town and finds a job working for Rachel as a live in care assistant to her disabled son Jonas. As Samual’s attraction for Rachel grows, his safety becomes more precarious.

It took me exactly ten days to fuck up my life.

This Scandanavian thriller is slow moving and atmospheric. The two separate plot lines of Manfred and Samual gradually converge with lots of red herrings to keep the reader on their toes and make you squirm.

Book Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

If you are looking for a dark, discomforting psychological thriller to be disturbed by during this long cold winter, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn could be for you.

Everyone has a moment where life goes off the rails.

Camille Preaker escaped Wind Gap, a small town in Missouri, for a career as a journalist in Chicago. Her boss sends her back to Wind Gap, best known for its pig abattoir, to investigate the murder of a young girl. After Camille arrives in town the bodies start piling up.

A town so suffocating and small, you tripped over people you hated every day. People who knew things about you. It’s the kind of place that leaves a mark

Camille left Wind Gap for a reason – her family. Camille’s troubled mother comes from old money – she owns the hog farm, the towns primary source of revenue. Of her two sisters, one is dead and she can’t stand her precocious younger stepsister. Camille is a little complicated herself – she’s an addict (sex and alcohol) and she self-harms. She keeps her body covered to hide the words she has carved onto it over the years.

I always feel sad for the girl that I was, because it never occurred to me that my mother might comfort me. She has never told me she loved me, and I never assumed she did. She tended to me. She administrated me.

Suspense, plot twists, gore, dysfunction and the dark side of the female psyche…read it if you dare.

Book review: Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht

Who is Vera Kelly? set across dual timelines (1957 and 1966) and two countries (Maryland, USA and Buenos Aires, Argentina) is coming of age meets coming out meets espionage with a side of literary historical fiction.

Vera Kelly is a troubled teenager coming to terms with her sexuality. Her mother lands her in a juvenile detention centre after she steals a car. When released she moves to Greenwich Village in New York City and works night shift at a radio station and tentatively explore the queer scene.

On a Tuesday I came home from school to an empty house, watched the evening news, and then took Equanil caplets lifted from my mother. Nothing happened, so after an hour I took three more, and then maybe after that, I can’t remember.

Vera Kelly is a young CIA agent with a flair for electronics on her first big mission to Buenos Aries during the Cold War in the lead up to a coup. Revolución Argentina would establish Juan Carlos Ongania as defacto president. Vera rents an apartment and pretends to be a Canadian student befriending a group of local students suspected of being KGB agents.

I had found the apartment in San Telmo with the help of a motherly rental agent in a pink suit who had tried to cheat me on her percentage not once but twice, and reacted with a broad and charming laugh both times I pointed it out, as if we were flirting on a date and I was removing her hand from my thigh.

Vera bugs the students bicycles and with the help of a local contact, the Argentina Vice President’s office, tracking the students movements during the day and transcribing conversations from the officials office at night. When the coup seems imminent Vera decides to action her escape plan but the borders are closed faster than she can escape. Upon returning to her apartment she finds she’s been betrayed by her local contact and has to go into hiding until she can find another way out.

Oh my God, you should have seen us in ’55, ’56, ’62,’ he said, sighing. ‘Every year, another old man shouting from a grandstand with all his medals on. “I’ve come to replace your previous old man.” Some people would go to jail, everyone else would get used to it, and then it would start all over

There’s a long set up in this novel, but the character of Vera carries it off with her whip smart intellect, dry humour and keen observations of the times. I really enjoyed the insights into the New York queer scene in the early 60’s when being queer was illegal, and the history of Argentina. There is a correlation between being gay when it’s illegal and a spy running through the novel – the coded language and pretending to be someone you are not.

Vera is a relatable character and if you like women driven, realistic spy stories with a strong plot – this book could be for you. Even better, there are two more Vera Kelly novels to devour – Vera Kelly is not a Mystery (2020) and Vera Kelly Lost and Found (2022)

I woke with an ache in my chest and heard the subsiding whistle of a teakettle in the kitchen. I read the spines of the paperbacks on the night table: Graham Greene, Patricia Highsmith. Novels about liars. I needed to call Gerry.

Book review: The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

There’s something about Richard Osman’s novels that make me think of the famous five in retirement after one of them has popped off their perch. I reviewed his first novel The Thursday Murder Club a few weeks ago and went back for some more laughs.

Some people in life, Sue, are weather forecasters, whereas other people are the weather itself.

Kent based senior citizens are back in the second book in Osman’s comic crime series. Led by ex-secret service woman Elizabeth Best and former nurse Joyce, retired psychiatrist Ibrahim, and former unionist Ron, collude with police detective Donna, her boss Chris and tattooed handyman Bogdan, who has a way with the ladies, to wrangle a local teenage thug who assaults Ibrahim, a lady drug dealer and an underworld middle man from whom Elizabeth’s ex-husband stole diamonds, and gets murdered for his trouble.

That twinkle in his eye was undimmed. The twinkle that gave an entirely undeserved suggestion of wisdom and charm. The twinkle that could make you walk down the aisle with a man almost ten years your junior and regret it within months. The twinkle you soon realize is actually the beam of a lighthouse, warning you off the rocks.

The main two characters, Elizabeth and Joyce, are fearless – and it pays off as most people simply think they are two harmless old ladies – and they never get harmed. Elizabeth is smart, canny and fearless whilst Joyce is optimistic and kind hearted – knitting friendship bracelets in her spare time.

What a tiny, formidable woman. Exactly the sort of woman you’d want parachuted behind enemy lines with a gun and a cipher machine.

The Man Who Died Twice is a light, joyful, fun and entertaining romp with a group of old friends in their twighlight years dealing with the realities of ageing – death, dementia, personal safety and painful grown up children – whilst they happen to be solving major crimes. I hope I have such adventures when I’m a septuagenarian.

Book review: Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Literary crime novel Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead is set in the early 1960s. Reading it was a journey of cultural immersion – full of wise guys and street talk. It’s noir-ish flavour is a study in how our environment and prejudice can limit us in life, no matter how hard we try – and how frustration at those limitations can boil over.

You came from one place but more important was where you decided to go.

When we meet Ray Carney, the civil rights movement is live, but he just wants to get on with his own life and be taken seriously as a legitimate businessman. Ray runs a furniture store in Harlem on 125th Street that he opened using money he found in his dead father’s car.

Carney imagined himself inside because he was looking for evidence of himself. Was there an Argent wingback chair or Heywood-Wakefield armoire in one of them, over by the window, the proof of a sale he’d closed? It was a new game he played, walk­ing around this unforgiving town: Is my stuff in there?

Carney senior, a petty thief and hustler, was a gunned down by police stealing cough syrup from a pharmacy. Ray is as straight as you can be in a town run on corruption, where the cops have to be paid off and the fear of retribution runs deep. Some of the goods he sells have dubious origins – he’s a reluctant fence who innocently gets caught up in a jewel heist.

Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked, in practice and ambition.

Harlem Shuffle exposes the injustices in the justice system and that the line between legal and illegal is blurred. Whitehead shines a light on the false moralities of capitalism and that the founding of the USA itself, like all colonised counties was done through theft and treachery and that we are all complicit in.

There’s us, there’s water, and then there’s more land, we’re all a part of the same thing. But Park Avenue, with those big old buildings facing one another, full of old white people, there’s none of that feeling, right? It’s a canyon. And the two sides don’t give a shit about you. If they wanted, if they so decided, they could squeeze together and crush you. That’s how little you are

Book review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

There is something quite joyful about mischievous septuagenarians. Comedian and television presenter Richard Osman turned his hand to writing cosy mystery The Thursday Murder Club after a visit to an affluent retirement village.

In life you have to learn to count the good days. You have to tuck them in your pocket and carry them around with you. So I’m putting today in my pocket and I’m off to bed.

Residents of Coopers Chase retirement village in Kent, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron meet weekly over wine and cake in the Jigsaw Room for their group ’Japanese Opera: A Discussion‘. It’s a front for the Thursday Murder Club and ensures they are not disturbed whilst they work on their cold-case murders. The ringleader, Elizabeth, has her ways…of getting hold of cold case files, and leveraging others for information the police would be envious of. Her conspirators are an ex nurse (Joyce), a retired psychiatrist with excellent attention to detail and logistical skills (Ibrahim), and militant unionist, Ron, or Red Ron as he is known.

Many years ago, everybody here would wake early because there was much to do and only so many hours in the day. Now they wake early because there is much to do and only so many days left.

When local developer and drug dealer, Tony Curran is found dead, the Thursday Murder Club decide they are going to solve the case. They talk disenfranchised PC Donna de Freitas into secretly working with them, promising her credit to help get her off mundane administrative work and into serious investigations. Soon the bodies start to pile up. There is another murder and a mysterious discovery of human bones that don’t belong in the part of the cemetery where they are found – on top of a coffin.

Donna has always been headstrong, always acted quickly and decisively. Which is a fine quality when you are right, but a liability when you are wrong. It’s great to be the fastest runner, but not when you’re running in the wrong direction.

The sassy characters and gentle humour make The Thursday Murder Club an entertaining and light read. The older I get, the more enjoyment I get out of reading stories with quirky old folk with a zest for life and The Thursday Murder Club hit the spot. The novel is a lovely reminder that the elderly should not be dismissed or ignored – they still have plenty to offer.

After a certain age, you can pretty much do whatever takes your fancy. No one tells you off, except for your doctors and your children.

Book review: Cherry Slice by Jennifer Stone

Cherry Hinton is an investigative reporter turned cake shop owner turned private investigator in Cherry Slice by Jennifer Stone. There’s b-grade celebrities, reality TV, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter in this bawdy chick lit meets crime fiction, fast paced funny novel set in Essex.

We’d spent the day slumped on the settee, only leaving it to get top-ups of drinks and crisps. I had Twitter running on my phone, Facebook on my iPad. The hot topic of conversation was who was going to get voted off that night and whether Jodrell Banks would manage to claw back her glamorous modelling career in light of having lost two stone with Big Blubbers help.

Martin was arrested and jailed for murdering contestant Kenny Thorpe on Big Blubber weight loss reality TV show but on his deathbed he wrote a letter to Kenny’s sister swearing he didn’t do it. Why would he do that if it wasn’t true? Kenny’s sister wants Cherry to find out.

I knew she didn’t believe me but the way I saw it, I was doing her a favour. Those Chavalicious girls were alright but they were a bit dull. A night down the cage fighting contest was much better option.

The reason Cherry is running her parents cake shop is that her reporting reputation was destroyed and she was dumped by her paper after being exposed (naked) going undercover on another reality TV show, Caravan of Love. This makes her the ideal candidate to investigate other reality TV contestants…

A light, quick, cozy locked room type mystery to disappear into the weird universe of reality TV with an Agatha Christie style ending. I listened to it whilst doing the gardening – the neighbours probably wondered what I was laughing at.