The Lie C.L. Taylor

THE-LIE-by-C.L.-Taylor

The Lie       C.L. Taylor

A few days ago I saw a picture of a newspaper article about The Lie. The person who posted the picture on Twitter is an author I read and admire so I looked the book up, not my usual read but it got my interest. WOW am I glad I read it.

The story is set in rural Wales in the present day, with flashbacks to a period five years ago.

The lead character Jane Hughes is working in an animal rescue centre when her past begins to catch up with her.

Five years ago she had been on a holiday with three friends to a Himalayan retreat where things had gone terribly wrong. The ramifications of the incident start to play out in the present.

The book looks at the demographics of a group of women who met at University. It openly looks at the friendship, bitchiness, swings in friendship and the destructive effects it has on the group. Its honest, it will make you think about same sex groups of friends and how the relationships alter over time.

Everybody knows such a group. The usual traits are there: “I’m your friend because she, is not because I like you”. “I will make her like me more than she likes you”. Twist this in with one, or more, of the friends being psychotic and you have a volatile mixture.

The friends take a holiday to what they think is a Retreat but turns out to be a fledgling cult.

What happens at the retreat will have to be read because I’m not going to spoil it.

To say this book is a physiological thriller is an understatement.

During the flashbacks to the time the women spend in the retreat the author handles the physical and mental abuse, along with the attempts to indoctrinate the girls into the cult, with a skill that will keep you turning the pages but also make you scared to see what comes next.

Who would I recommend this book to? Everybody.

It’s one of those books that will be enjoyed by men and women.

I’m going on holiday in a few weeks time and I wish I’d saved it till the flight. This would have made ten hours in the air pass in the blink of an eye.

Looks like I’ll just have to put The Accident on my Kindle and hope it’s as good.

56 The Story of the Bradford Fire Martin Fletcher

56 The Story of the Bradford Fire

Martin Fletcher

bradford fire

Those of you that know a bit about me will know that I have more than a passing knowledge of fires and fire investigation, so when you read this blog you will know that it also comes with a healthy degree of expertise and knowledge.

I picked the book up last week and had read it within 48 hours, then I read it again over 3 or 4 days, just to make sure I hadn’t misread anything. This is without doubt one of the best accounts of a fire, as seen from a victims point of view, and as a piece of investigative writing,  I have ever read. Martin Fletcher if ever we meet let me buy you a coffee.

The first half of the book is autobiographical. Martin writes about his life leading up to the incident in 1985, his experiences at the fire, and his life after the fire. He reminisces about the family members he lost on the day, about decisions and actions he took on the day which ultimately led to his survival, and the grieving process he is still going through. Later in the book he mentions, fleetingly, that he suffers from PTSD but at no time in the book does he come across as self- pitying, or that he is looking for anybody’s empathy.  The second half of the book looks at his need to find out all of the facts about the fire. His mother was never happy with the outcome of the investigations surrounding the fire and subsequent Inquiry Chaired by Mr Justice Popplewell. Fletcher was too young at the time of the fire to realise what she was saying. As he grew older he began to understand her concerns. He heard story’s, and remembered remarks his father had made, about other fires in buildings belonging to the same man who owned Valley Parade at the time of the fire. He started to question the evidence given at the Inquiry when he noticed inconsistencies in the statements given by many of the people involved with the football club, the police on duty that day, and the expert fire investigators. He took months of his life to sit in research libraries to search out facts, and improve his understanding.

I have read in some newspapers that he is being berated for his campaign to have a new inquiry. I don’t see that. There is no malicious vendetta, there is no over exaggeration, there are no trumped up facts. It is a simple account laid out for all to see. Fletcher has taken facts and presented them in such a way that it should make it moralistically impossible for this incident not to be looked at again.

The book is written by a well-informed layman allowing anybody with an interest in this particular incident to read and understand the facts.  It is the remarkable story of a survivor of the incident and his troubled journey through his teens and young adulthood. It is the account of a man who is looking for answers, and to some extent finds them, but I don’t think it’s the end of his story just the first instalment.

I spent 30 years in the Fire Service, the final 12 as a specialist Fire Investigator. In 1985 fire investigation in this country was in its infancy. Some would say at that time most fire investigators were not much more than dust kickers. As a discipline and science, like all areas of forensic investigations, it has come on leaps and bounds. However there is a lot in this book that troubles me about the science, or lack of it, used in the testing of the investigators hypothesis as to the source of the ignition.

The book also raises concerns about the speed of the Inquiry, the fact that it commenced a few weeks after the fire and lasted for only a few days; where as other Inquiry’s into similar incidents, which happened pre and post the Bradford Fire, have taken years to come to fruition and months to be heard.  The fact that the Inquiry also embraced the investigation into another incident which happened on the same day, a riot in which a young boy died at Birmingham City Football Club, makes it seem more frivolous.

These days I lecture to students and professionals about fire investigation. I will recommend this book as essential reading and use it to set a project. That project will be entitled “How would you conduct this investigation if this incident happened today”. If the answer reflects the investigation which actually took place the student will fail.

As a little aside to this blog, and to explain why the Bradford Fire has always stuck in my memory let me tell you about what I was doing on the 11th of May 1985.

I was a fireman at Highgate Fire Station in the West Midlands. I can’t remember much about the morning; it would have been taken up by training and attending incidents like any other Saturday day shift.  At about 2.30 in the afternoon both of our appliances were mobilised to St Andrews, the home of Birmingham City Football Club, to a flare ignited in the stand. When we arrived we were met by Police Officers who told us there was a highly charged atmosphere in the ground and that the home fans had been fighting running battles, both inside and outside of the ground with the away team, Leeds United, fans. The officer asked us not to enter the ground as it might be inflammatory to the situation so our gaffer went in on his own to ensure there was no sign of a fire. He returned to the appliances and we drove back to the station.

Highgate Fire Station sits on top of a hill and from the mess room you could see St Andrews. Once the appliances were parked up back in the engine house we made our way up the stairs to the mess for a cup of tea. As we walked through the door the first thing we saw was the live pictures from Valley Parade showing the stand fully alight and people trying to escape. Everybody ran to the window to look at the Blues ground all of us thinking “what the hell did we leave behind”. Fortunately for us the fire was in another football ground.

As we sat transfixed by the images on the television we received another shout, “the bells went down” We were on our way back to St Andrews where a wall had collapsed during a riot that was taking place in and around the ground. This time when we arrived we had work to do, digging people out from under the rubble whilst the police tried to protect us from the missiles being hurled at us by so called football fans. This was the incident in which the young boy died and which made up the second half of the Popplewell Inquiry :-

I personally don’t  think much of that half either!!!

The Inspector Pekkala novels by Sam Eastland

The Inspector Pekkala novels by Sam Eastland

Three of my favourite genres of books are, War, Police, and Espionage novels. When I found the first Inspector Pekkala novel, Eye of the Red Tsar, I knew that I had found a gem amongst stories.

Eastland takes real events and weaves an excellent yarn around them. Inspector Pekkala was once the favourite detective of the final Tsar of Russia. Equally feared and respected across the country he built a solid reputation and gained the trust of the royal family. Following their murders he his hunted down by the communists and sent to a gulag deep in the heart of Siberia where he is given a job no man is expected to survive. Living in the vast forests he is left to fend for himself and develops a mythological status amongst the other prisoners.

Stalin himself sends an officer to release Pekkala from the prison with a guarantee of freedom if he can identify the real killers of the Tsar and his family. The book brings to life the terrible conditions within Russia at the time of Stalin’s reign. Pekkala is a wonderful character with a unique set of personality traits. He is thrown together with the man who was sent to release him, Kirov, a man who becomes his side-kick and forms an unusual friendship with the inspector, which develops during the series.

The second book The Red Coffin is set immediately prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. Pekkala, now established as Stalin’s main investigator, is sent to investigate the death of the designer of the T34 tank. The designer was killed before the tank was completed; several prototypes had been made and were in the process of being tested at the time of his death. One of the prototypes is stolen and is used by a group of anti-communist Russians in an attempt to provoke German forces to invade Russia with the hope of rousting the communist party. Pekkala and Kirov are sent to the T34 test grounds to investigate the death of the designer and locate the missing tank. This is not only a great story but also describes the tensions between Russia and Germany at the end of the 1930’s. The two main characters develop in this book making them one of modern fictions great crime teams.

In real life the T34s designer was killed by pneumonia as he attempted to drive a prototype over a 1000 miles in a demonstration of its capabilities. This story cleverly uses some of the known facts whilst staying completely within fiction.

Book 3, Siberian Red, is set at the outbreak of the war. Stalin learns of a man who is offering information on the whereabouts of the lost treasures of the Tsars. The man with the information is a convict in the same Siberian gulag that Pekkala was a prisoner in. Before he can be questioned he is murdered and Pekkala is sent to investigate the crime and try to find the location of the treasures. In what is like a living nightmare Pekkala is forced to leave Kirov behind and return to the gulag, undercover, as a prisoner. This book builds on Stalin’s greed and insecurity. He wants the treasure but he is also afraid of the White Russians, soldiers who were loyal to the Tsar, and have since formed a group in prison, and amongst the battalions of Stalin’s army. Back in the gulag Pekkala fights for his life whilst trying to gain information of the killer of the informant, and find a location for the Tsars treasure.

In the fourth book, The Red Moth, Pekkala is summonsed by Stalin following the finding of a picture. The picture was found in the bag of a single passenger of a German Scout plane. Stalin believes there must be more importance to the picture than anybody understands and Pekkala quickly confirms his thoughts. The picture contains information on some of the lost treasures of the Tsars. It also alludes to the fact that the Germans have located and were going to ransack the Amber Room, a room that was panelled in ornate Amber in one of the Tsar palaces, and take it to Germany. Pekkala is dispatched to locate the room and bring the panels back to Moscow before the advancing German troops can carry out their orders. The book has a great story and includes a moral dilemma for Pekkala, if he cannot recover the Amber should he destroy one of the great works of art to stop it falling into German hands. At the end of this book the outcome is revealed but at what cost.

Again this story revolves around real events. The actual Amber Room was located in Catherine Palace, near St Petersburg. It was overrun by German military units during the war and the contents were looted. The panels of the Amber Room have never been found, and to this day remain one of the great mysteries of the war, and one of the world’s great lost treasures.

Book 5, The Beast In The Red Forest, starts about 18 months after the end of book 4. Pekkala has been missing, presumed dead, since his attempt to locate the Amber Room panels. Stalin receives word that he may be alive and dispatches Kirov to the front line to locate him. Set against the ever changing back drop of the war between the Russian Army, the German Army, and the Partisan Army this story is more about espionage than the previous books.

Is Pekkala alive, will Kirov find him, and if he is alive why has he been anonymous for so long. All these questions are answered against a backdrop of close war, where front lines move backwards and forwards less than 100 yards a day, and in the background is a hidden plot that is only revealed in the last 50 or so pages.

Throughout this series Eastland examines life in Russia under Stalin’s reign. He uses Stalin’s flawed, psychotic personality, to bring a depth of threat not only to the main characters but shows what a threat he was to the world.

Pekkala is a wonderfully deep character. Life as the Inspector for the Tsar gaves him the investigative skills. Life in the gulag gave him survival skills. Life as Stalin’s Inspector gives him dilemmas which we may, or may not, agree with how he deals with, but one thing is for sure. I cannot wait for the next book.

I have used the UK titles for the books in this blog. If you want to find the alternative titles or read more there is a great website dedicated to these books www.inspectorpekkala.com

Believe No One A.D. Garrett

A short blog this time but about another brilliant book by the writing partnership A D Garrett.

Believe No One is a great story with DCI Kate Simms and Professor Nick Fennimore at the centre of  a crime which strikes a startling resemblance to the disappearance of Fennimore’s wife and daughter some years earlier.

The story starts some months after the end of Everybody Lies, and although this book could be read as a stand-alone novel, I would suggest reading the prequel first.

Simms is seconded to a multi-agency task force in America looking at the different methods of investigation used in the USA and the UK. The team are looking at cold cases when they come across a link between several Murders, a link which has been missed because of the territorial issues faced by American law enforcement agencies.  The more the cases are examined the more similarities are found with the disappearance of Fennimore’s family; but is it all coincidence?

Meanwhile another Police Deputy in the States recognises the similarities between a case she is currently investigating and one she had dealt with in a neighbouring County. She contacts Fennimore for help and he heads for America. It is not long before the different investigation teams get together and start to piece together the activities of a serial killer.

The narration of the book follows the main 2 characters but the introduction of a third main character, a young boy who becomes a victim of the killer, gives the story an extra dimension.

This book is a good read. Again the writing partnership of an established author with a Forensic practitioner has produced a realistic and believable story.

At first I was concerned about the ongoing background story of Fennimore’s investigations into the disappearance of his family, in a story which has yet to be told, but now it has me as hooked as one of those cliff hanger season finales on TV dramas.

I hope the next book in the series is out soon. I can’t wait to read it.

Killing for Keeps Mari Hannah

Killing for Keeps    Mari Hannah

Earlier this year I wrote a blog about the first four books in The DCI Kate Daniels series written by Mari Hannah. I said then that she was the best British Crime Writer I had read; this latest book confirms her place at the top of my reading list.

Killing for Keeps starts with a violent assault quickly followed by a gruesome murder. I wrote about Deadly Deceit that there was an original story line with one of the murders. In the first murder of this book Mari Hannah takes it up another notch. The description of DCI Daniels and her Crusty Trusty Sergeants arrival at the incident, and the scene they encounter, was so realistic I could imagine it being told by some of my old colleagues around a pub table. Again this murder was original to me in a book of fiction, but so well detailed I cannot believe that it hasn’t happened somewhere and that maybe Hannah has researched it, if not what an imagination.

The story brings back all of the characters in Daniels Team, although in this book they take more of a back seat with Daniels and Gormley taking the majority of the story-line. Along with the established members of Kate’s team and Jo Soulsby, her will-she-won’t-she love interest, we are introduced to a list of criminal characters from some old style “Family” gangs.

The book takes the reader from Newcastle to Scotland and on to Spain. Each destination is described perfectly and is there for a reason, you don’t get unnecessary padding in any of Hannah’s books.

The story is excellent. I was hooked from page one and finished it within 2 days. I will not put any spoilers in this blog which would give the game away but with families involved the plot obviously revolves around revenge, but for what, and by whom exactly. At one point towards the end of the book I actually caught myself not breathing. The suspense gets built up in several places and you fear the worst but when it comes, it comes out of nowhere.

I like to think that I can usually predict the ending of most books but I must have had about half a dozen different guesses at this one before getting to the end and finding out for sure.

What I Like most about Mari Hannah’s writing is that I never have to suspend reality. The subjects she covers are real; the procedures, or sometimes lack of them, are real; the main characters are realistic, as are their strengths and weaknesses; the criminal characters are as realistic as I’ve ever read.

I could happily recommend this book to friends who are in the Police and know that they will enjoy it for its realism as much as me.

I recently found out that Pan MacMillan have Mari Hannah contracted for another two books following this one. Please let it be more, and soon.

It has also been announced that a company has acquired the TV rights. If they stick to the storylines in the books, those programs will be brilliant

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