‘Confronting the Hostile’ by Joy Mutter

Confronting the Hostile

Retired Irish cop John and young DCI Damon become the unlucky recipients of Joe and Tile X – two deadly bathroom tiles whose hideous demands on the unfortunate men seem unstoppable. Forced to hand over the names of individuals for the deadly tiles to slaughter (in a variety of interesting ways), the pair strive to find a means of overcoming their predicaments. With the threat of painful repercussions if they don’t deliver the goods, is there anything the hapless twosome can do to liberate them from the lethal menace?

‘Confronting the Hostile’ is book 4 in The Hostile series and is as unusual a paranormal crime thriller as you’ll ever come across. Joy Mutter continues the story of the ever-expanding group of ghosts who track the tiles and their murderous ways from Manchester to Ireland, and manages to come up with yet more spectacular deaths and masterful massacres.

Part horror, part macabre comedy, the series works best when read in sequence. As I’ve said before, Ms Mutter has a knack of writing interesting, believable characters and this episode is no different. Lord only knows what she’ll come up with next, but I guarantee, it won’t be for the fainthearted.

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‘No Accident’ by Robert Crouch

No Accident

Environmental health officer Kent Fisher gets more than he bargained for when called to investigate a worker’s death at an adventure park. Faced with a gory, but apparently innocent mishap, his particular way of doing things throws him into conflict with his colleagues, his father and a millionaire playboy. Threatened with suspension, Kent must find out what really happened before he lands himself on the dole queue. But is he just being over-cautious, or is there something very wrong here?

This is the second book I’ve read by Robert Crouch and I have to say, it’s a cracker. Crouch has created a brand new hero, whose day-to-day work pits him against dirty kitchens and lackadaisical attitudes to hygiene. However, while the environmental issues still play an essential role in this tale of mystery and intrigue, the emphasis is very much on the character’s ability to work out exactly what has happened and bring to justice whoever is to blame.

I really like the author’s descriptions of the South Downs landscape, its people and places, but it’s his ability to make readers laugh, while at the same time keeping them in suspense, that really cracks it. If you love mysteries and off-beat investigators, this’ll be right up your environmental street.

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‘Blackmail, Sex and Lies’ by Kathryn McMaster

Blackmail, Sex and Lies

When Glasgow socialite Madeleine Smith meets Emile L’Angelier, the pair embark on a disastrous romance. With the Frenchman constantly haranguing her to introduce him to her family, the naive young woman is caught in a difficult position. Knowing her lover’s working class status will never be accepted, she endeavours to call off the affair. But Emile has other ideas, and for two years, he pursues his intended bride. However, Madeleine has met someone else and her former beau is now the only thing that stands in the way of a suitable marriage. When the unlucky Frenchman is found dead from arsenic poisoning, Madeleine finds herself in the dock accused of murder…

Based on the real case of Madeleine Hamilton Smith, this fascinating account explores the actions and motives of the doomed lovers, laying out the evidence against the young woman through the many letters the pair exchanged. In particular, Madeleine’s frequent purchases of poison appear to seal her fate, but was she really guilty, or did she simply make a series of bad choices?

Kathryn McMaster’s factual, but fictionalised version of the case paints a damning portrait of the young woman and her actions, showing how she implored L’Angelier to return her letters before he could expose their affair. The story is told with examples from Madeleine and Emile’s correspondence, showing how their relationship developed, as well as how it deteriorated. By the time I reached the end of the book, I had no doubts about what really happened, but then I read Ms McMaster’s own theories on the case and changed my mind.

This is an enthralling and well-told true-crime murder mystery that raises as many questions as it answers, leaving the reader to decide – did she, or didn’t she?

(If you like the sound of this one, check out Kathryn’s other book, ‘Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?‘)

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‘The Running Man’ by Stephen King

The Running Man

With a daughter in urgent need of medical attention and a wife whose only means of keeping food on the table is to work on the streets, Ben Richards turns to ultra-violent TV game show, The Running Man. Making it through a variety of tests to the show itself, Richards must stay alive for a month, all the while being pursued by a crack team of hunters.

The book centres on a worker from a hard-done-by community where one of the few means of escaping poverty is to enter one of the national Free-Vee game shows. Faced with a series of difficult decisions, Richards must stay ahead of the hunters for thirty days if he is to secure the Grand Prize and his family’s future.

Written under his short-term pseudonym Richard Bachman, Stephen King claims to have knocked this one out in a week. While not unusual for him (he also wrote Cujo to a similar time-scale), the energy and enthusiasm King had at the time does come over in the book. It’s also worth noting that the movie version (featuring Arne Schwarzenegger), bears no resemblance to the novel, apart from the title and the characters of Ben Richards and Killian.

The writing is certainly not of the quality of King’s more recent novels, but the characters are fascinating and well-matched to their different environments. Set in a dystopian future of 2025, there are some interesting commentaries on our current situation, not least in terms of TV and the increasing appetite of the public for ever-more humiliating and demeaning game shows.

It’s a pretty bleak tale, and though not one of my favourites, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking read.

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‘Raising a Vampire’ by Jacky Dahlhaus

Raising a Vampire

Set ten years after the events of Black October when a virus transformed ordinary people into ‘suckers’, Kate and Charlie are trying to get on with their lives. However, raising their daughter throws up new challenges – like how to keep Sue’s thirst for blood a secret. When a colleague of Kate’s turns nasty, the family are forced into a detention centre, where the surprises come thick and fast.

Following on from book 1 (Living Like a Vampire), Jacky Dahlhaus manages to notch up the action even more. Her heroine, Kate, is particularly well-drawn as she negotiates her way through several difficult relationships while trying to protect her daughter. There are some clever twists and I found myself actually gasping out loud at one particular revelation. Though I’m not usually a big fan of vampire tales, Ms Dahlhaus reinvigorates those old bitey routines with a bit of smart storytelling, while managing to make insightful comments on our society.

Though there are a few blood-and-guts scenarios, the author’s humour adds a nice touch to what could easily have been a run-of-the-mill paranormal romance. More Vincent Price than Anne Rice, this one should heat the blood of vampire fans everywhere.

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