Archive for December, 2015

CoptownI read Cop Town because it won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger as the best crime thriller of  2015. Cop Town is a worthy recipient of the award that last year was won by the superb An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris.

Set in Atlanta in late 1974 the story begins as a search for a serial cop killer known as The Shooter. Jimmy Lawson’s partner Don Wesley has been shot and Atlanta’s police force is on the warpath to find the killer. Jimmy’s violent uncle Terry leads a group of cops who are determined to dispense their own brand of justice. Two policewomen begin their own investigation as something is not quite right about Jimmy’s account of the details of the shooting. The female cops are Maggie Lawson, Jimmy’s sister, and rookie Kate Murphy, a young women widowed by the Vietnam war.

Maggie comes from a real blue collar police family, and Kate doesn’t. I won’t say any more because a large part of the interest in the story for this reader was the discovery of Kate’s background, and the gradual change in the storyline from a straightforward police procedural into a combative plea against homophobia, misogyny, and racism. 

Maybe there was a reason Atlanta was statistically one of the most violent, criminal cities in America. As far as Maggie could tell, the only thing black and white male officers could agree on was that none of them thought women should be allowed in uniform.

This is a brilliant book with great characters, plenty of social comment, and a plot that is just complex and convoluted enough to keep the reader’s interest.    

Mid EuropeAlan Furst’s espionage novels set during the turbulent years of the 1930s encapsulate so many features that 350px-PicassoGuernicashould be in a good thriller that I usually read them in one of two sittings. Midnight in Europe was no exception, and seemed an appropriate title to read at the time of the dreadful Paris terrorist attacks.

The book’s dedication page is a quote by Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, on the eve of the Great War, 3 August 1914.

“The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

Europe has faced great threats in the past but let us hope we have learned a little from the traumas suffered during the twentieth century by our parents and grandparents generations.

Midnight in Europe begins in late 1937 when Cristian Ferrar, a handsome Catalan lawyer, is recruited to work for the Spanish Republic’s arms buying agency. He is a senior partner at the well respected firm of Coudert Freres, fluent in several languages he is an anti-Fascist and a good candidate to deal with the numerous problems he will face. Along with Max de Lyon, a former arms trader with a Swiss passport, Ferrar will travel across Europe to Gdansk, Berlin and Odessa dealing with gangsters, spies, and Fascist agents in various attempts to obtain arms for the doomed Republic.  The Spanish Civil War was like most civil wars a dreadful conflict in which both sides committed atrocities. The  disunited Republican left backed by Stalin’s Russia proved no match for Franco’s Nationalists backed by Hitler and Mussolini. The real tragedy was that Britain and France refused to sell arms to either side, which in reality meant the Republicans were always short of weapons and planes. [above right Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting depicting the bombing of Guernica] 

Ferrar will manage to meet beautiful seductive women along the way, and the reader will learn about Europe’s dire situation in the late 1930s. The book is full of great characters, exciting incidents, historical information and the accurate atmosphere of that terrifying time. 

Defiance? The stationmaster would not stand for it. His face knotted with anger, his voice raised, he said, ‘Don’t you dare contradict me, Monsieur Cohen or Levy or whatever your name is. I say what goes on here, so don’t you try any of your sneaky little tricks on me! We’ve had more than enough of your kind in Poland.’

Crack. The speed of the blow was astonishing. De Lyon’s hand, as though on a coiled spring, swept backhand across the stationmaster’s face. Shocked, his mouth open with surprise, the stationmaster put his hand to his cheek. 

‘How’s that for a little trick? de Lyon said.

Furst’s thrillers are unequivocal in their stance that evil must be confronted. The plots are thrilling but not overcomplicated, the characters well drawn, the locations varied, and the clarity of the writing means that the social and political commentary is easily absorbed by the reader. 

‘To fight Franco, to  fight them all; Hitler, and those who aspire to be Hitlers……..I don’t mean to give a speech but the subject forces you to, doesn’t it?………

From de Lyon a dry laugh. Then, ‘True. And if a time comes when the phrase to fight turns into fight back, it will by that time be too late.’