A Quick Round Up-Sara Flannery Murphy- The Possessions/ Mikel Santiago- Last Night At Tremore Beach/ Nicolas Obregon- Blue Light Yokohama

4133aZlueGL__SX317_BO1,204,203,200_For five years Edie has worked for the Elysian Society, a secretive organisation that provides a very specialised service: its clients come to reconnect with their dead loved ones by channelling them through living ‘Bodies’. Edie is one such Body, perhaps the best in the team, renowned for her professionalism and discretion. Everything changes when Patrick, a distraught husband, comes to look for traces of his drowned wife in Edie. The more time that Edie spends as the glamorous, enigmatic Sylvia, the closer she comes to falling in love with Patrick and the more mysterious the circumstances around Sylvia’s death appear. As Edie falls under Sylvia’s spell, she must discover not only the couple’s darkest secrets, but also her own long-buried memories and desires — before it’s too late…

Billed as a thriller, a ghost story and as a tale of sexual obsession, The Possessions was one of the strangest reading experiences I have encountered for some time. With comparisons to the work of such estimable authors as Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and Daphne Du Maurier, Sara Flannery Murphy encloses the reader in a world of grief, guilt, love and obsession where irreality, spirituality and human emotions are inextricably entwined…

Curiously I am still unsure as to how much I really enjoyed this book, despite being initially enraptured at its highly original approach to the bridging of the gap between the living and dead. Equally, at first I was held in the thrall of the author’s emotive and completely accurate exploration and characterisation of the human response to personal loss and the assimilation of grief. She explored well the feelings of guilt and emotional stress that the recently bereaved experience, and the need for us to hold on to the one we have lost on some level to eventually move on to emotional closure. Her depiction and description of these differing but highly intense feelings of grief could not be faulted. By using Eurydice (whose name conjures up images of mythical strangeness) an isolated and emotionally closed off individual to act as a conduit from living to dead was expertly handled from the beginning, but as her strange relationship with the recently bereaved Patrick comes to the forefront, I started to find myself doubting her credibility. There was an escalating amount of repetition as the book progressed, with the author re-treading themes and images that started to irk me as the book progressed, and I began to care less and less about Eurydice’s increasing involvement with the spirit of Patrick’s dead wife. As a very obvious plot reveal came to life, I began to falter, and despite reading to the end, I felt strangely unsatisfied by what at first had held my interest entirely, and undoing my initial general crowing about this weirdly good book I was reading. One to make your own minds up about.

(With thanks to Scribe for the ARC)

TREWhen Peter Harper, a gifted musician whose career and personal life are in trouble, comes to northwest Ireland and rents a remote cottage on beautiful, windswept Tremore Beach, he thinks he has found a refuge, a tranquil place in a time of crisis. His only neighbours for miles around are a retired American couple, Leo and Marie Kogan, who sense his difficulties and take him under their wing. But there’s something strange about the pair that he can’t quite figure out. One night during one of the dramatic storms that pummel the coast, Peter is struck by lightning. Though he survives, he begins to experience a series of terrifying, lucid and bloody nightmares that frame him, the Kogans and his visiting children in mortal danger. The Harper family legend of second sight suddenly takes on a sinister twist. What if his horrifying visions came true, could tonight be his last…?

With one reviewer billing The Last Night At Tremore Beach as a cross between Don’t Look Now and Straw Dogs, I can only concur thus leaving me only a little to say about this one. I found it a slightly unbalanced affair, although I was intrigued by the back story of Peter’s coast dwelling neighbours, and the secrets in their shady past. With shades of Dean Koontz and Stephen King in the portrayal of Peter’s supernatural gift, I felt that this was to some extent, a bit superfluous to the plot, as a more linear depiction of his uncovering, and being threatened by, his neighbour’s former lives could have been portrayed without this. It felt a little padded. Peter’s character left no real impact on me, and found him generally a bit woolly around the edges. However, on a more positive note I did enjoy Santiago’s attention to the geography of this barren Irish coastline, and how he built tension through the secluded position of this location, and the natural elements that assailed its shores. A mixed bag.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

BLInspector Kosuke Iwata, newly transferred to Tokyo’s homicide department, is assigned a new partner and a secondhand case. Blunt, hard as nails and shunned by her colleagues, Assistant Inspector Noriko Sakai is a partner Iwata decides it would be unwise to cross. A case that’s complicated – a family of four murdered in their own home by a killer who then ate ice cream, surfed the web and painted a hideous black sun on the bedroom ceiling before he left in broad daylight. A case that so haunted the original investigator that he threw himself off the city’s famous Rainbow Bridge. Carrying his own secret torment, Iwata is no stranger to pain. He senses the trauma behind the killer’s brutal actions. Yet his progress is thwarted in the unlikeliest of places. Fearing corruption among his fellow officers, tracking a killer he’s sure is only just beginning and trying to put his own shattered life back together, Iwata knows time is running out before he’s taken off the case or there are more killings . . .

So saving the best until last, I was incredibly impressed with Blue Light Yokohama based on the real life, and still unsolved, slaying of a family in Japan, and the suicide of its lead investigator. Obregon has beautifully manipulated and used the details of this original case to construct a real slow burning thriller that kept me gripped throughout. Aside from referencing a real case which is one of my favourite tropes in crime fiction, there is a consistency of atmospheric building of tension, punctuated by moments of extreme stress and violence that demonstrates what a good writer Obregon is. His characters, particularly Iwata and Sakai, are completely believable, and undergo real trials by fire throughout, with their reactions and actions also entirely plausible. The story of female officer Sakai is heartrendingly honest and how her story plays out moved me greatly.

Although the book does not contain the level of attention to Japanese culture and social mores as that of an authentically Japanese author, the strength and gradual build up of an excellent plot cancelled out this slight disappointment. I delighted in the red herrings and false alleyways that Obregon navigates us through, and there were genuine moments of utter surprise and shock throughout. I felt emotionally invested in both the story and the personal travails of Obregon’s protagonists, and knowing that this book was so firmly grounded in reality further added to my enjoyment. When I finished this book I tweeted that I needed to take a breath. I guarantee you will too.  Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin/Michael Joseph for the ARC)

 

 

Blog Tour- James Nally- Dance With The Dead

BLOG TOUR

 

 

 

 

 

Having been rather taken with Alone With The Dead by James Nally, introducing us to the hapless DC Donal Lynch, I was more than happy to join in the fun of a blog tour for the second book Dance With The Dead, but would the Raven’s black heart be gladdened again?

jnAspiring actress Elizabeth Smart lands her centre stage role: her mutilated body is found dumped in North London’s red light district. Clasped in her hand is a piece of human hair belonging to an unidentified body of a woman murdered two weeks ago. Aspiring actress Elizabeth Smart lands her centre stage role: her mutilated body is found dumped in North London’s red light district. Clasped in her hand is a piece of human hair belonging to an unidentified body of a woman murdered two weeks ago.PC Donal lands himself a place on the murder squad just as his unconventional brother, journalist Finton, unearths the secret double life of Elizabeth. The bodies mount, each clinging to the strands of hair belonging to the previous victim. The police are convinced it’s the act of a serial killer. But how does Donal convince them it’s not? The only people he can trust are the victims he dances with in his dreams…

It is incredibly satisfying to review a second book in a series that is the equal, if not slightly better than the first. As much as I enjoyed Alone With The Dead, Nally has absolutely nailed it with this outing for Donal and Finton Lynch, and lovely to see the re-appearance of the duplicitious Shep, a senior police officer that treads a very fine line between honesty, and well, dishonesty. From the outset Nally captures the marked differences between siblings Donal and Fintan, and yet the natural repartee, gentle joshing, and loyalty that they have to each other lies at the very core of their relationship. Donal is still a good-natured virginal alcoholic experiencing strange visitations from murder victims, and desperate to escape his banishment to the- excuse the pun- funereal confines of the Cold Case Unit. Eager to inveigle himself in a proper murder investigation, and aided by the rumbustious and completely unscrupulous Fintan, Donal gets the chance, but not without some added complications. Donal is a wonderfully empathetic character, with his bumbling gaucheness, undeniable intuition and as Nally reveals more of his knotty relationship with his father who pops up in this one, any reader could not help developing a certain affection for him. Fintan is equally likeable, exhibiting all the subtlety and charm you would expect of a scurrilous journalist, but deep down- deep, deep, down- has a certain nobility to his character, particularly in relation to his fierce defence and support of Donal, not always for his own benefit. In fact, Nally’s characterisation outside of his main protagonists, is spot on with an assorted cast list of prostitutes, erotic dancers, gangsters, hard men, not so hard men, a flirty forensics officer, and dodgy coppers, and his lightness of touch with the characterisation plays wonderfully well against what is a really quite disturbing investigation.

The plot is terrific, with its pinpoint playing out against a setting of the early 1990’s, which Nally consistently and at times just subtly keeps the reader’s awareness of the period, with cultural, social and political references. With the tentative first steps in the Irish peace process in the background, and proving incredibly relevant to a strand of the story involving Donal’s family, this is a gritty, and at times, perfectly gruesome investigation. Nally introduces some intriguing vignettes concerning forensic detection, and a very novel way of disposing of a corpse, in addition to constructing a seedy, sordid, and dark tale of betrayal and murder. I thought the control of plot was much stronger in this book, and the different emotional, and professional situations, that Donal was manipulated and changed by during the course of this exceptionally bleak murder case. The darker details of Donal’s search for a sadistic murderer is tempered by his positively ham-fisted attempts in matters of the heart, and delighted that, once again, the whole book contains a plethora of sharp one-liners, and flippant jokes that lightens the story along the way ( the Bullitt/Driving Miss Daisy line was a favourite). Kudos for making the  Raven guffaw again. Yep, I liked this one very much. Recommended.

 

(With thanks to Avon for the ARC)

 

 

 

Kate McQuaile- What She Never Told Me- Reading Ireland Month 2016 #begorrathon16 #readIreland16

readingMarch always heralds the arrival of the brilliant Reading Ireland Month- celebrating all that is good about Irish books and culture- hosted by Cathy at   746books  and Niall at The Fluff Is Raging  Eager to join in the fun, here is my small contribution to the #begorrathon16, reviewing debut author Kate McQuaile.

41UrW7G50YL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise’s last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew. Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter’s fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott, but is he really the father she’s been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies…

Despite my steadfast resolution to avoid crime fiction of the more domestic variety, I was hearing good things about this one, and so am happy to break my self-imposed resolution. In the spirit of honesty, which I appear to be known for, I did have some issues with this one, but here are my thoughts…

What I really liked about this book was the central premise of the story itself revolving around familial bonds and how memory can be such a deceptive but powerful driving force in how our sense of self is formed. I thought McQuaile captured perfectly the mother/daughter bond between Louise and Marjorie, and the inherent differences in their character which are slowly revealed as the book progresses. As Louise seeks to fill in the gaps in her family background, with her unknown father, and a mother singularly reticent to answer her questions, even as her own mortality catches up with her, I found their relationship totally believable, and striking a few emotional chords with my own background. I thought the gradual unfurling of the truth behind Louise’s identity was perfectly weighted throughout, with a denouement that was both plausible and clever, forcing Louise to completely reassess who she was. Another interesting conundrum McQuaile examines is how easy it is to do the wrong thing, but with the overriding sense that it is for the right reasons, however twisted the logic is behind these actions, and this was painfully brought to the fore when the truth about Marjorie is exposed. Also McQuaile manipulates the truthfulness of memory, and how half-remembered incidents, sensual indicators, and locations impact so strongly on our perception of past events, and the emotions these produce in us.

Less successful for my enjoyment of the book was the personal life of Louise, the relationship with her husband Sandy, an ill thought out dalliance, and a verging on Fatal Attraction storyline that to me seemed slightly unnecessary in the wake of such a strong central storyline. Obviously, to avoid spoilers I can’t go into too much detail, but I felt that aside from Louise’s regret and reasons for not having her own family, the marital woes she experiences would have been easily remedied without the amount of naval gazing, and emotional to and fro that afflict her as the book progresses. As I was enjoying the spirit of detection she exhibits in tracking down her father, I found myself side-tracked by the marital shenanigans, and was champing at the bit to see where her next line of enquiry would take her. Although I did like Louise as a character, her sometimes swift descent into extreme wooliness was slightly frustrating.

To bring this back to the initially positive vibe, there was a strong location of place throughout the book, and I enjoyed the way that McQuaile gave us snapshots of the way that the locations of Ireland and London seemed to surreptitiously shape the behaviour of Louise herself. There was a good contrast between both the city and rural locations as the book progressed, and an intervention of the authorial voice to bring a real sense of colour and life to each location. We clearly see how Louise perceives her former life in Ireland, set against her current residence in London, the sharp differences between the two, and how they subtly impact on her emotions and actions.

All in all I’m rather glad to have put my head above the parapet and broken my domestic noir resolution, as I found this debut by and large both intriguing and enjoyable. Recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour- James Nally- Alone With The Dead- Review

 

Alone-With-The-Dead-e1443376638467Once again the Raven’s black heart is gladdened slightly by the arrival of a distinctive new voice in the realm of crime fiction. Alone With The Dead is the intriguing and unsettling debut that introduces us to rookie copper PC Donal Lynch, finding his way in his tough, new, chosen profession, but not without a few stumbling blocks in his path. Donal has turned his back on his native home of Ireland, after his ex-girlfriend is convicted of murder. Finding himself employed in a seedy Irish pub frequented by equally seedy and slightly dubious coppers, Donal makes a massive career change, and joins the boys in blue. But Lynch is not all he seems, and thanks to his propensity for seeing dead people, akin to the creepy kid in The Sixth Sense, his involvement in a brutal murder investigation, brings something a little different to your normal cut-out copper. Finding himself manipulated by his brother Fintan, an ambitious news reporter, his mercurial superior officer, ‘Shep’, and susceptible to the comely charms of a certain damsel in distress, Lynch more than has his work cut out…

As a police procedural and the depiction of a keen young officer’s need to climb the career ladder, it worked superbly well. The central murder investigation was brilliantly structured, with a few nifty red herrings, and a surprising denouement, and the attention to forensic detail and the natural progression of a police investigation felt very authentic throughout. Likewise, Nally’s characterisation of Donal, Shep and Fintan, and the alternate loyalty and aggravation that colours their relationship was well played out. This was bolstered further by the real stand-out aspect of Nally’s writing- his use of humour. Few books make the Raven guffaw out loud, but this one did. There are some truly wicked, killer one-liners in this book, that brought a real splash of lightness, to what in other hands could have been a laboured and quite dark police procedural. The depiction of wet-behind-the-ears Donal, his weird pyschiatric nurse housemate Aidan (more of him in the next one please), Donal’s brother Fintan, and the Dick Dastardly figure of Donal’s boss Shep, were all underscored by a series of cutting asides and witticisms that consistently worked, adding a nice line in graveyard humour to the whole affair.

CALLHowever, in the spirit of honesty, and appreciating the author’s need to bring something different to a well-trod sub genre, I did find this a little bit a game of two halves. I just didn’t quite buy the whole ‘I see dead people’ thing in relation to Donal’s character. I thought it was an unnecessary distraction at points from what was a perfectly well-crafted, intriguing, and well-characterised crime thriller. The central murder storyline, the echo of past events, his navigation of the office politics in his chosen career, and a side plot showing his involvement with a woman in an abusive relationship, weighted the plot perfectly. As interesting as the details were about the clinical possibilities of Donal’s ‘special gift’ to commune with the dead, I found it frustrating that such a well-constructed story, with all the necessary features to ensure a successful series, had to bring this trope into play. I did feel that that the need to return to the more ‘spooky’ element of the story was to the detriment and balance of the sub plots involving Eve, Donal’s ex-girlfriend and the abused Gabby, and felt it left them a little rushed or partially unresolved. It really didn’t need it, as the strength of Nally’s writing outside of this strange diversion was more than satisfying, and all of his characters resonated brilliantly within the main plot. Overall though, I would be more than happy to read the next in the series, so even allowing for my grumbles, Nally has come up trumps in my book. Recommended.

You can catch up with the rest of the blog tour at these excellent sites:

AWTD Blog tour

 

 

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

9780241965641With the current trend in domestic noir exerting a firm grip on the crime genre at the moment, I must confess that I have started and failed to finish a number of recent offerings. Having recently taken part in the blog tour for Unravelling Oliver  by Liz Nugent, my interest was, however, piqued by this one, reading the first chapter over five days on five blogs. Billed as being similar in style to both Patricia Highsmith and Barbara Vine (two authors that I admire greatly) I did embark on this book with some excitement, so how did it fare?

The book opens with a snapshot of a violent attack by a husband, successful children’s author, Oliver Ryan on his docile wife Alice, who illustrates his aforementioned books. Their marriage has seemingly been one of relative comfort and bliss, so how on earth can such a violent event have come to pass? The novel then takes us back through five decades to chart the events of Oliver’s life, leading up to this point, through his own eyes, and through the viewpoint of other people he encounters along the way. As we become immersed in the formative years and experiences of Oliver Ryan, it turns out that there is much more to him than Alice or others have ever seen, and as his past catches up with him, will we ever truly unravel the mystery of Oliver?

This is a relatively slim read, so much so that I read the book in two sittings, but what Nugent so effectively does throughout the book, is make it practically impossible to put down. With the changing narrative voices, each melds seamlessly together, revealing the mercurial Oliver as a human prism, of different moods and motivations, so you are practically champing at the bit to find out piece by piece as to how his character has been shaped by events. There is a glorious sense of claustrophobia to Nugent’s authorial style, so reminiscent of both Highsmith and Vine, so this comparison is more than justified. Nugent subtly manipulates our perception of Oliver throughout, both in her characterisation of him, and in the reportage of other more empathetic characters that provide a deeper insight into his psyche. The story pivots between Ireland and France (the scene of some particularly unsettling events) as the story of Oliver develops, sweeping us effortlessly from one location to the other. This provides an opportunity for us to see Oliver from all sides be it through his unsettled childhood, his life as a relatively carefree graduate, and his later success as an ostensibly happily married man with a solid career as an author. As each delineation of his life unfolds, with a good dose of human tragedy, his disregard for the feelings of others (particularly potent in his ‘stealing’ of Alice from all round good-egg Barney), and a strong sense of psychopathic leanings in his psyche, Oliver is revealed as a fascinating character, and sure to manipulate your sympathies. The novel also providing an intriguing exploration of the old adage of nature vs nurture, as the harsh reality of Oliver’s gradually familial connections come to light.

I think Liz Nugent is to be congratulated in producing such a well formed, compelling and utterly intriguing psychological thriller, little wonder that reviewers everywhere have been so effusive in their praise. The assured narrative, the engaging cast of characters, the seamless changes of location, and a series of perfectly well-placed reveals, leads to an immensely satisfying read. I heartily recommend this one…

 

Blog Tour- David McCaffrey- Hellbound- Review and Extract

 

Hellbound Poster

Obadiah Stark aka The Tally Man, is executed at ADX Absolom, his death sentence watched by the world’s media, victim relatives and one investigative reporter, Joe O Connell. Penning an account of Stark’s personal history and subsequent crimes in the hope of determining what elements make the sociopathic mind tick, Joe discovers clues and inconsistencies which cause him to investigate Stark’s execution. While this is happening in the real world, Obadiah Stark awakens to an afterlife where he has a wife and daughter bound to his childhood hometown in Ireland. Following his natural predatory instinct, Obadiah proceeds to torment the town, committing multiple murders before being gunned down by the police. He awakens to find that everything has reset, with no one recalling his murderous spree a reality which offers no escape. As the scenes repeat, he is forced to submit to emotions he has never experienced before… and with it, a poisonous dose of morality…

Hellbound, by debut novelist David McCaffrey, quickly reveals itself as a serial killer thriller that goes beyond the normal tropes of the genre. Moreover, what transpires between its pages, is an intelligent and balanced exploration of the possibility of love and redemption for those capable of the most heinous acts. The book is punctuated by not only the psychological reports undertaken on Stark after his capture, but also by the omniscient narrator’s observations on the death penalty and the power of redemption that add a real punch to the reader’s own emotional responses to the central plotline. As we view Stark’s experiences post- death sentence, we are fully immersed in his emotional struggle as he embarks on a path to redemption through the interaction with his albeit virtual family consisting of a wife and a daughter. As he seeks to dampen down the more destructive aspects of his own psyche, imbued with the unconditional love of his family, he himself begins to be morally tested when their safety is compromised. It’s an interesting psychological exploration of the nature of evil in what could ostensibly be simply labelled as a thriller, and one which McCaffrey achieves admirably throughout.

Building on the strength of the psychological ruminations of the story, McCaffrey’s strong characterisation is another stand-out feature of the book. I grew to like Stark very much as we begin to bear witness to the man behind the mask, and our minds begin to question the validity of the death penalty for individuals such as him. Although seemingly unrepentant from the outset for his killing spree, the life beyond his death really brings to the fore the inner emotions and the propensity for love that he has buried for so long. Responding to the threats on his family a different man emerges, and there is a real feel that his could have been a life well-lived under different circumstances, shoring up the author’s questioning of the validity of the death penalty. Likewise, O’Connell, embarking on the writing of Stark’s life story, and the bizarre anomalies surrounding Stark’s death, acts as a good counterpoint to Stark’s seeming lack of morality. O’Connell handles his research with sensitivity, demonstrating his solid moral compass, before being sucked in to the onerous world of a mysterious organisation called The Brethren, who exact their own cruel and unusual form of punishment on Stark. Naturally, O’Connell finds himself the victim of violence and manipulation, but also acts as a conduit for the reader’s own changing viewpoint on the question of redemption, and was an extremely likeable character indeed.

Aside from a few niggles over some aspects of the dialogue structure, I felt a very positive response to Hellbound as a book that challenged my own opinions and beliefs, Compounded by the fact that McCaffrey is a debut author, I thought it a well-structured and intelligent book, that also ticked the necessary boxes in marking it out as a gripping and pacey crime read. All in all, a thriller that makes you think, but keeps you entertained as well.

EXTRACT

The darkness drops again but now I know that twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.

William Butler Yeats

Chapter Nine

September 28th

20:06

O’Dywers, Ashe Street, Tralee (Trá Lí)

County Kerry, Ireland

Evil can be subtle, insidious, capable of infiltrating the most secure of philosophies and ideologies, planting its ‘vicious mole of nature’ in even the most righteous of minds. Oligarchies and organisations can be founded with the most noble of aspirations in mind, and yet find themselves becoming the most capricious of despots, with their power resting amongst a small segment of society, the wealthy, royalty, military and corporate. But what constitutes an evil act? To answer that, it must first be defined what evil actually is. Is slapping one’s child considered evil? Were the acts committed at Auschwitz during wartime evil? The rape and murder of children? Is it the act which is evil, or the person who commits it?

* * *

Daylight was a distant memory by the time Joe arrived at O’Dywer’s. Despite the month, the air was warm as he finished the last of his cigarette outside the entrance to the pub. Anyone who smoked in Ireland nowadays was pretty much made to feel like a leper, the social ostracisation akin to being an endangered species. Joe was immune to the attention it now brought. He had only ever been a social smoker anyway, and given he was about to have a pint, it was his excuse for having one now. The open fire to his right was burning as Joe stepped through the doorway. He made his way down the narrow walkway adjacent to the bar, stopping long enough to order a pint of Guinness before removing his coat and taking a seat on the brown, velvet banquette in the empty booth at the bottom as instructed by his mysterious caller. The Guinness was refreshingly cold as Joe took a long drink, emptying half the glass. He realised he hadn’t been here in a while. He had always preferred O’Dwyer’s around this time, its early evening occupants mostly consisting of regulars ruminating over the newspaper or talking about their day at work. The sounds of the hushed conversation and the smell of brewed hops and whiskey were comforting. A presence made itself known by sliding onto the bench opposite. Glancing at his watch, Joe realised he must have dozed off. The man before him was stocky, built like a rugby player. Middle aged with auburn hair thinning on top, he had the intense stare of someone who took life extremely seriously. His black coat with its wide collars, buttoned almost right to the top, made him look like a spy from an old 1930’s movie. Joe rubbed his eyes and quickly centered himself, shuffling forwards on the bench slightly. “Hello,” he said firmly. “Can I get you anything to drink?” His journalistic instincts kicked in, knowing he could get more from someone if they felt at ease. The stranger glanced from side to side, quickly checking behind him and towards the bar before speaking. “No, I’m fine.” His Belfast-accented voice was strong, the voice of someone used to having people do as he told them. “So, mate. Can I ask who you are?” He paused before speaking. “Peter Stamford.” His hands were clasped in front of him, the thumbs methodically working around each other in a thoughtful fashion. Joe took another mouthful of Guinness as he assessed the man before him. So far, he wasn’t giving much away. “So, Mr. Stamford. Why am I here?” “I work at Absolom, Mr. O’Connell. I was one of Obadiah Stark’s strap-down guards.” Joe shifted in his seat. “Okay, you have my attention.” Stamford leaned towards Joe, his breath smelling like he had already frequented a pub before arriving here. “You were there, when he died, at the back of the room. What did you see?” Joe smiled at the direct nature of the question. “Straight to the point. Okay, what did I see? Well, I saw one of history’s most infamous serial killers strapped to a table, receiving a cocktail of non-recreational medications, whilst most of the world’s media and a dozen or so people who wished him dead looked on. Am I missing anything?” Stamford smiled a knowing smile. “You’re missing everything.” “Oh, really? Okay, let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’re not jerking my chain. What did I miss?” Joe did little to hide the intrigue in his tone. “What do you really know about Absolom, Mr. O’Connell? Did you know that we pretty much provide an environment where the inmates eat, sleep and defecate in their cells and only leave them for one hour a day? With the full support of the Government, we have ensured that the prisoners never allowed themselves the audacity of hope that they would ever see the light of day as free men.” “That’s quite a profound statement,” Joe said quietly. Stamford ignored him and continued.Joe Fort imprisoned on drug trafficking charges; the only Irishman ever convicted of terrorism for hire. Santiago Margarito Rangel Varelas, murdered his two year old stepdaughter with kicks to the head. Upon investigation she also had numerous broken ribs and had been sodomised, all injuries Varelas told the police she had sustained having fallen at home. Stuart Swango, physician and serial killer. David York, serving 135 years for child molestation. Mohammed Rassim, one of the four former al-Qaeda members sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007 for their parts in the London July 7th bombings. The list goes on. I can’t think of one inmate there who deserves any leniency or compassion of the slightest modicum. And then you had Obadiah Stark.” Stamford hesitated for a moment as though thinking. “He never showed signs that any of those measures had any deterrent effect on him. He was simply a vacant, black hole of a human being. I hesitate to even call him a man, as he seemed to lack the most basic human emotions. There was no empathy, no remorse, not even hatred. Varelas demonstrated anger at his incarceration, denying he had committed a crime. Stark didn’t emote at all. You simply couldn’t gage the man for a baseline. He never caused any trouble, but you could see it in his eyes. It was more than darkness. It was simply…emptiness, as though he had no soul.” Stamford’s voice slowed as though recalling Obadiah had forced him to experience a deep disquiet. “Stark was kept in Sector 17; call it an ‘ultramax’ within the supermax. A group of cells where there is virtually no human contact whatsoever, not even with the guards. Almost the entirety of Stark’s incarceration at Absolom was spent in Sector 17.” Joe’s expression remained impassive as he finished his pint and wiped his top lip. “Okay, I can count at least four violations of civil liberties going on at Absolom, but assuming I actually give a crap that they are happening to criminals, why should any of this interest me?” “It should interest you, Joe, because you’re not reading between the lines. What I’ve just told you illustrates how well oiled a machine Absolom is. There are no mistakes or oversights. It has a perfect record for a reason. Which is why what I am going to tell you is all the more disturbing.”

HELLBOUND  is available to buy at  Amazon.co.uk

David lives in Redcar in the North East of England and works as an Infection Prevention and Control nurse in a local Acute trust. A huge fan of Steve Alten, John Grisham and Lee Childs, David loves reading as much as he enjoys writing. Hellbound is his first novel, all thanks to Britains Next Bestseller and the aforementioned Steve Alten who took a chance on him as a writing coach client and taught him so much about what it takes to be a writer. A self professed geek, David loves Doctor Who, Arrow, Supernatural, Batman, Superman, D.C Comics, Person of Interest, Continuum, Gotham, Star Wars, The Flash, The Walking Dead, The Blacklist…beginning to see a pattern here? He also knows he only exists as an author because of you, so thank you very much. Learn more about Hellbound and upcoming projects at www.davidmccaffrey.net Follow on Twitter @daveymac1975 and on Facebook here

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)