Author Archives: scotkris

More Novels in the Russell Series by Laurie R. King Available in the UK from Allison and Busby

Available from Amazon UK.

Available from Amazon UK.

By ScotKris

Fans of Laurie King have another year to wait until the next instalment of Mary Russell’s journals, so it is with considerable satisfaction that It’s a Crime! can report that those lovely people over at Allison and Busby are releasing the ‘missing four’ Russell titles, previously unavailable for a dozen or more years.

The first of these missing titles, A Monstrous Regiment of Women and A Letter of Mary, are available now, with The Moor and Justice Hall coming shortly. What’s more, with four more stunning cover designs, the entire series of (currently twelve) novels is available for the first time with a uniform series ‘look’, and full credit to the publisher’s designer for such beautiful covers.

Available from Amazon UK.

Available from Amazon UK.

Where The Beekeeper’s Apprentice laid the groundwork, A Monstrous Regiment of Women and A Letter of Mary were the early showcases of Miss Russell (with Mr Holmes, naturally), taking her forward to the 1920s and into investigations both baffling and intriguing. Theology and detective work go hand in hand and we also see the growing partnership between Russell and Holmes which forms the cornerstone of this unique series.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women sees an Oxford friend of Russell introducing her to the ‘New Temple of God’, which, if appearances are to be believed, is a sect involved in the suffrage movement of post-War years; however, appearances can be deceptive and when one murder follows another, Russell investigates …

More information at Allison and Busby.

More information at Allison and Busby.

The Moor then takes us to Dartmoor, paying homage to a certain Conan Doyle tale, but Justice Hall, for me, marked a turning point in the series. While following on directly from the events of The Moor, Justice Hall reintroduces characters first met in Palestine in events described in O Jerusalem, and involves Russell in a mystery that dates back to the Great War. Rich descriptions bring to life the Justice Hall of the title which, for me, is one of the most evocative books in this very compelling series and the closing pages remain with me some 12 years since I first read them – a telling sign.

More information at Allison and Busby.

More information at Allison and Busby.

As I have said before, one of King’s many strengths is her ability to create images in her novels that draw you into the era, cleverly combining real events with the fictitious, and in which her characters play their own unique roles. Never do readers feel they are subject to a history lesson; indeed they come away feeling enriched, entertained and truly satisfied.

With the reappearance of these four books comes an opportunity to revisit old friends or to discover them for the first time; the only shame is that a year must pass before Russell returns in Dreaming Spies!

The Bones of Paris – Laurie R King

Bones of ParisParis, France: September 1929.  For Harris Stuyvesant, the assignment is a private investigator’s dream—he’s getting paid to troll the cafés and bars of Montparnasse, looking for a pretty young woman.  The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modelling and acting.  Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down.  As Stuyvesant follows Philippa’s trail through the expatriate community of artists and writers, he finds that she is known to many of its famous—and infamous—inhabitants, from Shakespeare and Company’s Sylvia Beach to Ernest Hemingway to the Surrealist photographer Man Ray.  But when the evidence leads Stuyvesant to the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, his investigation takes a sharp, disturbing turn. At the Grand-Guignol, murder, insanity, and sexual perversion are all staged to shocking, brutal effect: depravity as art, savage human nature on stage.  Soon it becomes clear that one missing girl is a drop in the bucket.  Here, amid the glittering lights of the cabarets, hides a monster whose artistic coup de grâce is to be rendered in blood.  And Stuyvesant will have to descend into the darkest depths of perversion to find a killer … sifting through The Bones of Paris.

Laurie King allows Mary Russell a well-earned break from her travels, but still offers us a 1920s European setting with The Bones of Paris, a sequel (of sorts) to her bestselling 2008 novel, Touchstone.  It is 1929 and Harris Stuyvesant, now an ex-FBI agent, has spent a nomadic three years criss-crossing Europe.  A variety of scrapes and circumstances leave him freelancing as a private investigator, employed by the missing Philippa Crosby’s family to track her whereabouts after a long silence in her communications.

We enter a Paris of art and artists, their entourages and their hangers-on.  King intertwines real life characters of the day with her own inventions, a clever technique which she uses to her advantage.  Whilst many names may be familiar, I still found myself wondering if some others were real or created for the purposes of the story, so well were they weaved together.

As a thriller, The Bones of Paris simmers gently as opposed to burning furiously, but this befits the era, and is an understated technique that works well for King.  Excellent at plotting and adept at creating an eclectic cast list, King also offers a deliciously cheeky peek at the seedier side of between-the-wars Paris.  Throw in more than a handful of unexplained disappearances, the reappearance of Sarah Grey, her reclusive brother Bennett, so memorable from Touchstone, and King has another winner on her hands.

With thanks to the publisher, Allison and Busby, for supplying a review copy of this book.

Touchstone – Laurie R King (2013)

Good news for fans of Laurie R King – August saw the first UK paperback release of her 2008 standalone novel, Touchstone, featuring FBI Agent Harris Stuyvesant, in a beautiful new edition from Allison & Busby.

Link to Amazon UK.

Link to Amazon UK.

Once studied by British intelligence for his excruciating sensitivity to the world’s turmoil, Bennett Grey has withdrawn from the world – until an American Bureau of Investigation agent comes to assess Grey’s potential as a weapon in a new kind of warfare.  Agent Harris Stuyvesant needs Grey’s help to enter a realm where the rich and the radical exist side by side – a heady mix of power, celebrity, and sexuality that conceals the free world’s deadliest enemy.  Soon Stuyvesant finds himself dangerously seduced by one woman and – even more dangerously – falling in love with another.  As he sifts through secrets divulged and kept, he uncovers the target of a horrifying conspiracy, and wonders if he can trust anyone, even his touchstone.

Reviewed here back in 2008, this is a snapshot of what I said at the time:

“ …Laurie R King’s latest offering, Touchstone, a standalone novel set shortly after the Great War in locations as diverse as London and Cornwall.  I must confess immediately to a preference for novels which stand by themselves away from a series; as the author says on her own blog, it gives her ‘a chance to flex her literary muscles’, with the opportunity to develop a unique selection of characters and background that support the story in its entirety.  Touchstone is no exception: a rich and diverse offering which challenges the mind and demands a single-sitting reading – no easy task at 500 pages plus.  Indeed, part of the pleasure of this novel is in the savouring, with the lead character of Bennett Grey a superb vehicle from whom to provide just one of the many perspectives in this book.

“Followers of Laurie R King’s blog will know how much time, care and love go into her books.  No corporate publicity machine producing multiple titles each year: indeed, often eighteen months or more may pass between her books, and all are welcomed with open arms by an extremely loyal readership.  With Touchstone as the latest example of how this author keeps in touch with this reader, I would always welcome a more prolific output; however, I am glad Laurie R King doesn’t feel the need to compromise in any way, and continues to produce absolute gems.”

Now, five years later, with this new edition the opportunity arrives to revisit the characters and enjoy King’s fine writing and her enviable ability to weave such fascinating stories.

Link to Amazon UK.

Link to Amazon UK.

Since Touchstone was first released, King has produced four consecutive instalments in her renowned Mary Russell series.  Now too, at the end of September, we have The Bones of Paris, (review coming soon), which sees the return of Harris Stuyvesant.  So if you haven’t yet read Touchstone, catch up now, and immerse yourself in a 1920s world with more intrigue than Poirot could ever have faced.

Remembering Margaret Yorke – Crime Writer, Friend

It was with much sadness that I learnt, last week, of the death of my long-term friend Margaret Yorke.  Margaret was a crime writer of some considerable worth, having produced, on average, a crime novel each year from 1970 until her chosen retirement in 2001; this following on from another dozen novels which she would describe as mainly ‘problem’ novels.

Margaret’s crime novels lean towards the country village type, in which troubles slow-burn and people aren’t always what they seem; social issues of the day are tackled in such a way as to integrate them seamlessly with the plot, and sometimes the good guys don’t live happily ever after.  Always satisfying to read, and still in demand today, as shown by the recent new editions that House of Stratus published in May 2012.

But as well as all this, Margaret was a friend, and a friend of almost 30 years’ standing.  I remember buying my first Margaret Yorke novel, “The Smooth face of Evil”, from the West End Bookshop in Cornwall in 1984 and enjoying it so much that I wrote and told her.  That letter eventually reached Margaret via her publisher.  In her reply she apologised for the delay – so characteristic of her generosity that she had time for a 17 year old ‘fan’, but we established a regular correspondence that developed into a warm friendship.  We talked about such a variety of subjects – from each new book I bought and read of hers, to other books she would recommend to me, to her so-welcome encouragement when I left home for the first time, to start my career.

In 1986, living in Wiltshire, I was a regular customer of the bookshops in Charing Cross Road, and at Margaret’s suggestion I was at the new Murder One Bookshop on the day it opened its doors on Denmark Street.  This was the first time we met in person and yet again her wonderful personality put me at ease in this company of authors and literati!  I was introduced as one of her favourite readers to other authors, with the catchphrase “He buys hardbacks, you know!”

Over the next few years I had the privilege of meeting up with Margaret a number of times: at a local book fair in Berkshire and at her home in Buckinghamshire.  After I relocated to Scotland in 1991, our get-togethers may have been fewer, but our friendship remained strong and our correspondences were kept up.  It was always a pleasure to exchange letters with Margaret and, in later years, emails, as we both embraced technology – Margaret, I suspect, embracing said technology with a great deal more enthusiasm than me!  In 2001, she gave me a copy of her last published book – a typically kind gesture.

29 years on, Margaret’s books sit well on my shelves still, and will remain so.  A clever and entertaining writer, a wonderful lady and a good friend.  I will miss her, but I will recall our friendship with a smile and not with sadness.

Chris Sagar

Garment of Shadows – Laurie R King

Review by ScotKris.

In recent years I have, on occasion, been concerned when a number of writers have started consolidating their output by focusing on one series character at the expense of their other work.  Looking back over 30 years of a wide variety of crime writing in particular, no matter how much I enjoyed Ruth Rendell’s work for example, I preferred the variation of her standalone novels to the Wexfords.  I would not have sought three or four Wexfords in succession.

Laurie R King has, over almost 20 years, produced five police procedurals in the much missed Kate Martinelli series; five varied and intriguing standalone novels, and now, with Garment of Shadows, 12 novels in the Mary Russell series – the series which also features the post-retirement Sherlock Holmes.  Recently, King has concentrated on the Russell-Holmes series and Garment of Shadows is the fourth successive novel in four years.  I admit I felt a slight trepidation as to whether my attention would hold.  I had no qualms that I would enjoy the quality of the writing, more that the story would show signs of the series needing a break.  But I needn’t have worried…

After the humorous side-step of 2011’s Pirate King, King returns to a more serious subject matter, taking Russell and Holmes deep into a troubled Morocco and the war between Spain and France over control of the precarious North African country.  As with earlier Russell and Holmes novels, King appears to effortlessly interweave her characters with historical events, and a sign of her skill is to have the reader forgetting that this is fiction mingling with real events.  Decades have passed since the Rif Revolt, but King brings to life the anguish of a country fighting for its independence almost 100 years ago, without ever making this a history lesson.

The story opens with Mary Russell wakening in a strange bed in a strange room, with no memory of who she is or how she arrived in these circumstances.  There is blood on her hands; there are soldiers on her trail; and she has no awareness of Holmes.

Out in the hive-like streets, she discovers herself strangely adept in the skills of the underworld, escaping through alleys and rooftops, picking pockets and locks … Overhead, warplanes pass ominously north …

A fascinating trail ensues as Russell uses her wits in her attempts to find herself, as Holmes attempts to track her down.  This is King at her best, showcasing her characters in full swing as individuals before reuniting them and taking the story deep into its main theme.  Utterly believable, wildly improbable, totally plausible, Garment of Shadows is a more than worthy addition to this now long-running series, and comes highly recommended.

Garment of Shadows is now available on Amazon. With thanks to the publisher, Allison and Busby for the review copy.

Margaret Yorke Novel Reissues with House of Stratus

Margaret Yorke is a writer of crime novels most often categorised as ”cosy”, but as most of her extremely dedicated fan base would have agreed, there was always much more going on than mere bodies in libraries. Yes, the majority of her books were set in villages and country towns, but Yorke used her writing skills to invest in characters that which were all too easy to recognise from any walk of life. After a decade of writing non-crime novels, her only regular ‘investigator’, Dr Patrick Grant, appeared for the first time in the early 1970s in “Dead in the Morning”, and went on to appear in four more novels over the next few years. The author herself agrees that these novels were ‘of their time’, but the good news is that House of Stratus have had the foresight to bring them back into print in very striking paperback editions – the first time they have been available for over 20 years.  [Link to full listing on Amazon here.]

They may well read as period pieces, being 40 years old, now, but they are nonetheless very neat crime novels, with Grant solving mysteries in various corners of Europe, from Austria to Greece, and back to Oxford again, where he is a University don. In my recollection, having read these books 30 years ago, they are neat puzzles in the ‘whodunit’ bracket, which I remember at the time feeling to be a modern take on Christie. After the five Grant novels, Yorke went on to produce another 25 or so standalone crime novels, the last appearing in 2001, and she always moved with the times when including or tackling social issues of the day within her writing. However, she was so adept at integrating these within the story, it was sometime in hindsight, once a book was finished, that the reader would have one of those “oh, yes…” moments!

These new editions of the Grant novels undoubtedly deserve a new audience, and House of Stratus have also released the five books in ebook form, in addition to the paperback editions, so they are available to a wider readership now than ever before. It is to be hoped that more of Yorke’s backlist will be released in due course, as they really are deserving of the next generation’s enjoyment.

Note: the cover pics are linked to the relevant PB pages on Amazon UK.  Where the Amazon page does not provide a link to the Kindle ebook, a second pic follows.

PB and ebook link.

Kindle ebook.


O Jerusalem – Laurie R King

By ScotKris

After a gap of over ten years, the good news for fans of Mary Russell is the reappearance of O Jerusalem, the ‘missing’ Russell story that takes place towards the end of 1918, and referred to briefly during the events transcribed in the first Russell novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.  O Jerusalem stands alone, and tells the tale Sherlock Holmes’s flight from England to Palestine along with his apprentice: the nineteen-year-old Mary Russell.  They have been given a mission by Mycroft Holmes to solve a series of murders that may or may not be related to growing tensions in the region, a series of murders that has bewildered the local authorities.  The mission takes them deep into the Palestinian country, through bazaars and squalor to precariously placed monasteries.  Danger is ever-present and enemies have to be faced, with Jerusalem the setting for their meeting with their powerful and dangerous adversary.  As events come to a climax in that ancient city, the young Russell is tested on many levels, and proves herself to be a match for their enemy… this time.

O Jerusalem tells a riveting story, but also paints a picture of an early 20th century Palestine rich with character and colour, a combination handled so well by Laurie R King and a technique developed so successfully over later novels in this series.  The most recent, Pirate King, is now also available in paperback, with the 12th instalment, Garment of Shadows, due in the UK in October.  All of these are published by Allison & Busby, who are to be given kudos for the wonderful series ‘look’, with some stunning cover art.

O Jerusalem was reissued June 25, 2012 in the UK.

The Secret Archives of Sherlock Holmes – June Thomson

Link to Amazon UK.

After a gap of eight years, it is a pleasure to revisit June Thomson’s delightful take on Sherlock Holmes in this, her sixth collection of short story pastiches, offering Holmes and Watson fans new deceptions to enjoy.  Since her first Holmes collection was published over twenty years ago Thomson has continued to invent some imaginative opportunities for the great detective, told from the perspective of the loyal Watson, and under the guise of ‘missing’ cases, or perhaps referred to obliquely in the original canon.

From counterfeit paintings to a skeleton in the back garden – via the clever diversion of the case of the widow with three hands, and a dead farmer in a barn with his son accused of murder – these seven short mysteries make for cosy evening reads, taking the reader from London’s gas-lit streets to the rambling and isolated hills of Wales.  Indeed, The Secret Archives of Sherlock Holmes tempted this reader to revisit the earlier collections – fortuitous, as two are to be reissued over the coming months, as well as Thomson’s fictitious biography of Holmes and Watson. Together, they offer a wonderful bonus collection to fans of both the original Conan Doyle stories and of the new takes on the character.

In good news, Allison & Busby have released this not only as a hardback with a stunning cover design, but also as an ebook for added convenience!  The first of the reissues can be expected in July, with more due in the autumn, and all come highly recommended.

Find The Secret Archives of Sherlock Holmes on Amazon here and the full title list at Allison and Busby here.

June Thomson, a former teacher, has published over twenty crime novels including these pastiche short stories available from Allison & Busby.  Her books have also been translated into many languages.

ScotKris Reviews: Death’s Door – Jim Kelly

Sixteen years ago, 75 holiday-makers are taken to an offshore island for their day of relaxation in the sun; six hours later, 74 return and a body lies bleeding to death in the sea.  No one is ever brought to account… and so begins the fourth instalment in Jim Kelly‘s excellent Norfolk-based ‘Shaw and Valentine’ mysteries.  Considered an ideal ‘cold case’ to be re-evaluated, a mass DNA screening is ordered amid much fanfare, but with results that no one could have foreseen; all the more so when one of the 74 turns up dead before their screening can even take place.

A few years ago, I shared my thoughts on the first book to feature the odd pairing of DI Shaw and DS Valentine, Death Wore White, and I am delighted to report that this unlikely coupling is going from strength to strength, with a backstory filled in over the intervening books which forms an integral part of the series. Valentine is the demoted Sergeant to the younger DI Shaw and I have been particularly keen on Kelly’s ability to show how this disparate pair has learned to appreciate one another’s talents and abilities. In Death’s Door, we also have a very effective weaving of past events with a modern day crisis.

This is a superior story that by far exceeds the trend for ‘boys’ own adventures’ – perfect for cold winter evenings, this is a traditional mystery that is a pleasure to read.

Death’s Door is available now in HB from Severn House via Amazon and Waterstones.